The annual Hot Chocolate Festival in Calgary

Perhaps it’s the fact that the weather in Calgary feels like we are on our 103rd day of January that inspires me to write about the hot chocolate festival that happens here every year!!

For the entire month of February in Calgary, Meals On Wheels has their biggest fundraiser of the year, called YYC Hot Chocolate Fest.

(If you don’t know Meals-On-Wheels, they are an organization that delivers meals to people who aren’t able to purchase or prepare their own meals, like seniors or people who are physically unable to get out or make their own meals.)

I discovered the festival a couple of years ago and it seemed like the best excuse to get out and discover new coffee shops and cafes and restaurants, and enjoy a fancy hot chocolate in the mean time. It was also an excuse to make an event out of a simple coffee date with friends and family, and people I rarely see!

As part of the festival you can review the drinks you try and vendors are vying for the “Best of The Fest” awards, so they often pull out all the stops. One dollar from every festival drink goes towards Meals On Wheels!

This year I decided to try and do a hot chocolate a day! I was able to try 29 different Hot Chocolates at 28 different vendors!!

Here they all are: in order.

Day 1!

First drink of the fest:

Cafe Rosso‘s Orange Blossom Hot Cocoa smelled like an entire satsuma orchard, but actually had a very gentle flavour. It was also served with a cookie. A lovely start to YYCHotChocolateFest!

Day 2, hot chocolate 2.

The Gingerbread Spice at Bell’s Bookstore Café. Reminded me of a ginger cake. Lots of spice and delicious whip cream!

Day three, #3.

I got in a dinner date with my delightful friend Charlotte and we tried the S’Mores Hot Chocolate at Alforno Bakery!

I normally love the offerings at Alforno so I was a bit disappointed by the mediocrity of the actual cocoa. The toppings were good; there was a nice graham cracker rim, and we agreed that the marshmallow was the best part.

As it was the most snowy wintery day that day, clearly double the hot chocolate was in order! Day 3, and 4th hot chocolate of the festival!

At One18 Empire my friends Tawny and Raine and I went for late night snacks and ordered the Toasted Sneaky Pete. This ‘spirited’ hot chocolate had Jamiesons in it, with whip cream and a toasted marshmallow, with a dark chocolate spoon on the side. We thought the spoon was a fancy garnish. Not so, my friends, not so. This beverage came with steps that our server failed to mention: you must stir the spoon in the steamed milk *the second* it arrives at your table, so it melts and actually makes the drink complete.

IF however, no one tells you this, and you eat the spoon immediately, all you are left with is steamed milk and booze. 😄😳

Soooo I can’t say we loved this one, but we never really tried the ‘completed’ recipe. I am pretty sure, however, that even if you were to stir in the chocolate, this is one stiff drink!

 

Day 4 (and drink No. 5)

When I went to pick up my Cocoa Troll at Primal Grounds Cafe, another customer was waiting to ask me if she could take a photo of my drink before I grabbed it. Why? This hot chocolate had a face and cotton candy hair.

And ALL the whip cream. 😁

Once you get past the straight sugar topping, this is a deliciously rich and smooth hot cocoa! I recommend!

#Iamsogoodatadulting 😉 #ridiculouslookingdrinkforagoodcause

 

Hot chocolate #6

Suneshine-y day off plans with my mum included stopping into Bite in Inglewood to try their Kris Kringler hot chocolate. This was my favourite so far. Creamy, rich hot chocolate with divine vanilla bean whip cream and tiny brownie chunks on top. This one was deluxe, people.  😊

 

Hot Chocolate #7: Who knew peach and chocolate made such a delicious combo?

The Peach Melba Hot Chocolate at Waves Coffeehouse was surprisingly delightful. Sweet and like peaches-and-cream-meets-cocoa! Yummy!

Have you heard of UTCA? They make chimney cakes and their hot chocolate was the most colourful drink I had tried of the festival so far!

Also, can we talk about how cozy and inviting this place is? I want to bring people back here!

This one was number 8: called the Chimney Hot Chocolate. Once you get past the uber-rainbow-explosion topping, the whip cream and fresh orange zest melts right into a sweet, caramel hot cocoa. Delicious!!

 

I see your winter storm warning and I raise you: drinking chocolate. 😉 Drink number nine:

The slow motion snowfall tonight was too beautiful to not go for a walk. Thank goodness Analog Coffee is open super late so I could warm up with their #yychotchocolatefest offer!

Like many places, their featured drink Thai Chili Chocolate was more popular than expected and they were out of all their fancy garnishes (in this case, a mini pastry and macaron). C’est la vie, and really, I didn’t feel like I was missing a thing. This is the closest thing to “drinking chocolate” (true chocolat chaud) that I have had outside France, though this had a hint of heat to it with thai chili.

It was a perfect way to watch the snow come down after a long day!

