What Parents wouldn’t do for their Child’s Birthday – Make Healthy Sugar Free Jello

sugar free jelloI love birthdays. They are fabulous days to celebrate people, how much we love and appreciate them and how happy we are to have them in our lives. Celebrating kids birthdays are some of the best, as they can be super fun and creative.

There are so many themes, games, crafts and activities to do around a kids birthday and I personally love a good theme. I get really into it, creating details from the cake right down to the decorations.

The one thing that is part and parcel of a birthday is of course, the cake. It is a tradition that has been around for centuries and one I honestly feel is just wrong if absent on a birthday (I hear in Sweden they start birthdays with cake for breakfast – they know what they’re doing). I have always loved the idea of a cut up cake, or a theme cake, something more than your traditional round or square. The designs, the colors, the creativity. My Mom made them for us growing up and well, even though my Mom warned me not to, I continued that tradition with my children.

sugar free rice krispie squares

Homemade Marshmallows

So for the twins, who just recently turned 6, we had a Minecraft and an Elsa cake this year; which I thought would be fairly simple. And well, once I figured out what I was doing, and all the pieces I needed, they were.

Because we chose a number of years ago to go sugar free this has created some challenges in creating things like a sugar free birthday cake. The cake itself was easy enough to do but it was the decorating, the icing and other accessories that made it interesting. This year for Luke’s Minecraft cake we discovered a design that was pretty simple in itself but required Jello and Rice Krispie squares – which I had yet to figure out how to make sugar free jello or sugar free rice krispie squares. I had some ideas on how to do this but had not made them before.

The Rice Krispie squares were easy enough. A couple of years ago I discovered a recipe sugar free rice krispie squareson Wellness Mama to make marshmallows, so I simply made that recipe and then mixed in the gluten free rice krispies right away while the marshmallow cream was still soft (at one point I thought I would have to make the marshmallows let them set then melt them down…luckily my rational brain kicked in and realized that they would already be soft before they set and I could just mix it all together right away). Once it was mixed in I just pressed the rice krispies into a pan like I usually would. They turned out quite well, though not as sweet as an original Rice Krispie square, which I think was largely due to the gluten free cereal which is not as sweet to start with; otherwise they were great.

The Jello was a little more of a challenge and this was simply because of the color I needed. Jello in itself is easy you use plain gelatin add water and let it set. But when you’re using natural fruit juice as a base and trying to make blue… Did you know there is no natural fruit that creates the color blue? You might think what about blueberries? Nope purple. Red cabbage is as a natural food dye, also purple. I even Googled it to see if I could find anything. No luck.

sugar free jelloEventually I found somewhere, the idea of using white grape juice and then adding a drop or two of blue food coloring. Though I would have prefered not to use the artificial food coloring I thought how much work did I want to do for this Jello. I decided a drop or two would be ok. So I found a natural Jello recipe on Wellness Mama (the same site for the marshmallows) and had it made setting in the fridge in about 5 minutes. Easy.

It tasted great too. In fact I prefered the Jello to the Rice Krispie squares. With this Jello though you have to like white grape juice, which some people don’t. I find it is a distinct taste that you either like or don’t. With my kids, Chloe loved it and Luke did not. The great thing is that unless you are making an odd color of Jello, like blue, you can find fruit juice out there that will give you the color you need without adding any food coloring. Like I wish I had needed red, easy! raspberry, cherry, cranberry

In general, I was really pleased with how these turned out and how the cake turned out in the end. It looked great and tasted good, with the finishing touches being the Minecraft figures on top, which thankfully Luke got from Gran for his birthday and was quite happy to put on top (I was going to sit down and draw and design these things). Luke was really pleased with the result and everyone ooed and awed over the cake when they saw it. That’s the kind of reaction that I like, and what makes it worth it. Now Chloe’s Elsa cake this year… that is another story…

