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.

 

Pumpkin Pie with Macadamia Nut Ginger Streusel

Since moving to Maui, Thanksgiving always seems to sneak up on me without warning. It doesn’t feel like fall here, at least not in the traditional sense. The temperature has only dropped a couple degrees, the leaves on the trees are as green as they always are, flip-flops are still my footwear of choice, and my scarfs remain crammed in the back of my closet, patiently waiting for a trip to the mainland. Without fireplaces and foggy breath on cold nights, holiday meals tend to feel as out of place as sneakers at the beach—it can be done, but it just seems a little awkward. So this year I decided to experiment with giving my pumpkin pie a bit of Hawaiian-style flare, making this classic autumn dessert seem not so out of place among 80 degree weather. A streusel topping with hand harvested macadamia nuts and ginger give this pumpkin pie good reason to belong on a Hawaiian Thanksgiving menu.

My dear friend lives on an old macadamia nut plantation, trees scattered throughout the seven acre parcel of land. The nuts are no longer harvested on a large scale, the trees left to their own devices years before my friend moved onto the property. Ancient abandoned macadamia machinery and large rusted weighing scales lend a nostalgic feeling to the land, hinting at a time long past when Hawaii was the largest producer of macadamia nuts in the world. But lucky for us, there are still more than enough macadamia nuts if you care to collect them.

An old scale, and my friend's adorable daughter, "helping" us collect mac nuts.

An old scale, and my friend's adorable daughter, "helping" us collect mac nuts.

First, the macadamia nuts that have fallen to the ground must be gathered, then dried until their green outer husk turns brown and splits. After the husk is removed, a shiny brown shell still encases the macadamia nut, and is very hard to break open. Experience has taught me that a mere walnut cracker will do absolutely nothing in this case. I’ve found that smacking them with a rock works to an extent, but if you hit with just a little too much force, the nut splinters into oblivion, sharp macadamia shell shrapnel flying in every direction. The solution? Fortunately, my friend owns a handy-dandy heavy-duty contraption specifically designed for mac nuts. Cracking them open one by one is a lot slower than buying them at the store, but the process led to more appreciation and gratitude for having harvested them myself—sentiments that are on my mind more often this time of year.

Macadamia trees, and the very useful macadamia nut cracker

Macadamia trees, and the very useful macadamia nut cracker

Adding ginger to the streusel was a no-brainer for me. Ginger is a favorite spice of mine, which also happens to lend itself perfectly to tropical flavors, so I can’t help but use it often (In fact, my last three recipe posts all contained ginger!). And because pumpkin pie spices traditionally include ginger already, adding a little more to the streusel only serves to compliment the pie.

The pumpkin pie itself is a classic version, creamy and smooth, with plenty of warming spices. The macadamia nuts in the streusel add a buttery crunch to the pie, while the ginger makes the topping slightly reminiscent of ginger snap cookies. All I can say is, “Yum.”  From now on—or at least for as long as I live in Hawaii—this will be my new go-to pumpkin pie recipe.

Pumpkin Pie with Macadamia Nut Ginger Streusel

Recipe inspired by Bon Appétit

Notes: If you're not gluten free, you may substitute a more traditional pie crust, and swap out the tapioca and sorghum flours for regular white flour.

Yields 1 pie, 8 servings

Pumpkin Pie

1 gluten-free uncooked pie dough, fitted to a 9-inch pie plate (my favorite is Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Pie Crust Mix)

3 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree (from one 15-ounce can)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

 

Macadamia Nut Ginger Streusel

3/4 cup raw unsalted macadamia nuts
1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons sorghum flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/4 packed light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger

 

Instructions for Pumpkin Pie:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs.
Add sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and salt, and whisk to combine.
Stir in the pumpkin puree until smooth.
Stir in the heavy whipping cream until fully combined.
Pour filling into the prepared pie crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375. Continue cooking for 30-35 minutes, or until almost done (a knife or toothpick inserted 2 inches from the edge should come out clean, but the center should still be jiggly).

