Vegan Dark Chocolate Lavender Mousse

Before moving on to all things chocolate and lavender, here's a short and somewhat vague history on the gorgeous purple-flowering Jacaranda trees that grow on Maui:

The Jacaranda tree is native to South America, which was subsequently introduced to Portugal via travelers and adventurers during the 1600s. Between 1870 and 1910, thousands of Portuguese flocked to Hawaii in search of work. Ostensibly, a Portuguese immigrant with a strong affinity for the tree brought it on their tremendously long journey across oceans, and planted it on the slopes of the dormant Haleakala volcano. The number of Jacarandas suddenly spiked in the 1950s, when Elmer F. Cravalho — a Portuguese descendant and eventual mayor of Maui county — persuaded the Territorial Highway Commission to plant them up and down the main highways in the cooler climates of upcountry Maui.

Now every spring, upcountry bursts into lilac splendor, hundreds upon hundreds of these trees dotting the green rolling hills in every direction, their fallen flowers carpeting the sides of the winding asphalt roads. From my home on the north shore (where it’s too wet for the likes of Jacarandas), I was making the 45 minute drive up to 4,000 feet in elevation to visit the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm. Evidently, I was enjoying the scenery a little too much (read: driving below the speed limit to the dismay of drivers with a schedule to keep). To avoid being the catalyst of someone’s road rage, I found a place to pull off to enjoy the blossoming trees a little more before heading on to my destination.

Purple was apparently the theme of the day. By the time I reached the lavender farm, I felt like my entire morning had been drenched in the royal color. First the Jacarandas, and then a 13 acre lavender farm boasting 55,000 lavender plants and 45 different varieties (who knew there were that many?!), with every possible hue of purple represented along the hillside.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is a tucked away piece of Maui magic, a gem off the beaten path which has rightfully received recognition as a “must see” among those who visit the island. It’s sloping acreage creates breathtaking panoramic views of the north and south shores of Maui, with views of the valley, the West Maui Mountains, and vast expanses of blue ocean. At 4,000 feet in elevation, the weather conditions more closely resemble a mediterranean climate, which allows the lavender to happily thrive alongside peach trees, olive trees, and jurassic-looking protea flowers. Because I arrived early in the morning, the incline of Haleakala just above the farm was still shrouded in low blanketing clouds, creating a soft muted silence that was utterly delicious. Upon further exploration of the grounds, I discovered intimate veins of pathways that led to all sorts of secret gardens, encouraging me to slow down and smell the proverbial roses — or in this case, lavender. It’s a place one can get dreamily lost in.

After my exploration itch had been satisfied, I wandered into the shop, which sells all sorts of goodies made with lavender grown on the farm, from soaps and candles, to lavender tea and lavender gourmet seasoning. I helped myself to a warm lavender scone, sat out on the deck to take in the view, and proceeded to top each bite with a healthy dab of butter and lavender honey. Before leaving, I bought a one-ounce bag of dried culinary lavender flowers, ideas of combining chocolate and lavender already surfacing in my mind.

This chocolate lavender mousse is incredibly luxurious and dark, with just enough lavender to be enjoyable without being overpowering. I hope by now everyone knows that chocolate and avocado are a match made in vegan heaven. While I’m not vegan, I often go weeks at a time without cooking with dairy, and thoroughly enjoy all sorts of healthy plant-based alternatives. Avocado blended with chocolate is one of those combinations that sounds totally whacky, but works better than imaginable. You can’t taste the avocado one bit, but the creaminess it creates is absolute perfection. Add a little natural sweetener, almond milk, freshly scraped vanilla bean, and in this case, lavender flowers for a hint of flirty flavor, and you’ve got a dessert that rivals (dare I say outshines?!) any of it’s dairy-based counterparts. Not to mention it’s so simple a monkey could do it. Add ingredients to blender, blend, refrigerate. Easy as pie…or should I say mousse?

