Cravings: Advent Calendars

Until I knew about the existence of the tea advent calendar created by one of my favourite local tea vendors, The Tea Girl, I had never felt so excited about the holiday season. I absolutely love my tea, and any excuse to try a different kind of tea for 24 consecutive days is a good one. A few days before December started, I tweeted about how excited I was.

Minutes later, while scrolling my feed, another tweet caught my eye. Dinner with Julie had come up with the ingenious idea of turning a couple of recycled wine boxes into a "reverse advent calendar". Truly inspired, I created one of my own, only, it wasn't made from recycled wine boxes, because I didn't have any. However, I did have some boxes from my recent move that were still lingering in my apartment, so I dolled one up in Christmas box attire.

Please enjoy this combination post featuring my 2 advent calendars for this holiday season. I assure you that while it is a bit lengthy, it is a worthwhile read.

Things I learned this month about advent calendars, tea, and food banks:
- Advent calendars can actually start anywhere from November 27th to December 3rd, but I like starting clean at the first day of December.
- Advent calendars used to be marking days off with chalk or lighting candles, but more commonly reveal 24 chocolates. (via Mental Floss)
- Tea doesn't always have leaves. Sometimes, it's just pieces of dried fruit, which I am not the hugest fan of. But regardless, I still love tea.
- Tea can keep you up all night, especially black tea, especially if you drink it in the evening.
- Powdered infant formula is most often a most needed item for food banks, and it's freaking expensive. Even the "cheap" ones are expensive!
- Many users of food banks are families, hence the strong need for kid- and infant-related items.
- Summer is always a time of low donations for food banks. Unfortunately, it's mostly when people get into their "holiday spirit" campaigns, that the food banks receive large amount of generosity. While it's great that there's a time every year, when this generosity happens, people use food banks year-round, and it becomes quite difficult during the summer, when there's still a need, but not a complementing supply.

