The Ultimate Chocolate Guide-Gluten, dairy and soy-free.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI know, “ultimate guide” sounds like fightin’ words, but I’ll stand by them. I set out on a mission to try all of the chocolate I could find that is gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free, and save you the trouble. Especially because many chocolates, like Ghiradelli and Godiva do have potential for contamination, finding a gluten-free chocolate is a priority.

It all started because my old standby, Trader Joe’s 73% purple bar first labeled that it was on shared equipment with wheat, and then “contains traces of wheat”. I found a replacement, which Whole Foods promptly stopped carrying. (hiss…boo…) So much on the shelves contains soy lecithin, like Scharffen berger and Endangered Species. While most people are fine with it, I’m definitely not.more chocolate

So I was determined to find a chocolate bar that I would love, and I was resoundingly successful. I bought every kind of gluten/dairy/soy free chocolate bar I could get locally. As you’ll see, I went for darker chocolate options, and organic and fair-traded whenever possible, because compassion is delicious. What can I say, I’m committed to chocolate quality research.

You’re welcome.

Equal Exchange Organic Very Dark Chocolate Organic, fair tradeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ingredients: Organic Chocolate Liquor, Organic Raw Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Unrefined Whole Cane Sugar, Organic Ground Vanilla Beans.

Fair traded, vegan.

Warnings:May contain traces of milk, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios & pecans.

Per manufacturer, tested under 5ppm gluten. Woohoo!

Rating: 9 Mr. Dude and I were both quite taken with this. To tell the truth, since I was meh about the Equal Exchange 80% bar (not reviewed because I forgot to take a picture!) I wasn’t expecting to like this, and I was pleasantly delighted. Creamy, smooth, with a raspberry-ish aftertaste, this was a real treat. Mr. Dude’s fave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA63% Dark Cacao from Alter Eco

Ingredients:Cacao beans, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa nibs, vanilla beans.

Rating 9 This is my favorite. It’s a sweeter chocolate, and has cacao nibs throughout so there’s a perfect pairing of the sweet/creamy and the bitter/crunchy. I love it.

GF certified through GFCO

Amore Di Mona Carmella squares:

Ingredients:Raw organic agave nectar, cocoa butter, cocoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa solids, ground whole vanilla beans.

Gluten-free, gluten-dairy and nut free facility. Fair traded.

Rating: 8 Not quite a chocolate bar, but I couldn’t leave it out.These are agave “caramels” wrapped in bittersweet chocolate, and they’re totally delicious. They’re a little over-sweet, but I really enjoy the ability to go out and BUY a caramel I can eat. I also like the allergen friendliness.

Green and Black’s 85% chocolateOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ingredients: Cocoa, cane sugar, vanilla. Fair traded, organic

Made on equipment that processes milk, soy and tree nuts. No warning about wheat given, and per manufacturer, warnings are given with shared lines.

Rating: 7 Sharp, creamy, balanced and just sweet enough, this was my favorite of the 80%+ chocolates. Yet somehow there wasn’t a special enough *oomph* for me to really want more.

Gluten-free statement from the manufacturer

Whole Foods Dark Chocolate Almonds 56%365 choc

Ingredients: Cane sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, almonds, vanilla extract. Organic, fairly traded

Warning: contains tree nuts, may contain other nuts, milk and soy.

Rating: 7 I liked this but don’t adore it. It’s a little sweet for me, but the almond crunch and the chocolate work well together. Tasty.

Fearless Midnight 75% Cacao Chocolate

Ingredients: Cacao, cane sugar. Organic, direct traded.

Warnings: May contain traces of dairy, peanuts and soy from shared equipment. Per manufacturer, gluten- free, and tested for contOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAamination.

Rating: 5 The packaging is way too cute, especially inside. It’s from Berkeley, they give part of their profits away, etc. so I was pre-biased to like it. I didn’t. The chocolate was too bland, and there was no balance to it. It also wasn’t smooth enough for my liking and the mouth feel wasn’t great. A little vanilla and cocoa butter goes a long way! I ended up using it in baking, and it was workable, but I won’t be buying it again.

Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate 55% Cacao with Cocoa NibsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, cocoa nibs and vanilla. Vegan, top 8 allergen free

Rating: 3 (me) 7 (Mr. Dude) I was excited based on the package and expected to love this, but it didn’t do much for me. There was an overly intense sweetness that tasted unbalanced and unwelcome. I gave it to Mr. Dude to finish–I’d eat it if I were stranded on an island, but I’d happily pass it up.

Organic Nectars 85% Raw Cacao Barorganic nectars

Ingredients: 85% raw cacao (raw cacao nibs, raw cacao butter) coconut palm sugar, Madagascar Vanilla, non-GMO sunflower lecithin.

Raw, vegan, organic, made without refined sweeteners. Gluten-free per manufacturer.

Rating 3: Dry. I can’t think of any other way to put it. It’s like the opposite of melts in your mouth. The flavor is nice, although not exactly like chocolate, but it’s the texture and the lack of creamy meltiness that un-does it for me.


Ingredients: Cocoa butter, cocoa solids, raw organic agave nectar.

Gluten, soy and nut free & a dedicated facility. Refined sugar free, vegan.

Rating: 2 I almost feel guilty because I LOVE the Carmella squares, but these also fell into the “wanna love them and totally don’t” category. The texture is absolutely lacking. I’d melt it as a sauce on something because the flavor is fine, and I know it’s hard making something without sugar, but I swear my home-made chocolate is so much better.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA80% Dark Stone Ground Chocolate

Ingredients: cacao beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter.

Certified gluten-free through GFCO, organic, direct trade.

Rating: 1 Yuck. I mean, I loathed this one. The chocolate taste was fine, but the grittiness was a huge & insurmountable turn off for me. I didn’t finish it and will leave the rest for a baking project.

Note: I bought all of this chocolate myself and my views are my own. Generally, I avoid negative reviews, but I also think (hope!) it’s useful to my fellow choco-holics.

Always see manufacturer for updated allergen info.

Agree? Disagree? What’s your favorite chocolate?

I’m submitting this chocolate review to Gluten Free Wednesdays, a carnival of gluten-free goodies co-hosted by Linda of Gluten-free Homemaker, Shirley of gluten free easily and Lynn of Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures. Hop on over for some more yum!

Posted in cheryl's musings, dessert, review | 8 Comments

Short and sweet: Thursday Thankful

  • 4 day weekend!!! Woohoo!
  • Dates with Brazil nut butter. So amazing.
  • I left my phone at work–bonus!

Life is good.

Wishing you all a joyful holiday weekend.

Posted in cheryl's musings, thankful thursday | 1 Comment

I Scream for Ice Cream!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMr. Dude gave me my birthday present early–an ice cream maker!I’ve know I needed one since Shirley’s GFE retreat last year. Debi made her Java Chunk Ice cream. One bite, and I was sold.

When I came back and asked for recommendations, I kept hearing “Cuisinart”. Which fell into the category of, yes, that’s nice, which one? And I didn’t get a clear answer. So I left it up to Mr. Dude and he collaborated with Mr. Google and poof, the ICE 21 it is. It’s got a ton of good reviews and so I’m quite optimistic.

So…this is very new to me and I’m really excited! In the past decade, I made mint ice cream using an avocado (bad–very bad–still scarred), peach ice cream which had way too many ice crystals, and a bunch of store bought coconut milk ice creams, which have been not bad, but not exciting or great, either.

Where do I start? What did you wish you knew when you ventured into ice cream land? Recipes you love (without dairy, sugar, gluten, eggs, etc.)?

Subs for agar?

My perfect dish of ice cream awaits. Point me in the right direction!

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Thankful for my garden: Thursday Thankful

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve had a lot to say for my last few posts, so I’ll let my garden do the talking here. (collards above, kale below)





Garlic shoots






Tomatoes and a pepper











Such a joy to watch everything grow! and here’s to hoping the deer don’t use my little garden as a salad bar.

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Corporate sponsorship of nutrition? Thanks, but please no.