Notes: The cacao nib maple brittle is a bittersweet addition that’s not totally necessary, but adds a nice crunch and look to the dessert. If you want to make this the easiest dessert ever, feel free to skip it, or alternatively simply sprinkle some cacao nibs on top of each serving for a little added texture.
A high powered blender (such as a Vitamix) will make this recipe much easier as the mixture is very thick. If you don’t think your blender can handle it, try making it in a food processor.

Vegan Dark Chocolate Lavender Mousse

recipe inspired by The Love and Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio

serves 4-6

2 cups mashed avocado
1 cup cacao powder
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, plus more if needed
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons culinary lavender flowers, plus extra for garnish
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 vanilla bean
Cacao Nib Maple Brittle (Optional. Recipe below)

To a high powered blender (or food processor if your blender can’t handle thick concoctions), add the avocado, cacao powder, almond milk, maple syrup, lavender flowers, and sea salt. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a knife, and scrape the sticky seeds into the blender. Blend ingredients until smooth, stopping intermittently to scrape down the sides. If still too thick, add a little more almond milk to incorporate all ingredients thoroughly. Divide mousse into individual cups or ramekins, and cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. To serve, sprinkle each serving with a pinch of lavender flowers, and top with pieces of Cacao Nib Maple Brittle (optional).

Cacao Nib Maple Brittle

1/3 cup cacao nibs
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

In a small saucepan, warm maple syrup over medium heat until it begins to bubble. Add in cacao nibs and salt, stirring quickly and continuously until mixture begins to get tacky and form visible strands as you’re stirring it, about 3-4 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Pour mixture onto a tray lined with parchment paper, spreading it out into a thin, yet still intact layer. Allow to cool until brittle, about half an hour. Break into desired size pieces.


Green Beans with Mint Pistachio Pesto

a row of green beans at patrick's farm, danae watering some starts, and a big bucket o' greenbeans.

a row of green beans at patrick's farm, danae watering some starts, and a big bucket o' greenbeans.

Growing biodynamic veggies on the north shore of Maui and selling them at the farmer’s market, a co-creator of a budding vintage clothing business that’s saving the world one outfit at a time, an up-and-coming band with music that no one on earth can resist dancing to, and an epic wedding that encouraged guests to come dressed as pirates.

I am describing non other than Aaron and Danae, one of the most fun-loving and inspirational couples I’ve met since moving to Maui. The recently married lovebirds pursue what makes them happy by marching to the beat of their own drum—a very fun, foot-stomping drum beat at that.  Even the most conventional of people will find themselves tapping their foot in excited agreement with the life they’ve created for themselves, and the places they are going.

For the past four years, Aaron and Danae have been working and living on Patrick's Ha'iku Biodynamic Farm, a few acres of lush land, tucked away on the north shore of Maui. Prior to moving there, neither had any experience working the land or caring for animals, but joyfully absorbed knowledge from Patrick, the proprietor of the whole magnificent operation, and haven't looked back since. Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the farm and the lovely Danae (Aaron was off to practice with his band, Flat Jackson. Which, by the way, you should do yourself a favor and check them out. They’ve been known to describe their genre of music as a “lizard-infused honky tonkin’ slam-grass band”. I know you’re intrigued. Anyways, back to the farm). I helped Danae feed the chickens, collect eggs, take Rosie the baby cow for a walk on a leash (she was the sweetest thing ever!), and pick green beans. Well, actually, Danae did most of the work, while I clicked buttons on my camera so you fine readers can have a glimpse at their picturesque island farm life.

Green Beans with mint pistachio pesto. A vegan side dish that's fast and healthy. 
clockwise from top right: the entrance to the farm, rosie the cow, danae feeding the chickens, and another view of the farm.

clockwise from top right: the entrance to the farm, rosie the cow, danae feeding the chickens, and another view of the farm.

After the farm chores were finished, Danae and I hung out under the eaves, shared a beer, and chatted over their dreams-in-the-making, of owning land and a center to treat those suffering from PTSD with garden therapy.

