Fall Harvest Chocolate Bark

Fall Harvest Chocolate Bark www.learning-grace.com

Or how to impress your friends and neighbors with minimal effort.

I experienced an ice cream shortage the other night which led me to mix a half-scoop of pumpkin with a scoop of chocolate. I wasn’t sure how it’d come out, but I now wonder why we can’t buy pumpkin ice cream with a chocolate swirl.

I loved the pumpkin pie spices with the chocolate, and so I naturally thought about how I could recreate this in some other form. The result is this fall harvest chocolate bark. Chocolate bark is a quick candy to make and with the right care can come out to be absolutely beautiful. Here’s how I made this.

Roast the hazelnuts at 275 degrees for 15-20 minutes. They burn very easily, so pull them out as soon as you start smelling them. Dump the nuts on a dishtowel and wait five or so minutes and rub them together inside the towels to get the skins off. And pop one or two of the warm ones in your mouth. They are SO delicious!!

I chopped those up using my food chopper and set them aside. Then I prepared my work surface with a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet and measured out my chocolates and other ingredients. You want everything ready to go.

Everything you need to make Fall Harvest Chocolate Bark www.learning-grace.com

The only trick to chocolate bark is tempering the chocolate so it comes out looking beautiful. There’s a lot of wonderful ways to do this. I like this reference from Serious Eats. I melted the semi-sweet chocolate on the stove in a bain marie (metal bowl over a pot of boiling water), using unmelted morsels to “seed” and temper the chocolate. I stirred in the pumpkin pie spice at the very end. I melted the white chocolate in the microwave.

When everything was ready to go, I spread the semi-sweet chocolate onto the parchment with an offset spatula and then dribbled the white chocolate over top. Now, here’s the fun part, take a bamboo skewer and draw little circles around the white chocolate to create a marbled effect. It’s pretty addicting, but try not to overdo it.

Then, sprinkle the rest of the toppings on top and lightly press them into the chocolate. Let it cool on the counter for about an hour. If you want to cut it into neat squares, do it now. If you want to break it up into irregular pieces, put it in the fridge to finish hardening, then just break it up.

Chocolate bark makes a wonderful thank you or hostess gift. And it looks impressive with minimal effort. Enjoy!

Fall Harvest Chocolate Bark
Serves 15
Easy and beautiful chocolate bark with pumpkin pie spices.
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134 calories
16 g
2 g
8 g
1 g
4 g
27 g
9 g
14 g
0 g
3 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
27g
Servings
15
Amount Per Serving
Calories 134
Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 8g
13%
Saturated Fat 4g
21%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 3g
Cholesterol 2mg
1%
Sodium 9mg
0%
Total Carbohydrates 16g
5%
Dietary Fiber 1g
5%
Sugars 14g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A
0%
Vitamin C
0%
Calcium
2%
Iron
3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 8 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate
  2. 4 oz good quality white chocolate
  3. 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  4. 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  5. 1/4 cup hazelnuts, roasted, skinned, and chopped
Instructions
  1. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet.
  2. Melt and temper semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler or using another method.
  3. Melt white chocolate similarly.
  4. Spread out the melted semi-sweet chocolate on the parchment, using an offset spatula to spread it out evenly to about 1/8-inch thick.
  5. Use a spoon to drizzle melted white chocolate across the semi-sweet.
  6. Use a bamboo skewer to create a marbled effect with the white chocolate.
  7. Evenly sprinkle cranberries and hazelnuts across the chocolate and lightly press them with your hand.
  8. Let cool on the counter for one hour and cut/break into desired pieces.
beta
calories
134
fat
8g
protein
1g
carbs
16g
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Learning Grace http://www.learning-grace.com/
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Inside Out

Inside Out

Sometimes when we’re walking, Ken and the kids run ahead and I just stop and watch the three of them, my heart beating wildly. They are pieces of me, my heart, out there in the open.

