Cherry Coconut Chocolate Balls

20160211_132632_resized_1
Just shy of Eight months old, Everly has already learned to crawl and pull up! It’s so amazing to watch him grown like a little sunflower and learn so many things. It also feels like I’m caught in a whirlwind! Is soon as I get used to one thing ( or even before I get used to it!) we are on to the next. People always seem to think that the pregnant mom should be eating for two but I tell you what- I am MUCH more hungry as a breastfeeding mama, chasing around a little one, than I ever was with my squished stomach during pregnancy. Of course now getting good nourishing food into by belly can be a challenge. I know all new parents can relate.
But what’s a health conscious hungry lady to do when that post dinner sweet tooth kicks in with a vengeance? I have a secret weapon in my arsenal for just that scenario. Decadent but nutritious chocolate Balls! The great things about these besides the fact that you can whip them together in 5 minutes and they are delicious is that they are SUPER VERSATILE. You can change out virtually any of the ingredients for what you have on hand and make them as decadent or nutrient dense as you wish. THINK: Toggling the tipping point between a truffle and a granola bar. This recipe falls somewhere in the middle. It really satisfies the sweet craving but also could easily work as a mid afternoon pick me or post work out out snack!

20160211_132716_resized_1

CHERRY COCONUT CHOCOLATE BALLS
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup dried tart cherries
1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup chia seeds
2 Tbs natural cocoa powder
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 Tbs dark chocolate chips or bar

20160211_125954_resized

Start by grinding up the bigger things first. I ground up the almonds and cherries first then added in the chocolate chunks, cocoa powder, chia seed and shredded coconut. After that is all ground up I added in the coconut oil and maple syrup and ground until it started to clump together in the food processor. The clumping together is good clue that your ratios are going to work and it will easily roll into balls.
20160211_130521_resized

For an extra element of fun I like to roll the balls in cocoa or another ground dry ingredient. For this batch I tried cocoa, crushed almonds and shredded coconut and they all looked pretty. You don’t have to do this! On a very warm day you may choose to store the balls in the fridge. This also helps to set them up but they should hold together at room temperature.

20160211_130905_resized

Make them Your Own
The basic idea is that you grind up all the dry ingredients and add in the sticky wet ones to bind it all together and then form it into little bite sized balls of YUM. If you make substitutions you might need to adjust the ratios just a touch to get all to stick together and form a ball. Its really as easy as that! This is really where you can choose how decadent or health minded you want to steer your treat. They are also wonderfully easy to spice up!

Instead of Shredded coconut and/or almonds Try:
Oats
Any kind of nut
Protein Powder

Instead of Chia Seeds Try:
Flax
Hemp
Sesame
Poppy
(You could also omit these)

Instead of dried cherries Try:
Dates
Dried Fruit of any kind

Instead of Maple Syrup Try:
Honey
Agave Syrup
Molasses

Instead of Coconut Oil Try:
Peanut butter
Almond Butter
Butter- Straight up decadent

You could also choose to omit the chocolate chunks, add more, or use milk or white chocolate.

Other add ins:
Crumbled cookies
Cinnamon
Cardamom
Nutmeg
Cayenne
Vanilla Extract
20160211_130804_resized

ginger
The groundhog did not see it’s shadow and has forecast an early spring, but we’re no fools. After this past weekend, we know there is still ample time for winter to continue to wallop us with more mounds of snow and even colder arctic freezes. I am no fan of the cold but I am a fan of our New England winters. I understand we must have cold temps.to have snow and I love the beauty and freshness of a new-fallen blanketing of white. I do have a secret spice weapon though that helps me battle the cold that is inevitable and without which I may just stay huddled in a ball in front of the fireplace. Zesty, zingy and warming, ginger is a righteous rhizome and prevalent in our home throughout the winter.

