February 14, 2014: The Hot Chocolate Festival Top 5! Plus 1 for good luck! Our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch continues with…The Eye!

Alas, it was a herculean task and despite my best efforts, I came up short.  In the end, I sampled only 47 of the some 60 varieties of hot chocolate offered for this year’s Hot Chocolate Festival.  Still, 47 hot chocolates in 24 days aint bad, especially considering I took those four days off to visit mom in Montreal.  This year, I doubled last year’s score.  And, next year, I vow to do even better!

So, what were the standouts?  Well, what follows is my list of the Top 5 Hot Chocolates of this year’s Hot Chocolate Festival!

When all was said and done, six hot chocolates actually made by top 5 list.  After much consideration, I decided to offer a Top 5 +1 for good luck!

Honorable mention goes to…

1

A Snowball’s Chance in Hell: Single origin Mexican chocolate with Mexican chili poured over house made chocolate ice cream. Accompanied by a flourless chocolate cookie.

Available at: Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).

http://www.chocolatearts.com/

#5…

1

Phaun’s Fancy: Made from 64% dark chocolate with parmesan and fresh nutmeg.  Served with a side of Umami No. 5 fudge

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver

www.cocoanymph.com

#4..

1

Banana Split: Made from 36% Valrhona Caramelia chocolate and topped with walnut marshmallows.  Served with banana pound cake.

Available at: Bel Cafe, 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)

http://www.belcafe.com/

#3…

1

Trio of Chocolate: The base of this hot chocolate is 66% Mokaya chocolate by Michel Cluizel. Served with a disk of 45% Kayambe milk chocolate and white chocolate ice cream.

Available at: Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe 1059 Alberni Street

http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

#2…

1

Hera’s Habit: Made from 50% deep milk chocolate with malted milk balls.  Served with vanilla bean cinnamon shortbread.

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver

www.cocoanymph.co

#1…

1

Paula Dean White Trash Trainwreck: A 70% dark chocolate ganache with condensed milk, salted kettle chips, and vanilla whipped cream.  Served with a 72% dark chocolate wafer.

Available at: Mink Chocolates, 863 West Hastings St., Vancouver. On the park (cross street, Hornby.)

mink.chocolates

Congratulations to all the winners.  I’m hoping I’ll get to see you again soon.  REAL soon.

Continuing Stargate: Atlantis rewatch with…The Eye!

1Ah, now this is more like it!  Akemi was on the edge of her seat (or, actually, her side of the bed) throughout this episode.  She loved it.  Action!  Suspense!  Humor! And, best of all, those dazzling visual effects!  She was blown away by the the sequence of Atlantis shielding itself within seconds of the giant wave crashing down on the city (“Always very last minute your show!”) and also had high praise for the Teyla-Sora showdown (compliments of our former SGA stunt coordinator James Bam Bam Bamford).  She continues to enjoy McKay, greatly appreciated seeing her favorite Dr. Beckett, and is even warming up to Sheppard.  She had one big bump = McKay dressing his arm wound OVER his sleeve.

Overall: “I liked it a lot.  I’m getting used to this city.  At first I thought not as good as SGU’s ship but now pretty cool.”  And then: “I’m beginning to like SGA too!”

A couple of years ago, I offered some thoughts on this episode (and the next one) in one of my Trip Down Memory Lane entries:

June 13, 2012: Dark Matter at Comic Con! Save Lennox the dog! Days of Stargate Past, Atlantis! The Eye and The Defiant One! Vote on our favorite Stargate mid-season two-parter for a chance to win!

February 12, 2014: The final leg of the Hot Chocolate Festival! Rounds #16 – #20! Our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch continues with…Home!

We’re in the stretch run of our Hot Chocolate marathon!

Round #16…

1

High Society:  Earl Grey drinking chocolate.  Served with East Van Roasters’ signature gluten-free brownie and candied orange.

Available at: East Van Roasters, 319 Carrall St, Vancouver, B.C.

East Van Roasters

A great cup of hot chocolate with a  pronounced Earl Grey flavor,  served with an equally great brownie.   One of Akemi’s favorites.

1The Black Widow: Uva’s HC-inspired cocktail: reposado tequila influenced with cacao beans and coffee, Cherry Heering liquer, Amaro averna, Bittered Sling plum and rootbeer bitters.

Available at: UVA Wine Bar (and Bittered Sling)

UVA WINE BAR

Wow.  A nice depth of flavors but this one was so strong I only managed a few sips.

Verdict: Both respectful entries, but – DAMN – that was strong.

Winner: High Society (East Van Roasters)

Round #17…

1

Chartreuse Milkshake: Uva’s HC-inspired cocktail: Citadelle gin, green Chartreuse, cacao beans, lime and orange juice, Bittered Sling Malagasy chocolate bitters, egg white.

Available at: UVA Wine Bar (and Bittered Sling)

UVA WINE BAR

Another drink that packed an alcoholic punch.  The Chartreuse was front and center.  The cacao beans less so.

1

Black Magic: gBAR flavoured with black sesame and matcha tea.   Served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

Available at: Bella Gelateria, 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

I’ve found that, in my past visits, the flavors of the gelato bars got lost in the hot chocolate so I requested a cup with half the milk.  The result was a cup with a more concentrated hot chocolate that actually did a better job of showcasing the individual gelato flavors – in this case, black sesame and matcha.

Verdict: I’m a traditionalist, preferring my hot chocolates hot and chocolatey.

Winner: Black Magic (Bella Gelateria)

Round #18…

1

Red Hot Chili Pepper: gBAR flavoured with chocolate, cinnamon and cayenne.   Served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

Available at: Bella Gelateria, 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

Again, I had it with half the milk.  Pleasantly spicy.

1

Chocofraiche: A hot drink composed of slow-melted dark chocolate and heavy cream, infused with chili, vanilla bean and cinnamon with a dollop of creme fraiche.  Served with zeppoli (Italian doughnuts!)

Available at: UVA Wine Bar (and Bittered Sling)

UVA WINE BAR

A very nice sipping chocolate.  This one actually had more punch and a longer linger.  The accompanying zeppoli were a letdown – undercooked and doughy.

Verdict: I like my spicy chocolate.

Winner: Chocofraiche (UVA Wine Bar)

Round #19…

1

Sour Cherry Tisane: Cold mocha rooibos tea, sour cherry and Pedro Ximénez cordial, Bittered Sling orange and juniper bitters.  Served with zeppoli (Italian doughnuts!)

Available at: UVA Wine Bar (and Bittered Sling)

UVA WINE BAR

Pleasantly refreshing.  A wonderful flavor combo highlighted by the rooibos.  One damn fine iced tea.

1

9 O Clock Gun:  An aromatic cedar hot chocolate – perfect for a stroll around Stanley Park.  Served with an Elderberry Caramel Bar.

Available at: Soirette Macarons & Tea 1433 West Pender Street, Vancouver. (Coal Harbour)

www.soirette.com

Strange, but not for the reasons advertised.  Instead of the expected subtle cedar, I (and my friend Kathy) picked up notes of cheese – blue or roquefort.  I inquired and cheese was not one of the ingredients.  Hmmmm.

Verdict: I do prefer my hot chocolates hot and chocolatey – but not surprisingly cheesy.

Winner: Sour Cherry Tisane (UVA Wine Bar)

1

Hera’s Habit: Made from 50% deep milk chocolate with malted milk balls.  Served with vanilla bean cinnamon shortbread.

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver

www.cocoanymph.co

Oh my!  You’ll be hard-pressed to find a thicker, richer cup of hot chocolate in this festival.  And the slow-melting malt ball at the heart of the cup was a delightful bonus.

1

Hungers Satisfied: Dark Chocolate with black pepper.  Served with a vanilla/maldon salt cookie.

Available at: Beaucoup Bakery  2150 Fir Street (in Kitsilano)

www.beaucoupbakery.com/

Subtle hints of black pepper in a fairly restrained cup.  Akemi felt it tasted more like a latte than an actual hot chocolate.

Verdict: Did I mentioned that slow-melting malt ball?

Winner: Hera’s Habit (Cocoa Nymph)

Our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch continues with…Home!

1

As soon as my name came up on screen alongside the written by credit, Akemi was instantly on guard: “I’m very nervous about your episodes because you’re twisted.”

True.  And, as expected, she was plenty confused by the episode.  But that was the point!  The audience is supposed to be confused – until the big reveal at episode’s end.  Unfortunately, said big reveal only succeeded in confusing her even more: “Very confusing.  Very complicated.  Don’t you think so?  Were you okay when you wrote the episode?  Like person who did marijuana.”

But after I took the time to break it down for her, explaining the mist was sentient and responsible for their hallucinations: “Ah, interesting. Now makes sense!  Takes so long.  So fog was smart!”  Indeed.

