Kombucha Summer Mocktails

I’ve been trying out some new healthier drink recipes lately (partly for work and partly for me) and even though I love to drink kombucha, I never really thought to put it in a cocktail. And apparently I’m a bit slow to the party because other people have been doing this for a few years now. And of course kombucha makes a good mixer/base – it is bubbly, sour, tangy, and delicious. Oh well, at least I caught the train – even if it’s the end.

Kombucha is a feremented tea beverage and although not thoroughly or independently studied for it’s health benefits, many people have claimed improved gut health and healthier and happier intestinal microbiota. It does have live cultures but exactly which can vary from brew to brew – especially when brewed at home. If you’re interested in learning more about kombucha in a nut shell, I highly recommend the Kombucha Culture episode of Gastropod.

There are so many different flavors of kombucha available in stores that you can fnd almost any base flavor you want or need. For this time around, I picked a classic citrus (you could use a lime too), honeydew (because it just has a nice lightly sweet base flavor but doesn’t overpower when you add other ingredients), and strawberry (because it’s probably my current favorite kombucha flavor at the moment).

You could also totally add some spirits to these, but for a refreshing work-night drink I’m keeping then virgin.

And just in time for summer grilling!

The first is a blueberry mojito. Although I made these by the glass, you could also easily make a larger pitcher.

Blueberry Kombucha Mojito

  • 6-8oz lime/citrus kombucha
  • 5-7 mint leaves
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp sugar (for muddling)
  • 1/8 c blueberries
  • Large handful of ice

Muddle the mint leaves and sugar in the bottom of a glass. The grit of the sugar will help in the process of tearing up and bruising the leaves as well as extracting the essential oils. Add most of the berries and continue muddling. Top with ice and pour in the kombucha. Give a little stir with a spoon to mix the contents. Garnish with remaining berries and a spring of mint.

Enjoy on a hot summer day!

The second is a strawberry oregano mocktail. You can experiment with a few different kombuchas if you’d like, but I’d recommend a strawberry or honeydew. I found that the honeydew didn’t overpower the other flavors but left a little sweetness. The only thing I wasn’t super keen about the honeydew kombucha is that the particular brand I bought used artificial sweetener, stevia, to add more sweetness. Not super necessary in my opinion. Again, this recipe below is for one “cocktail” but can easily be multiplied for a larger pitcher.

Strawberry Oregano Mocktail

  • 6-8oz strawberry or honeydew kombucha
  • 1/2 tsp fresh oregano leaves plus a few springs for garnish
  • 1 diced strawberry plus one for garnish
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp sugar (for muddling)
  • Large handful of ice

Muddle the oregano leaves and sugar in the bottom of a glass. The sugar will help in the process of tearing up and bruising the leaves as well as extracting the essential oils. Add the diced strawberry and continue muddling. Top with ice and pour in the kombucha. Give a little stir with a spoon to mix the contents. Garnish with remaining strawberry and a spring of oregano. Leave the fresh oregano in or over the glass as you drink to get a little more of that herby aroma.

If you’ve never tried kombucha or kombucha in a cocktail or mocktail, I HIGHLY recommend doing so. The kombucha adds a nice fizz to any mixed drink and comes with a lot of potential health benefits. At least from my own experience.

Happy summer sipping!

Tell me:  What are some of your favorite summer drinks? Or what says summer in a glass?


Greek Farro Salad

While Greece has made its way into the news within the last 8 years for aspects they’d prefer to move past, it will always be a place that for me is filled with friendly, welcoming people, thousands of years of history, small towns tucked into mountains, and my first real taste of adventure. And I will always remember it and be thankful to this place for turning my fear of food completely around. I realized here what good, fresh food actually tastes like and to not fear gaining a few pounds because life is more important than the size of the waist band on your jeans. In the three months I spent there in 2008, I learned a lot about food – but most importantly that it doesn’t need to be extravagant to be good.

Enter the Greek salad.

Although I like to experiment with making new foods, I find that I sort of stay in a recurring pattern for the lunches I take to work. If I can, I try to make it revolve around a salad or vegetable of some kind. Ideally a salad with a whole lot of protein and healthy fats.

La Pepita Salad usually enters the rotation every other month or so, then occasionally a roasted vegetable and tortellini salad, and then I tended to have a Greek themed salad about every 2-3 months. For the longest time I kept it like a pasta salad with orzo, but after finding whole wheat orzo became too challenging, I began to branch into other similar shaped grains. I landed on farro being the best option. It’s full of fiber and more protein than orzo, and has a great chewy texture while the orzo used to get really mushy soaking up all of the dressing.