I feel inside out.

What was once on the inside, protected within me is now out, running free down the sidewalk where God knows what could happen. I didn’t know having a family could do this to me. I didn’t know it was possible to love so much that I actually do feel as if I could burst.

J and S run,  laughing and playing their sibling games. They fall down and bounce right back up. They don’t know I’m constantly scanning the driveways, watching for things that may cause them to trip, or broken glass on the sidewalk. That every time they fall I catch my breath for a second while I figure out if it’s major or minor. They just are filled with joie de vivre. I’m not all worry and woe. They make me run, laugh, and love in ways I never considered. They bring out my best parts. (And sometimes the worst ones, too—but we’re not talking about that, today.)

And this is where I have to pause and remember that we are grounded and we are raising our kids to be the same. We have roots that will tether us when hardship comes. Oh God, I hope they will.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NRSV)

This passage has been my tether in many a storm. We do have a future with a hope. And I love to see it bounding down the street.

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Real Food for Real Families

Why we eat unprocessed food and why I became a Pampered Chef consultant. www.learning-grace.com

I became a Pampered Chef consultant this month. If someone told me I’d be doing this even six months ago, I’d probably tell my friend to shut up. All our journeys take surprising turns that make sense in retrospect. So, here’s the backstory:

Ken and I enjoy food and I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I’m also very interested in how what we eat affects us. In the fall of 2013, around the time J was diagnosed with autism, I began seriously looking into various diets and how they could help. I have seen how diets like Feingold can be game changers for some kids. So, after quite a bit of research we decided to cut as much processed food from our diet as we could. I started reading labels. I did a lot of research. I felt really overwhelmed, so I just took it one step at a time. The blog 100 Days of Real Food helped me a lot.

I started with our baked goods (stop right now and go read the side of your bread bag, that’s a long list, isn’t it?). I figured out how to make our own 100% whole wheat bread and tortillas, I’ve even made bagels. And then I moved on to change other things. Over time, we ditched just about everything that comes from a box. I admit—a few items have made tBagel-making is fun! If I can do it, you can do it, too. www.learning-grace.comheir way back into our lives lately. It’s a constant balancing act.

The differences we saw in J’s behavior and especially his eating habits amazed us. Before we eliminated processed foods, he would only eat about five or six foods. I hesitated to make the switch to whole, unprocessed foods because I didn’t know what he’d eat. But we tried it out, anyway. We were amazed to see how his palate changed in about a week. Suddenly he was eating a wider variety of healthier foods. Even today, if we go on vacation and the kids eat lot of processed foods, they’ll become super picky until I get us back on track.

It’s taken a lot of learning and kitchen experiments to find a liveable balance for us. I don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen, and we don’t have a huge grocery budget. (We are also New Yorkers and don’t have a car, so our shopping choices are limited.) You will find some convenience foods in our kitchen, but I’d say our diet is probably 80–90% unprocessed foods.

During this time, I’ve found myself talking to others struggling with some of the same things: how to provide their families with whole healthful meals with limited time and money. And I’ve found that helping others make these same changes is a passion of mine. But, I’m not a nutritionist, dietician, or chef. I’m just someone who’s read and tried a lot of different approaches. I’ve thought about a bunch of different ways to incorporate food into the next iteration of my career, but all of them require a large up-front investment of time and money, both of which are in short supply these days.

Then, a couple of months ago I was invited to a Pampered Chef party, and it clicked. I love Pampered Chef products—they are truly innovative and help make cooking easier. The quality is also great—I have some Pampered Chef stoneware that’s old enough to vote, and I use it every week. Being a Pampered Chef consultant would also provide a way for me to talk about eating real whole foods and how to make it possible for everyday families, while getting some good tools in their hands to make this leap feasible.

So, here I am a new Pampered Chef consultant, having parties and learning the ropes! I started a Facebook Page, if you want to follow this particular journey of mine.

