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!

Tips and Ideas for a Sugar Free Easter

IMG_2914It has been 3 years since we have eliminated refined sugars from our diet. This was for the benefit of my son who was not only experiencing extreme mood and behavior but was having trouble sleeping as well.

Though it was challenging to do in our everyday lives, the real challenge came around the holidays, as in our culture there is a lot of focus around food and feasts, especially sweets. As you can imagine Halloween is the biggest, with the entire focus of trick or treating being on collecting candy, with Easter being a close second.

P4240615Over the years we have found many different tips and tricks to enjoy these holidays without the focus being on all the candy and chocolates. I have to admit our first sugar free Easter was a bit of a challenge. My son, who was only 7 at the time, was old enough to remember the basket and eggs full of chocolates and jelly beans, so when Easter morning he discovered a basket full of socks and books, he was a little disappointed and understandably so.

I did my best to compensate by making our usual Easter Brunch, complete with eggs and sausages, waffles and fruit, which he enjoyed immensely. He then got treated with a new pair of sneakers from Grandpa and a cactus for his room. He soon forgot about all the things he was missing and was enjoying what he had.

The next year was better, as in the interim I had taken a class on how to make raw organic chocolates so was able to make chocolates we could enjoy, in addition to the new treats that the Easter Bunny brought for us.

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Easter Chick

For the twins, it has been a non issue as a sugar free Easter is the only kind of Easter they have known. I imagine as they get older they will learn what other children do for Easter and it may or may not matter to them, but I believe that because they will have known this way since birth that they will have a strong foundation and may feel very happy with our Easter regardless.

Now Easter is back to being another fun holiday that we all enjoy with our various traditions and ‘treats’. The kids baskets are full of non candy items, the eggs full of cash, sugar free (and good for you) chocolate and a wonderful mid morning feast of our favorite breakfast foods. Of course we add in other things from year to year, but those are the ‘basics’. No one feels denied or left out, nor focuses are what’s missing but appreciates and gets excited about what we have.

Ideas for a Sugar Free Easter (or sugar reduced)

If you are looking to reduce the sugar intake this Easter here are some tips on how to do so without the kids feeling disappointed:

  1. Fill Easter baskets with toys, socks, books, sunglasses, seeds, gardening gloves, bubbles, chalk, etc. I like to buy things that are inexpensive but not cheap, as well as things that they will enjoy and use. One year Matthew got a movie he wanted and a few smaller items. It can vary from year to year but I am not one to buy junkie trinkets just to fill the basket.
  2. Make your own chocolate with natural sweeteners. It is easy to make your own chocolates; you can get Easter molds (I have found some at the Dollar Store) and add anything you want to it. You could even get the kids to make them with you, ready for Easter morning.IMG_2904
  3. Plan an Easter Egg Hunt. We have lots of those plastic Easter eggs that I fill with coins or stickers. Usually I leave a little trail from their bedrooms down the stairs and hide them all over the main level. Sometimes they even get hidden outside. There are many ways you can set up the hunt and ideas for non candy items to put in the eggs.  They could just be clues that will lead the kids to a prize of some sort at the end.
  4. Make a yummy (sugar free) Easter brunch or breakfast. If the kids are looking forward to their favorite french toast or waffles, they will likely be distracted and awaiting that yummy feast.
  5. Do Easter crafts or activities. Most kids love crafts, even my 10 year old son will still sit down and do a craft, painting or art project.
  6. Decorate the house for Easter. If the kids get into decorating the house this takes the focus off the candies and onto other stuff. The twins have been ‘decorating’ for weeks, setting up army men around the Easter tree or hanging crafts they made at preschool in their room. Decorating also makes it more than just about the one day and makes it more of an event.
  7. Get others on board. Encourage other family members and friends to get non sugary treats for everyone; then the kids see that everyone is getting the same, so it must be ok.
  8. IMG_2903Color eggs. You can do this on Easter as an activity or prior to. Either way it is another way of removing the focus and putting it onto something else that is fun and enjoyable.
  9. Be grateful. Encourage the kids to be grateful for what they have. Create a gratitude jar or choose another gratitude activity to do do with them.
  10. No matter what you do have fun. Whether you are creating new traditions, foods, or making crafts enjoy the Easter holiday. Remember why we celebrate, and what is most important to you as a family this holiday.

Easter Activities and Ideas

easter-bunny-2Well I have to admit that Easter has snuck up on me again! You would think that with calendars and the kids talking about Easter for the past month or more that I would have been more on top of it. But here we are the week before, actually only a few days away, and I have ‘clued in’ that maybe I should get ready for Easter.

