Friday, March 8, 2013

Chocolate fest sweetens an Oregon weekend of fun

Yes, jalapeno makes a tasty, zingy, complex brittle. Chocolate candy, of course!

 Photos by Bruce Keller
 Story by Christene Meyers

 "Lots of chocolate for me to eat
    ...... wouldn't it be loverly?"

   Eliza Doolittle dreamed of endless chocolate so it made me smile that "My Fair Lady" was playing right down the street from the Oregon Chocolate Festival last weekend.
   Celebrants and makers of chocolate confections and more reveled in this delightful product and its many incarnations.
    Chocolate has a history as rich as its flavor, a versatility as broad as its popularity.
Sipping Dreams offers tasty drinks with chocolate.
     The Mayans and Aztecs used it for religious events.
     The Egyptians buried their royals with it.
     Priests offerred it to the gods.
     Its known history dates back to 1160 B.C. when it was primarily used as a tangy powder mixed with water and consumed something like coffee.
     It took centuries for the Europeans to develop our present day treat.  They added cream and sugar to sweeten the deal.
     We Americans eat chocolate whenever we get a chance -- and this reporter had the opportunity last weekend at the ninth annual Oregon Chocolate Festival in Ashland.
     It was a chocolate lover's high.
     The festival, headquartered at the lovely Ashland Springs Hotel, is the brainchild of Karolina Wyszynska Lavognino, who determined that the town and state needed a formal way to celebrate chocolate.
     She would build it and they would come.
     We tied the tasty festival into a traditional pilgrimage to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where we heard Eliza sing her chocolate lyric.
Chocaholic Bruce Keller studies literature
about the festival and his options!
     My partner is an avowed chocaholic.  He sprinkles the powder on ice cream and donuts. He loves it in his coffee and espresso when we're in Europe.  He's a fan of chocolate creme brule, chocolate flavored pancakes, hazelnuts dipped in chocolate and even a jalapeno flavored chocolate which he sampled at the festival and pronounced intriguing.
     "You taste the wonderful dark chocolate first, you swallow, then the peppery hotness kicks in!" he exclaimed. "It's a heady trip. Mild heat, fine chocolate, delightful!"
Wines that pair well with chocolate were festival options.
     He enjoys some form of chocolate    in his lunch every day. A typical co-dependent, I try to feed his addiction by baking endless pans of brownies. He likes it when I throw in pecans or raisins, cranberries and coconut. He likes chocolate with everything -- and believes nearly everything goes with chocolate.
     So our two days of devine chocolate decadence were right up his taster's alley.  We sampled chocolate with strawberries, coconut, toffee, liquers, lemon juice, caramel, orange peel and pumpkin puree.
     The treats began with a chocolate makers dinner.  Oregon chefs cooked up a flavorful four-course meal with chocolate featured in each offering.
     It was, in a word, scrumptious.
The Ashland Springs Hotel was alight with festival events.
     The arugula and beet-red onion salad was laced with a lemon and cocoa vinaigrette.  The avocado and crab appetizer was served with a white chocolate cheesecake, and the main course was a delicious beef tenderloin with grilled asparagus, mapled sweet potatos and a spicy chili demi-grace.  Where's the chocolate?The beef was rubbed with a coffee cocoa that tenderized and enhanced it.
     What fun.
     Champagne from Willamette Valley opened the meal and a chocolate ale from Standing Stone Brewing Co. capped it. Dessert was a tangy chocolate mousse with an almond crunch and deep chocolate pretzel bark.
     My favorite course was the scrumptious beet salad but it was all sublime -- and the waiters returned several hundred empty plates to the kitchen.  No one wasted a bit of chocolate.
     Karolina's skill in attracting vendors drew crowds both days.  The hotel's Grand Ballroom, Crystal Room and Conservatory were filled with artful booths and tables from nearly 50 vendors:  bakeries, brewers, vintners and wineries, chocolate boutiques, candy shops, truffle specialists, gourmet coffee and pastry shops, and even Harry and David, an Oregon institution for its fine fruit, gift baskets and gourmet offerings.
     Our opening dinner table mates included Sweet Thang Chocolates, a family owned operation from Drain, Ore., whose motto is "cuz life should be delicious." (
Chocolate starred in this stately
 sweet sculpture, created for the
 fest in the Ashland Springs lobby.
     Like many of the vendors, Sweet Thang offers high quality candy without wax and gluten. The couple also have personality and will giftwrap and send your treats anywhere. They're the real deal, and that is what Karolina insists on as she assembles the roster of participants.
     She also designed two days of demonstrations and workshops to tie in with the chocolate theme.  People tasted beer and chocolate pairings, learned what chocolates go best with which wines, watched chefs create green tea truffles made with white chocolate and learned how to fashion cocktails with chocolate.
     The hotel's Waterstone Spa promoted "chocolate spa treatments" -- its chocolate facial spa martini party sold out! And both the nearby Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Oregon Cabaret Theatre offerred a 20 per cent discount on show tickets during the festival.

     This gesture is typical of Ashland, which has an active Chamber of Commerce and a true feeling of community.
Faces were painted with many colors, including chocolate!
Sweet Thang Chocolates won a peoples'
choice award for best truffle.
Karolina is the brains behind
the successful Chocolate Fest.
     Participants came from all over Oregon and we mingled with chocolate connoisseurs from southern and northern California, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, Vermont and several other states.
     Even their business names are mouth watering: Chocolate Bliss, Sweet Desire, Exotic Chocolates, Jem Raw Chocolate, The Bliss Bar, Cupcake Daily, Chocolate Dude, Smitten Truffles and more!
     Top it off with face painters and a jeweler who makes chocolate-beaded brooches from vintage eye glasses!     These treats are yours next year, at the popular annual Oregon Chocolate Festival.  It's expanding -- along with our waistlines!  Won't the 10th year fest be "loverly"?
Nick and Nora can't eat chocolate,
but they had treats in plush surroundings
at the dog-friendly Ashland Springs Hotel.
      Contact Karolina at:  for information about next year's chocolate festival, or to book lodging at the historic Ashland Springs Hotel. The 1925 property is restored to vintage                                   glory making it an elegant host to show off chocolate creations and delight the chocolate loving crowd!
Coming Wednesday:  Four fine but distinctively different dog friendly hotels attract the bloggers and their doggies and get paws up. Check them out with Cookie and Keller, Nick and Nora. Sign up for free, safe posts if you haven't. And please tell fun loving friends about:


  1. eagerly awaiting the post on dog-friendly hotels. I gained wait just reading about chocolate-mania.

  2. Love the chocolate fun, must be genetic, I asked James what he wanted to bring to the park (truck, train, ball.....) and he said "chocolate".