When I first saw the link on California’s Dietetic Association conference, I didn’t even click through. Call it learned helplessness if you will—I’ve gotten burned out on seeing the ridiculous practices at conferences over the 18 years since I’ve been in the world of dietetics and nutrition.

I got emails from four clients asking about the article in the past 24 hours. FOUR. One client as far away as Chile. The emails all had the same general theme—can this POSSIBLY be true? This is disturbing. Is this typical for dietitians? Do you have to take these classes?

Let’s see: the answers would be yes, YES, somewhat, no. I’ve been concerned about corporate sponsorship since I was an undergrad, and it’s only gotten worse since then. No, these conferences are not required. RDs can get CEUs elsewhere, and that’s what I’ve done over the years. For me, it hasn’t been a principled stand, as much as other conferences interested me more. So I’ve been getting all my CEUs at Celiac conferences, mindfulness trainings, coaching certifications, a ton of webinars and articles, etc. And I’ve taught CEU courses to other RDs for years (shameless plug: I’ve got a gluten-free vegetarian course in May) so RDs certainly aren’t limited to these conferences.

I did speak at the Virginia Dietetics Association conference in 2011 on gluten-free diets, and I don’t remember seeing any corporate goofiness. The session was not sponsored, and I was paid a nominal fee and had to disclose any conflicts of interest, which is standard. I can’t say that was my main focus of awareness, but I also most likely would have noticed lots of corporate ickiness. I also have never seen corporate interests at local Virginia events. When I worked running programs for the health department in DC, essentially we vetted vendors for the large WIC conference we hosted, so it was a non-issue. Sponsors were strategic and appropriate—i.e., a breast pump company sponsored the lactation room. I consider that synergy. However, I’ve been aware that it’s quite an issue nationally. Long story short, it’s an embarrassment.

I do not fault RDs who choose to work for Pepsi, fast food and the like—everyone needs to choose where and how to work based on interests, available opportunities, finances and values. However, sponsorship is a different beast, because like it or not, we’re all painted with the same brush. Yes, RDs should and do have enough intelligence to discern that Mikky D’s isn’t health food. I also understand the argument that we should be educated about all foods, and that corporations potentially hold the key to making different nutrition changes on a broad scale. And yet… I honestly think all people are swayed by what we see repeatedly, and it’s disturbing that money likely influences AND’s corporate policy. To be clear, as the article points out, it’s not just AND, but it seems like all the nutrition organizations. This is nothing new under the sun, because physicians have conferences sponsored by drug reps, but that doesn’t make it any less distasteful.

There’s a one line claim in the article that a gluten-free panel talked about how a g-free diet is a fad diet, and was sponsored by the Wheat Council. While I’m concerned, I’m reserving judgment here without more details about how this discussion went down.

It’s hard for me to reconcile all the different parts. There are many, many thoughtful, committed and dedicated RDs, and yet AND’s refusal to evolve is disgraceful, and harmful to many RDs. I’ve been a member of AND since 2000, because I value the dietetics practice groups. I can’t belong to them if I’m not a member of AND. I also don’t have the energy to run for AND and try to make changes—it’s just not that far up there on my list of priorities.

It’s sad. People largely become RDs out of a desire to change the world of nutrition, and yet we’ve ended up as part of an institution whose values don’t mirror the majority of nutrition practitioners. I’m encouraged by the efforts of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, and hopeful that policy starts shifting, either due to advocacy or public awareness. From everything I’ve seen, I absolutely believe that most RDs want change. I certainly do!

Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD

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A Mother’s Day PSA

A few thoughts in honor of Mother’s day:

I’ve also been lucky that while I frequently get questioned about children, most people are well-intentioned. While some of the questions have been truly off the wall (do you have kids? Why not? Don’t you like kids? But you don’t LOOK like you can’t have kids) the majority have been quite respectful, which I appreciate.

And yet so many people have asked me, “Do you have a family?”, and I’ve always been stumped for an answer. Of course I have a family—I’m blessed with a loving husband and two 4-legged children with whiskers and tails. I have a sister, and other family members that care about me.