We did dye eggs last weekend, which Luke and Chloe have been asking to do since the beginning of March, but that has been it so far. I always find there are so many cute and fun things to do around Easter and I have such great ideas! Then it comes and goes and we have done very little. And honestly the kids don’t notice really, but it is me who knows that we could do so much more!

easter activitiesThe things we typically do for Easter are an Easter Brunch on the Sunday, an Egg Hunt and search for Easter baskets. Prior to the day we usually color eggs and make a craft or two. We used to participate in some of the community Easter events, which usually include an egg hunt, but the challenge is now, the treat at the end contains ingredients that we do not eat, so I think it’s unfair to take the kids out and not let them have the prize. So we find other things to do.

We also now have a sugar free Easter, which is a little more costly, but pretty easy to do. The Easter Bunny brings socks and toys, chalk, bubbles, play doh and the like. The twins love it and don’t know any different because that is what it has always been for them. Matthew still struggles with the lack of candy in his basket but overall does ok as they are all getting the same. It is challenging though as the kids get older and hear and see what other kids get for Easter, or any other holiday for that matter. I guess that’s one of our many challenges as parents, making a decision for your family and hope for the best, trusting that you have made that decision for a good and sound reason – though the children, nor others, may not always agree with you.

easter activitiesThe bottom line is my kids still get to enjoy Easter and the many things that are part of it. The Easter Bunny still comes to see them, he’s just changed what he puts in the baskets and eggs. I have an Easter mold so I make some chocolates, so still get chocolate to enjoy and it’s better for us. Yes it takes a little more prep and effort but it’s worth it in the end.

So if you’re looking for ideas for things to do this Easter here are some great crafts and activities I have found over the years. Our favorites are the Easter Chick and dying Easter Eggs.

easter activitiesThere’s also some great tips and ideas on how to reduce or eliminate the sugar fest in the Easter baskets, as well as ideas to plan your own Easter Egg Hunt. Also some fabulous recipes for Easter Brunch, my favorite is always the Impossible Quiche, quick easy and I have modified it to make it dairy free and no one knows the difference!

What are some of your favorite activities and crafts or Easter Brunch recipes?

 

Gorilla Bones

On the Easter weekend we went to the zoo. It was crazy busy as it was their Easter Eggtravaganza. I had never seen it so busy, there was a line of cars to get into the parking lot and then another line to get into the zoo. We had been to this event before but I have never seen so many people as there was that day.

It is a great event with lots of value added activities for the kids, like a blow up maze, Easter pictures and pot your own plant; as well as the usual interactive exhibits and touch tables.

Outside the gorilla enclosure there was one of the zoo staff with this skeleton of an adult gorilla. It was really neat, the kids got to touch it and check it out, do some exploring. The zoo staff explained different parts of the skeleton to them as they were at each part.

The kids really enjoyed it. I think it is of such value for children to be able to touch and feel things in their learning, which is one of the reasons I love the zoo!

Checking out the gorilla skeleton

 

 

Dying Easter Eggs with Children

As a kid I always enjoyed dying Easter Eggs at Easter. I loved watching the eggs as they transformed from white to red or whatever color we had chosen. Experimenting with different colors and patterns, adding stickers or other decorations on our eggs. Dying Easter eggs with children can be lots of fun and this was a tradition I wanted to continue with mine. This year the kids and I dyed eggs for the first time. Yes this was the first time even for Matthew, although he is already 9 years old. I baulked when I realized this and felt that I had let him down as a mother. I feel it is my duty to do these kinds of things with my kids and to realize that Matthew was already 9 and had never done it, I was appalled! This was going to be quickly remedied. I made sure that I picked a time when we had a large block of time, where we didn’t have to run anywhere or stop and get a meal prepared. Though dying Easter eggs with children is fairly simple I knew that I needed to be available to help, especially the twins. Plus I wanted to get in there and participate. What is the fun of doing these things with the kids if I can’t get in there and play myself?dying Easter eggs with children I had bought a dozen eggs for our project. When I got up in the morning I put them in a pot to boil right away, that way I knew they could boil and cool so when we were ready to dye them they would be cool enough to do so. I kept out 4 eggs as I planned to blow these ones out. The only thing I find with dying hard boiled eggs is that the eggs tend to get wasted. I know that some people dye them and then eat them the next day but I always found that we never did. I knew that the twins would need their eggs to be hard boiled so that they could handle them without breaking, but I figured that Matthew could handle a blown egg (which is simply an egg shell without the actual egg white and yolk inside it). The thing I like about blowing the egg out of the shell is that you can then use the eggs insides in something else and you can keep your decorated eggs longer. dying Easter eggs with childrenMatthew even helped me blow out the eggs. He watched me do the first one and decided he wanted to try. Turned out he did the other 3 all by himself. When I announced that it was time to dye the Easter Eggs Luke and Chloe ran into the kitchen and sat down waiting. They knew what was going on as I had already told them earlier in the week. Matthew and I had already mixed the dye ahead of time, as well as gotten the eggs ready. The challenge was we only had one holder/ stick to dip the eggs into the dye and 3 kids. At first they all wanted to do it but when I explained that we only had one stick and that we needed to take turns, we managed to work it out. In fact, by the end we were dropping our eggs into the cup without the stick and only using it when they were ready to fish them out of the dye. I will be saving the stick for next year so that when we buy another kit we will have 2. dying Easter eggs with childrenThey each got to dye four eggs the color of their choice and then we left them to dry. We intended to come back to them when they were dry to add stickers or sequins, etc. but we never did. But it really doesn’t matter, they had a great time and were very proud of their eggs as they showed everyone who came in the door that day their eggs.

