For the Love of Hot Cocoa, Snowflakes, and Christmas Scrapbooking – The Wintry Hot Chocolate Series Layout

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I’m so excited to be posting this layout I’m almost jumping out of my skin!  I’ve been looking forward to scrapbooking Christmas and winter photos and layouts for ages and now that there’s actually some snow on the ground, my holiday scrapbooking mood has sky-rocketed straight through the roof!  This month has been a whirlwind with plans not panning out, my uncharacteristic unpreparedness, and Christmas coming and going faster than I had anticipated, so I really didn’t get into a scrapbooking groove until after Christmas.  I was chewing on ideas for over a month, but for whatever reason, part of me just wasn’t ready to dig into the paper and stickers.  I wanted to lose myself in it and enjoy every minute, not be distracted and moody over it. 

Even though I feel like I let precious time pass me by, I’m so much happier I scrapbooked when I did because it was SO MUCH FUN!  This is my Christmas-holiday-winter hot chocolate layout with photos of the hot chocolate I’ve featured in the Hot Chocolate Series: the nutella hot chocolate from Le Gourmand, the peppermint hot chocolate from Le Merceria, and the rich hot chocolate with blow-torched marshmallow from Bobbette & Belle.  I’ve been wanting to use a red, green, blue, and white colour scheme for some time now so I went to town with the ribbon and cardstock and paper and ended up with this!

There have been times where I’ve scrapbooked every day for a month or more and there have been other times where I’ve gone weeks without even touching my go-to scrapbook tin.  Every time I scrapbook though, it feels like no time has passed and I’m happiest when I get to surround myself with photos and memories and all my art supplies.  Out of all the themes I enjoy scrapbooking (birthdays, Valentine’s, art, and friendship among others), Christmas and winter are my absolute favourites. 

A new year means a time to reflect and a time to look forward and when I look back on my scrapbooking, I think back to when I started 8×8 scrapbooking full force over 3 years ago (prior to that I was actually doing 8.5 x 11!) and I’m reminded of the very first 8×8 scrapbook album I made which was a Christmas and winter one.  I’m reminded of how excited I was to find such a pretty album at the store (a gorgeous chocolate brown suede album with a magnetic flap that had the word “Memories” stitched across it), all the fun I had making those 20 pages, filling those plastic sleeves and making the album fat, and all the Christmas memories I got to look back on.  It was an amazing month of scrapbooking and it made me feel so free and so alive.  I’m hoping that 2012 will bring just as much happiness and inspiration. 

*****

Scrapbooking materials used: Periwinkle, powder blue, Christmas red, grass green, emerald green, and white cardstock (Recollections); Christmas patterned paper (Me & My Big Ideas Christmas mat paper pad); hot chocolate, cocoa, and peppermint adhesive embellishments (Jolee’s Boutique); blue ribbon with green polka dots; green satin ribbon; “Lollipop” alphabet stickers (Autumn Leaves, Creativity Inc.); brown alphabet stickers (K&Company); black alphabet stickers with white polka dots (atd); green foil leaves; duochrome and iridescent snowflakes; medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); circle paper punch; corner rounder paper punch.

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The Hot Chocolate Series: The Decadent Hot Chocolate With Blow-Torched Marshmallow – Bobbette & Belle, Part II

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I’ll be completely honest: I had a little help with this one.  A little accidental magazine help.  While doing a little happy-go-lucky Christmas shopping, I picked up the newest issue of Toronto Life and started paging through the first few pages when my eyes roamed over the Table of Contents and saw the words, “hot chocolate”, “marshmallow”, and “blow torch”.  A hot chocolate with a jumbo blow-torched marshmallow from Bobbette & Belle?!  Well, colour me ecstatic!  I didn’t even flip to the article because 1) those words were really all the incentive I needed and 2) I didn’t want the element of surprise and anticipation to be taken away so I willed myself not to look at the photo in the magazine.  I would go to Bobbette & Belle and see the wonderful hot chocolate masterpiece with my very own hot chocolate hungry eyes.