Some other insights she offered while watching…

On Weir motoring around in her vintage car: “She is piece of Mrs. Old Fashioned.”

On Sheppard: “He seems to like girls.”

On McKay: “I like his t-shirt, I’m with Genius.” Thank you.  “I like the fact no one left message and he’s eating old chips.”

On the necklace Simon gifts Weir: “She seems to make a lot of money.  And he seems to make a lot of money, right?  Nice brand necklace is better.  Very cheap.”

Overall – in retrospect, she liked it.  Interestingly: “I feel like I’m watching SGU this episode.  Technical terms a lot.”

My thoughts on this episode in a previous blog entry: June 12, 2012: Pirates! Days of Stargate Past – Atlantis! Home and The Storm! Pick your favorite Stargate mid-season two-parter and WIN!

February 5, 2014: The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival tour continues! Rounds #14 and #15! The Ampamakia vs. The Banana Split! Our Stargate Atlantis rewatch continues with…Suspicion!

Never let it be said I don’t make sacrifices for you blog readers.  For the past several weeks, I’ve made the ultimate sacrifice – sampling and reporting on the various (60+) flavors being offered as part of this year’s Vancouver Hot Chocolate festival…so that you can sip and experience vicariously through me.  You’re welcome!  Today, it’s a David and Goliath battle pitting two new flavors from two previously visited location: Thierry, which served up one of my early festival favorites (The Chocolate Trio), and Bel Cafe that definitely did not (Peppermint Patty).  So, how did the two new offerings fair in our head to head taste-off?

1

The Ampamakia: The base of this hot chocolate is Ampamakia 68% chocolate – a premium chocolate from a special plantation of Valrhona and only available at Thierry.  Served with a marshmallow dipped in 80% chocolate.

Available at: Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe, 1059 Alberni Street

http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

I have marshmallow-averse (Also allergic to feathers apparently) so the chocolate-covered sweet sponges didn’t sway me – although Akemi is a fan and loved them.  It was all about the hot chocolate and, once again, Thierry delivers a wonderful cup. Very good – but not as good as their Trio of Chocolate.

1

Banana Split: Made from 36% Valrhona Caramelia chocolate and topped with walnut marshmallows.  Served with banana pound cake.

Available at: Bel Cafe, 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)

http://www.belcafe.com/

I loved the Banana Split as passionately as I disliked the Peppermint Patty.  The banana bread was good (although I prefer the Bella Gelateria/Erin Ireland version) and the marshmallow was as fine as a marshmallow could be, but the hot chocolate itself was spectacular.  Sweet, silky, and substantial.

Verdict: Close, but the underdog pulls the upset here.

Winner: Banana Split (Bel Cafe).

Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch with…Suspicion!

suspicionAlmost every series starts off a little rough before, eventually (hopefully), finding its way.  Sure, there are strong elements in those first few episodes, moments that keep you coming back with the promise of bigger and better, but it’s usually further down the broadcast line when THE episode airs, the REALLY GOOD ONE if not the GREAT ONE, the one that makes you shout “I love this show!” and start recommending it to friends.  And episode #4, Suspicion…

It aint it.  But like the preceding episodes, it has its moments.  And Akemi liked it well enough, again because of the humor (McKay rubbing his numb foot received special praise) and those establishing shots of Atlantis on the water.  In fact, if we followed this episode up with an episode entirely made up of lingering establishers, I suspect it would prove her reigning favorite.

So, what else did our Japanese Stargate newbie think of Suspicion?  Well…

On Bates’ attitude throughout the episode but during the Teyla interview in particular: “Why he so rude?  So unprofessional!”

On Weir’s civilian outfit during said interview: “Why she not wearing uniform? Casual Friday?”

On angry Halling: “Jinto is crazy because his father is crazy.”

And when the Athosians decide to leave the city: “Hurray!”  Evidently, not a fan.

On the black-clad wraith’s first appearance: “Beautiful hair!”

All in all, not a bad episode in her eyes.  In her estimation, better than 38 Minutes but not as good as Hide and Seek.  Still, after SGU, she’s having a difficult time adjusting to the shift in tone: “Maybe because of old and dynamic of the shooting scenes but feels like watching a kid’s show.  Chotto sad.  Anyway, good!”

My past write-up on the episode here offers  a little insight into the episode, my writing partner’s failed attempt to come up with lyrics for the theme song, and a rare recorded duet of the SG-1 theme song with lyrics: June 9, 2012: Dark Matter! Comic Con! Days of Stargate Past – Stargate: Atlantis! Suspicion and Childhood’s End!

[Kathode informs me that link to us singing the theme to Stargate: SG-1 no longer works.  Try this one instead: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owgOxV1V6Cc]

Mailbag:

Jenny Horn writes: “Jinto should have been about 8 years old. It would have made his antics more believable, and it would made one line from his father far less creepy. It’s the line about nothing being as big as my love for you. Cute when said to an 8 year old. Kinda creepy when said to a kid who looks about 12. My Nephew is 12, so….yeah….”

Answer: YES!  When we watched the episode the other night, I remember thinking: “AWKWARD!”.

Majorsal writes: “joe/Answer: As I said, if I sat her down to watch SG-1′s first season, she’d probably excuse herself and then secretly hop on the first plane back to Japan. That was a rocky first season with some very rough visual effects.

what about just showing her a few episodes from each season?”

Answer: No.  Again, it has everything to do with the look of the show – and, the visual effects in particular.  I think I need to slowly acclimatize her, like a lobster in a  pot.  I started with SGU and follow with SGA, then SG-1 seasons 9 and 10 and the movies, then SG-1 season 4-8, and finally SG-1 seasons 1-3.

Deborah Rose writes: “Good scripting. But things like the McKay/Sheppard horse playing and many of the other points could have easily crashed, had the actors not pulled it off.”

Answer: Ah, true enough, but the writer scripts the moment imagining the best-case version of what he has written, having full confidence in the actor’s ability to pull it off.  And, in this case, it was confidence well placed.

gforce writes: “Update – Brio (the budgie) seems to be doing much better today. I guess he just didn’t want to eat while I was away?”

Answer: Well, great to hear.  Separation anxiety maybe?

DP writes: “http://www.deadline.com/2014/02/fremantlemedia-to-adapt-fantasy-novel-american-gods-as-drama-series/  Ha! I’d heard Gaiman was working on a script for this. Just because he’s never written a pilot script only makes it MORE likely he’d do it.”

Answer: Don’t know if he’s ever written a pilot script, but Gaiman certainly has scriptwriting experience.  In addition to episodes of Dr. Who, his screenwriting credits include Stardust, Beowulf, and Neverwhere.

arctic goddess writes: “As a Stargate writer/producer, were you ever surprised at how popular it was with female viewers?”

Answer: When I first joined the production at the start of SG-1’s fourth season, I was surprised.  After all, SF is traditionally seen as a young man’s preferred genre.  But it quickly became apparent to me that viewers may initially tune in for the bells and whistles – the action, adventure, dazzling visual effects, the star – but they’ll only come back for one thing: the characters.  And, at the end of the day, the show’s characters and relationships seemed to resonate more with female viewers…which is not all that surprising.

skua writes: “Have you seen? Shingeki no Kyojin: Ilse no Techou; Attack on Titan: Ilse’s Journal. OVA”

Answer: Not yet.  Is it available on Crunchyroll?

February 1, 2014: The Hot Chocolate Tour Continues with Rounds #12 and #13! Twisted Romance vs. Beyond the Milky Way! Winter Citrus vs. Chocolat Glacé a la Cardamome! Our Stargate Atlantis Rewatch Begins with Rising 1!

“You must be so sick of hot chocolate by now,”said my buddy Ivon.  Sick of hot chocolate?!  I can’t afford to be sick!  I’ve only reached the halfway mark of my hot chocolate marathon, my bid to sample all 62-ish flavors being offered as part of this year’s Hot Chocolate Festival.

Round #12…

1Twisted Romance: You’ll go gaga over hot chocolate made with Aussie natural black licorice.  Served with chocolate-dipped natural black licorice.

Available at: Gem Chocolates 2029 West 41st Avenue, Vancouver.

www.gemchocolates.ca

The chocolate-dipped natural black liquorice that accompanied this drink was VERY strong.  I couldn’t finish it.  The hot chocolate, in contrast, was actually quite subtle. Chocolate was the predominant flavor with a hint of the black licorice.  Unless, of course, you actually ate the licorice bits that studded the whipped cream topping.

1

Beyond the Milky Way: Valrhona Araguani dark chocolate (72%), pear and almond milk (dairy free).  Served with “Marocaine” (almond flour ball flavoured with orange blossom water (dairy free).

