No-bake chocolate peanut butter squares by Suzanne

chocolate peanut butter squares, vegan

The other day I was thinking about how nice it is to have a repertoire of dessert recipes that don’t require you to turn on the oven in the summer.

This made me think about my mother.

She was a beautiful baker and she baked often, in cool weather and in warm. At some point, she put a second oven in an unfinished room in the basement of our family home. This allowed her to bake molasses cookies or cinnamon rolls or blueberry pies on a hot day and for the house to remain cool.

She would appreciate this no-bake recipe for chocolate peanut butter squares. They’re easy to make (no more than 15 minutes prep time) and are the perfect package to deliver you the winning combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

They’re nourishing, too. Especially if you are selective with the quality of your ingredients.

chocolate peanut butter squares, vegan

The base is made in the food processor with oats, dates, peanut butter and salt. I use the lovely and soft medjool dates, and a peanut butter with nothing else added. I use large rolled oats but quick oats do the trick just as well.

The top layer is made of gently melted chocolate - semi sweet, bitter sweet, milk or dark chocolate high in cocoa and low in sugar - and peanut butter. You can also use chocolate chips.

I’ve even included a method for making your own chocolate using cocoa powder, maple syrup and cocoa butter. It’s divine! Maybe cocoa butter is available in a shop near you.

chocolate peanut butter squares, vegan
chocolate peanut butter squares, vegan

No-bake chocolate peanut butter squares

Adapted from and inspired by this recipe.

Base:

2 1/3 cup old fashioned or quick oats

1 cup pitted dates, packed

1 cup peanut butter

1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Line a 8 x 8 pan with enough parchment so you can easily lift the squares out of the pan when it’s time to slice them.

Place oats and salt into the food processor. Blend while adding the dates, a couple at a time until processed well. Mixture will still be dry.

Add peanut butter and vanilla. Continue to process for one to two minutes or until you achieve a big sticky mixture.

Warm your hands and press the mixture into a 8 x 8 pan lined with parchment paper .

Place in fridge or freezer while you prepare the top layer.

Top Layer (two options):

1 cup finely chopped cocoa butter

3 to 5 tbsp maple syrup

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

pinch of sea salt to sprinkle on top (optional)

Chop the cocoa butter. Place in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Add cocoa powder, peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla. Stir occasionally.

When mixture is half way melted, remove from heat and continue to stir until everything is melted and well blended.

OR

1 cup finely chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

1/4 cup peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)

pinch of sea salt to sprinkle on top (optional)

Chop chocolate. Place in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Add peanut butter and vanilla. Stir occasionally.

When mixture is half way melted, remove from heat and continue to stir until everything is melted and well blended.

Remove base from fridge. Pour on the melted chocolate and spread evenly with the back of a spoon or by tilting the pan from side to side to side to evenly distribute the chocolate. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Return to the fridge and let sit until solidified but not so hard you can’t easily slice. When it’s time to cut, lift the squares from the pan and slice into bite-sized or large squares by pressing a warmed blade of a large knife down firmly and then dragging it back in a single motion.

Store in an air tight container in the fridge. I don’t know how long they will last because we eat them in a week or less. I imagine they will keep at least two weeks or even longer in the freezer.

chocolate peanut butter squares, vegan

This and that by Suzanne

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

1. these sponge toffee cliffs

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because I loved hiking them last week.

2. these handmade pottery bowls

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because they are so beautifully wabi sabi.

3. this feline friend

because he knows how to warm his bones first thing in the morning.

4. these shell remnants

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because they remind me of my beach combing nature.

5. these spring flowers

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Power truffles by Suzanne

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Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day! It’s not too late to make something sweet and nourishing for those you love.

How about these truffles. They are easy to make, so long as you have food processor, and are the perfect treat to satisfy a sweet tooth and nourish the body.

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Power truffles (from The Living Kitchen)

1 1/2 cups pitted dates 

1 cup raw walnuts

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/2 cup raw cocoa powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of sea salt

2 tbsp virgin coconut oil, softened

1-2 tbsp water, if necessary

1 cup unsweetened coconut


Put walnuts and sunflower seeds in food processor and blend until coarsely ground. Be careful not to over process or the mixture will become oily.

