A Time Such As This: The Hope Challenge

Is this the first blog entry or email to reach your inbox today that hasn’t been titled, “Coronavirus” something or other?  It would be mine.

Many of us live in communities that have temporarily closed schools and restaurants and have requested the general population to work at home…so now we are at home, hopefully isolating ourselves from germs but also inadvertently isolating ourselves from each other a bit in the process.  With all this seclusion you would think we would be able to mostly shield ourselves from a majority of things related to this gosh awful disease.

How’s that working out for ya?  Thought so.  Me too.

It’s almost worse than it was before.  It’s in the news, emails, notices from school and work, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and pretty much anything else that facilitates contact with the outside world. Please understand, I do think this is a serious situation and should not be taken lightly, but parking our mind and eyes in this mindset is likely not going to do us or anyone else any good.  In other words, simply consuming information and and then resharing may be nothing but a horrible game of telephone if we are not careful.

It seems to me that much of the world has already cornered the scary end of this global pandemic.  So how about you and I leave that well enough alone and start a wave of hope, kindness, and love that spreads even faster than this disease that I refuse to recognize by naming it again?

“But I’m stuck at home,” you say, “How can I possibly contribute to hope, kindness, and love from these walls that sometimes feel like they are closing in on me?”  Here are a few suggestions and I’d love it if you would comment with your own below (keeping in mind the goal of spreading hope and kindness please):

  • Offer to pick up groceries for a housebound neighbor
  • FaceTime a friend or family member that is struggling so they can be lifted by the sight of you and the sound of your voice
  • Make the people in your home a priority
  • Send encouraging text messages to those who are sick, struggling, or facing sudden unemployment  (for some, encouragement will simply be a text simply letting them know how sorry you are they are going through what they are and that you love them)
  • Thank a doctor, nurse, first responder, or leader and their families
  • Share a list online of things you are grateful for and ask others to join you by creating a special hashtag for it
  • Color an inspiring coloring page (yes, it’s for adults too) to help lower your stress level and then share it with others online
  • Surround yourself with positivity and be willing to share that positivity with others

While I tend to have a love/hate relationship with social media, I am just recently finding that many are now using their voice to spread positivity and that is something I can get behind.  Some of my favorite inspirational messages from this last week or two have come from Matthew McConaughey, Tom Hanks, Max Lucado, Proverbs 31 Ministries, my local church, and a whole host of family and friends that are encouraging others to find some humor in this new reality for the sake of our collective sanity.

Hope is still alive, despite the onslaught of evolving news and circumstances from around the world.  Our mission should be to help people find it.

I say, “Challenge accepted!”

How about you?

Holiday Baking Fun With Chocoley

I love to bake with chocolate.  I love to eat chocolate.  Did I mention I love chocolate?  Lord help me, it’s still 12 days until Christmas.  I may need to break out the stretchy pants.

Considering my obsession with chocolate, some of my favorite chocolates to work with are from Chocoley.  For me, one of the hardest kinds of chocolate to find that is celiac safe as well as peanut and nut free is white chocolate.  For that reason, when the folks at Chocoley asked me if I might be interested in doing a holiday baking project with some of their products, I immediately requested some of their white chocolate.

It is worth mentioning that I have also made several things in the past with Chocoley’s milk and dark chocolate and they were fantastic as well.  Read more about those baking adventures here.

I frequent enjoy reading the Magnolia Journal, a beautiful publication of Chip and Joanna Gaines.  I always find the magazine to be filled with food for the soul, the stomach, and even the spirit.  And I’ve never made a recipe yet of Joanna’s that my family hasn’t liked.  So when I saw a recipe for Eggnog Fudge in the most recent issue of Magnolia Journal, I knew it would be my next baking challenge.

The recipe is not yet published online by Magnolia Journal, so I can’t share it with you here, but checkout their Winter 2019 issue for a peek.  I will tell you, the recipe is limited to only a handful of ingredients some of which includes butter, white chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, and a few spices.  I chose to use Chocoley’s white chocolate and I also used vanilla extract instead of rum extract.  This recipe was a cinch to make and turned out beautifully.

In addition to being beautiful and easy to make, a little fudge goes a long way.  This fudge is rich and decadent making one or two squares per person more than enough.  This Eggnog Fudge would make an excellent addition to your holiday recipe rotation.

Not everyone is a fudge person, and I wanted to try a new kind of cookie that felt a little more holidayish without being too over the top.  My family also adores Joanna Gaines’ chocolate chip cookie recipe, so I decided to tweak it.  Although I’d love to share the recipe with you here, Magnolia Journal has not officially published this cookie recipe so I cannot. You could however trying searching for the recipe somewhere online.

I can tell you that for my remaking of this recipe I chose to swap out the chocolate chips for 1/2 cup of chopped Chocoley’s white chocolate and 1/2 cup of dried cranberries.  These cookies are not gluten free so I cannot attest to their deliciousness, however, one recipe made between 30 and 40 cookies and they are already quickly disappearing.  I’ll let that speak for itself.

