For The Love Of Chocolate

Every day there are so many things on my mind that I would like to write about, exciting topics like Baloney Is Slimy and How Can Mice Be So Cute, But Completely Unwelcome In My Home?, Why Moms Always Have To Answer Texts, Will Minimalism Destroy The Economy?, the great book I’m reading by John Mark Comer, titled Garden City, Why I Don’t Want To Play Ball Every Time I Sit Down, Hannah, More Stuff I Cooked Over The Weekend, Do You Ever Have Insomnia And What Do You Do About It?, The Package That Arrived In My Mailbox Today, Why Am I Still Hungry When I’ve Gained Five Pounds In A Week?, My Debt Story, Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers The Way I Want Him To? and Why It’s Okay To Make Potato Salad in late October.  There’s more, of course, but I’m getting tired of typing things in title case Because I Have To Think Before I Type Every Word.

There will be a time for all of those topics and more, but with Halloween just a few days away, I think I’m supposed to write about being conscious consumers.  If you’re like me, you had no idea that up to 40% of all chocolate produced is done with child labor.  It says so in that tiny little life ruiner book I keep talking about, The Better World Shopping Guide. 

Equal Exchange, Divine, Alter Eco, SweetRiot and Theo all have A+ ratings, followed by Shaman, Sjaak’s, Coco-Zen, Endangered Species, and Rapunzel with an A.  On the opposite end of the scale with an F is Nestle, Wonka, Perugina, Toblerone, Mars, Ovaltine, Cadbury, Dove, and M&M.  Yeah, that’s pretty much every company that makes those convenient snack size treats we give out on Halloween.  Hershey, with a solid D grade, announced in January of 2012 that they are working toward using 100% certified fair trade cocoa by 2020.  Is it just me, or does it seem like it’s taking them a really, really long time to do something that other corporations are already doing?

You don’t have to take my word for it. Shawn Smucker, Tsh Oxenreider and Kristen Howerton have all written well researched articles about the issue.  Go ahead and read them – I’ll still be here when you’re done.

Trick-or-Treat? Your Chocolate Was Probably Made By Slaves

Chocolate: the industry’s hidden truth (and the easy stuff we can do to still enjoy it)

the inconvenient truth about your halloween chocolate and forced child labor

I know, I know.  I love my chocolate too, and probably eat some every week, sometimes every day.  But it’s not that hard to find chocolate from companies that are fair trade and organic – local grocery stores often carry these brands.  Yes, it’s more expensive, but that’s because it costs more to pay adult workers than it does to enslave and use children to grow and harvest the crop.

If you already bought a big ol’ bag of treats from Sam’s Club or Costco while you were out last weekend, it’s okay.  You can return it to the store, or if that’s out of the question, make sure you make a different choice moving forward.  It’s my fervent hope that even if you think I’ve gone off the deep end in being a conscious consumer, you will say with your dollars that you support companies who agree that it’s wrong to exploit children and stop supporting those who still do.

Soup and Bread

If you’re not much into cooking, you probably skip posts like this because, really, how interesting can food be anyway?  While I do enjoy cooking, food and it’s preparation is about so much more than just following a recipe and ending up with something edible.  If I could somehow convey through words and pictures how intricately we are connected to the living food that nourishes us I will have achieved my goal. 

We’ve become so far removed from what we eat, that we simply don’t experience the pleasure of planting, growing, harvesting, cooking and feasting on all that the earth can produce.  Most importantly, all of these things are meant to happen in community.  Even though it’s usually just me and Hannah, I do love to share what I create with other people, and do it whenever I can.  This past weekend, I took full advantage of the broccoli I found at the Farmer’s Market.

Broccoli soup is really easy to make – I put all this together in less than 30 minutes, which includes chopping and grating.  Béchamel Sauce, or white sauce (Béchamel is so much more fun to say) is the building block for all things good and creamy.  You probably know by now that you should start with fresh, organic ingredients, but I thought I’d toss it out there just to remind you.  First you want to cut the broccoli into smaller pieces and cook them until they are tender crisp.

   Cooking Broccoli

Grated Cheese

It’s best to grate your cheese ahead of time

Bechamel Sauce

Gather and measure all your ingredients  

Béchamel Sauce

1/4 c butter

1/4 c flour

1 t salt

1/4 t pepper

2 c milk (it’s better with whole milk)

Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the flour, salt, and pepper and stir it in.   Julia Child always says to use white pepper and since I happened to have some, la de da, that’s what I used.  Add the milk and stir until combined.  I always stir in a figure 8 motion because that’s how I learned and it just looks cool when you’re standing over the stove.  It’s very relaxing and therapeutic.  Once it begins to boil, let it boil for one minute, then remove from heat.

White Pepper

Julia would be proud

Melting Butter

I couldn’t stir and document.  Imagine me adding the dry ingredients and then the milk.

Since I don’t like eating giant chunks of things in my soup, I run the broccoli through the food processor for a few pulses. 

Food Processor Broccoli

Add the broccoli and one cup of grated cheese (I used Kenny’s Farmhouse Smoked Gouda) and stir until creamy.  If you’re using frozen broccoli, you will want to let it heat up to a boil again.   

Broccoli and Cheese

There’s nothing better with soup than fresh bread, so I put some of that together as well.  This was a super easy, inexpensive recipe I found on Pinterest. 

I did some documenting so you could see how lovely it turned out.  It’s not as crusty as some French breads, but I have an idea for the next time I make it.  If it works, I will share it with you.  If not, then forget we had this conversation.

French Bread - Let it rise

Scored French Bread

French Bread

Voila!  A lovely meal for a chilly fall evening! 

Broccoli Soup Dinner

Veggie Hash

There are only a couple of weeks left for the Hip Donelson Farmer’s Market.  When I went there on Friday, I didn’t expect to see much because we’ve had a couple of frosts since I was there last week.  Instead, I was very pleasantly surprised to see broccoli, radishes, and spinach among the offerings.

A favorite fall/winter meal of mine is veggie hash.  Several years ago I had a veggie hash at Gaia Cafe in East Grand Rapids, MI.  Sadly, the restaurant is closed now, but I have used their basic premise to create this culinary delight. 

There are a couple of things that are key to making this dish – first, you need to cut up all the veggies ahead of time.  You might think you can do it in stages, but no, you can’t.  Your veggies will be burning in the pan while you’re chopping like a maniac.  Don’t ask how I know this.  Second, remember, low and slow.  Don’t crank up the heat and try to move things along, you need to take your time.  Lastly, you need to know something about the cooking time for the different veggies you’re planning to use.

Veggies for Hash

Today’s version had sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, green and purple peppers, onion, golden and regular beets, garlic, radishes, cabbage, and spinach.  I had a zucchini I was planning to use, but it was past it’s prime. 

The potatoes and carrots go first, followed by the rest of the veggies, with the spinach at the very end.  Turn off the heat, then add soy sauce – how much depends on how big your skillet is and how many veggies are in it.  You want to make sure it has a good coating since this is all the seasoning you will use, with the addition of a little ginger.  Fresh grated is best, but powdered works, too.  I added about a fourth of a teaspoon.  I topped it off with some Gouda from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese.  I confess, I did cheat a little and cooked the beets separately from the rest of the hash.  Normally I toss it all in together, but it makes the hash pink, and that’s not how I wanted the picture to look.  You can garnish with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and some sprouts if you have some on hand.

 Veggie Hash

It was absolutely delicious.  Even Hannah the carnivore was interested.  While she normally despises vegetables, she’s rather fond of sweet potatoes and squash, especially if there might be a little cheese on top.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.