Add cocoa, cinnamon and salt and process some more.

Next, add coconut oil and dates and blend until a dough forms. 

If you need to, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is blended well and sticky enough to form into balls.

Scoop mixture out by the tablespoon and form into balls.

Put coconut in a bowl and roll each ball in it until completely covered.

*Notes:

Make sure to use fresh walnuts. Sometimes run-of-the-mill grocery store walnuts are bitter.

You can lightly toast the coconut for extra flavour.

Store in an air tight container in the fridge for 2 weeks or in the freezer for 2 months.

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Embrace the mess and reap the rewards; deseeding a pomegranate by Suzanne

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The pomegranate, one of the world’s oldest fruits, revered and held sacred by many religions and cultures since ancient times, was never on my radar growing up in eastern Canada.

As this exotic fruit became more popular in the west and more widely available in grocery stores, my awareness grew. They are especially abundant in the stores from September to January when the ones grown in California are in season.

However, the pomegranate remained mysterious and unfamiliar; I knew nothing about its rich history and it would be years before I would finally taste one.

The pomegranate is believed to have originated in Persia as far back as 2000 B.C. It’s a fruit that’s inspired cultures around the world.

The pomegranate is represented in Greek and Roman mythology, biblical texts, ancient manuscripts, Chinese folktales, and the sacred writings of Islam, and it’s the fruit of choice on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish holiday. Some scholars debate whether the apple in the Garden of Eden was in fact a pomegranate!

It’s been portrayed in sculpture, architecture, stained glass, mosaics, ceramics, textiles, and often depicted in paintings, usually in the hands of the Virgin Mary, the infant Jesus or a Greek goddess. It also figures in texts such as The Canterbury Tales, The Odyssey, and Romeo and Juliet.

My introduction was pomegranate seeds in a festive cocktail someone served me. Tiny ruby-red, jewel-like capsules (called arils but mostly referred to as seeds) brightened the drink. When I bit into one it released an unforgettable sweet-sour juice in my mouth.

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The more I see whole and unseeded pomegranates in the shops, the more I note their sculptural appeal.

I like the odd shape. Sometimes the skin, a thick leathery peel in shades of red, pink, yellow, orange and purple, is bumpy and uneven and there’s that funny tiny crown at one end. Pick one up and feel its unexpected weight, evidence of hundreds of seeds inside.

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The seeds’ healing properties have been extolled since ancient times and, in the last several decades, scientific research has confirmed their remarkable nutritional benefits. 

Pomegranate seeds have higher than average levels of antioxidants, are rich in vitamin C, K, B-complex and minerals such as copper, calcium, and potassium. Lately, they outshine blueberries in terms of super-food status.

Pomegranate seeds are also very versatile. They add colour, flavour and texture to salad, cocktails, dessert, roasted vegetables and grain dishes. You can turn them into juice, eat them by the spoonful or sprinkle them on your morning oatmeal. You can even make pomegranate molasses.

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I bought my first pomegranates for ornamental reasons. When I finally broke one open I was entranced! Inside, hundreds of tiny red seeds, cushioned and hiding in a spongy white pith and separated into chambers by a waxy membrane.

Methods for deseeding a pomegranate abound. I read about a grandma who kept the children in her care nourished and busy by giving each a section of a pomegranate and a tooth pick to retrieve the seeds, one by one. I love that!

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Here’s my favourite method:

  1. You need a knife, a large bowl a wooden spoon, and be good at thwacking.

  2. Protect your clothing as if you were about to paint. Pomegranate juice stains!

  3. Roll the pomegranate around to loosen the seeds from the peel.

  4. Score the peel around the middle of the fruit, horizontally, with a sharp knife. Do not cut through into the seeds.

  5. Gently break open into two halves.

  6. Hold half of the pomegranate, with the seeds facing down, over a large bowl and thwack the skin with a wooden spoon or spatula.

  7. Gently squeeze to encourage the release of the seeds from the white membrane as you continue thwacking.

  8. Remove any remaining seeds with your fingers or a spoon.

  9. Do the same with the other half. 

  10. Remove any bits of pith from the bowl.

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Store seeds in a container in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for several months. To freeze, spread seeds in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the freezer, uncovered, for about two hours. Transfer seeds to an airtight container and return to freezer.

