‘Tis the Season

Sing along with me:

‘Tis the season, yet my workshop lies dormant. Fa la la la la… la la la la. 

Some sort of weird conspiracy between Life and his arch nemesis, Work, nailed the door to my workshop shut – for the entire year! I’m praying the little elves inside have managed to survive on nothing but hopes and dreams, and possibly some mouse droppings. But, I must get the door open soon or there will be NO Christmas this year. Only one week remains to make Robyn’s Christmas ornament. Read the backstory here.

Don’t get all nervous for me, but if I can’t kick aside all those elf carcasses and get my machinery running, Robyn will have to adorn the tree this year with something made from pipe cleaners, Q-tips and cotton balls. Think, Martha Stewart {shudder}.

Just in case I don’t make it (and Rudolph, with that giant red nose always in his eyes, broadsides a building or something), here are a few snowmen from years’ past. The one at the top is the very first snowman I ever made, back in 1992, and still one of Robyn’s favorites (probably just sentimentality talking). I honestly didn’t realize, back then, I was starting a tradition. It’s three snowmen in one, really, depending on your viewpoint, and about the size of an egg (but not from one of those hormone fed chickens, God forbid). Amazingly, I didn’t have any tools back then and I don’t remember how I made the snowman. Probably gnawed at the wood with my teeth.

Sauntering down memory lane

The snowmen below are some of the first ones I made that incorporate a photo – sort of like Christmas tree lockets.


This snowman comes from deep down in the dark crevices of my subconsious, possibly inspired by memories growing up with Alfred Hitchcock on the tube. Gooood eve-a-ning.



And finally, a tribute to the Labrador Retreiver we lost the year our son, Beck, was born.


Sometimes You Can Stick Your Tongue Out at Danger, Other Times…

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, I can’t stop thinking about a couple of my favorite clients and their home on Marco Island. Category 5 is a hefty breeze. Be safe Jeff and Marsha!

Undoubtedly, we’ll soon hear stories of surfers taking advantage of the gnarly waves, which reminds me of a quote by THAT guy:

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,
and I’m not sure about the former. 

Albert Einstein

What Did You Do Over the Weekend? I Built an Ultimate Fighting Death Ring.

Problem: How do you keep the young neighborhood whippersnappers off your lawn?

Solution: Cull the herd with an octagon of death

It took all my years of intense design study and many trips back to the drawing board to get here, but it is complete. Well, mostly. Due to unexpected budget overruns, I was forced to eliminate the chain link and barbed wire. Do you know how much that stuff costs?

Sadly, the octagon of death cannot contain the little urchins without it, so now it’s just an octagon. Happily, my son Beck suggested we repurpose it and use it as a Gaga pit. For those of you older than fifteen, it’s a game like dodgeball and has nothing to do with the Lady.

Now my yard is regularly trampled by even more tiny little feet than before, proving the adage, if you build it, they will come. Much like the Coyote, I am relegated to forever dreaming up new, fiendish traps. The spinning-tree-swing-of-death, for example (that didn’t work either, btw). If only Acme sold something useful…

It started out as a chunk of forest. A little work with a chainsaw and Bobcat, and voila… a mudpit.

I enlisted grandpa and a few of the neighborhood kids to help out while I oversaw the construction. As an architect I never actually build anything. Rather, I nurture others in their dreams of building (or as many of my contractor buddies would say, sit on my ass and dream up stuff that’s impossible for them to build – eh, one or the other).

If you were wondering, my wife, Robyn, gave me that shirt in the pictures. It says “50% Architect, 50% superhero.” Sweet, huh? Now everyone asks me which I am today, a half-assed architect, or half-assed superhero. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt that her intentions were good.

Note: No children were harmed in the making of the octagon of death.

The wood wasn’t even cold before word spread across the neighborhood


Dark Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie Hot Cocoa – Proof That Sugar-Free Doesn’t Have To Be Icky

There’s a fat man inside me struggling to get out.

I’m not going to let him.

Part one of my three-step plan to thwart the fat man is to cut sugar out of my diet. Part two removes fat and carbs. Part three eliminates food altogether. That’ll show him.

Turns out it’s not so easy to forego sugar when it seductively whispers your name throughout the day, promising ecstasies beyond mortal comprehension. To silence the voice (that lovely, wonderful voice), I have tried sugar-free everything, but I just can’t get past artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, and the thought of contorted, glowing green lab rats with cancerous pustules oozing atop other festering cancers.

The after-lunch cravings are the worst.

Here’s Where the Cocoa Comes in…

I had a solution… nurse a cup of sugar-free cocoa, like a baby with a pacifier, but more dignified and adult-like. The only problem, I couldn’t find a good sugar-free, packaged hot cocoa, or even a decent recipe for that matter. Empty-handed, I had little choice but to attempt to create a recipe of my own. Keep in mind, I’m no chef, but the bar was low. As long as it didn’t taste like wrung-out sweat sock juice, I was good. A quick analysis of the problem indicated three major hurdles:

First I needed to find a sugar-free, low fat substitute for milk (even 1% milk is loaded with sugar and fat, albeit the good stuff apparently), with a non-watery, pleasantly thick consistency. After testing every form of liquid known to man, including numerous varieties of tequila (those were good days), I settled on Silk’s Unsweetened Cashew Milk. There are other brands available, but they are too strong and nutty for my taste.

