How to Throw a Tuscan Feast This Easter

Last Easter weekend, we decided to treat ourselves to a night we’d always remember: a Tuscan-inspired feast, right in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland. Everything came together to create an evening in which it felt as if a huge magic bubble of wonder and love had descended on our house and infused us all with a lifetime of memories.

The heart of a Tuscan-inspired feast is, of course, family and friends. The joy comes from sharing your home, your beautiful produce and cooking, and most of all your love. So invite as many people as you think your time, energy and budget can handle.

As far as the menu goes, Tuscan-inspired food is rustic ‘peasant’ food. The produce should be so fresh and bursting with flavour that it speaks for itself, rather than having to be fussed over and ‘dressed up’.

From my experience travelling to Tuscany, and my research for my novel, Three Gold Coins, I’ve learned that Italians by nature are incredibly regionally focused and fiercely proud of the food their local area produces. As they should be! What better way to honour a community’s history and culture and look after our planet at the same time?

For our feast, we chose cheese from our local cheesemaker and fresh fruit and vegetables direct from our local farmers. The result was scrumptious!

Here are my top ten tips for throwing a Tuscan-inspired feast.

  1. Keep your menu under control. Although Italians are known for their dining experiences to go on for five (or more!) courses, three great course (antipasto, secondi, and dolce) should do it. Trust me, you’ll still be fit to bursting.
  2. Try to set up your long table outdoors and under trees, if you have great weather. Otherwise, you could do was we did and bring the outdoors in with potted citrus and olive trees and plenty of terracotta pots filled with herbs.
  3. Buy as much of your produce locally as you can—it will have loads more flavour and freshness. Save your food miles for special items, such as prosciutto, which might have actually come all the way from Italy.
  4. Style your space with simple yet elegant finishings, such as wood, branches, leaves and candles, and don’t be afraid to use the food itself as table settings. Fresh honeycomb was a huge hit for us, a gorgeous feature and talking point and it was all gone by the end of the feast.
  5. Consider a separate eating table for the really young children and indulge them with their own special activities and treats. Hire a nanny if you can.
  6. Be flexible with your menu. We decided on tiramisu (naturally) for our dolce (dessert) option, but in the end only four of twenty-three people actually wanted that, instead choosing a far more English option of strawberries and cream!
  7. Flowers and cuttings will make any space feel more welcoming and can give an instant Tuscan feel. Think about the colours of Tuscany—blues, olives, greens, purples, maybe a splash of red. Depending on what’s in season, look for lavender, rosemary, geraniums, olive leaves, roses or perhaps even sunflowers for a big statement. Bunches of herbs of sage, thyme or oregano can look beautiful too.
  8. The right music will add another powerful layer of atmosphere to your feast. Unless you’re lucky enough to have musicians and singers in your family who are happy to serenade you, the easiest thing to do is to create a playlist with your favourite music provider and let it run on random repeat throughout your event.
  9. Remember the red wine, your camera and fairy lights (you can never have enough). Forget checking your phone, clothes with belts or tight waists.
  10. After all is said and done, the biggest thing you can offer to bring this feast to fruition is your love, joy, tenderness, generosity and sense of fun. That’s what will make it a night to remember.

Christmas Livingstone’s Top 10 Tips for a Happy Easter

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.