 

The next morning’s hot chocolate adventure brought me and my friend Norm to Boxcar– the cutest little board games/coffee shop on 1st St SW!

Drink 10: Gingerbread Hot chocolate. Delicate cinnamon and nutmeg flavour that made it feel almost like a chai flavoured cocoa.

Beautiful, simple presentation.

 

The 11th hot chocolate of the festival was enjoyed at Sauce Italian Kitchen and Market. The flavour: Vanilla Pistachio Cannoli!

Yep. This was truly a full dessert hot chocolate. It came with an entire cannoli perched on it. Rich and sweet and delicious!

 

The next #yychotchocolatefest adventure was had at Ca’Puccini in the Arts Commons.

Drink 12: Can’t Beet Red Velvet.

Well…

It sure tasted like beets… Warm, sweetened beet juice. With some fake whip cream on top. It’s… a choice… and a poor one. Bottom of the list! 😳

#foragoodcauseatleast

 

Lucky 13 of the YYC Hot Chocolate Festival was enjoyed at The Bean Stop and their hot chocolate specialité: Amour.

With ginger-lemon infused dark chocolate, this came with toffee/cookie crumbs and purple edible glitter sprinkled on top of the whip cream.

Definitely rich, definitely good, and yet not quite the best ginger-chocolate combo I have had (that goes to last year’s dreamy drink by Monogram 😍).

 

The Nash served up their Smoked Chocolate Chili Mocha for drink 14.

There was no dairy-free option; this one had the best whip cream so far. Good heat in the chili, and perfect sweetness.

 

We ventured to Fiasco Gelato to try their Salted Malted Hot Chocolate complete with crushed Maltesers on top. Definitely the sweetest so far.

#15

 

The Cinnamon Bun Hot Chocolate at The Main Dish marked #16 on the list. Cream cheese marshmallow topping was a sweet surprise, and the cinnamon/cocoa rim was a nice touch, but the hot chocolate itself was rather average. I decided I would have to come back for their Salted Dark Rum + Baileys Caramel another time.

 

My mum and sister are the best company ever!

On this particularly delightful afternoon we visited the Deane House for their Caramelized Honey Hot Chocolate (my 17th).

Excellent flavour and texture, and check out that *chocolate* marshmallow!! It was divine. 😍

I highly recommend this one!!

 

I stopped into Phil & Sebastian’s for my 18th hot chocolate of the festival.

The Tonka Soul Hot Chocolate had a rich dark chocolate flavour with hints of caramel. The presentation was some of the finest latte art I have seen. I’d recommend this one for sure. I loved it!!

 

An impromptu visit and breakfast with my friend Elizabeth was an awesome excuse to go out, so of course it included a hot chocolate; and a return to the Main Dish for their alcoholic offering.

(We had to wait until 11am to order their Salted Caramel Rum and Baileys Hot Chocolate.)

Sadly, it was just so-so, and tasted more like rum than hot chocolate, but maybe that’s what they are going for. The Cinnamon Bun was definitely the better drink here. Drink 19:

 

My friend Shanny and I went for the Orange Florentine Hot Cocoa at Sucré Patisserie, and it did not disappoint.

Luxurious flavour, not too overpowering, and lovely presentation. No wonder this place is so busy. A delicious (20th!) hot chocolate.

 

The 21st Hot Chocolate was the Earl of Ginger at Cococo (Bernard Callebaut), which came with a ginger chocolate candy on the side. The hot chocolate was rich and creamy and a perfect ‘classic’ hot cocoa, though apart from the chocolate candy served with it, I tasted no ginger. I’d still recommend it!

 

#22 -This next ‘hot chocolate’ was the Frozen Hot Chocolate milkshake at Boogie’s Burgers.

People in Calgary rave about Boogies, and particularly about their milkshakes so I had high hopes. In the end it was a very basic, boring, chocolate milkshake. I expected much more, honestly.

The 23rd of the hot chocolate festivities was enjoyed at SAIT, and the company was the best part! My friend Nicole works on campus and we wandered into the sunshine to enjoy our pink drinks. The Flirty Chai Hot Chocolate.

This hot chocolate was a powdery pink (coloured by beetroot without the intense veggie flavour), and was *without* even the tiniest, remotest, slightest hint of the promised chai flavour, but was still very pleasant simple white chocolate.

 

The Lavender Honey Hot Chocolate (#24) at Higher Ground was as pretty as it was sweet. The flavour danced right on the line of ‘dessert’ and ‘perfume’… 😳🤔

 

I made it to Blush Lane Organic Market on a dinner break from work, and got to indulge in and surprise my friend Chris with the Pistachio Orange Blossom hot chocolate. #25!

This drink was soooo good; the chocolate ganache and orange blossom whip cream was divine. I highly highly recommend it.