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Being Present

There are a lot of times when I should let go and enjoy the moment. I get too caught up on the end result or what’s next, to remember where I am.

After an exciting weekend of breaking in a new scooter, waffles from his favorite restaurant, a kid’s play, the farmer’s market, and a trip to a really cool playground, I asked J what was his favorite thing from the weekend. He replied, “cutting carrots with mommy.”

We had made applesauce carrot muffins together in what I thought was a near disaster (as cooking with toddlers always is). I was impatient and losing my cool as S and J threw flour and fought about who could stir. They took turns putting carrots into the food processor (in the chute, while it was off). J ran away every time I pushed the button to shred them because he didn’t like the sound. That 20 minutes with a half-crazy mommy somehow trumped all the wonderful stuff we did that weekend.

It was humbling, to say the least.

I should have relaxed a bit and enjoyed that moment. There are a lot of times when I should just let go, enjoy, and be present. I get too caught up on the end result or what’s next, to remember where I am. I miss out on the magnificent cherry blossom display overhead because I’m staring at my phone. I’m rushing the kids while they stop to inspect an ant on the way to the grocery store. I’m sitting on the couch, holding hands with my husband after the kids have gone to bed thinking about the dishes in sink. I rush through so many experiences that could have been so much more meaningful because I am too focused on something other than the present moment.

 If I had known that this was going to be the highlight of J’s weekend, I would have found a few more carrots (and maybe some zucchini) to toss into the food processor.

Thinking back, I remember S and J having fun while throwing carrots down the food processor chute, but I didn’t really stop to enjoy it with them. I was concentrating on getting to the end of the muffin making so I could move on to something else. I can’t even remember what it was right now—that’s how important it was.
Maybe we’ll cut some more this afternoon.

Our constant connectivity to people and events that are elsewhere takes us away from what’s right in front of us. I know saying this is nothing new, it’s just something I need to be reminded of on a regular basis. I think I’m going to make “cutting carrots” my new mantra to help me remember to stop thinking about where I’m not and just be where I’m at.

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What I want to tell my kids about #Baltimore

What I want to tell my kids about Baltimore

My kids are too young to understand and ask questions about what’s happened in Baltimore, but know the day will come and it will be here sooner than I think.

Right now, my sphere of influence is small, but my job is big. I have these two little people who will one day be adults in the world. How can I teach them so they will be ready for it? I want them to be a part of the solution that stops this spinning wheel of oppression and violence, instead of mindlessly pushing it down the road as it has been for far too long.

I know that as biracial kids, they are going to experience the world very differently than me. These are some things I plan to tell them about injustice when the time comes, because institutional racism still prevails and it will continue for as long as sin is in the world. Sons and daughters, mothers and fathers will be misjudged, mishandled and killed for the wrong reasons. Baltimore is not the first city to burn, and unfortunately, it will not be the last. I know this will not be one conversation, but a lifetime of them.

I’m going to tell them that this is sin being played out on the world stage. We are not listening to God; we are not living as God created us to live. We have forgotten that we are all made in God’s image. We are all worthy of love and respect and dignity. The person next to you needs it as much as you do (and possibly more).

People forget that there’s enough to go around and so they instead look to put someone else down to lift themselves up. People are afraid of being less-than. They forget that we are all more-than because we are redeemed. We are God’s and we are called to a high standard.

I’m going to tell my children that when people are oppressed for a long period of time, they can be like popcorn. It just takes some heat and they explode. We don’t know what’s been going on inside that kernel, for we can’t fully know another’s experience. But it has been packed too tight for too long and in the right conditions it can’t stay that way anymore.

There are people who have been bullied because their parents were bullied and their parent’s parents were bullied. They’ve been bullied so long and so badly that they have been pushed to the margins. They can’t find jobs to feed their families. They don’t have good homes to live in and their kids don’t have nice schools. But they see people every day who have the things they have been denied. It makes them angry and sad, rightfully so.

