Friday, November 30, 2018

When life gives you... crystals?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m trying to work out some of my candy recipes. Since I have lots of rum left over from making rum truffles, I decided to try one of my older recipes - buttered rum caramels.
This recipe was very “hit or miss” when I was originally working with it. It was a recipe I found on the internet somewhere. When it worked, it was amazing. When it didn’t, it was weird, crystallized, fudge-like stuff. I was hoping that with my years of practice with caramel, I might be more consistently successful now.    
Definite nope.
Mmmm. Crunchy.
This was a different version of “didn’t work” than any of the previous ones. There were small puddles of caramel interspersed with crystallized pieces. It tasted pretty danged good, but that texture. Ugh. At first, it seemed like a complete waste. But then, I had an idea. I scraped the mess into a saucepan, mixed in some heavy cream, and simmered it until it was a smooth, thick caramel sauce. It is AMAZING over vanilla ice cream.
Mmmm. Creamy.
It feels like this could be some deep symbolic moment, you know? Sort of a reflection of how things are going in my life right now. Currently, life feels like a frustrating wreck, but I’m trying to create something good out of it anyway. “When life crystallizes your caramel, you make caramel sauce.” It doesn’t have the same ring as the old lemons/lemonade adage, but it’s probably more appropriate for a chocolatier.
(By the way, I trashed that recipe and tried another one that worked much better for the actual candy. My testers should be receiving their boxes shortly. Yay!)
Mmmm. Creamy AND crunchy!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Oh hai!

Long time, no write...

I've been thinking I should dust off my poor old blog and add a post. Then one of my very favorite bloggers linked to this post. Go ahead and take a look - I can wait.

I originally began this blog because I felt alone and unheard. Not that I have lots of followers (hi, Mom!), but the simple act of expressing my thoughts was enough. Then I got a new job with coworkers who were fun and supportive, so I didn't feel "unheard" any longer. Over time, things have changed at that job. The coworkers that I'm closest to are now huddling together with our heads down and ALL of us feel unheard.

In light of these changes, I've started thinking seriously about trying to start my own business. I'm hoping I can start small and work it as a side gig, then when the world falls in love with my chocolates, I can jump to full time. It's not easy because the depression is still there, which makes it difficult to think clearly. It's also tough to get back into the swing of a 2nd job. I try to do a little something every day and that should become a habit.

One of the first things is to get my recipes together. Some of my older confections don't even have a recipe because I just added flavors and chocolate until it tasted right. Oh, past Sarah... (shaking head)  Taste tester volunteers are easy to find, although careful testers are a little trickier to track down. Some of my testers are family members, which means I can also work out some shipping kinks in the process.

 If you have any tips for starting a side gig, PLEASE pass them along. I'm almost afraid to start making a task list because the sheer volume of stuff to be done is overwhelming.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Snack Attack

There's something so relaxing about having the house to myself and time to experiment. I spend most of my time in the kitchen because I have to. I know that when I eat quality food, I feel better. On our budget, that means cooking all the meals, most of the snacks, and some of the desserts. (Thank heaven for plantain chips in coconut oil, pre-made organic guacamole, Hail Mary tarts, and Sejoyia cookies!) I used to love cooking, searching out new recipes, and learning new techniques, but lately I mostly feel like a galley slave. Today I had an exceedingly rare combination - time alone in the house AND a short to-do list. So I was inspired to level up my snacking!

I love fresh-ground almond butter. There's usually some in my fridge, but not a lot of it (because I ate most of it already). A crisp apple and some plain almond butter has been my go-to snack since I started following a paleo/primal eating plan. It's tasty and satisfying, and somehow I never really get tired of it. I've been seduced by those plantain chips with guac lately, and it seemed like it might be a good idea to get back onto a healthier track. Fancy almond butters should do the trick.

Apple Dip

1/2 cup fresh ground almond butter or plain almond butter
1/2 cup coconut butter/coconut manna
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

Add all ingredients to the top of a double boiler or bowl over a saucepan of steaming water. Once the coconut butter starts to melt, mix well. Stir occasionally until coconut butter and almond butter are very soft and all ingredients are well combined. Dip apple slices (or whatever your taste buds want) and enjoy. This should probably be stored in the fridge, but will need to be warmed before using. Coconut butter gets pretty danged solid once it's refrigerated.

And because I like salty snacks almost as much as I like the sweet ones, I made a savory almond butter, too.

Celery Stuffin'

1 cup fresh ground almond butter or plain almond butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
pinch of garlic powder
pinch of onion powder

Warm the almond butter in the top of a double boiler or in a bowl over a saucepan of steaming water. Once it softens, add the seasonings and mix well. Dip celery sticks (or whatever makes you happy) and enjoy.

This one might be a bit subtle for some taste buds, so you might want to increase the amounts on the seasoning. If you like heat, I suspect some sriracha would be good in it, too. Let me know in the comments if you create any tasty variations!

Much yum

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Indulge Me

Once again, I am trying to break up with processed sugar. It's not easy and I backslide occasionally, even with maple syrup, honey, and agave to keep my sweet tooth entertained. I haven't been able to run (some sort of soft tissue injury in my left leg), so I've been doing yoga every day instead. Once in a while, I'd like to reward myself for working hard to stay healthy, but I'm having a tough time thinking of motivating but inexpensive rewards that are not some form of chocolate.

