Starchild Chocolate

Starchild Chocolate

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I’m typically a purist when it comes to chocolate, but sometimes you stumble upon a product that has managed to find a balance between letting the chocolate itself shine through, while adding additional ingredients that elevate the characteristics and nuances that are already present. Enter Starchild chocolate, a company producing single origin and fine flavoured bars out of Willits, California. Their chocolate contains a minimal number of ingredients, namely cacao and cacao butter, with the kicker being that it is all sweetened by coconut sugar. As founder of Starchild chocolate, Ash Maki, puts it, “the most noticeable difference that I taste anyways is that when you bite into a piece of chocolate made with regular sugar you taste the sweetness first for ten or so seconds then the chocolate flavors develop. When biting into a piece of ours you taste the chocolate first thing and the sweetness is very even through the entire flavor development process.” While you don’t necessary notice the flavour of the coconut sugar itself, it’s an excellent complement to the chocolate, which it lets shine through more so than normal sugar does.

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I was fortunate to get to try 4 of Starchild‘s bars: Ecuador Wild and Raw, Tanzania Kokoa Kamili, Rio Tuma Nicaragua, and Salted Caramel Almond. All are 70% bars but tasting them side by side, the spectrum of flavour profiles is quite astounding. The Ecuador Wild and Raw is made from unroasted cacao beans, so it really is just the fermentation process that contributes to the flavour profile. In contrast, the Rio Tuma Nicaragua bar is richly chocolatey, with alkaline flavours of cocoa powder coming through, very reminiscent of a homestyle chocolate cake, or batch of brownies, without that excessive sweetness. Then there’s the Tanzanian bar, which recently took home bronze in the Americas category and silver in the USA category at the International Chocolate Awards. For me, the standout aspect of this bar is its texture. It’s lusciously smooth and creamy, so much so that it could easily trick you into thinking it’s milk chocolate. The flavour is soft, subtle, slightly fruity, and not surprisingly, very easy to eat. Last but not least, the Salted Caramel Almond is made from Ecuadorian cacao, sprinkled with chopped salted caramel almonds. Salt and chocolate with the additional of crunchy almonds? This one is especially munchable!

Want to try some for yourself? Check out Starchild’s online store and order yourself some coconut-sugar sweetened chocolate today!

*The chocolate for this review was kindly supplied by Starchild, however the opinions here are my own.

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Introducing Mionetto Prosecco!

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Photo credit (for all images): Laura AMINI

Bubbles typically get reserved for special occasions, but there’s really no reason you can’t drink them anytime, especially with Mionetto Prosecco’s recent launch into the Canadian market.

If you’re not familiar with it, Mionetto has been around since 1887 and is one of the leading brands of prosecco in Italy, as well as the States. They use only the best grapes, which makes for a light, easy drinking glass of bubbles. Fun fact (because if you know me at all, you know my love for obscure, nerdy facts) – the Mionetto label actually sits at a 27 degree angle to pay homage to the grade of their vineyards.

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Mionetto Canada recently had their launch party into the SAQ in Quebec. Held at Fiorellino, it was a night filled with fun entertainment, tasty bites, and of course, the Mionetto Prosecco poured freely.

I really appreciate that Mionetto is not too sweet. The Prestige Prosecco Treviso AOC Brut “Orange Label” has a fruitiness to it, but it’s also crisp and clean. It’s perfect for sipping on its own, but also paired wonderfully with Fiorellino’s succulent porchetta and handmade gnocchi.

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The evening was also supplemented by entertainment, including a live DJ, photobooth, and what I found especially unique, the opportunity to contribute to an abstract painting that represented the Mionetto brand’s colours.

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It’s difficult to say what was more memorable, the event, the prosecco, or the combination of both. I would say it’s likely the latter but regardless, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself reaching for a bottle of Mionetto the next time I feel the need for prosecco.

*Mionetto is available at the SAQ in Quebec ($18.95).

Jakeman’s Maple Syrup

Jakeman’s Maple Syrup

Jakeman's maple syrup

If there is one way in which living in Montreal has changed me, it’s through the development of an undying love for maple syrup. I’ve always liked the stuff, but now it’s pushing the boundaries of an obsession. I put maple syrup on everything. It’s my coffee-sweetener of choice, I use it to flavour oats, and most recently, I discovered that it blends superbly with tomatoes, peaches, and duck confit.