I was so excited about this!  A hot chocolate with not just a “toasted” marshmallow, but a blow-torched marshmallow!  I swear I’m not a pyro, but I am fascinated with the blow torch.  My dad and I used to experiment with our handy propane tank blow torch when I was growing up and we used to use it for art projects and I absolutely loved it when my dad used to whip out the torch to cook.  I love how its usage can transform the look and appearance of food.  Imagine the toasty, frothy peaks of meringue or cream on a pie or a tart.  Or the juxtasposition of a delicate, yet edgy, blow-torched souffle.  The rough and tumble part of me has always been in love with handywork and I’ve dreamed of having my own workbench and I guess the blow torch is my fun tool of choice! 😀 

Bobbette & Belle has a number of coffee drinks and teas on their drink menu designed to accompany their pastries and sweets.  They serve lattes, mocha lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, machiattos, teas, regular coffee, and of course, their hot chocolate work of art.  I don’t know if this hot chocolate is available at their 2nd retail location inside The Bay on Queen Street, but I will find out. 

Their hot chocolate, priced at $4.25, is the chocolatiest beverage I have ever had.  If you love rich and decadent, this hot chocolate has your name written all over it.  This is not your average hot chocolate packaged powder mix with hot water!  A lot of the time, we’re used to hot chocolate that’s a little more diluted.  Bobbette & Belle’s hot chocolate is the exact OPPOSITE of diluted.  It’s thick, it’s roasty, and makes you feel like your drinking luxurious drinking chocolate.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever had and this hot chocolate drinks like a meal.  It is not for the faint of heart – I couldn’t even finish it all in one sitting because it was so decadent!  If you’re having this, don’t go at it alone because it might be too overwhelming otherwise.  My suggestion is to have it with a “blank canvas” type of dessert, something that isn’t too sweet and that can soak up the richness.  I was dunking my Christmas tree shaped shortbread cookie into it and having an absolute blast!

And the marshmallow.  Oh, the delightful, jumbo, torched marshmallow.  I smiled so big when my hot chocolate was being made.  After one of the nice girls filled my cup with the hot beverage, she crouched down to just below the surface of the counter and sure enough, I heard the “pftshhhh!” sound of the torch doing it’s magic.  Just look at it.  A white and caramelized wintry globe of frothy, gooey, sweet marshmallow floating in the depths of chocolate euphoria.  There are few things in this world that bring giggly joy more than gooey marshmallows.  Every sip was a rich taste of dark chocolate and marshmallow tickling your upper lip and tongue.  And although most of the marshmallow was gooey, sweet, and frothy, you could taste that sweet, crunchy caramelization off the top. 

Bobbette & Belle’s hot chocolate is the liquid embodiment of a s’more and the type of winter treat you envision yourself savouring in front of the fire in a warm and cozy environment after a day of tobogganing and making snow forts and snow angels.  It’s far from a snowy wonderland here in Toronto at the moment (more like a rainy, soggy mess), but with this special hot chocolate, it’s not too hard to daydream and pretend that it is.

 

*****

Bobbette & Belle is located at 1121 Queen Street East, just east of Jones Ave.  They are open 7 days a week from 7:30am-6:30pm Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm on Saturday, and 9am-5pm on Sunday.  These are their holiday operating hours and they will be closed on the 25th, 26th, and 27th, as well as on January 1st and 2nd.  Visit their website here for product descriptions, information on orders, and photos.

The Hot Chocolate Series – Peppermint Hot Chocolate and Christmas Magic Unleashed at La Merceria

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There may not be any snow on the ground just yet, but I am in full-out “I’m-so-happy-Christmas-is-coming-so-I’ll-just-pretend-like-it’s-winter-even-though-it’s-not” mode!  Everyone has a favourite holiday or occasion and mine is Christmas.  Some might think it’s crazy to get all up in arms about it so soon, but time goes by so quickly that I really cherish the time I get to enjoy all the Christmas window displays, music, seasonal sweets and treats, and decorations.  I feel like I wouldn’t get enough out of it if things were only around for two weeks or so. 

I look forward to the holidays over a month before actual Christmas day and I use the time to plan out my get-togethers, my gift-shopping trips, my crafting time, and of course, my holiday menu!  And by menu, I mean all the yummy things I want to stuff my face with over the course of the entire month.  There are seasonal yummies you just don’t get to enjoy at any other point in the year and I’ve made it my mission to hunt down some of the best hot chocolates this holiday season and winter.  I’m here now with round two of The Hot Chocolate series!

I was so excited when I found nutella hot chocolate at Le Gourmand and soon after a little birdie told me about a bunch of other special hot chocolates being served around the city, which quickly went on my “must-try lickety goodness” list.  The special peppermint hot chocolate at La Merceria was a total unexpected, delightful surprise though and my own giddiness over it took me by surprise.  I had no idea La Merceria had peppermint hot chocolate (or any hot chocolate for that matter) and my impromptu visit to them was completely random and unplanned.  It was a bit chilly, I had some time in the morning before my day started at Le Dolci, and I wanted to sit back and be alone with my thoughts with a drink and a nibble of some sort. 