Almost everyone has a family, either by blood or by love.

But thOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAat’s not what those (well-meaning) people are asking. When they say, “Do you have a family?” what they mean is, “Do you have children?” There is a world of difference between those questions, and to miss that distinction is to miss out on the value of all sorts of bonds.

Please consider the words you choose.

Yes, I have a family. No, I don’t have children. I don’t know if I can get pregnant; I’ve never tried. I do know that I’ve chosen not to get pregnant or adopt because my medical issues are significant enough that I don’t have the physical energy and stamina to be the kind of mother that every child deserves. I do hope that changes and I don’t know what’s in store.

I suppose that’s probably too long to fit on a t-shirt.

While it fits for me, it also leaves out all sorts of people who choose not to have children for more perfectly valid reasons than I can count. In fact, I’d suggest that all reasons are perfectly valid and none of your (or my) business.

Happy Mother’s day to all of you who have given your time, energy and love to “mother”, nurture and care for children, elders, friends, animals, nature…

Posted in cheryl's musings | 4 Comments

Thankful for my darlings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow much for the kitteh in the window…

Houdini just turned 14 last week. 14! And he’s our baby kitty; Genghis is about 17. It’s been a bit of rude awakening for me that the dudes are, well, older gents. I adore them more than words, and they’re just a huge and wonderful part of my life.

I go walking every morning, and Hou waits for me in the front window. If I’m not out walking, he doesn’t spent time in the front window, but if I go outside, he keeps watch until I get back. G generally waits too on the carpet, but he can’t miracle his butt up to the window sill. It always makes me smile, and it reminds me how much the kitty contingent loves me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m also super grateful for my main (feline) dude, Genghis, and very aware of the preciousness of his kitty self. First, he’s aware of the preciousness of his self, and makes of a point of reminding me. I’m also aware that he’s also had more heart and thyroid issues over the years. Lately, it’s been the sniffles but it’s definitely getting him down, and he’s less frisky. He spends a big chunk of his time on the heated floormat with me. No matter how many times I schooch him over to the side, he always flops back and paws me to remind me of the important thing(s) in life.furlove

I’m also extremely grateful that G & H are great friends. Houdini loves Genghis, and Genghis loves Genghis, so they’re a perfect match for each other.

I don’t know if we’ve all got months more together or years, but in some ways, knowing that our time together is finite helps me treasure the time we have.

cookiesOn an entirely different note, I was really excited to see Carrie review my Divine Chocolate Chip cookies, and Shirley gave them a wonderful shout out in her Gluten Free Wednesday roundup.

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Thankful for relaxation–Thankful Thursday

I’ve been tired lately. Mr. Dude will tease me that I’m not getting in my usual solid 9-10 hours of sleep. My body just feels heavy, slow, and I had one of those moments this week when I wondered, how do I push myself to get moving again?

And surprisingly, the answer has been not to push at all. menmrgWhen I’ve made a point of relaxing and, essentially, ignoring the things that I can’t change, I’ve had the energy I need. It’s also been pretty stunning to notice which things fill me and which things drain me, and how pronounced it is. I didn’t realize how much it costs me to stay in a funky dynamic, but oh, I’m so not ready to uproot every part of my life. Guess some things will have to keep coming back and biting me in the butt.

Force gets you just so far before it starts breaking you down. I’m a bullheaded fighter by nurture, if not by nature, and I kinda enjoy finding out, again and again, that I can choose a different path and it’s much more peaceful. It’s such a well-ingrained idea that the only way to get something done is to work harder, but it just doesn’t work out for me.

And on an unrelated note, the Center for Mind Body Medicine shared a post I wrote on my journey with binge eating disorder. It’s important to me to share…and yet, um, they titled it “shame”. Gotta say the label made me feel like I wanted to curl up in a little ball, but I think I’m over it now.

 Additional note: I re-read this and realized this doesn’t quite sound like a “thankful” post, although it actually was mean that way. It’s not fun to feel like I’ve got Jello limbs, but it was great to be re-reminded that I’ve got the power to shift my experience, and it’s given me a lot of useful stuff to ponder!

