dreaming of the tropics: a conservatory, and hagensborg chocolate

Although the weather outside my window is now sunny, it had until today been gray, dark, and drizzly for the better part of a week. We had our first frost last night, and woke to find the tell-tale signs of condensation on the windows. Fall is here, and it finds me delighting in the thrill of pulling sweaters and down vests out of the closet. My lovely lace-up Guess sneakers with non-marking soles (wow) are back in action, and it’s only a matter of time before hats, gloves and scarves accessorize their way into my everyday wardrobe.

So what to make of this shift in temperatures, in mindsets, in lifestyles? I took advantage of the $.99/lb fading stone fruits by making an upside up plum cake, inspired by a similar one made by friend Brianne. I flavored mine with vanilla sugar, a bit of almond, and plenty of cardamom. I’ve been craving soups. I’m not too appalled that I have to start wearing socks again. But mostly, I’ve been dreaming of the tropics.

A month from now, I’ll be in Hawaii. I’ve never been there before, and I’m incredibly excited. Excited to fly on a plane for the first time in two years, excited to coordinate a poster symposium at the conference I’m attending, and excited to eat the heck out of whatever Spam treats I can find. But I’m not there yet – I have a whole additional month of sock-wearing, cake-baking, and scarf-accessorizing to enjoy first. As I do all of these things, and watch the days grow noticeably shorter, I will remember my first true taste of the tropics. An urban jungle, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota, is where I grew up. Where I first realized my love of ferns. Where I first tried my hand at photography. Where I treasure memories of my mum, as well as of a friend of the family who is no longer with us. Her memory lives on here.

I had the great fortune to visit the conservatory in August. A place of constant solace, I feel most drawn to the fern room, with its vibrant greens and gentle mists. The outdoor Japanese Garden has always held allure, if only for its tea room, which in local St. Paul folklore requires years of waiting, or piles of cash, to reserve for a proper tea. One wing of the conservatory features shrubs, plants and trees with a purpose; fruiting trees mingle with cinnamon, allspice, pepper, and – yes – cacao trees (below, top right). The Sunken Garden, in the opposite wing, features a seasonal display that at the time of my visit included fragrant Asiatic lilies and roses, Caladium, petunias that I actually liked, and gerbera daisies. A nearly-hidden treat, outside of of the conservatory proper, is a small room filled with bonsai of many species and ages, with the oldest aged at nearly 350 years. Having just purchased a juniper bonsai of our own, we hope to keep him going for at least that long.

All of this tropical dreaming has had me pondering the equator a bit more frequently than usual. And when I think equator, I usually also think chocolate. Thankfully, I had a few bars to chase away my 23° N 23° S blues. A while back, the folks at Hagensborg Chocolates in British Columbia, Canada, sent me all three of their single origin Wild B(o)ar chocolate bars. These included the Dark 70% Santo Domingo bar that I reviewed in May, as well as the Dark 64% Madagascar, and Milk 39% Ecuador bars. The Santo Domingo bar was recently incorporated into the lovely fluffy Whoopie Pie Petits Fours, leaving the other two for reviewal here.

Let me preface by saying that I eat a lot of chocolate that isn’t built for snacking on in mass quantities – the darker the chocolate, the less I find that I can eat in one sitting. That said, this is extremely eatable chocolate, both bars being smooth, and lacking the bitterness of many of the darker chocolates I often find myself drawn to.

The Milk 39% Ecuador Wild B(o)ar had an enticing aroma that I found desirably reminiscent of Lu’s Petit Écolier biscuits, my childhood favorites. The aroma also contained a bit of spice, in the cinnamon sphere of things. Tasting this bar provoked an equal food memory, this time of the crayon-shaped chocolates I received in my Christmas stocking each year. While this bar probably isn’t more than a creamy milk chocolatey delight for most, it was a rush of nostalgia for me. The packaging insists that the bar is intense with fruity flavors, but I couldn’t get a good handle on fruit notes – it was just so creamy. This is a well-made single origin milk chocolate bar, which in a world of trendy dark chocolate superstars, is a bit difficult to come by.

The Dark 64% Madagascar Wild B(o)ar, a bit more bracing in style than the easygoing milk bar above, had an initially bitter aroma rounded out with fruit notes. The smooth taste of the bar, which brought citrus to mind, replaced nearly all of the acidity I had sniffed out. Having lost the majority of its bitterness, this was a pleasant bar that retained a character of brightness, with red fruit flavors lingering at the back of the palate.

Thanks to Hagensborg Chocolates for providing the savage and glutonous feast that I enjoyed through these bars, as well as through the 70% bar-become-cake. The liberal use of pigs on their packaging makes me smile, as does their marketing strategy – I’m never happier than when I’m savagely feasting on a good, smooth chocolate bar.

Hagensborg Chocolates Ltd.

Unit 103 – 3686 Bonneville Place
Burnaby, BC
Canada V3N 4T6


Other Links:
For holiday gift ideas, peruse their extensive, gluttonous feast of a catalog.
Hagensborg founder Shelley’s blog.
Review of Dark 70% Santo Domingo Wild B(o)ar.

_ _ _ _

And to visit the best kind of urban jungle, always spectacular:

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory {at Como Park}

1225 Estabrook Drive
Saint Paul, MN 55103



21 thoughts on “dreaming of the tropics: a conservatory, and hagensborg chocolate

  1. The design of these chocolates is fun! And that they are tasty is even better.

    I also can only eat small quantities of most dark chocolates; small pieces usually are enough to totally satisfy me.
    That’s the dangerous thing with milk chocolates… I start eating, and suddenly the whole bar is gone and I can’t exactly tell you what happened! ;)

    1. Silvia, yes, I like the Hagensborg design as well! They’ve got some clever things going on over there in BC.

      I agree on the satisfaction of small pieces of dark chocolate. That said, I still eat my fair share, just a bit more slooooooowly.