I wandered into Famoso for my second coffee-infused hot chocolate of the festival. The Nutella Mocha is the perfect combo of hot chocolate, coffee, and Nutella.

This was drink 26!

 

A new discovery! Société Coffee Lounge opened up recently on 11ave SW and my mum and my friend Karen and I got some good chatting in over warm drinks and delicious breakfast baking! ❤️

We tried their Bumblebee hot chocolate. My 27th of the festival, this turmeric & honey hot chocolate was a nice start to the day.

 

#27- A snowy day’s walk had me stopping into Ollia for the Rocher Chocolate Chaud: a perfectly refined hazelnut & chocolate combo. I felt sophisticated drinking it. And French. 😉

Plus it comes with a tiny hazelnut macaron so how can you go wrong?!

 

The 29th and my final hot chocolate of the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest was had at Cornerstone Cafe: their Mexi-Cocoa.

This was the spiciest of the chili hot chocolates that I have tried, and I wish there was something to cool the heat or at least compliment it. The good/bad news was they ran out of the much anticipated topping (homemade marshmallows) because they sold 100 more drinks than they expected to. A good problem to have, I guess!

If you have a chance to go out and get a hot chocolate next February, do it! Support Meals on Wheels, maybe discover a favourite new coffee shop or restaurant, and enjoy a delicious fancy hot beverage as well!

A Staycation for the summer

Last summer I did not do any travelling, as much I hoped I would be, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t get to enjoy many opportunities for adventure and entertainment in my hometown and the nearby area.

downtown

Summer is the best time of year in Calgary so I was happy to be home.

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June brought the Cirque Du Soleil show “Kurios: Cabinet of Kuriosities” to Calgary, and with the steam-punk look that is trending right now, I was looking forward to getting tickets for my family. We got phenomenal seats, and enjoyed one of the best touring Cirque shows I have ever seen.

One thing I missed last summer and was thrilled to get to do again was sign up for a beach volleyball team. The Calgary Sport and Social Club has games almost every night of the week in the summer, from volleyball to soccer to ultimate frisbee to badminton. It was excellent. I always sign up for the singles team which ends up leading to meeting new people and new friendships, and sometimes, we end up playing together so well we sign up as a team the following season. I have no photos, however, so you’ll have to believe me on this one. 🙂

We also got a lot of barbecuing in this summer, which is definitely my favourite way to cook.

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Grilled veggies and chicken with only spices and olive oil. Perfection.

Even walking along the river pathways in town was a regular evening activity in the beautiful summer weather.

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pathway

This is the pathway by Prince’s Island and Eau Claire Market.

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The next thing I did was take my kayak out of storage for the first time in three years. I didn’t have anyone to kayak with so I didn’t stray far from home. I spent many days of my summer on the Glenmore Reservoir and wouldn’t have traded that for anything. Next summer I hope to do some river kayaking but hopefully I’ll have company.

 

I got to work on the Calgary Grandstand Show a the Calgary Stampede for a few days, and if you have ever been to Calgary in July, or live here, you know that the first ten days of the month every year are a big crazy busy mess of international tourists, western gear like boots and cowboy hats, and free pancake breakfasts every day of the week.

onstage

I never had this view before: from the stage!

The grandstand show has over 100 performers from age 6, up.

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fireworks

A pancake breakfast seems like the closest thing to a “Canadian” meal I can think of, or at least a “Calgarian” tradition that I think is unique to Calgary. You can truly find several free breakfasts all over the city every day of stampede, and likely even the week before it begins. They usually include pancakes, bacon or sausage, sometimes eggs, sometimes hashbrowns. It’s a great way to celebrate community. I moved downtown this summer and got to attend a local breakfast that included live music, good food, and running into old friends that I now know are neighbors!

For the first time, Slide The City came to Calgary. It is three large slip-and-slides set up on a street and you can buy a one-slide, three-slide, or unlimited-slides pass, and you get an inner tube to ride down. I bought a pass and met up with a good friend on the day to try it out. It was a two day event, and we went on the second day. Weather was perfect. We had a great time and I’d happily pay for unlimited slides next time. There’s an art to going fast, and avoiding bad collisions with other, less successful sliders.

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Going to the Calgary Folk Festival is one of my favourite weekends of the year and I was sad to miss it in 2014. I tell people that if I am in town for this weekend of the year, I am unavailable unless they come down to Prince’s Island Park. I volunteer all four days, and plan my schedule to catch as many different artists as possible. There are multiple stages and dozens of artists. My favourite parts of the day are the ‘workshops’; where several artists perform together. Every year I discover new groups and musicians that I love.

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And the following weekend: another festival!

Something I haven’t attended since I was in university is the South Country Fair.

It’s located in Fort Macleod (about 90 minutes south of Calgary) and the best way to experience it is to camp there.

