Early Happy Easter? Dorie’s Cookies Meringue Vanilla Snowballs

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I was meeting up with some friends around Easter last year [yes, I am posting this a year late…], and I wanted to bring an Easter-esque treat that didn’t involve chocolate. Don’t get me wrong – I love chocolate more than the average person, but Easter tends to be pretty choco-ful and I wanted something a little different.

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Enter the Meringue Snowballs.

I figured if I made these “cookies” (can they really be called cookies?!) in pretty springtime pastels, they would fit with the Easter theme – and nary a cocoa bean in sight.

I have made meringue a few times before, and Dorie’s version is decidedly unfussy. It’s relatively quick, easy, and foolproof – at the expense of perfection. My meringues cracked a little and yours might too, but they still looked good and – most importantly – tasted like the perfect little sugar clouds that they are.

The ingredient list for meringues is short and sweet (hey… kind of like the final product!): granulated sugar, icing sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, and a wee bit of sea salt. The Dorie’s Cookies cookbook offers some flavourful variations – mint chocolate chip! rose! green tea and pistachio! Wanting to add a little something – but not wanting to make a trip to the grocery store – I opted to make the Vanilla Snowball iteration (just add vanilla… easy as that).

Although the recipe is easy, you do have to be a little careful in the preparation. For one, the sugars must be sifted. Second, all of your baking gear must be perfectly clean – fat is the murderer of meringues, so be ultra careful when separating your whites from your yolks. I always break each egg individually before putting them in a communal bowl – that way, if you mess one up and break the yolk, you won’t contaminate all the other whites.

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The whites, cream of tartar, and salt get sent to the stand mixer, where they whisk away until they start forming soft peaks. At this point, all but one tablespoon of the sugar is slowly added until the mixture is stiff and perfectly shiny. (This is where I added the vanilla, too.)

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I always mix a little longer than I think I’ll need to – otherwise, I tend to end up with a mixture that is slightly too runny. I think I nailed it on this go. Once the mix is looking good, you gently – gently – fold in the last bit of sugar.

At this point, I divided the glossy goop into a few different bowls and played around with some of the colours. The book suggests spooning the meringue out onto your silicone mat-covered baking sheet, but I knew they were look prettier if I took a little extra time to pipe them. I didn’t bother washing out the bags between colours because I figured a little marble/tie dye effect would look kind of cool and very dip-dyed Easter eggy.

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Don’t these look like these dot candies from your childhood?

I couldn’t decide whether the tame the little cowlicks or to leave them as is. I tried patting a few down (I do this by wetting my finger and tapping the tops), but ultimately I decided to leave most of them up. I kind of like the look.

Slow and steady is the name of the meringue game: these puppies baked at 250 degrees for 75 minutes, then I propped open the oven door and left them in there overnight.

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They kept their colour nicely and didn’t brown at all.

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What do you think? I think they’re a cute – if not quite traditional – Easter option. Bookmark this one for next year, perhaps?

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Bobbette & Belle’s Decorative Sugar Cookies: Valentine’s Cookies from the Heart (puns!!!)

I know everyone thinks that their mom is great, but mine really is.

For example, she made my lunch for school every day until the day I graduated Grade 12. From time to time, she would surprise me with a decorated cookie in my lunch box (store bought – my mom is an exquisite cook, but a reluctant baker).

After high school, I moved across the country – and for special occasions, my mom would ship me holiday-themed decorated sugar cookies in the mail. She’d often include one for whatever roommate I had at the time, too. And sometimes, I even managed to save the extra one for the roommate and not eat it myself!

A few weeks before Valentine’s Day, I received a parcel in the mail with a couple of these beauties:

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Frankly, it made my day – and it inspired me to try my hand at baking my own special cookies for a few of my beloved Galetines.

I have long admired people who pipe and flood beautiful cookies, but I have never really given it a try myself. One of my goals for 2018 (besides measuring my ingredients by weight, not by volume) is to work at making my baking more “pretty”. [Note – yes, I wrote this blog post LAST YEAR for Valentine’s Day…] My baked goods usually taste wonderful (which is the top priority, I would argue), but they are sometimes lackluster from an aesthetic point of view. Prettily piped cookies seemed them to be a good exercise for flexing my beautiful baking muscles.

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I was surprised to find that my Dorie’s Cookies cookbook – a book devoted entirely to cookies – didn’t have a simple sugar cookie recipe. Too simple for Dorie, maybe. Luckily, my Bobbette & Belle cookbook has a recipe for Decorative Sugar Cookies. Theirs includes piped flowers, those little silver balls, and some edible gold paint. Mine would be simpler, but still pretty (I hoped).

All too often, sugar cookies are more about the decorations than the taste, but this is actually a wonderful, flavourful recipe. And it’s easy to whip together, too.

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First, you cream butter and sugar together until it is nice and fluffy. You add an egg and some vanilla, then mix in some flour/baking powder/salt.

That’s it! Those are all the ingredients! Easy peasy.

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The dough looks really crumbly, but if you pour it out onto some plastic wrap and smush it together, it comes together just fine.

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It has to chill in the fridge (literally and figuratively) for at least an hour before you can play with it, but one it has had a chance to rest, it is pretty easy to work with.

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I kept my shapes simple: two sizes of cookie cutter hearts.

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The cookies were baked until just barely golden (well… some of them were more golden than others), and while they cooled, I started working on the icing.

Making the icing was easy. Getting it to the right flooding consistency was HARD!

I kept it relatively simple by sticking to just two colours: white and pink. I filled a piping bag with each, only to discover that it was way too thick for proper flooding.

No problem – it’s easier to thin out icing than it is to thicken it, so I just squeezed out the bags and added some water. That should do it…

Not. The icing was still too thick to achieve the flood consistency. Impatience prevailed (the probable cause of my inability to make pretty baked things), and I started piping anyways. I decided to go for a minimalist approach and just outline the cookies. They looked nice, but plain.

