Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Askinosie Chocolate Factory Tour

One fun activity we chose to do in Springfield, Missouri (on our visit this summer) was touring Askinosie Chocolate Factory. I had been wanting to take the kids to do this for years because we love factory tours, and we really love factory tours that include vegan food. We had wanted to do it during our chocolate unit in homeschooling (since we were only a few hours away in Arkansas) but never made it.

The tour, given by this cordial, knowledgeable young man, started with a history and background of the company and Mr. Askinosie (who left his job as a criminal defense lawyer to make chocolate). These are the candybars they sell in their store front and in local establishments. Most of them are vegan, but several are not. They are pricey at $8.50/bar.

Hi, cocoa pod!
I wish I would have typed this soon after our visit because the details are a little fuzzy, but this is one of the first steps in the chocolate making process. Let's just take a moment to think about how wonderful chocolate is and how grateful I am that machines like this exist

We first got to sample cacoa nibs, which obviously the kids didn't enjoy plain. I told her to smile because that would be rude to make a face, and this was as much as she could muster.
They are the first small batch chocolate maker in the U.S. to press their own cocoa butter, and they are apparently the first small-batch makers of natural cocoa powder.

I asked him several questions about the "may contain milk" label, and I felt satisfied by his assurance of cleaning practices. This was very good for me to see it in person because I am someone who is sometimes too grossed out to eat something that says "may contain milk" no matter how much I know it probably doesn't. (I am really trying to get past my OCD on this.)

Although they are not organic certified or fair trade certified (so the farmers do not have to go through the required financial obligations), they claim to be directly involved with the growing practices and pay above fair trade prices: "We go to great lengths to make sure the farmers do not use chemicals and pesticides; not only do they sign a contract, we visit these farms yearly and can personally verify their practices. We also make sure that our beans are shade grown and that the cocoa trees are intercropped with other trees and crops. Our cocoa beans are not certified, however, in part for the same reason we aren’t Fair Trade certified—the certification process for the beans is very expensive and our farmers can’t afford it. Though we are not certified organic, our beans can be traced completely back to their origin. We have the name of every farmer who contributed to each crop."

Another nice thing this company does is called Chocolate University. They involve local elementary and middle schools in different worthwhile programs. Local high school students get the opportunity to travel to Africa to learn about not only chocolate growing and Direct Trade practices but ways to inspire their own community and become more socially responsible. Factory Tour proceeds go toward Chocolate University.

At the end of the tour, we got to taste test many of the different bars (and they will let you taste test any of them before you buy, I believe). The kids expressed mixed reviews because they do not all love dark chocolate as much as I do. They LOVED the tour and expressed how much several times afterward.

We wished we could have afforded to try some of the other products, such as hot chocolate mix. I was also interested in purchasing a rice bag that had been harvested by schools in Tanzania or the Philippines - 100% of the profits are returned to the local schools for their lunch programs.

Askinosie Chocolate is located in old downtown Springfield. I enjoyed driving around the area on our way out, reminiscing, since I hadn't spent time here in 15-20 years - seeing certain places I recognized such as the spot where an old movie theater existed when I was a little girl and the area where my dad worked on the railroad. I thought the area was neat, and I want to go back and explore more when I have time.
Our chosen bars: dark chocolate from the Philipines and the toasted hemp seeds bar. The hemp seed bar had a bit of the texture (a plainer, healthier texture) of a rice crisp chocolate bar, which was nice.

An interesting fact is the strings that tie up the packages are made by women from a local shelter. They make the strings from the bags (see below) that hold the cocoa beans shipped to the factory.
We walked a few doors down to see the building where they store their cacoa beans.  
If you like DARK chocolate, then you would like Askinosie chocolate. I'm not an expert review-er, and my taste buds aren't so refined to tell you that it has a "fruity,"  "woody,"  "sharp," "earthy," "clean," or "acidic" flavor like other reviewers online. I can say that we really liked the special touch of "askinosie chocolate" spelled out on the bar.
Thank you, Askinosie Choclate, for the fun tour and for making vegan chocolate in a seemingly very nice way.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Summer and So Forth

