In Season | Insalata Caprese with a Vegan Spin

caprese 1A Caprese salad or Insalata Caprese is a traditional Italian dish with just a handful of ingredients: fresh tomatoes and basil, sliced fresh mozzarella cheese, extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt to taste, occasionally accompanied by a small pour of balsamic vinegar. A little bit of the story behind the Caprese salad: It originated on the island of Capri which is in Italy’s Gulf of Naples and has since made its way across a constellation of Mediterranean locations and in a variety of diverse adaptations! It holds a special place in my mind because I remember my mom making it for dinner when I was little.

It’s a meant for summer appetizer, or main dish if you’re looking for a light bite and I played around with the elements to create my very own vegan spin on the Insalata Caprese. I replaced the traditional red tomato with heirloom varieties of tomatoes (You can see the naturally occurring array of colors in the tomatoes below) and I used extra firm tofu instead of mozzarella cheese which I thought was a close substitute texturally; this transformed the dish into its new identity as vegan/dairy free! And although this would be a far venture from the original dish, I feel like cucumber would also be a yummy addition! I avoided using a softer tofu not only because extra firm tofu is my absolute favorite, but also because I didn’t want it to be mushy or fragile to eat or watery. I was happy to find locally grown basil at the SLO Farmer’s Market which was perfectly convenient for me since I can’t manage to keep my basil plants alive! (If any one has tips for me or has a green thumb for basil, I’d love to be enlightened!) With the extra virgin olive oil, salt and touch of black pepper seasoning the tofu, I felt that it wasn’t far off at all from the traditional mozzarella version so for those of us with a non traditional diet, here’s how you can make it and not miss out🙂

1. Your favorite kind of tomato
2. Fresh and preferably young basil
3. Organic extra firm tofu
4. Your favorite extra virgin Olive Oil
5. Seasoning: Salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar if you’d like!caprese3Recipe:
1. Clean and slice tomatoes (traditionally sliced into rounds, I went for a more geometric look since the tomatoes were large and I was thinking more bite sized portions)
caprese42. Clean and pick off basil leaves from the stem. Then place either directly on tomato’s surface or on top of the tofu (next step). Your choice!
3. Open tofu packaging and drain the water that it came with. Rinse the tofu off and cut into desired size. Then place on top of tomato. (If you have tofu left over, be sure to place that into a tupperware with enough water to cover the surface of the tofu so that you can use it later!)
caprese64. Drizzle with olive oil
5. Season with salt and pepper or balsamic and enjoy! caprese7And there you have it…Vegan Insalata Caprese!

Seasonal bites | Honey glazed Figs with Goat Cheese

fig 1Hello Everyone! It has been quite the while and I am back from my posting hiatus and thrilled to finally begin playing catch up with all that I have been up to as of late! I have amassed quite the archive of photos from my kitchen undertakings and life as a weekend journeying aficionado, as well as a collection of designed pieces during my hibernation from the online community. Sometimes as a creative, I become unsure or intimidated by the direction I am taking which can amplify my indecisiveness so I feel that this past year has been one of transition and growth. Having taken time away to truly spend time on my craft has given me the confidence to return to the blog and re-center myself towards where I love to be. I’m pursuing all that resonates with me or inspires me, so with that–thank you for wandering over. I’m excited to have you here!


This little seasonal assembly is my go-to for every occasion, whether I simply want to celebrate the weekend or make it to share with friends for summer potlucks. I have always had a thing for figs, having grown up with a small fig tree in my backyard, though it was always a challenge to beat the birds to the ripened fruit but I truly think there is nothing better than a perfect fig, unless maybe we are comparing it to a perfectly ripened avocado….

The fig’s versatility with mingling in various dishes makes me especially happy that it is in season. Of course you could opt for just eating it as is or you could toss some in a salad of mixed greens with some balsamic. Fun fact: Figs are actually flowers that are inverted into themselves and the seeds are the actual fruit! It also has a variety of uses and the naturally occurring high alkalinity in the stem of the fruit has made it helpful for those trying to stray away from a smoking habit, and a chemical in figs helps those with skin pigmentation issues. Not that you needed any more of a reason to enjoy them:)

All you need for this summer treat:
1. Ripened figs
2. Your favorite kind of goat cheese
3. Honeyfig 2Recipe:
1.Heat the oven from anywhere around 375 to 400˚F.
2. Wash and slice the figs; de stem them if you prefer. Then lay them on a baking pan.
3. Spoon out a small spoonful of goat cheese for each of the fig halves and place in the center of the fig.
4. Drizzle honey over the figs with goat cheese
5. Once the oven tempreature has been reached, put them in for 15-20 minutes, baking them until the seeds and the fig inner portion look as if they are opening up and are slightly darker with the skins starting to wrinkle.
6. Let them cool for 10 minutes and then savor!fig 3

