Firefly Resort: A True Hidden Gem.

Everyone is a morning person in Bali.

Even when this night owl got up at a shockingly early 5:30am to catch the sunrise, when I stepped outside my room I could see rice farmers already bent over the fields surrounding the retreat.

I’m amazed when I think how many times this trip I have been up to see the sunrise.

Who am I?!

Our first day of our yoga retreat began at 7:00am with 30 minutes of meditation before our one-hour yoga class. It was a nice way to meet everyone and start our week with focus.

I very quickly realized that all yoga is hot yoga in Bali.

After the first practice slipping and sliding in my downward dog and warrior poses I realized it would be necessary to bring a towel to class from now on.

Laura- our yoga instructor

From the moment I first met our yoga instructor Laura, I could tell that she was a warm and generous soul, and with her beautiful Argentinian accent, all the poses sound like moves in a sexy Latin dance class.

After yoga we all went straight for a buffet breakfast of pancakes, fruit, banana-coconut ‘yogurt’, toast with homemade spreads, and granola.

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Everything was freshly made, and some of the fruit was even picked at the resort. The granola continued to be the surprise highlight of our mornings for the entire retreat and we joked we would have brought baggies and containers to take every last grain with us on the final morning.

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All the meals at Firefly are vegetarian, and made in a tiny kitchen off the eating area by a small number of staff, including 3 guys we slowly got to know named Wayan, Ninja, and Agung.

There were only six participants in the yoga retreat this week, which was magical, as normally the resort has 10-12 people per week.

The girls!! L to R: Rachel, Laura, Ange, Sara, Jackie, Kaska & Aneta in front

(And when I met four of them Sunday night when I got back from dinner, I was relieved to find out I wasn’t the only one who struggled to find the place. One of the girls ended up at a completely different address, and the other 3 all thought when they arrived at the bottom of the hill that a) they were either lost or b) the resort didn’t actually exist. I have already offered to paint a sign for Firefly to put at the bottom of that hill, but they just chuckled, like I was making a joke.)

I shared a room with Rachel; a fun, energetic girl who just finished a 4-month trip in Australia. She was a kinesiology student and happened to be the only other Canadian of the group.

Roomies!

This photo is the view right outside our room.

We spend every moment that is not scheduled by or in the pool.
Of course.

On Tuesday, our favourite staff member and tour guide Coco led us through a traditional offering/prayer process at the local temple, and then were taught how to make two kinds of ‘canang‘ (pronounced CHa-nang): traditional coconut leaf baskets for offerings!

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You often see Balinese people with flower petals behind one or both ears, and we learned that it was part of the prayer and offering that Balinese people traditionally do one to three times a day. Every day we saw people (women primarily) setting out offerings outside homes, on the street, on cars, and at temples.

They start every day with gratitude and offerings. No wonder the Balinese are such happy people.

Canang materials

Completed canangs with incense burning

Every day we had two yoga practices: one at 7am, and one at 5pm. Typically in the morning we had Flow Yoga, and then in the afternoons we did classes ranging from Hatha to Vinyasa to Yin yoga. Most of the women here were intermediate level yoginis, and Laura made it a challenging, varied week (with a total of 12 classes).

On our third morning we did partner yoga, which I had never tried. I was paired up with Jackie, a teacher from Tasmania. We were a pretty excellent team, if I do say so myself.

POOL TIME!!

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Journaling next to the pool. Rough life!

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After we expressed concerns on the first day, the plastic straws were replaced with beautiful glass straws.

We got one young coconut every day at the retreat and we would often ask for it at breakfast and store it in the mini fridge in our room until the afternoon where we could enjoy it chilled by the pool.

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Coco telling us all about the coffee they grow here.

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We got to try a coffee tasting at the resort, with traditional coffee made from the coffee plants on their property(in fact, growing right next to the yoga studio)!!!

We tried coffee with ginger added, lemon and honey, and turmeric. I was surprised how much I liked honey and lemon in coffee! But the ginger coffee was my favourite.

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SUNRISE TIME!!

We went on a bike tour on the Thursday through the area where a lot of filming for the movie Eat Pray Love, and apparently now has many new hotels because of that.

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A cashew tree with the fruit on it!

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We stopped to talk to these rice farmers who were prepping rice for planting

We arrived at Bali Geo coffee plantation and got a tour of the grounds.

As we walked through, our guide pointed out cool things like the beehives on the property, cinnamon trees, and types of spices and coffee beans they grow.

They not only grew two kinds of coffee beans (Robusta and Arabica) but also sold the famous Luwak coffee that comes from the undigested beans that the Luwak animals eat and poop out.

They kept several Luwak (animals that almost look like dark brown versions of red pandas) on site for 2-3 months at a time to eat and ‘process’ the coffee beans, and then they release them back into the wild and they collect more animals to keep on the grounds for the next few months.

We were given samples of various types of tea and coffee they have on the plantation. From lychee and mangostee tea, to mocha and vanilla coffee, we tried 14 different drinks, including durian coffee. (Durian being the really stinky fruit that is banned in some countries on transit and in hotels).

We decided to share a cup of Luwak coffee just so we could all try it. You had to pay for this fancy “ca-ca-coffee”. Depending on the fruit the animals eat and the type of coffee beans they ingest, the Luwak coffee flavour varies. The animals eat the beans because the fruit on the outside of the coffee bean is sweet and digested by the animals. The bean itself does not break down and the seeds ferment in the stomachs of the animals in the fruit juices of what they eat. They poo them out and the beans are gathered, washed, dried, washed again, and then dried and roasted.