It’s no surprise that when I was offered a sample of Jakeman’s maple syrup, I jumped pounced on it.

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Before using it in any specific application, a taste test was in order. A spoonful of maple syrup helps the medicine go down as they say, right? Voted Canada’s best tasting maple syrup, Jakeman’s tastes like what you’d expect maple syrup to taste like. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it tastes like pure maple. There are no notes of burned sugar, or caramelization, rather it’s light, and sweet, with just the right balance of mapleness (making up words here, I’m sorry). It makes Jakeman’s especially versatile because you don’t have to worry about the maple syrup over-powering other ingredients in whatever recipe you are making. Or, you can just pour it onto fresh, piping hot pancakes, crepes, or waffles and call it a day.

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I opted for a somewhat eclectic Saturday brunch comprised of a Dutch baby pancake, topped with Quebec heirloom tomatoes, Ontario peaches, duck confit, and of course, Jakeman’s maple syrup. I didn’t think I was going to want the additional sweetness on top of the already candy-like tomatoes and peaches, but it brought everything together with salty, savoury duck confit. Sometimes weird can be good.

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So whether you are looking for an everyday sweetener that’s a bit more decadent than sugar, or you want to experiment with maple syrup in your sweet and savoury recipes, try Jakeman’s the next time you want to celebrate some pure Canadiana.

**The maple syrup reviewed in this post was suppled by Canada the Store, however the opinions expressed here are my own.

A Belated 2016 Summer Bucket List

A Belated 2016 Summer Bucket List

2016 Summer bucket list

I know it’s a little strange to make a 2016 summer bucket list when summer is almost over, but so be it. Don’t let the fact that summer is over put you off from creating a list of things you want to achieve. Whether you want to go whale watching california for example, write a short story, start blogging or even go on holiday, there are no time limits to what you want to do. Sometimes it’s fun to do things backwards. Rather than putting together a list of things I wanted to do, here are some of the things I actually did do this summer…whether I had initially intended it or not.

  1. Listen to the Arkells new album, Morning Report, on repeat. I’m listening to it right now in fact.
  2. Climb a mountain. Conquered Lady Mac in 3 hours because SOMEONE has gazelle-like legs and always seems to think it’s the best idea to run back down. Hmmm.
  3. Eat as many flavours of Kem CoBa’s soft serve as possible. Strawberry coconut has been my favourite.
  4. Use a chain saw (!!!) and help cut down a tree (!!!!!).
  5. Set off fireworks. Actually no, learn to use a zippo lighter and THEN set off fireworks.
  6. Consume 6/7 of my 7 Essential eats and drinks on a trip home to YYC.
  7. Try some of Montreal’s nominees for enRoute’s best new resto. Two thumbs up for both Candide and Agrikol.
  8. Go to a Just for Laughs show during the festival in July.
  9. Read a bajillion books. Pleasure reading, what?! (including the latest Harry Potter!)
  10. Binge on BC cherries.
  11. Learn how to disc in Muskoka. Well kinda.
  12. Water skiing/wakeboarding on the Okanagan, while trying not to pull every muscle in my body.
  14. Make friends with some pretty cute goats.
  15. Finally get my lit review accepted for publication. Oh wait, still working on that one..2016 summer bucket list 2
  16. Go for (several) runs in the rain. And embrace it.
  17. Brew up some kombucha. Try to stomach it because you let it over-ferment and it tastes like straight vinegar.
  18. Consume my weight in beef short rib at Lattuca.
  19. Go for (several) runs in 35 degree heat. I’m dumb.
  20. Drink a lot of really girly, but in my defence, refreshing (it is HOT here), cocktails.
  21. Make, and eat, cauliflower cake.
  22. Complete April’s doughnut crawl by finally making it to Leche.
  23. Eat mini doughnuts and tour J around the Stampede.
  24. Go to a wedding.
  25. Enjoy some west coast sushi. Enjoy is probably an under-statement.
  26. D Dutchmen. Ice cream is a summer food group.
  27. Do push-ups, lots of push-ups. Eventually learn to actually enjoy them (check!).
  28. Get a tan for the first time in my entire life.
  29. Did I mention I got a tan?
  30. A tan! A real deal tan! I’m embracing it because the second the leaves start to turn, I’ll be back pasty as ever. Small victories.