Garden therapy (or horticulture therapy), if you haven’t heard of it already, is a practice that’s increasing in popularity in all sorts of therapy settings around the world, from youth outreach programs, to substance abuse centers, to hospitals and nursing homes. Besides the obvious, such as sunshine, being outdoors, a sense of community, and exercise, studies have been conducted that reveal getting your hands dirty increases seratonin levels (a “happiness hormone”). No, really. There is a common bacteria that naturally lives in soil—called Mycobacterium vaccae—that actually triggers and spikes seratonin when we come in contact with it, which in turn boosts our mood. Kind of makes you want to go plants something right now, huh? Other studies have shown that harvesting fruits and veggies releases copious amounts of dopamine, a hardwired response that effects the pleasure center of our brains (in the simplest of biological terms, collecting food equals survival), skyrocketing gardeners into a state of euphoria. While scientists don’t yet know all the reasons why garden therapy works, it is very apparent that growing food and getting dirt under our fingernails decreases stress and anxiety, improves memory and concentration, and amplifies overall happiness.

If that’s not a good reason to help a friend pick beans on a Monday afternoon, I don’t know what is. Danae sent me home with a paper bag of happiness-inducing green beans, with which I created this recipe. At first I experimented with adding in a little red tomato, purple onion, and feta, but in the end I decided that simpler was better. The crisp green beans, topped only with the mint pesto, tasted like springtime on a plate.  It's an incredibly easy dish that allows the farm-fresh ingredients shine. Even if you don't have a garden where you can pick green beans to trigger a healthy dose of dopamine, your taste buds will be plenty happy with the light, bright flavors of this recipe.

Here’s a few links if you want to learn more about Danae, Aaron, Patrick's Farm, and garden therapy:

Green Beans with mint pistachio pesto. A vegan side dish that's fast and healthy. 

Green Beans with Mint Pistachio Pesto

Notes: If you can only find roasted salted pistachios, simply reduce the amount of salt in the recipe accordingly.

1 lb. green beans, trimmed
1 cup packed mint leaves
1/2 cup roasted unsalted pistachios
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1/3 cup loosely packed small-size mint leaves

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook 3-4 minutes, or until just beginning to turn tender (but still bright green and crisp). Drain the green beans and transfer right away to a bowl of ice water (this will stop the cooking process, and help the beans retain their bright green color).

To make the pesto, put the 1 cup packed mint leaves, pistachios, lemon juice, garlic, and sea salt in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. With the food processor on, slowly add in the olive oil until combined.

Drain the green beans. In a large bowl, toss the beans with 1 teaspoon olive oil, the remaining mint leaves, and salt to taste. Top green beans with mint pistachio pesto and serve. Alternatively, toss green beans with the pesto before serving.


Savory Cornbread Waffles with Eggs and Salsa Crema

Gluten free savory cornbread waffles, topped with fried eggs, ripe avocado, and a spicy roasted salsa crema. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner.

Thank goodness for Photoshop. Seriously. If it wasn’t for touch-ups, you would be looking at little black ants crawling all over the white wooden background table. Should I be writing about an ant invasion in a food blog? Probably not. But I can’t help it since I just spent about a half an hour in Photoshop with blemish tool, deleting all traces of those infuriatingly persistent black anthropods.

Let me explain: I live in a sub-tropical jungle, on the north shore of Maui, a rural area that gets an anywhere from 80 to 120 inches of rain a year. One-hundred-and-twenty!!!  (For comparison, when I lived in Southern California, the average yearly rainfall was a measly four inches). Trees and plants actually increase in size right before your eyes. Mosquitoes and bugs abound. And ants. Are. Everywhere. It’s just something one has to get used to—a trade-off for the gorgeous, lush surroundings.