Available: French Made Baking 81 Kingsway, Vancouver

http://frenchmadebaking.com

Another surprisingly subtle entry.  Neither the pear nor the dark chocolate was particularly pronounced, but the flavor of almond milk was unmistakable.  The drink was possessed of a delightfully mellow, smooth and creamy texture.  Akemi quite enjoyed the Marocaine that accompanied our hot chocolate.  I’m not sure why we were served it in a take-out cup since we’d ordered it “for here”.

Verdict: This one was tough.  Both were fine.  By the slimmest of margins…

Winner: Beyond the Milky Way (French Made Baking)

Round #13…

1

Winter Citrus: Take a trip to Seville with this hot chocolate flavoured with orange blossom. Served with a citrus marshmallow.

Available at: Last Crumb Cafe, 3080 Main Street (Main and East 15th), Vancouver.

thelastcrumb

I liked the lingering aftertaste of the slightly bitter orange essence, but Akemi found it almost medicinal and reminiscent of the orange-flavored medicine she used to take as a child.  The hot chocolate was very sweet and didn’t really offer a counterpoint to the equally sweet marshmallow.

1

Chocolat Glacé a la Cardamome:  Cardamom flavoured iced drinking chocolate. Served with a Gaufre de Liège waffle, along with a side of fleur de sel caramel or chocolate hazelnut spread.

Available at: Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France, 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

Something a little different – a chilled chocolate drink with a hint of cardamom. Although I preferred the coconut version I had last week, I thought this drinking chocolate was very good.  And the accompanying waffle, with a side of fleur de del caramel, terrific.

Verdict: Even setting aside the waffle, I have to go with…

Winner: Chocolat Glacé a la Cardamome (Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France)

Alright.  Last night marked the start of our Stargate: Atlantis rematch – and Akemi’s first time watch of the classic SF series.  So, what did she think?

ArrivalWithin the first five minutes (Ancients, Atlantis leaves Earth, the present-day scientists are working at the newly discovered base, talk of the Ancient gene): “I’m confused.”

I gave her a brief primer which she seemed to understand – or, at the very least, pretended to understand because she grew tired listening to the explanation.

She found the visual effects good at parts, okay in others, and was impressed with the size of some of the sets: “I find the place humongous!”

Alas, she didn’t instantly warm to our heroes.  With the exception of Dr. Carson Beckett who she loved from the get-go.  She found him as charming as his accent – which, I informed her was Scottish, much to her surprise: “Oh.  I thought he was Italian!”.

A somewhat reserved response to our hero, John Sheppard, who she didn’t find as dashing as either Daniel Jackson or General O’Neill (or the greatly missed Eli Wallace) and who – I had to break the bad news to her – would not be heading off on the expedition.  And later, when John meets Teyla for the first time: “He is playboy.” And she didn’t seem to mean it in a good way.

As the expedition prepared to head off to parts unknown, I asked her if she would join them if presented with the opportunity.  “Depend on who with,”she answered. When I told her that, quite obviously, she’d be traveling with the expedition members we’d been introduced to, her answer was a definite: “No.”

Later in the episode, when Colonel Sumner’s team encounters off-world humans – who speak perfect English no less: “They speak English?!:  Then: “Perfect English.” And: “Better than me!”

After the episode ended, it was clear she wasn’t as enthusiastic as she’d been after the conclusion of Air I, but she was keeping an open mind: “Need time to get to like characters.”  And some time to get used to the new series: “Different concept.   Visiting planets and visitors.”

Overall: “It’s a bit old compared to SGU.  Not just because of computer graphic but fashion, hair style.”

On the look of the Destiny vs. Atlantis: “SGU seems more alienish.  This one looks more like Tokyo Disneyland attraction.”

And finally, almost apologetically: “I don’t know.  Maybe I don’t love it.”  Well, let’s give it some time.  I’m sure it’ll grow on her.

As for me, it was great rewatching the pilot although, coming back at it fresh, I can see exactly what would have appealed to long-time Stargate fans – and, on the other hand, turned off potential new viewers.  In brief: “Ancients, Ancient gene, English-speaking human aliens”.  I did a brief walk-down-memory-lane write-up on the opening two-parter a couple of years ago:

June 7, 2012: Day of Stargate Past – Atlantis, Rising I and II

 – highlighted by memories of the “new and improved” gate, theories regarding O’Neill’s reluctance to allow Daniel to join the expedition, and the ridiculous hat worn by one actor during an audition.

Rewatching the episode also brought back memories of one of the biggest bones of contention early in the show’s run.  No, not a creative issue.  A hair issue. Specifically, Teyla’s hair which engendered some ferocious criticism from the get-go. The debatee was heated – and didn’t get resolved until episodes later.  Really.

So, what did you all think?

Tomorrow, we move on to Rising II.  I’ll be posting Akemi’s review of the episode –

As well as my Superbowl prediction!

Today’s entry is dedicated to blog regulars – and birthday celebrants – Ganymede and Mamasue9!

January 31, 2014: Hot Chocolate Festival Rounds #10 and #11! The Proposition vs. Phaun’s Fancy vs. Passionista! The Brunette Bangle vs. The Intimate Act vs. The Campfire! Kicking off the Stargate: Atlantis Rewatch!

Catching up on our tour of the ongoing Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival.  Today, a couple of three-way throwdowns and a few surprises.

Round #10…

1

The Proposition: Eggnog and Rum Hot Chocolate with Cinnamon.  Served with your choice of cookie.

Available at: Koko Monk,  1849 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver

LevniKokoMonk

Ah, one sip and I was instantly transported.  It was Christmas all over again.  Alas, we didn’t receive the promised cookie, but we were so full after a big dinner, we hardly missed it.

1

Phaun’s Fancy: Made from 64% dark chocolate with parmesan and fresh nutmeg.  Served with a side of Umami No. 5 fudge

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver

www.cocoanymph.co

My first response to reading the description was: “Chocolate and parmesan?  No.” But after tasting it: “Yes!”.  It was the exact same reaction I had to one of Cocoa Nymph’s 2013 Hot Chocolate Festival entries that combined dark chocolate with basil and balsamic to create what turned out to be one of my Top 5 Fest Favorites. In this case, the scent of the parmesan wafts up off the cup but, when you sip it, it’s all chocolate up front with just a wisp of lingering sharpness at the back.  It was reminiscent of the sweet and savory marriage of bacon and caramel.  At first blush, you don’t think it will work but it does.  And it’s delicious.  Really!  Special mention should be made of the Umami No. 5 fudge that accompanied the hot chocolate.  If it was on the regular shop menu, I’d buy it by the box.

1

Passionista: Fresh passion fruit-infused hot chocolate with Grand Marnier chantilly. Served with passion fruit pate de fruit.

Available at: Thomas Haas, 2539 West Broadway, Vancouver.

http://www.thomashaas.com/

This one was Akemi’s favorite of the six we sampled over this three-day span.   It packs a passionfruit punch without overwhelming the chocolate.  A lovely balance. And that Grand Marnier chantilly?  Killer!

Verdict: On paper, it would have been a toss-up between the two runners-up.  But in the all important taste-off, I have to go with a most unlikely winner…

Winner: Phaun’s Fancy (Cocoa Nymph)

1

The Brunette Bangle: Hot Chocolate with the exotic hint of curry.  Served with your choice of cookie.

Available at: Koko Monk,  1849 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver

LevniKokoMonk

A very nice sipping chocolate with a hint of lingering spice.  Another unique yet surprisingly good entry.

1

The Intimate Act: Milk Chocolate with passionfruit.  Served with a hazelnut cookie.

Available at: Beaucoup Bakery  2150 Fir Street (in Kitsilano)

www.beaucoupbakery.com/

A subtle drink with an excellent passionfruit flavor that shines although the chocolate is strangely muted here.

1

The Campfire: A classic hot chocolate, only with smoky caramel, smoked Hawaiian sea salt.  Served with vanilla marshmallows.

Available at: Thomas Haas, 2539 West Broadway, Vancouver.

http://www.thomashaas.com/

One of the best combinations of sweet and savory so far.  The vanilla marshmallow, lightly studded with smoked Hawaiian sea salt, was fabulous.

Verdict: Another tough call, but if I had to choose one…

Winner: The Campfire (Thomas Haas)

27 flavors down!  35 to go!

Ready to go?!
Ready to go?!

Everyone prepared to trek off to the Pegasus Galaxy one more time?  Hope so because our Stargate: Atlantis rematch kicks off today with the episode that started it all: Rising I.  Watch it today and come armed with your insights, accolades, critiques, and questions tomorrow!  Also, be prepared for Akemi’s unique take on the show as I relay her thoughts on the episode in tomorrow’s blog entry.  Yes, it’s Rising I: The Japanese Girlfriend Review!

January 27, 2014: The Hot Chocolate Festival Tour Continues with Rounds #8 and #9!

Our tour of the ongoing Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival continues with not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE new concoctions!

The festivities continue through to February 14th, so plenty of time to check out the delectable offerings: January 04, 2014The Hot Chocolate is Here!