In June, we roadtripped it back to Arkansas to visit family and friends. Ryan had to work while we were there, but it's nice that he can just work in Little Rock without having to use vacation days. We were gone for 15 days. We spent time with my parents, sisters, niece and nephew, and some of our friends. The kids and I also drove to Missouri to stay with my brother and his family for a few days. It was good to be "home."  
spinach, kalamata olives, roasted garlic, and artichoke
with olive oil instead of red sauce at ZaZa's...
one of my favorite pizza topping combos
On the subject of vegan: we met my youngest sister one day at Mellow Mushroom in Little Rock, which opened RIGHT AFTER we moved, good grief. We were also happy (and also bummed that it happened AFTER we left) to discover that ZaZa's Pizza in Conway now carries Daiya. (We always brought our package of Daiya with us for them to use.)
We have missed our old Whole Foods! It's a lovely location for a Whole Foods. We just loved everyone there and were always treated so nicely (despite the fact we are a lot of people and we do things like lick the sample tongs). We actually found out they are planning to move locations soon, which will be weird. (I also worked here for a short time many years ago.) I will say...as happy as I was to return to our home away from home, I quickly realized how much better the selection is in Tampa. So there's that. (And it wasn't me that licked them, by the way, and I gave them to an employee.)
He fell right over to sleep against my chest while we were shopping.
In Missouri, the kids and I had lunch one day with my parents' best friends from my childhood. We ate at The Grotto in Springfield, which is vegan-friendly. I enjoyed my salad (which was a fulfilling greek-style salad), and the kids enjoyed their hummus, etc. Our friends chose this place to eat after googling vegan restaurants in Springfield. And I love that they did that because even though we rarely see each other, they know me. And that was pretty much the theme of this trip...it was really nice to be around familiar people again. To watch my nephews play baseball. To reminisce and catch up with four of my best friends from high school.To see my kids giggle with their cousins. To eat cucumbers out of my aunt's garden and tomatoes out of my dad's. To cry along with relatives who were happy to see us and sad to see us go.
I write all of that to say: I'm in a bit of a weird phase right now. We love Tampa. I like Florida better than I like Arkansas and Missouri for enough reasons that Florida probably wins. However, if we choose to stay here, we are choosing a life without the people we love in it. So if I live there, I'm not 100% content, and if I live here, I'm not 100% content. I know that's the way life is, and you just have to find a way to be content, regardless. Maybe most people aren't 100% content? I'm a restless person, in general, so I have that against me. These are just some of my thoughts right now.
 My parents also decided to put in a saltwater pool upon our departure. Seriously, y'all.

Another big event of the summer (ok, not so big - but it happened) was my birthday this week. Ryan wasn't even here - he was on a business trip, and some other dumb stuff happened the night before that ended up taking up most of my day. But I did make myself a chocolate pie because it's always a good time to have chocolate pie. I let the kids decorate it themselves with strawberries, ground up chocolate chips, and candles. 5 candles seemed like a better number than 39, apparently.
HAPPY birthday.
It had been a dilemma: chocolate pie or pumpkin pie? I was going to pick pumpkin since I don't have it as often but didn't have enough time for it to set. So since we had to buy pie crust and Soyatoo anyway, we made a pumpkin pie the next day.
And then I'm going to eat salad today.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Another School Lunch Post

When I blog so infrequently, it's a bit of a challenge to recall what the foods were that I took photos of. I really don't know why I continue to take pictures of so much of the food we eat. It's a habit or an addiction, I guess. Or maybe just optimism that one day I will blog again regularly. I'm going to take a shot at some of these school lunches from the past many months.

baby carrots, grape tomatoes, strawberries, baked Snapea Crisps, and part of a Tofurky kielbasa, and pizza that appears (judging from the crust, but I could be wrong) to be a leftover piece from Mellow Mushroom

watermelon, a mandarin orange, toast with Earth Balance, pasta with black beans, olive oil, nutritional yeast, etc.

grape tomatoes, cucumbers, salad with dressing, watermelon, pasta with tomato sauce and nutritional yeast, etc.