I had heaps of leftover icing, so I started playing around with a few, and guess what? They kind of flooded! Only because I’d already outlined all of them (and the outlines were setting), it was impossible to achieve the perfect flood.

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Don’t mind old bite marks in the top right…

So I decided to just have fun with it – after all, that’s how you learn, right? I doodled on my cookies for at least an hour, then realized that my day was wasting away rather quickly and I still had a large to do list to accomplish. I ended up tossing quite a bit of icing, which was disappointing and wasteful.

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Next time, I’ll devote more time to piping. I haven’t given up hope and the cookies are so simple to make that I’m sure I’ll get the chance to give it another go soon.

Luckily, my Valentines aren’t too critical – they loved the cookies, so all’s well ends well.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mom!

Keeping It Local: A Squamish-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

I know a lot of people hate shopping for the holidays – but I am not one of them. I looooove Christmas gift shopping. I usually start in late spring/early summer. I love finding the perfect gift for the people I love the most – and bonus if I’m supporting talented locals.

If you’re seeking some homegrown inspiration for awesome gifts that are useful, nice, practical, or all of the above – well, I’ve got you covered. Most of these are made in Squamish, though I’ve included a few that are made by people in Vancouver or in the Sea to Sky Region.

Lucas Teas

If you’ve got a tea lover on your list, look no further than Lucas Teas. They have a really solid assortment of teas, which you can either buy in person at their store downtown Squamish on Cleveland Avenue or online. For an extra local touch, opt for a Squamish inspired tea (there’s one called Squamish Sunset – so good).

(If you missed my advent calendar post, rumour is that Lucas Teas is doing an advent calendar that is worth checking out.)

Xoco Chocolates

Just down the road from Lucas Teas you’ll find Xoco Chocolates. These locally made chocolates are next level. The flavour combinations are creative but delicious – think cherry/orange/bourbon or peanut/praline/puffed rice. They’re often made with local ingredients, like teas (from Lucas, of course), honey, and even spirits. And they’re definitely showstoppers – each one is a mini masterpiece. This ain’t your ordinary box of chocolates.

(I wrote a post about Xoco a little while ago, if you’d like to learn more.)

Muddy Marvels Pottery

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Photo from the Muddy Marvels Instagram page

I’m a sucker for gorgeous pottery, and while I’ve come across a few talented potters in the Sea to Sky, Muddy Marvels Pottery (made in Brackendale) is in a league of its own. The pieces are not cheap, but they really are works of art (that just so happen to be very functional). This isn’t the gift for a random Secret Santa – you’ll want to save it for somebody you really love who will appreciate it (perhaps paired with some Lucas tea?)

The KNWN Squamish T-Shirt

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Photo from the KNWN Facebook Page.

KNWN is a local snowboard manufacturer, and while their snowboards are wicked, their swag is unexpectedly awesome too. I am a huuuuge fan of this simple but snazzy Squamish t-shirt design – it’s even better in crewneck sweatshirt form, as pictured. Their shop is located in the industrial part of town just behind Backcountry Brewing/Tall Tree Bakery – a.k.a. my new favourite shopping area of Squamish. I think the t-shirts are around $30 and the sweatshirt is just under $70. They have other cool t-shirt designs on offer, too.

Padraig Cottage Slippers

 

I’m pretty sure Padraig slippers are well-loved around the world – or at least across Canada – but they happen to be made in North Vancouver, which is just a skip, hop, and a jump from Squamish. Every Squamish baby seems to own a few pairs of Padraigs, but they also make adult sizes. These are the perfect cozy slippers to wear around the house on a classic rainy PNW day. You can buy them online, or you can support a local company and pick up a pair at Fetish Shoes downtown Squamish.

Backcountry Brewing

I love Backcountry Brewing – and I don’t even like beer! We have a few great breweries in Squamish, but the beer lovers in my life (i.e., Cedric) are all big fans of Backcountry’s offerings (the Widowmaker IPA is a favourite among them/him). They have regular growlers – but they also have super cool stainless steel ones that are just so steezy. A few cans would make a great stocking stuffer, or you could go all out and get bottles + a growler + Backcountry merch. Bonus: while you’re picking out your gifts, stay for a flight and a pizza – their pizzas are soooo good.

Trae Designs Toys

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Photo from the Trae Designs website

I got a set of beautiful, handmade wooden toys from Trae Designs for my niece last Christmas. They seem like a fun toy and unlike gaudy plastic gizmos, these are really pretty to display around the house. They have several different toy sets in a few different colour options – they also have blocks, rattle toys, and other cute things.

Like most things on this list, this gift isn’t necessarily the cheapest (the pictured set is just under $50) – but you’re paying for quality and local skills, which helps justify the price tag.

Nibz Bandanaz & Winter Accessories

My Whistler-based friend, Sara, makes the super-fun (yet practical) Nibz Bandanaz,  balaclavas, toques, and neck tubes – a must have for winter sports lovers.These are reasonably priced (a bandana is about $33) and are great quality. There are a ton of designs to choose from – from fantastically loud to more understated. (I believe they will be at the Arts Whistler Holiday Market at the Conference Centre this weekend.)

Moe’s Pantry Jams

This summer, I discovered Moe’s Pantry at the Squamish Farmer’s Market. (Hint: they’re also at the winter Farmer’s Market at the Squamish Adventure Centre on Saturdays). I’ve tried four of their jams: raspberry, plum, bluberry, and strawberry. And guess what? They’re all delicious. Personally, I am a big fan of local made edible goods – honey, jams, baked goods, and the like – especially for friends and family that don’t live around Squamish. They offer something special that your loved ones can’t get in their own neck of the woods, and they’re consumable so they won’t just sit around collecting dust. A fairly large jar of jam is only $7 – so go bananas and try a few kinds.

