Win ME at your book club!

WIN_Jo_Moon_5

Would you like to WIN an hour with ME hosting your next book club or gathering of reader friends? Tell me in 25 words or less why you’d love me to host your book club (and which of my books you’d choose to discuss) in the comments below. Then, share this post and you’re in the running to win! It’s that easy!

Also, if you’re the winner, you and each person who attends your book club event receive a signed book plate for their copy of my book. Check out the terms and conditions on my website if you’d like more info. Entries close on 12 May. I’m so excited to be part of someone’s book club – and it may be yours! Happy posting!

(Click here for T&Cs.)

Chocolate is good for you!

Chocolate Mask Facial Spa. Beauty Spa Salon

My post-Easter message is one of happiness. Eat more chocolate!

I know what you’re thinking. More? Last weekend’s indulgences may already have you dreading the scales and reaching for lettuce. But, just for a moment, imagine a world in which chocolate was medicine.

I like to think it’s not too much of a stretch. You see, rainforest plants provide the chemical basis for a quarter of Western medications, yet only a small number of the total rainforest plant species have been tested by science to see what other wonder ingredients they have on offer.

Chocolate comes from the rainforests, growing in a small band of tropical climate zone either side of the equator. And the best news is that research reveals exactly what we want to hear: chocolate is good for you.

Actually, more specifically, cacao is good for you. Cacao (pronounced ka-cow) is where chocolate comes from. Cacao comes from the rainforest tree Theobroma cacao, which means food of the Gods (no argument here.) The tree produces flowers, a small percentage of those flowers turn into fruit pods, and inside each pod are beans covered in white flesh. Crack open the beans and you’ll find the cacao nibs—small, hard and bitter fragments that give us cacao.

Raw cacao and cocoa are different. Cacao comes from cold-pressing unroasted nibs, while cocoa powder is the refined, processed product that has been heat-treated, thereby changing the vitamins and enzymes. One is a whole food and one is not.

cocoa

This is an important difference. So before you run off to buy a truckload of high-fat, high-sugar, relatively inexpensive chocolate from the supermarket shelf (yes, the stuff you may have munched on over Easter), think again. After many years of researching (and eating) chocolate for my novel The Chocolate Promise, I’ve come to think of chocolate products as either confectionery or real food—there’s not much in between. I can eat shameful quantities of a certain type of milk chocolate in a day (because it’s confectionery) and far less of high-quality dark chocolate (because it’s actually real food, and therefore filling, nourishing and satisfying).

So what makes this real food so great? Raw cacao is bursting with phenolic phytochemicals (i.e. antioxidants), and minerals and vitamins (magnesium, iron and potassium to name a few). Some say it has the highest antioxidant of any food in the world. And many go so far as to call it a superfood. Backing this up, researchers at Cornell University (USA) found that cacao surpassed the antioxidant levels of both red wine and green tea. Antioxidants are the marvelous little scavengers that work to beat off cancer cells and heart disease.

Cacao also assists our own body to produce more of its feel-good hormones in the brain, namely serotonin and dopamine—it therefore has antidepressant qualities. It also contains phenethylamines, which help us to release endorphins, our ‘happy high’ hormone. And since the time of the Aztecs—clever people who worshipped cacao as the food of the Gods—it’s been a known aphrodisiac. Theobromine is a stimulant to the central nervous system and the heart. (But be warned, while we enjoy the effects of theobromine, it also makes chocolate toxic to dogs.)

In fact, there are more than seven hundred known components of chocolate and more not yet known. And the science says that cacao is good.

Having said that, not all chocolates are created equal and you need to know what you’re buying in order to benefit. Firstly, the price of the chocolate will give you a fair indication of quality. Next, look for the ingredients. You can make sweetened chocolate from just a few ingredients. I’ve handmade raw chocolate just from cacao, cacao butter, agave syrup and sea salt. That’s pretty much as authentic as you’re going to get. But if the ingredients are listing lots more than that, take note. Vanilla is used as a masking flavour to cover the (naturally occurring) variations between batches, while vanillin is a synthetic flavour.

And for goodness’ sake, don’t eat compound chocolate! It uses cocoa powder (of questionable value), ‘vegetable oil’ (which could mean anything) and a lot of sugar. I wouldn’t count on this for any medicinal qualities whatsoever.

The percentage of cacoa mass will give you some indication of quality as well. The higher the number then, potentially, the more health benefits (and less sugar) you’ll receive. I can enjoy up to 90% percent, though 70–80% is my preferred range. If you’re new to dark chocolate, try starting around 40% and working up.

