Homemade Dark Chocolate

Here’s a simple and easy recipe to make your own vegan/organic chocolate at home, with little-to-no equipment!

My love for chocolate is probably first on my list of things to satisfy on a daily basis (terrible habit, I know). But I thought I’d nourish my cravings in a cheaper and healthier way by using ingredients straight out of my pantry (no extra costs) and by knowing that the ingredients going into the making of this chocolate are pure,  sugar-free and my cocoa essentials are even locally sourced from the Dominican Republic.

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I had no idea that chocolate could be made from simply mixing cocoa butter and cocoa powder. All it takes is to heat up the butter, whisk in the powder, and freeze it to achieve a solid consistency. Now, some recipes I read substitute the cocoa butter with coconut oil which is more affordable and easily found at any grocery store. But I chose to make my chocolate as chocolate-y as possible by jam packing everything cocoa I had. And doing half/half cocoa butter and coconut oil.

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The process took a little longer to evenly whisk the honey and the cocoa powder to ensure that the sweetness level was equal throughout and that the chocolate didn’t have a grainy texture. I would suggest using a sweetener in liquid form to facilitate the mixing process. Perhaps Drizzle Honey will be next on my list to use in my chocolate making?

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You’ll know that your chocolate mix is ready for pouring when it looks like this: not too liquid and not to viscous. Add more powder if it’s too runny or add more oil or sweetener if the mixture is too thick. Then give it a taste to see if it meets your expectations. The worst thing to have happen is to completely finish a batch of goodies and realize that it tastes awful . There’s no rush to pouring the chocolate so take your time and add whatever else you need to make it taste fantastic.

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Total time: 2-3 hours
Makes 20-25 small chocolates

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup cocoa butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup honey (can use any sweetener of choice)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Instructions:

  1. Melt the cocoa butter and coconut oil over low heat.
  2. Once the oils are fully melted, add the honey and vanilla extract and start whisking.
  3. Slowly add the cocoa powder (two tablespoons at a time) and continue whisking the mixture.
  4. Once all the cocoa powder is in the mix, sprinkle the sea salt and finish stirring.
  5. The consistency should be pourable but not too runny. Grab a small spoon and start pouring the mixture into your preferred molds. (You can find the ones I used on Amazon.)
  6. Place your filled molds in the freezer for at least an hour. You can check the solidity of your chocolates by feel.
  7. Keep them refrigerated so they don’t melt!

 

Cocoa Date Energy Bites

When you have a ton of ingredients that might soon reach their best-before dates, what better way to use them in some energy bites?

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This is one of my favourite recipes that I’ve ever created as all the sweetness comes directly from the dates, and the cocoa powder gives an extraordinary chocolate taste but the bitterness is not overpowering at all. This is also my first batch using my collagen powder from Neocell which is a top-rated collagen brand and that I personally love.

_MG_1569If you don’t know what hydrolyzed collagen is, it is produced from the collagen found in the skin, bones and connective tissues of animals in the meat industry. Collagen in our own bodies is the main structural protein that keeps our skin elastic, our nails and hair from breaking, and our bones, tendons and ligaments strong. Supplemental collagen absorption is said to boost and maintain the health of all of these tissues, especially as we age and our bodies start to decrease the production of collagen. Hydrolyzed collagen also serves as a protein source.

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Total time: 15-30 minutes
Makes 20-25 bites

Ingredients:

  • 23-¾ cup homemade date purée
  • 13 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup unsweetened dried coconut
  • ¼ cup hemp seeds
  • ¼ cup milled flaxseed
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • 2 scoops Neocell Super collagen
  • 3 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tbsp maca powder

Instructions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a big bowl with a spoon or fork.
  2. Continue mixing with your hands to ensure consistency is achieved and then start rolling your bite-sized balls!

Notes:

  1. If the consistency is too liquid, add more flaxseed and coconut. If the consistency is too dry, add more almond butter or date purée depending on preference.
  2. Note that collagen isn’t vegan as it is an animal by-product. To maintain a plant-based recipe, forego the collagen.