Vancouver Candle Company

A high quality candle is a classic gift option – choosing a local option makes it a little more special than your standard department store pick. The Vancouver Candle Company has become pretty popular across the country, and though it’s not made in the Sea to Sky, I still consider it local. I’ve smelled several of the candles and given a few as gifts, and in my experience, they’re all good.

I love that they’re named after local Vancouver ‘hoods (I love Gastown: tobacco, amber, and black pepper) – and upon browsing their website just now, I’ve discovered that they now have Toronto neighbourhoods, too. The packaging is clean and pretty – even your more discerning candle-loving friends will adore these guys.


Did I miss anything? I love discovering local products, so feel free to recommend your own must-haves and I’ll check them out.

Ho Ho Ho! Advent Calendar Season Is BACK!

Folks, I’m unbearably excited to announce that it’s that time of year again: ADVENT CALENDAR TIME!

Okay, so we’re not quite at Day 1 of the advent, but in order to be prepared for the first of December, you need to get your act together in November. Seriously – some of the best advent calendars have already sold out for 2017. As they say, the early bird gets the best calendars.

If you remember my post from last year, I am a total advent calendar nut (see Figure 1 below).

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Figure 1

If you’re on board with the DIY advent concept but want to go a little fancier than paper bags in a shoe holder, I’ve included a few fancy store bought type kits at the bottom of this post. But first: some fabulous, indulgent, and (usually) expensive ways to satisfy your Christmasiest advent wishes.


The David’s Tea Advent Calendar

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Isn’t it beautiful!!!

I bought this calendar for myself the day it came out back in October, and I am so excited to swing open those doors (which have a satisfying magnetic clasp thing) and sample 24 days of teas. I have found that I only need half of the amount in the tin to brew a stellar cup of tea, so I save the other half of each tin for 24 additional glorious days in January. Two months of tea for $45 – that’s well worth it to me for a once a year splurge. Plus, the Christmas joy it brings me is priceless.

FYI: I have recently discovered that Squamish’s own Lucas Teas offers a tea advent calendar, too. I have no idea what they charge, but I love the idea of supporting a local business and I’ve enjoyed every Lucas Tea I’ve ever tried. If you haven’t already picked up a David’s Tea calendar, check out Lucas’s option.

Beauty in Wonderland… WHAT?!?!

It’s not hard to figure out where my advent calendar love comes from – it’s all my mom’s fault. (You can read about her past hits and one miss in last year’s post.) I received a surprise parcel in the mail from my parents that contained this magical box, which opens up to reveal five drawers. Each drawer contains five boxes, and each box is numbered 1 through 25. I have NO IDEA what is going on with this amazing advent calendar other than the following:

  • I’m guessing it has something to do with beauty products
  • It’s from the UK

I am purposely not researching anything about it to maximize the surprise factor.

Bonne Maman 2017 Advent Calendar

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I just about died when I saw this super adorable Bonne Maman advent calendar. I have toast every morning, so this jam fest would be perfect – plus, it’s a fun way to branch beyond the usual raspberry jam and Bonne Maman jams are soooo good. Alas, three advent calendars would be a little much – even for me. Maybe next year?

I’m not sure if this one is still available. If you go to the Bonne Maman website, it is still featured on the front page, but clicking the link leads to a dead page. If you’re able to find it, let me know how the 24 days unfold!

L’Occitane Signature Advent Calendar

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A few years ago, I had an Occitane advent calendar and I adored it. It’s a great way to stock up on little bar soaps, hand lotions, and other divine skin and bath goodies, if that happens to be up your alley. This year’s calendar is $69, which isn’t cheap – but neither are Occitane goods in general.

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They also have a luxury version (ooh la la), which comes with a luxury price tag of $134. I consulted the list of products between the two boxes*, and there are a lot of overlaps – the luxury one seems to contain a few products from their Immortelle line, which are on the pricey side, but I don’t think those merit the substantial price difference. But hey, maybe you’re in the mood to treat yourself, in which case – advent away!

*Note: I would NEVER sneak a peek at the contents of one the calendars I was actually using for the year. This is sacrilegious for an advent calendar devotee.

NYX Kiss and Tell Calendar

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I’m not much of a lipstick person, but I thought this one was pretty fun. It has a variety of NYX lipsticks, glosses, and lip creams and the design is super cool. You can still get your hands on one via Asos. I’ll set you back about a hundred bucks – I can’t decide if this is a lot. On the one hand, $100 for an advent calendar is definitely a lot. On the other hand, $100 for 24 lipsticks – even smallish ones – does not seem terribly unreasonable.

BeerAdvent

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Unlike the other calendars featured on this list thus far, here’s one that I think Cedric could get behind. Twenty four days of craft beer would make for a very merry Christmas indeed. This one is available across most provinces and territories – the Facebook page will tell you where to pick it up. I’ve noticed other beer advent calendars at liquor stores in years past, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get your paws on one. If I didn’t DIY Cedric’s calendar, I’d probably pick one like this up.

Purdy’s Bright Light Advent Calendar

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 7.27.08 AMFor many people, an advent calendar is not an advent calendar unless it contains chocolate. If you’re one of these people, I completely respect your advent approach and I offer you an alternative to waxy cardboard-tasting chocolate: this little Purdy’s number. I love Purdy’s chocolate (hedgehogs!) and it’s nice to support a Canadian company. At $25, this advent is also a little more reasonably priced than some of the others on this list.

Saje 12 Days of Wellness

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I’m making a notable exception for the Saje calendar – I generally do not consider “12 days of Christmas” types to be true advent calendars (24 days are required, thank you very much). However, Saje is a popular shop in my group of friends and I thought this calendar of twelve different diffuser blends would be a nice bet for people obsessed with their Saje diffusers (see: my sister). It’s $110 – yikes – but if you’ve ever been to Saje, you already know everything there is pricey.

