70 percent or better.

i’ve become  a dark chocolate fanatic. i live for a hint of salt and almonds or a combination of chilies and cacao.  i love how the complexity of flavors and the darkness of the chocolate forces me to sit back and enjoy the moment.  it also helps that it doesn’t melt as quickly as milk chocolate does.

now, don’t get me wrong. i do enjoy a good milk chocolate bar. who can ever turn down lindt? or a reese’s peanut butter cup? but our food allergy test forced me to realize that milk chocolate doesn’t sit well with me.  so i began to search out some other options for a severe chocolate craving and found that quality dark chocolate doesn’t contain milk.  score. some brands are also gluten free, vegan, and dairy free. bonus. and thought these are a bit more expensive., these chocolate companies care about environmental sustainability, fair trade, organic and healthy food, and community development. who can argue with that?

living in seattle (ahem, even sammamish), has many positives. being green and healthy doesn’t just pertain to our health rating by american fitness. it has a tendency to trickle into products retailers purchase, services and products offered, and ultimately what the demand is from consumers.  as a local, we’re also privy to some of the best dark chocolate around. it helps when a favorite chocolate factory resides in your backyard, theo chocolate.  if you ever come to visit seattle, this is a must have local favorite. the tour is eye-opening, educational, multi-sensory, and leaves you with an endless supply of ‘tastings’ of all their local chocolate bars.

a few other awesome chocolate bar companies have creeped up on my radar. like theo, they too are organic, environmentally conscious, and are proponents of fair trade.  alter-eco is an awesome company that doesn’t only work with farmers throughout the world for some of the best chocolate, but they have some of the most some combinations i, personally, have never heard of. dark chocolate cacao with crunch roasted nibs or dark chocolate quinoa.  not only do they produce some amazing chocolate, but they also provide products like fair trade rice, quinoa, and sugar.

our Alter-Eco selections! all are delish!

also, taza chocolate is a new brand that’s becoming well recognized. it’s all fair trade, environmentally sustainable and community focused. you might mistaken the taza chocolate discs for mexican drinking chocolate, but it’s not. it’s actually something you eat not drink and they come in the most amazing flavors. taza was actually the first brand that i found who made dark chocolate salted almond. even theo didn’t make it at the time. taza’s combinations are unlike any i’ve ever had. and i’ll be honest; i haven’t tasted a bad chocolate combination from them yet!

Taza samples at PCC

there’s a few others like dagoba chocolate, who make amazing bars and drinks. my favorites from dagoba are the lavendar blueberry, becoup berries, and new moon. one thing you may notice immediately is the price. though these are all relatively pricey in comparison to your regular hershey’s bar, the knowledge that i’m supporting local communities & farmers through fair trade practices; eating good, quality, organic food; and supporting and encouraging generations of skills and knowledge that might otherwise be erased; and supporting strong environmental and ecological practices assure me that it’s the best $4 i could have spent to subdue my sweet tooth.  i hope you do as well.

from one chocolate lover to other, enjoy!


homemade kombucha.

for those of you who know me, my fondness for kombucha is far reaching. i haven’t been sick since i started drinking this while i was on my elimination diet. it’s bite reminds me of diet coke. and i adore the selection of flavors.

GT's Kombucha

i’ve tried quite a few different brands but i always come back to GTs Synergy. the only down side, if there can be one, is the cost of these little buggers. they’re $3.29 a pop. even buying them buy the case only shaves off 10%. and trust me, we do purchase these by the case on a regular basis.

so you can guess my excitement when i stumbled upon a kombucha home-brewing kit! some friends and i have been talking about making our own for some time but we just needed some key ingredients…which i had no clue how to acquire. leave it to whole foods to make it easy. and they even have it in the kombucha refrigerator. how awesome is that!

last month we started making our own stuff. it takes a lot patience as it’s essentially a fermented tea drink. so waiting around is part of the process. here’s a few photos of the process.  we have been so busy that this post has gotten a bit delayed.

adding all the ingredients together and waiting a few weeks for fermentation to start.

i honestly was a bit apprehensive to try to get the scoby out of the jar so made kyle do it. he’s a good sport. besides, it seemed like a task for a guy.