Butternut Squash Soup

T’is the season for soup!

It’s been a cold start to the year, especially if you live in or near Calgary, where the temperature at the end of December reached past -30°C. So on the days that you feel like cozying up at home and having some hot, homemade soup, here is the #1 recipe that I recommend you try.

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Butternut squash soup is hands down my favourite puréed soup, as it has the perfect combination of sweet and savoury, and the creamy, nutty essence of the fruit itself. Little did I know, my friend Gwen (check out her blog here!) has been making her own recipe for a while now, and I jumped on the first opportunity to have a duo soup making day (i.e. where Gwen cooks and I eat).

 

Unfortunately, butternut squash harvesting days are over this time of year, so we only found one at the grocery store and had to use acorn squash to satisfy our squash quota. We do not recommend using acorn squash unless you are an expert squash peeler. Seriously, those things are hard to cut! (I watched as Gwen struggled.) Regardless, it still tasted AH-MA-ZINGGGG!

 


Total time: 1-1.5 hours
Makes 10-12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 butternut squashes (or 1 butternut, 1 acorn)
  • 2 small russet potatoes
  • 2 celery stocks (including leaves)
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 1 apple (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp of coconut oil (or olive oil)
  • 1.5 tbsp of butter for flavour (substitute with coconut oil)
  • 1/2 cup of pecans: chopped and roasted
  • 2 slices of ginger
  • 1 tbsp of parsley flakes (or fresh parsley)
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp of Mrs. Dash: Extra Spicy
  • 1/2 tsp of chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp of saffron (optional)
  • pinch of chili powder
  • pinch of dill
  • about 1L of organic chicken broth (or veggie broth)
  • water
  • 1 bouillon cube, no MSG

Equipment You’ll Need:

  • large, deep frying pan with cover
  • small frying pan
  • deep pot with cover
  • hand blender
  • measuring devices (if needed)

Instructions:

  1. Peel and chop the squash, fruit and vegetables into suitable cubes (no more than 1 cubic inch).
  2. Set your stove to medium-high for your large frying pan, add your cooking oil of choice, then place your chopped squash into the pan. After 2 minutes add the potatoes and sliced onion. Stir, add oil as needed, and cover.
  3. Wait about 5 minutes before adding the carrots, followed by another few minutes before adding the apple (if desired) and celery. Stir and cover.
  4. On the side, chop your pecans and roast them on the small frying pan. When they are roasted to preference, add them to the main pan.
  5. Keep stirring the main pan and then add butter or a vegan substitute for flavour.
  6. Add the ginger, nutmeg, Mrs. Dash, salt, and pepper to the pan. Stir and cover.
  7. When all appears cooked, transfer the ingredients from the pan to a deep pot and set the stove to medium-low heat.
  8. Add the remaining spices and pour the chicken or vegetable broth into the pot until the solids are fully submerged. Pour more broth as needed, top the pot up with water and add the bouillon cube.
  9. Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes in the pot, then check the density of the vegetables to see if they are ready to be blended.
  10. Grab your hand blender and start blending! Remember to keep the blender near the bottom of the pot as to not make a mess and to ensure all is blended to the same consistency.
  11. Add salt, pepper and your favourite spices to taste then blend again for good measure.
  12. Serve with a splash of cream and soy sauce and your best decorative toppings, and voilà!

Butternut squash soup à la Gwen is served!

Photos were taken by none other than Miss Gwen Roebuck.

Maca-Coco Chia Energy Bites

It doesn’t get easier than this: a snack that packs in all things healthy and delicious, and that literally takes 20 minutes to make. No baking needed! All you need is the right set of ingredients perfect for you. But if you don’t know where to start, here’s a recipe that combines all my favourite pantry goods and that will not disappoint your fellow taste testers!

