Monday, March 23, 2015

Homemade Filled Chocolates

In a follow up post to Why Fair-Trade Chocolate is so Important, I'm going to show you how fun and easy it is to make your very own filled chocolates. All you will need is a silicone mold, chocolate chips and your favorite filling. Below are two recipes that are reminiscent of Cadbury's egg creme and Reece's peanut butter fillings as they are a favorite in my house. The chocolate bunnies (in the photo above) were a huge hit with my family. The homemade chocolates totally tasted like the real deal but with out all the artificials, GMO's or slave-labor cocoa!

The bunny shaped silicone mold I found on sale at Michael's for $7. The silicone is pliable so you can easily pop-out the chocolates once they have hardened.

Start by making a double-boiler with a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water and a heat-proof mixing bowl. Once the water in the saucepan has started boiling, turn off the heat and pour a bag of chocolate chips (Whole Foods 365 brand has fair-trade chocolate chips!) into the mixing bowl that is on top of the saucepan. The mixing bowl should not be touching the water. Stir until all the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Move the mixing bowl with the melted chocolate to a clean working area. Place one spoonful of chocolate into each mold cavity, using your finger to "paint" the entire cavity with chocolate. Don't worry so much over how even the chocolate is but in making sure all the sides are covered. Place in the fridge to help speed the hardening process.

As the chocolate hardens in the fridge, start making the fillings. The peanut butter filling is from I have just scaled it down a bit to fit into twelve small molds. I'm finding it very dangerous that I now have this recipe in my repertoire- it is so unbelievably good!!

Peanut Butter Filling

1/3 cup organic smooth peanut butter
1/3 cup organic powder sugar
1/2 tbsp pastured butter, melted
1 tsp organic vanilla extract

Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and use a fork to mix thoroughly.

The Cadbury creme was inspired from this recipe but I just made a healthier swap with agave syrup over corn syrup.

Cadbury Creme

1/4 cup organic agave syrup
2 tbsp pastured butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups organic powder sugar
1/2 tsp organic vanilla extract
1 - 2 tbsp pastured, organic whole milk or dairy-free milk

Using a fork, mix all the ingredients until the powder sugar is all wet. Finish whipping the creme with a hand-held electric mixer.

Take the chocolate-lined mold out of the fridge and fill the cavities with your filling of choice, making sure to leave enough room for a top layer of chocolate. Place the almost-filled molds into the fridge for about five minutes. This is important for softer fillings like the creme or caramel to harden. This allows the last layer of chocolate to stay on top and not mix in with the filling.  Meanwhile, melt about a half bag of chocolate chips for the finishing layer.

Using a spoon, fill the cavities the rest of the way with the melted chocolate and place the mold back in the fridge to harden for ten minutes. Pop the finished chocolates out of the mold when ready.

Using a sandwich bag with a corner snipped and melted white chocolate helped make these bunnies' faces.

Now step back and thoroughly enjoy your feelings of bad-assness for making safe* and humane filled-chocolates that are out-of-this-world delicious!

*Key word being safe. These are still loaded with sugar and should be viewed as a special treat... but being naughty does taste so wonderfully good.

Wishing everyone a safe, healthy and warm spring break!

Linked with the Homemade Monday and Simply Natural Saturday blog series.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Stain Remover with Hydrogen Peroxide

Mishaps and stains are part of life- especially if you have kids... or are like me and can't cook without stuff splattering everywhere. Unfortunately, the top name-brand stain remover may get the gunk out but it is leaving all kinds of nasty chemicals in its place. The recipe below is as functional as it is frugal!

Pour 1 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide and 2 tbsp of baking soda in a mixing bowl and whisk contents until all the baking soda has dissolved.

Carefully stir in 1/2 cup of natural dish soap. Using a funnel pour the mixture into a 16oz squirt or spray bottle.

Always check a small unseen area for color fastness on delicate items.  If you can't wash the pre-treated apparel right away then make sure to rinse the item after 20 minutes.

Clean up is a breeze, too! Just rinse out your mixing bowl and measuring cups really well and leave to dry.

Stain Remover
By Living Life Granola
1 cup 3% hydrogen peroxide
1/2 cup natural dish soap
2 tbsp baking soda
16 oz spray or squirt bottle

Place the baking soda in a mixing bowl and add the hydrogen peroxide. Whisk until the baking soda has dissolved. Carefully stir in the dish soap. Use a funnel to pour the contents of the mixing bowl into the spray or squirt bottle.

If you are treating a delicate piece of clothing, always do a spot check first to check for color fastness. If treating an article of clothing and not washing right away, make sure to rinse off after 20 minutes.