Remove pie from oven and sprinkle Macadamia Nut Ginger Streusel evenly over the top.
Place back in the oven and continue baking until the streusel turns a light golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Allow pie to cool on rack completely until room temperature.
Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate and serve cool (this is how I prefer it)

 

Instructions for Macadamia Nut Ginger Streusel:

While the pie is baking, make the Macadamia Nut Ginger Streusel. Heat a small pan over medium-high heat. Add the macadamia nuts, frequently shaking the pan gently back and forth to move the nuts around and ensure they don’t burn,  3-5 minutes, or until the nuts begin to turn slightly golden. Allow to cool, then chop and add to a small bowl. Mix in 1/4 cup sorghum flour, tapioca flour, brown sugar, butter, ground ginger and fresh ginger until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle in the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sorghum flour, and toss just until it evenly coats the mixture. Set aside.

A full rainbow over the old macadamia processing shed

A full rainbow over the old macadamia processing shed

Café de Olla Overnight Chia

The definition of “Dawn Patrol” according to yours truly: the act of getting up laughably early, often before dawn, to go surfing.
The justification that makes loss of sleep completely worth it: being the first one out in the water and catching whatever wave you choose. No crowds, no hassling for waves, just complete enjoyment. Plus, being in the water to watch the sunrise is never a bad thing.

When there’s swell on the other side of the island, as there has been lately, my husband and I have a goal to be in the car and driving by 4:15 a.m. (Okay, let’s be real here—my husband is driving, and I’m sawing logs in the passenger seat five minutes after leaving our driveway). Our objective is to be surfing at first light, long before the sun crests over the West Maui Mountains.

We jump off the harbor dock into the water just as soon as we can squint through the semi-darkness to see waves rolling in, and paddle out through inky water while pushing away any thoughts of ocean dwelling creatures that might still be lurking at this unilluminated hour. I know this sounds absolutely bonkers to some, but for us the pay off is a thousand times better than catching a few extra hours of Z’s. There’s nothing better than trading off waves with my loved one and grinning from ear to ear.

Leaving our house at 4:15 in the morning means that I have to set my alarm for 3:55 a.m. This gives me just enough time to brush my teeth, put in my contacts, fill up water bottles, make some tea or coffee to go, get dressed, grab a banana out of the fruit bowl, and feed the dogs and chickens. The night before we’ve already loaded surfboards, swimsuits and towels in the car.

If you can believe it, the picture below is of us running late for surf. But the full moon was so beautiful, we just had to stop and snap some pictures. By the time we got to the surf spot, the sky was a dusky yellow and there were already four surfers on the waves.

On early mornings like this, overnight chia has been my new favorite thing. It just takes a few minutes the night before to whisk the ingredients together in a jar so I can have a tasty nutrient-dense breakfast ready to grab out of the fridge when I’m rushing out the door. No need to brew coffee in the morning since there’s already a hefty dose in the chia (which means I get to sleep in an extra 5 minutes!), and I have food to take with me that’s more substantial than just a banana.

Chia requires a liquid of some sort to transform the chia seeds into “pudding”. In the past I’ve used almond milk, fruit juice, and coconut milk. But my new obsession is mixing the chia seeds with coffee. Breakfast and caffeine in the same bite? Yep, I’m sold. Mix in some orange and spice to make it taste like Café de Olla? Double sold.

If you’ve never tried Café de Olla (prounounced “oya”), you don’t know what you’ve been missing. It’s a hot coffee drink that’s very common in Mexico, the name literally translating to “pot coffee”. Traditionally, cinnamon sticks and piconcillo (unprocessed brown sugar) are simmered together in an earthen clay pot before adding the coffee. There’s a few variations, including adding orange peel (this is how I prefer it), as well as star anise or whole cloves. The result is sweet, strong, and comforting with a spicy/floral aroma and taste.

While I didn’t stick with the traditional preparation of Café de Olla, the same flavor profiles are still present in this easy overnight breakfast. I mixed the chia seeds with strongly brewed Maui grown coffee, a dash of coconut milk for added creaminess, ground cinnamon, local honey, and finely zested orange peel, then left it to set up in the fridge while I slept. In the morning, voila! An instantaneous breakfast packed with Omega-3’s and caffeine. Perfect for early morning surfers or anyone on the go.

Café de Olla Overnight Chia

serves 2

  • 1 3/4 cups strong brew coffee
  • 1/4 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 6 Tablespoons chia seeds
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely zested orange peel
  1. Whisk together all ingredients in a mason jar or bowl. After a few minutes, come back and whisk again to help avoid clumping.
  2. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 3 hours.