Chocolate & Vanilla

Madagascar is best known for three things: Lemurs, chocolate, and vanilla

Madagascar is know for its chocolate, with bars often produced as single-sourced beans because the cacao is of high quality and uniquely flavored. I was very excited when I finally came across ethically sourced Malagasy chocolate, and 72% dark, at that. As a rule, despite how desperate I might be to satisfy my chocolate cravings, I will not buy it unless it is fair trade or ethically sourced. I was delighted to finally find a company, Tsara, producing bean to bar chocolate, “bringing far more income directly to the Madagascan people”, according to their package.

While 72% is less dark than my usual 88% favorite, I was running low on my traveling stash, so I was very happy to find it. It’s very smooth with notes of..just kidding. My chocolate palate is not that discerning, but I do know good chocolate when I taste it. And, of course, the bit of added sugar comes from the cane produced on the coasts.

While Roberts chocolate was in most shops that stocked chocolate, it wasn’t until I got to the airport at their premier chocolate shop that I found their fair trade bars. These made the same bean to bar claims as the Tsara. They also promote ‘raise trade’, for a sustainable Madagascar, which is something I haven’t come across before finding this chocolate. As I was on my way to visit a friend and his family in Mauritius, and didn’t want to arrive empty handed, I was happy I’d found some nice chocolate to give them. One bar, I would love to have tried if it wasn’t only 65% cocoa content, was the Malagasy lime with sea salt bar. I did, however, strike what I hope will prove to be gold with a 100% single-source bar (which I’ll save to share with Michael).

Though my bar didn’t contain vanilla, if it had, it, too, would have come from Madagascar, as it is world-renowned for its vanilla beans. Vanilla beans actually come from orchids, endemic to the tropics. They are pods that are produced by the plant, harvested and dried, and most often simmered to derive vanilla extract.

Lots of orchids grown in the Ranomafana rainforest (though I always seem to miss the flowering seasons when I travel…)

While traveling in the rainforest areas, it was common for spice sellers to approach us, selling a variety of spices ranging from peppercorns to coriander pods. But their big ticket item was vanilla beans. Even at that, I bought a bag with six pods, with the vanilla scent strong even through the sealed-plastic wrapping, for 15,000 ariary, which is U.S. $1.50. Because of the demand for Malagasy vanilla, the government has set a maximum limit of 100 kg (about 3 1/2 ounces) that is allowed through customs.

So if you love chocolate and vanilla (and lemurs), Madagascar should be on list of destinations. But you’ll have to brave the summer season of rainy, hot, and humid weather if you want to see the orchids in bloom.

A Smoothie for the Soul


I’m not a fan of smoothies, by my spouse, Michael, sure is. And when I take a big trip, I’m pretty sure he mostly survives on a liquid diet. You have him to thank for this Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie.  This smoothie is a satisfying alternative to the sugar-packed ones you’ll find at the local joint, not to mention a lot less expensive. So for a healthier, wealthier you, check out this recipe.

Michael and I scored when my mom got us the Magic Bullet as a Christmas gift a few years ago. While I use it to make cashew creams and sauces, it gets the biggest work-outs from making smoothies. It’s the perfect size for one or two servings (if you’re so inclined to share with someone). But that’s not the best part: Clean-up is super easy. The mixing cup comes has an attachable handle, so voila!, it doubles as the drinking cup.

Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie Recipe

Put all of these ingredients, in this order, into a Magic Bullet or blender and blend until it’s the consistency of a thick milkshake. For the Magic Bullet, blend about 40 seconds, scrape down, and blend another 20 seconds. Blending time will vary by appliance.

For the right consistency, you’ll need to freeze almond milk into ice cubes before making this smoothie. I make a tray full and stick the rest in a zip-lock bag for later use.

