Monday, January 26, 2009

Chocolate Party! In praise of the at-home birthday

OK this is mud, not chocolate, but I swear their little hands looked just like this when covered in chocolate truffle mix!

My older daughter turns 10 today! We celebrated with a birthday weekend extravaganza, and the highlight was a Chocolate Truffle Making party for six tween girls and one very pleased to be included three-year old. I am a big proponent of the at-home birthday and a home-made cake, as noted here. As the guests get older, the main party activity can be making something to eat at the party and they love it! You can also do make-you-own pasta or pizza or anything really. Just plan it out ahead of time and be sure there's enough time during the party to make, bake, and eat it!

Making the truffles was so easy and so fun for the girls. They really delighted in getting their hands all chocolate-y and rolling up the little balls in toppings. The recipe is below. You have to make the chocolate mixture a couple of hours ahead and allow to cool.

Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Truffles
2 cups of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Chips (1 - 11.5 oz bag)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Coating Options:
Unsweetened Cocoa
Finely Chopped Nuts
Nonpareils or other tiny sprinkles

Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add butter and stir until melted. Add chocolate and stir until completely melted and smooth. Keep heat very low to avoid scorching. Remove from heat and pour into a shallow bowl. Cool, cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours. When ready to make truffles, use a teaspoon to scoop out the mixture and roll into 1" balls. Roll each ball in coating of your choice.

More Ghirardelli Recipes here.

Chocolate warms up into your hand very quickly. Roll balls quickly to reduce mess. (FYI: Ten year old girls are not interested in reducing the mess!)

For food safety at a party, have children wash their hands thoroughly before touching the chocolate and have them each use their own spoon. Have each guest put their own truffles on a party plate labeled with her/his name. At our party, they later packaged their truffles in a decorated candy box to bring home as the "goody bag". Decorating the candy boxes was another party activity.

In addition to making truffles, we also had home-made, make-your-own brownie sundaes. I was ambitious at first, thinking every component could be made by the girls: brownies, ice cream and whipped cream. But then realized the timing and the clean-up wouldn't be right, so I made the brownies the night before and bought a can of whipped cream. Still, they made the ice cream in this crazy ice cream ball contraption. A perfect activity for girls who like to chat and gossip around a circle. Once the ice cream was ready, they constructed their own sundaes, with lots of fun toppings.

My daughter proclaimed that it was the best party EVER! It certainly was the most chocolate EVER!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Food for Thought: National Day of Service, 01.19.09

Stepping away from the family dinner topic, for just today...

Heeding President-Elect Obama's call for a National Day of Service, I just signed up to help with a food drive on Dr. Martin Luther King Day, this Monday January 19, 2009. Hurry now and sign-up for something in your community at

Honestly, I had to click through on 3 food drives before I could find one to sign up for. (Had to be a food drive, since that's my thing.) The others had been "maxed-out" with too many people vying to sign up for limited slots. Of course, I'm in Brooklyn, but there were so many events, so many possible good deeds that are out there. 8,500 events were registered on the site as of Jan 14th. Click here to see the amazing Google Map.

It's making me teary-eyed, really, and so hopeful that Obama as our new president will represent a change. He has been so inspiring to so many people already. He truly seems committed to helping communities and helping people make a difference in their own lives and their own neighborhoods. Those 8,500 volunteer opportunities? Those are there everyday, if we just knew about them.

As an Obama volunteer in the campaign, I was polled about my opinions and suggestions immediately afterward, as were many people. (Just being contacted for my opinion seemed quite amazing, really.) I wrote that I hoped that he would use his campaign machinery to offer community-based volunteer opportunities and to harness all that energy and positive motion toward making a real difference in communities. The transition team is doing just that with, and I'm again stunned. Obama and his team have the two-punch: he inspires, then implements. There's a system in place to make it easy for people to sign up. That's the genius. It's marketing true, but really it's marketing and implementation. Many people want to "help" in some vague way, but if you're not sure how to do it, if you don't know who to call, it may never happen. Let's hope that the National Day of Service is a boost up to community involvement that lasts. In this economy, in these times, we cannot wait for government to right itself and solve all the problems that have been created over the past years. We have to embrace our communities and act locally to make a difference. Yes, we can!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Happy New Year Family Dinner

Photo from

Saving money and losing weight often top the list of New Year's resolutions and it's no surprise that cooking at home and having family dinner can help with both those goals. (Plus, it helps with being more connected to loved ones, which is a good resolution too.)

The biggest challenge with resolutions is that most people who make them give up with shocking speed. I think the average time on a diet is one week. This old CNN article tells the tale that at least 30% of people don't keep their New Year's resolutions into February. It's understandable, because change is hard. The best way to change is to make it a part of your routine. Want to exercise more? Get a dog that needs walking or bike to work, or sign up for that exercise with a friend who will absolutely make you go. Want to cook more at home and eat healthy foods? Start out with a weekly shopping trip and a plan, get your family involved and start doing it. Everyday.

For a little inspiration, Bittman starts out the year with a great column on how to stock you fridge and pantry to have the ingredients for easy, delicious meals on hand. There's even more tidbits on his Bitten Blog. And remember, even small changes can make a huge difference. Good advice on picking a manageable healthy eating goal here.

Fresh Start for a New Year? Let's Begin in the Kitchen. Mark Bittman, NYT 01.06.09
What to Ditch in the Kitchen. Bitten Blog, 01.07.09
Recipes for Health A NYT Round-up
New Year's Resolution 2009: One Small Step Toward Healthy Eating. Susan Brady, Health News Blog, 12.28.08