Whole pomegranates look beautiful in a bowl on a counter top and will keep like that for up to two weeks. They keep in the refrigerator for a few months.

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This and that by Suzanne

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

  1. this bed

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because I’m using bed clothes origami until I find a new duvet cover.

2. this cat grass

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because I have a thoughtful cat-loving friend who the sends me seeds.

3. this rose water

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because regular spritzing relieves my dried skin.

4. this juice made from tangerines, carrots, ginger and turmeric

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because I’m calling on all the elixirs to get me through winter.

5. these pomegranates

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because I have finally embraced the mess of seeding them.

Noticed elsewhere:

a passion for photographing cats.

sober musicians

this home

sumac wax candles

up-cycled fabrics

A spicy molasses cookie to nourish your soul by Suzanne

I recently read about an exercise and it had me intrigued: “Using any material on any surface, make or draw or render a four-foot-tall totem pole of your life. Include anything you want: words, letters, maps, photos, objects, signs. This should take no longer than a week. Now show it to someone who does not know you well. Tell them only, ‘This is a totem pole of my life till now.’ That’s all. It doesn’t matter if they like it. Ask them to tell you what it means about your life. No clues. Listen to what they tell you.” 

I thought about it for a bit and decided a molasses cookie was an apt emblem of my childhood.

When I bake molasses cookies I am transported; I’m a child on a chair at the kitchen counter helping my mother make a batch. I smell them baking and there I am walking through the back door of our home on Janice Street, the scent of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg all around me and she is pulling a sheet of molasses cookies out of the oven.

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In the early nineties I discovered a cookie recipe not unlike the one my mother used and it came from an unlikely source - a medieval nun named Hildegarde of Bingen. Like the cookies my mother baked hers were spiced with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg.

Hildegarde recommends you eat her spice cookies at least once a day to help lift melancholia, open your heart and bring you a sense of cheerfulness and joy. In particular, she credits nutmeg for the cookies’ positive effects. She writes,

“Nutmeg has great heat and good moderation in its powers. If a person eats nutmeg, it will open up your heart, make your judgment free from obstruction and give you a good disposition. Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves, and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water. Eat them often. It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses, and make your mind cheerful. It purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors in you. It gives good liquid to your blood and makes you strong.”

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If I had one wish for all of you as we approach a New Year it would be this: take good care of yourself.

Accompanying that wish is a molasses cookie recipe - an updated version, inspired by my mother and a 12th century mystic.

May the warm spicy goodness of these cookies help banish any gloom and elevate your mood in the days and months ahead.

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Spicy Molasses Cookies

1/4 cup coconut oil or butter

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1/4 cup cane sugar

I egg, slightly beaten

1/4 cup black strap molasses

1 cup spelt flour or all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated OR 1 tsp dried ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, freshly ground if possible

extra sugar for rolling in (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream the oil, coconut sugar and cane sugar until creamy. If using freshly grated ginger, add it here.

Add the beaten egg and molasses, and mix until combined well.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl.

Combine wet and dry.

Place the cookie dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until the dough is easy to handle.

Roll equal sized portions of the dough into 1-inch balls.

Roll each ball in sugar to coat.

Place on the cookie sheet and flatten each ball with your hand or the bottom of a glass.

Bake for 10 minutes, until cookies begin to crack on top.

Remove and let cool.

Store in an airtight container.

Notes:

I baked this batch a little on the long side so they have a nice crunch without being too crunchy. If you want more chew than crunch, consider removing them from the oven just before they are finished baking and let them rest on the hot sheet for a couple more minutes.

If you don’t have any coconut sugar you can substitute regular sugar.

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Amaryllis; a plant for the holiday and beyond by Suzanne

When I was growing up nothing said Christmas quite like a poinsettia. But for the last decade or longer the amaryllis has become equally if not more popular (at least here in Canada) and is often the go-to plant to decorate homes this time of year.