6 almond milk cubes (150 grams)
½ c. frozen raspberries (70 grams)
12 oz. unsweetened almond milk (350 grams)
½ T. hemp hearts
½ t. stevia
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground dried ginger
½ t. vanilla extract
1 T. cocoa powder, like Equal Exchange cocoa baking powder
½ avocado
2 T. creamy natural peanut butter, like Santa Cruz or Krema
Serves: 1-2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Accommodates: Omnivores, Vegetarians, Vegans, low-carbohydrate, keto, and paleo regimens
Nutritional info: 522 calories, 26 gr. carbohydrates (3.7 gr. of sugar), 40 gr. fat, 15 gr. protein
Without raspberries: 489 calories, 19 gr. carbohydrates (1.2 gr. of sugar), 39.5 gr. fat, 14.25 gr. protein

A Work in Progress

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I wrote this post around the same time as My Enemy: The Scale. A few months ago I’d been feeling kind of full at the end of the day. I think it was more the result of making sure I have enough protein in my diet, which has been a bit more challenging since I cut back on beans with the low-carbohydrate regiment. I had to integrate more tofu, tempeh, and analog meat to match what I’d gotten in a low-fat diet, but those are my less-favorite food choices. (I wish I liked smoothies so I could just add protein powder.) Instead, I’m quite content with my scrappy little Boca burger (with 13 grams of protein and only 70 calories!) and vegetable soup for lunch,  with a salad and huge plate of vegetables for dinner. But alas, our bodies need protein for loads of functions, ranging from reduced healing time to growing healthy nails.

Happily, my favorite Peanut Butter Cup Bars have 9 grams of protein each (based on 16 squares per recipe).

On the one hand, protein is great because it is very filling and has a longer digestion time. On the other hand, those same qualities make me feel too full, even though I haven’t ingested more calories. I’d much rather eat the roasted artichoke hearts and shirataki noodles on my plate than faux meatballs. They were usually what was left after I finished the ‘good’ stuff and I felt satisfied, so I ended up feeling like I was eating more than I needed.

As a result, upping the non-bean protein content in my diet left me feeling fuller after dinner. I hated it because sometimes I like dessert, I definitely need two or three squares of chocolate ‘for my health’, and I really look forward to having an evening snack, usually tiny bowls of 11 Newman’s protein pretzels and about ½- ¾ ounce of Wise potato chips (the best potato chips ever!).

My go to chocolate: It’s fair trade, inexpensive, readily available, and it’s even got protein!

I realized that while I was aware of how I was feeling, I ignored it just so I could have dessert and/or an evening snack. The problem was that I went to bed feeling more full than usual and woke up not really feeling hungry. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster, tempting me to skip breakfast because I’m not hungry, potentially setting me up for eating more throughout the rest of the day since I didn’t eat those breakfast calories. (Meanwhile, I would eat twice as much, thinking I was only making up for breakfast.)

As I recently mentioned in To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast, it’s psychologically important for me to know I have the option of eating an evening treat. Feeling like I have to forgo it makes me feel resentful and is more likely to lead to unchecked late-night binging. To cope with this, I’ve worked on integrating more protein into earlier meals, and even my afternoon snack, so I feel less full from that protein hit at dinner. I also cut back on my evening snack so that while I continue to give myself that option, I try to eat only as much as I think will satisfy me instead of what I’ve come to think of as my ‘allotted’ amount. These small changes have left me feeling much better in the morning, waking up hungry and wanting breakfast.

My lifestyle change continues to be a work in progress. I didn’t really consider the effects of changing out beans for other plant-based proteins. Instead, I was operating under an outdated regimen. Once I realized this, I was able to tweak it to feel better. I need to remind myself to not get stuck in a rut because a lifestyle change is not a one-off thing.

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It’s Valentine’s Day, so Eat Chocolate!

Much to my delight, I unexpectedly discovered a chocolate cooking course when I was in Peru. We made chocolate from scratch, as the ancient Incans would have done.
First step: Roast the cocoa beans.

If you really love your Valentine, you’ll skip the candy hearts and go straight for the chocolate: Dark chocolate, that is. I’m not sure why scientists decided to research potential health benefits of chocolate, but I’m sure glad they did! Lots of studies have found that the flavonoids in cocoa beans do all sorts of amazing things.

Step 2: Shell the outer layer from the cocoa nib.

Dark chocolate’s properties promote heart health by increasing oxidation to stop plaque from lining artery walls and also lower blood pressure. They help to repair damaged cell membranes and aid in fighting off free radicals that damage cell tissue. And if you’re worried about the fat in cocoa butter, it’s been found to have a neutral effect on bad v. good cholesterol levels.

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National Hot Chocolate Day: Recipe Addendum

In A Visit to Ghana to Make Hot Chocolate , I recounted my tale of surprising Michael at Christmas with a hot chocolate powder he could make anytime he liked. Without using melted chocolate, cocoa powder alone will never make an amazing cup of hot chocolate. Michael loved this gift so much that he ended up going through the container very quickly. He also discovered just as quickly how much he missed having it.