The Tea Girl Advent Calendar
The Tea Girl (12411 Stony Plain Road) is this lovely little shop just off the corner of 124 Street and Stony Plain Road. (By the way, they have dairy-free mac 'n' cheese!) It has a very homey feel, alike the wide selection of teas offered. You also get to choose your own cup and saucer to drink from! As soon as I saw the advent calendar on Twitter, I knew I had to get one, so on impulse, I dashed down right after work and committed myself to 24 days of mystery tea. The process was a lot harder than I thought though. The adrenaline seemed to keep pumping for the first 14 days, but then I started to slip because life happens, and sometimes you don't get home until it's way past tea time and you have work the next day. However, I managed to catch up by Day 23, and was ready for the final cup on Day 24!
  1. Market Spice - Warm and cozy in the stomach, which is wonderful for complimenting a long hard day of work. Cinnamon is the strong player, something that I don't have a problem with at all. Leaves a slight sweet note on your tongue after each sip.
  2. Walnut Truffle - An enveloping sweet, creamy aroma with a lighter, more subtle taste.
  3. Dreamy Time - Had this one before the advent calendar happened, and still love it. One of my favourites, and a pleasant surprise. Very soothing and refreshing mix of lavender, peppermint, and chamomile. I tend not to enjoy those 3 things separately when it comes to tea, but all together? Magic.
  4. Champagne Raspberry - Smelled and tasted like raspberry candy. Was not my sort of jam, but I can see why some people would enjoy it.
  5. Keemun Mao Feng - A smooth Chinese black tea with some fruity notes. I hoped that I drank it early enough to still be able to sleep at a decent hour, but I was so wrong. Would drink again, but maybe not the best evening tea.
  6. Gingerbread Spice - A warm, sweet scent and taste, but it doesn't taste like gingerbread. It tasted a lot like chicory and sugar. Still undecided.
  7. Crantastic 4 - Probably my favourite tea that was new to me, but could be slight bias due to the awesomeness of the name. It was well-balanced between being fruity, light, and a little bit sweet. Also one of my favourite colours. A++
  8. Himalayan Chai - Chai and ginger. No way to lose. So good.
  9. Frozen Summit - A smooth, delicious oolong. Can't go wrong.
  10. "I can't believe it's not #YEGnog!" - I don't think it really tasted like eggnog, but I haven't actually had eggnog in a while, so maybe it does? It did taste like Christmas, if Christmas came in a tea form. Super cozy, and very December.
  11. Tropical Temple - Basically smelled and tasted like paradise in a cup. Very floral and fruity, which very much contrasted with the weather that day.
  12. Cream Earl Grey - Like a London Fog that doesn't even need milk, which is great for me, because my dairy intake has to be restricted a bit. So vanilla-y.
  13. Bombay Cider - Drank this when I had a cold, and it was magically delicious. Ginger and earthy, throat tingly goodness.
  14. Caramel Cup - Tasted like subtle caramel in a cup, which was not a bad thing, but the tiny bits of rooibos were not wanting to stay even in my fine mesh strainer.
  15. Queen's Blend - Lavender, rose, and vanilla. Yes. 
  16. Supreme Sencha - Rich, earthy green tea. Love.
  17. Mint Medley - Refreshing, as mint tends to be. It would be interesting to make cookies or chocolates with a reduced syrup made with this tea. Or if it was chilled and some fresh fruits were added. Something to consider for the summer, which is oh so far away.
  18. Nutcracker Oolong - Not the oolong I'm used to, but ooo...not bad!
  19. Kyoto Cherry Rose - I have to say this was pretty accurately named. It tastes like the beautiful marriage of green tea, cherries, and rose buds. This was a winner.
  20. Organic Vanilla Bourbon - I was kind of hoping it'd be like the bottle of bourbon vanilla that P got me a while back. The smell is very reminiscent of its vanilla-ness. However, I was slightly disappointed that the vanilla was so subtle, even after being steeped for a while.
  21. Casablanca - A whole lot of dried fruit. A bit too light for my taste, and not my sort of taste. May be better over ice?
  22. Kashmir Chai - Smells like a spice market, which I love. Tastes like a spice market, which I love. If a few other things were added, it could possibly resemble Remedy Cafe's Kashmiri Chai's cousin or something?
  23. Raspberry Passion - Subtler than it looks, and smells like a lot of dried fruit. I understand that some like that, but I am not a fan.
  24. After Seven - Chocolatey minty goodness first thing in the morning. What better way to start the holidays?
When all the fun began...
Best thing about having enough tea in each sample tin for 2 cups, is now I can have them all over again! Also, this box came with a 10% off coupon at The Tea Girl!
I was so happy to try out The Tea Girl's tea advent calendar! It was a great way to sample a whole bunch of teas from the shop, while also keeping myself hydrated pretty regularly. But next year, I really want to find an advent calendar with food items, but not of the chocolate variety. If anyone knows where I can get one of that type, let me know! :)