DIY Advent Calendars

Okay, time to tackle DIY advent calendars. I love using my shoe pocket thingy because it allows for large treats – for instance I’ve included hardcover books and jumbo bottles of beer in the past. The ones below are one the smaller side, but you can still have a lot of fun with them. Ideas of things to stash include, but are not limited to: lip balm or make up, nail polish, extra razor blades (so practical), candy, nuts, mini booze bottles, socks, tiny magnets, jewelry, underwear, gift cards (even $5 for a morning coffee), tea or coffee, a Christmas ornament, etc.

Ikea Vinter 2017

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I think this little paper house village set up is so charming – and it’s only $7.99 from Ikea. They have a multicolour mountain set, too, for the same price (pictured below).

vinter-advent-calender-boxes__0554451_pe659793_s4Holiday Collection Wood Advent Calendar from Canadian Tire

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I see a few main draws to this wooden advent calendar from Canadian Tire. It is solid and sturdy enough to survive storage over the rest of the year, so it can be reused year after year, unlike many others. Plus, it looks like you could easily scramble the order of the boxes, which is always a plus.

Calendar Kit from Billie’s Flower House

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I was recently perusing Billie’s Flower House downtown Squamish and I came across this little fillable advent set on sale for $20. While I’m on the topic of Billie’s, it is a WONDERFUL place to browse for adorable Christmas decorations and gifts. A lot of the companies that the store carries are the same ones you see at some of the local holiday markets. Everything in there is so lovely – and they are also the best place to find a greeting card in Squamish.

Winter Chalet Knit Stockings Advent Calendar from The Bay

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This picture isn’t the best, but this little stocking garland calendar is equal parts advent calendar and decor. One word: CUTE.


The countdown is on, you guys. See you on the 1st!

A Definite Ranking of Easter Candy

Candy season looks like this: Halloween –> Christmas –> Valentine’s Day –> Easter. I would argue that Easter, anchoring candy season in all its glory, offers the best candy overall.

As someone who has eaten a lot of candy in her life, I feel more than qualified to offer my expert opinion on the candy options of this glorious holiday.

I present to you: Easter candy, from best to worst.

#1: Milka Lil Scoops

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A high school friend introduced me to Milka Lil Scoops, and I have never looked back. Today, they are called Cadbury Lil Scoops – but to me, they will always be Milka Lil Scoops.

First, the presentation is perfection: a tiny, 2 x 2 purple egg carton. Cute cute cute! Then, you open it up and there are four foil wrapped eggs and two little purple spoons. Baby spoons! CUTE!

I like to peel the top half of the wrapper off, bite off the tip of the egg, then use the little spoon to scrape out every last bit of the delicious, ganache-y interior. Then, the best part: the chocolate egg shell.

Delicious. Amazing. Perfection.

Lil Scoops are a little hard to come by, which only adds to their prestige. I found some at the Great Glass Elevator Candy Shop in Whistler, but they were FIFTEEN DOLLARS. That’s insanity. Luckily, I found identical ones at Shopper’s Drug Mart for something like $6.99. An indulgence, for sure, but Easter only comes once a year.

#2: Cadbury Creme Eggs

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Cadbury Creme Eggs are a polarizing food: either they make you want to throw up, or you think they are the best thing on earth. I fall in the latter category, and I am always a little suspicious of those who are part of the former.

A thick milk chocolate shell enveloping liquid sugar – what else could you want? My second year of university, I ate something like four of these over the course of a single plane ride. College was a crazy time for me.

Honourable mention goes to the Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry, one of the greatest creations to ever come out of McDonalds.

#3: Cadbury Mini Eggs

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Mini Eggs are best eaten by the handful. Many have tried to replicate the mini egg (e.g., Eggies, the PC brand eggs), but NO ONE has come even close to the perfection that is mini eggs. Cadbury has tried to introduce variations (ever had the popping candy mini eggs?) and even made the controversial decision to offer mini eggs year-round, but the best mini egg is the original one, consumed exclusively in the months of March and April. I just saw the giant bags for $13.99 at the grocery store (down from $18.99) – there’s a solid chance I will buy one of these in the very near future.

#4: Other Large Egg Variations

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There are other large eggs, similar in style to the Creme Egg, but channeling other genre of candy: Oreo, Caramilk, Chips Ahoy, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etc. These hybrid eggs, if you will, are all generally very delicious, but they lack the exclusivity of the Cadbury Creme Egg and just aren’t quite on the same elite level.

There is one exception. In first year university (I ate a lot of chocolate in university), the cafeteria at my residence closed early – at like 7 PM or something. When we’d inevitably get hungry around 9, my roommates and I would head to Magda’s, the overpriced convenience store in the main complex area. During an exam-time late night snack run, I purchased some creme egg variation that essentially chocolate-on-chocolate. It had kind of a malty flavour. I have no idea what it was, but I remember liking it as much as – if not more than – the traditional CCE. I have never seen it since. I suspect that Magda’s may have had them in stock since like, 1982, and few people paid whatever inflated price they charged, so they were still selling them when I was in school decades later.

#5: Fancy Foil Chocolate Eggs

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There are two tiers of little foil-wrapped chocolate eggs: the ones made by popular “fancy” chocolate brands (think Lindt, Purdy’s, etc.) and the kind you buy for $1 at Wal Mart. The fancy ones are good stuff. They’re simple – usually just a little bite of plain chocolate – but the chocolate is tasty and they look festive. I probably wouldn’t buy them for myself, but I would be stoked to win some in a gift basket or something.

#6: Kinder Surprise

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My younger self would be disappointed that I ranked Kinder Surprises so low on this list. The truth is, I’ve finally outgrown the novelty of the little toy that lies within. I still appreciate the white-milk chocolate combo of the egg itself, but the value just isn’t there.

I still remember the best toy I ever got in a Kinder: a little snail that had a suction cup. I got it the Easter of grade 10 and I kept it in my pencil case all year. It became a source of entertainment during boring classes. A friend and I named it something, but I can’t remember what. Cool story, Hansel.