A Southern California Holiday

A    S O U T H E R N   C A L I F O R N I A   H O L I D A Y

E N C I N I T A S    C A


Spending the holidays in my hometown of Southern California has been refreshing and revitalizing. Early morning visits to the 101 for wheatgrass shots in the lumberyard and an awakening cup of French pressed coffee. Late night drives to the moonlit coast for conversations amidst the occasional rumble of a passing train. The catharsis of writing freely with Daisy curled up beside me. Sunrise and sunset views from ocean overlooks and seeing fleckles of stars.

.    .     .     .     .     .     .

Time with the family and spending most days working at a local all-natural café has kept me busy, but Encinitas has a way with surprising me with endless simple luxuries. This coastal town has stolen my affection and serves as a lens for boundless inspiration. It seems that anywhere I go, I wander upon someone interesting with ideas to share. It’s a small enough place which makes reconnecting with old friends so simple. Maybe it’s every local’s happy place.  Visitors or temporary locals love it all the same though:)

On a recent mellow afternoon which welcomed a decent measure of rain, a friend and I set out to explore Encinitas, along the 101 and downtown Solana Beach in Cedros in search of as many art galleries as we could wander upon. Here are some photographs.


P a n n i k i n
We began at the iconic yellow housed Pannikin for a little breakfast. Though the English Muffin clearly isn’t Gluten Free, my cupcake/muffin from The Lotus Cafe in Encinitas is Gluten Free and Dairy Free, pictured at the bottom. It was a Carrot Pineapple Spice Muffin.  Shown next to the muffin are our breakfast drinks, mine’s the Americano with a sprinkle of Cinnamon and my friend drank the House Coffee.


C h u a o   C h o c o l a t i e r
A few days ago, in between a double shift at work on the 101, I took a quick respite with a Vegan Chocolate Picnic and an Iced Espresso from Chuao Chocolatier from the Lumberyard. I took my treats with me besides the railroad and found myself at Swami’s while the sun was setting. The sunset photos and lighting were particularly awe-inspiring and those were the first photos from this entry. Pictured is a variety of my favorite Dairy Free chocolates. The collection includes the Framboise, a preserves-like Raspberry Dark Chocolate, the Smoky Macadamia Nut with a gritty texture and Rich Deep Cacao Undertones, and the Marzipan which was an Almond filled dark chocolate with a Macadamia Nut on top. The strong iced Espresso was just the thing to wake me up and get me through a restaurant evening.

D   S t r e e t
The middle photograph was taken at my favorite ocean overlook.

L o t u s   C a f e
In the bottom, are some wheatgrass shots from Locally Grown Wheatgrass, which can be found at the Lotus Cafe. Wheatgrass is the perfect way for a weekender to begin their day on the coast.🙂


C e d r o s   a n d   S o l a n a   B e a c h
A walk through the gardens was relaxing, and there were many highlighted spots. Within Cedros, I found some galleries, one was a photography gallery from a surfer who travels the world. A favorite photo within it was of a golden sun setting over a beachy village which seemed reminscent of an eternal summer, or of a life in a sub tropical surf town, similar to the opening scenes of Savages. The galleries are definitely places to spend some time in, when I was little, my dad used to take me to Solana Beach for gallery walks, but I was surprised to find those particular galleries and artists’ studios were gone, but I’m happy that there is still so much art if you just look for it along the 101 and in Encinitas. Painters, photographers, and sculptors feature their art, so while at home, I’d recommend checking some of our local talent out.


The sky after the fresh crop of rain was too deep azure for me to pass along, so here are some unedited shots of Solana Beach. All in all, I wish you an enjoyable, relaxing, surprising and passionate holiday season:)

Winemaking Tour at Daou Vineyards

D A O U    V I N E Y A R D S    &    W  I  N  E  R  Y

P A S O   R O B L E S   C A

Daou Pic 1For my birthday weekend, a good friend took me on a little road trip thirty minutes away to Daou Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles. Driving through the back roads and passing vineyards along the way, it looked like we were heading into the country, Paso has a different feel than the town of San Luis Obispo. Now, there are good things about not being 21…Contrary to the typical idea one has of what someone visiting a winery would be doing, I was instead given a tour of the winery and learned about the art and science of winemaking.