Round #8…

1

Evita: gBAR flavoured with salted caramel – Argentina style.   Served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

Available at: Bella Gelateria, 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

Hmmm.  I found this one a little confused.  All of the various hot chocolates on the menu use a standard base (your choice of milk, dark, or very dark chocolate) to which is added a flavor accent in the form of a gelato bar.  In the case of the Monkey’s Lunch, it all worked.  The banana gelato married well with the chocolate and the banana bread was the perfect accompaniment.  And, while I love the banana bread, it seemed like an odd accompaniment to this hot chocolate.  Also, unlike the Monkey’s Lunch, the flavor of the salted caramel gelato got lost, presumably because of the heavier hot chocolate to bar ratio.

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Nut Your Traditional Hot chocolate: Chipmunks will chatter over this hot chocolate flavoured with peanut butter.  Served with a berry marshmallow.

Available at: Last Crumb Cafe, 3080 Main Street (Main and East 15th), Vancouver.

thelastcrumb

I suppose you can eat the marshmallow separately, but I preferred to dunk it in the hot chocolate so that it gradually melted, imparting the drink with a unique berry sweetness to counterbalance the slight saltiness of the peanut butter.  This is about as close as you can get to drinking peanut butter and jelly.  And it’s damn good.

The Verdict: I’m a sucker for peanut butter.  I love salted caramel too but, for some reason, its flavors were strangely muted in the Evita.

Winner: Nut Your Traditional Hot Chocolate (Last Crumb Cafe)

Round #9…

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Paula Dean White Trash Trainwreck: A 70% dark chocolate ganache with condensed milk, salted kettle chips, and vanilla whipped cream.  Served with a 72% dark chocolate wafer.

Available at: Mink Chocolates, 863 West Hastings St., Vancouver. On the park (cross street, Hornby.)

/mink.chocolates

An assembly of ingredients as inspired as its name, bursts of sweet and salty, silky, whispy, and crispy.  It seems like a bizarre combination but it works.  Really, REALLY well.  The hot chocolate base almost attains a consistency just short of pudding. Shatter the chips, mix in the whipped cream, and you’ve got one of the most fun flavors of the festival so far.  And damn delicious to boot!

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Hot Toddy Float:  You’d stay warm and cozy even in the peaks of Grouse Mountain with this buttered rum hot chocolate blended with wild mountain honey ice cream.

Available at: Soirette Macarons & Tea 1433 West Pender Street, Vancouver. (Coal Harbour)

www.soirette.com

I might have enjoyed this one a little more in a regular cup instead of a take-away cup, but it was quite good nevertheless.  My only complaint was that, by the time my drink hit the table, the honey ice cream was no longer solid.  In fairness, it may have been intentional – which is too bad since two of my top hot chocolates of the festival so far (Chocolate Arts’ Snowball’s Chance in Hell and Thierry’s Trio of Chocolate) executed the hot/cold contrast to great effect.

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Peppermint Patty: Made from 70% Valrhona guanaja chocolate infused with organic peppermint and vanilla bean chantilly.  Served with a double fudge cookie.

Available at: Bel Cafe, 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)

http://www.belcafe.com/

Yeaaaargh!  The first misfire of the festival!  Lacking any discernible sweetness, this drink was like taking a mint buckshot to the throat.  It was so intense in its mint flavor that I thought it might work better as a topical muscle relaxant instead of a drink.

Verdict: Thick chocolate ganache, kettle chips and whipped cream?  UNREAL!

Winner: Paula Dean White Trash Trainwreck (Mink Chocolates)

Joining us on today’s tour was blog regular Kathode who took time away from her busy schedule to watch me achieve a sugar high unlike any other.

The chocolate line-up at Mink
The chocolate line-up at Mink.  I picked up a few.  For later.  MUCH later.
I snap a pic for my blog of Kathode snapping a pic…for her blog?  How meta.
I snap a pic for my blog of Kathode snapping a pic…for her blog? How meta.
I bet her dog has a matching hat.
Wait!  Are you supposed to drink this or apply it to your feet?

21 flavors down.  We’re one third of the way to the finish line!

Today’s entry is dedicated to blog regular M. Reed.  Condolences on the loss of her beloved dog.  Condolences.

January 24, 2014: Hot Chocolate Festival Rounds #6 and #7!

In addition to scriptwriting (and rewriting), I’ve been very busy running around town testing the various hot chocolates that make up this year’s Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival!  Today, we reached the 1/4 mark of our epic chocolate journey…

Round #6…

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Chocolat Glacé:  Iced drinking chocolate.  Served with a Gaufre de Liège waffle, along with a side of fleur de sel caramel or chocolate hazelnut spread..

Available at: Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

Surprisingly refreshing.  Not overly sweet, it strikes a nice textural, neither too thick nor too thin.

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The Hive:  ‘Hives for Humanity’ honey dark drinking chocolate.  Served with a honey nib caramel.

Available at: East Van Roasters, 319 Carrall St, Vancouver, B.C.

East Van Roasters

A gloriously frothy cup of hot chocolate, the sweetness of the honey accented by just a touch of salt.  I liked it, but Akemi isn’t  a believer of the “adding salt to sweet” school of dessert preparation.  The honey nib caramel served with the hot chocolate embodied the same contrasting flavors and I loved it.  A heavenly two bites.

The Verdict: Both great in completely different ways.  But, if I had to choose…

The Winner: The Hive (East Van Roasters).

Round #7:

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Chocolat Glacé à la Noix de Coco:  Coconut flavoured iced drinking chocolate.  Served with a Gaufre de Liège waffle, along with a side of fleur de sel caramel or chocolate hazelnut spread.

Available at: Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

While the regular iced chocolate drink was great, this one, fairly bursting with coconut flavor, was even better.  Initially, I feared the flavor might stray into cloying Pina Colada territory but it turned out to be surprisingly strong in chocolate flavor as well.  The warm local waffle serve with the home made hazelnut spread was to die for.

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Granville Island Grocery List:  Inspired by the flavours of Granville Island, this is a beet and saffron hot chocolate.  Served with a Gjetost macaron.

Available at: Soirette Macarons & Tea 1433 West Pender Street, Vancouver. (Coal Harbour)

www.soirette.com

Well I have to give Soirette credit for creativity.  Last visit, it was Five Spice Chocolate.  This time, it was beet and saffron and chocolate.  Like the last time, the chocolate base was amazing, but the inspired ingredients maybe a little…to inspired? To be fair, I’m a little biased when it comes to saffron (I think it tastes like public pool water) and, while I enjoy beets, the tiny pieces at the bottom of my cup felt a little out of place.  I was, however, mightily impressed with the macaron, the meringue sandwiching a piece of Gjetost, a slightly sweet cheese so unique I actually referenced it in an episode of Stargate: SG-1 (http://culturecheesemag.com/events/gjetost_gets_shout_out_stargate).

Verdict: Both quality products but there’s only one I’d go back to again.  And again.

Winner: Chocolat Glacé à la Noix de Coco (Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France).

That’s 16 hot chocolates down, some 46 to go!

January 22, 2014: Projects update! Hot Chocolate Festival Rounds #4 and #5!

So, things are progressing nicely on all project fronts.

A.K.A.: We’re working with Thunderbird Films, developing this one for Bell Media. Paul is presently doing a  pass on the pilot script while I work on the series overview. We have our notes call on the script for episode #2 tomorrow which will give us plenty of time to input any changes and deliver the entire package (both scripts and the overview) late next week.  Hopefully.  I hear that the broadcaster will be making decisions in the month of February so, thankfully, we’ll have our answer soon enough.  Also in contention for a series order are projects by Robert Cooper (Soul Hunter, a super fun show along the lines of a sexier, darker Buffy) and Mark Savela (Echoes, an Earth-based, alien-influenced SF extravaganza with our friend Carl Binder at the creative helm).

The Southern Gothic pilot: We’ve finished a first draft and it’s in Tara’s hands for now.  Once my schedule frees up, probably the week after next, I’ll look to shave five pages from the draft and do a “southern dialogue” polish.

That horror script: Alex and I talked through the story and agreed that I would start writing while he concentrated on Orphan Black.  The plan was to get him 30 pages in February when he would finally have the time to commit to the project.  Then, 30 pages become 40.  Then 50.  Then 60.  The further along I got, the more pieces came together and, by the end, I was on a roll.  On Monday, I completed a first draft of the script that, at 83 pages, is admittedly patchy at points, but I think a very promising start.  Some of the scenes I envisioned kept me up nights, so that’s probably a good sign.

That SF pitch: Late in 2013, we were in Toronto pitching broadcasters a series based on a novel by a popular SF writer.  In February, we take our show back on the road, this time to L.A.

