Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

We have an icky bug floating around the house. It’s just a cold, but there are five of us. And when we have an icky bug, it can take weeks to run it’s course through our family. We still have a few sniffles, but we’re almost in the clear. The little one started it all. She missed school last Friday because of it. And of course they had something special planned that day. It breaks my heart when they’re sick. It’s worse when they miss an event they’ve been looking forward to all week because of it. This called for a little extra mommy lovin’.

So I had to re-create “warm and cozy day” at home. Especially since she was fighting a cold. We made hot chocolate from scratch. I haven’t bought that stuff in the packets in over a year.  We used to always have it around. So now when I make hot chocolate, it’s extra special.

While I prepared the hot chocolate, she picked a spot and arranged our picnic blanket and her stuffed “aminals”. She came to the kitchen several times. She’d grab my hand and lead me into the living room and ask “Is this okay?” They are unbelievably cute when they’re three.

The cookies were Trader Joe’s Highbrow Chocolate Chips. We don’t normally have this kind of thing in the house, but they were leftover from an event over the holidays. I was saving them for an emergency, and this seemed like the right time. The warm, creamy hot chocolate and those crispy cookies were perfect together. She forgot all about school.

“Uh oh. I had a little accident Mommy.” No problem. I worried that the all that chocolate would keep her from napping, but she slept soundly. The fever never came back after that. I doubt it had much to do with our warm and cozy hot chocolate, but who knows. I let her believe it was the cure.

Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups organic whole milk
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • pinch of  sea salt
  • 2 ounces good quality dark chocolate (or 1 square)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil
  • splash of organic heavy cream or half and half (optional)
  • marshmallows are optional

Method:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, coconut oil and salt until dissolved.
  3. Stir in the chocolate until melted.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool slightly or add a splash of cold heavy cream or half and half, or a dollop of whipped cream. Throw in a few marshmallows if desired. Makes 2 servings.

I decided to add the coconut oil not just for a little more flavor, but to make it a little extra nourishing for my feverish lil’ pumpkin. And to strengthen my immune system, just in case I was next… I was.

Coconut oil has been used for centuries to treat illnesses.

The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system. (from organicfacts.net)

I also had some homemade almond flavored whipped cream leftover from the a few nights before. Whipped cream is ridiculously easy to make from scratch. A cup of organic heavy cream, a few tablespoons of confectioners sugar and some almond extract, all whipped together with a stand or handheld mixer on high speed until thick and creamy. You can substitute with whatever extract you prefer. Store bought whipped cream isn’t anywhere near this good.

I doubled the recipe so I’d have enough leftover for the other two when they came from school. Friday treat!!

My Mantra for the Week: “It’s the Little Things”

Christmas is six days away. I haven’t wrapped a single child’s present. I have gift baskets to assemble. And I had planned to have my kids round up their toys again so that we could purge some of the old ones before the new ones arrive. That last one probably isn’t going to happen until after Christmas. I decided to make my life easier by crossing off and postponing some nonessential things on my “to do” my list. I’m doing it to make time for the little things. My kids. This blog. Holiday movies with the family. Baking cookies, making crafts and playing games with the kids.

The stamp you see above came from Michael’s. It literally jumped out at me while I was fussing at London for trying to reach out and grab things off the shelves. We were at the 4th store, in search of a particular kind of label when I found myself on the stamps aisle. Just as I was getting into the “this is the part of the holidays I hate” spirit, I saw it. Just in time. I love inspirational quotes and phrases. It must have something to do with my love of words and meaning. They are like poetry or mantras to me. And that was my mantra for the day. “It’s the little things.”

So here are some little things from my week:

These orange, clove and cinnamon stick pomanders were fragrant and pretty. I found this little project while searching for craft ideas for Linsey’s class party. I was in search of something natural and fun. No foam or plastic and something that won’t break the bank, after all I usually end up paying most of the costs for these parties. A box of clementines, enough for a class of 25 and then some, was $5.99. The cloves, which I bought in bulk at Healthy Home Market cost me about $11.00 and I have a ton leftover. And I already had cinnamon sticks, ribbon, rubber bands and skewers (for poking holes and sparing little fingers) on hand. I also purchased wax paper bags to give the kids something to put them in when we were done. The entire box costs maybe a few bucks and we only needed half. So this craft costs around $20 for a class of 25. I heard one of the kids say that this was the best school party they’d ever had. Music to my ears.