Daou Vineyards is most famed for their Cabernet Sauvignon, however, what was most notable in my eyes was the attention to detail in the location and architecture of the Main Tasting Room. In the top picture above, you can see the Spanish Colonial Styled Architecture. Through the windows, you can see the view from the top of the mountain where they are located. You can truly see the entire valley, and the view was unlike anything I had expected.

Daou Pic 2Above are some of the snapshots I captured of the vineyard itself. The golden glow of the sun setting over the estate was something to remember. The timing of my visit was perfectly aligned with one of the harvests, so I was brought to each phase of the winemaking process.

Within the main winemaking room, there was extremely elevated ceilings and great, silver metallic tanks that almost reached the ceiling. Within each of these were different varieties of wine. I wondered how they could possibly move the wine within it, but to transfer the wine from one tank to another, or into a different phase, they used hoses that would connect to the tanks. Within that room, we met several Cal Poly SLO graduates of the Wine and Viticulture Major. Daou has a laboratory testing room, where the Viticulture interns were testing the wines for various things, such as acidity, etc, so we saw them taking samples from the tanks. I hadn’t known prior to this how much science really went into making a high quality wine.

After fermentation, the wine is transferred to French Oak barrels.

INTERESTING FACT: Over night in wineries, because of the fermentation involved in the wine making process, which is when the grape sugar is converted to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide with the release of heat, there is a potential for carbon dioxide to build up as the doors are all closed over night, like in the room with the metallic barrels so there isn’t sufficient ventilation to release the CO2. Because carbon dioxide is thicker than air and will sit on top of the wine barrels, it is something to be careful of. Wineries often have CO2 alarms and at Daou, those climbing the ladders leading to the tops of the barrels are required to lay down on the ladder’s landing to avoid a tumble in case of exposure to CO2.

Daou Pic 3Above is one of the rooms where wine is stored in the French Oak barrels at a chilled temperature. There are temperature monitors in place and while we were in the room we saw that periodically, cold air would burst out from pipes in order to keep the room automatically temperature regulated.

There’s a lot of dedication to being a winemaker or working at a winery as well. We went into a room where some of the workers and interns were operating a destemmer machine which separates the grapes from the stems. Not all of it becomes separated by the machine, so they were also doing it by hand. Inside here, we got to taste the Cabernet grapes. Outside of the room were bins several stories high with grapes that had just been harvested, and anything there had to be processed through that room that day, as they were ready to be crushed. The harvest would be wasted if they waited, so speaking to one of the interns we learned that during harvest time, a typical work day could begin as early as 8 or 9 am and go as late as 10:30 pm as they had to make sure it all got done.

Daou Pic Four

Above are more pictures from the Tasting Room. Directly above and to the right is one of the Wine labels, as the labels and packaging were just as fascinating to me as the actual wine making process as I am a Graphic Communication major minoring in Packaging. The label above reminded me of so many things we had learned about in class. From the substrate, to the specialty processes involved in that elaborately designed label, it looked like there was foil embossing used on the emblem, and there was also a QR code integrated into the design.

Having a peek into the inner workings of an acclaimed winery in the viticulture industry was a unique learning opportunity, and I had a great time. I enjoyed the adventure as well as how well it tied into what I want to get into in the future, which is potentially, labeling/packaging for wine. To see how much thought was put into providing visitors with such a memorable, relaxing and one of a kind experience was inspiring, and I’m appreciative of everyone there who took the time to teach me about winemaking. If you’re ever in Paso, I would definitely say to make this part of your day, even if simply for the views:)

Seattle Cooking from Pike Place Market

Seattle Dinner copyWhile traveling to Seattle with my family a few weeks ago, the first thing on our list was visiting Seattle’s Original Farmer’s Market, the Pike Place Market! Pike Place is a landmark that overlooks the Elliott Bay Waterfront and has an atmosphere all its own. A little history on Pike Place–The market first opened in August of 1907. Vendors line the insides and outsides of the marketplace and it’s a hub for finding hand crafted treasures, and the freshest and mostly locally sourced produce and seafood, which we admired, sampled, tasted, and cooked a naturally colorful, simple Dairy and Gluten free home-cooked dinner from. Here are the details from one of our favorite Seattle spots, and a lot more travel-related photographs from my Seattle and Vancouver adventures and favorite restaurant spots will be featured on the Inspire page soon!
Seattle Dinner 2 copyAbove are snapshots of the market. That shimmery-silver, delectable fish you see above is the Wild Caught Sockeye Salmon from the Copper River in Alaska. My dad took one look at it and knew that would have to be the star of our dinner. The vivid coral/orange of the salmon was a natural indicator of the freshness of the fish, and would make a great pairing with the produce we found. We went to the market at different times of day during our travels, and the busy nature, and crowded market place atmosphere never dulled, though there were slight fluctuations in the degree of the crowds. Especially around the seafood and fish there were constantly crowds of observers, as yes, the men behind the counter really do throw the fish to each other which was a spectacle to watch! People were drawn to the fish market as there was such a variety of freshly caught, mostly locally sourced seafood from live lobsters, to the most intricately wave-shelled oysters and richly colored sushi-grade Ahi. Oysters and shrimp cocktail seemed to be a favorite sample-size purchase. (Once my pictures are up on the Inspire page, you’ll find a picture of my beautiful Mumsie enjoying a Fresh Oyster here!) In addition to the selection of seafood, the variety in produce was greater than anything I had seen before. There were numbers of heirloom variety produce, carrots in colors I didn’t even know were possible, succulent corn, etc. Living in Seattle is definitely on my list of cities for post-grad employment now…being lucky enough to be able to go shopping here weekly would be the dream, especially with the number of options for beautiful, local, naturally Dairy and Gluten Free, in-season ingredients.

