52 To Do – Top 10

January 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

When I tell people about my blog they always ask what my favorite week has been. It’s always hard to pick a favorite but I can name my top 10. If you’re looking for some fun, interesting things to try out for 2012, here were my favorites from this past year in no particular order:

1. Learning to roast coffee – If you claim to love or live on coffee, this is something you have to try. Unfortunately for those who live in apartments where it’s hard to get outside this may not be ideal for you (there’s smoke). Sweet Maria’s has a great starter kit for $45.

It will seriously become your favorite cup of coffee. Ever.

2. Ice fishing (or something that seems completely out of your range of possibility) – We spent the day with friends trying something none of us had ever tried before. While we didn’t catch any fish, we did arguably have the best laugh of 2011.

Getting out and doing things I’d never done before to embrace winter made a huge difference living here in Boulder.

3. Researching my ancestry – I definitely looked at my life differently after understanding more about where I came from. Plus it is a great thing to do with your family. I spent the week with my family going through old pictures and hearing old stories, many I had not heard before. It was a nice way to spend time together.

It was good to get my parents to talk about what they remember. I only wish my grandparents were still around. I have so many questions for them.

4. Churn homemade ice cream with friends – I bought a hand churn ice cream maker (White Mountain 4 qt. hand crank) and this proved to be a fun summer activity with friends. If you do get the hand churn one, you pretty much need the extra help since it isn’t easy!

My friend Jess (who also accompanied me on lots of blog adventures) gave me a great ice cream recipe book that did us right. It was a toss up between the goat cheese ice cream and the roasted coffee ice cream (we of course used fresh home roasted coffee for that) as to which was the best.

5. Learning about wine – I owe a huge thanks to my friends at Frasca Food & Wine in Boulder. James Beard award winner, Bobby Stuckey, welcomed my project early on letting me shadow his amazing crew of sommeliers on what it’s like to live for wine. I’ve made lots of new wine buddies through Frasca and the Boulder Wine Merchant. With more Master Sommeliers per capita than any city in the U.S. Boulder is a good place to be to learn about wine.

6. Hike a 14er – In 2011 I officially became a Coloradan by climbing my first 14,000 foot mountain with my friend Alicia (another partner in crime with many blog projects).

You likely won’t have mountains like that around but maybe there’s another physical feat to try that makes you equally feel a part of where you’re living. Boston marathon? Rowing the Thames? Surfing in Santa Monica?

7. Learning how to knit – This was a favorite for multiple reasons. I gained a new skill that is incredibly relaxing. I made some beautiful cowls that served as well-received holiday presents and to top it off I made a new friend in the process.

I also found a gem of a local store (Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins) where I will continue going for yarn and pearls of wisdom from the fantastic crew of ladies that work there.

8. Shooting a gun – I will likely never own a gun but I am glad I learned how to shoot one this year (target range only). It is an experience you could never understand without actually doing it. I now know just how powerful and dangerous they are.

It was something totally foreign to me and outside of my comfort zone, but I felt like it was something I should try once in my lifetime. Plus it was a great way to spend the afternoon with my husband and his twin brothers in Portland.

9. Pasta making – Pasta is one of those staples around the house and making it yourself is not only easy but worth the little bit of effort. The difference in taste is amazing.

I’ve continued along with it and for New Year’s Day dinner tonight I’ll be making some homemade orchiette I learned to make from Brian, another Frasca friend.

10. Reading about philosophy and religion – One of the best outcomes of the year was learning to think for myself again. It was a great exercise to dust off some books on philosophy and religion and to challenge my thinking in that regard a bit again.

It’s easy to get caught up in day to day issues and worries and can be enlightening to realize we’re just a blip on the radar when it comes to humanity. We are trying to answer many of the same questions people have been trying to answer for centuries.

Making Your Own Chocolate

December 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chocolate can come in many forms but at a basic level it comes down to cacao and how much of it you like vs sugar. If you like 75% chocolate, then you’re 75% cacao, 25% sugar. In my research this week I found a simple how to video on making your own chocolate from scratch so I thought it would be fun to make my own chocolate and test out what percentage I like best.

When I started this week I hadn’t planned on actually making chocolate from scratch but it’s really easy and worth a weekend experiment. It only takes about 10 minutes all in. You start with cacao nibs which I found in the bulk section at Whole Foods. They also suggest using Dagoba Nibs. They are about $13/lb.

The only other ingredient is sugar.

You’ll also need:
small coffee grinder –  I used my small Cuisinart, but they recommend a simple burr coffee grinder. You want a grinder that keeps the nibs contained as it’s grinding rather than pushing it through to a compartment below because it has to grind for about 5 minutes.
mortar and pestle
teaspoon
small spoon

Start by adding the ratio of cacao nibs to sugar into the grinder. I started with 80%, so 8 teaspoons of cacao and 2 teaspoons of sugar.

You’ll have to wipe down the sides as you go along since it will start to form a paste and stick to the sides.

After your 5 minutes it will be a paste that has some shine to it almost as though you’ve added a little liquid. (Similar to peanut butter in texture). You transfer it to a mortar and pestle and continue grinding and folding the chocolate for another couple minutes. You have to put some muscle into it.

I made 3 different batches to try out from 80% down to 60%. I was partial to 70% and even could have gone a bit sweeter.

It was a little grainy still but that probably had to do with not using a fine grinder. I ended up mixing some 70% with some 60% to make some hot chocolate and strained it through a fine mesh strainer.  It tasted much fresher in a way, similar to how good a freshly ground cup of coffee tastes compared with already ground beans.

People always ask me what my favorite weeks of the year have been. Hands down roasting my own coffee has been one of them that I’ve continued doing and will continue doing. After this little experiment in making my own chocolate I’m now curious about taking a step further even and seeing about roasting my own cacao beans. I came across a site called  Chocolate Alchemy which is the equivalent to chocolate what Sweet Marias is to coffee.

I may have to give it a shot!

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