My heart sped up as I saw Christmas decorations in their front window display and my Christmas-loving heart did happy cartwheels when I walked inside and saw the cafe decked out to the nines in Christmas accessories!  I quickly snatched one of the comfy, pillowy seats and looked up at the drinks menu.  My last two visits were made warm and cozy with tea, but this time I wanted something different.  My eyes roamed over the list of drinks and that’s when I saw it.  “Pep-per-mint hot chocolate….oh my god, peppermint hot chocolate!”

And after my mental exclaimation of joy, I realized what had just happened.  I had gotten excited over something peppermint.  Well, that was strange indeed.  I have never liked mint or peppermint, ever.  I have gone through life without the enjoyment of mint Aero chocolate bars, mini chocolate chip ice cream, and mint and peppermint everything.  Then somehow, things started changing.

A few Christmases ago, I picked up a box of white and dark chocolate bark with crushed peppermint candy cane on it just because and thoroughly enjoyed the entire box all to myself.  Last Christmas I took a whiff of Bath & Body Works’ mint chocolate scented candle – and loved it.  One of my favourite cupcakes at Short & Sweet has been the Mint Everest mint chocolate Oreo.  And then this past summer I relished in the fresh, citrus creaminess of one of Jen @ Apiecalypse Now‘s orange peppermint patties.  Even though I wasn’t madly in love with mint and peppermint, times definitely were a changin’, which would explain my uncharacteristic jubilance over something peppermint.

I looked at the menu item and knew I absolutely had to have it.  And I did.  And it was absolutely delicious and delightful and a hot chocolate ever person needs to slurp and savour.  The unique thing about the peppermint hot chocolate at La Merceria is that it’s actually made with tea!  Yes, tea!  I guess I wasn’t far from having tea after all!  In hindsight, it didn’t even dawn on me that I was drinking hot chocolate made from peppermint tea until I drank about half the cup and realized their was something bobbing up and down inside.  I poked at it and saw that it was a tea bag and thought it was adorable how they had made it the way they did.  The hot chocolate is made with peppemint tea, dark swiss chocolate, and steamed milk with a bit of foam and powdered chocolate on top. 

The chocolate and peppermint flavours were delicious together.  The dark chocolate flavour was velvety smooth with that hint of subtle naturalness bitterness from the dark chocolate.  I loved that subtly bitter, rich chocolate flavour and both the peppermint and dark chocolate managed to keep their own distinctive flavours separate and distinguishable in the hot chocolate drink while still making it taste sweet and delectable. 

They come in two sizes ($3 for small, $3.50 for large) and the hot chocolate comes with a beautiful and adorable cinnamon stick!  I was over the moon about this.  I dunked and twirled my cinnamon stick in my hot chocolate and was totally amoured.  Unfortunately for me, I forgot my hot chocolate cup with my beloved cinnamon stick in it at the studio after I left for the day and couldn’t save it before it hit the can.  Which means I’ll just have to go back to La Merceria for another one some time.  Aw, shucks.

*****

La Merceria is located at 506 Adelaide Street West by the northwest corner of Adelaide and Portland Street, east of Bathurst.  La Merceria is located beside Sadie’s Diner and Juice Bar.  Visit their website and blog here for updates, info, promos, events, pictures, and contact information and visit their Facebook page here.

The Hot Chocolate Series – Sipping a Silky Smooth Nutella Hot Chocolate on a Chilly Day at Le Gourmand Cafe

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Our annual Santa Claus Parade graced us with cute and colourful floats this weekend, Christmas music is playing on the radio stations, and my mum has already harassed asked my brother and I for a list of things we’d like this Christmas (does two things really constitute a list?).  Christmas is just a little over a month away and each passing day feels more and more like a winter wonderland, sans the snow – for now.  There’s a cold nip in the air, I’m decked out in my oh-so-fashionable scarf and mitten ensemble, and instead of visions sugar plums dancing in my head, I have soup and hot chocolate partying in my tummy. 