Eat enough of the good stuff and your palette will change. Like all things, the more you educate yourself, the more you’ll learn to appreciate the immense varieties and value of chocolates out there. Better yet, you’ll be experiencing and receiving just a fraction of the amazing medicines the rainforest has to offer us, delivered in a silky smooth, universally-loved and endorphin-boosting treat. And in my dreams, maybe one day we’ll all be lucky enough to go the doctor and receive a script for chocolate.

Christmas Livingstone’s Top 10 Tips for a Happy Easter

IMG_0084

Christmas Livingstone owns The Chocolate Apothecary, a boutique store in Tasmania that sells gifts for the senses and chocolate as medicine. She also works as a ‘fairy godmother’, granting wishes and bringing joy to others. She has a very strict list of rules for happiness that she has followed for the past three years. Many of those rules revolve around nurturing the senses, bringing joy to others, sharing abundance and taking care of her body, mind and soul.

Oh, and Christmas is the main character of my novel, The Chocolate Promise.

If Christmas also had a specific top 10 list of rules for Easter, I think this is what it would include.

  1. Go slowly. The beauty of Easter is that it lasts for four days, so enjoy the quiet and the more relaxed pace than other festivities during the year.
  2. Choose the best quality chocolate you can possibly get your hands on, a chocolate that is good for you, the people who grew it and made it, and the planet.
  3. Use all that precious time off to fill your home with the aromas of nurturing homemade meals and treats, preferably ones that are created in union with your children and loved ones. Which leads to…
  4. Create memories. Rituals and traditions are proven to be emotionally satisfying and bond-strengthening events in our lives.
  5. Remember the people who might not have as much love and joy as you do and draw them into your circle with all that wonderful baking and crafting.
  6. Explore all the senses, not just your sense of taste. Think about sounds, such as music; sights, such as homemade decorations; touch, such as slippers, robes, gooey marshmallow, fluffy dogs, soft chicks, fluffy bunnies, foot rubs and hugs; and smells, such as mists and candles.
  7. Do remember that chocolate is toxic to dogs and can even kill them. But carob is okay, so spoil the furry canine of the family with special treats too, designed especially for her.
  8. If you’re one of the many people out camping, take a bit of luxury with you, such as satin sheets for the blow-up mattress, some perfume, or a beautiful new journal to write in.
  9. It’s always a good time for hot chocolate.
  10. It’s not about the money or about being ‘perfect’; it’s about the joy, the love, the spirit and compassion.

Wishing you all a wonderful, relaxing and happy Easter.

My Chocolate Tourism Bucket List

Do you love your chocolate? Me too! And other than combining chocolate with a good book, I can’t think of too many things I like better than pairing chocolate with visiting a new place of interest. (And Easter is the perfect time to combine holidays and chocolate!)

While writing my novel, The Chocolate Promise (also called The Chocolate Apothecary in the UK), researching and taste-testing chocolate pretty much took over my life—and my dress size! And my palette for chocolate has changed. Only the finest will do these days. So now, I’ve begun writing myself a ‘Chocolate Tourism Bucket List’, to continue my love affair with this heavenly food.

Selection of chocolate in a row

Here are my current Top 5 locations:

  1. Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. This is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily. Let’s just consider that for a moment: chocolate + Sicily. It’s a no brainer, right? Top of my list.
  2. Puyricard. This French chocolate artisan store is located just outside of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, which is where the main character of The Chocolate Promise spends time with a master chocolatier, roams the beautiful countryside and encounters unexpected romance. I soaked up the research for this part of the novel and am positively salivating to go there in person and enjoy the delights of Provence, including this chocolate store.
  3. Chocolate Walking Tour of Melbourne. A little closer to home for me, this would be a delightful weekend treat. Melbourne is known by many to be the food capital of Australia and I’ve no doubt the chocolate on this tour would leave a lasting impression. I only hear good things about this one. Definitely a To-Do, sooner, rather than later, I think. (At least the plane flight would be a quick one!)
  4. Rococo. I certainly couldn’t comprise this list without including a visit to Rococo in London. You’ll find an acknowledgement to Chantal Coady (founder of Rococo) for her inspiration that influenced The Chocolate Promise and for good reason. I pored over her book, Rococo: Mastering the Art of Chocolate, as research for my novel. I even imported some of her creations. (The milk rose is my favourite.) I think I’d like to rent a flat just around the corner and simply hang out there every day, breathing it all in.
  5. Cailler. I’ve been to Switzerland but only once and I would love to go back there. (I’ve even been trying to work in some sort of Swiss plot into a novel so I can have a tax-deductible reason to go.) And this factory has some pretty great architecture to go with the experience.