Tips for dying Easter Eggs with Children (best for children ages 3 & up)

  1. Have the eggs ready beforehand -whether you are going to hard boil them (best for young children so they can handle them without breaking) or blow them out
  2. Mix up the dye beforehand as well – I found small plastic disposable cups work well
  3. Put kids in old clothes – make sure that they are in clothes that it doesn’t matter if they get dye on. If the dye gets on clothing it will stain and is hard to get out. You can also put an apron on them or just get them to take off their shirt altogether (depends on their age and who they are dying eggs with)
  4. Have an adult available who can assist the kids
  5. Do one egg at a time, one color at a time – I had all the dye on the island in the kitchen and brought the color that Luke and Chloe chose to the table when they wanted it. With older children this may not be necessary.
  6. Let eggs dry completely – you may need to flip egg over so that the bottom dries
  7. Decorate with stickers, sequins, markers, etc. or leave as plain colorful Easter Egg
  8. Be patient and have fun!

dying Easter eggs with childrenMatthew really got into dying the eggs, getting creative using more than one color, partially coloring half and then doing another color. On one egg he even did 3 colors. We did a dozen eggs but had quite a bit of dye leftover so Matthew started dying and drying paper, creating a lattice design. It kept him busy for over an hour and he only stopped because he had his Ju Jitsu grading to attend.dying Easter eggs with children I had bought one of those kits that are cheap and abundant at Easter but there are lots of natural dyes that you can use, and may be preferable especially if you are going to eat them. Things like leftover coffee to make brown, tea, turmeric (yellow), blueberry, chili powder and red cabbage (blue). I think we may try the natural dyes next year. Dying Easter eggs with children is easy and fun. You can keep it super simple or make it more fancy if you want. Either way the kids will love it and you will have fun getting in there too!

How to blow out an egg

  1. Gently poke a small hole on each end of the egg using a pin. Trick is to make hole big enough that you can get air through without breaking the egg.
  2. Hold egg over a bowl.
  3. Place mouth over hole on one end and blow. Egg will slid out the hole in the other end into the bowl.
  4. Keep blowing until entire egg is out.
  5. Gently wipe off egg.

Fantastic Easter Brunch Recipes

Breakfast is definitely one of my favorite meals as there are so many yummy options! Pancakes, eggs, omelettes, waffles, crepes, fruit… I like brunch even better and often enjoy those big brunch spreads that you can find where there is everything from crepes and omelettes made to order to carved roast beef and a chocolate fountain (my mouth is salivating at the thought). The selection is fabulous and there is something for everyone.

When I was growing up we did a big Easter dinner with the ham and scallop potatoes, but when I started my own family we moved to doing an Easter Brunch. This allowed the kids to get up and hunt for baskets and then to enjoy a nice meal later in the morning, leaving dinner to be a simple affair with no one stuck in the kitchen for the day or doing the big clean up in the evening!

I have found this to be a great shift, especially because brunch incorporates many of my favorite foods! Depending on how many people we have for brunch depends on how many different dishes I make, but traditional standard fare seems to be a quiche (which I love), waffles (which I also love but the kids do as well, they are not fans of quiche) and some fruit, usually consisting of cantalope, fresh strawberries and whatever else is in season.

The best quiche recipe I have found is a recipe I got from my Mum. Many people tend to avoid making quiche because of the crust, but this recipe for Impossible Quiche, is one where the crust ‘makes itself’. It’s true, by putting all the ingredients into the blender, the Bisquik sinks to the bottom while it bakes and creates a nice light crust. Simple, easy and takes no time at all. Of course I do enjoy quiche with a nice traditional crust as well but this recipe is quite satisfying and like I said easy to make!