Sugar Free Jello

1 1/2 cups of white grape juicesugar free jello

1/4 c. cool water

1/4 c. hot water

1 tbsp. grain fed gelatin powder

1-2 drops of blue food coloring (number of drops depends on how deep a blue you want)

Pour the cool water in a large mixing cup or quart sized mason jar and add the gelatin powder. Stir until mixed- it will start to thicken a lot. Add the ¼ cup of really hot water and stir to mix- it should be thinner now. Combine this with the juice and mix well. Pour the jello mixture into an 8×8 dish. Put in the fridge, covered, for at least 2-3 hours or overnight and serve. Cut into cubes or scoop out with a melon spoon to make cute shapes.
Serves 4-6

Everything Chocolate

IMG_4653Rich dark chocolate melting in your mouth, delighting the palate as it brings your tastebuds to life and activates natural soothing in the brain, making us feel oh so good.

Chocolate dating back to the Aztecs and Romans, has long since been considered an aphrodisiac, a treat associated with love and romance. Women love it, men crave it. Not only is it a popular gift, but a popular treat as well.

It’s no wonder that during the week of Valentine’s Day, a holiday long associated with love and romance, 58 million pounds of chocolates are sold, being the third largest holiday in sales of this popular treat (Halloween being first with Easter as the second).

The good news is that chocolate is actually good for you, as it contains fat, produces natural opiates which soothe nerves and make us feel good, as well as natural chemicals that lower your risk of cancer and heart disease (sounding pretty good doesn’t it?) Chocolate provides even more health benefits when made with cacao instead of cocoa, both derived from the same bean but processed differently, creating a superfood (cacao) that is rich in vitamins and minerals (getting better and better all the time).

IMG_4647Chocolate is also one of those things that goes with and can be used in just about anything, creating a myriad of delights for the palate to enjoy, a sensation of pleasure and joy in our human experience.

Since I have discovered how to make my own chocolate at home, (ready in about 10 minutes this really is a quick simple and easy way to make chocolate), we have not only been able to enjoy more chocolate in our home, but also enjoy lots of great things around the holidays.

For instance, this Valentine’s Day, we will enjoy heart shaped chocolates, Chocolate Dream Pie, Chocolate Truffles and if the spirit moves me, I may even make Chocolate Cupcakes with chocolate icing of course (even better these recipes are sugar free and dairy free). I love doing it up around the holidays and seeing what kind of fun things I can create; and the kids look forward to it!

Making your own chocolate is very easy, all you need is cacao butter, cacao powder, vanilla and natural sweetener of your choice (such as honey, pure maple syrup, etc.) I have a detailed post on how to make chocolate, as well as one on possible additions or variations you could use to flavor or fill your yummy chocolates.

IMG_4655This chocolate mix is also great for making Chocolate Dipped Strawberries (simply dip fresh strawberries in warm melted chocolate before it sets) or using it for Chocolate Fondue.

Other chocolate delights I have discovered, whether it be for Valentine’s Day or other, are Chocolate Macaroons (could shape them into little hearts for Valentine’s), Chocolate Pudding (one with chia seeds, one simple chocolate), Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Waffles, Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Smoothies and even Chocolate Marshmallows! And I love that they are all dairy free and naturally sweetened! On holidays, like Valentines, I often have a hard time picking only a few things to make 🙂

IMG_4658So now you know, you can live guilt free this Valentine’s Day and enjoy your chocolate; or you can venture out and make your own for yourself or to share with others (but you may not want to). Of course with anything, regardless of how good it is for you, everything in moderation (I know I just took all the fun out of it – but here’s the thing you can make MORE or try a new chocolate recipe, another version of chocolate).

So enjoy your chocolate with a great big smile this Valentine’s Day, and if no one gives you any, go get your own, it’s ok 🙂

*The majority of these recipes can be found on my blog or I have linked them to the appropriate site for you. Just click on the name and it will take you to the recipe. Enjoy!