Ginger, zingiber officinale, is a flowering plant that is known best for its rhizome or root stalk, ginger root. Whether you use it fresh, candied, pickled or powdered ginger offers incredible flavor and has great warming properties. It can add a touch of heat to sweets as it’s most commonly used in our culture however it is versatile enough to lend it’s pungent flavor to savory dishes, drinks and candies. Anyone who has experienced bouts of nausea may well know that ginger can help. Simply made into a tea, a few slices of the root boiled in water can bring quick relief to settle the tummy. There are so many ways to use ginger in all its forms but one of our favorites is the winter warming tonic, Fireside Tonic.

We usually make a large batch of Fireside Tonic in the fall to carry us through the cold and flu season. However it is helpful at any time of the season. Fireside Tonic, a traditional recipe first introduced by Rosemary Gladstar, author and herbalist, is a spice and veggie infusion that benefits the immune and circulatory system. It does indeed fire you up, physically and mentally! Over the years, many variations have emerged. Ginger is an integral part of this recipe and I tend to be a little generous with it. By combining ginger and fellow potent spices in apple cider vinegar a daily tonic can be made that will warm you from within and help combat the pesky germs that can slow us down throughout the winter.
fireside
Fireside Tonic
based on original recipe by Rosemary Gladstar)
*Chop: Equal parts fresh horseradish root, fresh garlic and onion and half that amount of fresh ginger root. To that add and 1/2 -1 fresh cayenne pepper or 1 tsp cayenne powder. Place all of the above in a glass quart jar and cover with apple cider vinegar (preferably Braggs, with the mother) allowing enough vinegar to cover the herbs about 1-2 inches. Allow this tonic to steep for at least 2 weeks or up to 3 months in a dark, cool environment. You do not refrigerate. The flavor will change as you go. When you are ready, strain the liquid from the jar and combine with equal parts honey or to taste. One tbsp of the tonic can be taken as a shot or mixed with water and sipped for a daily tonic. It can also be diluted and used in soups or stir-fries or as a salad dressing. The flavor will be hot, spicy and sweet but most importantly it is providing your body with a healthy dose of cold and flu fighting properties so we can enjoy all what winter has to offer.

Written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript

Nothing to Eat In the House?

_DSF4820
When I was a young girl, I recall going to the fridge in search of food and peering into it for long stretches of time and then desperately moving to the cupboards one by one in search of something to eat, only to come up empty handed.

“We have nothing to eat in this whole house,” I’d mutter and often just grab a sugar cube and be on my way. This is not a story about a girl growing up with no food. It is a story of a girl looking for an easy food fix and too lazy to put together some ingredients to make her own — or maybe she was just not ever taught how. And then there was my mother, gifted as she was with that magic of meal manifestation. She would go to that very same fridge and into those very same cupboards (that I had previously declared as completely empty!) and pull out all of the ingredients to prepare a whole meal for the whole family (all six of us) again and again and again. It was magic!

As a mother of three hungry, growing kiddos, I hear those same words in varying voices and tones echoing through my days. “When is someone going shopping, I’m hungry and we have no food!” and “There is nothing to eat in this whole house!” Sound familiar? Funny, as I look into that same fridge and into those same cupboards I see the makings of hummus, pesto pasta, bananas, oats and peanut butter or pancakes with blueberries or granola, grapes and yogurt.

We have an abundance of food. It’s sometimes embarrassing how much food wealth we have stored in that cubicle in the corner of the kitchen. However, I remind my older, wiser self of my younger and, ahem, lazier or uneducated self. Then I take the time to offer up suggestions of what can be combined to make a tasty and healthy snack. And trust me when I tell you that I am still plagued with this refrigerator desolation issue from time to time. I just catch myself a lot faster these days and have a plenitude of tools to throw at it.

My mother still has the knack for pulling together some raw ingredients into something amazing and delicious and I am still in awe of her cooking magic. She has been making her own mustard for quite some time with a recipe handed over by Florence, one of my longtime and loyal customers at the spice shop, who makes this delicious mustard for her family and friends every year. Last week my mother invited Autumn and me over to learn how to make it. I watched the process and happily taste-tested. It really is so simple and cooking together with family is time well spent. It’s so easy to create your own variations. Do you like a crunchy texture? Add some whole mustard seeds for that burst of flavor. Are you a heat fiend? Add cayenne or habanero. Or add a little white wine and attempt a Dijon style spread.