Greek Farro Salad

Makes 4 large portions or 6 smaller

Ingredients

  • 1 cup farro, cooked
  • 1 can/15oz garbanzo beans, rinsed
  • 1 large cucumber, quartered and sliced
  • 3 small or 2 medium tomatoes, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 4oz feta, crumbled
  • 10oz can sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/2 red onion (optional)

Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 c red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Cook the farro – in a large pot, bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil (it doesn’t matter the amount as long as it is at least 2 times as much farro). Add in one cup of farro and cook until farro is tender yet chewy. Most grains will not split open.
  2. While the farro is cooking,  wash and chop the vegetables and place in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Drain excess water and rinse farro under cold water. Dump into the mixing bowl with the rest of the salad ingredients.
  4. Toss to combine.
  5. In a mason jar or other sealable container, shake up the vinaigrette ingredients until well combined.
  6. Pour about half of the dressing over the salad and mix together. Add in as much of the rest of the dressing as you would like to suit your tastes.
  7. The salad holds well for a few days and potentially longer if you dress is on the day you will be eating it.

And although I like black olives, if you want a bit more authenticity, go for some kalamata. For ease of eating lunch, I go with what is already pitted.

The flavors definitely bring me back to those vegetable salads I ate while studying there almost 10 years ago. (Has it already been that long!?) Contrary to what you will see on Greek restaurant menus here in the US, the typical salads did not have lettuce – unless you ordered a green salad which was different than the regular salad of quartered tomatoes, red onions, cucumber, and a block of feta on top.

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The authentic Greek Salad – and dinning alfresco is imperative.

Most often if you want the traditional style someplace other than Greece, they may call it a village salad or something to that effect. But whatever you decide to do, get as close to the farm fresh vegetables as you can get – they will make all of the difference.

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Greece, I love you and some day I’ll be back. And until that time, I’ll try to recreate some of my favorites to the best of my ability.

What are some favorite foods from your travels and have you tried to re-create them?


Creamy Roasted Hazelnut Butter

About five or six years back, I was in a Middle East specialty grocery store and found a jar of hazelnut butter.  Not just the normal Nutella themed chocolate and hazelnut, but straight up hazelnut butter and it was delicious! Since that time I have yet to locate it in another grocery store and I’m too lazy and/or cheap to buy it online when it’s so easy to make!

Basically, so stupidly easy I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner, but to be fair, I was on a regular old peanut butter kick and then cashew butter – both also delicious.

Creamy Hazelnut Butter

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 pound raw hazelnuts
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 T sugar, honey, or agave
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat over to 350F.
  2. Arrange hazelnuts on a foil lined baking tray and roast in the over for 7-10 minutes or until a light golden brown.
  3. Let cool just slightly and transfer to a clean towel. To remove the skins of the hazelnuts (they’re kind of bitter), scoop the hot hazelnuts into a pile in the center of the towel (take care due to the high heat of the nuts). Bring the four corners of the tea towel together and gather it up in one hand, so that all of your hazelnuts are scooped up in the bottom of the tea towel. Using your other hand, squish the bottom and the sides of the tea towel so that all the hazelnuts are rubbing up against each other. Do this for a couple minutes until most of the skins are removed.
  4. Separate out the skins from the nuts. I use a slotted serving spoon – it’s big enough to get more than a few nuts at a time and the holes are small enough that the nuts won’t fall through but the skins will.
  5. Place warm nuts* in a food processor and grind until smooth. Add in vanilla, salt, and sweetener (if desired) and continue to blend until a smooth butter is formed – yes, it should be kind of runny. If it hasn’t yet reached that consistency, just be patient, it will get there.

*Warm nuts tend to work a little better and faster by making the oil more available during the processing.

You can keep it stored in an air tight container. I like mason jars because you can easily see through them and they store about 2 cups perfectly.

My hazelnut butter is a little on the darker side because I toasted the nuts just a bit extra. If you like you’re lighter, just watch very closely and removed when they’ve gathered just a hint of golden. You can also make the butter raw, but won’t be able to remove the skins. Just a bit of trade offs. I also added a touch of sweetness to mine because I was trying to get as close as possible to the flavor I found in that Middle East grocery (which was akin to the chocolate hazelnut without the chocolate, but still some sweetness).

Stick around for a to-die-for dessert coming to the blog in the next couple of weeks that features this fantastic spread – hazelnutty goodness.

What are your favorite nuts butters? Do you stick with the classic peanut butter or almond or branch out into walnut, pecan, cashew, and hazelnut?