It’s the little things, so we made homemade dark chocolate peppermint bark this year for the girls’ teachers. I used Trader Joe’s white morsels this year and instantly regretted it. Nestle’s Premier White Morsels are better tasting for sure. Even better than Ghiradelli’s white morsels, though Ghiradelli’s dark chocolate chips are great. They were still good of course, but not as good. Oh and if you are making them in a large sheet like I did, cut them into squares when they are firm all the way through, but still soft enough that they don’t chip and break when cutting. Think room temperature. Want to know how I know this? Last year I left them in the freezer for over an hour and every time I made a cut, they simply shattered. I ended up with a pile of irregularly shaped chunks of all sizes. What a disaster. And I recommend the chalky peppermint sticks instead of real candy canes. I can only find them at my least favorite store (a.k.a. Walmart) in the holiday baking aisle this time of year. They are easier on the teeth, the knife and the food processor. Dark chocolate, white chocolate and peppermint… yummy.

Bosky Acres, the goat cheese vendor at my favorite local farmers market usually sells these delicious pistachio and cranberry cheese balls around the holidays. She didn’t have any the week that I needed them, so I made my own. It was so easy, that I think I’ll always make them myself from now on. I used goat cheese from Trader Joe’s because I didn’t have enough of her goat cheese (which is waaaayyyy better in quality and taste). The shelled pistachios and organic cranberries also came from Trader Joe’s. All I did was chop 1/4 cup each of the nuts and cranberries together, rolled the cheese in the cranberry-nut mixture and pressed the pieces firmly in place. Simple. It’s the little things.

Molasses Cookies, Royal Icing and Natural Food Coloring

The cookie jar is full.

No wonder we put on extra pounds every year during the holiday season. Last week it was apple cobbler, and this week it’s homemade gingerbread cookies. Sheesh! What is it about this time of year and homemade goodies? And I haven’t even gotten around to the dark chocolate peppermint bark and white chocolate coated popcorn yet. Maybe if we stop saving these homemade treats for the winter months and spread them throughout the year. Who says you can’t have peppermint bark in July? Why not make a couple of batches of cookies to share in the spring? I know the answer. Tradition. The girls and I look forward to cookie decorating during the holidays. We had hours of fun and there was no fighting and bickering for the duration. We all needed a break from the quarreling.

The cookies are Molasses Sugar Cookies and not gingerbread cookies, though I’m not sure what the difference is. The molasses cookies might be a little softer. But I found that if I cooked them a few minutes longer, they darkened and hardened a little. They were good either way, but the softer ones break easily. Click here for the cookie recipe. I used 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups of all purpose, and instead of shortening I used 3/4 cups of leaf lard and 3/4 cups of real butter. Next time I’ll use all butter just because it tastes better. Refrigerating the dough for hours is not necessary if you just use cold butter in stead of melting it as the recipe instructs. I do refrigerate between batches and recommend it if you are planning to roll it out and use cookie cutters. The first two batches were rolled into  balls and half of those were tossed in sugar.

I refrigerated the rest of the dough overnight and we finished up the following evening. No sugar coating was necessary since we were going to cover them in icing and candy.

London’s cute little cookies were covered in globs of icing and carefully placed pieces of candy. Yummy.

Haleigh, a budding artist, let her creativity fly. She’s a neat little artist.

Linsey, a budding perfectionist, wanted to make sure icing was evenly distributed on her cookies. I have to say though, that the icing is the glue that is keeping her cookies from crumbling to pieces in the cookie jar. This cookie’s head fell off, but the rest is still intact.

Let’s talk about the icing. Royal icing is considered the best type for decorating cookies because it dries and hardens quickly. Some recipes call for meringue powder, cream of tartar or powdered egg whites – things I don’t normally have on hand. How about you? Here’s my simple and easy recipe:

Easy Royal Icing

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or extract of whatever flavor you want to impart – lemon, peppermint, almond etc.)

Method:

  1. Beat egg whites in clean, large bowl or stand mixer at high speed until foamy.
  2. Gradually add sugar and lemon extract. Beat at high speed until thickened.