And although this plate says it is reserved for Cookies for Santa, I’m thinking Santa might occasionally have a fancy for something other than cookies, so I popped some popcorn and then drizzled it with white chocolate that I dyed red and green to be more festive.  This was so easy to make and is fantastic for a crowd.

Simply drizzle melted Chocoley’s white chocolate (dyed whatever color you wish) over popped popcorn and then mix well.  I spread mine out on a piece of parchment paper to dry.  Then enjoy!

If you are hoping to start your holiday baking soon, visit Chocoley to learn more about their products.  I have been extremely impressed with their customer service and speed of deliveries.  And I really love that their chocolate makes me look like fantastic baker without too much effort.

Sounds like Santa should be pretty well set at our house between fudge, cookies, and chocolate drizzled popcorn.  Wonder if his reindeer will like them too or if I should make some chocolate covered carrots…

Merry Christmas!

Chocoley Chocolate For Back To School And Holiday Baking

A few weeks ago, the folks at Chocoley asked me if I’d try out and then review a few of their products.  Already being a Chocoley fan and a chocolateaholic, I was only more than happy to oblige.

Chocoley sent a couple of bags of dark chocolate and white chocolate.

One of my favorite things about working with these Chocoley products is that I can do so WITHOUT turning on my oven if I choose to.  I’m not sure what the temperature is like where you are, but here in Houston, we are still breaking new records with the daily heat index.  The calendar may say September, but it feels like July.  So for now, making tasty chocolate covered treats that look and taste like a million bucks but don’t require me to turn on my oven…that’s my jam!

In the cooler months of fall and winter, I think these Chocoley products would be divine to bake and decorate with for festive treats for the holidays.  My mouth is almost watering just thinking of the possibilities:

  • Candied apples
  • Chocolate covered marshmallows
  • Biscotti drizzled in chocolate
  • Chocolate covered cheesecake bites
  • Fudge

The list goes on.  But if you need some inspiration, be sure to check out Chocoley’s recipe box for some delicious ideas broken out by categories including holidays.

Chocoley works well for my family as the products of theirs that we use are peanut and tree nut free as well as celiac safe.  This is a perfect combination for me and my son to enjoy together…not to mention the rest of the family.  For a complete look at Chocoley’s Allergen Statement, click here.

The first treat I made was one of my son’s favorites, Chocoley cups made with SunButter.  There is something irresistible about these chocolatey cups of goodness and my favorite thing about them is how easy they are to make even though they look like they could have taken hours.

CHOCOLEY CUPS

Supplies:

Directions:

  • Line a regular size muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  • Then, melt dark chocolate pieces in a microwave safe bowl for forty seconds at a time, stirring after each.  Continue with this method until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
  • Use a spoon to transfer enough of the melted dark chocolate to thoroughly cover the bottom of each cupcake liner.  Then place in refrigerator for 10 minutes or until the chocolate hardens.
  • Soften about one cup of creamy SunButter by placing it in the microwave for fifteen seconds at a time, stirring after each, until it reaches a good consistency.
  • Take the chocolate out of the refrigerator and put a dollop of Sunbutter on each being sure to smooth it evenly over the chocolate surface.
  • Then use a spoon to transfer enough of the melted dark chocolate (you can re-microwave if needed to soften) to thoroughly cover the mixture in each cupcake liner.
  • Put finished Chocoley cups in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or until the mixture hardens.
  • Take out the muffin tin and peel the cupcake liners away from the chocolate.  The liner should easily peel off.  If it does not, the chocolate likely needs additional time in the refrigerator to harden.
  • Now enjoy!!!  WARNING:  They go fast, so hiding might be required!
  • Storage:  I stored these cups at room temperature on my kitchen counter for a little less than a week before they had all disappeared.

 

Another favorite at our house that is even more effortless than chocolate cups is chocolate covered strawberries.  While you can use dark or white chocolate, I chose to use the white chocolate for this round of strawberries.

WHITE CHOCOLATE COVERED STRAWBERRIES

Supplies:

Directions

  • Thoroughly wash strawberries and lay out on a paper towel to dry for about an hour.  Leave the stems on.
  • After the strawberries are dry, melt white chocolate pieces in a microwave safe bowl for forty seconds at a time, stirring after each.  Continue with this method until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
  • Dip each strawberry into the melted white chocolate up to the green leaf.  Then place the strawberry on parchment paper to harden.  The chocolate will adhere to the strawberry best if the berry is completely dry before dipping into the chocolate.
  • I find that these are best served the day they are made.
  • Option:  To make these strawberries even fancier, consider drizzling dark chocolate over them in a zigzag fashion.

 

CHOCOLATE COVERED SNACKS

With my kids spending hours each week at cross country or pointe ballet practice, we go through snacks quickly at my house.  So I used a little of the dark and white chocolate to cover some otherwise ordinary snacks into special treats:  chocolate covered pretzels, cookies, and bananas.