So grab a few pretzels and your favorite young’un and make your own batch of mustard together. Remember, you are teaching healthy food preparation skills that will last a lifetime. Thank you, Florence, for your willingness to share your recipe.

Florence’s Homemade

Sweet & Savory Mustard

1¼ firmly packed brown sugar

1 cup of apple cider vinegar

2 eggs

1 cup dry mustard flour

1/8 teaspoon ground clove

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon sea salt

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thick, approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Pour into jars, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator.

Written by By Melissa Spencer
For the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Friday, June 12, 2015
(Published in print: Tuesday, June 16, 2015)

Flowers and seeds of wild fennel

I admit that the licorice like flavor of Fennel seed is one that not everyone is as crazy about as I am. I once happily offered a handful of toasted fennel seed to my brother who after popping them in his mouth, wretched, sent me an accusing glance, and exclaimed “yuck, it tastes like licorice!”. Sorry, Nate, I managed to forget that is a bad thing for some people. So maybe eating them by the handful is a bit much for some. Not for me, I have a serious spice crush on fennel! To me, tomato sauce BEGS for a bit of that sweet, aromatic flavor.

Fennel seed is the fruit of Foeniculum vulgare, a perennial herb in the parsley family. The bulb of the plant, known simply as fennel, has a similar but milder flavor and is wonderfully crunchy much like celery. I love it roasted!

Aside from the flavor I love fennel for its medicinal properties. It is the ultimate digestive aid.
Fennel contains the volatile oil anethole which stimulates digestive juices, reduces inflammation of the stomach and intestines and helps nutrients to absorb. It also contains aspartic acid, which helps relieve gas.

Fennel is a galactagogue, which means it helps to promote lactation and increase milk supply. The stomach calming properties of fennel can transfer to the milk and help to calm the belly of a colicky infant.

spice hearts

Another interesting property of fennel that is a bit more fun is that due to high levels of phytoestrogens it is considered to be a female aphrodisiac. Adding a little Fennel seed (or cooking with the bulb- or both!) to your valentines day dinner just might boost your mood for love. At the very least it will be delicious and you won’t need to pop an antacid.

Turmeric

I was out Wednesday morning helping with recess duty at my kids school. Wednesday was cold and windy. I noticed on my phone that a warning had popped up predicting gale force winds for the day. I mentally braced myself for the cold. I made my tea, dressed in layers and headed for my charge. At school, the kids could choose to be inside if they wanted but I was shocked at how many chose to be outdoors, running on ice, playing in snow and frolicking about as kids do. We spent a good twenty minutes making massive emojies in the clean snow for fun. Boy, we are raising a hearty type of kid here in these parts who won’t let a little or even a lot of cold stop them from their fun! I’ll admit I felt good too. I am so often stuck indoors, at a desk, for unnatural amounts of time that I dare say it’s made me soft. Being out with the kids and the cold for an hour really got my circulation going.

smileyface

I had made myself some turmeric tea to take along and nurse me through the cold morning. Turmeric is one of my favorite spices. Do I say that about all of them? Well, they all have their place and use, for sure. Turmeric however, is a superstar spice that not only lends amazing color and flavor to our foods but also offers major benefits for our body and brain.

Fresh turmeric

Turmeric, Curcuma longa, is a perennial plant that is harvested for its root. It contains large amounts of curcumin which is an active compound that offers anti-inflammatory and strong anti-oxidant properties. That means it is a great plant source to add into your diet. A little tip for optimizing turmeric absorption within the body is to add a touch of pepper to it. Pepper contains an alkaloid called Piperine, which makes the curcumin more absorbable within the body. So how do you add more of this superspice to your diet? Here are a few of my favorite ways:

*Stir Fry:add extra turmeric, pepper and curry blend to coconut milk and your vegetables and/or poultry dish for a delicious and nutritious meal.
*Turmeric Golden Tea: Simmer turmeric with milk and honey to make an earthy and comforting beverage. I always add a touch of pepper and ginger to my tea (because I adore ginger too).
*Eggs: add a touch into your scrambled eggs, frittata, or tofu scramble.
*Rice: Toss into the water while cooking. The color and mild warming flavor add an easy and subtle hue and flavor to the rice.
*Soups: Toss some turmeric into your soup base. It pairs well with root veggies and thrown into a chicken soup is a natural use as it offers a beautiful golden hue
*Sauteed greens like kale or chard are delicious with some olive oil, turmeric, mustard, garlic and sea salt.
Experiment and spice up life in 2016!