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Luke and Chloe’s 3rd Birthday

Chloe and Luke 1 week old

It is amazing how fast the kids grow up. It seems like yesterday that I was holding 2 little 5 pound babies in my arms and now they have just turned 3! Running, talking, and bouncing with personalities all their own. So much more aware of life, what’s going on and getting so big.

Both Luke and Chloe were very excited for their birthday this year. They ‘got’ what was happening and that it was their day. They knew that they would get presents and started asking for things for their birthday. Luke asked for a police car and his own Playmobil set, while Chloe wanted some jewelry and pretty dresses. They had decided what they wanted for birthday cakes before Christmas – Chloe asking for a kitty cat and Luke a train (which turned into Thomas the Tank Engine specifically).

They enjoyed the balloons and the streamers and knew that when everyone came over it was for their birthday and their party. Chloe dressed up in a pretty dress and Luke in a nice shirt and pants. They looked dapper for their big day!

Even though they were twins, when they were born I decided that it was important for them to be treated as individuals, so their own gifts (though sometimes they get joint ones depending on what it is), their own cards, their own cakes. Which in theory sounds like a lovely idea, except when it is 1 in the morning and Mom is still decorating the cakes!

The cakes themselves were not hard to make, I had made one chocolate, one vanilla; as over the last couple of years I found some good recipes that accommodate our no sugar and no dairy needs. Plus I was able to rent a shape pan from Stir Crazy Fun Center here in Calgary to make Thomas (only $5 to rent it and definitely worth it! I had never used a shape pan before and it is the cat’s meow let me tell you 🙂 It was the decorating that took the longest and this was because of the icing I was using. I have tried a couple of white sugar free icing recipes, which I can then color for decorating. I had found a great replacement for icing sugar, but the icing recipe itself I have not had much luck with. The icings I have found, though they taste great are not easy to work with as far as spreading or pumping through icing bags.

Chloe's 3rd Birthday

 

In the past I had made a coconut buttercream frosting but found that after a bit of time it got too hard and was extremely hard to work with. It was difficult to spread right from the beginning and only got worse. So this year I decided to try the Wilton icing recipe which uses shortening, butter, icing sugar and a bit of milk – all of which I had replacements for – but I found this icing also extremely hard to work with. Difficult to spread and very hard to pump through the icing bags. Also after time, it got greasy and hard in the icing bags, no longer mixed together. I found the whole experience very frustrating and though I managed to finish the cakes and they looked great I am sure that with the right icing I could cut my time in half and not be up til 1 in the morning decorating!

Luke's 3rd Birthday

Chloe’s cake, bless her, took me 20-30 minutes to cut out and decorate. This was because it was a simple design and I was able to use my sugar free chocolate icing, which is very easy to spread. Thomas was not so easy and it was not the detail it was the icing!

So I am on the search for a great sugar and dairy free, easy to work with, spreadable white icing recipe that I can color to decorate character cakes. I will keep looking and when I find a good one I will share it! In the meantime I will use what I have and see if I can modify them in some way.

If you know of or have any great sugar and dairy free white icing recipes please share them by commenting below.

Wintery Fun in Kananaskis

Today the kids and I spent the afternoon in Kananaskis, having been invited by our neighbors to join them for quading, a campfire, food and fun. It was a wonderful afternoon with certainly no shortage of food, laughs and friendship.

The kids got a chance to go out on the Razor, Matthew usually riding in the front passenger seat and Luke and Chloe being pulled along in the toboggan on the back. Luke, being the trooper that he is, was the first to try it out.  Hopping into the toboggan with no worries, totally trusting that he would be safe and wanting to find out what it was all about. Chloe being less sure refused the first time, but was then upset when Luke set off without her.

Luke on his toboggan ride

Riding with the neighbor Mr. Koop, Luke simply enjoyed the ride, taking it all in. As they were riding Mr. Koop would ask Luke if he was having fun and Luke would just nod. He would later ask if he wanted to ride some more and Luke would nod again. That’s my boy, he just sits and observes, but it doesn’t mean that he is not having a good time, he is just quietly enjoying it.

