Thursday, January 26, 2012

Valentine's Day Sustainable Chocolate Companies: 2018 Update

Ever question if the chocolate company you are buying your chocolate from. Do they embrace the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.

Castronovo Chocolate trays, Stuart, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
If not, here's a list of five chocolate companies that meet part or all three pillars of sustainability.

Oliver Kita Fine Confections, Rhinebeck, New York
Oliver Kita sources ingredients local and regional to New York State, from farms, dairies, and other businesses (smaller carbon footprint). He practices Fair Trade and Direct Trade with cocoa growers (providing living wages). And supports five non-profits. He sells full dairy, vegan and organic chocolates.

Castronovo Chocolates, Stuart, Fla.
Chocolatier Denise Castronovo and husband Jim source cacao beans directly from farmers and gathers in Central and South America. They pay Fair and Direct Trade prices for their beans. They use Florida sourced ingredients in their single-origin chocolates that are hand-crafted at their bean-to-bar factory in Stuart, Florida. They have won several gold, silver and bronze awards here in the United States and internationally in London, England.

Raaka Virgin Chocolates, Brooklyn, New York
Their packaging is 100 percent recycled and printed with soy ink. They practice Direct Trade with their cacao growers (providing living wage). They sell stone-ground vegan, virgin (unroasted beans) single origin chocolates, that are nut and gluten-free. They source from Bolivia, Dominican Republic and ESCO Kiva, Eastern Congo, D.R.C.

Pacari Ecuadorian Organic Chocolates, Quito, Ecuador
All their chocolates are vegan. They source ingredients local and regional to Ecuador. They practice Direct Trade with Ecuadorian cacao plantations, and financially support 2500 families. They sell single origin, refined and raw (unroasted cocoa beans), chocolate bars and covered fruits, that is certified organic and Kosher Parve.

Taza Chocolates, Somerville, Massachusetts
They practice Direct Trade for cacao beans co-ops in Bolivia and Dominican Republic, that support small growers. The sell stone-ground organic chocolates.

So, next time you go to buy a chocolate bar, look at the label. See if the company embraces the sustainable practices of environment, economic, and social.

If it is, tell all your friends to support the company. And if you get a chance, type the chocolate company's name into the comments section of this blog, so we can all support the companies.

Updated Jan 2018

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Apple Beer and Almond Water at 15th Americas Food And Beverage Show, Miami, Fla.,

Old fashioned recipes with new fashioned tastes. That's what I found, at the 15th Americas Food And Beverage Show and Conference, Miami, in Apple Beer and Victoria's Kitchen Almond Water.

Apple Beer, Salt Lake City, Utah

Shaney Cornell with Apple Beer booth at
15th Americas Food and Beverage Show
Miami, Fla.,

“Apple beer was sold in Florida during the 1970s and 80s,” said Shaney Cornell, “We are canning it in Miami and hoping to get back into the market.” They had a good response and interest at the show. “It is a more adult beverage because it is not as sweet as you’d expect. And when poured makes a head like beer but there is no alcohol in it,” Cornell said.

The recipe is based on a 150-year-old German bubbly drink called Fraussbrause. It was brought over to the United States by the Apple Beer Corporation in the 1960s. It is gluten-free, alcohol-free, and caffeine-free according to Cornell. I tried a sample. It had a slight head, like beer, and a wonderfully delicious crisp apple flavor.

There is sugar-free variety, (launched July 2011) called Apple-Beer FIVE, infused with Ginseng, Acai Berry, and sweetened with Sucralose. It is also gluten-free. There are only five calories per bottle, according to Cornell. It tasted like granny smith apples and was very refreshing.

They sell cans and bottles at Idaho and Utah restaurants, delis and markets including Whole Foods (but not nationally). They also sell in the Caribbean. Apple Beer has a canning plant in Miami, Florida, and they are hoping to get into the Florida market in the future. You can buy their product online at

Victoria's Kitchen Almond Water, Los Angeles, California

Deborah Meniane with Victoria's Kitchen Almond Water
at 15th Americas Food and Beverage Show,
Miami, Fla.

