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Browsing articles by " Monica Erskine"
Nov
1

S’more Technique

 

Over the years, I’ve managed to alienate boyfriends, good friends, my husband and (for shame) my 5-year old son with my die hard S’more beliefs. So be forewarned, I fear I may come off a tad pretentious in this post.

S’mores are seriously delicious and should be approached with as much culinary mastery as you can muster in the woods. Making a stellar S’more comes down to perfecting two things:  your chocolate choice and marshmallow roasting technique.

Chocolate Choice 

Be it bitter sweet or true blue milk, the key is to find a quality chocolate that has the perfect thickness – or should I say thinness. The chocolate needs to be thin enough to be able to melt under the fleeting heat of a marshmallow. I swear by bite-sized chocolate squares(like these from Endangered Species Chocolate).

Marshmallow Roasting

Repeat after me, “coals are key.” Unlike flames, coals slowly heat the marshmallow from the inside out, producing a hot gooey center under a toasty brown crust. For the love of the great outdoors, do not set deliberately set your marshmallow ablaze over the flames of the fire! As kids, we all experienced this camping faux pas, blew out the flame and ate the evidence. People that claim to love the taste of charred marshmallow, in my opinion, are confusing good taste with childhood nostalgia.

See, told you I would come across a tad persnickety. But surely there are others out there that hold strong opinions (aka love) for the S’more. I implore you – comment below and share your S’more techniques. Show my husband and child that I am not the only one that can kill a campfire kum ba yah vibe when S’mores aren’t taken seriously!

For ideas on dressing up your S’mores, throwing a S’more party and more, visit Endangered Species Chocolate’s S’mores photo albumon Facebook.

Oct
10

Status Update

Hypnotizing isn’t he?  Meet the Siau Island tarsier, the newest animal species to be designated as critically endangered on International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species.  Inhabiting a small Indonesian island, this saucer-eyed primate has to keep its eyes on two big threats – an active volcano that could wipe our its habitat at any moment and islanders that have a keen taste for tarsiers (locals regularly serve “tola-tola” as a popular snack).  The Siau Island tarsier’s critically endangered status sounds an alarm…calling attention to the possibility to its imminent demise.

The world’s most comprehensive inventory of plant and animal conservation status, the Red List classifies species into seven categories, ranging from “least concern” to “extinct.”  As you can imagine there is a plethora of scientific data that goes into carefully  defining these categories – we’re talking endless pages of graphs, charts and confusing jargon.  Here’s my simple, layman’s language interpretation* of IUCN’s species categories.

*my status descriptions are in no way endorsed or approved by the smart volunteer force at IUCN. IUCN’s categories and criteria specs can be read in detail here.

LEAST CONCERN (LC) | Species in this category are widespread and abundant.  Let’s continue to take good care of these guys, everyone!

NEAR THREATENED (NT) | Watch out! Plant and animals included in this category are close to qualifying for a threatened category in the near future.

VULNERABLE (VU) | An observed or suspected population reduction means this species needs extreme care and support to protect it from becoming endangered.  Being vulnerable isn’t a good feeling, is it?

ENDANGERED (EN) | Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.  It is time to muster up compassion and action RIGHT NOW to save these species!

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (CR) | A species’ numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations.

EXTINCT IN THE WILD (EW) | Sadly, these species can only be found in captivity or naturalized populations outside their natural range.

EXTINCT (EX) | No longer in existence.  Gone.  Forever.

Oct
3

Swap This Halloween

Halloween is right around the corner.  Time to start thinking about costumes!  Instead of buying, consider a more eek-o-minded approach.  Saturday, October 8th is National Costume Swap Day™ – a planet friendly way to get kids recycling in the funniest way possible – trading (reusing) princess gowns, witch’s hats and superhero capes!

Costume swaps or making your own costumes from materials you have on hand means less resources, less packaging and less waste.  Wrap your mind around this fact: swapping (aka reusing) just half the costumes kids wear at Halloween would reduce annual landfill waste by 6,250 tons!  It also means you can be original and decide exactly what you want to be for Halloween.  Imagine trying to find a tornado costume at a big box store!

DIY Tornado Costume

  • black t-shirt and pants
  • masking tape
  • assorted small tornado victims (leaves, toy tractor, barnyard animal figures)

Wrap masking tape up one pant leg (crinkle tape a bit for authentic tornado texture!). Repeat with t-shirt, wrapping tape in a spiral up to neck.  Tie assorted toys and figures to short bits of fishing line.  Tie fishing lined tornado victims to random spots on t-shirt and pants. Muss up child’s hair and brush a bit of dusty brown eyeshadow across face to complete the transformation!