      Since I don’t eat much milk chocolate, I wasn’t aware of how easily I down it. A whole half a bar? Gone in one massively large bite yesterday morning. Ha:)

        1. At least it doesn’t know it’s doing anything wrong (the milk chocolate, that is)!

          I think that every once in a while, it feels incredibly empowering to wolf down a chocolate bar in only a few minutes:)

  2. Oh, too cute! Too cute!

    I know I should feel wrong about my ability to eat huge, huge amounts of super-dark chocolate (a block of 85% Lindt in one go? Of course! Easy streets! :P), but in reality I’m just proud :P

    Also, thank you for the glorious shots of green, green, green. I’m exhausted and tired and exhausted and wanting to disappear right now, so those photos make me feel I can breathe a little easier.

    1. Oh, Hannahnnah, I like this way you’ve labeled yourself. Like a true champ too, one who cruises on easy streets, devouring giant blocks of chocolate just to prove she can. YUM!, says Hannahnnah, in a chocolate-filled, but moderately bored because she hasn’t met her eating match, roar.

      I am feeling the same way as you, it’s been a bit of a trying week. While sorry to hear that you have been feeling similar, I’m glad I could provide any type of respite in this green, green, green. It worked a bit for me as well:)

      1. Whaaaaat? I don’t understand why I keep coming up at Hannahnnah! I’m looking at the prefilled form below, and it says “Hannah”. So why is it sometimes “Hannahnnah”? I’m starting to fear I have an evil twin, but I much prefer your monster-huge-gorilla-esque-chocolate-fiend-rooooooaring-me interpretation of this shenanigan.

        P.S. I’m currently starting to load the very first episode of Heartland on my computer. You better not be steering me wrong, lady! xo

        1. Oh my gosh, I hope hope hope you love it. I love it so much, such pretty ponies and scenic vistas. I also love their funny way of sounding accent-less (to me), but then coming up with something out of nowhere, like soh-ree, or proh-cess. So Canadian.

          I was thinking more along the lines of Sha Na Na. Except Hah Na Na. What do you think?

          1. I think that whatever you suggest is perfect, and I shall answer to your bequeathed nickname for me when I show up at your house tomorrow for a Heartland marathon.

  3. We do take our conservatory for granted…I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been able to go there. For many years, it was free; and only fairly recently became what is really a free-will donation. We are lucky citizens indeed to have such a place nearby. Thank you for telling the world about it:-) Beautiful photos of a very familiar place.
    The chocolate looks just fun–great labels, the toothy cutouts. You know how I like milk chocolate…I will have to try some of this!

    1. Mum: But you are the lucky one, the one with more memories of the fern room as it was and still should be, than me, with more memories of the way it has looked in recent years. Change is good, blah blah blah, but I think they did themselves a disservice when they tore down the old fern room. They lost quite a chunk of character and charm, and I will continue to hold a grudge against them for that.

      With this off my chest, heck yes you are lucky! And don’t tell anyone, but we didn’t have any cash on us when visiting and hence, didn’t pay the donation.

      When I was thinking about putting photos together from this, I realized that I may not have many others that I’ve taken of the conservatory in color. Maybe one roll of film, maybe. At any rate, it’s nice to see these images that I’ve long-viewed in B+W in color!

      See if you can find this 39% bar – you would love it!

  4. The bonsai room was definitely my favorite room in the conservatory. That and the japanese garden during the summer. I did have a bonsai growing up but it died after a battle with fungus that it severely lost. Maybe after college I can try to keep one again.
    And your posts always make me hungry. I need to find a place close by to purchase some good dark chocolate.

    1. Charlotte Rose: Eeeeeeeeek, I don’t want to hear that we may lose sweet Skeeter Sickly to a fungus!!! And yes, we named our bonsai – points if you know where Skeeter comes from:)

      I was hoping you’d see this post, and have nice memories of the conservatory. Have you been to the conservatory since they remodeled the entire place and renamed it, too? I’d be interested in your opinion of how it’s changed, if you have.

      Good luck finding some good chocolate – I hate/love to think that my posts cause hunger:D

  5. What a beautiful conservatory, and what fun to have a trip to Hawaii awaiting you.

    Our fall is so different. No frost and socks are barely needed. The temperature has dipped to a near frigid 70º and at last it feels like you can breathe outside. I’m so thankful it’s not hot that I forgot how much I missed a true fall season.

    I suppose I have more of a fall than those oh so unfortunate souls in Hawaii. I mean, honestly, paradise year round, is that really necessary?

    1. sarah, it is an amazing conservatory – especially delightful to visit in the dark depths of winter.

      I imagine it’s still pretty warm down your way. We actually had an incredibly warm weekend, with temps reaching the high 70s. Ridiculous, but nice.

      I’ll be the judge of that year-round paradise of Hawaii, and I’ll consider it my duty to report back on what I find:)

  6. The lushness of that conservatory! Wonderful.

    I know what you mean about only being able to consume smaller amounts of more intense chocolates, however I’m not always consistent on that one….I love the pig stamped into the chocolate, adorable!

    Have an amazing time in Hawaii, am envious :D

    1. Laura, I suppose I’m not consistent on much of anything, actually. My chocolate consumption varies drastically day to day… and some days, I’m not even at all interested, which is a bit of a shocker.

      That is a cute pig, huh? Can’t say I’ve ever burped from eating chocolate, but then again, I’m not a pig.

      I’ll enjoy Hawaii enough for everyone, don’t worry!;)

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