So there’s my shortlist to get me (and maybe you) started. I’m sure there are dozens of amazing places around the world that would keep me entertained on my chocolate tours. I’d love to hear your recommendations if you have any?

Love

Jo xx

p.s. Here’s a recipe from Chantal Coady for Chocolate Ganache Teacups, which fortuitously combines two of my favourite foods: chocolate and tea!

 

 

Josephine Moon’s favourite chocolate recipe: chocolate beetroot cake

This recipe comes from The Saffron Girl.

I talk about chocolate a lot. I think about it a lot. And, yes, I even eat it a lot. But what I’ve learned while doing research for The Chocolate Promise, is that you need to know how to eat it in order to get all the great health benefits without all the fat and sugar nastiness that comes with so much of the commercial confectionary on the market.

So, what better way to begin the Easter season than to share chocolate yumminess that’s bursting with goodness.

In this recipe, I take two of my favourite foods—chocolate and cake—add some awesome beetroot and get a delicious, healthy indulgence.

But before we get to the recipe, let’s take a quick look at where chocolate comes from.

10448764_319377608225906_1220075022338321490_n

This is a fruit pod from Theobroma Cacao. Inside the pod are flesh-covered beans, and inside the beans are the cacao nibs. And that’s from where we derive cacao, which is fermented, dried and roasted, and artisans then combine it in varying quantities with cocoa butter, some sort of sweetener, and perhaps vanilla or other flavours.

10488217_319379011559099_292976908707693652_n

In its most natural state, cacao is ridiculously good for you, containing a plethora of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and a whopping great load of antioxidants—twice those found in red wine and three times that of green tea.

The problem is that most of what we know as ‘chocolate’ is really just cocoa-flavoured fat and sugar. Bummer! To get the absolute best out of chocolate, you need be consuming high-quality fare of at least 70% cacao.

Better yet, just do what I like to do and put raw cacao powder in whatever you can manage! Smoothies, goodie balls, cakes… go for it!

So, here is my chocolate beetroot cake. In the food processor it’s amazingly red! (And you know it’s good for you when it’s naturally red.) Just like tomatoes and red wine, beetroot is full of fantastic cancer-fighting properties because of that red colour.

Red beetroot + chocolate = awesome!

DSC_0005

Here it is out on a plate, with a sprinkle of coconut and a sprig of lavender (because lavender is my thing—seriously, I will put it in everything given half the chance).

My tips for this recipe:

Measure the beetroot accurately (otherwise it can turn out runny if you use too much) and watch it carefully as it’s baking. Anytime I’ve made it, it needs much longer in the oven than the recipe suggests. Every oven is different so use your best judgment.

Also, it goes really well with coconut milk yoghurt and grated dark chocolate on top for decoration.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of grated, cooked beetroots
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup raw 100% cacao powder
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour (for a slightly fluffier and dryer cake, use 1/2 cup coconut flour)*

Process

  • Preheat oven to 170C (350F).
  • In a food processor or blender, beat the beetroots, eggs and olive oil.
  • Add the honey, vanilla extract, baking soda, sea salt and spices. Blend well.
  • Add the cacao powder and coconut flour and mix until well incorporated.
  • Pour into a greased cake pan of choice. I used a 9-inch diameter tart pan.
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  • Cool completely before cutting and serving. Garnish as desired.

 

 

 

Follow your dreams, before it’s too late

Just today, I was having coffee with a friend of mine and we got onto the topic of just how important it is to do something you love. I mentioned that doing the ‘wrong’ thing, for me, led to chronic fatigue syndrome. And my life changed. Here is a piece I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014 urging us all to try to find some space to do exactly what our soul calls us to do, before we’ve lost the chance.

xx

__________________

15940806_1510221259020044_1036559949192401170_n

It’s 6.45 am, our toddler is in the bath and my laptop is perched on a sliver of the kitchen bench because, frankly, it looks like we had an out-of-control party here last night. Meanwhile, the dogs are trotting muddy paws across the floor, and my husband is nuzzling my neck.

If I died right now, I would actually die all over again of shame, knowing that someone would find me in this disaster. But then I’d get over the fact that the cat is eating out of the cereal bowl and there’s the smell of something rotting in the air, and I’d only be sorry I hadn’t got more books out into the world.