Gardein slider (I think this was the Chik'n one, perhaps.), tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, chips, and vegan marshmallows

mini pitas, hummus inside the container, carrots, a mandarin orange,  Hilary's veggie bites, applesauce

 raspberries, chips,  a Justin's PB cup, an Amy's bean burrito

Back to Nature Multi-Seed Rice Thin Crackers, hummus, smoked almonds, blueberries, carrots

blueberries, celery, Stretch Island (no added sugar) fruit chews, an Amy's gluten-free burrito

carrots, a leftover Valentine's Day cupcake, cantaloupe, and your guess is as good as mine as to what's inside that sandwich...I'm guessing nut butter and fruit spread. On a side note, the little Wilton decoration is not something you see with me often but is a result of my love (and respect to the fact that she eats vegan and healthy typically) for my candy-obsessed girl whose eyes widen with glee at the sight of all things chemically colored and preserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fun Friday: Trader Joe's Opening and Frozen

Look what we got in March!
The kids and I decided to go to the grand opening because I needed groceries, anyway. I had read in the news that they were expecting a big crowd, including traffic police. We soldiered on, undeterred! They weren't kidding. There were long car lines coming from every direction, trying to get in. At first, I thought, "Forget this; we'll come back another time." But as I circled back around, I thought, "All of these people must want in for a reason! We can't miss out!" And the longer we waited, we more I felt I NEEDED IN! So I circled around and around until finally the policeman ushered me into an available parking spot. 

The 5 of us walked slowly through the crowds, taking in every aisle. The kids eyed the samples as they generally do, like you would assume it is the first food they've had all day. I felt as I have before - that Trader Joe's isn't as vegan friendly as Whole Foods. They just don't have everything I want or need. And there seems to be ambiguous sugar in everything packaged. What is all of this sugar? Does my obsessive compulsive bone sugar aversion want to eat it?
However, we clearly found plenty of things to purchase. I made mental notes of all the great prices. I have really been wanting to make a page that tells me which stores I frequent have the best price for each item we buy. (For example: Daiya is $4.79 at Nutrition Smart, $4.99 at Whole Foods, and a whopping almost $5.59 at Winn Dixie. This is important information to us because we love our Daiya.) What do you recommend I buy at Trader Joe's as opposed to other places?
The good news: when I fill my cart like this at Whole Foods, I know I'm looking toward at least a $350 debit. My full cart at Trader Joe's: a little over $150!
That night, we finally joined the club.
I splurged on these instant download printable popcorn boxes which were a few dollars on Etsy. They were so cute and fun, I don't know if I can go back to popcorn in bowls. (The kids decorated the table with handmade snowflakes.)

I also printed off these for our "party."

Look at the guy in the back. How happy is he?
I had really been craving icecream cake recently. When I was little and stopped eating eggs first, I always had an icecream cake for my birthday so it feels nostalgic to me. I don't remember what all of these layers were. I know there were cookie crumbles for the crust, there was vanilla, there were crumbled Justin's pb cups...

and there was chocolate icecream, crushed nuts, ganache, whipped cream...I don't know, maybe other things, too.

It ended up being better the next day as I hadn't allowed it to freeze long enough before we tried cutting into it. But it achieved its Frozen-themed purpose. And I'm glad I got it out of my system because it reminded me that I'm just not a huge icecream person anymore. (Soft serve is a different story.) My kids totally loved it, though, and thoroughly appreciated it. And I had to listen to Let it Go in the car on repeat for about two weeks straight.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Orange and Berry Pickin'

Can I still say "pickin'" even if I don't live in Arkansas anymore? It's a new, wonderful experience living in a city which offers fresh local organic produce at your fingertips all year. And most of the farmer's markets don't even open until late fall/early winter.
Our lovely Saturday began by stopping at the Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach. The manatees will gather in the canal next to Tampa Electric during colder (68 degrees and colder) water months. It is a federally protected manatee sanctuary, and there is a small educational center open during winter and early spring. There were several manatees in the photo, but it's difficult to catch them coming up for air.
There is a long pier through a mangrove estuary, and we just enjoyed walking around for awhile, enjoying the perfect weather. We had also visited this place last March when we were here looking at houses. We had meant to come back during the few weeks it got cold in Dec-Jan because I think the manatees congregate here in greater numbers then.

Then off to picking Honeybells at Dooley Groves. They told us we were going to be the last pickers of the season - until next January! We apparently made it just in time.
We had a lot of help.
It was fun to sample all of the types of citrus they had for sale (especially because we hadn't eaten lunch yet!). There were also little cups of Honeybell juice and grapefruit juice, which hit the spot so much that we bought a half gallon of the orange juice. When we were back in the car, we drank cup after cup of juice. I just kept refilling everyone's cups. We were all saying, "Mmmm," over and over. We also bought some pineapple oranges and grapefruit. We'll try the gigantic lemons next time.