We tried it. But we did not like it.

We all thought it tasted like bad coffee. So, to each his own, but we don’t get what the fuss is about.

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We got to take a Balinese cooking class at the retreat and learn how to make jackfruit curry. I have heard that jackfruit is becoming a real trend as a vegetarian option, and when it is picked before it is ripe it is perfect for cooking.

Here’s our host and instructor Ariel showing off ingredients. He looks serious until the camera comes out!

Ninja had to wear gloves and spray a large knife with oil in order to cut open the jackfruit because there is a sticky sap-like juice around the fruit that is just like glue. Once the jackfruit is rinsed it is ready to cook. We chopped and juiced the rest of the ingredients in the meantime.

img_7429We each had our own pot on a hot plate heated up with oil, we poured the juiced ingredients in the pot, then added water, the lime leaf, and the lemon grass.

We chopped the jackfruit into large pieces and tossed it in the boiling pot for 20 minutes, and then got to eat it for lunch with rice and shrimp crackers! It was awesome!!!

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Jackfruit curry recipe:

Purée the following:

Ginger (2 tbsp raw, peeled, chopped)

Garlic (4-5 cloves, chopped)

1 medium mild pepper, chopped

1/2-1 hot pepper (depending on desired spicy level), chopped

1 tbsp fresh turmeric root, peeled and chopped

3 small shallots, chopped

Heat 1 Tbsp of sunflower oil in sauce pot. Add puréed ingredients.

Add:

1 L water

1 lime leaf

1 stick lemongrass (cut lengthwise)

Used oiled knife to cut unripe (young) jackfruit and rinse off sticky residue.  Add sliced chunks of jackfruit to pot.

Simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve with rice.

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In the afternoon we learned to make Jamu, a Balinese herbal drink that is served both hot and cold in Bali. It is often used to cure colds, and has turmeric and ginger, and tamarind in it.

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Again, we minced and then pureed all the ingredients except the pandan leaf, lime juice, and fresh ginger. We added the juiced ingredients to the pot with  pandan leaf and a piece of peeled ginger and let it boil, adding salt to taste. We then poured it through a sieve into mugs and added lime juice.

It’s crazy strange but definitely tastes healthy. Almost like a sweet & sour soup.

Our instructor tried every pot of Jamu and gave us marks out of 10 on taste. It turns out we all needed more salt. (Jackie and I tied for first place with a score of 7/10)

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Jamu recipe:

Boil the following:

Pandan leaf (used for colour and smell)

Turmeric (puréed)

Tamarind massaged/crushed into ¼ cup water (pulp/seeds strained)

Fresh ginger (1 tbsp, peeled)

Salt (1-2 tsp) to taste

1L water

Pour through a sieve into a cup.

Then add Lime (1 tsp of juice).

Drink warm or chilled.

 

Our last full day at the retreat had no scheduled activities outside of our two yoga practices and a nighttime firefly excursion to close the week.

We booked my friend from the weekend before, our driver and ‘tour guide extraordinaire’ Ketut to take us on a tour around some temples and waterfalls. We also hoped to get to the Monkey Forest and do the Campuhan Ridge walk.

As soon as we were done breakfast, Rachel, Aneta, Jackie, Kaska and I headed to the Temple Goa Gajah (also known as the Elephant Temple).

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We all donned our sarongs (they are provided for free with your ticket if you do not bring your own), and Ketut brought us through, giving us the history of the grounds (as a local who brought us there, he doesn’t have to pay the entrance fee to get in).

These fountains used to be where the king would bathe.

This is the famous temple where the king would worship.

We then went on the search for some waterfalls!

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Me and Aneta

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First, we went to Kanto Lampo waterfall which is a beautiful cascading wall of rocks and fine spray.

It was very busy and we spent most of our time there waiting for a couple taking photos at the centre of the rocks who had a photographer down below keeping other people off the rocks.

People were polite for about 10 minutes and then Rachel was one of the impatient folks who just started crawling up to get some fun shots.

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We moved on to my favourite spot of the day, the Air Terjun Tibumana waterfall. When we got to it there were only a handful of people there, including a cute engagement photo shoot on the shoreline.

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The photo opportunities were endless and it was a stunning spot.

Kaska and Rachel having some fun with rocks, and Aneta being a model for me

Because everyone was staying on the shore I asked if we were allowed to swim in the water. When I was told we could I threw off my dress and then leapt into that gorgeous water as fast as I possibly could. It felt like I had my very own personal waterfall.

I could have stayed in there for the entire day!

We then went to the Monkey Forest Sanctuary and it didn’t rain this time!

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Rachel stoked to see some monkeys!

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There were loads of detailed sculptures throughout the forest

 

I can’t believe we still had time to make it to the Campuhan Ridge, but we did, and it was magnificent. About a 60- to 90- minute walk to the end and back, unless you stop for a coconut at one of the restaurants at the end.

One word I can use to describe Bali is lush. Everywhere you look, it’s this gorgeous green.

Somehow after all that we made it back for our last yoga class of the week, and our final evening was spent walking around the grounds after sunset finding fireflies. The bonus of the night was definitely Coco singing us some Balinese songs.

On our final morning we all practically ran to the pool after stuffing our faces with our last delicious breakfast.

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We had a little pool photo shoot and then Rachel, Kaska, and I were picked up by Ketut to begin our drive north to Mount Batur for the start of another fantastic week on this inspiring island.

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Up next: the absolute highlight of this week in detail!!

 

 

 

 

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!