To make your own chocolate covered snacks, simply follow the above directions on melting the chocolate pieces and then cover your snack of choice in Chocoley goodness and place them on parchment paper to let the chocolate harden.  Once the chocolate on the pretzels and cookies sufficiently hardened, I stored them at room temperature in airtight tupperware.  Once the chocolate hardened on the bananas, I chose to store these in the freezer.

 

My family is loving me right now for using some Chocoley goodness to make snack time a whole lot more interesting!  And that makes me happy too!  Bottom line:  I love the taste and ease of using these Chocoley products for my family.  I’m already dreaming of what I can make once the weather finally cools down here in Houston.

Participation In Boy Scouts Can Yield Important Life Lessons For Food Allergies

Earlier this month, the food allergy community was buzzing about a news story regarding a young teen in Boy Scouts that reportedly experienced anaphylaxis while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  Thankfully the young man is said to have now recovered from the incident thanks to some fast thinking scouts and scout leaders that quickly administered epinephrine and called for help from local emergency and medical professionals.  I am so grateful the young man is okay!

To be honest, I generally try to avoid news stories spun to invoke fear, not because I want to stick my head in the sand but because fear can hold an individual hostage if they let it.  For some reason, this story felt different and it struck a chord with me for several reasons:

  1.  I am the proud mom of a Boy Scout.
  2.  We have repeatedly hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  3.  Fear was not the headline.  Being prepared in all situations to affect positive outcomes was.

My son is quickly approaching sixteen and was diagnosed with multiple food allergies around age one.  For years we struggled as a family to keep him safe until he was old enough to also advocate for himself.  As time progressed, my son was outgrowing the “bubble” of home and began moving on to preschool, public school, and extra curricular activities.

He joined Cub Scouts in elementary school.  It was a huge adjustment getting used to scout dinners, gatherings, and campouts.  Fortunately, my husband volunteered to be involved as a Scout leader and was able to be at many meetings and campouts.  This allowed him to teach my son not to avoid challenges, but how to navigate them with vigilance, safe food, and access to emergency medication.  Then my son “graduated” Cub Scouts and would soon be moving up to Boy Scouts.

As a mom, I had to re-evaluate what worked for my tween son and my family and, for us, that meant giving him the freedom to live a normal kid life…all while taking proper precautions to keep him safe.  I’d be lying if it was as easy for me to accept as it was to write that sentence.  It is still a daily battle between my heart and my head to realize that I can do my best to teach my son how to be cautious and vigilant with his food allergies, but I cannot control everything.  Spoiler alert…none of us can.

With the arrival of middle school, my son transitioned to Boy Scouts.  This transition was a whole new ballgame.  We are talking monthly multi-day campouts anywhere from one to five hours away where the boys cook their own food, pitch their own tents, and go on hiking and boating expeditions.  Can you say comfort zone obliterated?

My husband continued to volunteer with scouts, but served more in an administrative role than shadowing my son’s every move.  One of the amazing side benefits of being a Boy Scout is that you begin to take on a greater level of independence and responsibility for yourself and others.  After all, that is a big part of growing up.

Look at me calmly spouting sage wisdom about independence and growing up.  Don’t let the cavalier tone fool you.  Any food allergy/asthma wisdom I gain is usually hard earned because of a challenge I and my son went head to head with and came out of on the other side.

In this case, that challenge looked like sending my son on a seven hour canoe trip down the Guadalupe River where he would not be right next door to the emergency services of a hospital and would be relying on MREs (meals ready to eat).  It looked like sending my son to summer camp nine hours away to a remote scout camp in west Texas and a week long summer camp for at least the next four years.  It meant hours of preparation in terms of medical forms, safe snacks, meal recon, and more.

I was neither stoic or ignorant about these challenges, but with each I came a step closer to accepting the slow realization that these situations are the exact things I’ve worked years to prepare him for.  I can’t walk by his side forever and slay every dragon in his path.  I have to lead by example, teach him the best I can, and then trust him to safely make his own way.  His own way isn’t always perfect, but that is okay too because it keeps complacency at bay and often turns mistakes into valuable life lessons.

Because of the lessons we both learned with his newfound independence through Scouts, we felt empowered to seek out hiking adventures in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Did my hiking bag weigh a few extra pounds because I loaded every epinephrine device we own in it?  You betcha.  Did we pack the inhaler and several cases of safe snacks?  You know it.  Did I perhaps lose a little sleep thinking about how things would work if there was a reaction on the trail despite our best efforts?  The circles under my eyes frequently answered that question.

But you know what?  We planned the best we could and we did it.  Not just one hike but several.  And we’ve done it again many more times since.

We do not think ourselves impervious to disaster by any means, but we do know that if we stop summoning our wit and bravery when adventures comes knocking, we are not living life but are simply tolerating it.