Although I’ve made my own twist to this recipe, the original recipe belongs to Reclaiming Yesterday’s blog which I stumbled upon when looking for ways to properly portion the ingredients I had on hand. If you would like to see the original recipe, please click here! Alyson – author of Reclaiming Yesterday – also sweetly describes the benefits of maca powder, a core ingredient to these little bites, which include increasing energy, and improving hormone balance and overall good health. The rest of the added ingredients are mostly healthy fats rich in antioxidants, fiber, and magnesium.

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These are the ultimate alternative to your daily unhealthy snacks, if you have terrible snacking habits like I do. Especially during this time of the year when the chocolate goodies and gingerbread cookies make their way into your kitchen.

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Total time: 15-30 minutes
Makes 15-20 bites

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup quick oats
  • ¼ cup dried coconut
  • ¼ cup (organic) almond butter
  • ¼ cup (organic) peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbsp maca powder
  • 1 tbsp honey (or maple syrup, molasses or agave nectar for the vegan friends!)
  • 1 tbsp melted coconut oil (optional)
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • splash of salt (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a big bowl with a spoon or fork.
  2. Continue mixing with your hands to ensure consistency is achieved and then start forming your bite-sized balls!

Notes:

  1. If you want to add a bit of a caffeine kick, roll your bites in some espresso powder, or green tea matcha powder if that’s your jam.
  2. Any ingredients can be added if you don’t have the ones I used in your kitchen, or if you just don’t like them (if it’s the latter, we can’t be friends). But try to aim for one part nut butter and liquid ingredients, two parts solid ingredients. This will guarantee that they stick well together and not crumble.

Bon appétit!

Shave, Sugar, Wax

I highly doubt that self-done hair removal qualifies as anybody’s top pastime, unless you’re one of those weirdos who finds solace in digging at the odd ingrown hairs (Uh what?! I don’t do that…). But if you’ve reached a point where you’re looking for alternatives to your shaving or waxing rituals, then you’ve come to the right place. Here I’ll be diving into my experiences with shaving, waxing, and sugaring and providing you with my own hair removal routine, which you can either try or tweak to your liking.

Disclaimer: Please understand that my experiences are my own and might not be the same for you. I am in no way an expert in sugaring or waxing but have done my research to have made an informed decision on which hair removal method is better suited for me. Take the time to read the resources that are out there if you are debating what’s best for you!

What Is Sugaring?

Sugaring or sugar waxing is a form of epilation (i.e. hair removal by the roots) that was discovered to be used nearly 4,000 years ago. It might seem like a new craze if you haven’t heard about it, but it’s really an ancient technique.

What Makes It Different From Waxing?

From what I’ve seen, sugar and wax are quite similar in texture and how they’re applied. (I have only ever used hard wax and Veet Easy-to-Use wax strips; the latter is one I highly recommend NOT using – they practically make waxing 10 times more painful and 10 times less effective.) In my experience, both sugaring and hard wax are fairly equal in effectiveness as it mostly depends on the product you use and the skills of your wax/sugar technician. And in terms of pain, well no matter what, when you pull hundreds of hairs at the root out of your skin, it’s going to be painful. So let me explain why I chose sugar over wax.

The Wax Experience

When I finally got tired of razor bumps and wax strips, I made my way to an affordable and reputable wax salon: Frilly Lilly. I loved it there and my first professional underarm and Brazilian experiences were as positive as they can get. A great feature that Frilly Lilly has is that they use different types of wax for different hair thicknesses – they will typically use three waxes: one to get the coarser hairs, another to get the thinner hairs, and a third “cleanup” wax to get the stubborn little hairs. Another bonus at Frilly Lilly is you get 15% off with a CJSW Friends Card (students get this for free!). But after going back to school – and working practically zero hours – I stopped going in an effort to save money.

_MG_1084.jpgFor a couple of months I tried hard wax on myself with the Gigi Brazilian wax kit. Although not the fault of the product, this was the worst Brazilian hair removal experience of my life and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Seriously ladies (and guys), if you’re thinking of performing at-home waxing on yourself, please familiarize yourself with the heat needed, application technique, and time to wait before pulling off the wax. If you’re not an expert in hard wax usage, DON’T PUT IT ON YOUR NETHER REGION! Get acquainted with it by using it on much less sensitive areas, read instructions, and watch the DIY videos provided to you.