Finally Official! We’re Married!

All images are by Alchemy Creative and use without written permission and notification is prohibited. 

A few weeks back, C and I had ourselves a small wedding/elopement in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. While this is typically a food and wellness blog, sharing some of the exciting moments in my life has got to be a part of it, so just bear with me if you’re just here for the food.

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Toward the end of 2016, C and I finally decided to make things legal and start planning the wedding that was right for us. Maybe someone is wondering, why now? Why didn’t you tell anyone? Why didn’t you want all the pomp that goes into celebrating a wedding and beginning of a marriage? For the why – basically I finally got over my marriage issues and C eventually convinced me with his explanations of all of the legal benefits to it. (…I know, we’re super romantic.) So once I was convinced, knowing he would NEVER ask outright, I asked him one evening if we should set a date to get married and make everything legal – and he said “sure”. (The stuff of fairy tales, right?) I didn’t want an engagement ring, just a wedding band, so it worked well with our plans of doing an elopement and not really telling anyone outside of our small group of attendees.

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Our rings!! Mountain inspired!

When we talked about getting married, we always pictured something small – maybe even eloping just the two of us. We decided to do a small casual ceremony in which we married/officiated ourselves (something you can do in Colorado) and since the location was remote with restrictions on number of guests, decided to include our immediate families and a few close long time friends. While I have no problem speaking in front of a couple hundred people, C is much the extrovert, and we both love hosting a good party, the decision to get married and how was very personal and intimate to us. We wanted to keep as close as possible to what we needed from the day. Any party later!

BUT, I am very excited to share pictures and talk about all the wonderful people who helped make things happen.

C and I arrived in Boulder on a rainy Tuesday evening, quickly changed and went for a nice dinner at The Kitchen. Wednesday was still raining, so we spent the day exploring some of Boulder’s breweries and getting our marriage license. That evening we ate at Bramble and Hare (highly recommend!) before hitting the road to arrive in Estes Park for the evening. Thursday we explored the park and did some hiking and by evening everyone was starting to arrive. We spent Friday enjoying time with people and then went to dinner at Cascades Restaurant at The Stanley. To make everything easy, everyone stayed at Mary’s Lake Lodge in Estes Park for the long weekend.

We woke up bright and early Saturday to get ready for our morning nuptials. Our fantastic photographer, Brittany from Alchemy Creative, arrived at 6am along with my mom and older sister to help with a few last details.

Since C and I got ready together except for my dress, which he hadn’t seen yet, we didn’t have far to go for our first look.

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We went down to Mary’s Lake, right next to the lodge before we would set out to the park.

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Can’t decide if the view behind me or in front of me is more spectacular.

As we drove into the park, the view kept becoming more and more amazing. Early May still had all of the snow on the mountains and we really lucked out with fantastic weather! (It was supposed to rain all weekend. And the following weekend they got 31″ of snow!)

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We went over for some pictures at Sheep’s Lakes first – despite all of the rain earlier in the week, the ground wasn’t wet and the water was still enough to capture these gorgeous reflections.

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(I’m holding off on completely overwhelming y’all with pictures – trying to pick just one or two from each location.  It’s so difficult!).

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Find a partner you want to travel the world with – because where they are, you’re home.

Around about 9am we were back over at Sprague Lake for our vow exchange and to meet up with everyone else. All total we were a group of 24.

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We said our vows (which, btw, I completely cried through all of mine) and did our exchange of rings. We did a self uniting ceremony, which was completely perfect for us, but also meant we couldn’t just repeat after someone and needed some scripts. 🙂

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A huge thank you to both of our families for traveling to the mountains to share in our day!

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Very luckily to be welcomed into such a fun loving family.

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My lovely, lovely family – and super cute niece and nephew who make every picture special.

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The whole gang!

After one last smooch…

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it was time to get some food in our bellies!

We did coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. And instead of a cake, did a cinnamon roll tower!

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After everything at the park, we headed back to the lodge for some brunch-y foods hosted at the condo rented by my family. Then in the early afternoon we had our official wedding lunch at Tavern 1929 – the food was great and so were the views! Since we’re doing a couple “receptions” later with the rest of our family and friends, we wanted a low key lunch where we didn’t need to decorate anything, no gifts were expected, and everyone could order whatever they wanted off the menu. The Tavern didn’t push us into anything or make any comments once we arrived – me dressed in a white dress. It was the perfect day.