That Super Secret Project: This one promised to be a lot of fun and things were coming together nicely…until some lawyers got involved at which point things ground to a halt.  It’s too bad.  I know it would have been something you all would’ve enjoyed.

Continuing our tour of the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival 2014!

Round #4…

1 Kiss ‘N Tell: Kissed by the sun, some things are meant to go together, just like orange and chocolate.  Served with a candied orange peel chocolate creation.

Available at: Gem Chocolates 2029 West 41st Avenue, Vancouver.

www.gemchocolates.ca

The drinking chocolate here was lighter in comparison to some of the other places we tried and the orange flavor very subtle.  The candied orange peel that accompanied the hot chocolate, on the other hand, was bursting with concentrated orange flavor.

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Like Feathers & Snow: White Chocolate with warm spices.  Served with a cardamom cookie.

Available at: Beaucoup Bakery  2150 Fir Street (in Kitsilano)

www.beaucoupbakery.com/

A nice, flavorful, fulsome cup that married to perfection the sweetness of the white chocolate with the redolence of the spices.  The ideal hot chocolate for those stay-in-out-of-the-cold conditions.

The Verdict: Both were nice sipping chocolates but given the choice I’d go back for the…

Winner: Like Feathers & Snow (Beaucoup Bakery).

Round #5…

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Five Spice Dragon: To sip on while taking in all Chinatown has to offer – five spice flavoured hot chocolate.  Served with a Fennel Fortune Cookie.

Available at: Soirette Macarons & Tea 1433 West Pender Street, Vancouver. (Coal Harbour)

www.soirette.com

Going in, I wasn’t at all sure about the chocolate and five spice combo.  And, after having it, I’m still unconvinced.  The actual chocolate base was very nice.

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Trio of Chocolate: The base of this hot chocolate is 66% Mokaya chocolate by Michel Cluizel. Served with a disk of 45% Kayambe milk chocolate and white chocolate ice cream.

Available at: Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe 1059 Alberni Street

http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

So here’s how it’s supposed to work.  You’re served the white chocolate ice cream in the cup topped by a chocolate lid.  The hot chocolate is served separately for you to pour through the opening in the chocolate lid (see it pictured above).  For some reason, my order was served with the hot chocolate already in the cup so that, by the time I reached the table, then went back and got a spoon they forgot to give me, the ice cream was mostly melted.  Despite this annoying oversight, this was probably the best hot chocolate I’ve had so far.  Decadently indulgent.

Verdict: Alas, despite the service lapse, this one wasn’t even close.

Winner: Trio of Chocolate (Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe).

12 down, about 48 to go!

January 20, 2014: Hot Chocolate Festival Rounds #2 and #3! Aloha Sweetie vs. Put De Lime in De Coconut vs. Monkey’s Uncle! Call Me A Cab vs. A Snowball’s Chance In Hell vs. London Foggy!

I was busy with Football Sunday festivities yesterday and, as  result, missed a day in my ongoing quest to sample every hot chocolate being offered at this year’s Hot Chocolate Festival.  To make up for lost time, we actually tripled our output today, sampling six different flavors.  I know, I know.  This is a marathon, not a race.  I should be pacing myself.  True but, if you’re two people, it’s so much easier to order to different hot chocolates each seating rather than a single one for sharing.

So, in contrast to Saturday’s head to head battles, today’s was a head to head to head contest pitting hot chocolates from Bella Gelateria, Chocolate Arts, and Terra Breads.

Dingding!  Round #2…

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Aloha Sweetie: Barry Callebaut White Hot Chocolate with hibiscus flower.  Served with mountain berry marshmallow and lemon sugar cookie.

Available at: Terra Breads  2380 West 4th Avenue (@ Balsam)

I’m guessing the tartness of the dried hibiscus was intended as a counterpoint to the sweet richness of the white chocolate, but I found the sweetness muted by a thinness in consistency that just brought the sour accents front and centre.  The mountain berry marshmallow and lemon sugar cookie were, however, terrific.

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Put De Lime in De Coconut: Single origin Venezuela chocolate with organic coconut and kalamansi lime.  Accompanied by a toasted coconut shortbread.

Available at: Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).

http://www.chocolatearts.com/

This was Akemi’s favorite and, while I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, I did enjoy the coconut kalamansi combination.  Akemi appreciated the fact that both of aforementioned flavors didn’t upstage the chocolate but, for my part, I thought they got a little lost.  Great coconut shortbread cookie!

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Monkey’s Lunch: gBAR made from banana liquer and swirls of “To Die For” Banana Bread crumb. Served with a slice of Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread alongside.

Available at: Bella Gelateria, 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

Ah, a variation of one of last year’s Bella Gelateria entries, improved by the replacement of banana bits (I wasn’t a fan) with a banana liquor gelato bar.  Fear not, tea-toddlers.  It wasn’t at all boozy but packed with an intense banana flavor that married wonderfully with the silky hot chocolate.

The Verdict: There were no bad entries here, but  it ultimately came down to equally inspired preparations: Put De Lime in De Coconut vs. Monkey’s Lunch.

Winner: Monkey’s Lunch (Bella Gelateria).

Round #3…

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Call Me a Cab: Cacao Barry Extra Brute Hot Chocolate with Cabernet, cinnamon and pear.  Served with a pear crisp and a cocoa sugar cookie..

Available at: Terra Breads  2380 West 4th Avenue (@ Balsam)

I appreciated the intensity in flavor here, big and bold and spicy.  If the chocolate had been a little, I’d have rated this one higher.

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A Snowball’s Chance in Hell: Single origin Mexican chocolate with Mexican chili poured over house made chocolate ice cream. Accompanied by a flourless chocolate cookie.

Available at: Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).

http://www.chocolatearts.com/

I’m a sucker for showmanship and a hands-on dining experience, so this one was right up my alley.  Some assembly required.  In this case, the pitcher of hot chocolate is poured into the bowl of chocolate and both are simultaneously enjoyed.  I loved it.  The ice cream cooled the hot chocolate down enough to what was my ideal sipping temperature while the heat of the hot chocolate lent the ice cream that partially-melted consistency I adored.  I was a little leery about the Mexican chocolate but it was surprisingly good, packing a nice spicy, lingering throat punch.

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London Foggy: gBAR flavoured with vanilla and Earl Grey tea.  Served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

Available at: Bella Gelateria, 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

Another creative entry from Bella Gelateria.  This time, the chocolate is complimented by a vanilla and Earl Grey gelato bear.  Very good but, alas, paled in flavor comparison to its banana-flavored partner on this night.

Verdict: Again, not a bad drink in the bunch.  A little easier deciding this round though…

Winner: A Snowball’s Chance in Hell (Chocolate Arts)

Great!  8 down, 50 to go – although I appear to have lost my wing-woman as Akemi has informed me she is tapping out.  I’ll be holding interviews for her replacement in the coming days.  Do YOU think you have what it takes?

Tomorrow = You have questions, I have answers!  The A.K.A. project, secret episode titles, why petitioning NetFlix won’t bring back your favorite Stargate.

January 18, 2014: Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival Round #1 = Aphrodite Delight vs. Magnifique Brunette!

As I mentioned in a recent blog entry (assuming you were paying attention) The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival kicked off today.  Running from January 18th to February 14th, it features over 60+ flavors (although I only count 58 flavors including a special off-the-menu 99% dark drinking chocolate offered at Bella Gelateria.  The list of numbered varieties at the city food site mysteriously jumps from #36 to #41, skipping four spots) at 20 different locations around the city.

This year, in an effort to keep pace, Akemi and I will be sampling two different hot chocolates a day and pitting them, head to head, on the way to naming our Top 5 Festival Favorites.  Last year’s winners were a nice mix of the classic and the crazy:

#5: Malteaser: Barley malt-infused hot chocolate served with salt caramel malt truffles. (Thomas Haas)

#4: The Josiah: Basil drinking chocolate topped with housemade strawberry marshmallows. (Cocoa Nympth)

#3: Italian Honey Moon: Honey nougat and hazelnut made with Avalon Organic milk and Michel Cluizel chocolate served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread. (Bella Gelateria)

#2: Armoury Amour: Cocoa Barry  “Madirofolo”– a single plantation chocolate, kissed with raspberry and served with a mini lemon and basil ice cream sandwich(Chocolate Arts)

#1: Jasmine: 64% dark chocolate – origin: Ecuador. Infused with jasmine and served with choice of chocolate square. (Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France)

February 17, 2013: The Hot Chocolate Festival Wrap-up! And the Winners are…!

Today, we hit two different chocolate hot spots, pitting Cocoa Nymph’s Aphrodite Delights against French Made Baking’s Magnifique Brunette!

The contestants:

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The Aphrodite: 72% dark chocolate, with mango rosemary puree and almond milk (vegan and dairy free).  Served with a side of rosemary anise fudge.