I often have to take pictures of the food I make outside in my yard when the lighting isn’t quite bright enough in my little cottage (if you look closely, you can actually see the reflection of the tree tops in some of the egg yolks). On this particular day however, the ants somehow found the food faster than usual, and instantly began swarming. Instead of being smart about it and moving my setup to a less ant-infested area, I decided to simply try swishing the ants away between each photo I took. Which of course was a losing battle. They just kept coming, telling all their friends that their order of eggs and waffles was ready for pick-up.

Thankfully, I got the pictures I needed before having a total ant-induced meltdown. Maybe someday I’ll have a bright, white kitchen that radiates natural light, a magical place where I will no longer fear an ant takeover. But in the meantime, I’m very happy with my little kitchen, and the big flavors I create here.

Like this breakfast. Gluten free cornbread in the shape of waffles? Yes please. Topped with yolky fried eggs, sliced radish, cilantro, perfectly ripe avocado, and a roasted salsa that’s spicy AND creamy? Double yes please! I’m officially a savory waffle convert. There will always be a time and place for sweet, syrupy waffles, but for now, hand me the salsa crema and another egg.

Gluten free savory cornbread waffles, topped with fried eggs, ripe avocado, and a spicy roasted salsa crema. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner. Gluten free savory cornbread waffles, topped with fried eggs, ripe avocado, and a spicy roasted salsa crema. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner.
stacks of golden yellow waffles, and beautifully hued eggs from our backyard chickens.

stacks of golden yellow waffles, and beautifully hued eggs from our backyard chickens.

tomatoes freshly picked from my friend's garden on the left, and roasted veggies for the salsa on the right.

tomatoes freshly picked from my friend's garden on the left, and roasted veggies for the salsa on the right.

Gluten free savory cornbread waffles, topped with fried eggs, ripe avocado, and a spicy roasted salsa crema. Perfect for breakfast, brunch, or dinner.

Savory Cornbread Waffles with Eggs and Salsa Crema

recipe inspired by Bon Appetit

serves 4-6

Roasted Salsa Crema

3 medium tomatoes, quartered
1 medium white onion, sliced into 1/2 inch circles
1/2 red bell pepper (seeds removed)
2-3 Serrano peppers
1 clove of garlic (skin left on)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon cumin powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream

Turn oven to broil. Spread out tomatoes, onion, bell pepper (cut side down), Serrano peppers, and garlic on a cooking sheet. Broil for 10-15 minutes, or until veggies begin to char and blacken in areas. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Remove the skins from the garlic and the bell pepper, and remove the stems from the Serrano peppers. Place in a blender, along with the tomatoes, onion, apple cider vinegar, cumin, and salt. Blend until smooth. Add the sour cream and blend again until fully incorporated.


Gluten Free Cornbread Waffles

3/4 cup oat flour (certified gluten free if you are very sensitive to gluten)
3/4 cup finely ground corn meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
3 Tablespoons honey
2 eggs, whisked
3/4 cup milk

In a medium bowl, mix together well the oat flour, corn meal, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, thoroughly combine the melted butter, honey, eggs, and milk. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, and stir to combine. Allow to rest for 10 minutes (this will give the oat flour enough time to soak up the liquid, creating a thicker batter).
Heat waffle iron according to manufacturers instructions. Spoon the recommended amount of waffle mixture into a waffle iron according to your iron. Close the lid until cooked through and golden brown. If desired, keep waffles warm by placing on a tray in the oven on lowest temperature setting (below 200 degrees), untilyou are ready to assemble.


Waffle Toppings

8 eggs
2 Tablespoons butter or oil of choice
5-6 small radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
4 mini red bell peppers, deseeded and sliced (optional)

Heat a large pan over medium-low heat. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter (or oil of choice) in the pan, then gently crack 4 of the eggs into the pan, spacing the eggs equally apart. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. Carefully remove eggs from pan and set onto a plate. Repeat with remaining eggs.

To Assemble:

Line a serving tray with the waffles, top with fried eggs, radish slices, avocado, cilantro, and bell pepper. Drizzle with desired amount of Roasted Salsa Crema.