#7: Cheap Foil Chocolate Eggs

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The counterpart to #5 on this list. These chocolate eggs are typically purchased by the mesh bagful. The quality of chocolate is slightly greater than that found in cheap advent calendars, but low enough that it may be called “chocolate flavoured candy” rather than actual chocolate.

I have to admit that I actually like these. I know they’re kind of bad, but I can’t deny my heart.

#8: Those Hard/Chewy Eggs You Never See Anymore

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Does anybody else remember these? Man, these eggs bring me way back. They had a sort of hard outer shell (almost waxy), protecting a chewy, kind of gritty, flavourless sugar paste. I don’t think I would like these if I had them today, but I would still eat one if offered, in the name of nostalgia.

#9: Jelly Beans

Jelly beans just don’t do it for me anymore. Yeah, maybe I like the cheap foil chocolates, but I still have some standards – and jelly beans are below them. As a child, I would have been ecstatic to throw back a fistful of jelly beans. Remember the 25-cent bean machines at the mechanic? Amazing. But those days are behind me now, and jelly beans are officially a bad candy. Yes, even the red ones.

#10: Peeps

One of my favourite things to do in America is to browse the aisles of a grocery store or a Target. I don’t know if Americans realize that the candy options available there are unique to their country. For instance, whereas in Canada, our Oreos take up a small portion of a shelf in the grocery store, the Oreo zone in the States takes up an entire shelving unit, offering endless spinoffs of the original cookie.

Peeps are an American candy. I have never seen them in Canada, and a lot of my fellow Canadians are vaguely familiar with the term but have never seen one in the flesh, much less consumed one.

I myself have eaten a Peep before, and it is simply awful. Even for a sugar fiend like myself, it is just purely disgusting.

Weirdly cute, yes. Edible, not a chance.

Did Somebody Say Baking Roundup?

I have been known to go a little crazy with Christmas baking.

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My first homemade house from 2007, clearly made during my dear Kappa days. (It looks an awful lot like a house from a standard kit, but I swear it wasn’t.)

(In searching for photos of previous gingerbread creations, I found an 8 page file called “Gbread House Ideas”. That about sums it up.)

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This one is from 2013 – I bought edible silver spray paint to make that star.

I take gingerbread houses a little more seriously than most. I like to bake my own from scratch rather than use a kit, which always sounds like a great idea but ends up being a bit chaotic. It takes about three days for everything to come together, and usually there is a glass trapped inside of the house to support a wall, or one year I had to use a dummy cardboard wall because I’d miscalculated my stencils.

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2008 – the motto was “just cover it in candy”

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2008 was the year of the dummy wall and Monster wall support. I drank a lot of Monster in 2008.

I have also had some pretty intense gingerbread cookie sessions. One year I made Martha Stewart (of course) inspired intricately piped snowflake cookies. I was up until 2 AM piping swirls onto hundreds of gingerbread snowflakes. I assembled them into little bags and spent the following work day walking around downtown Vancouver and hand delivering bags of frosted snowflakes to friends and industry people I’d only met a couple of times. (This was right around the time I realized I was miserable in my job but wasn’t entirely sure how to cope with it. Another post for another time.)

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See the polka dot stars in this fuzzy picture? I switched to dots at around 2 AM to preserve my sanity.

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For some reason I actually made the same cookies the following year, but I think I spread the work out over a few days because I don’t have as many horrific memories of this one.

In years past, I have done home drop offs of cranberry pumpkin loaves and trios of seasonal fudge (that one was last year). So this year, by usual Magee Christmas baking standards, was pretty mellow. Let’s review.

I only gave two cookie gifts this year. One was for a “sustainable” Secret Santa (which was widely open to interpretation and included homemade goods), and the other was mailed to a friend across the country. Rather than choosing Christmas themed cookies, I just chose cookies that I liked. Both were from the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook (as was my pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving).

Ginger Molasses Cookies

I like these cookies because they use actual fresh ginger, not the powdered spice. I like mine on the soft side – so soft that you can bend them and they don’t snap. Mmm. They don’t look as pretty as the pictures from the recipe I linked to above, but they tasted fantastic.

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Okay, not quite this underdone…

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… perfect.

Chocolate Truffle Cookies

These ones are decadent and incredibly crumbly – the ones I mailed probably arrived in a million little pieces. They are SO GOOD. They’re a triple chocolate threat cookie: they contain cocoa powder, chunks of chocolate, AND chocolate chips.

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The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

One of the primary reasons I don’t do as much Christmas themed baking is because Cedric isn’t a gingerbread fan (I know, what a weirdo). His favourite baked good is the chocolate chip cookie. We usually have a roll of dough in our freezer so we can cut off a couple of pieces and have just a few fresh baked cookies after dinner, when the mood strikes. I’m not particularly loyal to one recipe because I find they all taste great and it’s fun to try new ones.

At least, that’s how I felt until I found the recipe for the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. The guy who wrote the post is a true inspiration to me – read it see what I mean.

I was moved to try his recipe, although disaster struck partway through when I ran out of brown sugar (GASP!). I had to compensate with extra white sugar. Side note: I like that this guy’s recipe measures ingredients by weight, not volume.

The directions say to refrigerate the dough before baking for up to three days, or AT LEAST overnight. But come on – we’re only human. We made a few cookies after refrigerating the dough for an hour or so. The verdict? They were good – really good – but I didn’t think they were any better than other recipes I’d used in the past.

And then, a few days later, I made some more. By now, the dough had time to settle – and they were the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. Full stop. This shall be my new go to recipe.

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Cue the heavenly music.

No Bake Almond (Peanut) Butter Cup Bars

My final baked good of the season (for now – I have one more recipe I want to try) is actually not a baked at all (hence the “no bake” in its title).