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Vendors:

  • PhotographyAlchemy Creative (one incredibly talented photographer and perfect person to capture our elopement)
  • DressDreamers and Lovers, Natalie Gown
  • Blanket – Kilim Throw from Turkish T
  • My ringWaylon Rhoads Jewelry (Seriously gushing over this ring – he custom made everything, even the mountains where carved off of three picture I gave him. Serious talent and highly, recommended if you’re looking for any piece of custom jewelry.)
  • FlowersBoulder Blooms
  • Cinnamon RollsCinnamon Cafe (she even put sprinkles on them after telling her they were for our wedding cake! and probably the best rolls I’ve ever had.)
  • Jewelry – mixed from two stores off Etsy – jacket from Tosh Jewelry and pearls from Pearl Kissed.
  • His ringRing Paradise, custom mountain etched
  • His suit – custom from Final Stitch in Albuquerque

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Ok, totally lied. Here are a few others I absolutely love!


Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

A few weeks back, we were discussing different recipes for chia seed pudding. I had tried to make it in the past with almond milk, but the seeds always seemed to sink and clump up on the bottom. A co-worker suggested trying coconut milk if I wasn’t able to drink regular cow’s milk, so I did and now I’m hooked on the stuff! My favorite is plain with lemon curd (maybe I’ll share that in the future as well).

For today, I branched out a bit from the 3 Pleasures Dessert theme (dark chocolate, nuts, and fruit) to drop the nuts and do seeds instead – chia seeds! Chia seeds have fiber, protein, and most importantly healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The cocoa provides a rich/somewhat bitter chocolate taste that can satisfy just about any craving.

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If you’re looking for a more mousse like consistency and to have it ready in less time than overnight, you can put it into a blender. 🙂

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Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

Serves 2 when sharing

Ingredients

  • 1 c plain coconut milk, room temp or warm works best
  • 1/4 c chia seeds
  • 1/4 c cocoa powder
  • 1 T granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla, optional
  • Favorite fruit to serve – I recommend raspberries or strawberries

Directions

  1. Measure all ingredients, except fruit, into a mason jar.
  2. Shake well for about a minute. It will be easier to mix in the cocoa powder without clumping if the coconut milk is warm or room temperature.
  3. Let sit a few minutes and shake a second time if seeds seem to settle to the bottom too quickly.
  4. Place in refrigerator overnight to allow seeds to “gel” and create a pudding like texture.
  5. Serve with fresh berries.

*The texture will still have the seeds since they don’t dissolve, but if a creamy texture is paramount in your pudding, I suggest the blender method – blend all ingredients instead of shaking and let sit a few hours in the refrigerator or until mixture is desired thickness.

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Have you tried chia seed pudding or using chia seeds in smoothies or over oats?


Banana Yogurt Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sometimes you just want tea and cake. And you don’t care how healthy it appears to anyone else because – food for the soul, man. I bought a bundt pan after Christmas when an attempt was made at making monkey bread in the angel food cake pan with removable bottom and all of the butter ran out. But since that time I hadn’t found the perfect way to enjoy a bundt cake. Then a couple weeks ago when trying to think of what to bring to a house warming, I stumbled across some banana cakes on Pinterest and couldn’t get the thought out of my head. (I ended up bringing a veggie tray to the party, btw. Can’t always take the nutrition out of the girl.)

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Finally after acquiring a few ripe bananas, it was time to make a cake! Bundt cakes always have this sort of rustic appeal – they don’t need to be perfectly frosted, but are always moist and delicious.

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Rather than the traditional drizzle for a bundt, I opted for a thicker cream cheese frosting because really the only option for banana cake is cream cheese frosting (and you want plenty of frosting).

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There is just something about sitting down to a slice of cake and tea that’s just super peaceful. And of course the tea is black Earl Grey.

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Banana Yogurt Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Serves 16

Ingredients

  • 1/4 c softened butter
  • 1/4 c canola oil
  • 1 & 7/8 c sugar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice (keep the bananas from turning completely brown)
  • 1/2 c milk or almond milk
  • 1 c plain yogurt (full fat)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 8 oz Neufchatel cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups + more powdered sugar depending on desired sweetness
  • 2 T milk or whipping cream

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Grease and flour a bundt pan and set aside. You could also use the spray with flour but make sure every corner is reached.
  3. Mix the lemon juice into the mashed bananas and set aside.
  4. Mix together the butter, oil, and sugar in a bowl.
  5. Incorporate the eggs one at a time into the butter sugar mixture.
  6. Add in the 2 tsp vanilla, salt, milk, and yogurt. Mix well and make sure everything is combined.
  7. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda. Then slowly add in the flour mixture to the rest of the batter.
  8. Lastly, add the mashed bananas and gently fold in to combine.
  9. Pour the batter evenly into the greased and floured bundt pan (I used a 12 cup bundt pan) and bake at 350F for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. When still slightly warm, transfer to a plate by inverting cake and lifting pan. Cake should come out smoothly, but you can run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake if needed.
  11. To make the cream cheese frosting, soften cream cheese to room temperature. Mix together the cream cheese, milk, and 1 tsp vanilla. Adding 1/2 cup at a time, mix in the powdered sugar. You can add additional milk to adjust the frosting consistency to your liking.
  12. Once the cake is mostly cool, frost the cake by “draping” the frosting over the top and letting it fall down the sides. You may have some left over frosting.