This made twice as much as we needed, so you might want to cut the recipe in half. Of course you can just use the white icing. Coloring isn’t really necessary since the candy is colored. We generally try to avoid artificial coloring. We did however have some artificially colored candy lying around so we used that, along with some mini-chocolate chips. But I don’t ever use or buy artificial food dyes. I attempted to try and color some of the icing naturally – purple, using juice from some frozen blue berries and pink, using juice from a large handful of pomegranate arils. (Who says Christmas cookies have to be red and green?) The results were not that great. I ended up with two shades of pale pink. Pretty, but not very vibrant. There are better ways, I know. But I was lazy.

And they were a little runnier, even though I added quite a bit more powdered sugar. My guess is that the acid from the fruit broke down the stiffness in the whipped egg whites.

Anyhoo, the girls loved the colors. My favorite are the ones with just chocolate chips. Chocolate chips and cookies belong together.

Kimchi and Chopsticks

Thanks to my mom, I’ve grown up eating (and loving) Korean food. Some of my all time favorite meals are Korean. Galbi (Korean barbecued spare ribs), tteokguk (rice cake soup), chapchae (noodles), egg rolls, Korean style chicken and pork, spinach and soy bean sprouts, sticky rice, gimbap (Korean sushi), Korean pancakes (which is nothing like a breakfast pancake)… just to name a few. And of course I couldn’t forget the most well known Korean food – kimchi. Most people either hate or love it. But what they don’t know is that there are many kinds of kimchi. Nearly any vegetable can be made into kimchi. Kimchi made with napa cabbage is probably the most popular. But I have in my refrigerator right now, turnip kimchi. If you think regular kimchi has a strong odor, you’d probably be blown away by this one. If it didn’t taste so darn good, I probably wouldn’t eat it myself. The poor kids can barely stand the smell, but hopefully they’ll learn to love it like I do.

Tteokguk

Kimchi is usually some form of a fermented vegetable. It’s not much different than one of America’s favorite stinky foods – pickles. (I have to admit that I’m a little sensitive when it comes to kimchi, and would like to point out to that every culture, including us Americans, have “stinky” foods. It’s really just a matter of what you are used to. If we’re judging with our noses, I’ll take kimchi over American cheese any day of the week. They were both a staple in my house growing up. That cheese is some fonky smellin’ sh-tuff!) Kimchi as well as other fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, tofu, some cheeses, even beer and wine, are good for you. Fermented foods (and drinks) boost the immune system and the flora (or good bacteria) is great for digestion, which is important for good health.

Kimchi

As it turns out there are many healthy foods in the Korean diet. Nori (seaweed) is also good for you. One of my favorite lunches is rice mixed with green onions, soy sauce and a little butter, salt and pepper, along with nori and kimchi.

Nori, and other sea vegetables are rich in potassium and iodine and contain other vitamins and minerals not often found in land foods. They have an anti-inflammatory effect and may reduce the risk of breast cancer as well as other types of cancer. They boost the immune system and help maintain normal blood pressure. Sea vegetables also contain lots of B12, which helps fight fatigue, memory loss and nerve damage. Just like fish, some sea vegetables have a stronger flavor than others. I have had seaweed that tastes very “fishy”, which I don’t like, but not all seaweed is fishy. The one pictured above doesn’t have strong flavor at all.

Koreans also tend to eat a lot more vegetables than meat. Unlike a typical American meal in which the main dish is usually the protein, Koreans will likely have several vegetable dishes with little or no meat. Fish is also a big part of their diet. Fish is rich in Omega 3’s which are good for heart and brain health.

Believe it or not, even eating with chopsticks is good for you. No smart ass – not because you hardly get anything in your mouth, but because it forces you to slow down. It does take some practice to master and I’ll admit I’m not that great with them, but it’s because I don’t use them often. That’s going to change. My mom on the other hand could probably build a brick wall with a pair of chopsticks. It’s a lot healthier to eat food slowly and it’s a fun change of pace. They’re more efficient than a fork when you know how to use them. Eating rice with chopsticks is a challenge, but that’s when the nori or lettuce comes in handy.

Korean style porkchops

One more thing about the way we eat. Maybe you’ve noticed, as I have, how much of the American diet, including how meals are prepared and eaten, is based on convenience. Meals should be a social event from preparation to after dinner conversation. Enjoy yourself while you’re cooking and eating. Meals with good company and glass of wine or beer are far healthier than those eaten alone in front of a T.V.,  in your car or at your desk. People tend to eat more when they eat quickly and alone. I also suggest sitting down when eating – even if it’s finger food. Happy eating!