Deborah Meniane, co-owner of Victoria’s Kitchen, greeted me with a smile and sample of almond water saying it was a recipe her husband’s French grandmother used to make for the family. She would give it to the children when they came in from playing in the garden all day. It was sweeter than the version I was drinking, but it was still refreshing.

I took a sip. It was light yet rich, with a delicious fresh almond flavor. I asked what type of almond extract they used. Meniane said they pressed their own almonds, then mixed the extract with water, cane sugar, and citric acid.

I could not stop at just one sample, it was so addictive. When I shared this thought with Meniane, she agreed and said, “I’m not claiming it has any health benefits but it’s going to make you happy.” There are four retail locations selling Almond water in California and one in Florida. But Victoria's Kitchen is expanding, so go their website for updates. 

Updated Jan 2016

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oliver Kita Fine Confections at Fairchild Garden's Chocolate Festival, Miami, Fla.,

Twenty Five dollars was a small price to pay at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s Chocolate Festival, Miami, for access to Oliver Kita Fine Confections, of Rhinebeck, New York. I bought the Fairchild Special—three chocolate truffles for $5—Stout Beer in a Pretzel crust, Mojito, and Lavande Citronade.

Oliver Kita handing out chocolate samples to children at
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Chocolate Festival,
Miami, Florida

I asked a very personable Kita if he used any local New York State ingredients in his chocolates and he responded with an enthusiastic, yes. He said it was one of the reasons he went into making chocolates. At age 48, he had a successful restaurant business but realized money was not enough. He wanted to make a difference in life. “Our lives are about finding our true path,” said Kita.

So, he sold his restaurant and moved to France to study chocolate. When he came back, he opened a shop in upstate New York and started using local herbs, milk and liquors in his confections, a detail that can be tasted in his creations.

Oliver Kita putting chocolate truffles in a bag at Fairchild's
Chocolate Festival, Miami, Fla.,

His Stout Beer with Pretzel Crust truffle had beer from Keegan Ales (NY), dairy from Hudson Valley Fresh (NY) and pretzels from a small bakery in Pennsylvania. It was crunchy, salty, creamy, and sweet.

The Mojito truffle, made with organic agave from Organic Nectars (NY) was the right balance of spice, Tequila, citrus and dark chocolate.

The Lavande Citronade (lime and lavender) truffle was so intoxicating it transported me back to 1987 when I tried my first fresh chocolate from a Brussels, Belgium store. I waited for 45 minutes, on a cold November day, for my turn to purchase chocolate from a shop that was only open four hours a day. It had an expiration time instead of date on it because the Belgians considered chocolate stale after four hours. Kita's chocolate embrases the same idea.

His most locally centered chocolate collection is the Great Estates—made with Hudson River Valley farm sourced ingredients. The collection, with a colorful map, is tasting tour of his favorite mansions along the Hudson Valley River.

Oliver Kita Vegan and milk-chocolate organic Buddhas at
Fairchild Chocolate Festival, Miami, Fla.,

Kita has heard the buzz about Vegan chocolates. He had a 70 percent Organic dark vegan chocolate Buddha for sale at the Fairchild Festival. This Valentine’s Day he is launching a special Vegan collection made with Vegan sugar and chocolate.

He said his chocolates are considered treats not to be eaten every day, but if I lived in upstate New York, I would find it hard to eat them that way.

To find out more about Oliver Kito Fine Confections go to

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My South Florida Sourced Starfruit Smoothie

It is Starfruit season in South Florida. You can buy them at most local green markets. I love these juicy, thirst-quenching fruit that have a bell pepper consistency and a sweet/sour flavor.

Keeping in the theme of creating Florida locally sourced dishes, I went into my freezer and retrieved frozen Canal Point grown Cavendish and Hawaiian bananas; and Homestead grown Jackfruit.