the much needed scoby. kinda gross. we know.

saving some for the next batch.

filtering out excess kombucha strands

finished product! citrus flavored kombucha!

it’s totally a shot in the dark and it doesn’t taste like the stuff we’re used to drinking but for $30/kit this might just be up our alley for saving money and the planet. stay tuned for more flavors and experimentation!

have pots, will garden.

i know, i know. we don’t have a 12×7 foot plot of land with hundreds of pounds of dirt and compost and fertilizer. we most certainly are not surrounded by other like minded individuals who have a passion for gardening or at least the courage to see if something will survive under our watch.  we don’t have the chance to chit-chat with our fellow gardeners under the sun. or scream at the infestation of spiders in our massive tomato plants.

but what we do have is an roomy balcony,  a handful of pots, awesome starts from seattle tilthe, and the excitement, dedication and passion that we had last year when we first broke ground. just this time around, we won’t need the huge shovels and rakes.

getting everything prepped.

getting the plants and herbs potted.

now we wait.  we’re not sure how this will turn out.  we’re a little nervous since we haven’t done this before. but then again, we remind ourselves that is what we said last year. and we ended up with this….

granted i think our balcony would collapse if we did have this outcome. but at least we’d have an abundance of kale, tomatos and lettuce!

the down sweater collection:

by patagonia. also known to some as patagucci.

they make some of the best outdoor clothing out there. others can resist or try to deny it.  but i have yet to see down jackets roll into an inner pocket that can be stuffed into a stuff sack the size of a shoe than the patagonia down sweater.  in fact that is what this entire post is about.  gear varies per person and situation and must always be altered for both.  i love my non-patagonia gear (trust me, i have a lot) and thrive to share about their fabulous and nifty features. but that will have to be saved for another post. today it’s about the down sweater collection.

it started off with a christmas present i got kyle 4 years ago.  it was a pro-deal while working for an outdoor company. i thought he needed a new jacket and one that wasn’t brown, black or gray. i bought it in  lime green.  what can i say? i love color. the moment he opened it and rolled it into a ball, i was hooked. i admired the fact that he could fit the entire sweater into it’s own inner pocket- which was great for backpacking and outdoor adventures.   obviously, i hadn’t done my homework and didn’t event know about this cool little feature of the down sweater. now i wanted one.

photo courtesy of patagonia.com

a year later and many color choices snatched before my eyes (patagonia customers are like lululemon customers. they buy and they buy quick. you snooze. you loose.) i found my down sweater. now i too could use it as a pillow, be warm on hikes and backpacking trips all without the added weight and space limitations.  i was in love.   mind you, they didn’t have the hoodies back then (that i am aware of).

next came the down sweater vests. we were in one of our favorite local outdoor shops, second acscent in ballard and kyle stumbled upon their vests.  he ended up getting it. apparently guys get hotter and sweatier than we do. so the vest made a good argument.  like the first purchase, i too followed suite and now own one. like it’s original, it rolls into the little inner pouch for travels and backpacking. i love it! it’s great for those really odd PNW days where it’s psuedo cold but not really enough to warrant the thick coat. this is perfect go-between for those spring and fall camping/backpacking trips.

photo courtesy of patagonia.com

this past xmas i bought kyle the hoodie version.  it probably was the fact that i was freezing on the side of mount tahoma on our recent backpacking adventure without a hooded coat and really wishing i had a coat like kyle’s.  he was not only bundled up in one of the lightest and warmest coats but it had a hood! that was it. we got back down the mountain went to rei and i fell in love with a color that was only in the down sweater. i called the patagonia store in seattle and they too didn’t have it in stock. i was getting nervous. but my trusty little smart phone pulled through.  another life-saving moment by the droid x. i just got my hoody a few short days later. and just in time for the snow. btw,  the hood fits perfectly over the climbing and bike helmets.

photo courtesy of patagonia.com

side note.  i do not endorse frivolous purchases.  especially really expensive gear purchases. know what you need it for, that you can’t borrow it, and that you can’t make do with some other gear stuff. granted, it’s always easier said than done and i too end up buying stuff i sometimes can live without but, it’s definitely not without the internal turmoil.

