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Dark Chocolate My Way

Have you noticed how a drizzle of chocolate on almost any dessert makes it better? Well how about dribbling a few things into chocolate to make it better? I was recently inspired by Lake Champlain's new Granola Five Star Bar — a sumptuous block of dark chocolate, oats, almonds and cranberries. No surprise it was yummy perfection but I also wondered why not mix up my own chocolate creation? Great news that a little dark chocolate a day can keep the doctor away. It contains powerful disease-fighting antioxidants called polyphenols. In fact, a small square of dark chocolate contains as much polyphenol activity as a cup of green tea and double the amount in a glass of red wine. Look for dark chocolate that contains at least 40-70% cocoa mass. Since it's high in fat and calories, limit your indulgence to about 1.5 ounces (about a few squares) a day for good health. 

To blend your own chocolate concoction, break into pieces your favorite dark chocolate bar (about 4-5 ounces) and microwave at medium power in 30 second intervals. Stir until completely melted and then add favorite ingredients. Pour mixture into a shallow pan or baking sheet covered with waxed paper, cool, and cut into bite-sized pieces. You can alter the nutrition content to your liking. For example, if you want to cut calories, just add in some fat free cereal like Rice Krispies, Chex, or oats, which will reduce the overall calories per serving. To add minerals (iron, potassium) and fiber as well as extra antioxidants, sprinkle in dried fruit and nuts. This is a super nutrient-rich snack that will satisfy any craving, but it's also super caloric so stick to a small portion a day that replaces other high calorie, low nutrient snacks.

For me, I wanted a nutrient-packed chocolate with protein and even more fiber so I added chopped almonds, dried blueberries, Fiber One cereal, and a few tablespoons of ground flaxseed. You don't have to worry about exact measurements, just sprinkle in however much you want of each additional ingredient. The flavor: unbelievable. Life doesn't get better than this!  


Do the Zoo

Since my son Jake came along, my hubby and I have been immersed in kid stuff we never realized existed, like the baby-mecca Atrium Mall for strolling and kid-friendly eateries, BJs for diapers, Children's Orchard for used kid clothing and toys, and searches for Lightening McQueen kids beds. Jake is also why, even though we've been in Boston for over 10 years, we finally decided to visit Franklin Park Zoo. Plus we wanted to appreciate Earth Day last week (and I happened to nab free zoo tickets from my workplace!). This place is an inner-city gem. I've been to big national zoos where I had a front row view of chubby panda bears gnawing on bamboo and emperor penguins lined up in a row, so I wasn't expecting much from this smaller zoo. But I was really impressed with the comfortable tree-lined walking paths and animals that actually looked well-fed and not bored to death. Most of the animals sauntered close to the observation glass or even roamed freely along our walking paths, as if posing for the endless camera flashbulbs: 



I was even impressed by their Giddy-Up Grill that served healthful kid-friendly snacks like Yoplait yogurt, fruit cups, pudding, plain milk, string cheese and granola bars. For myself, I found a vegetable spinach wrap stuffed full with roasted eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, red pepper, hummus and tomato for only $6.50. A basic sandwich but with very fresh vegetables and overall tasting so good that the clerk surprised me when she said the wraps were made in their own kitchen. Not something I'd expect from a high-volume park.    

 Yummy zoo food: roasted veggie wrap

If you happen to fall in love with one of the numerous fuzzy (or slimy!) cuties here, consider "Zoodopting" an animal to help with the high cost of their food and care. You get a certificate of adoption, a stuffed toy of your adopted animal, and a fact sheet. It's a great learning experience for kids and helps increase their awareness of the larger world around them. Visit Zoodoption for info.


Bean Appétit!

That's the title of a great new cookbook that lures kids into the kitchen. The cover declares "hip, healthy, and fun"— perfect words to inspire busy families to enjoy eating and cooking together. Bean Appétit was written by the creators of Bean Sprouts, a successful healthy café and cooking school in Wisconsin that teaches kids how to whip up yummy recipes, which are shared in this cookbook. I can't rave enough...it's food, it's education, it's art! Not just a collection of kid-friendly recipes, every colorful page displays funky graphics or photographs ofTurkey Dragonfly Sandwich creative meals like Stick Stacks (kebobs of mini pancakes and fruit) and Bug Bites (a turkey sandwich with fruit slices fashioned to look like a dragonfly). There are recurring sections such as "Table Talk" that asks thought-provoking questions like "If you had to name your pet after a cereal, what name would you choose?" or "Refined Bean" that reveals sometimes surprising table manners from around the globe. One cute segment lists tasty variations on making your own trail mixes with just three ingredients: my fave was Elefunky Monkey with peanuts, banana chips, and carob chips. Actually I could ramble on describing the endless imaginative ideas in this book but you really have to read them yourself to fully appreciate. I tested a simple pesto recipe with spinach, lowfat cream cheese, olive oil and garlic powder and added it to Jake's favorite pasta wheels...voilà! Super easy to make and looked as cool as the photo in the book, as you can see in my version here: 


The Bean Appétit cookbook is available on the Bean Sprouts website or at a discounted rate on Amazon.com.