I was able to continue waxing my underarms with my Gigi kit but I halted the Brazilian routine completely and went back to shaving (and sometimes bikini waxing). But I couldn’t hold out for long. It just wasn’t the same anymore! So I decided to seek out a professional again.

My friend Cindy introduced me to the concept of sugaring and after watching some not-so-PG how-to videos and reading up on the pro’s and con’s, I found that it was a supposed less painful alternative to wax that was both less traumatizing to your skin and more preventative of ingrown hairs. With this knowledge, I looked into finding the best sugaring salon for me.

The Sugar Experience

_MG_1091.jpgMy BFF Gwen and I decided to have our first professional sugaring experience together. After some profound searching, I found the perfect spot: GimmeSomeSugar on Elbow and Southland Drive! The salon has incredible customer service, fairly affordable price points, and awesome technicians. The first sugaring session was pretty painful, not going to lie. But see, when you revert back to shaving, you allow your hairs to strengthen and thicken their roots; so when you finally pull the little guys out again, the effect it has on your skin and nerves is much more traumatizing than if you were to periodically remove them according to your hair growth cycle. But I kept going and the benefits of sugar vs. wax were undeniable:

  • There is no heat applied to your skin, unlike wax which requires to be heated and can be borderline painful for those with sensitive skin.
  • Sugar wax is pulled in the direction of hair growth, making it potentially less painful than wax which pulls in the opposite direction.
  • Sugar wax is completely natural and can be made from three simple ingredients: sugar, water, and lemon juice.
  • Sugar wax is water soluble and can be easily wiped away, whereas wax can leave residue on your skin and would need to be pulled off somehow even if you chicken out last minute.

Although I’ve had only positive experiences with both sugar and hard wax at professional salons, I made an active decision to continue with sugaring because of its natural character and the lack of potential dangers that come with this technique. If you’ve had different experiences or have chosen differently, I’d love to hear from you!

The Routine

So I go to GimmeSomeSugar for my monthly Brazilians, but I continue my underarm waxing at home with the Gigi hard wax, which I’ve gotten much better at using since my Brazilian fiascos. The reasons why I still use it are because a) it’s really convenient and quick to perform at home whenever I have the time; b) it’s still a great kit with the pre-epilation oil and post-wax cooling gel; and c) I don’t like to waste. Once I’m done with the wax, I’m moving to sugaring which I’ll either get my amazing sugar technician to do for me, or I’ll try my hand in another DIY!

What About Legs?

Ah yes, my legs. Unlike my bikini area and underarms, my legs have very thin hair and I don’t consider them to be a priority for waxing or sugaring. So I invest a minimal amount in razors and shave them on a weekly basis. It’s just less costly to do it this way. BUT while we’re on the topic of shaving, I don’t use shaving cream. In fact, a couple years back, Gwen introduced me to the idea of using olive oil instead! Yes, straight up olive oil. It’s the best thing to scrape off those dead skin cells, it creates a longer lasting shave, and it leaves your skin smoother than a baby’s bottom. The only downside to this alternative is the potential need to clean your razor, which you can do by using an old toothbrush.

I Don’t Care About Hair Removal

Shaving, sugaring, waxing, or even laser hair removal (which I have never yet tried) aren’t for everyone, and hair removal is quite definitely a beauty standard formed by society. Some of you might not consider it to be a priority and/or very much enjoy the sight and feeling of your own body hair. You should be 100% confident with that and shouldn’t feel inclined to change it just because society says so! I, however, find that my smooth, hairless skin amplifies my own sense of beauty and confidence, which is why I make it part of my lifestyle. All in all, choose what best fits you and your own standard for beauty!

Disclaimer: This post is not at all sponsored.