In late November and early December amaryllis bulbs, potted and ready to bloom, are found in florists shops. Kits to grow your own - potting soil, a bulb and a plastic pot - start appearing in grocery, garden and hardware stores. Some of you might even be able to find loose bulbs for sale. That way you can choose a bulb that looks promising, with the tip of the flower bud emerging from the bulb.

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Above: Perfectly potted and ready to bloom, at Bloomfields Flowers.

Here are a few reasons why Amaryllis is a perfect plant to have inside your home this season:

Its willingness to produce beautiful blooms in the dead of winter. It’s relatively easy to coax this tropical plant to bloom. Soil isn’t even necessary and you can, as with paper whites, use water as your growing medium. The blooms, spectacular in size and available in many bold and bright colours, light up a room with ease. 

Amaryllis give you sculptural bang for your buck. A single bulb can produce a theatrical display with a cluster of trumpet-like flowers. You can watch the plant gracefully shape-shift as it grows. An amaryllis is beautiful at each stage of growth - when the bud first emerges from the bulb, when the blooms eventually unfold and everywhere in between. There’s always something splendid for the eye to behold.

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The blooms are long lasting. A bloom time of six to seven weeks means a bit of green and colour to carry us to the other side of the holidays, after the decorations have been cleared away.

Amaryllis flowers are beautiful no matter how you showcase them. Potted amaryllis still growing and on the verge of blooming look great on tabletops, windowsills, and easily at home amongst other holiday decor. Use amaryllis as a cut flower, too. When the bud first cracks open, cut the stem right above the bulb and place in water in a tall glass vase. Place on a coffee table near the tree. Mix a few amaryllis stems with other flowers and greenery and place in a beautiful urn for a theatrical holiday centrepiece.

Holiday decor from Bloomfields Flowers.

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Above: Amaryllis blooms, the stars of this sculptural beauty by Bloomfields Flowers.

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Above: Amaryllis are known to get top heavy and are at risk for toppling over. No chance of that for this potted amaryllis thanks to the sturdy clay pot and the well-anchored bulb. By Bloomfields Flowers.

An amaryllis bulb, whether already in bloom or on its way, makes a wonderful gift. And it’s the gift that can keep on giving, as long as you treat it right. Some folks toss the plant in the compost after it’s finished flowering but, with a regimen of care, an amaryllis bulb can reward you with blooms that get better with each passing year. For decades even!

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This and that by Suzanne

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

  1. these beautiful eggplants

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because they were almost too pretty to eat. almost.

2. these calendars

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because I designed them myself.

3. this magical place

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because it’s looking particularly exquisite this season.

4. these cotton bags

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because I love the lightweight and expandable design.

5. these candles

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Dark chocolate-covered cashew cherry balls by Suzanne

These easy to make no-bake balls are delicious and nutrient dense; made with ingredients high in vitamins and minerals and with flavours to please your tastebuds.

Especially noteworthy is the tart cherry flavour, which balances the sweetness of the dates and pairs beautifully with the dark chocolate coating, if you choose to go that route.

Make a double batch and store them in the fridge to have on hand as a snack or after dinner dessert. Packaged thoughtfully they make a great hostess gift.

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I used raw cashews but you could use roasted ones.

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Make sure you use sour dried cherries. These are Montmorency cherries.

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If your dates are dried out soak them for 10 minutes in warm water. Drain well before blending.

I was out of the much preferred finely shredded coconut and made do with dried coconut chips. To avoid a longer processing time, I coarsely blended the coconut chips first before adding the cashews.

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Melt the dark chocolate gently. I used a metal bowl sitting on a pot of simmering water. Make sure the base of the bowl does not sit in the water and that only the steam is melting the chocolate.

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Dark chocolate-covered cashew cherry balls

Makes 20 to 24 balls

12 medjool dates, pitted

1 cup dried tart cherries 

1 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened

1 1/2 cup cashews, raw or roasted

1 tsp almond or vanilla extract

pinch of fine sea salt

4 ounces dark chocolate, melted (optional)

Add dates to food processor and blend until broken up into little bits.

Add coconut, cashews, cherries, extract and salt.

Pulse and combine until a sticky dough is formed. Be careful not to over-process or the mixture will become oily.