also, to help out your community and the environment, head to stores like second ascent and feathered friends (in seattle) who sell new AND used gear. and try to buy stuff from companies like patagonia who reuse old clothing and gear to put back into their new stuff. now that is worth something, even to the patagucci haters.

fast food with a twist.

don’t worry. we’re still sticking to our elimination diet and the slow process of testing a single food group at a time.  we’re onto cheese as of today and let me tell you, it was amazing. it’s the best cheese i ever had. considering i haven’t had cheese in over a month, i love tillamook even more than i did before i started this allergy test.  however, before i go on, i will have to give kyle props for this entire recipe.

you see, as i looked at the chart of the food items we were to integrate into our diet, i lost all creativity.  for example, when we tested peanut butter last wednesday, i literally threw a glob of PB on a banana and an apple and put them into tupperware and called it good.   kyle on the other hand likes a good challenge.  and boy did he deliver.  i would have to say this is one of the best burgers i’ve had. ever.  folks, let me introduce you to the sundried-tomato cheese burger with homemade fries.

i realize the above photo doesn’t do it much justice. trust me, you’ll want to make an extra burger or two for later because it’s that good.  we tested out two different types of fries.  the ones above, which are cut into thin slices and then baked.  the second, which we love are the shoestring versions.

if only we had a real grill.

shoestrings and burgers. hmmm.

so without further adieu, here’s the receipe.
– do this before you work on the burgers,
– preheat oven to 425 degrees
– slice 2 russet potatoes into /4 inch shoestrings
– oil baking sheet liberally
– add potatoes to baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and garlic powder
– bake for 20 mins or until golden brown.

mushroom and onion mixture:
– slice 1/2 yellow onion
– slice 4-5 baby portobello mushrooms
– saute in pan with extra virgin olive oil until all are cooked, place aside

– mix  1 lb of ground beef with 3 TB of sun-dried tomatoes
– add salt and pepper, mix
– add in 1 tsp of garlic powder, mix
– form into 4 separate patties and grill until done

when burgers are done, the fries should be done as well.  add one burger to a plate.  place a dollop of dijon mustard on top and add mushroom onion mixture.

cut up tillamook, vintage aged cheese (whole cheese with no additives) and place over entire burger. zap in microwave for 10-15 seconds just to melt the cheese. add potatoes to the plate and voila. enjoy.!

just like michael pollan said in his book, food rules, you can eat junk food, just make it yourself.  the process is so time consuming that you will eat less off it.  we enjoy it even more than ever because we’ve made it ourselves.  and honestly, this is the first junk food we’ve had in over one month.  if you count us using 100% grass fed beef, no processed food (other than the cheese) and baking our fries, not frying them.  i think we’ve done pretty good with this challenge.  i may just need to put kyle in charge of coming up with creative ways to introduce foods back into our diet. he sure has a knack for it.

love beets. love mint. love lentils. love this salad.

kyle borrowed “urban pantry: tips & recipes for a thrifty, sustainable, & season kitchen” by local cook, gardener, entrepreneur, amy pennington,  from the library thinking it was something he can use for our garden but was disappointed when he got it. i on the other hand was thrilled and practically ripped the book from his hands. i think this is one that is a ‘keeper’ and needs to be bought for your kitchen.

there’s amazing tips, suggestions, and ideas, that continue to flow out of each page…it’s quite astonishing really.  the recipes sound delicious and are creative, fun and i can’t wait to try more of them.  here’s one that i love.  i  just so happened to have a bunch of beets from our garden on hand with no clue on what to do with them (and that fit within our diet restrictions)!

Lentils w/ Mint & Beets
Amy Pennington (urban pantry: tips & recipes for a thrifty, sustainable, & season kitchen- page 75)
serves 4-6 people.