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver
www.cocoanymph.co

The rosemary in the rosemary puree was so subtle as to be almost non-existent.  Not necessarily a bad thing as I’m still unconvinced that chocolate and rosemary make a good mix, but if if you’re going to advertise rosemary, it should taste a little like rosemary.  The mango was element was there but not overpowering.  The chocolate, as fruit-accented chocolates often do, was possessed of a lingering subtle sourness. Despite being prepared with almond milk, the drink was thick and rich.  The side anise-rosemary fudge (the rosemary was a little more pronounced here but not that much more, possibly owing to the contrasting flavors of the dark hot chocolate).  I also had two PB&J truffles which I think I’d preferred minus the J.

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Magnifique Brunette: Valrhona Araguani Dark Chocolate (72%) with coconut milk and toasted coconut. Served with “Congolais” (coconut macaroon dipped in chocolate).

Available: French Made Baking 81 Kingsway, Vancouver

http://frenchmadebaking.com

A beautiful-looking cup but ultimately lacking in fullness of flavor.  The drinking chocolate was thin, no doubt owing to the coconut milk base, and the contrasting temperatures – the heat of the liquid chocolate and the coolness of the topping – were more interesting than appealing.  I wasn’t a fan of the coconut shavings that added texture but not much in the way of taste.

VERDICT: Alas, even though I’m not a huge fan of the ubiquitous fruit and chocolate combo, this one wasn’t even close.

WINNER: Aphrodite Delight (Cocoa Nymph)

A big thanks to those offering their heartfelt congratulations on my making this list: http://www.bellmediapr.ca/Network/Bell-Media/Press/Bell-Media-Announces-29-Drama-Projects-in-Development

But, before we get a little ahead of ourselves and start checking the t.v. listings for the premiere date, allow me to dull your enthusiasm with little a reality check.  The project listed, along with the 28 others, has not been ordered to series.  It is merely “in development”.  Now don’t get me wrong.  Development is a significant first step toward getting a show on the air and not many people attain this coveted initial stage in the production process.  My neighbors to either side of me, for instance, do NOT have any projects in development at any of the networks.  Neither does the guy who runs the second-hand bookshop I occasionally frequent.  My  uncle Vic, despite his wonderfully humorous anecdotes, has no development deal.  Those Wassup Guys?  No development deal.  (Well, okay, they had one back in 2000 but I imagine it must have run its course by now).  Real Housewives alum Dina Manzo and Teen Mom star Farrah Abraham?  No development deals.  No, wait.  I stand corrected.  They DO have developments deals.  Never mind.

Anyway, my point is that having a show in development is nice, but actually having a show on the air is awesome – and one does not necessarily lead to the other.  In theory, yes, but in practice – as I learned with Dark Matter – not always the case.

So all this to say thanks, but let’s temper our expectations.  Our project is one of 29 under consideration at this point.  But if we do get the green light, you’ll be the first to know.

After Paul and me.  And our agents.  And friends and family.  And, possibly, anyone within a thirty foot radius when I receive the news.

And, while we’re on the subject, let’s offer another round of congratulations to two people (and former Stargate vets) I overlooked (after overlooking first Lawren Bancroft-Wilson and then Mark Savela).  Congratulations to Andy Mikita who picked up a nomination in the Best Direction in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series category for Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story.  Also, congratulations to Michael Shanks who received a nomination in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series category, also for Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story.

I went over the full list of nominees and believe I’ve congratulated everyone I know.  In the event I’ve been remiss and you or someone you know has been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award, please leave your name, nomination category, and production for which you have been nominated in the comments section of this blog and I will rectify the oversight in my next entry.

January 9, 2014: Hot chocolate! Ice cream! And books!

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It’s that time of year again!  Time for Vancouver annual Hot Chocolate Festival! From January 18th to February 14th, 24 local participants will be offering over 60 flavors.  At roughly two hot chocolates a day, I think that’s eminently doable.  Last year, Akemi and I managed to sample about half the hot chocolates being offered and, this year, we plant to do even better.  Yes, we’ll be like athletes, pacing ourselves, giving a 110% in the face of adversity except that, instead of running a marathon, we’ll be downing liquid chocolate.

There were some great offerings last year:

1Last years winner in my mind (and mouth and stomach): The Jasmine dark chocolate at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France.

February 17, 2013: The Hot Chocolate Festival Wrap-up! And the Winners are…!

And I’m eager to get started.  I’ve started my training by consuming a quarter bar of dark chocolate every day leading up to kick-off.  Wish me luck!

Perfect timing too as, today, I received a clean bill of health from my doctor.  Well, more or less.  Essentially, he didn’t find anything wrong with me and that’s good enough for me.

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A couple of days ago, my sister sent me the following link:

The 10 Most Expensive Pints of Ice Cream

Yep, mighty expensive.  And, in some cases, kind of intriguing as well.  Double vanilla with cashew brittle?  Whiskey eggnog?  Sea salt caramel?  Hmmm.

You folks strike me as worldly in the ways of ice cream.  Ever sampled any of the mentioned brands?  Are they worth their premium price tag?  Or are we sticking with Breyers?

Did you cast your vote for our upcoming Book of the Month Club?  What do you mean you don’t have time to read?  Make the time!  I certainly will.  In fact, I’m going to read all seven contenders in the running for our next BOTMC.  They are…

P.S. FINALLY started reading Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country yesterday.  Fabulous! A wicked mix of action, adventure, dark humor, and unforgettable characters.  A very hard book to put down.

February 17, 2013: The Hot Chocolate Festival Wrap-up! And the Winners are…!

Akemi and I tried to make the most of the last few days of the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival by checking out some of the more intriguing offerings we had yet to sample…

1Canadian Classic: 100% pure hazelnut with 38% milk chocolate served with four pieces of artisan chocolate.

At: Schokolade 2263 East Hastings Street, Vancouver

http://www.schokoladecafe.com/

Sweeter than most of the more bitter dark chocolate varieties we sampled and more straightforward than the sweeter, but layered, white chocolate entries.  Simply a nice, rich roasted favor.

1The Gold Medal: Salted Pecan & Maple Syrup (the gold medal winner from the 2012 Gelato Competition in Italy), served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

At: Bella Gelateria 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

An enormous serving of rich, premium dark chocolate served with fantastic banana bread for half the price of some of the festival’s high-end entries.  Bitter, sweet, salty, and incredibly satisfying.

1The Lumberjack: Bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup hot chocolate served with a Douglas fir-infused chantilly, maple & vanilla shortbread. 

At: Thomas Haas 2539 West Broadway, Vancouver.

http://www.thomashaas.com/

I wasn’t sure about the Douglas fir-infused chantilly but, like other delicious instances during this hot chocolate festival, I was pleasantly surprised.  Also something else I discovered over the last few weeks: chocolate + maple syrup = killer combination.

1The King’s Cup – Ode to Elvis: Hot chocolate with peanut butter and banana served with a macaron or cookie.

At: Soirette Macarons & Tea 1433 West Pender Street, Vancouver. (Coal Harbour)

www.soirette.com

Inspired by what was purportedly Elvis’s favorite treat (fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches), this delectable drink combines all three ingredients to tasty effect.  The peanut crumble rim was genius.

1The Scandal of Singapore: Spicy dark chocolate with rice milk.

At: Beta 5 (http://shop.beta5chocolates.com/and The Juice Truck (usually found on the corner of Abbott and Water in Gastown).

I actually had it with almond milk instead and it was quite good, with just enough spice to catch the back of your throat but not linger too long.

*

My final tally: 36 out of 60 flavors sampled.  Given that the festival was only 27 days long, I consider that a pretty respectable score.  And, now that it’s finally over, it’s time to pick my Top 5 Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival 2013 Favorites.  Drum roll, please…

Coming in at #5:

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Malteaser: Barley malt-infused hot chocolate served with salt caramel malt truffles.

Available: At Thomas Haas 2539 West Broadway, Vancouver.

http://www.thomashaas.com/

Terrific!  I could have had two but I’m sure the sugar rush would’ve killed me.

A pleasantly surprising top five finisher – in the #4 spot:

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The Josiah: Basil drinking chocolate topped with housemade strawberry marshmallows.

Available: At Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver
www.cocoanymph.co

Basil drinking chocolate?  Really?  Oh, yeah.  Really!  I was admittedly dubious but one taste thoroughly won me over.  The best hot chocolate I had that week.

A pleasantly unsurprising top-five finisher – at #3:

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Italian Honey Moon: Honey nougat and hazelnut made with Avalon Organic milk and Michel Cluizel chocolate served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

Available: At Bella Gelateria 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

I was leery at first.  Hot chocolate topped with shards of honey nougat? I love particulates (that’s what they call ‘em) in my ice cream, but in my drinking chocolate?  Well, they turned out to be a wonderful little textural addition to the drink.  I am now a hot chocolate particulate convert!

