1. Taza Chocolate
Confession: I may or may not be a tiny bit of a chocolate snob. I’m not one of those I can’t even touch that ash-metal you call Hershey’s (as some may or may not have said in the past), it’s just that once I had my first taste of Swiss chocolate in college (thank you, Jess Hunkler), I knew there was something I was missing, and I intended to find out.
My usual go-to super market brand is Ghirardelli, especially the minis, which are great for the office. If I am being particularly *fancy* and can find it, I’m all about Merci, which is nothing short of heavenly beside a cappuccino. I also can’t resist the sweet, child-like fun of Kinder chocolates when relatives bring them to us from Europe. But my latest venture into new chocolate territories – which was well rewarded – was when I tried Taza Chocolate.
Please don’t be mislead: this is not the sweet, smooth, easy chocolate that you can simply pop in your mouth and call it a day. This is the espresso of chocolate: that is to say the quarter-sized triangles will last you some time, as they are meant to be savored (like Merci, except not as sweet, so it’s a totally different experience).
Taza chocolate uses a traditional stone-grinding process from Mexico to tranform their fair-trade organic cacao beans into insanely powerful little discs wrapped in the most beautiful paper. Watch the video on their website and you will see how many people they use to manufacture their chocolate right here in New England. And their 70% Dark Chocolate discs (the first bite we tried) are literally just organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar – that’s it!
If you ever wanted to really taste chocolate, you will want to give these a try. They are simply the most chocolate I have every tasted.
2. Home-Roasted Coffee
If you are are a fan of Alton Brown’s Good Eats, then you know that you should always measure your flour and use freshly-ground pepper and coffee.
But did you also know that you can obsess over even more details in the kitchen? Freshly-ground coffee is for kids; let’s talk about freshly roasted coffee. Believe it or not, you don’t need to open your own coffee shop. We can even accomplish the task in our microscopic kitchen.
Let me back up: we have a tiny kitchen. In our tiny kitchen, we save space by not having some appliances, like a dishwasher (not our choice, we wish we had one) or a popcorn machine (we use paper bags). Nevertheless, Massimo came home from his men’s group last week carrying an air-pop popcorn machine, and handed me a small bag with tiny green beans in it.
“One of the men in our group gave me this to try! I can roast my own coffee!” he excitedly explained. It was the perfect new hobby. We went through that first bag really fast, because we had to try all the different roasts, of course! But it was well worth it and I highly recommend it. It just takes a little research and literally minutes of your undivided attention to roast.
Where should you buy the coffee? The sample given to us was from Sweet Maria’s, and that is probably where we will be going for our next batch. Beyond indulging our need to put more work into the things we love the most, buying green coffee beans is actually slightly cheaper than buying pre-roasted coffee. “So it really just makes sense,” Massimo says to me. I’ll admit, it was really great.
3. Freezer Meals
Thanks to a certain Italian explorer and American unions, I had a Monday off this month, and since we had already done almost all our housework over the weekend, what was I to do with all this time? Make freezer meals for later, of course!
If you are like us, getting dinner on the table is not always easy. Between my hangry tendencies and both of us working full-time, who doesn’t want something that just needs to be re-heated or thrown in the crock pot to be eaten? I spent the day making two soups: tomato and split pea and lentil. I also made a batch of dinner rolls to go with them.
I love these because soup is one of my favorite comfort foods, especially with the approaching cooler weather, and I am so tempted to reach for the canned versions, which can be filled with salt, sugar, and all kinds of things that don’t need to be in my food!
With homemade versions, I control the ingredients and nutrition, while freezing allows me to keep them on-hand for whenever the craving strikes. Since it’s just the two of us, making a batch of soup could end up providing dinner for a whole week! I also got to use up produce I had on-hand that would have spoiled if I didn’t turn it into something quick.
I had planned to make at least one more soup, as well as some bases for crock pot meals, but my freezer is so small I barely had enough room for what I made! *Pro-tip: make sure your freezer is big enough for your imagination.*
4. Mason Jars
We use mason jars for so much around our house: storing leftovers, pantry organization, packing lunch, and drinking. They may have risen in popularity thanks to shabby chic decor and hipsters, but we will still be using them long after those aesthetics have drifted from memory.
Mason jars are a staple for home canners (which we have not yet gotten into, but some day hope to), but we love them for so many other purposes! They are clear, so I can see what is in them and how much of that thing I have left. (This might seem trivial, but trust me, it is so much better than opening the box of sugar and finding you have about half what you need.) This is also great because my pantry is narrow and dark, so the clear glass helps a little more light through to the back (*cough* the least amount of light that ever was in a pantry).
They also have handy measurement indicators on the sides, which makes portioning and recipes super easy. They are air-tight, BPA-free, mouse-proof, and insensitive to heat or cold. They also only come in two mouth sizes, so you only need two types of lids on hand, not one million (a la tupperware and its various evil cousins).
Finally, they are crazy cheap. Like, you think it’s a mistake when you first realize how cheap they are. There are a hundreds of glass jars out there, for everything from food storage to home decor, but nothing comes close to the price and versatility of mason jars! I just filled my pantry with wide-mouth one-quart jars labeled with chalkboard stickers and it looks great and has saved me tons of space.
I may be called hipster or whatever, but I don’t care: these jars are seriously one of my favorite tools.
Did you know that 2016 is the United Nations’ “Year of the Pulses?”
“Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.” You are probably familiar with dried beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. You probably eat pulses often, but did you know that these amazing little seeds are super nutritious and could help increase food security and nutrition around the globe?
Pulses are high in protein, fiber, iron, B-vitamins, and potassium. They also have no cholesterol and very little fat. They are basically another food group: providing the common nutrients of grains, meats, and vegetables all in one! And farming pulses is good for the planet: they have a low carbon footprint, can be grown in a variety of climates, and may help restore nutrients to soil otherwise depleted without proper crop rotation.
Finally, they are super inexpensive.You can pick up a bag of dried pulses for a dollar or two at your local supermarket. Once prepared with water, spices, and a few vegetables, you can feed your whole family a nutritious meal for a just a few dollars! I don’t eat meat very often (for health and financial reasons), so pulses provide tons of nutrients and give me great variety while saving me tons of money.
You can make pulses in purees (you know hummus, right: that’s a pulse puree), add them to soups and stews, mash them into vegetarian burgers or meatloaf, or add them to salads or stir fries! They are super versatile and shelf-stable, so it is a win-win all day long.
What have you recently discovered that you are really into? I love suggestions!
–D. E. Barbi Bee