Reverse advent calendar for the Edmonton Food Bank
Rather than just throwing 24 cans of beans into my food bank reverse advent calendar, I wanted to use the opportunity to raise awareness of the diverse most needed items at food banks. Here are 24 solid options for donating to the food bank compiled from various "most needed items" lists (Edmonton Food Bank, Food Banks Canada, Airdrie Food Bank, Okotoks Food Bank AssociationCBC Calgary):
  1. Granola Bars - A great source of fibre and protein, easy to carry, and stay good for a long time. Ideal for parents to send as snacks with their kids for school. This box was on sale for only $1.99 at Shoppers Drug Mart.
  2. Canned Fish - A good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Last a long time when sealed, and ready to eat on the go. This particular can was only $1.00 at Dollarama.
  3. Dry Pasta - A good source of fibre. Keeps for an incredibly long time and is relatively easy and quick to cook. This package was $1.25 at Dollarama.
  4. Canned Beans - A good source of fibre, protein, calcium, and iron, and last longer for storage and in the stomach. Aim for the ones with less salt. This can was $0.99 at Shoppers Drug Mart. 
  5. Oatmeal - Quick cooking oats are a great source of fibre and are easy and fast to prepare. This package was $2 at Dollarama.
  6. Juice Boxes - A good source of vitamin C and easy to carry and pack, especially for kids going to school. Opt for ones of the 100% juice variety. This pack was $4 at Safeway.
  7. Fruit Cups - A good source of vitamin C and ideal for kids to bring to school for snacks. This pack was $2.50 at Shoppers Drug Mart.
  8. Power Infant Formula - Essential for mothers, but quite expensive. This was my most expensive item at $22.
  9. Canned Vegetables - Good sources of fibre and vitamins, but be wary of sodium content. Most canned vegetables have been processed and are ready to use. This can was $1.50 at Superstore.
  10. Peanut Butter - A good, filling alternative to meat, and is a high demand for many food banks. This jar was only $2 at Dollarama.
  11. Soup - A good source of nourishment, warmth, and hydration all in one. This can has a tab for easier opening, which is also something to look for when picking canned goods. Remember to check sodium levels. This can was $2 at Shoppers Drug Mart.
  12. Baby Food - An important way for babies to get their nutrients, but can be financially difficult for mothers. While this jar was just under $1 at Safeway, those jars can add up very quickly.
  13. Vegetable Oil - Both olive oil and safflower oil are most needed items for food preparation, and are sources of healthy fats. This bottle was on sale for $5.50 at Superstore. 
  14. Popcorn - A filling, healthier alternative snack food that is high in fibre, and one handful of popping corn goes a lot way because it expands when cooked. This bag was $3.50 at Superstore. 
  15. Powdered Milk - An important source of calcium, especially because fresh dairy products will turn bad quite quickly. This bag makes 5L of skim milk, and was $7 at Superstore.
  16. Pasta Sauce - If you're donating dry pasta, you may as well donate pasta sauce along with it. The sauce will offer more flavour to the pasta, but also additional nutritional elements including vitamin C and fibre, especially tomato-based sauces. This jar was on sale for $1.50 at Superstore. 
  17. Brown Rice - Uncooked rice can last years. It also offers a great amount of fibre, iron, and keeps you full for longer. Note that regular brown or multigrain rice takes about the same amount of time to cook as the Uncle Ben's brown or multigrain rice, so you're better off buying non-instant rice if you can. This bag was on sale for $5. 
  18. Canned Fruit - A non-perisable alternative to fresh fruit, while still offering a source of fibre and Vitamin C. Try to look for those with less sugar, which means stepping away from the maraschino cherries might be a good plan. This can was $1.50 at Dollarama.
  19. Macaroni and Cheese Dinners - A classic food bank donation item, which is relatively inexpensive and is easy to make. While it was a bit cheaper, the No Name brand boxes had more sodium than KD. This box was $1.50 at Superstore.
  20. Canned Stew - A solid, ready-to-eat meal that lasts a long time if sealed, but often comes with loads of sodium. I opted for Campbell's Chunky To-Go Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, which had 27% of your daily value of sodium, compared to the ones with beef, which were closer to 35-37%. This can was on sale for under $2 at Superstore.
  21. Cereal - A potentially great source of fibre, if not half consisting of marshmallows and sugar. Make sure you check for lower sugar and higher fibre content. This box was just under $4 at Superstore. 
  22. Trail Mix/Unsalted Nuts - A reliable source of energy for hikers, campers, and bikers, and many homeless and lower income individuals are all of the above. Choose trail mix that has no added salt or candy pieces. Keep in mind again that lower income usually means much less access to regular dental care. This package was $2 at Dollarama.
  23. Canned Meat - A long-lasting, ready-to-eat meal that is high in protein, but often also higher in salt. I opted for low-sodium turkey, seeing as many of us will be dining on turkey during teh holidays. This can was on sale for just under $2 at Superstore.
  24. Monetary Donation - Monetary donations, big or small, are always accepted by the food bank. It allows the organization to purchase supplies and items on their own, according to what they know they need.

I had a lot of fun decorating each item with some sort of gift wrapping supply. I am a hoarder of stationery and gift wrappery.
I actually took everything out just to repack it, to try and fit it into the box, but decided to also take a picture of all 24 items too.
The finished product. It kind of closes...sort of?
Food bank tetris in a Banker's Box!
Partly because I need to be budget-conscious but also to show how easy it is to make a donation to the food bank, I opted for items that were on sale, and hopefully $5 or under. There were a couple of exceptions - the big one being the infant formula. I picked the no name brand one, and it was still $22, which was ridiculous. I really learned a lot from this little project, and I hope you did too!

Please remember that even though the holidays may be over at the end of the month, but the need for donations at food banks never ends. Unfortunately, hunger and homelessness are ongoing issues that some suffer from on a regular basis. Please consider donating to your local food bank during the "off-season" too.

Happy Holidays!


1 comment:

  1. great post!
    i too started a REVERSE ADVENT box at work (#micCARES, FB & instagram) and really enjoyed following along with you to see what great items you chose daily.
    have a great holiday


Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts! It means a lot to know you stopped by! :)