Written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Trancript

Curry

Heart made of Chili Pepper. Isolated on a white. 3D High-quality rendering

“I do not like Curry, it’s too spicy!”. This statement is one I have heard many times. Right off the bat I would like to state that curry is not necessarily spicy in the HOT sense of the word. The definition of both “SPICY” and “CURRY” really leaves things open to a lot of confusion. Because I really love many curries and I don’t wish anyone else to miss out on such a nutritious, diverse and delectable type of food I will try my very best to bring some clarity to the issue.

SPICY: Most of the time when people ask if something is spicy they are referring to the hot burning sensation that scientist often describe as “pungent” to avoid the confusion with something that simply has a lot of flavor. The presence of irritant compounds like capsaicin in chilies and piperine in black pepper are responsible for this burning feeling.

CURRY: When most people think of curry they think of curry powder, the ubiquitous yellow spice blend sold in the U.S. We carry a yellow curry powder in our shop. It is a blend of Coriander, Turmeric, Fenugreek, Chilies, Black Mustard, Fennel, Garlic, Cumin, Cloves and Salt. It’s got just a touch of heat from the small amount of Chilies present but nothing overwhelming. Indeed many curries are prepared with a yellow powder such as this but there are endless combinations and ratios of spices that could go into a curry powder and into a curry.

Spices Curry, Saffron, Turmeric

Curry as a dish is actually a very broad term to describe meats, vegetables and legumes prepared with spices. The types of dish vary tremendously throughout India and southeast Asia. Wether or not chilies or other hot spices are added depends entirely on the dish, the region and the person preparing it. Spices commonly included in the Indian subcontinent include cumin, coriander and turmeric.

So in essence: Yes a curry powder or a curry dish may be spicy- in the hot sense of the word but it certainly doesn’t have to be! It does, however have to contain spices….or else it wouldn’t, by definition, be a curry.

Essential Oils to Beat the Winter Blues

Winter forest
Well we sure did get spoiled by that Christmas heat wave but winter is surely here! The unseasonable warmth was so lovely but it almost felt eerie. I saw a woman in a tank top out and about on Christmas day. With all the extra time and anticipation of the inevitable you would think we would be well prepared for the blustery white stuff but the snow tires haven’t even made it on to our cars yet!

Winter is tough. I try my very best to keep a positive mindset. I love the beauty, the stillness, the hibernation, the almost cleansing quality to a blanket of fresh snow…BUT it still gets to me sometime: The cold, the long grey days, the early nights not to mention the endless shoveling.

The dreaded WINTER BLUES. You may feel cold, fatigued, irritable, unfocused and just generally down.

One of the of the easiest and most effective ways to help combat the winter blues is aromatherapy. Aside from the cold and lack of sunlight one of the biggest contributors to the general sense of malaise in the wintertime is the stale one note air. Our sniffers are desperate for some of the variety and freshness that the other seasons offer.

One great thing about aromatherapy is that you can really take a targeted approach.

Depressed? Try a whiff of an uplifting scent. Citrus oils such as lemon, grapefruit, bergamot and lime are very effective mood boosters as well as fresh herbal and floral scents such as basil, sage, geranium, jasmine, lavender, patchouli, rose, or ylang ylang.

Fatigued or unfocused? Minty and freshly herbaceous scents like peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree, rosemary and basil are all great for waking you up and helping promote clarity. I actually spritzed a little peppermint around the room when writing this!