Swaps can be as simple as getting together with a few neighbors or as large as a citywide event; check Costume Swap’s site to find local swaps you can attend.  No matter the size of your event, a costume swap is the perfect way to save the resources it takes to create new costumes.  Plus, trading costumes saves you money!  Check out this incredibly cute video; twin brothers, Tristin and Tyler, show you how it’s done.

Find more ways to green up your holiday at Green Halloween®.

Sep
19

Chocolate Caramel Apples

I love going to The Apple Store!   No, not the one with the flashy iPhones.  The Apple Store is a seasonal fruit stand (+ tons of other tasty treats) in Fishers, Indiana – not too far from Endangered Species Chocolate’s factory.  Open for two precious months each year (Sept-Oct), this is a spot to fall in love with the tastes of fall.  Fresh, crip, locally grown apples – available by the bushel or peck – just imagine the smell that greets you when you walk in!

Apples are the best.  But caramel apples are even better!  That’s why I make a bee line for the rows of apples enrobed in buttery rich caramel and artfully garnished with (yum) chocolate.  Speaking of my favorite topic, chocolate, this year my love affair of The Apple Store has deepened thanks to their new display of Endangered Species Chocolate bars!  Live in our area?  Plan your trip to Conner Prairie Interactive History Park here.

If you don’t have a place like this in your neck of the woods don’t fret.  Caramel apples can be made at home with ease.  And who couldn’t use a new family recipe/tradition that involves chocolate?

Chocolate Chunk Caramel Apples

6 apples, washed and well dried
1 pkg (14oz) caramels, unwrapped
2 Tbsp water
3 3oz Endangered Species Chocolate Bars, broken into chip-sized bits

Remove apple stems and insert wooden stick into each apple.

Cook caramels and water in saucepan on med-low heat until caramels are completely melted.  Stir frequently.

Dip apple or spoon caramel over apples to coat.  Roll caramel-coated apple in broken chocolate pieces, gently pressing chocolate into caramel to secure.

Place your apple masterpieces on a waxed paper covered baking sheet; let sit for at least 20 minutes or until caramel is firm.

Tip:  The only tricky part is coaxing the caramel to not slide off the apple as you are pressing on the chocolate chunks.  To make life easier, refrigerate the apples (while you are cooking the caramels) to cool them slightly – this helps the caramel adhere better.

Sep
12

Plant That Opened My Eyes

Did you ever notice that when it comes to spreading awareness about endangered species, animals get the lion’s share of the attention?  Most anyone can easily rattle off five threatened animal species…but can you name a plant species in need of protection?

My 5-year old can.  Armed with knowledgement about his current obsession, carnivorous plants, he informed me that his favorite plant (the oh-so-amazing Venus flytrap) was a threatened species and needed our protection.  He’s right.  As I learned more, my eyes were opened to a whole new world of species in need.

According to the Encyclopedia of Earth, over 8,000 plant species worldwide are officially threatened or endangered – and that number grows daily.  Between one-fourth and one-half of all plants are at some risk.  In the United States alone, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists 795 plant species as threatened or endangered.  A disturbing matter because plants provide essential, life sustaining ecosystems with oxygen, food, medicines, building materials, textiles and habitats.  Not to mention their beauty.

Just as it would be deplorable and tragic if, say, chimpanzees became extinct during our lifetime (a loss that is a real possibility, researchers warn), our world wouldn’t be the same without species like the black bat flower, monkey puzzle tree…or the Venus Flytrap.

My carnivorous plant-loving son with his purple pitcher plant, another threatened species.

Want to become famiiar with endangered plants in your area?  Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Threatened and Endangered List and select your state.

Aug
9

Could it sell chocolate?

Selecting Wrapping Paper

“So what species should we put on the wrapper?”  is the main thought that obsesses our minds after determining a flavor for a new Endangered Species Chocolate bar.  This packaging element is the first thing people notice about our chocolate bars.  The success of a flavor can often hinge on the appeal of the animal.  Case in point:  a boost in our Smooth Milk Chocolate Bar sales coincided with a cover art switch from the red salmon to the sea otter.  Coincidence?

Everyone can connect with the cute and cuddly.  But we don’t want to do a disservice to the rest of the world’s endangered species – you know, the ones that some consider a tad creepy.  So yes, the majority of our chocolates feature animal photography that is easy on the eyes but that doesn’t mean we neglect the weirder ones.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Would a chocolate bar boasting a bat on the wrapper fly? 