There’s a great Buddhist saying called the Bodhisattva vow, “May all that arises serve the awakening of my heart and mind, and be a blessing to all beings.” It’s a comfort to me, especially on challenging days, to remember the possibility of a kernel of insight or wisdom or inspiration in any situation.


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Divine Chocolate Chip Cookies (grain free, vegan)

cookies and milkI confess, I’m totally in love with these cookies.

In grad school, one of my dear friends started calling me Cookie Monster, because I took my cookies very, very seriously. I still do, and it’s been way too long since I’ve had chocolate chip cookies that meet my approval. Chocolate chip cookies are matter of great importance, as you well know. We all have a difference sense of exactly what they should look and feel like. My friend Carrie has perfect Chocolate chip cookies that my sweetie loves, but I can’t have the eggs or sugar or grains, so I’ve spent years adventuring. Some recipes I’ve tried are too greasy, or too flat, too coconut, too crumbly or just not right. I hadn’t had any that met my standards for almost 1o years, and clearly that’s unacceptable, and called for serious experimentation.cookie sheet

And so I finally found my cookie, and it was totally worth waiting for. So good. Firm, almost crispy on the outside and soft and tender in the middle. I know this sounds like crazy talk and takes a good deal of restraint, but they also freeze really well, and so they’re my cookie of choice for travel.

Instead of coconut oil or butter, these babies feature macadamia nut butter. I’ve got the directions here for a flavored version, but it really boils down to putting macadamia nuts in a food processor, turning it on, and scraping down as needed. Easy, peasy! For this recipe, you just want to get pure macadamia butter—no maple syrup, no salt, just the roasted macadamia nuts,  a food processor and, of course, lots of love.

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with a slipat mat or parchment paper. Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly except the chocolate until well combined–this can also be done in the food processor– and then stir in the chocolate chips or chunks. Portion out cookies by the heaping tablespoon, roll into balls and flatten down on the cookie sheet. They can get cozy, since the cookies won’t spread much.cookies

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until the sides are just starting to turn a golden brown. The tops will not brown. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before moving them.

Makes about 18, depending on how much cookie dough ends up in your mouth pre-baking.

*Almond flour: This recipe works perfectly with blanched almond flour from or Honeyville. I tried a few different cookie recipes that I found on other sites that specified Bob’s Red Mill’s flour and they came out totally crumbly for me, which may be an ingredient issue—I only use almond flour that’s certified gluten-free, which is either Honeyville or BRM sells blanched almond meal which is marked GF but is not certified; it looks like it’s a little coarser. I don’t know if BRM flour works in this recipe. Please let me know in the comments if you experiment.

**I used 73% chocolate in the 1st picture, and 85% in the 2nd. The lower cacao chunks are firmer and prettier. Both are crazy delicious.

I’m submitting these lovelies to Gluten Free Wednesdays. Hop on over to see a bunch of wonderful recipes!


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Happy 6th Blog-niversary to me & you! Thankful Thurs

master little

Nope, this isn’t a foxy post, but I couldn’t resist sharing this pic of this little cutie.

Wow, 6 years of blogging? I actually had to count that one out to be sure. I can’t believe how long that it, and yet…it feels like I’ve been blogging forever.

I started blogging because I wanted to share my food…but under it all, I started blogging because I felt isolated. I was having such severe physical issues that I couldn’t go out with people or invite them to dinner, and this was my way of having that needed connection. I needed a way to see and be seen, a way to connect, a way to share, a way to actively take part in community.

A lot has changed for the better in these past 6 years, and I’m still grateful for having my blog as an outlet, and the wonderful people I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with.

So thank you for reading, joining me on my journey, and letting me see into your lives, too. Writing this blog has been an adventure for me, and it’s been something I treasure.

My favorite posts? I can’t even wrap my head around my all-time favorites, so just my 6 favorites of this year:

Food posts:roasted broccoli

and my favorite written posts

Posted in cheryl's musings, thankful thursday | 5 Comments