Treasure Maps and Chocolate Coins (Plus my favorite nettle salt!)
Sometimes, people ask me why I don’t focus more on creating experiences for children. My answer is always that kids don’t need my help! Children are always a few steps closer to wonder than adults are. They are already able to see the magic in the everyday, and can create their own special wonders through imagination and play.
Do you remember days long past of dirty knees and treasure maps? Do you remember the wonder of invisible inks and x-marks-the-spot and digging up relics and ancient treasures? It’s a shame that so many of us leave such magic behind us as we enter adulthood. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be so. It’s still just as fun to go on a wild treasure hunt as an adult, especially when the treasure to be found is smoky nettle-flavored chocolate coins (a big step up from those waxy commercial versions indeed.)
This weekend, allow yourself some space for play. Create a treasure hunt for a friend. Climb a tree. Do something you haven’t done in a long time and immerse yourself in the process. And if you can make your own treasure, even better! This post has directions for gourmet and customized chocolate coins, as well as how to make your own treasure map. The concept of making your own invisible ink from heat-sensitive ingredients like lemon juice or milk is time-tested and simple; all you need is your own creativity in mapping out your hidden treasure. You may even want to include the map as the end of a series of clues and hints to extend the fun.
As far as buried treasures go, you can hide anything you desire from bottles of fancy booze to new woolen socks; but I humbly put forth an idea for a treasure worthy of any gourmand pirate: custom-cast dark chocolate coins. It’s easy to design your own coins with custom patterns, faces, words, or numbers on them - just sculpt them out of an oven-bake polymer clay, then use them to impress an indentation into food-safe silicone. Pipe melted chocolate into these indentations and let cool to form coins, then dust them with a bit of edible luster dust to add a gold sheen and highlight texture. They’ll look extra authentic if they’re a bit uneven. If you’re hiding them outdoors, be sure to do so on a cool day so they don’t melt, and seal them up well in a squirrel-proof container if you don’t want any other bandits to get to them before your recipient does.
Chocolate Pirate Coins:
*these chocolate coins could also work for Hanukkah gelt, so file this recipe away for future Jewish celebrations!
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sculpting tools (toothpicks, knives, chopsticks, etc.)
small oven-safe tray lined with tinfoil
high-quality dark chocolate
smoked sea salt (see below)
1. Begin by sculpting a couple of coin designs out of the polymer clay. Make a ball, then flatten it into a disc and decorate it by attaching small bits or rolls of polymer clay or impressing designs into it. The clay coin will be the mold from which the chocolate ones will be made, so don’t worry at this stage about making your designs mirror-image. Make sure there aren’t any overhangs that would make it difficult to remove the design from the silicone. Keep in mind that the design should be fairly simple and clear as fine details will be lost in the casting process. Once you’re happy with the design, you can lightly brush the surface with cornstarch to remove any fingerprints. Bake the clay according to package directions, then let cool completely. Wash with soap and water and let dry.
2. Mix a small plum-sized ball of food-safe silicone according to package directions, then press it around one of the polymer clay coins. Press the bottom evenly onto a smooth surface so the coin sits flat. Allow to cure, then remove the polymer clay coin. Your mold is now ready to use! Repeat with the rest of your designs.
3. Melt the chocolate and temper it, then scoop it into a piping bag with a large round-tipped nozzle. Carefully pipe the chocolate into each mold, then smooth the surface with your fingers. Sprinkle with the smoked salt and let harden.
4. Remove the chocolate coins from the brown sugar and dust them off with a clean paintbrush. You should see the pattern of your polymer clay coins on the surface.
5. Mix a little bit of the luster dust in a small amount of vodka to form a paste, then use the clean paintbrush to gently and carefully brush it on the raised areas of the coin. Let dry.
Your chocolate coins are ready to eat, share, or hide!
Smoky Nettle Seasoning Salt:
This recipe captures all the goodness of fall: it’s flavorful, healthy, and good on just about anything from steak to eggs to chocolate. It’ll be part of my next etsy shop update sometime in October as well, so if you’re not able to make your own just keep your eyes peeled for that.
This blend starts with nettle leaves, which are mineral-rich and fortifying - great for skin and hair and particularly known for supporting the kidneys and urinary system. Nettle leaves make a flavorful and nourishing base for the other ingredients: a bit of lemon zest, smoked salts, and nettle seeds. Nettle seeds are adaptogens, which means that they strengthen the adrenals to help with general stress response. They’re useful for adrenal fatigue and burnout when taken in regular doses. Some find them to be mildly stimulating - with even a pinch having noticeable results for those that are most sensitive. Fresh nettle seeds can be over-stimulating for some, but dried seeds tend to be energizing without being too stimulating. Using this salt blend as a seasoning gives you a tiny dose of nettle seeds, but it may be enough to give you a little energy with each meal. In short, nettle seeds are helpful for tired people who need a little boost to do things again. Things like treasure hunts.
Harvest nettle seeds when they appear on the stalks but are still fresh and green. Wear gloves, since raw nettles sting! Lots of insects enjoy munching on nettle seeds too - so it’s best to cut the entire stalk and let it hang upside-down outside for a day or two to let the critters escape before stripping the seeds off and drying them completely. They also need to be rubbed through a sieve to get rid of the itchy hairs - you’ll want to use gloves for this. Be cautious of the dust that arises from this as it can cause itching - it’s a good idea to do this somewhere with a gentle breeze.
As for the salt, I like to use mineral-rich sea salt and smoke it myself. I use a smoker and foraged alder or apple twigs to add layers of complex flavoring. This blend is still wonderful with plain sea salt as well, or you can purchase smoked salts to experiment with.
Smoky Nettle Salt Ingredients:
2 Tbs. dried nettle leaves
1 Tbs. black lava salt
2 Tbs. smoked salt
1/2 Tbs. dried lemon zest
1 tsp. nettle seeds
about 1/2 tsp. water
1. Grind the nettle leaves into a fine powder with about 1 tsp. of the smoked salt in a dedicated spice grinder. The salt helps to grind up the leaves.
2. Add the rest of the salts and spices and mix well. Add a little bit of water to moisten and stir well. As you stir, the salt mixture will change from light green to a darker, richer green. You don’t want the salt to be wet, just barely moist. This helps the nettle powder adhere to the larger grains of salt and prevents separation.
3. Spread the salt blend out on a cookie sheet and let dry until no moisture remains, stirring every few hours. Bottle and label.
How to Make a Treasure Map:
As a kid, I loved making invisible-ink treasure maps for my little sister. It’s pure magic on its own: milk or lemon juice are painted onto paper to form invisible lines that are then revealed with the application of heat. You can hold your secret map carefully over a candle flame to reveal the lines (but be cautious - it’s easy to accidentally catch it on fire!) or you can use an iron or heat gun instead. It can be difficult to paint your map without some kind of guide, since you won’t be able to see what lines you’ve painted already. I recommend very lightly sketching out your map with a pencil, then painting on the lemon juice, then erasing your lines. Be sure to include identifiable landmarks, and maybe add in a few whimsical locations or sea monsters just for fun.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about creating both treasure and treasure maps. The high seas are calling, sailor, so round up yer mateys and head out on an adventure! Smooth Sailing to ye all.
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