Using a spoon, scoop out the mixture and carefully roll into 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls using the warmth of your hands to mold them. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Pop the cookie sheet of balls in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes or until firm.

Roughly chop the dark chocolate. Place in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally.

When the chocolate is half way melted, remove from heat and continue to stir until the remaining chocolate melts. 

Dip each ball into the melted chocolate and roll around until completely covered (I use a spoon). Lift out and return to the parchment lined sheet.

Return to fridge and allow the chocolate to harden.

Store balls in an air-tight container or large zip lock bag for up to two weeks. Place in the freezer for longer storage time.

Remove from fridge five minutes before eating, or longer if stored in the freezer.

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Peach-apple crumble, vegan and gluten-free by Suzanne

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It was soul satisfying to see the wooden trough on the dining room table overflowing with apples and peaches lately but eventually I had to decide what to make with all that gorgeous fruit.

I wanted a recipe that was simple, unfussy and forgiving.  I wanted to make something that would fill our home with a wonderful aroma. Something comforting, delicious and nourishing to eat.

A fruit crumble checked all the boxes.

A crumble is simple to make and requires these simple things:  a greased pan that’s just the right amount deep, a fruit filling and a crumbled topping. 

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Your fruit of choice is washed, prepped, coarsely chopped and tossed directly into a greased baking dish with some flavouring.

Be mindful of how much sweetener you add to the filling; more if you use rhubarb and less if you use peaches. I didn’t need to add sweetener to my apple and peach filling. For flavouring I used lemon, cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg.

This topping, made with coconut oil and almond flour instead of the usual butter and flour, is delicate and crunchy. If you need to go the vegan and gluten-free route and even when you don’t, know that these are great substitutions for the usual flour and butter.

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This fruit crumble stands firmly on its own as a weeknight dessert or you could dress it up with a dollop of cream (non-dairy or otherwise) for a special occasion. It’s also delicious to eat for breakfast with a steaming hot cup of green tea.

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Peach-apple crumble, vegan and gluten-free

For the filling:

4 peaches

5 large apples. I used MacIntosh apples.

1/2 lemon, zest and juice

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

For the topping:

2 cups large rolled oats

1/2 cup almond flour

1/4 cup brown sugar or sweetener of your choice

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

3/4 cup coconut oil

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Lightly grease an approx. 9'“ x 7” baking dish.

Peel, core and chop fruit into chunky pieces. 

Place the apples and peaches in baking dish.

Sprinkle cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg over the fruit. 

Add the lemon zest and juice and lightly toss.

In a large bowl place almond flour, rolled oats, walnuts, sugar, and salt. Mix with a fork to combine. 

Add the coconut oil and continue to blend with a fork until combined. 

Sprinkle crumble topping over the fruit. Try to work on a depth half that of the fruit. Too thick and the middle won't cook.

Press the topping down with your hands or the back of a large spoon.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden and you can see the fruit bubbling through from underneath.

Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

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This and that by Suzanne

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

  1. these apples

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because they were hand picked by a wonderful 17 year-old boy.

2. this smart packaging

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because it accepts refills.

3. these items for the mail

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because it’s a nice way to express thanks.

4. this house plant

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because it reminds me, always seek the light.

5. this fence

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Chocolate peanut butter cups by Suzanne

If you’re a fan of chocolate peanut butter cups you will appreciate knowing it’s easy to make your own and tailor them to your specifics likes and dislikes. 

I have only made these twice and I'm happy with the results even though there’s more tweaking I could do. For example, next time I will pour a little less chocolate in the bottom of each cup so the base is not quite as thick. 

Otherwise, the results are excellent.

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Here are some extra tips to help you adjust the recipe to suit your tastebuds:

I use dark chocolate but you may prefer milk chocolate or semi sweet. You can use chopped chocolate or chocolate chips. 

I use a natural peanut butter with no added ingredients. It’s runny so I thicken it with coconut flour to absorb the moisture. Depending on how thick or thin your brand of peanut butter is you can skip adding coconut flour. Or you may need a touch more or less than I use.

You could also use powdered sugar to thicken the peanut butter. If you use powdered sugar don’t add the maple syrup and be selective about what type of chocolate you use. Perhaps one that’s less sweet.