This recipe is TOO easy to put together. All you need is a food processor. It’s one of those recipes where you use dates and maple syrup instead of sugar, but hey – it all tastes the same (i.e., delicious) to me. It happens to be gluten free and vegan, so it’s a good recipe for those with diet restrictions. (Unless the diet restriction is a nut allergy).

The bottom layer is peanuts, dates, cocoa powder, and salt.

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The next layer is peanut butter (I make my own – just put peanuts in a food processor. It’s that easy, folks) with a bit of salt and maple syrup.

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The third and final layer is chocolate, coconut oil, and coconut milk.

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If you like Reese’s peanut butter cups (and who doesn’t), you will like this.

So… maybe I should make my next post a trail running post to balance things out, huh?

It’s Advent Calendar Time! With a Little DIY

Hark – are those angels I hear singing?

Tomorrow is December 1, which for most people marks the unofficial start of Christmas. It’s also the first day you get to pop open that shiny new advent calendar, which brings me to the theme of today’s post:

Advent calendars.

Before I show you this year’s advent calendar project, let me walk you through a brief history of my life in advent calendars.

The Early Years

I remember having at least a few Christmases with a regular chocolate advent calendar. I think my Nana Annaliese brought them over for us, but I’m not 100% sure that’s where it came from. Anyway, I loved it – alternating cardboardy chocolate days with my sister was the best. This was a tradition I could get behind.

The Curious Year

One year, when we were a little older (middle school maybe?), my mom did something really weird. She replaced the usual chocolate number with a new advent calendar.

Rather than hiding a piece of chocolate, each door hid… a Bible verse. In French.

But wait, it gets better. At the end of the advent period, you closed all the open doors so that next year, you could OPEN THEM AGAIN! So next year’s December 12 would yield the exact same biblical message as this year’s did.

Here’s why I wasn’t a fan:

  1. No chocolate. Enough said.
  2. The Bible verse thing was weird, mostly because my family was not religious. I went to Catholic school by default (at the time, it was the only option if you wanted to go to French school), so I got a healthy dose of the religious element there.
  3. It was French. Anyone attending French school knew that French was soooo lame. (note: I recognize now that being bilingual is awesome and I regret nothing – but at the time, like it or not, French was soooo lame).
  4. Although the reuse aspect of the calendar was notable environmentally conscious, it took away the element of surprise, which is even lamer than the French factor.

I’m still not completely sure where my mom acquired this unique calendar, but it never did make another appearance. I’m sure that somewhere, a lovely French Catholic eco-friendly family is eagerly counting down the hours until they get a peek at that first Bible verse tomorrow morning.

The College Years

Living halfway across the country from my family, I found myself responsible for buying my own advent calendar. It was very liberating to know that I could finally buy my own advent calendar, but I opted to share one with roommates. We did kick it up a notch by investing in a superior quality calendar – the $12 Lindt one.

I’m sure I did this every year, but one in particular stands out. My one roommate, Meghan, was just as fiendish about Christmas and chocolate as I was, so neither of us ever missed a day. I’m pretty sure our third roommate, Liis, was pretty on top of it, too. Our fourth roommate, Sarah, would regularly miss her designated days, which BOGGLED MY MIND. I never imagined the possibility of not scarfing down your advent chocolate the very second you woke up. Yes, college was a time of learning indeed.

The Puzzle that Puzzled Me

The year is 2011. It is mid-November. I receive a mysterious parcel in the mail. It is a sheet of chocolate with adorable drawings. It is in French (which, unlike the middle school years, I am now okay with). It is a puzzle made up of individual chocolate puzzle pieces.

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My mom is clearly behind this, but the parcel is delivered straight from the chocolatier that made it, and there is no note or anything. I eat a few of the puzzle pieces – delicious. THIS is the good stuff.

On our weekly phone call later that week, my mom asks if I received the advent calendar yet. I replied that I had not. Confusion ensues – until I realize that the chocolate puzzle IS the advent calendar! My mom points out that each puzzle piece should have a number, which represents the day of the month. I run to check the remaining pieces – she is correct. Luckily, most of the pieces remained in tact. Christmas wasn’t ruined, but it almost was.

The Glory Years

My dad is in Vancouver attending a high school reunion, and he swings up to Whistler to spend a few days with me. He comes bearing a gift: an advent calendar like no other.

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It’s 24 glorious days of sample-sized Benefit makeup – be still, my beating heart! Each day’s reward is better than the last. All my favourites are there. I’m able to try new products, too. Santa has really upped his game this year!

The next year, I scramble to get myself another Benefit advent calendar. I find it – but they have boosted the price to $120! I love Christmas, but that is insane, so I pass. They no longer make the full 24 day advent calendar, but they do have a 12 days of Christmas version, for those interested.

Luckily, L’occitane saves the day with this:

advent-3The advent calendar that promises to keep you clean until next Christmas. YES! There really IS a Santa!

The Glory Years introduced me to the concept that not all advent calendars are made of chocolate. Which brings us to the Modern Years.

The Modern Years

This year, I will celebrate the advent with a daily cup of festive tea, courtesy of my beloved David’s Tea. (It’s still in stock!)

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But the Modern Years are no longer just about me. They’re about Cedric, too – and it shocked me to learn that advent calendars do not play a pivotal role in Cedric’s annual Christmas traditions.

I took it upon myself to change that.

Tea, makeup, and bath products don’t quite tickle Cedric’s fancy, so I had to get creative. These beer advent calendars caught my eye, but didn’t seem quite right. Then, I had an idea: I would make Cedric’s advent calendar myself, filled with all kinds of cool stuff: beer, his favourite treats (sour cream and onion Ruffles chips, I’m looking at you), ski socks, books, etc.

The quest for the perfect advent calendar container began. I found a few online, but they were outrageously expensive and the pockets were too small to fit the objects I had in mind. I then realized that the shoe holder hanging over my door conveniently housed 24 pockets. I could place the 25th item under the tree. Boom – advent calendar container found.