Madison’s 1212

Do you ever find yourself studying, reading, or writing (your blog perhaps) in a coffee shop, but you start to crave a freshly cooked meal over pastries and packaged food? A “coffee x cowork” restaurant has made its way to the centre of Inglewood, bringing Calgarians a comfortable space to dine, work, and enjoy craft drinks and dishes. This new, chic restaurant and workspace is called Madison’s 12|12 and is named after its location on 1212 9th Avenue SE.

I found out about Madison’s 1212 through Jason after he had an entrepreneurial networking event at the restaurant and discovered that a friend of his was one of the owners (i.e. Jared Salekin). Recently, Jason and I have been trying to limit our eating out to save on expenses – I think every one of you can relate to that – so it wasn’t until Jared mentioned to Jason that they were having a promotion that we were finally encouraged to see what this place was like.

What was their promotion, you ask? A brand new breakfast menu with $1.50 beermosas and mimosas during brunch (10 am to 2 pm) on Saturdays and Sundays! Not bad, right? And it’s still going on, guys, so make sure you check it out before it ends this weekend (November 26th)!

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If this is your first time hearing of Madison’s 1212, they’re really big on nachos (#nachos4life!). They have a unique and flavourful variety of nachos on their breakfast and lunch menus and some of their other dishes come on a bed of yummy tortilla chips, including their Huevos Rancheros which was #delish. I thought they did a great job with their breakfast options, especially since they only just started serving these items on the menu, but they really nailed it with their nachos.

_MG_0809It was a tough choice between their Korean, Poke, and Mac & Cheese nachos, but man, the Korean pick did not disappoint. Who knew Bulgogi beef and kimchi on dry corn chips would be so out of this world? I can’t wait to go back and try the others as well as their Cinnamon Berry nachos for breakfast.

Thanks to a collab with Talk Vegan to Me Clothing, Madison’s 1212 introduced some trendy vegan options on their menu as well. So for those of you who don’t eat meat or dairy, do not fret! The Wilted Kale – Roasted Yam nachos as well as the Green Smoothie are made specially for you!

Madison’s 1212 isn’t just about craft drinks, comfy workspace, and innovative nachos. Their aim is to build community as well as build off community inspiration. I’m very excited about this place and where it goes, and I hope all you Calgarians or Calgary visitors get the chance be a part of it somehow!

Kombucha: True Büch

I first came across Kombucha this summer at the Raw Eatery & Market in Kensington. Having never heard of Kombucha, Megan (one of the owners at Raw) informed me and my friend that it was a fermented black or green tea drink that promotes certain health benefits such as gut health. Thanks to my Asian roots, I’ve known many teas to be quite beneficial for your health, but fermented tea? Now that was interesting. Raw had a variety of flavours on tap that sounded much too amazing for me to pass on, so I tried my very first Kombucha drink and it tasted delicious – I wish I could tell you which flavour it was!

*Kombucha fact: Kombucha is not a recent healthy food concept; in fact, it originated in Northeastern Asia over 2,000 years ago. (I guess I was just late in finding this out.)

T_MG_0717.jpghe brand of Kombucha that I tried at Raw was a local producer: True Büch. I wanted to try more of their flavours so I proceeded to look them up and found out that they’re local! The fact that this husband-and-wife team brew their Kombucha locally made me love the product even more. I then found that a ton of local stores, shops, and yoga studios were selling their bottled drinks – in particular LIV, my now yoga studio. So when I had the chance, I made a Kombucha run and bought all three flavours that LIV had in store: the ginger (a classic), the blueberry rooibos (which is so far my fave), and the vanilla chai (Jason’s fave).

These natural, carbonated and sweet drinks are a great alternative to a hot tea drink when you want something more refreshing. On top of that, they are complete with enzymes and probiotics to boost your health and immune system. If you would like to try True Büch’s amazing Kombucha flavours, check out their many locations here! You won’t be disappointed.

In-text Photo Credit: Jason Meng Visuals.

Disclaimer: This post is not at all sponsored.