Chaga Mushroom Tea Latte

I’m going to be completely honest and admit that there are many mornings you will find me at my favourite coffee joint in the drive-thru line up patiently waiting for my soy latte. I have a well rehearsed repertoire of excuses in my head to justify my “need” for a fancy take-out drink:

– I was up all night with a sick child and I desperately need a coffee today
– I worked out really hard this morning and I deserve a reward
– I’m going to start eating right and working out next week so I’d better get my treats in today
– I stayed up late working so I need a coffee to make it through the day
– It’s a holiday (insert any occasion here – including Ground Hog Day!) and I need to celebrate with a coffee
– I’m meeting a friend and I can’t be rude and not join her when she is drinking her coffee
– It’s Monday and I need to pick myself up for the week
– It’s Friday and I need to gear up for the weekend

Trust me, I could go on and on but I’ll spare you. Needless to say I really enjoy a nice tall latte filled with steamy soy milk and sugary add-ins to start off my day. But being something of a health nut- I am also well aware of the negative effects of indulging in this particular treat (not to mention that it costs $6 a pop!)

Although the pros and cons of coffee have been hotly debated I know for myself that I feel much healthier and my gut, skin and pocketbook are much happier when I stick to all-natural homemade concoctions. And yes I can see you rolling your eyes through my computer screen – but some of my concoctions really do taste great!

Because I’m a full-on food nerd, I was totally thrilled to find this bag of Canadian Chaga Mushroom pieces on a recent trip to my local health food store. This potent and unique superfood is “a slow-growing mushroom that develops on living birch trees, obtaining nutrients from its host and making them available to us.” Chaga is considered the most nutritionally dense tree growth in the world and is revered in ancient Chinese medicine as being the “king of plants“. Studies have shown Chaga to be the single most concentrated source of antioxidants known to man and it has anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and cancer fighting properties. Wow!

The cool thing about these mushroom chunks is that you boil 1/3 of a cup of them in a liter of water and just let them steep like tea. Afterwards you strain out the chunks and you will be left with a mild-tasting dark brown liquid that you can add to soups, smoothies, tea, coffee or just drink it straight up. And since the mushroom is so potent – you can actually reuse the chunks several times!

chaga

This morning I added 1 heated cup of the Chaga tea to 1 cup of boiling water and blended it together with 1 tbsp. raw sesame seeds, 1 tbsp. hemp seeds, 1 tbsp. maple syrup, 1 tbsp. Dandy Blend, 1 tbsp. cacao powder, a small chunk of cacao butter and 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract. Voila! Yummy coffee drink that has a ton of health benefits! (I also added a cupful of the tea to our morning smoothie)

So for today, I am skipping the fancy take-out coffee and sipping my Chaga Tea Latte. One day at a time right? As for tomorrow – if you happen to see me in the drive-thru line just give me knowing nod and a wave…..because trust me, I’ll have my excuse ready ; )

Billy Bob’s Fresh Pasta Sauce

I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and although my dad was a very involved parent, my mom definitely did all of the cooking. And judging by most of my friends I think that is pretty much the norm for many men of my dads age…..and more than a few men today (yes I’m talking to you Mark).

So it never ceases to amaze me when I come upon a guy of my dad’s generation who can actually cook. My parent’s friend Bill is not only a brilliant chef but he is also a passionate lover of food, a great cooking teacher and an all round super guy. This is a man who will excitedly chat about his technique for “chiffonading” basil, is more than happy to share his homemade jam and relish and has been known to host a men’s only cooking class in his cottage kitchen for his biking buddies. Impressive!
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Vegan No-Bake Chocolate Caramels

If I am going to indulge in something sweet (and this of course happens on a daily basis) I think my favourite treat on the planet is caramel. This is a tricky one being a vegan and a health nut because most of the truly yummy caramel is made with loads of butter, corn syrup, sugar and cream.

Over the years I’ve tried a number of recipes for “vegan caramel” only to come up short and be left craving a good old-fashioned Turtle or Rolo.

So you can imagine my delight when I came upon this brilliant Vegan Rolo recipe from fellow blogger Angela Liddon over at Oh She Glows. These little gems are vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, super easy to make and best of all they are delicious!

I always (and I mean always) have a batch of these in the freezer for when one of my many sugar cravings hits and they never fail to satisfy my sweet tooth. And the kids love them too – I ask them if they want a chocolate caramel, don’t tell them what’s in them and watch them gobble them down. I just don’t let them have too many because these little babies are mostly for mom!

I’ve made a few minor modifications but the credit for these delectable treats belongs to Oh She Glows. You can check out her awesome site and the original recipe here.

Vegan No Bake Caramels (adapted from Angela Liddon, OhSheGlows.com)
Makes 18-24 caramels

12 organic medjool dates (make sure they are fresh and soft)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tbsp agave nectar
½ tbsp organic cold-pressed coconut oil (plus 1 tsp for use in chocolate)
Pinch of fine sea salt
½ tbsp organic peanut butter (or sunflower butter in case of nut allergies)
1 cup semi-sweet or dark vegan chocolate chips (you can use regular dark or semi-sweet chocolate if you prefer)

Combine dates, vanilla, agave, 1 tbsp coconut oil, salt and peanut butter in your food processor and pulse until the mixture comes together into a sticky ball. You may have to scrape down the sides to help the ball come together. Put the ball into the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier to work with.

rolos in processorrolos in bowl

Melt the chocolate and 1 tsp of coconut oil in a small saucepan on low heat on the stove top. Line a plate with parchment paper. Remove the caramel ball from the freezer and using your fingers pinch pieces off and roll into smaller balls – approx the size of a cherry.

uncoated rolos

Working quickly, dip each ball into the chocolate to coat using a spoon to save your fingers and place on the parchment lined plate. Once finished – put the plate in the freezer for 20 minutest to ½ an hour to let the balls harden. When they have hardened you can store them in a glass freezer-safe container. They are best eaten cold straight from the freezer.

coated rolosfreezer rolos

I like these chocolate caramels plain but you could doll them up by rolling them in finely chopped nuts, coconut, cinnamon or cacao powder after you dip them in chocolate for a completely different taste experience. Trust me these are wonderful and addictive. Enjoy!