Seattle Dinner 3 copy
Above is a collection of features I especially adored about the house we stayed in during our travels to Seattle. The house was an older home in the historic location of Queen Anne Hill, a quieter neighborhood located northwest of downtown Seattle, and flocked to for the unique architectural style of many of the original homes of the area. In the early days of the city, Queen Anne was said to be the homing location of many of the culturally elite. More pictures can be found very soon on the Inspire page. Our house was an eclectic fusion of the old-world feel and classic wall-paper appearance intertwined with modern appliances and comforts. I felt that the antique features added character and flair to the home. The kitchen was definitely my favorite spot of the house for its classic white cabinet look and natural-wood looking island where we prepared our meals, and the oversize round lamp easily illuminated the living/cooking space.

Seattle Dinner 4 copy
Close-ups of the fantastic meal my Dad prepared! From the top, the shrimp was sautéed in a light blend of Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper to absolute perfection. Underneath, the Red potatoes were boiled until soft enough that the skins were slightly bursting. The salmon was baked in the Oven and seasoned with Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper. The flakiness and moisture of the salmon were unparalleled! And the Broccoli shown below was Steamed. All of these items besides seasoning were sourced from Pike Place. In keeping with my dietary restrictions, my Dad excluded Butter from all of these, substituting with Olive Oil which was also a thoughtful way to not overpower the natural flavors of the fish, as Olive Oil is a bit lighter. The light seasoning overall accommodated the natural flavors of the fresh ingredients and allowed us to enjoy the unique natural taste of each of these. Broccoli and Baby Bok Choy never tasted so good! There is something to be said for produce that doesn’t need to be trucked in from far away places, and is naturally Organic. It’s also a lot more fun when you can actually meet and interact with the local farming families behind the beautiful products and support them directly. Also, all of the prices were fairly reasonable especially for the seafood of that quality and much less than if you were to eat out.

Seattle Dinner 5 copy
Plated to Perfection:) Now onto Dessert!
Seattle Dinner 6 copyDessert was comprised of Golden Raspberries, Fresh Lychees, and Doughnut Peaches. My favorite feature of all of these three natural gems was the way their outer color seemed to naturally Ombre into other shades, whether it was the perfect gradation of the Lychees’ Matcha-green into a Peachy Mulberry Shade, or the the way the Peach’s yellow played with the pink. All of these were such novelty fruits, from the one-of-a-kind shape of the peach, to the texture of the lychees grooves, to the brilliance in color of the raspberry. Everything was so sweet and I couldn’t think of a better way to tie up such a fantastic meal with my family. As much as I love going out to eat, sometimes it’s refreshing and a life necessity to enjoy a meal cooked at your pace, and absent from interruptions from the outside world. My dad reminded me that when you start with raw, natural, amazing ingredients, it isn’t necessary to mask any of the flavors, but to create a way for the flavors to take center stage.
Seattle Dinner 7 copyAll finished here, and wrapped up the evening with some Chai tea. Treat yourself to a home-cooked meal this week, or take the challenge to incorporate locally grown foods into your eating this week! For all of my friends enjoying Summer in SLO, this will be no problem for our community’s richness in farmers markets:)

Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates & Project Hope and Fairness

Mama Ganache 1Upon being asked for an interview  for Spins and Staples regarding Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates, Tom Neuhaus, a Food Science and Nutrition professor here at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and owner of Mama Ganache along with his sister Joanne graciously invited me for an afternoon in his Cal Poly Chocolates Class and lab. What originally piqued my curiosity with the Mama Ganache family was their emphasis on staying true to creating Artisan chocolates with all Organic and Fair Trade ingredients and that they had an abundance of options for Vegan chocolate seekers, as I had just been gifted a box of entirely Vegan Valentine’s Day chocolates. Their flavors ranged from the more classic leaning rich Dark Chocolate to the more eclectic and one of a kind Passion Caramel truffle which was also Vegan.

