All the things we do, and say, and think — they’re like little seeds that we plant out in the world. We may not be around to watch them sprout, but oh, be sure that they’re gonna grow.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot while in South Africa the past few weeks watching, feeling and making all of the pieces of our Epic Everyday project fall into place. We spent the first week of our trip visiting with Qhubeka, seeing the projects here and coming to know just what the social impact of our now rather large donation of 50 bicycles will be. We visited projects across Stellenbosch, we met some incredible people, learned some amazing things, and were humbled by the strength and unity of the community here. In between those moments, we were on location with the team from Trek Bicycles, capturing video and imagery to tell the story of women’s empowerment through bicycles. It all happened. Just like we planned it would.
I know it sounds a little froofy, but the people, this place, this experience and this project are all part of a big garden of change being planted. That little girl in Kayamandi who wouldn’t stop ringing the bell of my bike and searching my face with her deep dark saucer eyes. Someday she’ll learn to ride a bike too, and the way she searched my face to read my smile has certainly planted hope in me that our efforts are truly making a difference. The generous hearts of the team at Qhubeka who seem to tirelessly tackle the challenges faced by the residents of these townships; their every ounce of sweat, every kind word, hug and handshake is a seed of change planted in a community that desperately needs bridges across the massive gaps of wealth, power and race that still exist here. I don’t imagine that I’ll get a chance to watch Oluwetu learn to use her bike everyday, won’t get to see all the places she goes on it, or all the lives she touches while riding it…but we planted a seed and now she’ll get to plant seeds as well but by being brave enough to take it wherever it will roll, by showing other girls how to ride, and allowing those two wheels to expand her world.
The thing about all these little sprouts is that sometimes they grow up into big plants, into powerful trees, or maybe they’re just little sprouts that inspire us to remember that there’s a deep magic in the world that we can’t always describe, a way the planet is turning that doesn’t require us to govern it. Sometimes things just effing work out. Another (more delicious) example: on a trip to Amsterdam last spring, my dear friend Kate brought me the most amazing chocolate bar. The chocolate bar of my life: creamy milk chocolate, speckled with salty, sweet chunks of caramel corn. I hoarded the bar and ate it niblet by niblet for several weeks (I’m very disciplined, you see) and when the bar was gone I couldn’t go on without the promise of another. Not having a trip to Amsterdam planned, I knew that I had to make my own. The seed was planted. These Milk Chocolate Caramel Corn Candy Bars were born. And here we are.
On that: while working with chocolate and making your own chocolate bars is not for the lazy, the mindless or the haphazard, it is absolutely easy enough, straight-forward enough and rewarding enough for anyone with the desire to tackle. The really tricky part about this project is handing the chocolate properly. (And, funny enough, you do that by seeding it, too.) You must be acutely mindful of temperature, and texture, and you must have some time on your hands to let it all come together (ie: you can’t rush chocolate.) When I say mindfully, I mean you actually can’t multitask anything else. Just pour yourself a whiskey, and watch the chocolate.
- I don’t always temper my chocolate, and if you’re VERY careful, you don’t need to either. Tempering chocolate is a little bit like lining up dancers to form a conga line. You can’t dance if the dancers aren’t aligned properly, and you can’t make a snappy, shiny chocolate bar if you don’t align the molecules in your chocolate properly. In chocolate, too much heat breaks apart the molecules (dancers.) Chocolate you’ve purchased in the store is likely already in temper and and if the molecules in your chocolate (the dancers) never come out of alignment when you warm them, you’ll conga (and make chocolate bars) just perfectly.
- Before you begin warming, make sure that the room you’re melting chocolate in is cool and that the humidity is low. Water DESTROYS chocolate so keep all steam, humidity, water (and other liquids) away from your chocolate as you’re melting it.
- To warm your chocolate: I place the quantity I’m going to use in a medium-sized glass bowl and warm it in 30 second increments, stirring it completely to evenly distribute the heat between zappings. As you’re microwaving, remember that the ambient heat is going to melt the chocolate a little bit so you needn’t blast it to make it all melt. I sort of “zap, stir, look, zap, stir, wait, zap, stir, wait, zap, stir, use.”
- You’ll know the chocolate is ready to pour and use when it’s viscous and melts off of a spatula easily, and when it’s just a bit cooler than body temperature (you don’t want it to be warm to the touch!)
- Chocolate too hot? Seed it. You do this by putting a very small quantity of UNMELTED, tempered chocolate into the bowl of the melted chocolate. Don’t stir it, just let it sit and melt. The aligned molecules in the unmelted chocolate will coax and encourage the molecules of the over-warmed chocolate back into alignment. (Chocolate science: so much cooler than regular science!)
- You’ll know you’ve mishandled the chocolate if it blooms after cooling (forms little white crystals on the surface of your chocolate bars.) If this happens, no worries – the chocolate still tastes excellent and can be reused….the crystals are just out of perfect formation.
- Molds: I bought proper tablet molds to make these bars, but you absolutely wouldn’t need to do that. In fact, any container will do. I was inspired by this great little piece about handling chocolate, making and molding chocolate bars properly and especially when it comes to molds, I hope you will be too!
Lastly, I made my own caramel corn for this recipe but you could just as easily use store bought caramel corn or kettle corn. It’s tricky to know exactly how much chocolate you’ll need, but as an example I made 6 chocolate bars and used 12 oz of chocolate. Melt what you think you’ll need and if you need less, you can cool the melted chocolate on a parchment lined sheet pan for another use another time. Do as you need, as you want.
I carried a couple of these bars in my backpack as the Rapha Women’s Ambassadors + I are headed to Portland for Rapha’s #PortlandBrevet…whose in?
Plant those seeds and enjoy! – xo L
- makes 6 bars
- 12 oz high quality chocolate
- 2-3 cups homemade caramel corn (see recipe linked above) or store bought caramel corn/kettle corn
- Make caramel corn (if making homemade.) Once cool, start with the chocolate.
- Melt the chocolate in a clean, dry bowl in the microwave OR set over a pot of simmering water. While the chocolate is melting, gather and prepare any ingredients you want to put on the bars. Set aside a small quantity of the unmelted chocolate to seed (if you're going to temper the chocolate - see guide above!) While the chocolate is melting, prepare your molds and gather your caramel corn.
- Once the chocolate is melted, (and tempered, if tempering the chocolate), remove the bowl from the pan and wipe the moisture off the bottom of the bowl. Check the viscosity - the chocolate will flow easily off your spatula and will be very shiny and smooth, without any lumps.
- Stir 1 -1 1/2 cup of the caramel corn into the melted chocolate. Then, pour or spoon a layer of chocolate into your molds. Rap them on the counter a few times to distribute the chocolate evenly and release any air bubbles. Alternatively, you could spoon the naked melted chocolate into the molds and then, then working quickly, top with the caramel corn, pressing in the corn slightly.
- Immediately put the bars in the refrigerator until firm. If tempered chocolate is used, it shouldn’t take more than five minutes for them to firm up. Otherwise the chocolate will take longer.
- Tempered bars can be stored at room temperature for up to one month; if using regular melted chocolate, store the bars the refrigerator until ready to eat (they may bloom once out of refrigeration.)