Because that is my calling in life: to write. It’s a calling I almost missed while I was busy leading the wrong life in the corporate jungle. But I didn’t truly start to listen to what I had to do until I had chronic fatigue syndrome and couldn’t work any more. Until the eczema spread all over my face and I couldn’t ignore it when I looked in the mirror.

So many women have amazing creative skills and yearn to leave their “day job” in favour of this passion. There’s a sadness that can’t be healed because that passion, that thing they want to do more than anything else, is also the thing that will, ultimately, make them happy.

I used to be one of those women, leaving for work and getting home in the dark, marching in silence with the hundreds of other rats racing through the tunnels on our way to the towers of soul-destroying “real work”, numbing ourselves with earphones in an attempt to ignore the fact that our true selves, our innate creative selves, were dying inside.

Some women love that life and if that’s you, I’m happy for you, truly. But for me, that life nearly destroyed me.

Unlike a virus that knocks you down for a few weeks before you start to recover, chronic fatigue doesn’t just get better. It takes time, lots of time, with an unknown finish date. Time I didn’t have. I had bills. I was a freelancer. I was a single woman. I was stuck in a horrible cycle of knowing that I needed to invest money in myself to get better, but not being able to make money to do that.

I accrued enormous debts, treading water until I could earn more money, believing one day I’d wake up and be better and everything would be fine. Eventually, I had to accept that I might not get better, that this might be as good as it got. And if that was the case then I had to start living the life that brought me joy.

It was like that saying – people work hard all their life to be wealthy, then retire and have to spend their money to save the health they ruined by working hard. Except I was only 29.

I made tough choices and changed lots of habits, not least of which was learning to accept myself rather than striving for (imagined) perfection. I had to learn to lower the bar. Do less. Expect less. Earn less. Work less. And then I had to start doing more of what truly nurtured my body and soul, even if it was by taking just one tiny step at a time.

Western medicine said it couldn’t offer me much, except perhaps for cortisone, which I didn’t feel was right. I couldn’t afford the plethora of complementary medicines being pitched my way. But I had to keep eating, so that was where I started – with food. Organic farmers’ markets became the place where I began to, finally, invest in myself.

None of these changes happened overnight. You can’t steer a ship in the wrong direction for 30 years and then expect it to turn on a dime. It’s an ongoing process.

We’re always waiting for the perfect time. And we bargain with ourselves by saying we’ll just be happy when we’ve paid off the bills, finished that degree, got that promotion, had three kids, got a cleaner, got a new car … whatever. And yet we all know the truth: there is only the now. And you can’t be temporarily unhappy to be happy.

Deep down we know this, yet we find myriad ways to delay our dreams. We think creativity is something separate from life. But it is life, not something you do for an hour on a Saturday afternoon. We’re running ourselves into the ground with pie charts and timetables and life coaches trying to find the work-life balance when there is no such thing. There is only life. And you only have one of those.

I want everyone to have what I have now – a career that fulfils me and financially supports me. One that gives me energy, not takes it away. I know that seems rare. But it doesn’t have to be. You can have that too. I honestly believe that. You just need to start and keep going. Don’t worry about how long it will take you, because you’ll still be the same age whether you do it or not. Don’t wait for the perfect time because that time is here, right now, messy kitchen and all.

Jo’s Choc-Lavender Coconut Milk ‘Nice Cream’ (Dairy and Gluten free!)

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 9.08.10 pm
This chocolate deliciousness is just the thing to delight your taste buds – and it’s good for you! Explore the healing power of chocolate (just like in The Chocolate Promise) with this yummy, guilt free treat. (And it should suit most people with food sensitivities, too.)

1 Can Coconut Milk (full fat)
The cream of 1 Can Coconut Cream (chilled overnight)
¼ cup cacao powder
¼ cup maple syrup
½ tsp vanilla bean powder
1-2 drops of edible lavender essential oil (you’re going to taste the lavender, so if you’re new to using essential oils in food, maybe just start with 1 drop).
  1. To get the cream from your can of coconut cream, you will have to chill it in the fridge overnight. Then open the can and scoop out the solid cream.
  2. Place all ingredients in a blender for 30-60 seconds (depending on the strength of your blender) to combine.
  3. Pour into a freezer proof container and put in freezer until frozen.
  4. Cut into squares with a knife and serve on its own, or with lavender flowers if you have them, but if not, rose petals, berries or lashings of thickened cream also look wonderful.