During this day tour, the first part of the Lab portion gave me the opportunity to see Cal Poly Chocolates being packaged as well as Peanut Butter Cups being made, and how foods such as Espresso beans for example would be coated with chocolate using a sort of large Tumbler while being carefully monitored by a student for any clumping. During the second portion of the Lab, Professor Neuhaus went more into the science behind Temperature and learned how to Temper chocolate without a thermometer. As a true Chocolate connoisseur, he can judge chocolate by the feel, and relies on precise measurements as far as temperature as well as his own senses for the readiness of a Chocolate. Not only was it a day of tremendous exploration and exposure for me into the world of Chocolate, but it was a truly awe-inspiring day as well. I had the pleasure of hearing about Professor Neuhaus’ extensive travels to West Africa and Mama Ganache’s main vision which is to support Project Hope and Fairness, a non-profit organization he started that “focuses on improving the economic and environmental sustainability of West African cocoa farmers.” He, as well as everyone at Mama Ganache are truly an example of givers, in the business of chocolate to better life for cocoa farmers. The passion he has not only for teaching and his students, but his service and passionate sense of community was so visible and motivating. I would like to give a great thank you to Professor Neuhaus for his time and teachings, Ms. Joanne for helping me get in touch with Professor Neuhaus to make this day possible, and to Paul Brenneman, my friend and photographer who so eagerly lended his talents for the day!

Be sure to swing by Mama Ganache for Artisan chocolates and hand-crafted Coffee drinks on Monterey in SLO!

Mama Ganache 2

Q  &  A   |||  Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates’ Very Own Tom Neuhaus as told to Anna

Q  |||   What was your inspiration for the atmosphere and vision of Mama Ganache?
A   |||   We were originally called Sweet Earth Chocolates. Our ultimate goal was to help West African Cocoa Farmers and explore ways to get academia involved in making cocoa farming sustainable. We originally made Fair trade Chocolate and sold it to church and took the money to West Africa. We decided to start our own business to fund the foundation [Project Hope and Fairness] I had in mind in 2006. We haven’t yet reached profitability, it just hasn’t happened yet and eight years later, we’re sort of scraping by. On April 26, we are having a fundraiser at the Pear Valley Winery and Kelsey, the author of “Where am I Eating” will be speaking. I went to the Ivory Coast with him. Garrett Morris will be there, he bike rode across the US to raise money for Project Hope and Fairness. It costs 3K for Machinery needed in West Africa and 13K for the trip. They need machinery for Rice hulling and Chocolate making.

Q  |||  Who makes up the Mama Ganache Family?
A   |||  My sister Joanne and I are the owners. It’s a corporation, and we currently have 20 employees because it’s chocolate season. 

Q  |||  What exactly is Artisan Chocolate?
A  |||  Artisan is when something is made with your own hands, so there’s skill in that. Most businesses that are “Artisan” generally don’t have money for machinery. An example of Artisan chocolate are the Chocolate Lips we make, which are small-run, the mold makes 24 at a time, and there are lots of steps involved. With machinery, you could make 1000 bars within three hours. Most of the time, you can’t truly be 100% Artisan or you’ll be bankrupt. Different companies have different things they do, in Hollywood, the focus is on providing top of the line packaging in order to appeal to those high-end customers. 

Mama Ganache 3

Q  |||  Out of curiosity, what kind of diet do you have in your lifestyle? What mentality do you live by when selecting what to eat or cook with? 
A  |||   The worst thing to do is to stress. So my Rule #1 is Don’t stress. Try not to overdo it. I try not to hardly eat red  meat at all; my wife doesn’t eat it. I try to eat vegetables. Japanese food is good, it’s the perfect diet: Rice, seaweed, fish. Asian food in general, Chinese Korean…I eat lots of fish, fresh vegetables and fruit. I’ll maybe eat a burger every six months. I support local farmers, mostly buy directly from the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. I do have diabetes.

Q  |||   Did you come from a background of eating locally grown foods?
A   |||  To some extent, we did. In Detroit, my mom grew currants, so we always had currant jelly in the house growing  up. There was an Italian farmer who came by and sold vegetables on his truck. When I moved to South Dakota, I processed my own meat and poultry, geese and sheep. I had a restaurant/bakery in Austin, Texas and dreamed of having a farm and restaurant but then I moved to New York. 