Making this simple stain remover yourself cuts down on the dangerous chemicals that are going down our drains, saves you money from passing on the conventional store brands and cuts down on the excessive amount of plastic bottles used and discarded everyday. Win-win-win!

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why Fair-Trade Chocolate is so Important

With Easter right around the corner, I want to touch on the importance of fair-trade chocolate. What is fair-trade chocolate?  Well, there are several fair-trade organizations with their own set standards but essentially they are ensuring that workers and farmers are getting paid fairly for their time and product. Today, demand for chocolate is at an all time high. This should equate to a tidy profit for the cocoa farmer but in Western Africa, where 70% of the world's chocolate comes from, they are making less than $2 a day. Demand for cheap chocolate from industry giants like Hershey's, Nestle and Mars Inc., shady African governments and too many middle men has the cocoa farmers getting the short end of the stick. However, the true victims in all this are the West African children.

Western Africa is rife with intense poverty. Children are forced into labor just to help keep their families afloat- and many of them forgo school for their familial responsibility. 10% of child laborers in Ghana and 40% in the Ivory Coast do not attend school at all. A 2011 study done by Tulane University cited 1.8 million children working in the cocoa (chocolate) industry and that the majority of them were not paid. CNN estimates that 200,000 children are used as slave labor. Slave labor comes into play with the rampant child trafficking in the cocoa industry. Relatives, desperate for money, are selling children to work in the cocoa trade or traffickers are outright abducting young children from small villages in surrounding African countries. Burkina Faso and Mali are two of the poorest countries in the world where some of these abductions are taking place. These people do not have the resources to protect their children.

Child laborers are forced to work twelve hour days and use dangerous tools like chainsaws, machetes and agricultural chemicals without protective gear. Many of these children have scars and injuries from the machetes that they use to cut down the cocoa pod from the tree or to open the pod to extract the cocoa beans. The pods, once cut down, are placed into sacks that can easily weigh over 100 lbs and then must be carried or dragged through the forest. One account of a former slave detailed how it took two people to lift the pod bag onto her head and how she was beaten if she didn't move quick enough with her load. Whippings are cited as another form of punishment used on child laborers. Once the work is done for the day, the children go to sleep in windowless rooms on wooden planks. They do not have access to fresh water or sanitary bathrooms.

This reads like a slavery novel based in the 18th century but these atrocities are happening right now to children that we can have sixty-cent candy bars!

Over ten years ago, these disgusting practices came to light and huge pressure was put on the chocolate giants by consumer advocates and Congress to put a stop to forced child labor. Due to intense lobbying by the cocoa industry, a law was unable to be pushed through. Instead, in 2001, a voluntary Harkin-Engel Protocol was signed by the chocolate companies promising to end child slavery issues by 2005. To date, the chocolate companies now have a new goal of 2020 to end child labor practices.

So, if you are asking yourself how in the world did this get pushed back 15 years... then let me tell you:  money talks. If you want child slavery to stop then you have to stop buying chocolate unless it is fair-trade certified. Period. You can also look for these labels to avoid slavery chocolate as well:

  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Fair Trade label
  • UTZ Certified
  • Certification Capacity Enhancement

I personally feel that my children's enjoyment should not come off the backs of other childrens' torment. Fair-trade chocolate is delicious and there are so many great companies out there. Stores like Meijer, Whole Foods and other local groceries should carry some and you can find a wide variety online with a simple search. With Easter four weeks away, there is still plenty of time to place an order. I will soon have a follow-up post with a recipe for some homemade, filled chocolate eggs, too! Remember that together, change is possible.

Linked with the Homemade Mondays blog series.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Power Balls

Power balls are a favorite in my house due to their portability, quick grab-ability and outright deliciousness. (Notice how the jar in the photo above is already half empty.) They taste like a dessert but are bursting in nutrition from good carbs, fats and protein... everything you need in a healthy balanced snack. These power balls are sweetened with local raw honey (which is a wealth of B vitamins), molasses (for some added iron) and pure maple syrup (which contains calcium, manganese, and zinc). With the addition of oats for fiber, these little balls will give you the energy and satiety you need to conquer your day.

These are the perfect snack to make when I find myself with a surplus of almond butter (you can see how to make almond butter here.) It also saves on dishes since I just pour all the ingredients into the food processor with the freshly-made almond butter.

Using a cookie dough scoop (in the photo above) speeds the process of rolling the balls and allows for a more uniform appearance. It also cuts down on the bickering over which kid/adult got the bigger ball!