I use silicon muffin tin liners that are 2 1/2 inches in diameter but you can use paper ones. You can also user a smaller size.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Makes 12 cups using 2 1/2 inch liners

Ingredients

3/4 cup peanut butter, creamy or crunchy 

280 grams (10 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 tablespoons of maple syrup 

2 tablespoons coconut flour

salt to taste

Melt the chocolate and coconut oil over a double boiler. Stir constantly until more than half the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat to melt the rest, stirring until smooth. 

If using paper liners, insert into a muffin tin. Add equal amounts of melted chocolate to each cup and paint the inside of the liner with the melted chocolate - swish it around until it coats the sides, no more than halfway up the liner.

Place in the fridge to harden for 5 minutes.

Mix together the peanut butter, maple syrup, salt and coconut flour and stir until smooth. Let it sit for a couple minutes to firm up as the coconut flour will continue to absorb moisture with time. Add a touch more coconut flour if necessary. Or if it's too dry, add a touch more syrup. 

Add 1 generous tablespoon of peanut butter mixture to each cup. Press down to flatten. Cover the peanut butter with more melted chocolate and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes or until hardened.

Transfer to an airtight container. I store mine in the fridge and take out 5 minutes before eating.

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Tomato, corn and avocado salad by Suzanne

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This hearty salad is a feast for the eyes (all those colours!) as well as the appetite.

But before you get to enjoy it you must chop, a chore you might like to delegate or hope to avoid all together.

Or you can decide chopping is part of the beauty of life. I'm beginning to notice, when focussing on this simple task as best as I can, a sort of peacefulness. Using fresh produce and a good sharp knife improves the chopping experience, too.

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Serve this salad as a chunky guacamole with a side bowl of corn chips or as a salad to accompany a main dish. Throw in a can of rinsed black beans and you've got yourself a complete meal.

Tomato, corn and avocado salad

4 ears of corn

4 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and 1/2-inch diced

4 tomatoes, 1/2-inch diced

8 green onion, thinly sliced or 1/2 cup diced red onion

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander (or other herb of choice)

Salt and ground pepper to taste

Microwave the cobs in their husks for 3-4 minutes. Once cool, remove husks and chop the kernels off with the cobs lying on their sides. 

Chop remaining ingredients.

Gently toss the all the ingredients in a large bowl with lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and chopped coriander.

Garnish with extra chopped green onion and coriander. Squeeze a couple of sections of lime on the salad right before serving.

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Egg-stuffed tomatoes with pesto by Suzanne

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Here's a recipe that works as a side dish or as a main course when doubled, for when you're dining alone or serving brunch to several guests. 

The recipe is easy to prepare, but here are some added tips:

If your tomatoes don't sit up right, slice the bottom tip off so they won’t roll around. 

Use large tomatoes, at least 3 inches in diameter.

Run a paring knife around the inner rim of the tomato, loosening up the flesh on the inside of the tomato. Use a small spoon and scoop out the flesh, juice and seeds of the tomato. 

Don't waste the insides! I save them to make taboulie. Or blend with a little garlic and onion and then mix it into your pasta sauce.

You can use store-bought pesto or make your own. Alternatively,  you can season the insides of the tomatoes with oregano, pepper and a little olive oil.

Don't fret about a little overflow. Some egg white might end up on the bottom of the baking sheet but don't let it bother you, although I suggest you line your baking dish with parchment for an easy clean up. 

I topped mine with crumbled goat feta and cracked black pepper. But any grated cheese will work, as would bread crumbs, chopped parsley or green onion.

Egg-stuffed tomatoes with pesto

Adapted from this recipe.

Large tomatoes

Pesto

Eggs

Salt and pepper

Cheese for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F

Brush an oven proof dish with olive oil or line with parchment paper.

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds and flesh.

Sprinkle the insides with a little salt and place upside down on paper towel for 10 minutes to drain.

Place the tomatoes in the prepared dish. 

Put a spoonful of pesto inside each tomato or season the insides with oregano, pepper and a little olive oil.

Break an egg into each tomato. Add topping of your choice (grated cheese, crumbled feta, bread crumbs).

