Soil Mates {A Valentine's Day Gift}

Research shows that steady relationships, like lifelong friendships or marriage, are good for our health. And people aren't the only living creatures that benefit from companionship. Many animals mate for life, and even veggies benefit from planting in pairs. Yes, your tomatoes need love too.

Vegetables planted together share health benefits like soil enrichment and natural pest control which translates to more flavor on your plate. Like human love, it's complicated. Enter Soil Mates, a design-savvy garden guide to what to plant together and why. Consider it the match.com for your garden, and the perfect gift for a gardener you love.


Sugar and Spice and Cocoa, so nice

Sure, I shop at the farmer's market and grow my own food. But since ingredients like sugar, cocoa and vanilla don't grow anywhere near our home, I don't feel guilty buying them at Costco, where the prices keep me in high-quality baking supplies even in the leanest times. I wouldn't buy just any old ingredient at a mega-discount store, but their fair-trade organic sugar, Dutch process cocoa and plump Madagascar vanilla beans won my approval this summer when I was developing recipes for my cookbook. They now command a prime spot on our pantry. With Valentine's Day just around the corner, they deserve a spot in yours too. Here's the scoop:

Wholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Organic Sugar: It's not very often you can find "certified fair trade" and "organic" in the same product. Made from canes in South America, this is my all-purpose baking and sweetening sugar. Replace your refined white sugar one for one in cookies, cakes, icings and on top of your morning latte.

Rodelle Dutch Process Cocoa: Dutch process cocoa {think Valhrona} is deeper and darker than
natural cocoa {think Hershey's} which gives it what I like to call a grown-up cocoa flavor. Sourced "responsibly" {according to Rodelle's website} from West Africa,  this is my go-to deep-flavored cocoa, perfect for anything you want an intense chocolate flavor to shine in, like cakes, pudding and of course, hot cocoa. Be sure to check recipes that include leaveners {like baking soda or baking powder}.
Dutch process cocoa reacts differently than natural in these recipes {read more here}, so follow those recipes to a T.

Rodelle Vanilla Beans: Vanilla beans or pods come from an orchid plant indigenous to South Eastern Mexico, and later migrated to Madagascar where today's best beans are grown. These plump pods pack enough vanillin to scrape into sweets and stir into frostings for a vanilla flecked flavor that extracts rarely achieve. You can sometimes find vanilla beans in the baking aisle of the grocery store, but they are
often thin and dry and not worth the pretty penny they cost. {Sorry McCormick, your vanilla beans having nothing on these chubsters}.  If you've never used a vanilla bean before, check out Rodelle's how-to-video for how to split and scrape a bean {here}. Be sure to save your leftover beans to dry and store in a jar of sugar for DIY vanilla sugar.

Since not everyone {sorry mom!} has a Costco, I also found these goodies on Amazon for a
not-quite-Costco-cheap-but-fair price too. Here's a shortcut for you: sugar {click here} cocoa {click here} and vanilla beans {click here}.

No excuses now, time to bake something sweet for the one you love.
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New York City, United States
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle expert, and the author of Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite, and The Newlywed Cookbook. She is the Food Director at Real Simple magazine, and has appeared in numerous national publications including Saveur, Health, Fitness, Shape, Martha Stewart Living and Food & Wine magazines. As a passionate gardener, Sarah's Edible Living philosophy aims to inspire good living through growing, cooking and enjoying delicious, irresistible whole foods. She thrives on homegrown veggies, stinky cheese and chocolate cake. Sarah lives in New York with her husband and their young daughter.