According to the media, we should all be making homemade gifts this year, what with the economy as bad as it is. True, many of us may find ourselves frugally filling jars with mom’s granola recipe; mixing up homemade hot chocolate and bagging it with ribbons; placing shortbread and gingersnaps toe to toe in cellophane-lined boxes; steeping vanilla beans in vodka in tall, pretty bottles; or wrapping our own version of almond bark in glittery gift bags. But I’ve always loved making gifts of food for friends and family (and using a lot of “F”s in one sentence, too, apparently).
[Freshly made nut bark still in the pan, just set.]
A gift of food is more than an inexpensive way to fulfill the need for a present. It represents time spent thinking about what the person might like, as well as time spent carefully preparing, baking (or soaking, or drying, or stirring, or whatever), and then carefully packaging the gift. It’s the personal dimension that makes it so special–and so cherished.
Well, having been on the ACD for almost 2 years now (I know, time flies when you’re fighting fungus), I thought about those of us who can’t enjoy the tradtional almond bark. I knew that an all-chocolate version (unsweetened chocolate with added stevia) could be bitter tasting, so I almost abandoned the idea. Then, about a month ago, I stopped in to the local health food store on my way home from work. I’d forgotten to bring a lunch with me (bad, bad) and was ravenous. I posed my usual enquiry: “Do you have any snack-like foods that are vegan, unprocessed, gluten free, without sweeteners of any kind except stevia, with no yeasts. . . etc.?”
“On a candida protocol?” the clerk asked. Smart cookie, that one (though, inevitably, one likely containing gluten, sweetener, or yeast).
“Why yes! Yes I am!” I responded. As expected, she led me to the bags of Mary’s Sticks and Twigs. Snack-like, yes, but not sweet.
“Oh, wait!” she went on, heading toward the bulk section. “We just got these carob-covered almonds. They’re vegan, with no added sugars. Just carob coating. I actually tried them and they’re not bad at all. . . ”
Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. “You’re sure they’re vegan?” I insisted. “Yep,” she replied. “Just carob and almonds.”
Perhaps it was my near-blinding hunger,* or perhaps just that they looked so much like chocolate-covered almonds. Either way, I managed to consume the entire portion on the way home. While perhaps not the most ACD-friendly snack (I’m sure the oils used weren’t top quality), at least there were no sweeteners to spike my blood sugar, I reasoned.
Sadly, the next time I visited the same store, they had posted the ingredient list for the almonds–and the second from the top was “whey powder.” A DAIRY PRODUCT!!! Never mind that dairy is a hidden source of natural sugars not recommended for the ACD; but whey is most definitely NOT vegan. I really hate it when I find out, after the fact, that I’ve eaten something I don’t want to eat. Grrrr.
That made me more determined to create my own version. I decided to combine the concept of barely-sweet carob coating with various nuts to create a carob-based stevia-sweetened nut bark! After playing with proportions of carob vs. chocolate, I came up with a very appealing variation that uses very little stevia, retains a smooth, chocolatey consistency, and offers up a tiny hint of peppermint in reverence to the season. It would make a perfect gift for anyone who’s on an anti-candida regimen, Type II diabetics, or anyone concerned with blood sugar levels (which would be everyone around the holidays, I’m guessing).
Of course, if your dietary habits allow, you can make this the old-fashioned way, with semisweet chocolate instead of the carob; omit the stevia in that case.
* Who am I kidding? I’ve never experienced “near-blinding hunger” in my life. . . I always make sure to eat long before that!
[. . . and revealing the nutty goodness inside.]
Dark “Chocolate” Nut Bark for Gift Giving (ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
A perfect gift for those you love. . . this nut bark won’t spike blood sugar levels and contains minimal caffeine because of the carob. Plus it’s filled with heart-healthy oils courtesy of the nuts.
3/4 cup (60 g) unsweetened carob chips (see note)
1.5 ounces (45 g) good quality unsweetened chocolate (I used Cocoa Camino), chopped (see note)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin coconut oil, preferably organic
pinch fine sea salt
15-25 drops plain or vanilla stevia liquid, to your taste
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp (45 ml) coconut milk powder
1 cup (240 ml) unsalted toasted nuts–your choice (I used cashews and almonds)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) lightly toasted seeds (I used sunflower, but pumpkin would be stellar)
Line an 8 x 8 inch (20 cm) square pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the carob chips, chocolate and coconut oil over lowest possible heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the salt, stevia and vanilla. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a mini food processor or blender.
Add the coconut milk powder and process until perfectly smooth. Stir in the nuts and seeds to coat.
Working quickly (the carob chips will cause it to set fairly fast), pour the mixture into the prepared pan and tilt the pan this way and that until the mixture is evenly distributed (if you try to spread it out with a spatula, you will dull the naturally glossy sheen on top). Set aside at room temperature and allow to set; mine took about an hour in a cool kitchen. Or place in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
Once set, remove from pan, peel off the plastic, and break into shards of “bark.” Wrap in decorative cellophane, bags, or boxes as gifts.
**Note: If you prefer, you can use sugar-free chocolate chips (such as Lilys) to replace the carob chips and unsweetened chocolate. In that case, omit the stevia as well.
Variations: the recipe is infinitely adaptable–you can add dried fruits if permitted, cacao nibs, coffee beans, candied ginger, or whatever strikes your fancy.
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