It's now been an even decade of Januarys that start off with me opening an inbox full of emails trumpeting the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival and the zany flavour variations that emerge each year and me instantly deleting them. It's not that I don't like hot chocolate—it's great if you're a young child or have just been rescued from an arctic plane crash and they're all out coffee, tea or plain hot water. It's just that the sort of people who like "fancy" hot chocolate are like the people who order Caesar's adorned with things like lobster tails and grilled cheese sandwiches—if you're a true aficionado of something, you rarely want it gussied up with a bunch a stuff that obscures what's great about it in the first place ("Oh, you like martinis? Well you gotta try our PB&J martini...).
"It's not for you, you deeply weird crank" I can hear you say, "It's for the kids". Were that so, we would be simpatico. But it appears that a large swath of patrons are in fact fully grown adults. It reminds me of that once or twice a year when I find myself in a social setting and someone mentions that they were just in Disneyland and I ask them how old their kids are and they reply "Oh, we don't have kids" and I just smile, mutter something about Space Mountain and slowly back away from them.
I mentioned all this to my fellow editors on a Zoom call yesterday, expecting everyone to chip in with their own jaded dig. But for those who think that Zoom is not conducive to the subtleties of communication, I can send you a clip of the crickets that followed my wiseass call to arms. "I think it's fun!" said one. And then the stories started flowing: about how when one of them mentored girls at the YWCA it was a great bonding experience or how when one was a residence advisor at UBC they used it as a team building exercise.
In the recent past, I might have replied that both those events would have been better—if illegal—with beer, but this past year (this is the Grinch heart growing moment btw) has taught me that throwing copious amount of alcohol at a situation only helps so much. That someone telling us multiple times a week to be kind has at least partially reset many of our interior jackass meters in the right direction. And that things that are goofy and fun are to be embraced.
In the past my response would have been "Am I really going to drive to Commercial to order the Trees Company, a rosemary-infused dark hot chocolate topped with maple whipped cream and served with a chocolate kouign-amann filled with maple pastry cream?" Now the answer not only is hell yes, but I find myself chuckling at the name Trees Company. And I haven't even gotten to the charity component, helping out causes like The Downtown Eastside Women’s Job Training Program run by the great people at East Vancouver Roasters.
So while I'm not practicing dry January, I am practicing jackass free January and if you're in we can raise a mug of Mauna Loa, "a special concoction using 70% dark chocolate with a hint of maple chili bacon seasoned with cayenne pepper that's paired with a volcano-shaped brownie." It sounds deliciously ridiculous. And I won't fault you if you want to tilt a flask of Cognac in there—you don't want to completely lose your edge.