Bake for 25 minutes, or for less time if you want your eggs runny.

Garnish with parsley (optional) and serve.

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Glebe House Tour 2018, sneak peek by Suzanne

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If you're in or near Ottawa on Sunday, September 16th you should buy a ticket and come on the Glebe House Tour. What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon; strolling around a beautiful historic neighbourhood, exploring the interiors of five private homes. There's even a complimentary Tea Service afterwards at the local community centre.

We're in final stages of planning and things are coming together nicely. In fact, the ticket (also a booklet to guide you as you tour) is ready for the printer! 

Throughout May and June a few of us (members of a committee of 11) visited each home to get to know the homeowners and gather information. I captured each home in pixels, while Stephanie summed them up in words.

Here's a glimpse of what's in store:

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One of the owners of this home is a self-described garage sale fanatic with a knack for spotting hidden treasures and giving them new life. Vibrant colours throughout this home are inspired partly by time spent living in Mexico. Note the charming three-season porches on both the left and right sides of the house — perfect for relaxing and watching the world go by.

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The owners of this home fell instantly in love with the soaring ceilings and peaceful setting of this hidden jewel overlooking Brown's Inlet. Natural light plays off Venetian plaster walls to create a gorgeous backdrop for a stunning collection of art and furniture. The kitchen features a beautiful backsplash and heated slate floors. The luxurious master retreat opens onto a terrace overlooking the inlet.  

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From the heated driveway to the master ensuite, the renovations to this gracious home focused on making it comfortable and maintenance-free for an active, retired life. The entire home is lovely - with an impressive collection of art and furniture, some pieces which were custom-made to go with cherished family heirlooms. A real show-stopper is the three-season room and deck off the second floor — a cottage getaway with the comforts of home.  

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This lovely home features an addition that flows seamlessly from the original part of the house. Rather than stored away out of sight, family photos, mementos and heirlooms are beautifully curated and on display throughout the home, as is an amazing art collection. Be sure to allow time to enjoy the gorgeous multi-level garden.

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In renovating this grand old home, the homeowners respected the original footprint but gutted and rebuilt the interior with a contemporary take on traditional style. The result is gorgeous. White oak floors add to the home's bright, airy feeling, while the chevron pattern adds visual interest. In the kitchen, doors that appear to form part of a seamless wall of cabinets actually lead to an office and to the basement. 

This and that by Suzanne

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

1. this homemade yogurt

because it's made with almonds by my friend and neighbour.

2. this cake

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because decorating with berries and flowers is my new thing.

3. this chamomile

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because it's homegrown and handpicked.

4. these petals

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because I have specific plans for them.

5. these aromatic leaves

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How to move a peony bush without upsetting the fairies by Suzanne

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I’m excited about our backyard make-over but nervous about the fate of two spectacular peony bushes.

I need to move them before yard work begins. But here’s the thing: peony plants, especially mature ones like the ones in our yard, don’t like to be moved. Plus now is not the best time; autumn, when peonies are entering dormancy, is ideal. But I can’t wait until then. 

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In the Victorian age it was considered unlucky to dig up a peony bush and, if you did, the fairies would curse you. 

I dislike thoughts of upsetting fairies or inviting curses and yet determined to save the peonies before the yard gets dug up. I'm hopeful yet aware the odds of a successful transplant aren’t necessarily in my favour.

Now may not be the best time for transplanting but there are factors I have control over, which might make the move less traumatic. 

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It’s challenging to transplant a mature peony without causing root damage. To invite success - and by success I mean a bush that continues to produce blooms - I plan to proceed carefully and respectfully, digging as wide and as deep as possible to minimize disturbance. 

Next, I will replant quickly and in a sunny location, taking care to plant the bushes no deeper than they were growing before. The more shallow the better.

A little added compost will help.

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Even if all goes well the peonies might be resentful; it's normal to lose a couple of seasons of blooms after a transplant.  

It might be awhile before these bushes flower again and, since peony season is so fleeting, here are a few tips to help you really enjoy these elegant blooms while they’re here:

Bring them inside and place them in single stem vases or in bunches in larger vases.