Chilled to the bone? Spicy oils like cinnamon, clove, allspice and ginger are all helpful for creating a sensation
of warmth. You could add them to a stovetop simmer or diffuser and allow the warming scents to infuse your home. Drinking a tea or cooking with these warming spices (not the oils!) can also heat you up from within.

Many of these combine well together. Citrus oils and spicy oils blend nicely as well as minty and herbaceous scents and floral and herbaceous or floral and citrus. Really it could go any which way depending on your scent preferences.

All that you need to do to reap the benefits of Aromatherapy is to smell the oil. You could literally sniff it right out of the bottle, but you could also add it to a cotton ball, handkerchief or other carrier. Other ways to utilize the scent include: adding a few drops to a spritzer bottle to make a room spray or body spray, adding a few drops to a carrier oil such as olive, sweet almond, jojoba or any other neutrally scented oil to create a massage oil or a perfume, or adding a few drops to a warm bath.

Top 3 Spices for Health in the New Year.

Is 2015 really coming to a close already? Wowie what a year! We got to welcome our sweet baby boy into our family this summer so the natural progression of pure magic and total insanity has filled our home since! With Christmas just passed Everly and I are working on our second cold of the season (and that’s with the unseasonably warm weather-which does look like it’s coming to a close). Did you know that the colds aren’t actually spread by cold weather? It’s actually the congregation of people in tight quarters that aids the spread of germs in the cold season. Holiday gatherings seem to be ideal for sharing the love and germ! With the dawn of the literally-everything-in-reach-is-going-in-the-mouth-phase I’m pretty much resigned to a near constant stream of little illnesses for the next 6 months.

Little one or not what can you do to stay healthy? SPICE UP LIFE. No seriously! Many spices have properties that can boost your overall health and immunity which can keep you from getting sick in the first place. Some spices do have anti-inflammatory properties which can decrease the duration and severity of your sickness.

As with all healthy whole foods every spice has something to bring to the table in regards to your health but some are really superstars. I’m going to dive right in and talk about our TOP 3 SPICES for combating illness and overall health.

Turmeric
The golden spice!
No medicine cabinet/spice rack is complete without this spice. Turmeric is the dried root of an evergreen plant in the ginger family. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin boasts a wide range of properties that are beneficial for health.
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin are unrivaled. These properties help minimize cellular damage caused by the natural process of aging, illness, injury and exposure to toxins. It can also help relieve pain.
Studies are revealing how therapeutic quantities of curcumin in a supplement can be used to treat a wide range of illnesses including cancer. You don’t need to take an expensive supplement to reap the benefits of Turmeric into your diet. As little as a teaspoon a day can boost overall heath! It’s very easy to incorporate more Turmeric into your diet as the taste and aroma are rather mild and work well with a range of tastes. Try turmeric in curries, on meat, vegetables, eggs, soups, stews and grains. It is also often consumed as “golden milk” or Turmeric. To boost the absorbency of curcumin in the body, consume it with a touch of black pepper.

Cinnamon
The ubiquitous and lovable queen of the spice rack! Cinnamon is so commonly used that you would be hard pressed to avoid it and why would you? The active ingredient, cinnamaldehyde, is known to have a wide range of beneficial properties. The most notable is it’s ability to help regulate blood sugar. It has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties as well. Any kind of cinnamon can be safely consumed in normal culinary amounts. If you are planning on eating large amounts of cinnamon or taking a supplement it’s best to stick with Ceylon cinnamon because it has a much lower amount of coumarin. High doses of coumarin has been linked to problems with the liver. For more information about the different types of cinnamon check out our blog post The Skinny on the Cinny.
Incorporating more cinnamon into your diet should be a breeze. Cinnamon is excellent in baked goods, on fruits, with chocolate, coffee and tea as well as in savory dishes like curries, meat and stews.