Florida Frozen Belle Glade Cavendish and Hawaiian bananas,
frozen Homestead jackfruit slices,
and fresh Wellington Starfruit

I took 12 Starfruit, juiced them, and set the liquid aside.
Then I chopped up one Cavendish banana, 2 sections of pink fleshed Hawaiian banana, and 12 jackfruit sections.
I put them into a blender and filled it up with the Starfruit juice (approx 1 liter).
I set the dial to puree and blended until the noise level dropped by half.
I checked for lumps and found none.
Then I poured the smoothie into a glass and garnished with a fresh piece of Starfruit.

Florida sourced Starfruit smoothie with banana and jackfruit

The bananas were grown on NK Lago Farms, LLC of Canal Point, Florida.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Edible-Yards Tour In Miami-Dade County with Earth Learning

Bumping down the road in a worn out school bus with twenty or so other people, I thought about the edible yards in Miami-Dade County we were about to visit.

It was a hot October morning. The windows were open. The breeze was like a blast furnace but when it hit my sweat drenched body it turned into a cool sensation.

The event had been organized by the Earth Learning Organization of Miami, an educational facilitator, inspiring people to come together on local sustainable ecological issues and solve them.

Corinna Moebius, with Earth Learning, standing in school bus

Our tour guide, Corinna Moebius, entertained us with Miami-Dade history and stories. Our first edible yard stop was at Frank Macaluso's house.

Frank Macaluso's front yard, Miami-Dade County, FL

While the bus driver figured out a way to park on the narrow street, the beauty of the property struck me. It was crowded with many tropical fruit plants including a large amount of bananas. Frank greeted us with a smile and quickly started the tour.

Frank Mucaluso touching a mango tree in Miami, FL

In the front yard, he had some unexpected South Florida plants like blackberries and Mysore raspberries. The backyard held more surprises. Where you would expect to find lawn, Frank had planted rows of edamame pods, peppers, and herbs.

Frank Mucaluso's backyard, Miami, FL

He even had asparagus growing in one corner. I didn't think they could grow so far south but Frank said he had been growing it for years.

Asparagus in Frank Mucaluso's garden, Miami, FL

We quickly left his property, we were running behind schedule according to Corinna. Next we visited Yvrose Valdez's property. She is a Haitian born certified master gardener on a mission. She wants to take her permaculture and food forest techniques of growing fruit and vegetables on a world tour to end hunger.

Yvrose Valdez's Edible Garden tour, Miami-Dade County, FL

Her yard was bursting with plants that overflowed onto the sidewalk and beyond.

Yvrose Valdez front garden spilling onto street, Miami, FL

 The backyard had pathways leading under bridges of vegetation.

Yvrose Valdez back garden with tree bridges, Miami, FL

There was so much to see and so little time to do it. So, she walked and talked quickly but it often made it hard to hear what she was saying.

By the end of the day I was a few pounds lighter from all the sweat I'd lost. But I was also a few ideas heavier with thoughts of all the things I could grow in my backyard. I look forward to the Earth Learning tours of 2012.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Green Bean U-Pick: The Girls' South Florida Style

Many years ago, I ate my first freshly picked green bean from a garden in Pennsylvania. It was surprisingly sweet for a vegetable and crunchier than I had expected. None of the store bought ones ever tasted so good.

Belle Glade grown green beans, Fla.
Copyright 2012 by Helen A Lockey

Since then I have been to many u-pick farms to get my green bean fix. It is hard, back breaking work and sometimes very dirty especially if it has been raining and the ground between the rows gets muddy.

But that's not the case in South Florida at The Girls Strawberry U-Pick in Delray Beach on Military Trail just north of Atlantic Avenue. They have tamed the u-pick experience adding rows of neatly covered earth and hydroponically stacked plants. They also have an ice cream/candy store out front with bathroom facilities.