Here’s what last year’s calendar looked like:

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Consider this the beta year – it had a few growing pains. First, the duct tape would peel off the canvas material, exposing the daily prize before its designated day. Second, it was very obvious which days were beer days.

This year’s advent calendar follows a similar format with one notable improvement: the paper bag.

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Not bad, right?

Let the advent begin!

Highlights from Refresh Market

Let the Christmas shopping season begin!

Truth be told, I love Christmas way too much and have been Christmas shopping since mid-summer. I hate buying things for myself, but I LOVE buying things for other people. Squamish’s Refresh Market was the perfect place to tick a few more gifts off the Christmas shopping list and to pick up some sweet treats for myself (and possibly Cedric, if he can convince me to share).

Refresh Market describes itself in the following way:

We are one of B.C.’s largest indie marketplaces for handmade and locally designed wares.

It is stocked with one-of-a-kind items and sold by the people who make them, so you get a good story behind each purchase. There is a huge range of products and they do a great job of providing a good mix of items, including candles, bath and skin products, kids and baby clothes and gear, art and cards, home decor products, chocolates and other sweets, jewelry, and other pretty things.

This was my first year at Refresh. I went with a few girlfriends and we each walked away with some pretty good buys. Here are some tips I picked up along the way:

  • You can buy tickets online the week ahead of the market. Tickets are $5 at the door and $3 online, but there are a few extra fees from buying online so you only save a buck or so. Still, that’s an extra dollar to spend on artisanal chocolate.
  • Don’t rely on the ATM onsite – there is one, but it runs out of money. Bring some cash ahead of time, but don’t worry too much about it – most booths take credit card.
  • Do a walk through of all of the booths before making your purchases, so that you don’t buy one candle and then realize you like the smell of another one better.

We spent time at all of the booths and trust me, everything was great – but here are some of the booths that really stood out to me.

Canvas Candle Company

My favourite candle booth was Canvas Candle Company. I think all four of us picked up a candle or two here. The woodsy/Christmas-y Best Coast soy candle was a favourite, as was the Sister Sister (a delightful mix of lavender, rum, and berry). The packaging is simple (mason jars) and the market price special was just right: two large candles for $30, or two small ones for $16.

Olive Branch & Co.

There were a ton of booths with really, really cute cards, but the Olive Branch & Co. booth stood out to me for a few reasons. First of all, the designs were simple, crisp, and beautiful. There was a good mix of Christmas cards and cards for other occasions, and the calligraphy was just lovely. The best part: if you bought a card, the lady at the booth would write the recipient of the card’s name on the envelope in matching calligraphy for free. I picked up 3 cards for $12 (I think), which I found to be a great deal. Browsing through her website, I see she does all kinds of beautiful things: invites, wedding vows, place cards, tattoo designs, etc.

Chocohappy Chocolates

In my opinion, the best booths involve something you can eat. Chocohappy Chocolates are based in Whistler and use local ingredients to create cones filled with delectable chocolates – like the sea salt caramel one I bought. Choosing a flavour was the hardest part, and other close contenders were the Baileys & Mallows and Hazelnut Crunch. I wish they made cones with ten different flavours so I could try them all.

Trae Designs

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Photo from Trae Designs

There were so many beautiful things for babies and little kids that we found ourselves wishing we knew more people with babies. Trae Designs was a stand out booth because the wooden Coastal BC inspired toys were as beautiful as they looked fun. This is the kind of toy you wouldn’t mind “cluttering” up your home (if you can call something like this clutter). I’ve seen their work elsewhere in Squamish and I just think it’s delightful.

Muddy Marvels Pottery

I fell in love with the pieces at the Muddy Marvels Pottery booth – particularly an oversized mug with a gold heart that I am kicking myself for not buying. I just learned that they make the mugs at the Camp Coffee & Lifestyle shop in Function Junction… I may have to pick one up there. Look at these cute little guys – they’re meant for holding rings, but aren’t they the perfect wintery decoration?

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Be still, my heart!

Camp & City

This booth was expertly styled, complete with old timey props that looked like they came out of your grandpa’s old A-frame. It didn’t hurt that they sold gorgeous, useful things like axes, cutting boards, and rolling pins. They make wood products that are functional, but that look like art. Perfection.


The Refresh Winter Market was totally worth it. Next up: Arts Whistler’s Holiday Market (formerly known as Bizarre Bazaar) next weekend for some more hand crafted goodness.

Happy Halloween! Cupcakes Edition

Happy Halloween!

I like Halloween, but I don’t love it. What I do love is Christmas, and Halloween mostly serves as a soft launch into Christmas (as in, I can’t launch into the Christmas spirit until the day after Halloween).

(For those wondering, the hard launch occurs after Remembrance Day.)

Most Halloween celebrations in my adult life have been forgettable. Except the Halloween where I had swine flu, which was entirely unforgettable but for all the wrong reasons.

However, this year, I was presented with the opportunity to attend a low key house party with some of my favourite people. These are the best kind of Halloweens plans.

After deliberating on what would make the best hostess gift, I settled upon baking some festive cupcakes. Careful deliberation resulted in these two ideas:

  1. Pumpkin cupcakes decorated like Jack-o-lanterns
  2. Chocolate cupcakes with white icing and spoooooky chocolate decorations.

The first cupcakes were relatively straightforward. I relied on my most trusted baking source for the recipes: Martha Stewart (or, as I affectionately call her, My Girl Martha). I have found Martha to be somewhat hit or miss when it comes to savoury recipes, but she never steers me wrong when it comes to baking. Here’s the pumpkin cupcake recipe I used.

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I also used Martha’s cream cheese frosting recipe. Here is one of my baking secrets: I pretty much only make cream cheese frosting. I used to make all kinds – meringue, buttercream, whipped cream-based – but cream cheese icing tastes the best with almost all cake bases. Somehow, it never feels too rich, or too airy, or anything but too delicious (hey-o).