A long, relaxing bubble bath was one possibility, but none of the stores in the area carry non-floral bath salts or bubbles. There were almost no bubbly options at all, in fact. Bath bombs seem to be the trend, but the ones I found were mostly overly sweet floral. Yuck. I did try a rose/bergamot bath bomb, which wasn't bad but a little pricey for a small indulgence. Next option? DIY.

Luckily, bath salts are easy and I already have a variety of essential oils that I use for making toothpaste, yoga mat spray, etc. The other ingredients are pretty reasonably priced. My first attempt makes me happy, so I'm sharing it with you.

A couple of notes about these bath salts. The rose petals are VERY optional. They look pretty in the jar and floating in the bath, but they are a pain in the glutes to clean out of your tub. If you don't have some sort of screen over your drain, skip them. The coconut oil is also pretty optional. It makes your skin feel wonderful, but it makes your tub an impressively slippery place. Kinda like the old bath oil beads, if you remember those. If you use it, be prepared to climb out slowly and cautiously and to re-clean the tub immediately after your bath. Dish soap seems to clean it up the quickest.

(I started with the basic bath salt recipe from the Wellness Mama blog and added my own scents. Use the Dead Sea salts if you can find them--the ones I found don't dissolve completely and make a nice exfoliant.)

Spiced Rose Bath Salts

2 cups unscented epsom salts
1/2 cup baking soda
1/4 cup Dead Sea salts
2 Tbsp coconut oil (optional)
1/4 tsp rosewater (food-grade)
20 drops sweet orange essential oil
20 drops lemon essential oil
5 drops cinnamon essential oil (be careful with this one--it can burn your skin if you use too much!)
1/4 cup dried rose petals (food-grade) (very optional)

Combine all of the salts in a plastic shopping bag or glass bowl. Mix together well. Add oil and scents. Stir (glass bowl) or knead (shopping bag) as if your life depends on it. It will take some time to get the oils evenly distributed. I worked mine until the logo came off the plastic bag. If you want to use the rose petals, add them at the end and make sure you toss out any tough pieces of stem or bud before you mix them in. Store in a glass jar (or several, since this recipe makes a pretty big pile of bath salts). Toss a generous handful or two into a hot bath, breathe deeply, and relax.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Not even for chocolate?

Each year, I take a week of vacation to make fancy chocolates for my friends and family. I start planning in the fall, creating a sampler menu and figuring out shopping lists. I love dreaming up new flavors and trying out different techniques. The feedback I get from these yearly samplers is overwhelmingly positive, even from people who don't like the idea of "weird" flavors.

When I worked in banking, I used to take my vacation at the beginning of December, so I could have everything ready for the holidays. The majority of my family celebrates Christmas, so that gave me a solid deadline. Now I work for a non-profit and December is too busy with end-of-year fundraising to take a week off, so I have to wait until January. Things at work have finally calmed down, so I took this week as my "chocolate vacation."

I thought making chocolates was the one thing that I was always going to have enthusiasm for. I love chocolate in all its forms (except for cheap white chocolate--that's just nasty). I love inventing flavor combinations and finding new ways to play with classic flavors. But not this year. This year, I have no energy for it. We built an awesome chocolate-making station with some new equipment that I would normally be dying to work with and fine-tune. Even that is not enough to inspire me. Not this year. I have a fantastic menu of things that I'd really like to taste but I have absolutely no interest in making those things. I finished the old stand-by peanut butter balls (because everyone loves those things) and some almond butter balls (so I can have some, too), which usually works as a warm up. But not this year.

I'm doing all the things you're supposed to do to keep depression at bay. I eat healthy, I exercise daily, I rarely drink alcohol, I'm taking all my supplements, I keep myself clean and presentable, I get a decent amount of sleep, and I make sure to socialize. But I'm still tired and miserable all the time. I know depression lies and that I can't listen to that insidious voice that keeps reminding me how nice it would be to stop doing all that stuff and just give up. It worries me to discover that I can't even muster a little enthusiasm for chocolate making. That's a scary depth of depression. I suppose it's time to find a new therapist, but I don't really feel like making the effort. (Ironic, right? Ha-ha. Depression sucks.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Back on singletrack

Much of my winter was spent training for a road marathon, which became a half marathon thanks to the flu. I got sick in March and missed 3 critical long runs in a row. Next fall, I WILL get my flu shot, thankyouverymuch. To the point--running on asphalt is kind of boring. The race is over and I have a sparkly medal to send to my I Run4 buddy:

So now it's time to get back to the woods. There aren't any races on my radar so I can focus on gaining strength and maybe building up some speed.

I've missed running in the woods. This fact became more apparent this morning, when I woke up with part of a "song" about trail running in my head. Without further adieu, may I present:

An Ode to Trail Running (to the tune of America the Beautiful)

O beautiful for singletrack,
For random waves of pain,
For purple bruises on my knees
And mud and rocks and rain!
Trail running! Trail running!
My heart belongs to thee.
It feels so good to run through the woods-
We feel that we are free!

Maybe I'll see you out there!

Monday, January 16, 2017


I have an Instagram account that I post to about as often as I post here. Except my Instagram posts include more poetry--haiku, specifically. This feels a little like cheating as far as blog posts go, but I thought I'd share a few of my instacritter posts with you:

Other chores await
But sleepy lap cat says no.
Chores will keep waiting.

  Why are we stopping?
I love hiking in the snow!
I don't like stopping.

A freaked out feline
Found at a local Goodwill.
Treasure left behind.

You know it's cold out
When the radiator sprouts
A fluffy cover.