While others in our group took their turns on the Razor/ toboggan we cozied up around a campfire in the trees, having hot chocolate, brownies and roasting hot dogs. Everyone brought something and shared, there was plenty to go around. Now for us it’s a bit challenging to share foods with our requirements of no dairy and no sugar. But I was prepared and  brought our own hot chocolate, made with almond milk and sweetened with maple syrup, a little mesquite and lucuma powder; as well as cinnamon salted caramel brownies. This recipe, (sugar free, dairy free and gluten free), I discovered while shopping at Community Natural Foods earlier in the week. They are sooo good!

Chloe enjoying her hot chocolate

I managed to whip up a batch before we headed out so that the kids would have something to enjoy. Cause like I said sharing can be challenging, not for us to share with others, but for others to share with us. Everyone was fascinated by the brownies and many had a taste. Sheila commented that she would never know they had no sugar in them if I had not told her (and thought they were delicious).

Matthew was a bit frustrated by the amount of things that were there that he could not have, while the twins didn’t know the difference. But it challenged Matthew to branch out a little; he tried roasting grapes over the fire and seeing what it was like. He said they were not bad. It also demonstrated how much of our food has sugar in it – which I pointed out to Matthew. So many of our convenience foods and foods we choose to bring to gatherings contain sugar! Many of these things, like baked beans or chocolate cake I can make with natural alternatives, but they also take time and I am not always able to pull these things together if we get invited on short notice.

Roasting grapes

Overall though Matthew survived and though he felt a bit slighted and a little upset with me, he had a great afternoon. He got 3 rides on the Razor and even Chloe eventually got on. Chloe, Luke and I took a turn together in the toboggan and had a great time. We did flip over at one point and tumbled out, but we got back in and enjoyed the ride. Luke and Chloe screamed in delight and we returned to our site with rosy cheeks and covered in snow. (Now just so you know Conroy was driving very slowly with the little ones in the back but it was just the right speed for me and enjoyable and safe for the twins) Even though there were moments where Chloe was a bit concerned, if you asked her if she had fun, her eyes glowed and she nodded adamantly.

It was so great to get out for the afternoon and enjoy the winter snow. It’s amazing that we have hardly any snow in Calgary but to drive half an hour down the road into Kananaskis there is tons! It was a beautiful mild winter day with gently falling snowflakes that came off and on. We totally skipped Luke and Chloe’s afternoon nap to go and I left the house in a mess and came home to the same mess, but sometimes you have to do those things in order to enjoy life. I am a big believer in routine and rarely deter from it (in fact some people call me militant), but sometimes you need that change, that spontaneity.Yeah I had to clean up when I got home, and supper was a little late, but I was able to handle it all calmly and cooly just doing what I needed to do. And because I had that break and that socialization it did not bother me at all that I still have to clean up a little or stay up a little later (yes there are still dishes awaiting me in the sink).

We went out and connected with nature, fed our spirits and just had fun! Which my goodness sometimes we just need to do in life. Leave the laundry, dishes, cleaning and go play! Enjoy this life and the time we have on this planet cause we are only here for a short time, might as well make it excellent!

Plus we created some wonderful memories for the kids (the kind that will be “Remember when we fell out of the sleigh…”, connections with others and some great pictures. (it’s unlikely that the same can be said for the laundry) Now who can put a price on that?

What adventures did you have this weekend? Leave a comment and share below

The Easiest Birthday Cake Ever!

Darth Vader

When I was growing up my Mom would always make a shape cake for our birthday. My sisters and I loved it. We would pick the character we wanted and my Mom would turn it into a cake. We had everything from Strawberry Shortcake and Cinderella to Robin Hood and Darth Vader. It was amazing!