The hot chocolate series is here!  Like I mentioned on my first Bits & Bites post, the hot chocolate series is one of two holiday and winter series I’m starting on the blog and after talking to my fellow Le Dolci icing sugar queen, Miya, today, I might squeeze in some peppermint posts in between too since I know some of you are huge fans!  I’m so excited to share this post with you all today because it involves NUTELLA!  Yes, nutella!  In hot chocolate form!  The chillier weather sounds a little more appealing now, doesn’t it?  Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but at least us throngs of nutella fans have another nutella yummy to enjoy in the city!  I’ve made it my mission to track down the best nutella food and drink items in and around the city and I’m very pleased that this does double duty for both the hot chocolate series and the future “5 Best” nutella post I’m working on. 

Hot chocolate has really taken on life of its own, going in a gourmet drink direction with all the different culinary interpretations: white chocolate hot chocolate, Mexican hot chocolate, chili hot chocolate, the list goes on!  And let’s not forget the childhood favourite, hot chocolate with marshmallows.  All it took was a chalkboard sign sitting on the sidewalk outside a cafe to entice me get the hot chocolate series in motion, a sign that I saw while riding the streetcar no less!  I saw the words “hot chocolate” as I passed by on the streetcar, along with a list underneath.  More than one kind?!  SOLD.  This visit to Le Gourmand, located by Spadina and Richmond, has been a long time coming.  Much like Fusaro’s Kitchen, I’ve passed by Le Gourmand countless times and just never went in.  Seeing that chalkboard sign was definitely the sign that I needed to finally see what yummy surprises this cafe had inside, and c’mon, the name of the cafe is me in a nutshell!  No, not glutton!  Gourmand as in a person who takes great pleasure in food and eating.  And that would be me!

Le Gourmand is a grocery cafe (similar to Fusaro’s in cafe layout and concept) that sells packaged truffles, cookies, chocolates, pastas, canned beans and tomatoes, jams and preserves, olives, olive oils, and balsamics among other pantry staples and sweets.  They serve a full breakfast, weekend brunch, and lunch menu chock full of sandwiches, salads, egg breakfasts, breakfast burritos, and more.  I came here for the first time for the hot chocolate, but I’m telling you, I’m coming back for breakfast and lunch one of these days because their menu of sandwiches and salads made my mouth water and I’m a sucker for breakfast/brunch food.

They have a full-length display of flaky croissants, pastries, and breakfast croissant sandwiches (including bacon, egg, and cheddar) that you can order by the cash while everything else is made to order.  Their coffee menu includes espressos, macchiatos, americanos, cafe lattes, cappuccinos, cafe mochas, chai lattes, and regular roast coffee.  I’m not a coffee drinker, so aside from the occasional latte, I always go for the teas instead and Le Gourmand has these yummy sounding iced drinks that I can’t wait to try!  I saw a raspberry-lemongrass ice tea and a mojito peppermint ice tea, both of which are on my mental “to-try” list.

As much as I would loooove to get into the breakfast and lunch menu, I’m going to save the food talk for next time and just entice you all with the drinks and nutella hot chocolate.  The cafe serves 5, count ’em, FIVE different types of hot chocolate!  They have a Belgian white hot chocolate, a French 32% caramel chocolate, a Dominican 64% bittersweet chocolate, an African 85% Grand  Cru, and finally, the Italian nutella hot chocolate.  I didn’t get the prices for a large, but small hot chocolates (which are really more like mediums, in my opinions) are $2.99, tax inclusive.

The photos honestly don’t do the hot chocolate justice.  The nutella hot chocolate is DELICIOUS.  Now I know what some of you must be thinking.  You’re thinking, “if you enjoy nutella, then it’s a no-brainer that you would enjoy this hot chocolate!”  Not necessarily.  Let it be known that some places use the name and branding of nutella to sell particular products that are not actually made with nutella.  I’m not kidding.  Some will use it as a guise to make you think you’re eating nutella when in reality it’s just chocolate.  Us foodies are not dumb and it’s insulting and disheartening that some would even think to do such a thing.  Those of us who love nutella know nutella when we taste and smell it.  And this hot chocolate is nutella through and through.  

It’s silky smooth, light and airy, and just slightly frothy on top.  It’s not a heavy hot chocolate in the sense that it’ll make you feel gross afterward, but when you drink it, it feels like you’re drinking something so decadent.  The rich cocoa flavour is what hits you first when you drink it and the very distinctive aroma and taste of the hazelnut that makes nutella what it is sits on your tastebuds after and the hot chocolate is so good it makes you want to go back for more.  Which is fine because we have the whole winter ahead of us to enjoy it. 