Seasonal strawberry u-pick stacks, The Girls, Delray Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2012 by Helen A Lockey

Few people know that The Girls also grows vegetables like beans, tomatoes, swiss chard, and lettuces.

I went in last Saturday and found the candy store packed with sugar crazed children and their ragged parents.  I persisted, pushing my way through to the back door. It led out onto a porch. There I grabbed a red bucket and a blunt pair of scissors, and walked along the red brick path until I found a hole in the trees, leading out to the beans.
The Girls Strawberry U-Pick garden, Delray Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2012 by Helen A Lockey

I've learned, from past u-pick-it experiences, that the best crop is furthest away from the grove entrance.  It is the place few people have the energy to walk to, so it means it is the area where the most vegetables can be found.

U-pick string beans, The Girls Strawberry U-Pick, Delray Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2012 by Helen A Lockey

I've also learned with green beans, bigger is not better. In fact, bigger often means tougher. So this trip, I decided to pick the smallest, youngest beans I could find. Three hours later, I had picked over seven pounds of beans and paid $1.99 a pound for them.

Fresh picked string beans, The Girls Strawberry U-Pick,
Delray Beach, Fla.
Copyright 2012 by Helen A Lockey

It might seem like a lot of beans but for a green bean fanatic like me, seven pounds of beans only lasts me a week.

To pick your own beans, cherry tomatoes or strawberries if you prefer you can go to The Girls website

They are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to sunset.Their phone number is (561) 496-0188

UPDATED Jan 2016

Friday, January 6, 2012

Organic Farming: Maine Island Style

“It has been between 70 and 90 years since this land was last farmed,” said Dean Stockman, the organic farmer of Vinalhaven Island Organic Farm. A 25-acre property, on Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay, approximately 12 miles off the coast of Rockland, Maine.

Vinalhaven Island Organic Farm, Maine

I got to tour the farm last July with 20 or so members of the Vinalhaven Heritage Group. Dean and his wife Kate greeted us in the parking lot outside their barn. They were standing in a field with three tractors. Dean grabbed a handful of dirt and continued to talk about the land and how the soil was actually made of sod.

Dean Stockman, farmer handling sod soil of
Vinalhaven Island Organic Farm, Maine

He said it was so dense when they arrived last November, they could have made a house out of it. It took twenty-passes with their tractor to loosen up the soil enough to even think of planting in it.

But the sod helped them with the no-watering farming style that they brought with them from Vermont. There they owned and operated a commercial wholesale 100-acre certified organic farm for 16 years before the Land Trust bought it. 

November 2010, they finalizing a lease with landowners Carey Cameron and Giovanna Ferrero, and started working the land on Vinalhaven Island.

The no-watering style of farming means exactly what it says: no watering from outside sources other than rainwater. The sod's dense structure held onto rains from April and it was moist in July to grow a full crop of vegetables and grains.

Dean Stockman, farmer showing crop of Vinalhaven Island
Organic Farm, Maine

When we were there, the farm was growing rye, wheat, and barley, along with an extensive list of vegetables including some heirloom varieties.

They sold their crop to Crown of Maine distribution company on the mainland, and were hoping of establish a market locally on Vinalhaven Island. 

Being a small operation, they have no website, so the only way you can learn more about them is to go visit Vinalhaven Island, Maine.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Locally Sourced Cake: FL style

Over the holidays, there was much baking in my house, and one of the dishes to emerge was a pear cake.

It was made with both local and regional ingredients.

Of the Florida ingredients, there were eggs from Farriss Farm based in Palm Beach Gardens, and bought at Tequesta Green Market. There was wildflower honey from Ivan Rus based in Indiantown, and bought at the Wellington Green Market.

And finally, there was Florida sugar based in Belle Glade, and bought at Publix.

The regional ingredients apart from the flour, leavening agents, and milk, were pears. They were Royal Riviera® Pears from Harry and David, grown in southern Oregon.

It was a delicious way to celebrate the season.