Hillbilly Produce, Super G Mart, Harris Teeter and… Food Lion

I drove all the way out to Hillbilly Produce just to buy chestnuts this morning (they’re so yummy and good for you)… and they were sold out. The guy I spoke with said they probably weren’t going to get anymore in. Boo hoo hoo…  This is about the third time I’ve been here and I’m still not impressed. But I did buy 3 pie pumpkins for $5 and some more Grateful Growers pork chops while I was there. I was bummed that I missed out on the chestnuts.

While I was pulling away, I decided to check out the international food market, Super G Mart, across the street (where Bi Lo used to be). Several people, including my Korean mother have mentioned this place to me several times. I’m so glad I finally went!! Maybe it was meant to be… the first things I noticed was that they had chestnuts! They are the Asian variety I think because they are much larger than the ones you’ll find around here. I bought a huge bag of them – probably around 3 or 4 pounds. I’ve already roasted a few (in the microwave) and they are yummy. So I got what I was searching for, just in another place.

I walked in without a cart or basket thinking I was just going to look, but after my fingers and arms started cramping from carrying so much stuff, I decided to grab a basket. By the time I left, my forearm was sore from the weight of the basket and my fingers were cramping from carrying stuff that wouldn’t fit in the basket. Next time I’ll be sure to get the shopping cart.

The produce selection is pretty amazing. They have most of the standard stuff plus lots of exotics. They had my favorite Asian sweet potatoes (which are actually yams, I think and also really good for you) so I stocked up on bunch of small ones – perfect size for snacking. They taste much better than the standard sweet potato and are better for you. You should definitely try them if you find them in an Asian market. I also scored a couple of 2 quart sized, Low Sodium Kikkoman Soy Sauce on sale for $8.99 each. I picked up some enoki mushrooms and organic, non-gmo tofu. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten these mushrooms, so this is my “something new to try” for the week.

Tofu is something that I’ve eaten once or twice before. Even though this was a staple in my house growing up, I’ve never really given it a fair chance. I think my mom puts in her egg rolls (which I love, as does anyone who’s ever tried one), but I can’t really remember trying it any other way. I’m sure I must have as a child. Maybe that’s when I formed my unfair opinion about it. So it’s another food (like the eggplant) that I’m going to give a second chance. I don’t know how I’m going to use it yet.

Harris Teeter made me very happy today. I was out of milk, so I had planned to use some Organic Valley coupons there this morning. I decided to check the sale add before going and it’s a good thing I did. They were super doubling coupons! So all of my $1 off coupons were now worth $2! I got 4 half gallons of milk for $3 each, 2 small containers of heavy whipping cream for about $0.35 each and 2 bricks of cream cheese $0.59 each!! I also grabbed some of their eggnog. There was no coupon for that, but I couldn’t resist the thought of sipping a nice warm cup of eggnog (with a little spiced rum) with all this cold rainy whether we’re having. I also picked up some Lara Bars for $1 each (usually $1.50). I highly recommend these. They only have a few ingredients and no added sugar. My two favorites are the peanut butter and the cashew one. The fruity ones (apple and cherry) are pretty tart – too tart for my taste. I got Seattle’s Best Cinnabon coffee for $4 after vic savings and coupon and Starbucks coffee for $6 after coupon.

Seventh Generation products were also on sale. Some of them weren’t worth the small savings, but the detergent was on sale for $9 and I had $1 off coupons (but not subject to doubling). I also picked up the paper towels, toilet paper and automatic dish washing gel. The bonus is that more seventh generation coupons were generated when I checked out. I’ll be going back for more tomorrow probably.

Oranges and tangerines were on sale too. They are in season now and taste so good! I’m sure my kids will be happy to know that we have something besides apples in the house. This should hold us over until the clementines show up.

I forgot to pick up ginger root for dinner tonight, so I decided to run by Food Lion because it was convenient. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in there. I got the ginger, but also wanted to see if they offer any of the products that I usually buy these days. Nope. Not one. I couldn’t easily find any organic produce (though I just gave it quick look). Didn’t see any eco-friendly/safe cleaning products, though I do remember buying Greenworks there before. Food Lion, you guys need to get with the program. If this is your usual grocery store, might I suggest you step out of your comfort zone and venture to a Harris Teeter at the very least. This might be a good first step into a healthier lifestyle.