Power Balls
Living Life Granola
Scant 1 cup almond butter
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut + more for rolling
1/4 cup unsweetened 100% cocoa powder
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp water

If making this right after processing the almond butter then throw the oats in the food processor and pulse until oats are coarsely ground. Otherwise, place salted almond butter and oats in the food processor and pulse as above. Scrape down the sides if necessary and add the remaining ingredients. Pulse until the mixture is a fine meal and sticks together when pinched.

Using a teaspoon or cookie dough scoop, roll dough into about 24-1 inch balls. Pour a couple of tablespoons worth of shredded coconut on a plate to roll the finished power balls in. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge and enjoy within one week. Serving size: 2 balls.

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.

Monday, February 23, 2015

DIY Wood Wick Candle

As much as I love my maintenance-free electric fire place, it is missing a key component: the warm sound of crackling wood. There are those insanely expensive Wood Wick candles that make this comforting sound but they are also known for their "divine" scents. I have written about the dangers of artificial fragrances here. Phthalates are especially troubling as it is an endocrine disruptor (as if we don't have enough going on in our lives to make our hormones wacky) and has links to breast cancer and birth defects.

So, of course I am making this myself because #1, I'm frugal (cheap? whatever!) and #2, watery eyes and headaches are not my idea of relaxing in front of the fire. My local craft store sells wood wicks in a package of six for $6 and two pounds of palm wax for $10- completely reasonable in my book.

A quick note on palm wax: please make sure that it comes from a Rainforest Alliance Certified company.  Malaysian and Indonesian rain forests have been devastated by the over-harvesting of palm trees. Even if the bag reads an eco-friendly renewable resource, it is just a technicality. Trees are being cut down at a rate where new plantings can't keep up. Wildlife can't survive in a grove of new saplings and mature trees are the lungs of this planet. Of course, non-GMO soy or beeswax will work just as well!


2 wood wicks with metal clamps (should come together in the packaging)
2 cups wax pellets (palm, beeswax or soy)
2 glass jelly mason jars
1 glue gun
1 large glass measuring cup
1 sauce pan for the water bath
1 cookie sheet
1 cooling rack
Essential oils for fragrance (optional but I have a pleasing and stress-reducing combo below)

Start by hot gluing the metal wick clamps to the bottom of the jelly jars. Try to center them as much as possible. Pour the wax into the large measuring cup and pre-heat the oven to the lowest setting.

Make a water bath by placing the glass measuring cup into a sauce pan. Carefully fill the sauce pan with water until it is half way up the measuring cup. Don't get water in the wax. Place on the stove over medium to low heat until all the wax has melted, stirring occasionally. Remove the measuring cup from the water bath. While the wax cools, place the jelly jars on the cookie sheet and place in the oven to heat for 3 minutes. Warming the jars will help the wax cool more evenly and slowly to help prevent any dips or air bubbles in the finished candle.

After the wax has cooled for a few minutes add: 80 drops lavender essential oil, 50 drops rosemary essential oil and 30 drops cedar wood essential oil. Stir gently to combine. Place the wood wicks into the the metal clamp and carefully pour half the wax into each jelly jar.

                                     Place the candles on a cooling rack to harden over-night.

The next morning, using sharp scissors or nail clippers, trim the wood wick to 1/4 inch- it is important to keep the wick short or you will have a mini-bonfire in a very small container. As always, please don't leave a lit candle unsupervised, especially around children and pets.

Tonight I'm going to take advantage of Dino putting the kids to bed- and curl up with a good book in front of my glowing fireplace and crackling candle. Enjoy- I know I will!

Linked with the Simply Natural Saturdays blog series.
*This was their Featured post for the week.*

Monday, February 16, 2015

Finding More Ways to Afford Organic Food

Eating food that is sustainable for the planet and our bodies is a top priority in my house. That means a larger portion of our family's budget goes towards groceries. In The Hidden Cost of Cheap Food, I explained how conventional food will actually cost you more- not only monetarily but in your health as well. There's no doubt that organic food will initially cost you more up front.  As daunting as squeezing your already tight budget may seem, there are ways to shift other priorities to make this work. Today I have a follow-up to a previous post, Finding Ways to Afford Organic Food, where I shared a major way my family diverts money to our groceries. Below are six more practices that my family uses to make organics a more affordable option.

1)  Turn the thermostat down.

At night when you are toasty under the covers and during the day when you are not at home, lower your thermostat. You actually sleep better and deeper in a cooler environment.  When you are away from home, it just doesn't make sense to keep an empty house super warm. You don't have to get all crazy, either- just a couple of degrees should show a difference in your heating bill. Dino and I are in a constant thermostat war because I am cold all the time but we can agree on turning it down for these two circumstances.