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Firefly Chocolate – An interview with founder Jonas Ketterle

Firefly Chocolate – An interview with founder Jonas Ketterle

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Jonas Ketterle didn’t plan on becoming a bean-to-bar chocolate producer, but the story of how his Firefly chocolate came to fruition is as organic as the brand itself. Built on relationships with producers and other members of the bean-to-bar chocolate community, he strives to inspire awe and wonder through a medium we can all get on board with, chocolate.

From mechanical engineering at Stanford to chocolate making, how do you explain that transition?

It was kind of a prolonged one. I went into engineering because I love building things. I was working on renewable energy technology in developing countries, specifically on solar energy. I eventually quit because it was too much travel and I was more interested in early stage product development. I went on a trip to Mexico and discovered chocolate making. It was the best chocolate I had ever had and the first time I connected to the process of making chocolate. I’ve always been a chocolate consumer growing up, typically Rittersport bars hiking and such. After I came back from Mexico I started thinking about chocolate. I built my own winnower and began learning through failure after failure.

Have you done any formal training or are you self taught?

Entirely self taught. I learned to monitor texture, humidity, and other variables through trial and error and a lot of Google queries. After about 2 years of experimenting I got it to a point where people were interested in buying my chocolate. I switched to all 85% cacao and an only coconut palm sugar sweetened product. At that time I actually took on a part time job back in solar energy and didn’t ever think I would ever do chocolate full time. But in July 2015 I took the leap.

Where do you get your cacao beans from?

Currently, all of my cacao beans come from southern Belize. They produce high quality beans and foster socially and environmentally conscious practices. I used to use many origins, but decided to go deep into showcasing one origin. I like cacao from Belize because it is very complex, with a balance of fruitiness and nuttiness. It also makes an excellent 100% bar and pairs well with the flavour of the coconut palm sugar I use. Also, I took into account how I felt after eating it – it made me feel good. We’re now selling 100% dark cacao for drinking chocolate. Many people are interested in using chocolate medicinally as a super food.

We are also looking into new origins, like Tanzanian cacao, to pair with some of our different flavours. I never thought I would make chocolate with beans from Africa because central/south America is closer. We are also experimenting with Costa Rican and Dominican beans.

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What’s your favourite bar in your lineup?

Well that’s like choosing which of your children is your favourite. How I’m feeling dictates what I choose to eat. Maca is my go-to for stamina. On a hot summer day, it’s crunchy almond and sea salt. Spicy chai is for mornings to wake up. Coconut cream for when I want a real treat. Plain dark chocolate, well I eat that every day. It doesn’t have a lot of sugar in it, so if you want to eat it every day, eat it every day.

What are some of your favourite lesser-known bean-to-bar chocolate producers?

Starchild. They also use coconut palm sugar, and I would happily eat their chocolate every day. They have (or at least they used to have) almost identical chocolate making machinery to us, so we would share similar stories of frustration and joy.

LetterPress is also producing great bars out of LA.

What are you goals with Firefly moving forward?

I view chocolate as social currency. Beyond doing a good job sourcing and ensuring sustainability, it is a tool for social change and living happier lives. Actually the name Firefly comes from the fact that chocolate can inspire awe and wonder, just like fireflies.

Awe and wonder are elusive; hard to plan, but powerful and beautiful. I find that consuming chocolate makes me more susceptible to experiencing awe and wonder.

I’m really excited about creating high quality dark chocolate (85% or higher) and am increasingly fascinated with 100% chocolate. I want to make chocolate that surprises people. Many taste it thinking that they will never like 85% cacao but they do.

Overall, I think chocolate is a lifestyle. There are a lot of positive health benefits that come from eating what we want regularly. Chocolate is a way of life, and it is also a bridge to other areas of the world, other communities.

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