Mama Ganache 4

Q  |||  What is the most challenging aspect of operating a business that is focused on using all Organic, Fair Trade, high quality ingredients and products?
A   |||  Paying the money that’s expected to be paid. It’s at least 6K a year simply for the privilege of being a “Fair Trade” corporation. And it’s another 4K to be “Organic.”

Q  |||  As an old-time chocolate shop straying from the impersonal ways in which you can buy chocolate today, how does Mama Ganache offer a unique atmosphere in the city of San Luis Obispo? In having a more personalized intimate setting, what experience are you looking to provide the customer that differs from that of say, See’s? 
A  |||  We provide a more holistic view on Chocolate. See’s is about gratification or gratifying someone else. In our store, we provide information on the history of chocolate, the cocoa tree, varieties of chocolate, games for children, and many more products. We want to empower the cocoa farmers. Most chocolate that comes from large producers is slave produced.

Mama Ganache 5

Q  |||  What was the moment you first knew you would be making chocolate, and that was what you wanted to do?
A  |||  75% of Chocolate is Ivorian, or made with slave labor on the Ivory Coast. There are different kinds of Child  slavery, there’s Chattel slavery, Indentured Servitude, etc…With making chocolate to support Fair trade endeavors, you’re helping children go to school in those villages. In order to be aware, you have to want to be  aware. Most people don’t want to know how people are suffering. The defining moment or the epiphany was during Bill Clinton’s term; he was President in the late 90’s. The US and Europe had just signed the World Trade Agreement. Single mothers in the Carribean sold bananas to Europe because you can’t use any business trade besides cost/not for a good reason. Clinton established a trade war with Europe and overnight, Bleu cheese doubled. To punish Europeans, we put a tariff on their stuff so it was too pricey. It’s about learning the politics behind food. Why is it that the average US farmers gets 18 cents on the dollar and tropical farmers get a fraction of a penny? They get so much less-Why is that? I want students to get involved in stuff like that. To quote Al Gore, they’re “inconvenient truths.” It’s not easy being inconvenient. Trying to raise money to fix a situation is really, really, really, really damn  hard. It’s not as hard as being president or a concert pianist though. People ask me why are you helping people over there? (Over there as in Africa) Because, the world is a community, we are all brothers and sisters. We are all responsible for each other.

Q  |||  I was reading about your trips to West Africa and Mama Ganache’s efforts to help the West African cocoa farmers, Why is this an issue so close to your heart? Tell me about Project Hope and Fairness. 
A  |||  First, came my interest in the culture, and I first went to Africa because in 2003, someone called me and asked if I wanted to go to Peru. The idea was to start a chocolate company in this village to better the peoples’ lives and so there were different chocolates, and each chocolate represented a different culture; the idea was to sell to museum gift stores. Nothing really came of it. So that summer, I ended up going to Ghana and took jewelry with symbolic meanings and at the time, I was melding chocolate with more reading, and I sold them at a mission and would make 1K a Sunday at seven different services. A trip to Cameroon followed Ghana.

Mama Ganache 6

Q  |||   What is your all time favorite Chocolate that you’ve made?
A   |||   It would have to be a chocolate that my friend had me make this last Christmas. She was very skilled in Graphic Communication so she created the packaging. She wanted to put together a Chocolate bar with a Recipe from 1925. It was a fudge, from a pastry tube and I froze that and dipped it in Butterscotch Caramel and it had Peanuts and was covered in Milk Chocolate. 

Q  |||  As far as Vegan or Dairy Free and Gluten Free Chocolates that you have at Mama Ganache, what would you recommend here? 
A  |||  Vegan..I would say the SLO Chew, which is a Vegan Caramel with Cashews and it’s dipped in Dark Chocolate and flavored with Peanut Butter with Rice Krispies in it. Also, the Passionfruit and Vegan Caramel Truffle or Raspberry Truffle. The Dark chocolate Peanut Buttercups are really good and we have very clean tasting mint patties as well. 

Q  |||  What is the most popular chocolate here that college students order?  
A   |||  Dark and Milk Chocolate Bars or Peanut Butter Cups.

Q  |||  Does your menu change seasonally? 
A   |||  We do seasonal all the time. Next up is Easter. October 1st marks the beginning of the Chocolate 
Season. In summer we do lots of Milkshakes, We also make milkshakes with Coconut or Almond Milk to make it Vegan. The malted Milkshake is my favorite.