2) Dim the lights after dinner.

Once dinner and the clean-up is done, we try and keep the house at low lighting. This is great for the electric bill and also allows your body to naturally increase its melatonin levels that help you fall into a healing sleep. Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant.

3) Cancel the landline phone.

Yes, I truly believe there is a radiation risk when using cell phones but they are a necessary (and fun) evil. With two cell phone bills the landline seemed a little unnecessary and frivolous. If the radiation is a concern, like it is for me, then try texting more and use the speaker function when you do have to chat.

4) Cut the cable cord.

Too much of a stretch? We weren't sure how we were going to handle it either but, honestly, I don't even miss it. We can watch our TV shows online and were even able to connect the laptop to our smart TV to watch the Super Bowl- all without the insane cable bill hanging over our heads. Thanks to Goodwill and Savers, we have plenty of movies and Spongebob episodes for the kids when they (but mostly me) need a break... and I don't have to worry about them being barraged with asinine commercials for crap they (and again, mostly me) don't need.

5) Go on mini-vacations.

Putting the focus on making memories and not just on the destination can make a "mini" seem just like a big, splashy family vacay. During the winter months a weekend at an indoor water park can be a much needed relief from the blustery weather outside. In the summer, camping is a great way to get out and see the world without breaking the bank. 

6) Only go to restaurants on special occasions.

Being the only cook in my house, this was a hard one to implement as I enjoyed the much needed break from cooking and clean-up every week. What I didn't enjoy was all the genetically modified ingredients, pesticides, and artificial hormones that my family was ingesting on a weekly basis at $50 to $60 a pop. That is half of my organic grocery budget for the week and this wasn't even safe food! We do have a few restaurants that have local and organic offerings but they weren't what we could afford for our family of five on a regular basis. By limiting restaurant visits to birthdays and our anniversary, that local organic burger isn't so out of reach now.

This is what we have found to work for our family and I know that this will not work for everyone. My hope is that it will at least get you looking at different areas of your life and start weeding out what isn't really necessary for what is: food that is sustainable for the planet and you!


Monday, February 9, 2015

Artificial Dye-Free Valentine Gummy Hearts

With Valentine's Day less than a week away, these super quick and easy gummy hearts make the perfect treat for your little Valentine(s). Better yet, they are made with grass-fed gelatin (you can read the benefits here and here), local honey and with no artificial colors. On occasion, I do let my kids have the rare clear soda and conventional treats when we are away from home because I don't want to be that mom. However, I am always and unapologetically that mom when it comes to artificial dyes.

The FDA states that the artificial dyes used in our foods are perfectly safe and take issue with the multiple studies that claim otherwise. Due to these same studies, countries like Norway, Austria and Britain have banned artificial colors in their foods. In addition, the European Union requires warning labels on foods containing any artificial dyes. So what, exactly, was found in these studies? In lab tests done on animals, damage to DNA and genotoxicity occurred along with birth defects. In studies done on human children with or without ADHD, increases in hyperactivity were shown in both groups. Some scientists also state that artificial dyes are contaminated with known carcinogens. Anyway you slice it, artificial dyes are bad news. I urge you to start checking labels of the foods that you buy. You will be surprised where artificial colors like Yellow #6 are hiding. (They're everywhere!)

The Valentine gummy hearts are colored with a splash of tart cherry juice... but an organic cranberry or pomegranate juice would work just as well. Let's keep our treats safe and sweet- just like our Valentines!

Artificial Dye-Free Valentine Gummy Hearts
Living Life Granola
1/3 cup Izze sparkling apple (or other juice-sweetened soda)
3 tbsp grass-fed gelatin
3 tbsp local raw honey
1 tbsp organic tart cherry juice (or other organic, red fruit juice)

In a small sauce pan, whisk the honey, cherry juice, and Izze together until the honey is fully incorporated.  Working one teaspoon at a time, otherwise the mixture will be clumpy, sprinkle the gelatin over the honey juice and whisk until all the gelatin powder is wet. Continue until all the gelatin is in the pan (9 tsp total). It should turn into a thick paste.

Heat the pan over low-heat until the gelatin/juice mixture is liquid and runny again. Pour into an ungreased 8 x 8 x 2 glass baking dish if using a small cookie cutter or carefully pour into candy molds. Place the baking dish or molds in the freezer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out the gummies or pop the gummies out of the molds. Can be stored in the fridge, in an air-tight container, for up to 2 weeks.

Linked with the Homemade Mondays blog series.