Some people have just been bullied so long and pushed aside, that bulling them seems like the right thing to do. It’s not. Just because something has been one way for a long time does not make it right.

Sometimes the only way we think we can be heard is to yell and throw a tantrum. Sometimes it takes a lot to get the attention you want or need. There are right ways and wrong ways to get attention. We can get so frustrated that we forget about right and wrong, because we just want to be heard.

People may look and speak differently, they live in different neighborhoods or types of homes, but they are really just like you and me. They love their children. They want to provide for their families. They want to work and be productive, but it is very hard because other people keep thinking the worst of them.

That’s not how God sees them. We need to listen to God. We need to try our hardest to love like God. God made all of us: black, white, brown. And God wants the best for us. The best way for us to do this is to treat everyone with love and look out for those who are not treated as well as others. Just as we need to go out of our way to speak up for a friend who is getting bullied on the playground and show extra kindness to him or her, we need to do the same for our neighbors who may be experiencing the same thing in life.

I want to tell them that police officers are like us, too. They have a lot of power because they enforce the rules, keep our community orderly and safe, and they carry guns that should be used very rarely (if at all). There are all kinds of people who are police officers. Most are good people. They have been given an important job to protect us and keep our communities orderly and safe. They are the ones who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to serve the communities where they work. However, like with any group of people there are a few who do not do their job well or abuse their power to bully other people. They need to be held accountable for their actions, like everyone else.

I know these notes only scratch the surface. Even as I write, I struggle with the right words that give respect and love where they are due and where they have been sorely lacking for far too long. We leave a legacy to our kids—for better and for worse—let’s teach them so they don’t repeat our mistakes and so they can leave a better legacy for the generation that follows.

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Helping Nepal and Giving Wisely

Along with so many others, my heart is breaking for Nepal. When images of unfathomable disaster come across our screens, we just want to help relieve the suffering we see in any way we can.

I’ve spent most of my career working for international organizations that have disaster response as part of their portfolios. And through these years I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning people send their hard-earned money to organizations that don’t deliver what they promise. I’ve also seen a lot of good intentions make things worse. So, with that in mind, I offer four qualities that I look for in an organization and its response before I give:

  1. A good investment. Look up the organization in Charity Navigator or another charity watchdog to see how it measures up. I want to see that most of the funds (at least 80%) go directly to programs.
  2. A response that starts with the community. Does the organization actually work with the survivors? Different communities have different needs and priorities. A proper response listens to what community members say is a priority. The first permanent structures may not be houses, but a community center. The location for where (or how) water should be distributed might not be obvious to an outsider.
  3. A response that empowers survivors in their recovery and gives them the tools to continue it long after the outside organization has gone. Disaster recovery is more than just cleaning up and giving survivors food, water and shelter. They need a permanent home. They need to replace lost income. They need long-term help to fully get back on their feet. There are a lot of organizations in Nepal right now that are doing the critical work of saving lives. There’s also a lot of money flowing to that work. But, who will be there this fall when the weather starts to turn cold again and people are still living under tarps? The organization that’s still there, helping people is the one I want to support.
  4. A response that invests in the community. The organization looks for local laborers to rebuild so they can get back to work and provide for their families, educates local leaders on community organizing, trains individuals with new job skills to help them better provide for their families, purchases materials locally as much as possible, and the like. Bringing in outside help without investing in the local resources builds dependency.
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Pizza, Love, and Marriage

 Making Pizza is our thing.

Pizza helps keep us together. Seriously. We both love it. We started making it for ourselves at some point in our dating relationship. It soon became a Sunday night ritual that we keep to this day. If we miss our pizza night, we feel “off” as a couple. Making pizza is our thing. Certainly, more than pizza holds us together. (One would hope!) Cooking together helps us reconnect and remember ourselves in the midst of the madness that is life.

Our study of pizza has been quite extensive. We’ve eaten everything from dollar slices to historic pies to gourmet.