Mama Ganache 7Notes from Lab Part 2

In teaching his class about the Science behind Tempering Chocolate, Professor Tom Neuhaus said “How many times can you temper chocolate? Till the cows come home..Indefinitely.” Chocolate is comprised of six small crystals and the desired crystals are called Beta crystals. With tempering, the cocoa butter is encouraged to form into a crystalline pattern. Tempering is a way to prepare chocolate using Heating and Cooling. Properly tempered chocolate can often be spotted for its beautiful sheen and crisp snapping sound when breaking. In examining different bowls of Chocolate, one with Milk, one with Dark, and one with White chocolate, Professor Neuhaus explained that you can tell one of the chocolate bowls was not tempered properly because of the beta crystals on top.

“It needs to be Four and Five for Tempering you need to force it to crystallize,” said Professor Neuhaus. He explained how the chocolate needs to be able to melt in your mouth. There are several ways to temper Chocolate. First, is Seeding. Seeding is when you mix the Chocolate “seeds” or chips in the bowl of Chocolate that is partially melted and let it melt in and it becomes a four and five. To get it to crystallize takes a half hour to an hour. “Seeding is populating this bowl with millions and millions of unmelted crystals,” he said. He continued to add chocolate until we could see the crystals. We were shown how Smear tests were used to test how the chocolate sets. If it’s very shiny, that means it’s very melted and not solidified. Tabling is another method. He smeared the chocolate on the table top and wiped it back and forth and mixed it with the untempered chocolate. Temperature for heating the Chocolate must be modified depending on seasons. Winter might need 86 degrees and Summer would need 84 degrees. The fail safe method he explained, was the fastest and messiest method which is to mix the untempered chocolate with Liquid chocolate. We learned that Cocoa Butter is a solid fat at room temperature so it will solidify. A pleasantly warm temperature would be considered around 98.6 degrees. I learned that it shouldn’t ever be more than 70 or 72 degrees in the room when making chocolate or it will take longer. Temperature and Air Flow of the room are important factors to take into account.

Mama Ganache’s chocolate is thinner chocolate with a richer more flavorful taste but is originally harder to work with we were told.

We learned the difference between White and Milk Chocolate. White chocolate doesn’t have Liquor and Milk chocolate does. White chocolate has Cocoa Butter, Sugar, Milk Powder, and way down on the ingredient list is Soy Lecithin and Vanilla. Milk chocolate contains Cocoa Butter, Sugar, and Liquor. Liquor is ground up seeds which is Liquid which is why it’s called Cocoa Liquor.

In terms of the time it took the different bowls to Temper, Professor Neuhaus explained that Dark chocolate often beats Milk because the Butter in Milk deals the Crystals. If you don’t seed the Chocolate, you just let it melt halfway.

I was fascinated to hear what he had to say next. “Can you add Milk, Wine, or Cream to Chocolate?” I thought you could, because I’ve added Milk to Melted Chocolate to try to make it creamier for dipping Strawberries into. Professor Neuhaus said, “No, you can’t, because it’s hydrophobic and it’ll absorb into the hydrophilic substances and it binds.” He expressed the importance of learning to temper without a thermometer. “You might as well be as human as you can for as long as you can and not be reliant on machines,” he said. He spoke about his time in France and learning to cook there, and how he was taught to beat cream with a whisk and not a beater so that you will be strong enough to do so in case of a situation such as the power going out. “Machines don’t always come to work with us,” he said. He elaborated on this note in describing the importance of using your senses as well, “Use your lower lip as your thermometer.”

I learned that the most expensive part of chocolate was Cocoa Butter, and I got to taste Balinese Dark Chocolate which had fruity notes, as well as a Peruvian Dark Chocolate and compare them.

In the spirit of Cal Poly’s “Learn by Doing,” Professor Neuhaus humorously referred to the importance of Learning by “Screwing up,” and encouraged everyone to give the Chocolate piping via coronet a try.

Mama Ganache 8

As far as Professor Neuhaus’ travels, in 2003 he went to Ghana and did a seminar there at Ghana University. In 2004, he went to Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana. He met a man named Everiste there and wanted to go to Daloa and took a small bus with chickens and visited cocoa farming villages. Over the years, he’s established relations with eight different villages. The part he dreads the most is the drive over the African roads, which he believes to be the most dangerous part of Africa as they aren’t well put together like our roads. He describes the people as great, and in response to being asked about violence in Africa or potential dangers of traveling there, he said, “Usually if you’re nice to people, they’re pretty nice to you.”

Professor Neuhaus’ next goal is to buy a chocolate machine in Mumbai. He would fly it on South African Airways from Johannesburg to Abi Djain. As of now, he is just trying to find out how to get it out of the airport however and into the village!