Thyme
Tea time for Thyme tea! Sorry I couldn’t resist a play on words. This little herbaceous shrub has a lot more to offer than puns. Thanks to one of its many active compounds thymol Thyme can boast powerful antiseptic, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. In fact, Thyme tea is an effective and soothing way to combat bronchial irritation from cough and cold. Properly diluted Thyme essential oil, teas and tinctures has also been shown to be extremely effective for treating skin infections and acne. Thyme plays well with other herbs and is easy to incorporate in to cooking. It is excellent on poultry, fish and meats as well as eggs and almost any vegetable and legumes.

Clove

orangepomanders
A friend of mine called the shop in a panic the other day looking for some Clove Bud oil. Her daughter was having a horrible toothache and was in a lot of pain. She stopped on over and later mentioned it was what helped get them through until they saw the dentist. It’s no surprise since Clove contains large amounts of eugenol, a volatile oil with antiseptic and anesthetic properties. It got me to thinking about Clove and it’s varied uses and applications. It may very well be one of the few spices that can hold it’s own in medical and culinary applications as well as decorative and cosmetic uses. In some cultures it is employed recreationally in the form of kretek, the clove infused cigarette common in Indonesia. Folklore has it that a Han dynasty ruler from the 3rd Century BC insisted that anyone addressing him chew cloves to sweeten their breath.

A clove bud is the unripened flower of the clove tree, Syzygium aromaticum. The name Clove is derived from the Latin, clavus, meaning nail, due to the nail-shape of the dried bud. And isn’t it appropriate that we nail it into hams for dinner or orange pomander balls to decorate and fragrance our homes. Cloves ground sneak into our pumpkin pies and also grace our cuppa chai. We use it in it’s whole form in mulled cider and wine and at our home we have a constant brew of simmering spices including clove going on the wood stove lending their warming and humidifying aroma. It’s a welcoming scent. Maybe you have some clove tucked in your pantry that can be pulled out and put to use. Below is a simple fragrant simmering blend for stove top or wood stove.

mulled cider

Stove top Simmer

Combine whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, whole allspice and star anise in any amounts you have with a few cups of water. Toss in your orange or clementine peels as well. Simmer on stove top or wood stove and just keep re-topping as water runs low. May the warming fragrance of clove sweeten your hearth, your home and your health and if need be, your breath.

This article was written for my column, The Spice Cupboard, in the Monadnock Ledger Transcript. http://www.ledgertranscript.com/

The Scent of Gratitude

Apple, Cinnamon, Orange and Star Anise

Apple, Cinnamon, Orange and Star Anise

If the common saying is true that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then in that same vein I’d add “a scent is worth a thousand memories/feelings.” Our sense of smell is such an underrated sense and yet so powerful and primal. We can close our eyes and not see, and block our ears and not hear. We smell however, with every breath we take and were we to stop, well, we all know what that means. We are constantly awash in a sea of scents. And as far as senses go, smell is the only sense that has a direct link to the deeper parts of the brain, the amygdala and the hippocampus. These areas are directly related to memory and emotion.

Thanksgiving is almost upon us and there’s no doubt that the classic scents associated with the day have a direct impact on our experience and hence memories.

Just think of a New England Thanksgiving feast. A slow-roasting turkey with tart cranberry sauce and orange zest and the baking buttery croissants and, my favorite, the stuffing.

The aromas of a traditional Thanksgiving evoke ideas of our place and time: crisp fall air, smoky woodstoves, comfort, togetherness, home and gratefulness. These feelings are stored in our memories and can be retrieved by way of a single scent. That is potent! Maybe that’s why pumpkin pie flavored everything has become so pervasive on the food scene. Pumpkin pie is prominent at the Thanksgiving table and so by association the warming, spicy smell conjures up feelings of gratitude, warmth, family and friends and hence selling a product via our subconscious emotional memories. Oh, marketers are clever!

What types of scent-memories are you creating this Thanksgiving? Or for that matter on a daily basis, in your home, in your kitchen with and for your family? I am grateful for the ability to create joyful and meaningful memories with my family, and I am thankful as well for all of you who together create this vibrant community of caring and sharing in the Monadnock region. Happy Thanksgiving!

Written and published for Spice Cupboard
Monadnock Ledger Transcript
Tuesday, November 17, 2015