We’ve taken Scott’s Pizza Tours, which is still one of the best tours I’ve taken since living in New York. If you ever get the opportunity to take one of his tours . . . do it. Scott the only person I’ve met who loves pizza more than we do. 

We’ve watched YouTube videos and read cookbooks and even taken a class from The Brooklyn Kitchen, which gave us some mad pizza skillz.

Around 4:00 on Sunday I make the dough and then the kids’ dinner. Right before bedtime, I fire up the oven. While I’m singing good night songs to the kids, Ken makes the sauce and preps the toppings. Then, once the kids are snug in their beds, we get to work.

I’m not very good at using the peel to slide the pizza onto our little circular stone (which is how you’re supposed to do it), so we’ve come up with a compromise. We preheat the stone for about 30 minutes and then we get everything ready. I pull out the hot stone and we assemble the pizza as fast as possible before putting it back in the oven to cook. Our fastest assembly time is just under three minutes.

Pizza making is a dance and we each know our parts:

  1. I pull the stone out of the oven.
  2. Ken scatters cornmeal.
  3. I put down the dough.
  4. Ken spreads the sauce.
  5. We add the toppings (about three), taking turns.
  6. Ken adds the cheese.
  7. I put it in the oven.
  8. Ken sets the timer.
  9. We set the table and pour the wine.
  10. I pull the pizza out of the oven.
  11. Ken cuts it and serves.

We’re a pizza making team, and we work together effortlessly. I can’t explain it, but somehow this weekly ritual grounds us and helps us to reconnect, even in some of the most stressful times. Maybe it’s the reminder that even when we feel like we’re stepping on each other’s toes at every turn, we’ve still got it.

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The Stay-At-Home Job

This mothering “job” is giving me some good skills that will benefit my future workplace. If only I could put them on my resume. learning-grace.com

Is being a stay-at-home mom (or dad) a career? No. There are no promotions, no pay raises, no vacations, none of those career-y things. But, I would say it is a job. A very, very demanding and often isolating job with very few of the “perks” of a job, job. Yes, it is an incredible privilege to stay at home with my children during these early years. It is also much harder than I had imagined.

I’m not writing this to whine. In fact, this is something very different. It’s a response to a few articles that are making the rounds saying that being a stay-at-home parent is not a job nor a career, nor something anyone should complain about. There’s always one or two of these going around seeking to polarize parents—particularly moms. Parenting is not a contest. The one who makes the most sacrifices doesn’t win.

But I digress. There was one article I read last week in particular that came down pretty hard on the stay-at-home crowd for complaining about what they do. Yeah, it can get excessive in some instances. But, I need to ask a question: when’s the last time a day went by when you didn’t complain about going to work or something that’s happening there? We all do it. Stay-at-home moms included.

I think complaining seems so prevalent among the stay-at-home crowd because there are no divisions. There is no “home” and “work.” It’s all the same. And every day (and often night) is the same. It can be relentless. There’s no place to get away from the other. It’s that intensity and it’s also the inability to point to my day and say what I accomplished. Most of those things I do accomplish, sweeping the floors, cleaning the kitchen or doing the laundry for example, begin to unravel the second I finish them, and that simply exhausts me at times. There’s very little in my day that’s tangible—and I’m a results-oriented person.

Right now my actual career is on hold . . . or possibly slow motion. I’m still working as a freelancer, but certainly not gaining the experience and momentum that I would have if I were still at the job full-time. However, this mothering “job” is giving me some good skills that will benefit my future workplace:

  • I know the value of time. What I can accomplish in the last five minutes of naptime is amazing.
  • I can prioritize and stay on task, even when people are screaming at me (and flailing about on the floor).
  • I know how to ask questions to get to the root of the problem. (Did you really lose the car, or do you just want to keep it away from your sister?)
  • I understand the power of consistency and staying on-message. Two words: sleep training (and potty training).
  • I can stay focused while those around me are convinced the world is coming a part at the seams (because S said “bacon” and we don’t HAVE any bacon, Mommy!!!).
  • I know the power of stopping to take a few deep breaths.
  • I’ve learned to appreciate small victories as we work toward big goals.
  • I can make people feel like doing the hard stuff was their idea all along. (Let’s all sweep! Isn’t this fun?)
  • I know that the person who makes the most noise may not be the one who needs me the most.