She would get my Dad to draw the picture for her to the size of the cake she wanted and then she would create the cake. We loved them so much that at 16 she had to ‘cut us off’; because even though they are super fun and look great when completed, they are a lot of work. My Mum was done.

Chloe’s 1st Birthday

But my sisters and I decided that we still wanted a shape cake for our birthdays, so we agreed to make each others (because we believe it is just wrong for you to have to make your own birthday cake).

This enthusiasm for shape cakes carried over when I had my kids and though my mother warned me not to start making shape cakes when they were small, I did anyway. Matthew’s first cake was a duck and Luke and Chloe’s teddy bears.

Matthew’s 5th Birthday

I’ve done everything from Spiderman and Pokemon to Raggedy Ann and Andy. I usually do the same thing my Mom did, let the kids choose what they want and then draw the pattern and make the cake. But sometimes I luck out and find a book with a pattern in it, or can get a pre-shaped cake pan – this makes it a lot easier. I enjoy making the cakes. I am so proud of myself when it is done and receive many compliments on my finished product. Even with our change to a sugar and dairy free household I am still able to do this for the kids.

This month Matthew celebrated his 9th birthday and he asked for a Grass Block cake, from the game Minecraft that he plays on the computer. This had to be the easiest cake I have ever made. I literally baked a chocolate square cake and put green icing on top. In fact, I was finishing the cake 20 minutes before his birthday party was about to start. And he was totally happy with it. Though I love doing the shape cakes for the kids, it was really nice to have something simple this year.

Grass Block from Minecraft

The cake was a hit! Yummy, moist and delicious. We had it with ice cream of course; we now buy Rice Dream for our ice cream, or make it ourselves in the ice cream maker (these are great dairy and sugar free alternatives for our ice cream fetishes).

Who says you have to feel denied all the things you are used to eating by eliminating sugar and dairy? And the kids who attended, they had no idea that it was sugar free, it was cake, it tasted good, so they ate it.

Raggedy Andy on Luke’s 2nd Birthday

It really is easy to get around having sugar and/ or dairy and still enjoy all the ‘treats’ that we our used to in our lives. Here is the recipe for the chocolate cake and the icing that I used. Though I did use green food coloring to color the icing (and they say that food coloring for kids is not good really either – that’s a whole other post 🙂 There is a brand of food coloring out there now that is made from the pigment of fruits and vegetables, so if you are looking for an alternative you can purchase it at a health food store. I have seen it here in Calgary at Community Natural Foods and Planet Organic. Whatever you choose, enjoy the cake recipe and icing too!

 

 

Chocolate Cake

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ c. agave nectar

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ c. rice milk

½ c. Earth Balance, melted (vegan spread)

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 deg F (Gas mark 4 or 180 deg C). Grease a 9 inch (23 cm) cake tin. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, agave nectar and vanilla essence in a bowl. Melt Earth Balance at low heat and add to the dry ingredients. Also add milk and eggs. Mix everything together until smooth, either by hand or by using an electric mixer at slow speed.

Transfer to bake tin and bake at 350 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 35 to 45 minutes.

*recipe can easily be doubled to make a 9×13 cake or divided evenly into cupcake tins to make chocolate cupcakes

Pokemon

Coconut Buttercream Frosting

In a mixing bowl add:

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp coconut butter (Note: Coconut butter is NOT the same thing as coconut oil).

3/4 cup coconut cream**

1/2 cup + 1 tbsp honey

1.5 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp coconut flour, sifted

1/4 cup + 2 tbsp arrowroot powder

Optional: You can substitute Earth Balance soy-free Buttery Spread for some or all of the coconut cream. Add extra sifted coconut flour to thicken if necessary. Likewise, add extra coconut cream or Earth Balance to soften if necessary.

Mix with handheld mixer. You can easily add a drop of food coloring to this icing if you wish to create colored icing.

Makes enough icing for 12 cupcakes.