Chocolate tasting, a tour of the Cal Poly Chocolates Facility, a Learning Day and Interview with such a World Class Citizen. I couldn’t have hoped for a greater experience, thank you again:)

For more information on Project Hope and Fairness, please visit  and for Mama Ganache’s website, please visit

Mama Ganache 9

Tilapia Tacos with Peach Champagne Mango Salsa

Fish Taco 1

In Encinitas, Fish Tacos are kind of a thing. Like a significant thing. Fish Tacos will always be something I cook that’s close to my heart, as in high school, they were part of a weekly occurrence or our kept very secret”tradish” as my lovely friend Marie and I referred to our Wednesday hour lunch getaways. (For anyone who attempted to guess where we used to go, there you have it:) No matter the weather or hectic balance of school, work, and lacrosse season, we would take our Hour lunches of Fish Tacos to go at our favorite ocean side spots at Carlsbad and Swami’s. Running down the wooden stairs to land on the sand or even jumping into knee high water with rolled up jeans was the ultimate reminder of finding momentary, true bliss in the midst of a day in “Life”.

So, with a desire for a truly worthy Fish Taco, with a touch more sophistication than our beach tacos, but with simple ingredients, I arrived at the idea for Tilapia Tacos with a Lime Onion Cilantro garnish, Peach and Champagne Mango Salsa, Avocados, with Aged Goat Cheese on Corn Tortillas. The Goat Cheese was an idea because my mom makes the greatest Baked Figs with a Drizzle of Honey and Feta Cheese at home, and in a similar contrast, I thought the flavor of Aged Goat Cheese would be the perfect contrast to the natural sweetness of the Peaches and Mangoes. It’s naturally Gluten Free, though those with Dairy sensitivities can find a great substitute with Daiya Shredded plant-based cheese. For whatever reason, the dairy derived from Goat cheese doesn’t affect me the way Cow’s Milk does. With that, here is how you can easily put together a spin on the traditional Fish Taco for a gathering of friends or to enjoy for yourself:)

Fish Taco 2

At New Frontiers, which is a specialty Health foods type of Grocery Store (perfect for those with Gluten and Dairy sensitivities/allergies like me) that could be compared to Sprout’s back home combined with Trader Joe’s, I bought a pound of Sustainably Grown Tilapia. Fish tacos can be made with your favorite kind of fish, though fish with a White, Flaky, Succulent nature such as Cod, or Tilapia are traditionally used (My four months working at a sea food establishment can come in handy I suppose…) and I always aim for Wild-caught or Sustainably Grown when I can. As you can see, the Tilapia had bright hues of an almost Ahi-colored richness, on a backdrop of a Paler Translucent Pink. I first Sliced the fish into smaller pieces to fit perfectly into the smaller Corn Tortillas, and sprinkled my favorite Pink Natural salt from Temecula Olive Oil Company, which practically melted onto the surface of the Fish. I then added a touch of Cayenne and Black Pepper with Drops of Lemon and Lime Juice and a drizzle of Olive Oil. After making sure all of the surfaces of the Tilapia were evenly seasoned I put the pieces in Aluminum Foil and put it into the Oven at 350 degrees F. Depending on the thinness of the pieces, it can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to bake.

Fish Taco 3

While the Tilapia was baking, I prepared the rest of the Seasonings to go onto the Taco. Finely chop White Onion and Cilantro and toss them together with a Pinch of Salt and Lime Juice. For easy preparation, I bought Peach Mango Salsa from the store, which I added pieces of Champagne Mango to, as it was more Tomato heavy than I had expected. What are Champagne Mangoes? Also known as Ataulfo Mangoes, they are slightly smaller, and less fibrous than your regular mango. They are extremely sweet and a fantastic source of Vitamin A, B, C and dietary fiber as well as being known for helping with digestion. Keeping your digestion healthy and happy  is always key, especially for those with Allergies to certain foods which may make keeping digestion up and running properly a little more of a challenge. Champagne mangoes make their appearance during the warmer months, beginning in Spring and all the way through Summer and are grown mainly in Southern and Central Mexico, as well as the warm climates of California and Florida.
I chopped Organic Avocadoes to go within the tacos, and sliced the Aged Goat Cheese. I think the name of the Cheese was called “Drunken Goat,” which I thought was pretty silly. Generally Chèvre is pretty creamy or crumbly so I aimed to find a smoother Goat Cheese which was more solid in form.

Fish Taco 4

Assembling the tacos was my favorite part for all of the pops of color. After thirty minutes, I took out the Tilapia from the Oven which was baked to its peak and was flaky and succulent to its fullest potential. This weekend dinner food is very adaptable with whatever Favorite ingredients you have on hand, Enjoy!