Next up was Fort Lonesome, which was also down south in the same basic region as Dooley Groves. When we first pulled up, it just seemed like a house with a little garden in front, but we soon realized that wasn't the case. There were rows upon rows of amazing fruits and vegetables waiting on us to pick them and plenty of space for the kids to run and explore.

Fort Lonesome is a member supported CSA. If you don't have a membership, you have to pay a per-person admission, but fortunately he let us try it out this time. We really do want to join a CSA and need to decide on the closest organic one to us.

Picking strawberries in the 2 1/2 acre prairie was even more fun than picking oranges because it takes longer to fill a basket. The berries were so big and beautiful that it made it hard to think about paying $5.99/lb in the store.
We also picked some herbs (stevia, chocolate mint, and rosemary) and some veggies (cabbage, kale, green onions, and chipotle peppers). I don't garden, so this was such a soulful experience for me. The man advised us to try chewing on a stevia leaf along with a chocolate mint leaf, and it was delicious. The big kids and I took off on the forest trail, which was amazing. It led back to a creek, and my country-turned-city kids were thrilled to be back in nature.

the fruits of our labor:
We enjoyed strawberry shortcake for the next few days. The first night we used pie crust, and the next morning I made sweet biscuits, which were even better but not photographed.
And we have been juicing the tangelos. They are SO juicy, they are almost impossible to eat (without getting juice everywhere). I just take the peel off and stick the whole orange into my blender (with a little ice) so it's juice without wasting anything. We've felt very healthy this week.

For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands;
happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. 
                                                              -Psalm 128:2                      

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vegan Tampa: Pizza Fusion

 Although we actually don't eat out THAT often (maybe once week but not every week), it is nice to have places I like in Tampa. In Little Rock, we had a few go-to's. Tampa is no New York City. But I do look forward to eating out now, which is a new addition to our lives.

 One of my favorite places in this area is Pizza Fusion. There are two that we frequent, one downtown (where I love going) and one in the Westchase area of Tampa (which is one place we like to stop for take-out after a day at the beach). There are several other locations in Florida, as well as spots in North Carolina, Colorado, Ohio, New Jersey...and apparently, I just realized, many Pizza Fusion restaurants in Saudi Arabia.

 One reason we like Pizza Fusion: vegan breadsticks with Daiya at the location downtown. We tried ordering at the other location, but the waitress looked at me like I was crazy so not sure what's up with that.
 I don't know if we have ever gotten to order appetizers at a pizza place before, so it's fun (even if an order only gives us all about one small breadstick each). We also like the choice of all-natural, organic drinks (like Honest Tea, Honest Kids' juice pouches - and they even have organic beer, etc. if that's your thing).
 Another reason we like Pizza Fusion: organic tomato sauce and veggies. (We also like the size and shape of the pizzas.) I don't really want to talk about the non-vegan pizza toppings, but let's just say there are words and phrases like "free-range," "hormone & preservative-free," and "organic" associated with them.

 Other ways the company is committed to making conscious choices for the Earth: delivering food in hybrid cars, recycling, and using recycled/Earth-friendly products and cleaners,

 They offer Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet and Daiya for cheese. Half of our family members prefer Daiya, and half prefer Follow Your Heart.
 In an effort to eliminate soy protein isolate from my life, I had mostly stopped buying Vegan Gourmet. But I DO prefer it on the pizza here. Ryan likes Daiya better, though. They will do half and half for us.

My oldest son's pizza of choice:
cheese, pineapple, and black olives.
 You can choose from
original and multi-grain crust.

 They also offer gluten-free crust, which I'm told by both locations is vegan (despite two different recipe lists on the website, one which is vegan, one is not). I've never tried the gluten-free crust. But what we HAVE tried are the vegan, gluten-free brownies.

 They are not the best brownies we've ever had, but they are good, with the toppings adding a nice touch. And the kids love being able to order dessert at a restaurant.
 Another reason I love this place: Once I called in an order downtown, but my toddler was asleep in his carseat. I would have had to wake him up and pay $5 for parking. I called the restaurant, and they let me park in a very temporary spot and brought my order out to me, took my credit card in, and brought it back out. And the girl smiled the whole time she was doing it. I majorly appreciate things like this.
Pizza Fusion