Here We Go A Waffling

waf·fle 1 (wfl)n.A light crisp battercake baked in a waffle iron.
waf·fle 2  (wfl) Informalv. waf·fled, waf·fling, waf·flesv.tr. - To speak, write, or act evasively about.

Something strange happens as you walk along Robson St approaching Denman in downtown Vancouver. It may take a moment to detect the conspicuous absence, but as you walk past the McDonalds on the corner of Robson and Bidwell, the smell that overtakes your senses is not that familiar greasy fry.  By some miracle, the tiny Nero Belgian Waffle Bar located next door has eclipsed that ubiquitous aroma with the sweet sugary scent of their delightful delicacies.  And if the smell alone isn’t enough to lure you inside the small but very pleasant interior, the friendly Belgian owners and their incredible talent for making their most famous national dish should convince you.

The first time we stumbled upon this I myself was not convinced. I didn’t even order a waffle. You see, I don’t consider myself a waffle lover by any stretch. In days gone by, I would have voted pancake every time – hands down. But I have been converted and I have now visited Nero for breakfast every weekend for the past three weeks. I have tried the Savoury Brussels waffle with Bocconcini, cherry tomatoes, cucumber salsa, olive oil and lemon zest, the Parisienne waffle with brie cheese, walnuts, honey, and added strawberries, the sweet and chewy Liege with Belgian chocolate, and the light and crispy Brussels waffle with ice cream and strawberries.

I quickly put aside the notion that this is something I could create myself by procuring a waffle iron of my own. These guys do it so well, that I am happy to return again and again rather than try in vain to recreate the perfection they seem to achieve unfailingly. And as an added bonus, the espresso and atmosphere make it a great choice for a coffee stop! There’s nothing to waffle about here! I will bring everyone I can to this cozy little wooden sided secret spot. I’m even inviting you right now!

Visit Nero at 1703 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC.

Masthead photo courtesy of digiyesica’s photostream on Flickr

ChocoSol Traders

I first encountered ChocoSol Traders around 4 or 5 years ago. It was at a guest lecture in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. A recent grad (likely Michael Sacco) was helping cater the event and was introduced as a chocolate maker who was working with farmers in Mexico. While the topic of the lecture has long ago faded from my memory, the chocolate hasn’t. It was different than any chocolate I’ve had before – it was dark, only lightly sweetened and the texture was a bit gritty. It was so different from the refined chocolate I was used to – but it was so good. When the lecture ended the remaining chocolate was brought out to the lounge and I lingered long enough to help finish it.

I found ChocoSol again at Dufferin Grove Farmers’ Market a year or so later when we were still living in the west end. Jim and I went up to the booth and got a full on the spot lesson about chocolate including where and how the cacao was grown, a taste of the raw bean followed up by the roasted bean, a taste of the chocolate and the drinking chocolate. The chocolate is solar roasted, stone ground, and pedal powered. It comes in dark, vanilla, hemp, coconut and chilli varieties. ChocoSol is a different kind of business and their “mission statement” says a lot:

ChocoSol is a community of innovative and dynamic individuals engaged in a trans-local trading relationship that goes beyond mere commerce to intercultural dialogue and reciprocal relationship building.

Sol means the sun in Spanish, earth in French and in English sounds like Soul… Our own source of vibrancy.

ChocoSol is a learning community/social enterprise that uses artisanal chocolate as a symbolic product that incarnates the values that we make part of our art of living and dying with dignity.

We offer chocolate foods as opposed to candies or commodities.

We host social gatherings known as Chocolatadas to celebrate friendships, the seasons, artists, community initiatives as well as our freedom as free-thinking individuals who believe that other worlds do and can Co-Exist.

The Appletree Market, close to our current apartment in midtown Toronto, has ChocoSol as a year round vendor. They also now sell coffee – which is the best we’ve had. So good, that Jim suggested to Michael that he should be charging more than $10/lb for it. This was a suggestion that wasn’t taken and we’re still paying $10/lb. We’ve started to bring our own containers now and get bonus chocolate. We’ve even been invited to come to Mexico to meet the farmers and see first hand where our chocolate comes from. I’m thinking that should be next years’ vacation (if we don’t have to travel for a wedding!)

For Canadians wanting to make the most ethical and environmental food choices, chocolate (and coffee, tea, sugar, bananas, etc.) is a dilemma. Our climate means that we can’t grow cacao. Most of us never meet the farmers that grow our cacao or the processors that make our chocolate. And as a result we never get to hear or see first hand how the cacao was grown, how the farmers live, and how the raw ingredients are transformed into the product we buy. We have to rely on certifications to understand how the cacao was grown (organic) or how the farmers’ are paid (fair trade) and on ingredient labels to understand how the chocolate was processed. There is now an array of certifications and standards out there – some legitimate and some green washing – and it can be hard for even committed foodies to navigate, never mind the average consumer. ChocoSol offers an alternative to the certifications with a personal connection, stories and artisanal products.

Joe Peterson

Joe in action and always smiling.

Joe in action and always smiling.

Who are you?

I’ve been asking myself that since I was 16 years old and still don’t have an answer.  As far as simple stats go my name is Joe Peterson, from Vancouver, BC, still here, 5’9”, skinny, like long walks and puppies.

What do you do for fun?

Make coffee then ride my bike then make more coffee.

What is your favourite community and why?

Growing up in Vancouver I’ve lived in just about every community in the city.  Some I fit in much better than others, but I think the Commercial Drive area is my fave.  It’s not like other parts of the city where you ignore your neighbor or look the other way if someone is getting mugged.  Here people look out for one another, say hi to complete strangers, don’t give false directions to tourists for kicks and give more than take.  This has been my experience with the Drive and why it’s a great community.

What is your superpower?

Turning black, dry, bean like things into liquid gold.

How do you use it to build community?

This superpower allows me to provide a space (The Bump N Grind café) for people in the community.  Whether it be to meet old friends, new friends, hold study groups, poetry slams, art showings, or just a place to go when your roommate sucks.

My three favourite things about Joe are…

1. His sunny disposition. Joe’s always smiling. He’s smiling when you walk int he door. He’s smiling when he’s brewing you up some of the best coffee in the city. He’s smiling when you realize you didn’t bring enough change for your drink and will need to “get him back” next time.

2. His community space. The Bump n’Grind is more than just a cafe. For me it’s a place I can go to relax, spend some alone time, and take in some great art while I read. It’s also a mecca for all sorts of interesting people who all share a love for Joe’s coffee. It’s for terrific people watching. Finally, it’s got one of the most kick ass bathrooms I’ve ever seen – why? You’ll have to head over to the Bump to find out.

3. He does what he loves. Music, coffee, dogs and art. What do all of these have in common? I like all of these things. And so does Joe. A lot. He’s also managed to build his career around them. To love one’s work and be surrounded by things one loves isn’t always easy. But it’s something Joe’s managed to pull off.

As told by Kurt Heinrich…