Cut the buds before they’ve fully opened but after they’ve started to crack.

Give stems an angle cut.

The more foliage you strip off before you put them in water, the more the water will hydrate the flower heads and cause them to open quickly. 

Ants love the sticky syrup that appears on the buds. They usually parade off but if the ants haven’t left and you want to bring cut flowers inside, cut the stems and place the flowers in a water-filled vase, place it in the shade and leave outside overnight. The ants should vacate and then you can bring the flowers inside without bringing the ants in, too.

Peony blooms dry beautifully. Attach a rubber band around each stem or bunch and hang flowers upside down. Allow to dry for one to two weeks or until they are no longer limp when turned right side up.

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Chocolate layer cake with ganache and mashed raspberries, grain-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free by Suzanne

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How wonderful is it that, even if you're grain, dairy and refined sugar averse, you can still bake a delicious chocolate layer cake and eat it too.

For me this cake is the perfect amount of sweet. But, then again, I'm someone who tends to decrease the amount of sweetener called for in dessert recipes. The batter is sweetened with maple syrup and the ganache with big soft medjool dates and a wee bit of maple syrup. So feel free to increase both if your palate demands more sweetness.

This is a two layer version made with seven inch pans but you could do a triple layer with smaller pans.

Added bonus: this cake freezes beautifully and, I dare say, tastes even better once frozen and then a slice warmed in the microwave for about 45 seconds. It reminds me a bit of those chocolate molten cakes. Delicious!

Inspired by this recipe.

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Cake:

3 cups almond meal

1/3 cup cocoa

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp sea salt

3 eggs

3/4 cup maple syrup

3/4 cup water

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare two 6 or 7 inch pans by greasing and lining with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine the almond meal, cocoa, baking soda and sea salt.

Combine eggs, maple syrup, water and vanilla extract, and add to dry mixture. Stir.

Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 25 minutes or until tooth pic inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool before icing with ganache and topping cake with strawberry sauce.

 

Ganache:

4 oz 100% cocoa baking chocolate

4 tablespoons coconut oil (melted)

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 cup coconut milk

9 pitted medjool dates

Over very low heat or in a double boiler melt coconut oil and baking chocolate. Once melted, remove from heat. Add to blender along with coconut milk, maple syrup and dates. Blend until consistency is smooth. Allow to chill in fridge until it becomes thick enough to spread (about 20 to 30 minutes.)

Raspberry sauce:

Mash 2 cups raspberries, add 2 tablespoons maple syrup and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.

Cook over low heat for 25 minutes.

Allow to cool; spread evenly on top of iced cake. Top with raspberries.

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This and that by Suzanne

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

1. this method of seed starting.

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because eggshells are biodegradable, the perfect size and can be planted directly into the soil after being cracked a little.

2. these purple harbingers of spring

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because they're here for such a short time.

3. this beauty

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because I'm plant sitting until the end of summer.

4. this simple solution to increased well being

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because pure celery juice is delicious and most definitely underrated.

5. this breakfast for one

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because saving leftover batter from three days ago was a good idea.

Noticed elsewhere:

time for a new one or two.

animal comfort.

good for your teeth and the earth.

the quest for happiness can do more harm than good.

serving plates as light as leaves.

taking risks.

How to get the most out of a beautiful bouquet by Suzanne

I love spending time with flowers. Flowers are the pets of the plant world. Like pets, they help reduce stress and make me feel good.

Imagine how pleased I was to receive this stunning Spring bouquet.

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It’s hard to allow a beautiful bouquet to sit alone in a room, unappreciated, so I often move it to whatever room I'm spending time in; from the dining table to the computer table, to the kitchen counter while I prepare dinner and then back to the table while we eat. I might even bring it to the bedroom and place it on a bedside table to see first thing in the morning. 

If it's a big bouquet with blooms galore, I snag a few individual stems from the bunch and place each in a vase of its own and then scatter these wee arrangements about our home to greet me, no matter where I turn.

If a bloom gets accidentally knocked off, don't despair. Let it live out its final days floating in a bowl of water on your coffee table. 

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*Flowers by Bloomfields Flowers, my favourite flower shop in Ottawa.