We boldly assigned the bat as the ambassador of our Intense Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs bar in 2004.  Among the most endangered of wildlife, bats, as pollinators and controllers of insects, are vital to nature’s existence.  But they give many people the willies!  That’s why I’m pleased to report that “The Bat Bar” has been embraced by our consumers and enjoys a healthy sales ranking to this day.

An Iguana?  Really?!

It doesn’t always work though.  Take our long ago misguided notion to have a marine iguana grace the cover of the Organic Smooth Dark Chocolate Bar (view it here).  This flavor should have been a shoo in for top selling flavor but it languished.  After months of struggle, it was stuck being the least popular chocolate bar in our collection.  However, almost immediately after the wrapper art was morphed into a butterfly, this bar soared to the top sales spot and is still there today!

Ophiophobia (fear of snakes)

So would my debilitating fear of snakes keep me from grabbing a chocolate bar that had a serpent on the wrapper?  I’d like to think not.  Each creature holds its own important place here on Earth – and honestly, I think there is beauty to be found in the strange and unique (a sentiment shared by ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle).

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”  – Aristotle

What creatures do you find fascinating that others tend to shy away from?

Aug
2

Slow Going

Do I blame the endless summer heat for squelching my creative process? (that one gets my vote)  Could it be that I am still struggling to get back in the swing of work, post-vacation? (doubt it – I took 2 weeks off and returned refreshed)  Maybe the fact that I stopped exercising 3 weeks ago has something to do with it. (ugh, I feel really guilty about that one)

The ideas just aren’t flowing, y’all.  I feel like a turtle tucked in a shell – hiding from my writing.  I have neglected to compose an engaging post (or any post for that matter) for 3 weeks.  No thoughts on chocolate.  No inspiring words about the importance of conservation.  Nothing. Zilch.  Nada.

But, ya know, maybe the cure lies in  just admitting that I have a problem.  Because – strangely - penning this mediocre post is actually making me feel freer, more relaxed…and dare I say it, unblocked.  Finally facing the fact that my mojo is lost has also encouraged me to take control and seek out ways to recapture it.  This list, 33 Ways to Stay Creative, is my new mentor.

Thanks for being patience with my humanness.  Carry on.

Jul
5

10 Uses for Chocolate

Photo image by swanksalot via Flickr Creative Commons

1.  MAKE A DIFFERENCE

By choosing your chocolate carefully, you can support fair and ethical trade, ensuring cacao farmers a fair price for their crops and supporting responsible labor practices (such as no child labor).  Choosing all-natural and organic chocolate supports sustainable farming – which puts fewer chemicals into the earth, protecting diverse forests ecosystems.

2.  TRIGGER NOSTALGIA

Can you recall your earliest experiences with chocolate?  Have your chocolate tastes changed over the years?  What was your favorite chocolate bar when you were a child?

3.  TEST THE LIMITS OF YOUR WILLPOWER

Place your favorite chocolate bar (opened) on your desk at the beginning of a workday (for those that feel especially strong – try this on a Monday).  See how long it takes you to take a bite.  Get co-workers to play along and compare times.  My record  is 20 (long) minutes.

4.  SOMETHING TO HORDE AND HIDE

Good chocolate has a funny way of disappearing.  Don’t feel any shame in having a hidden stash somewhere in your home and/or office.  Think of a place no one would think to look and horde it away to nibble when an intense chocolate craving hits!

5.  A TOKEN OF LOVE

It has been said, “There is nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate.”  Even something as simple as showing up at a friend’s house with a chocolate bar is a perfect way to say “you mean the world to me.”

6.  MARK YOUR PLACE

The wrapper of your favorite chocolate bar can be quickly crafted into a sweet-scented bookmark.  Each time you go to read, you’ll be reminded of your last indulgent chocolate experience.  Thinking up ways to reuse things before tossing them in the trash or recycle bin is a great way to be green.

7.  IMPROVE YOUR COOKING

Break up your favorite chocolate bar and substitute the chunky pieces for chocolate chips in a cookie recipe.  Make amazing hot chocolate by melting 1.5oz or so of a quality chocolate bar into a hot mug of milk/soy milk.

8.  SAVOR, APPRECIATE AND ANALYZE

Chocolate is serious business (at least it is at my house)!  Flavor of chocolate varies depending on the region in which it grown and type of cacao bean used.  Close your eyes, inhale its aroma.  Let the bite sit and melt on your tongue.  What words come to mind to describe the flavor – earthy, fruity, floral?  Bitter, sweet?  For more tasting tips, read our previous post, Sensory Tasting.

9. PAIR WITH WINE

As a rule, dark chocolate pairs well with red wine.  Read up and drink up after referencing our Wine & Chocolate post.