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Although the cake was completely delicious, I was so happy I had C to help me eat it. And just like Jack Sprat and his wife, C and I happily share more cake for me and more frosting for him. 🙂

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I think that life needs to be embraced, and we can’t be “healthy” all the time, but we can be well and balanced in body and mind – and sometimes cake is part of that. And brownies. And wine.

What is your favorite treat for keeping balance in life with both mind and body? Do you find it’s a special food treat or maybe a lounge day?


Work Life Balance

Hmm, seeing that I haven’t posted any pictures to Instagram or published a blog post in a month must mean that something is up. And it kind of is – feeling burned out in one part of life tends to transfer to other parts – in this case my ability to find creativity with new recipes.

(Update 6/16/17 – post was lost, update will come with next period of burnout.)


Sophisticated Your Chocolate – Sweet and Savory Chocolates

Have you heard about the Three Pleasures – a dessert challenge that circled in 2016 challenging chefs to create healthier dessert options using the Three Pleasures – dark chocolate, fruit, and nuts? For a cooking demo I’m working on we’re using these three ingredients as a healthier dessert option for diabetics – and if you just want to be healthier in general while satisfying your sweet tooth. While thinking of dried fruit and nut options for a chocolate bark I decided to get a little crazy and thought – what if I add herbs?!

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In my humble opinion, the herbs were a genius way to go. Although I do always enjoy the peanut butter chocolate combo and find it hard to resist chocolate and caramel, the herbs have me thinking in a whole new way.

Since I only made 4 of each flavor (I can’t be tied down with only one flavor and 24 chocolates – I need variety!), they aren’t exact recipes, but I can tell you what you’ll need for each along with the base of: a dark chocolate of at least 60% cocoa, bitter sweet will also work; mini muffin tins; mini muffin papers; and non-stick spray.

I chopped and melted ~12oz of chocolate over a make-shift double boiler – glass bowl set over boiling/simmering water. Melt until just melted – don’t sit there and stir the chocolate for too long or it will eventually start to separate out and become hard because there isn’t enough fat to prevent over working. I then mixed about 2oz of chocolate with each of the described combinations. Spray your muffin paper with the non-stick spray before putting in the chocolate – it just makes them easier to remove. Let it set and then enjoy.

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Walnut and goji berry – no additional spices, just toasted walnuts and gofi berries. I started you off with and easy one.

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Lavender Blueberry – crush 1/2 tsp of edible lavender and mix in with chocolate – sprinkle top with additional lavender and top with dried blueberries. Crushing brings out more of the oils from the lavender along with the flavor (better than finely mincing).

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Chili Cherry Pecan – mix chili powder in with chocolate, about 1/4 tsp (or as spicy as you like), top with dried cherries, pecans, and dusting of additional chili powder.

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Lavender Thyme Pistachio – crush about 1/4 tsp edible/culinary grade lavender, finely mince 1/4 tsp fresh thyme, and mix with chocolate. Top with toasted pistachios and sprinkle with additional lavender. I’m also lucky that the Los Poblanos lavender farm is only a few miles away so I can get some culinary grade lavender at their store too. 🙂

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Rosemary Sea Salt – mince ~1/4-1/2 tsp of fresh rosemary and mix in with chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt and place a sprig of rosemary for decoration – it’s a little too strong to eat with it, but looks pretty.

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Last but definitely not least – I tried my hand with some edible flower over a cluster of dried cherries, blueberries, and pecans. The flower helps to hide the lumpy shape of the cluster.

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Each chocolate is perfectly portioned for a great after dinner treat and the jazzed up flavors do make me feel more sophisticated. Each chocolate is about 1/2 oz of chocolate. Aren’t they gorgeous looking! Although I think they’re all delicious, I think my favorite at this time might be the lavender and blueberry. It just makes me think of the coming spring and makes me happy.

What are some of your favorite more “exotic” chocolate flavors? Have you ever tried to mix your own flavors at home?