As a personal rule, fruit and chocolate don’t mix – and yet, inexplicably, defying all logic, it works perfectly here.  Coming in at #2 (and, incidentally, Akemi’s #1):

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Armoury Amour: Cocoa Barry  “Madirofolo”– a single plantation chocolate, kissed with raspberry and served with a mini lemon and basil ice cream sandwich.

Available: At Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).

http://www.chocolatearts.com/

Well, damn, this was a surprise!  I’m not a fan of the fruit-chocolate combo and find raspberry a particularly reprehensible partner but this heavenly creation sang.  Akemi’s overall favorite so far and a definite Top 3 finisher for yours truly.  Loved the raspberry sugar rim.

Which brings us to my favorite hot chocolate of the festival.  At #1:

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Jasmine: 64% dark chocolate – origin: Ecuador. Infused with jasmine and served with choice of chocolate square.

Available: At Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

Surprisingly spectacular.  Just the right chocolate married with the perfect balance of jasmine yields the most exquisite hot chocolate of the festival so far.

*

And rounding out my Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival 2013 Top Ten: The King’s Cup – Ode to Elvis (Soirette), Pretty in Pink (Bel Cafe), Ohhh Canada (Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe)Blond Mystique (Secret Location), One in a Million (Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie, Cafe).

 

February 12, 2013: Decision, Projects, and Hot Chocolate!

Thanks to everyone who took the time to offer their sage advice on my recent “dilemma of the day” (February 10, 2013: Let’s all pitch in and help me plan my life!).  I was actually leaning one way but, after reading some very convincing arguments, am now reconsidering. Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting with my accountant who will no doubt help shed some light on/further complicate the issue.

Meanwhile, things are…progressing (?) on the projects front…

The SF series: Hmmm.  I was kind of hoping we would have received the good word by now (that word, of course, being: “Go!”).  We have broadcasters on board but require another piece or two of the financial puzzle to complete the package.  I refuse to end up in a situation where I’m expected to produce a show with little cash but a lot of good intentions.  Space ships don’t come cheap, y’know?

The Urban Fantasy series: We’ll be delivering our second draft tomorrow.  Word is we’ll be shooting the pilot this spring.  Beyond that…who knows?

The other SF series: Has garnered a fair amount of interest on the concept alone (based on a pre-existing literary work).  It’s with the lawyers now and, whenever the deal gets sewn up, we can finally start working on the script.

The Drama spec: While the aforementioned are all very promising paying gigs, it never hurts to have a few scripts under your belt…just in case.  I’ve decided to simply go ahead and outline this female-driven “fish-out-of-water” pilot.  I’ll spend a few days beating it out and then, once a satisfactory structure is in place, I’ll crack open a bottle of Jagermeister and spend the weekend hammering out that first draft.

The SF/Horror/Fantasy spec: Ah, why choose one when you can do all three at the same time?  Colorful characters!  Humor!  Over-the-top action!  Writing this one will be a lot fun – provided I have the time.

The Horror movie: It went out a couple of months ago and has engendered some interest, but nothing solid.  This one seems like a no-brainer to me and, depending on how these other projects pan out, I’m thinking of pulling it back in March, financing it through Kickstarter, and producing it myself.

The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival ends in three days!  You better move quickly if you want to check out  the 50-some flavors available around town.

I, of course, have been trying my best.  But, evidently, my best won’t be good enough in the end.  Still, I gave it a game effort.

I started off sampling fourteen different hot chocolates in the the first week of the festival: January 31, 2013: The Hot Chocolate Festival!

Followed by another ten soon after: February 6, 2013: The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival Tour II!

And, most recently:

1Tosca: Dark chocolate and rum served with a choice of chocolate or liege waffle sample.

Available: Every day of the festival at Leonidas #29 – 1055 Canada Place (Vancouver Convention Centre West), Vancouver.

www.leonidaswaterfront.com

A fine hot chocolate though a touch too boozy.

1Frozen Noisette: Melted praline blended into frozen yogurt, topped with a shot of melted chocolate, and finished with crushed hazelnuts. Served with a choice of chocolate or liege sample waffle.

Available: Every day of the festival at Leonidas #29 – 1055 Canada Place (Vancouver Convention Centre West), Vancouver.

www.leonidaswaterfront.com

A double rarity: gjianduja-based cold hot chocolate.  And it was utterly, doubly delicious.

1Beyond the Milky Way: Dark chocolate (64%) made with almond milk and coconut milk, flavoured with natural pear extract. Dairy free.

Available: February 2-8 at French Made Baking 81 Kingsway, Vancouver

http://frenchmadebaking.com

Liked the chocolate a lot but thought it was weakened by the almond and coconut milk.  The pear was very subtle.

1Rose of Ecuador: 64% dark chocolate – origin: Ecuador. Infused with rose petals, and served with choice of chocolate square.

Available: Every day of the chocolate festival at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

Finally!  A rose-infused version that makes use of dark chocolate instead of the standard white.  And it was wonderful.  A perfect balance of flavors.  That gang here definitely know their hot chocolate!

1Anise:  64% dark chocolate – origin: Mexico. Infused with aniseed, and served with choice of chocolate square.

Available: Every day of the chocolate festival at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

With the exception of the Orange Blossom, every hot chocolate I’ve had at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France has been incredibly well-balanced.  Here, the licorice flavor is present but compliments rather than conquers the chocolate.

1The Emily Rose: Orange drinking chocolate, topped with housemade rose-coconut marshmallows.

Available: February 2- 14 at Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver
www.cocoanymph.co

Cocoa Nymph makes a damn fine cup of hot chocolate.  The tartness of the orange combined with the sweetness of the coconut and the bitterness of the dark chocolate to deliver one of Akemi’s favorites.

1The Josiah: Basil drinking chocolate topped with housemade strawberry marshmallows.

Available: February 8 – 14 at Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver
www.cocoanymph.co

Basil drinking chocolate?  Really?  Oh, yeah.  Really!  I was admittedly dubious but one taste thoroughly won me over.  The best hot chocolate I had this week.

I’m really going to have to make these last few days count!

3rd-vancouver-hot-chocolate-festival

February 6, 2013: The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival Tour II!

1My Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival tour continues with visits to…

1Bengal Dream: Milk chocolate with sweet spices (chai) served with caramelized honey and orange palmier.

Available: February 2 – February 14 at Bel Cafe 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)

http://www.belcafe.com/

A little sweet but some very nice flavors.  The palmier packed quite a sweet punch as well.

1Pretty in Pink: White chocolate with rose and raspberry, served with a vanilla bean shortbread.

Available: January 19 – February 1 at Bel Cafe 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)

http://www.belcafe.com/

As Akemi pointed out, white chocolate-based hot chocolates are the toughest because, all too often, the sweetness of the white chocolate overwhelms the other ingredients.  Conversely, attempts to balance the flavors can result in overkill.  In this case, however, it worked – a perfect marriage of white chocolate and rose.

1Raspberry Beret: Raspberry-infused white, milk, or dark Belgian hot chocolate. Prepared fresh to order, by blending whole chocolate pieces into steamed milk, topped with vanilla whipped cream, served with a trio of Bittered Sling-infused meringue cookies by Kale & Nori Culinary Arts.

Available: Every day of the festival at Blenz 708 Thurlow St. (at West Georgia), Vancouver.  (Downtown Central).

http://blenz.com/

Fairly bursting with raspberry flavor but never overwhelming the chocolate, this one was a pleasant surprise although it was a little thinner than the offerings at some of the other places we’ve checked out on this tour.

1Shirokuma: White hot chocolate with Japanese matcha, served with a trio of Bittered Sling-infused meringue cookies by Kale & Nori Culinary Arts.

Available: Every day of the festival at Blenz 708 Thurlow St. (at West Georgia), Vancouver.  (Downtown Central).

http://blenz.com/

Shirokuma is Japanese for polar bear (shiro = white, kuma = bear) and is apparently, according to Akemi, a very popular flavor back in Japan. While good, the sweetness of the chocolate overshadowed the delicate matcha flavor.

1Both hot chocolates were accompanied by a tasty assortment of meringues compliments of Kale & Nori Culinary Arts.

1Cherry Bon Bon: Hot Chocolate with Cacao Barry Extra Brute Cocoa and sour cherries, topped with house-made sour cherry marshmallows, and served with a pecan fruit crisp.

Available: February 1-14 at Terra Breads  2380 West 4th Avenue (@ Balsam)

Weak and surprisingly devoid of any real chocolate flavor.  I actually wondered whether real chocolate was used.

1Blond MystiqueRoasted white chocolate, candy cap, and cognac hot chocolate.  Served with a brown butter Caramelia financier. (Candy cap is a unique small mushroom, that when dried, has the aroma and flavour of earthy maple syrup.