He was so desperate for more that one day he (i.e., my spouse who is about as adept in the kitchen as I am in a wood shop) decided to follow my recipe and make a single serving for himself. He quickly discovered the trials and tribulations of finely grating chocolate, prompting him to immediately and profusely express his gratitude for what he found was a much more valuable gift than he initially realized.

How much do I love chocolate? I gladly would have brought this bag of cocoa beans home with me if it didn’t weigh 50 pounds. I did, however, bring home a small bag that the guys bagging the beans very kindly gave to me.

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A Visit to Ghana for a Hot Chocolate Recipe

If you’re a regular reader, you know by now that we are a chocolate-loving household. So naturally, we also love hot chocolate. But it’s a rare treat for us because commercial hot chocolate mixes are too sweet. When I do make it, the good stuff requires melting chocolate. I don’t drink much besides water and some decaf iced tea that I make, but I appreciate the occasional hot chocolate. Michael, on the other hand, loves it and would drink it every winter day, given the opportunity. Unfortunately, he isn’t too adept in the kitchen and hates to bother me to make this for him.

The best hot chocolate you’ll ever have

A few months ago, I came across a recipe for hot cocoa powder, but dismissed it at the time since it called for loads of sugar and looked like a bit of work. When Michael suggested we exchange Christmas gifts this year, I thought about this recipe. I’d already given away the magazine (and VegNews doesn’t put their recipes online), so after some searching, I pieced together what has proven to be a most enjoyable hot chocolate powder mix so that Michael can easily make it anytime he’d like.

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Time to Break out the Cookie Jar: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Of course I had to make cookies today, since it’s December 18th, National Bake Cookies Day. Here is a cookie recipe I created that combines two of my favorite dessert ingredients: Chocolate and peanut butter. I love to bake cookies, as I mentioned in Is it *Really* Worth It? One of the biggest challenges I faced when moving to a low-carbohydrate diet was finding palatable cookie recipes. I came up with this recipe after trying out a few different types of cookies, then checking out the basics to put together the ingredients I wanted to use.

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Almond Joy Cookie Bars Recipe

When I moved to a low-carbohydrate diet, I tried some recipes that called for coconut flour. It seemed like no matter what I made with it–pancakes, cakes, cookies– I was never crazy about the end result. One day I looked for anything that sounded appealing to use up the rest. I came across a recipe for cinnamon raisin cookies. They sounded good, and I figured I’d just substitute nuts for the raisins, so I tried it out. Well, sort of…As I was putting it together, it seemed super bland to me. As I thought about how to salvage it, I got the idea for Almond Joy bars. Now it’s a favorite in our house. Maybe the reason I like this so much is because it only calls for ¼ cup of coconut flour…

Sometimes you feel like a nut...

Sometimes you feel like a nut…

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Peanut Butter Cup Bars Recipe

As promised in an earlier post, here's the recipe.

As promised in an earlier post, here’s the recipe. Yours should look better than these, though, since they were from a trial ‘disaster’ batch.

By now, it’s evident that I love chocolate and that I’m also a big fan of peanut butter. Naturally, one of my favorite treats is peanut butter cups. When I went trick-or-treating as a kid, the first thing I looked for in my Halloween bag was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. That was the main score, for me, especially if they were full-size cups.

As I mentioned in the post that gave my blog its name, until my lifestyle change, I could not be trusted to be around a bag of peanut butter cups. No matter how much I wanted to eat responsibly, I just couldn’t quit at a reasonable serving. Along with potato chips, I just couldn’t keep them in the house. When I caved, I made certain to buy single serving packages, otherwise they would have been my undoing.

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Progress is Possible

Even after I reached a healthy weight, until I switched to a low-carbohydrate regimen, I was never able to feel completely free of food. That is, I always had food on the brain. I was regularly hungry, having to fight off the temptation to eat extra snacks or bigger snacks. Even though I finally got to the point of recognizing portion sizes, I was still struggling to stick to the calorie count for the day.

It wasn’t until I cut high carbohydrate foods (like brown rice, crackers, and desserts made from whole wheat pastry flour) out of my diet that I really started to feel like I had a healthier mental relationship with food. It was odd because by eating really wholesome stuff, I felt like I should feel better. In reality, it was just setting me up for starvation because I didn’t have a well-balanced diet with enough fat.

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