The next hurdle was finding a sugar-free sweetener that wasn’t potentially harmful or just plain icky (I’m looking at you Stevia. Yuck). Frankly, the sweetener was the toughest part. Monk fruit extract was my prime candidate for a long time, but no matter what I mixed with it, the fruity, sickly aftertaste remained (not as bad as Stevia, but not good either). I suspect it tastes fine in fruit drinks, but definitely not cocoa. Then I came across Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener. It’s a granular substance that looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, but is comprised of a tiny bit of Monk fruit juice mixed together with a whole lot of Erythritol (a scary sounding alias for fermented corn). The name alone almost turned me away, but I felt better after doing some research. Apparently it’s the Great, White Hope of sugar substitutes. You can find it at Whole Foods or online.

Finally, I needed a cocoa richer and tastier than the standard Nestle or Hershey powders typically found in grocery stores: a dark and rich chocolate, but not bitter (I don’t ask for much). The answer was Dutch-processed cocoa. My preference is Cocoa Barry Extra Brute. If you don’t want to order a two pound bag online, many grocery stores carry a wonderful, but more expensive, alternative by Droste.

Yet, something was still missing. I think it was the absense of Cocoa Butter. I needed something to replace its buttery taste. That something was English toffee extract. Amoretti is the gold standard with no alcohol, no chemicals and no artificial flavors or colors. LorAnn makes a great economical alternative.

The result is an all-natural, very dark chocolate loaded with flavonoids and antioxidants – read the 7 Health Benefits of Drinking Hot Cocoa.

If you are looking for a milky, hot cocoa… this isn’t it.

It’s dark. “As dark as your soul,” says my wife, Robyn, “and thick, like your B.S.”  I think it’s like drinking a candy bar.

Best of all, it’s:

  • Sugar-free with no artificial flavors and non-GMO
  • Zero on the glycemic Index
  • Relatively low in calories and fat, with just a few token carbs
  • Gluten, lactose and anchovy-Free
  • Compatible with all the trendy diets: Vegan, Mediterranean and possibly Martian (we won’t know for sure until we discover their ancient ruins). Sorry, it’s not Paleo. I guess cavemen didn’t ferment corn or use state-of-the-art industrial processing facilities.

Dark Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie Hot Cocoa

The four ingredients required for basic dark cocoa are listed above, but if you want to try the chocolate banana cream pie, you will need these, as well :

LorAnn Banana Emulsion. This is a flavoring used by bakers to enhance their creations (it is not sold at your local grocery store, but may be ordered direct from LorAnn or Amazon).

LorAnn Marshmallow Flavoring (an extract without alcohol). Who needs all the sugar and gelatin of real marshmallows. You know where gelatin comes from, right? If you want to have fun with your cocoa, try some of their many other flavorings, from Hazelnut to Cookies and Cream.

Shredded Coconut, Unsweetened.



Here’s the Recipe…

Sugar-Free Dark Chocolate, Banana Cream Pie Hot Cocoa

Zero Sugar, low carbohydrate, low fat, dairy-free, soy-free, non-GMO, Vegan

Course Beverages
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 2 minutes
Total Time 7 minutes
Servings 1
Calories 60 kcal
Author Tim Bjella


  • 1 cup Silk Unsweetened Cashew Milk
  • 2-1/2 T Cocoa Barry Extra Brute or Droste Dutch Cocoa
  • 4 T Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener, Classic
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2 drops Amoretti English Toffee Extract (use an eye dropper)
  • 1 glop LorAnn Banana Emulsion (1 glop = 1 giant drop)
  • 5 drops LorAnn Marshmallow Flavoring (use an eye dropper)
  • 1 pinch Nutmeg
  • 1 sprinkle Coconut Shavings


  1. For basic hot cocoa, simply mix the cocoa, sweetener, English toffee extract and salt into the hot cashew milk. 

  2. For hot cocoa with an essence of marshmallow, also include the marshmallow flavoring.

  3. For chocolate, banana cream pie hot cocoa, add all of the ingredients together.

  4. For even richer, sipping chocolate (like drinking a candy bar), add 2 additional tablespoons of cocoa powder and two additional tablespoons of monkfruit sweetener

Recipe Notes

This cocoa is best prepared on a stovetop with a light and loving touch by gently warming the cashew milk until it is ready to accept the subtle nuances of the cocoa (I just nuke it in a microwave).

Don't care for sugar-free? Substitute sugar 1:1 for the sugar-free sweetener, and prepare to toss and turn all night wallowing in your guilt.


Simultaneous Sketching (a New Artform?)

When my son, Beck, was quite little I taught him the fine art of drawing monsters, mostly to show him what was lurking under his bed at night. While sitting on my lap trembling (hey, it was his idea!), we created a whole new concept in artistic teamwork: Simultaneous sketching. One piece of paper and three hands (to be fair, one of mine was tied behind my back). I’ll leave it up to you to determine who contributed what.

I think Beck wandered off during the drawing below, or I hid his pencils, or something):

After the lesson, I nudged, alright shoved, the little bird out of the nest. Here’s his final exam:

Honestly, I’d rather find one of my monsters under the bed than his.