– olive oil
– 1 clove garlic chopped (i used 2)
– 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
– 1 cup dried french lentils
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 3 medium beets, tops removed and scrubbed of dirt
– 15 fresh mint leaves

– 4 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
– 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
– good pinch of salt
– freshly ground black pepper

cover the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil and heat over medium-high. cook and stir onion and garlic for 5-7 min or until soft. add in fresh lentils, salt and enough water so that the lentils are just covered. bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. simmer until the lentils are cooked but still have a bite, about 20-25 mins. drain excess water, pour cooked lentils on cooking sheet to halt cooking process

meanwhile bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook whole beets until soft (time depends on size of beet, about 20 mins or so). cool beets slightly and rub skin off with a paper towel. chop beets into small cubes. chiffonade the mint leaves by stacking whole leaves and rolling them lengthwise. when you have a tight roll, cut into thin ribbons.

mix vinaigrette by stirring all ingredients together until well blended.

in a large serving bowl, combine the cooled lentils, beets and vinaigrette.  gently fold in mint leaves. serve at room temperature.

i was really impressed with this salad because i love all these things but would have never thought to add them all together. the flavours compliment each other and it really is amazing.  if you want to check out more great recipes, you should either borrow amy’s book or get one yourself 🙂 i know we are!

there will always be a place in my heart for senor taco.

food has been the focal point in my life recently. our lives recently. for obvious reasons. for the first week it consumed our lives. all we could think about was food.  we were constantly hungry. that’s not right.  we were starving. all. the. time. coupled with being lethargic throughout the day does not make a person want to do much other than curl into a ball and sleep.

we figured out that we weren’t getting enough nutrients and calories into our diet. so we’ve replaced a lot of the fruit with veggies and protein packed lunches.  we’re doing significantly better these days.  but, honestly it has been a challenge for us since we’ve recognized that we can’t use a lot (like 99%) of the condiments we have in our kitchen.  more or less, there is just one, measly, ingredient in it and thus have to put it in the ‘do not touch’ section in our pantry.  so we’ve spent the weekend experimenting.  we’ve been quite pleased with our outcomes so far.  here’s a great recipe that we’re addicted to. also, i’m quite pleased to say i’ve done a good job of replicating chipotle’s lime/cilantro rice.  and considering i can’t go to my favorite local mexican restaurant, senor taco, this will have to do for the next 2 weeks.

New lunch Fav: Warmed Chicken or Turkey Fajita Salad w/ homemade salsa & lime-cilantro rice
servings: 6 meals

– 1 1/2 lb ground turkey or chicken sliced thinly into strips (1/2 x 1 1/2 -2in long)
– half of a large red onion, sliced (should be same length as chicken and bell peppers)
– 2 thinly sliced bell beppers (should be same length as chicken and red onions)

home-made taco seasoning: we’ve played around with the measurements.  this is the mild version we like…we also have a really spicy one we love.  play around with the measurements and see what works best for you.
– 1/2 tsp paprika
– 4 tsp chili powder
-1 tsp cumin
-1/2 tsp oregano
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– pinch of salt

Heat wok or large pan.  Add in meat and brown until meat is cooked. drain excess oil.
Add in veggies and all seasonings noted above
saute until spices are well mixed but careful not do overcook meat or veggies

– 3 cups rice
– 1/2 cup-1 cup fresh cilantro (depending on our taste)
– 1 lime

Cook rice until done.  Add to large mixing bowl. Add in cilantro and lime.  Mix well.  Be careful not to stir too much as to mush the rice.

garlic salsa:
– 7-8 small to medium tomatoes, chopped fine
– a tad bit less than half a red onion, chopped fine
– about half a bell pepper (add more colors if you want), chopped fine
– handful of fresh chopped fresh cilantro (more, depending on taste)
– 1 large jalapeno, diced (more if you want it spicy)
– 1 fresh lime
– 2-4cloves garlic, minced (depending on your taste)

add all ingredients into a bowl and gently fold together.  squeeze fresh lime juice over everything and give one final stir.

just tear up fresh lettuce leaves from your garden or farmers market to make your salad, add your meat and sautéed veggies, fresh salsa and rice to your dish and you’re voila. you’re done!

there’s no sugar, soy, gluten, wheat, dairy, corn, or anything ‘bad’ in this recipe and it’s delicious! we hope you enjoy this as much as we do.