My daughter Mandy and I have taken a break from Iditarod preparations at our lodge to fly into Anchorage for a little R&R. We’re going to host a baby shower while we are in town, an opportunity to see old friends and catch up on all the happenings.
A few friends from my daughters’ childhood will come to the baby shower. In those days, the late eighties, kids would travel as far as 20 miles by boat or snowmachine to spend time together. Visits were usually all-day affairs, filled with games, activities and meals. Most of the kids in our neighborhood were homeschooled but a few traveled up the Yentna River to Skwentna to the one-room school that would eventually be shut down.
Growing up on the Yentna River was anything but boring for my daughters. They would play for hours in the mud on the gravel bar by the river, boat around sloughs and streams in their own little boat, dubbed “Puff,” and catch fish like crazy in the summer. In the winter, it was about long hours of schoolwork, taking snowmachines through the woods, keeping an eye out for moose, and skiing in the deep cold valley of the Yentna River.
When we moved up the valley about 80 miles farther west, in the 1990s, our daughters weren’t happy about it. They missed their old home and those tall cottonwood trees lining the riverbank. Soon, however, they began to appreciate the geography of our new home, the twists and turns of the Iditarod Trail right out our back door, and the comfort of the mountains surrounding our log house. They would always miss their old friends from the river, however.
Now, all those kids are long-grown and having babies of their own.
As Mandy and I began to plan for the baby shower, we realized that Valentine’s Day was just a few days away and we should incorporate the holiday into our menu. When I think of Valentine’s Day, chocolate just naturally comes to mind.
An easy recipe that always looks elegant, whether for a special celebration like a baby shower or Valentine’s brunch, or a simple after-dinner treat, is our simple and easy chocolate buttons.
First, we buy high-quality dark and milk chocolate bars. We melt the chocolate over a double boiler (I took a picture of my favorite double-boiler. It is an inexpensive model that I’ve had for years and it is always the perfect size). Just put a small amount of water in the saucepan below and the heat will be gentle enough to melt the chocolate in the boiler above. Chocolate needs to be melted with care. I can never quite do it properly without using the double boiler.
Next we chop up a variety of fruits and nuts. For our version, we’ve added in dehydrated strawberries, cashews, dried blueberries, bits of dried citrus, and dried banana chips.
We spoon a small portion of chocolate onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. We add on the toppings of choice by hand and sprinkle our buttons with medium coarse sea salt.
Other flavors to try are: crushed mints, bits of candies, yogurt raisins, white chocolate, crystallized ginger, or chili powder sprinkled into the melted chocolate. You get the idea. Anything goes. A few recent favorites have been lavender cherry, rosehips and raspberries, Earl Grey tea and lemon.
Cool the buttons for a few hours and they are ready to wrap for gift giving or serve as treats. It’s a nice idea to customize a chocolate gift for your special Valentine.
We’re all ready for the baby shower. The quiches are made and the drinks are chilling in buckets of snow. We’ve made plenty of chocolate buttons to pass around on a small tray. It will be nice to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.
- 2 large bars good-quality dark and milk chocolate (about 6 ounces)
- 1 handful of chopped nuts
- 1 handful of dried blueberries
- 1 handful dried bananas
- 1 handful mixed dried citrus
- Medium coarse sea salt
- Bring about one cup of water to a boil in the bottom saucepan of a double boiler. Add on the top saucepan and break up the chocolate into it. Reduce the heat and melt the chocolate slowly, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes.
- Using a teaspoon, spoon the melted chocolate onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Alternately, you can just place a long strip of chocolate onto the parchment. Then, our buttons become bark.
- Add on the dried fruits and nuts of your choice. Sprinkle with sea salt. Leave out at room temperature for a few hours until the chocolate is well set. Use a small spatula to gently lift the buttons from the parchment and place them onto a serving dish.