Impossible Quiche

1 c. grated vegan cheese (mozza or swiss)Easter brunch recipes

1/3 c. finely chopped onion

sliced mushrooms

spinach

1/2 c. Bisquik

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

4 eggs

2 c. rice or almond milk

Lightly grease 10″ pie plate or quiche dish. Sprinkle cheese, onion, mushrooms and spinach (or other desired toppings) evenly over the bottom of the plate. Place remaining ingredients in the blender and blend at high speed for 1 minute. Pour into dish.

Bake at 350 F for 50-55 minutes, or until golden brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand.

As I said, waffles are often part of our brunch spread and I have found some great recipes for plain, chocolate and orange waffles. The chocolate ones are to die for! While the plain ones are fantastic with maple syrup or adding some fruit and a little ice cream (Rice Dream is a yummy dairy and sugar free alternative to dairy ice cream if you’re looking for dairy free).

I am already looking forward to our Easter Brunch! and all the possible choices. Whatever you choose this year whether it be Easter brunch or Easter dinner, I hope you have a wonderful feast that you can share with family and friends! Happy Easter!

 

How to make Raw Organic Chocolates

Last year I took a class at The Light Cellar, here in Calgary, on how to make Raw Organic Chocolate. No sugar, no dairy and all natural ingredients. I was thrilled to find this course as I had been looking for an alternative so that we could still enjoy chocolates at Christmas, Easter and whenever else we wanted some!

I had taken a chocolate making class before, bought the kit, came home and never made chocolates again. This time was different. The difference was you actually make your chocolate from scratch, from natural ingredients and it is very easy (the other class you made your chocolates from premade chocolate bars or pieces that you melted and molded into your own chocolates. I found this process finicky and the pieces were presweetened; so you could not choose your own sweetener).

Chocolate actually comes from a cacao nut, which is made into various forms, such as cacao powder, paste, butter, etc. Making the chocolate is super simple, using four basic ingredients and only takes a few minutes. All you need is cacao powder or paste, cacao butter, some kind of sweetener (honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.), and vanilla.

The first step is to melt the cacao butter in a bowl – use the double bowl method with the butter in the top bowl set over a bowl of boiling water (boil water put it into bowl and set on counter; then set your smaller bowl with cacao butter on top)- be very careful not to get any water into the top bowl as it will ruin your chocolate! Once the butter is melted add the vanilla bean and let it infuse (with a knife slice vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds with a spoon – put into cacao butter). Sift your cacoa powder in another bowl and add to taste, then add sweetener of choice. Voila! you now have a nice chocolate sauce which you can leave as is, pour into a pan refrigerate or freeze, or use as a base and add other ingredients.

The instructor did not give us exact amounts of ingredients to make our chocolate. He would provide a starting point and then encouraged us to taste it; to make it how we wanted. He recommended we start with a 1:1 ratio, mix it and go from there. More cacao powder made it a darker, richer chocolate, more sweetener made it sweeter – adjusting it according to our palette and preferences, so we had to taste it as we went along! He also encouraged us to use natural sweeteners and ingredients. For instance, we were using vanilla beans for our vanilla -actually cutting them open and scrapping out the inside. He said we could use vanilla extract but encouraged us to use pure extract if we did, not artificial.

Cacao powder

He described using these pure ingredients as “upgrading” – making it more natural, tastier and better for you. He also told us how we can add other ingredients to our chocolates that not only taste good but are high in nutrients, minerals and vitamins,  making it a superfood. Ingredients like goji berries, nuts and seeds, coconut and algae. Maca root powder, honey and mesquite powder. He even recommended in one recipe that we try a little cayenne. It was actually really good!

As for the cost, the ingredients to make your chocolate is quite reasonable. The instructor said that in the time it takes for us to go and buy chocolate at the store, we can make it at home faster with fresh ingredients for about $1.50 to $2 per 50 g – which is comparable to what you would pay at the store.

Shaped ice cube trays work great as chocolate molds

I also love the fact that I can add all these “superfood” ingredients to my chocolates so that chocolate really is good for me and the kids. So when they ask if they can have some chocolate, I can say “yes” without feeling guilty or worrying if they are having too much.

It’s also so much fun to make (I’ve already made 3 dozen caramel cups and orange ginger snowmen for Christmas) and easy to do with the kids. You can get different kinds of molds to make different shapes for your chocolates. Experiment and have fun!

In one of my previous posts I described various natural sweeteners that you can use not only in your everyday cooking and baking but for your chocolates as well. Check out that post for more details.

In an upcoming post I will share more about what you can add to your chocolates and method.

For your information The Light Cellar sells ingredients to make chocolate in bulk and is very well priced. I buy all my ingredients there and usually come out of the store with a big box of items! I find it hard to get out of there with only one or two things.