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The pumpkin cupcakes went quite well. The only snafu was that the cupcake papers I’d purchased came in  12 pack, whereas my recipe made 18 cupcakes. I did have extra cupcake papers, but they had Santa on the bottom. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so there were a few Santa/Jack-o-lantern cupcakes. This is only a minor cupcake crisis.

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Cute.

I found this recipe for the chocolate cupcakes, and I was intrigued because it comes together a little differently than most recipes (it doesn’t cream the butter and sugar together first – how unorthodox!)

The challenge here was that I had used up all the regular cupcake liners, plus the Santa ones. All I had left now were mini liners for my mini cupcake tin. I decided that this was not a bad thing, since it would give people the option to have a little cupcake or a big one. Another minor cupcake crisis, averted.

The larger crisis presented itself with the chocolate decorations. I’m not an expert baker by any means, but I can’t bring myself to buy those waxy “chocolate” pellets that you melt in the microwave, pipe out into designs, and pop in the freezer to harden up. I don’t know why I care so much because I’m pretty sure nobody else does, and they’re just a decoration, so who cares how they taste?

Instead, I rolled my shirt sleeves up and got to tempering my chocolate. I don’t really know the chemical aspects of tempering chocolate, but I’m sure Alton Brown has a good episode about. All I know is that you do it to get nice, shiny chocolate that hardens on its own at room temperature. There are a few ways to do it, but the way I learned involves melting chocolate on a double boiler, then removing it from the heat and adding bits of unmelted chocolate until it is “tempered”. How do you tell if it is tempered? It comes with practice and experience. My chocolate tempering spidey senses are a little rusty, but they usually work more or less.

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Phase I – melting the chocolate

The good news is that I tempered the chocolate perfectly. The bad news is that I used a handy little squeeze bottle to pipe out my designs, and although I thought I’d removed all the unmelted chocolate bits, they kept finding their way into the tip of the squeeze bottle, clogging the chocolate mid-spider web piping.

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All in all, the piping was a bit of a disaster and the decorations turned out way more amateur than I hoped. But I think I salvaged them.

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I have already written nearly 700 words on these cupcakes, so I’ll wrap it up by saying the cupcakes turned out cute and were delicious (I like the pumpkin ones best). Despite the Santa wrappers and the mangled cobwebs that look more like snowflakes, I deem my Halloween cupcakes – and indeed, my entire Halloween 2016 – a great success.

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Fish Sticks, CLIF bars, and Christmas

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Over the years, I have had my share of weird jobs.

Whistler hosts the World Ski and Snowboard Festival every April. In addition to ski and snowboard stuff, there are also ample opportunities to walk the Village Stroll and pick up free samples.

Being a sample person can be a relatively fun gig. It typically pays well and is very easy, so one year, I replied to a Craigslist advert seeking outgoing people who wanted to hand out samples. Samples of, what, I wasn’t sure, but I applied and got hired.

It turns out that my job for 10 days would be handing out samples of fish sticks. High Liner fillets and nuggets, to be specific. Being the fish stick girl is not very glamorous, but I actually didn’t mind it – it turns out that many people love free fish sticks, and they love you for giving them free fish sticks. I felt quite popular, despite the fact that I smelled of fried fish.

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This is not me, but this is exactly what I looked like.

One of my fellow co-fish-stick-hander-outers was somewhat of a regular on the promo circuit. At a past event, he had been the CLIF bar guy (arguably a more prestigious gig than being the fish stick guy), and he had worked with some of the girls who were currently manning the CLIF bar booth at the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. An alliance was formed, whereby we would drop off piping hot fish samples to the CLIF ladies, who would return the favour by trading us some CLIF Builder bars.

Those Builder bars got me through some long days (because there are only so many fish sticks one can eat). I took a penchant for the mint chocolate ones, which reminded me of my beloved Peppermint Hot Chocolate in a red Starbucks cup. A Christmas CLIF bar, if you will.

So, imagine my delight when I found out that there are actually seasonal CLIF bars in special flavours for the winter season! I received an email asking if I would like to try some of these flavours. Of course, the answer was YES.

As if sampling seasonal CLIF bars wasn’t good enough, I was also sent CLIF gear to don while sampling the bars. Just the best.

Okay, let’s talk flavours.

First up: Iced Gingerbread. The “iced” refers to the fact there there is a drizzle of icing on the CLIF bar. I didn’t tell Cedric the name of the flavours because I didn’t want to influence his comments on the bar (I take my tastings very seriously. I once hosted a chocolate beauty pageant, where we sampled chocolate from a dozen different countries before picking the winning chocolate). I thought it was curious that Cedric thought this one tasted like “pumpkin spice, or a chai latte” (direct quote).

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Curious indeed – I, too, felt like the gingerbread had some autumny, pumpkin and cinnamon undertones. I liked it. It tastes more spice-y than the usual CLIF bar (as in, spices like nutmeg and cinnamon and cloves, not hot peppers) and packs a flavourful punch.

Next: Spiced Pumpkin Pie (which also has an icing drizzle, despite not having the word “iced” in its name). Given that we thought the Gingerbread one tasted like pumpkin, I was curious to try this one. My impression: it tastes like a nice, moist carrot cake. Cedric concurred, saying “Tasty”. The flavours are more subtle in this one, which I think would make it more palatable when out doing active stuff.

The verdict: Cedric preferred Iced Gingerbread, while Spiced Pumpkin Pie was the winner for me. There is also a Hot Chocolate flavour, which I didn’t get to try.

They won’t replace my beloved mint chocolate Builder bars, nor will they usurp the title of “favourite CLIF bar flavour” from the formidable white chocolate macadamia nut bars, but these seasonal bars will be filling my backpack compartments on winter hikes and ski jacket pockets for snacks on the chairlift.

If you want to try the seasonal bars for yourself, they look like regular CLIF bars but in white wrappers. Are we nuts for thinking the gingerbread tastes like pumpkin?