10.  RESEARCH REASONS TO NIX THE GUILT

In moderation, chocolate is healthful.  While nibbling your next chocolate bar, surf the web and read about all the health benefits associated with chocolate.  Remember, the higher the cocoa content, the greater the health benefits.

For the love of chocolate, this is by no means a comprehensive list.  Share other vital uses for chocolate by commenting below. ;-)

Jun
27

Beach Etiquette

Photo image by Hitchster via Flickr Creative Commons

With summer here, my mind has turned to planning our annual family beach trip.  Images of building sandcastles, splashing in the surf and long walks on the beach fill my daydreams as I count down the days till vacation.  As a mom of a nature-embracing little boy, I aim to pass along ways to play and explore the beach that make sure this fragile ecosystem is protected from his well-meaning, oh-so-curious hands.

LOOK AND RELEASE

It’s fun (and educational) to scoop crabs and other sea creatures into a bucket to observe.  Just keep in mind that these guys need water to breathe.  Even with water in your bucket, a crab will only last 20 minutes before it begins to suffocate.  Look – then let them go.

DON’T ROCK IT!

Wondrous discoveries can be made by looking under rocks in tide pools.  Just be sure to lift rocks straight up (so you don’t accidentally crush critters hiding underneath) and replace the rocks gently, leaving them as you found them.  Many beach creatures find cool, moist homes under rocks, logs and seaweed.  If you move or take their home. they might not survive.  Check out this video for a rock lifting demonstration.

CLINGING FOR A REASON

Starfish, mussels and other clingy creatures survive waves and predators by hanging tightly to rocks and wharf pilings.  If picked off a rock or perch, they rarely survive.

DUNES ARE SENSITIVE

Use dune walk-overs and designated beach access points to cross dunes.  This fights erosion by protecting the plants that hold the dunes in place.  Dunes are also a popular spot for sea turtle nests and should not be disturbed.

What am I missing?  Share other ways we can protect and preserve beaches by leaving a comment below.

Jun
20

Be a Bird Nerd

Photo image by gareth1953 via Flickr Creative Commons

Bring your backyard to life

As I write, I am listening to the clear, fluted sound of a couple of Black-Capped Chickadees coupled with the metallic chirp of a Northern Cardinal.  It’s relaxing, entertaining and satisfying to the nature-lover in me to devote the backyard to the birds.  Habitat restoration is vital for wild birds and other wildlife due to commerical and residential infringement on natural areas.  Your backyard (or if space is limited – your balcony!) is one place where you can easily make a difference.  All you need to do is provide 4 basic elements:

FOOD

You can help secure a food supply for birds by planting shrubs and trees that produce seeds, fruits, nuts and nectar.  This is a sure fire way to make your yard attractive to birds for years to come.  Here’s a list to give you planting ideas.  Bird feeders (seed, nectar, suet) make it super easy to provide a helping hand to the birds throughout the year.  Plus, you can position a feeder in a prime spot for bird watching.  Just be sure to place it near a tree or shrub – birds like cover from predators while feeding and a place to perch while waiting for a turn at the feeder.

WATER

Water is an important part of your backyard habitat.  A pedestal bird bath or shallow water dish placed at ground level will provide the necessary water for drinking and bathing.  Replace the water every few days to keep it fresh and clean.  Although this is a bit of extra work, it is well worth it.  A water source can dramatically increase the number and type of wild birds that visit your yard.  Plus it is totally entertaining to watch birds splash around in the water.  Be sure to place the bird bath where you can view it from indoors.  For more tips on supplying water, click here.

SHELTER

Shelter will turn your yard from a place where birds visit to a place where birds live.  Birds need places to hide from predators and the weather.  Plant evergreen trees and shrubs that provide year round cover.  Large rocks, stumps, ground cover and brush piles offer a welcome haven for ground feeding birds.

PLACE TO RAISE THEIR YOUNG

With more and more destruction of natural habitats, birds are having trouble finding nesting and roosting sites.  Bluebirds, purple martins and woodpeckers are struggling to find places to raise their young.  Go here to find specifications for birdhouses that will suit the birds you wish to attract.  You can put birdhouses up any time of the year; when not in use for nesting, many birds will use them for a place to sleep in cold weather.

Now that you’re a bird nerd…

Once you have your backyard habitat established, treat yourself to a field guide or mobile app (I use iBird) to help you learn about and identify your new feathered friends.  You can also participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count to help scientists create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent.  On Twitter?  Search #birdnerd to see what other bird watchers are tweeting.

Special thanks to my friend, Stephanie, a fellow bird nerd, for the post idea.

Which birds frequent YOUR backyard?  Let’s compare birding notes (include your State in the comment to make it more interesting)!