*****

Le Gourmand is located at 438 Richmond Street West at Spadina Ave.

Arepa! Melt-In-Your-Mouth Corn Meal Bread and “Venezuelan Urbanity”

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You know you’ve completely fallen in love with a place and its food when you’re thinking about what you want to stick your face in the next time you’re there barely a second after you leave.  This is how I feel about the Arepa Café, and I am so super excited to share my scrapbook layout and pictures with you guys!  I’ve been chewing on layout ideas since I ate here in October and this wonderful eatery inspires me so much, with its decor and its good eats.  Not to mention the food is delicious to boot!  Located at 490 Queen Street West, it fits right into the ultra chic, quirky, kitschy strip that is Toronto’s West Queen West neighbourhood. 

As weird as this sounds, for the longest time I would stroll along Queen W. from Yonge to Spadina, but never any further west.  As soon as I would hit Spadina, I would double back and head back east.  Over 2 years ago though, I was in themood in to explore in a major way and thought, “what the heck, let’s keep walking!” and oh.my.god.  I discovered stores upon stores upon stores of jewelry supplies, fabric, art, and fashion and I was literally in conniptions because I was so excited.  Inspiration overload!  West Queen West has its own feel, it’s own charm about it.  It’s hip, inspiring, and uniquely indie.  And this extends into the many cafés and eateries in this hub.

The Arepa Café is known for its “Venezuelan Urbanity”: its modern interpretation of traditional Venezuelan and Columbian dishes and cuisine.  Case in point: arepa sandwiches!  Arepas are round, flat, pancake-like breads made of corn meal, traditionally used to sandwich anything from meats, cheeses, beans, and vegetables.  The corn meal dough is traditionally made from ground corn and/or corn flour, water, and seasoning and either grilled, baked, or fried.  So imagine for a moment, an English muffin.  An arepa is like an English muffin in size and shape.  However, they differ in taste and texture.  While an English muffin is chewy, an arepa is super moist and literally MELTS in your mouth.  You can taste and feel the buttery corn meal melt on your tongue and it is oh-so-amazingly good.  It’s a mouthful of utter scrumptiousness *prances around the room*.

There are tons of choices on their menu and it’s really hard to just choose one; I want to eat everything!  Each arepa sandwich on the menu has a description of what’s inside, and they have both meat and vegetarian options along with a list of extra ingredients you can add for a small additional charge.  And, their arepas are gluten-free!  They come with a little side of coleslaw and the waiter or waitress will bring you several different sauces to go with it.  I had 3 sauces brought over with my order: a “beware-this-is-really-hot” hot sauce, a mayo, and a delicious sauce that was a cross between pesto and coriander chutney.  My mouth is watering just thinking back, holy schmoly.  I ordered the La Llanera (pictured below): savoury, smoky grilled beef tenderloin, fresco cheese (a creamy, soft, mild white cheese), tomato, and avocado.  My tummy is doing cartwheels and making growly noises.  I cannot sing enough praises about how immensely good the food is, oh my lordy.

I haven’t tried their desserts yet, but they have plenty of appetizers and snacks on their menu too, along with a selection of pepito sandwiches made with crusty Vietnamese bread, and plenty of coffees and drinks.  The hot chocolate, which my sweetie Richard ordered, is cream of the crop.  Made with dark chocolate, it is GOOD stuff, and you add your own sugar to it so you control the level of sweetness you want in it.  Meals will run you around an average of $10-$12 and it is well worth it to me.  You can taste the quality in your food; it’s the kind of thing that you inhale because it’s so good.  The decor is very cool with the exposed brick on the walls and it’s a fabulous café to enjoy some snacks and drinks with a friend.  In the heart of the quirky, kitschiness that is West Queen West, it is pure awesomeness 😀  And yes, I already have a list of what I want to eat the next time I go.  And the time after that.  It’s their menu.

*****

The Arepa Café is located at 490 Queen St.W, in between Augusta Ave. and Bathurst St., just west of Augusta.

Scrapbooking materials used: white, goldenrod, and moss green cardstock (Recollections); black cardstock; felt tip black pen (Sharpie); silver alphabet stickers (Sticko); corner rounder paper punch (ek success).  If any of you are wondering where I got the inspiration for using the bright yellow squares/grid in the layout, I took my cue from the latest Pizza Pizza takeout box.  If you’ve ordered pizza from them recently, you’ll connect the dots.  Yup, inspiration from a pizza box! 😀