Available: Every day of the festival at 1 Water Street, Vancouver (In Gastown)

http://www.secretlocation.ca/

Everyone else found it too boozy but I loved this incredibly flavorful drink.

1Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: Smoked cinnamon mocha with chocolate marshmallows and caramel powder.  Served with Manjari chocolate brownie.

Available: Every day of the festival at 1 Water Street, Vancouver (In Gastown)

http://www.secretlocation.ca/

Fine but, ultimately, it just tasted like a flavored coffee.

111Aphrodite: Nyangbo and parsnip hot chocolate, topped with whipped chocolate ganache and parsnip milk jam.  Served with English Breakfast gelato.

Available: Every day of the festival at 1 Water Street, Vancouver (In Gastown)

http://www.secretlocation.ca/

A gorgeous, multi-layered drink.  A lot going on here.  This was everyone else’s favorite.  For my part, I couldn’t get past the parsnip flavor.

1Monty’s Heat: A spicy hot dark chocolate.

Available: February 2-8 at Gem Chocolates 2029 West 41st Avenue, Vancouver.

www.gemchocolates.ca

Some very nice, deep flavors that didn’t really pack a whole lot of heat. A very good drinking chocolate but a little weaker than some of the others we’ve sampled.

1One In A Million: Hot chocolate made with Maranon (the world’s rarest chocolate), served with a chocolate-dipped madeleine.

Available: January 30 – February 10 at Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe 1059 Alberni Street

http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

Delicious, possessed of a nice rich fullness, I only wish it had been a little thicker.

January 31, 2013: The Hot Chocolate Festival!

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The Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival is in full swing and Akemi and I have been trying our darndest to sample as many of the 60-some flavors available at the various shops and cafes around town.  So far, we’ve managed to try about a dozen decadent offerings.  Looks like we’re really going to need to pick up the pace with roughly two weeks to go.

Here’s a rundown of our tasty accomplishments to date.  Please note that some of the flavors have been discontinued – but been replaced with other (no doubt) sublime selections:

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Italian Honey Moon: Honey nougat and hazelnut made with Avalon Organic milk and Michel Cluizel chocolate served with Erin Ireland’s “To Die For” Banana Bread.

Available: Every day of the festival at Bella Gelateria 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

I was leery at first.  Hot chocolate topped with shards of honey nougat? I love particulates (that’s what they call ’em) in my ice cream, but in my drinking chocolate?  Well, they turned out to be a wonderful little textural addition to the drink.  I am now a hot chocolate particulate convert!

1Monkey’s Choice: Caramelized Banana & Honey served with Erin Ireland’s  “To Die For” Banana Bread.

Available: Every day of the festival at Bella Gelateria 1001 West Cordova Street.

www.bellagelateria.com

Very good although I was on the fence about the banana bits.  The banana bread was the perfect dipping accompaniment.

1Ohhh CANADA: Canadian maple syrup + pecan hot chocolate served with a sable.

Available: January 19 – 29 at Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe 1059 Alberni Street

http://www.thierrychocolates.com/

A tasty tribute to The Great White North.  And those candied pecans were a lovely touch.

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Malteaser: Barley malt-infused hot chocolate served with salt caramel malt truffles.

Available: Every day of the festival at Thomas Haas 2539 West Broadway, Vancouver.

http://www.thomashaas.com/

Terrific!  I could have had two but I’m sure the sugar rush would’ve killed me.

1The Sweet of Bitter Dark: Bitter dark drinking chocolate.

Available: January 19 – February 14 at Beaucoup Bakery  2150 Fir Street (in Kitsilano)

www.beaucoupbakery.com/

With seating at a premium, we elected to go take-out.  The serving sizes are notably smaller than the other offerings sampled so far on this Hot Chocolate tour (which sat perfectly fine with Akemi who thought it ideal given its punchiness).  Also, there were some temperature issues as the drink was served at just a touch above room temperature – more of a Warm Chocolate.  In the end, probably my least favorite as the sour notes of this particular Valrhona dark proved just too much for me.

1

Petal of a Rose: Vanilla bean white hot chocolate with rose.

Available: January 26 – February 1 at Beaucoup Bakery  2150 Fir Street (in Kitsilano)

www.beaucoupbakery.com/

This one was a few degrees cooler than the Bitter Dark and, while Akemi found it too sweet, I enjoyed the flavor combination.  The hint of rose was perfect and didn’t overwhelm the vanilla.

1The drink was accompanied by a blondie (the brownie’s angelic sister?) that, again, Akemi found too sweet but, yes, again, I enjoyed for its delightful salted caramel combination.

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A Snowball’s Chance in Tokyo: White chocolate matcha hot chocolate topped with yuzu marshmallow.

Available: January 19-25 at Beta 5 

(http://shop.beta5chocolates.com/and The Juice Truck (usually found on the corner of Abbott and Water in Gastown).

Being a HUGE fan of the gang at Beta 5 Chocolate, I was really looking forward to this one – but came away disappointed when I got it off the The Juice Truck during last week’s food truck event.  It was weak, very watery, and devoid of any trace of yuzu flavor (I assume the marshmallow had dissipated in the heat of it all).  Undeterred, I stopped by Beta 5 and picked up the hot chocolate stick mix, then made it myself at home.  The results?  MUCH better – although I still missed the yuzu marshmallow.

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When Pigs Fly: Cocoa Barry “Alto El Sol”, a single plantation chocolate, topped with maple and bacon marshmallow, served with a peanut butter cookie.

Available: Every day of the chocolate festival at Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).

http://www.chocolatearts.com/

A nice cup of chocolate although I didn’t find the marshmallows particularly “bacony” and thought the accompanying peanut butter cookie just so-so.

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Armoury Amour: Cocoa Barry  “Madirofolo”– a single plantation chocolate, kissed with raspberry and served with a mini lemon and basil ice cream sandwich.

Available: Every day of the chocolate festival at Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).

http://www.chocolatearts.com/

Well, damn, this was a surprise!  I’m not a fan of the fruit-chocolate combo and find raspberry a particularly reprehensible partner but this heavenly creation sang.  Akemi’s overall favorite so far and a definite Top 3 finisher for yours truly.  Loved the raspberry sugar rim.

1

Orange Blossom Flower: 64% dark chocolate – origin: Ecuador. Infused with orange blossom flowers and served with choice of chocolate square.

Available: Every day of the chocolate festival at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

Beautifully presented and loved the froth but the orange blossom overwhelmed.

1

Jasmine: 64% dark chocolate – origin: Ecuador. Infused with jasmine and served with choice of chocolate square.

Available: Every day of the chocolate festival at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France 198 East 21st Ave., Vancouver, B.C.

www.chocolaterienouvellefrance.ca

Surprisingly spectacular.  Just the right chocolate married with the perfect balance of jasmine yields the most exquisite hot chocolate of the festival so far.

1Currant Direction: The sophisticated Euro accent of blackcurrant.  Served with a thyme sable.

Available: January 28 – 30, February 9 – 1 at Soirette Macarons & Tea 1433 West Pender Street, Vancouver. (Coal Harbour)

www.soirette.com

Our first attempt to sample Soirette’s hot chocolate offerings was unsuccessful.  We walked in at 6:30 p.m., a half an hour before closing, only to have the girl behind the counter look at us as though we were homeless people seeking for spare change.  We inquired about the hot chocolate and were informed, alas, the kitchen was closed.  Closed? Damn, I thought, that must be a mighty involved hot chocolate-making process!

We returned a few days later for an afternoon visit.  A different girl was at the counter and she was sweet as can be.  The owner, came out from the back to chat macarons and hot chocolate with us – and present us with the thyme sable that accompanied our order.

I’m not a big fan of mixing fruit and chocolate so the cocoa-currant combo didn’t really sing for me.  Akemi, on the other hand, was quite charmed by the creation – although she felt the addition of lavender petals was a bit much.  That thyme sable however…Holy Smokes! Closer to cake than sable, sweet and salty with a savory thyme undertone, it was the best thing I’ve eaten this year!  Unbelievably good but, sadly, not on the regular menu.

P.S. It only took all of 45 seconds to actually prepare the hot chocolate.

1The Ayala: Jasmine drinking chocolate, topped with housemade juniper marshmallows.

Available: January 19 – February 14 at Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver, B.C. 604-222-4477
www.cocoanymph.co

A subtle blend of jasmine and dark chocolate.  The homemade juniper marshmallows were a nice little addition.

1The Noah: Balsamic drinking chocolate, topped with housemade cherry marshmallow.

Available: January 26 – February 14 at Cocoa Nymph 3739 W. 10th Ave (at Alma), Vancouver, B.C. 604-222-4477
www.cocoanymph.co

Thicker, silkier than The Ayala but, ultimately, possessed of just a tad too much of a vinegar kick.  Sipped on its own, it didn’t quite do it for me although the cherry marshmallows offered a nice counterpoint.

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