Now, if only I could put that on a resume.

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Health Bowls: Dinner in a Pinch

Health Bowl: Dinner in a Pinch

See this? This was dinner . . . on a weeknight . . . when I thought we had “nothing” in the house. A Real Simple article on “health bowls” in February 2014 was a game changer for me. It had a chart of ingredients (grains, veggies, proteins and dressings) and some ideas of how to make some flavorful roasted veggies (lemony carrots are featured here). I keep this dinner in my back pocket for when we need something healthy and I’m out of ideas.

On this particular night I just felt like we didn’t have anything left to make a meal. It was almost time for our monthly Costco run and the chest freezer was on empty. I had eggs and one wild salmon filet in the protein department. I found some bulgur and chopped up some baby carrots that I roasted with the lemon. There was some wilty Swiss chard in the fridge that I sautéed. And then I found some frozen peas. For a dressing I mixed up some tahini with yogurt and lemon juice and then sprinkled it with sesame seeds for some crunch. Voilà! Dinner is served.

The kids ate a variation of this: salmon, eggs, peas and bulgur. They were pretty happy, too.

What do you do when you’re in a pinch?

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Kids are Kids (Even the Ones with Autism)

Kids are Kids (Even the Ones with Autism)

April is Autism Awareness Month. There was a flurry of articles right around April 2 (Autism Awareness Day): what is is, isn’t, what causes it, why it’s on the rise. But for me and for so many thousands of other parents and siblings, every single day is autism awareness day.

Every outing and interaction, explanation of some unusual family dynamics or ways of communicating make it autism awareness day.

The truth is, I didn’t “come out” as an autism parent till April 2 of this year. Sure, my family and some friends knew. But for the most part I didn’t tell anyone else. If J did something eyebrow raising, I’d just say J has some “delays” and leave it at that. J was a preemie and people give a lot of leeway for that.

I don’t say that he has autism right away because I want to give him a chance. It has nothing to do with shame or embarrassment. It does have to do with not wanting the huge stereotypes that go with autism to land squarely on my three-year-old’s shoulders. And when I do tell someone I’m very careful about how I say it. J has autism. J also has brown eyes, a beautiful smile and a caring spirit. Autism does not define him. There is so much more to him than that and I want others to see it, too.

I also got really tired of hearing, “but he doesn’t look like he’s autistic.” That one gets my panties in a bunch.

It’s been almost a year and a half since J was diagnosed. While the actual diagnosis was not a complete surprise, I did feel like I slipped down a rabbit hole the second I heard the word. In a way I did. Our new world included seven therapists and 24 hours of therapy each week for J. I learned a new vocabulary. I began to be familiar with our advocates in the system and what we would need to do to get J in the right school setting to set him up for success. 

It can be all consuming, especially at first. The schedule was grueling. We had about two unscheduled hours a day with J, and that included dinner and bath time, so it was really more like 45 minutes. The therapists would give us “homework,” telling me that if we do X, then Y will improve. And soon my to-do list grew too long to fathom. And J was really just tired and wanted to be a kid . . . . because he is a kid, a kid with autism.

That’s the thing; kids come in all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of abilities. Some are really good at jumping, and others can throw straight as an arrow, still more love to draw and paint, and sing, others dream of being a dancer, or a bus driver, or the president. Whether or not these kids have autism, an extra chromosome, seizures or a leg that doesn’t work quite like the other one, they’re all just kids being kids living life the way they were created to be.

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