We drove down on the Friday morning in grey cloudy rain-stormy weather. It was a damp set up of our campsite, with nothing more than our tent and our car nestled between dozens of other tents, trailers, and vehicles. I have never seen closer, cosier camping than at this festival. It’s at a park, not an official campground, so there are no designated spots. Bring your earplugs if you want to guarantee sleep…

camping1

Oh yes, it’s a cozy camping experience. It was very community-building! 🙂

There was live music Friday night, all afternoon and evening Saturday, and then Sunday afternoon. The weather cleared up by Friday night and the last band started playing after midnight, so we understood why no events really got started until noon on Saturday and Sunday.

The other crazy thing is, the site is on a riverbed and the acoustics are crazy good, so we heard the music at our tent almost as clearly as on the field directly in front of it.

There were people attending that didn’t even leave their campsites because they could hear the music from their campfire. There were lots of families and little kids, and it really felt just like we went camping with a huge group of friends and some of them play music. We will definitely be doing it again!

 

We even tried out hooping, and it turns out my mom is a natural! It took me several tries, but once I got the hang of it, we got a good core workout for a little while!

My hiking partner and I had very different schedules this summer and she only had weekends free to hike with me, while I had booked up my weekends with travel and festivals.

We did get one hike in on a hot and sunny afternoon in August. We went out to Running Rain Lake, which is in Kananaskis, about a ten minute drive past the very popular Ptarmigan Cirque and Pocaterra Tarn hikes.

hiking1

I love the mountains, and don’t even have to be hiking them to enjoy them.

I took a drive out to Canmore with one of my best friends, got some coffee, and wandered the pathways in town, exploring the local shops and then just sitting by the river appreciating how incredible nature is.

canmore
At the end of the summer, okay, truly this was in the fall, I spend a weekend at a cabin with friends just north of Calgary on Burnt Stick Lake.

I always thought that beautiful cottage locations were only found in BC or Ontario, but to my delight this is a hidden gem less than two hours away from home.

We did everything from roast hot dogs and make s’mores, to setting off fireworks on the shore and playing cards by a roaring fireplace. It was just one night away but it reminds me how much I love the idea of owning a cottage property in my future.

cabin

Other local autumn-season things included my first experience at the Calgary International Film Festival! I saw the intense and incredible story of Room, the heart-stopping thrilling mountain-climbing story of Meru, and the charming tale of Brooklyn. I highly recommend all three!

filmfest

Overall it was an excellent summer at home, appreciating the best of my city and events nearby! Hopefully my next summer entry will again be across the pond!

 

Culture shock, I guess

Many people asked if I had reverse culture shock coming back from Europe to Canada after 3 months, or if there were any major things I noticed.

I would say there were two things in particular that were hugely apparent right away.

ONE: While in Paris I never spent one minute in a car.   I did not drive for three months. In Paris I took the metro almost every day, walked, cycled, and had a couple trips on bus or train. There was one week in July where we rented a car in Avignon and drove around Provence (and for that week my sister and mom did all the driving).

My first day home in Calgary, I got in my car in order to meet a friend for a coffee. The day after that, I did some errands, and went out for dinner with my mom.   And I proceeded to use a car every. single. day. after. that.

Now, I don’t live downtown- I live in the suburbs. But very few of my friends are centrally located either. We drive to meet each other. It ensures we have more time to see each other, and spend less time waiting and waiting for inconsistent buses and avoiding rush hour LRT chaos.

TWO: In Canada we have so much SPACE. And we spread out like crepe batter. 😉 IMG_6151

Not only are the cities sprawled out but so many people here expect to have large front and back yards, a two car garage, and big house with parks and pathways and man-made lakes nearby. And suburbia reigns.

There have been attempts to create more concentrated housing in repurposed and more central up-and-coming neighborhoods in Calgary. The idea is for semi-detached housing in tall, narrow homes, and smaller lots. Sort of like townhouses, but without the condo boards. I see it as a wonderful opportunity to create a community with your neighbors, and some of the designs are beautiful and classic in design. I’d love to live in a place like this!   In several cases, the citizens of our great city have come up against the builders and have demanded more lawn space, larger square footage, and separate dwellings with larger garages.

In Paris, so many people live in tiny apartments with no yards, no garages and often they don’t even own cars. They walk or take transit or bike to get around. They share courtyards or small gardens and patios with neighbors. They spend their money on quality food and entertainment. They meet at local cafes and restaurants that are around every corner. They don’t sit at home watching giant tvs in giant living rooms and spend any time watering or mowing giant lawns.

My front ‘lawn’ aka door, in the Latin Quarter.

 

I have a new appreciation for our space here. The skies of Paris and France reminded me of our Alberta blue but I missed the mountain-edged horizon, the pathways around the reservoir, and the fact that the streets are only jam-packed with tourists ten days every year. Car keys in hand or not, I am happy to be home.  🙂

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