The cookies, cakes, candies and chocolate barks are fine indeed. The crusted roasts still pink and tender inside cozied up to potatoes layered with cheese and bathed in cream satisfy deeply. I will never deny a leftover piece of gently spiced pie for breakfast – pumpkin is a vegetable after all, but the holidays offer so much more for our senses than just taste.
The faintest scent of cinnamon and clove instantly stirs in me memories of Christmas’ past. The ones in which I begged to sleep in front of the tree, guarding our dear parcels with as much fury as my little body could muster. The sharp, cooling burst of peppermint reminds me our first Christmas together. That year we went with Gabe’s parents to get our tree. Theirs was majestic and grand, ours was charming, only slightly more lush than Charlie Brown’s and yet perfect for us and our tiny first home.
Of course there are more smells that exist beyond the edible ones; the pungent pine perfume from a newly acquired tree and the sharp contrast of a wood burning fireplace against the chilling breeze that hits the moment you step outside.
This is only the beginning. I have yet to mention the lights that cause an infectious joy in my children, the continuous hum of Christmas music that create the soundtrack of this season, and the touch of Winter’s first snow – a feeling we are still waiting for this year.
Each year I become joyfully overwhelmed with all the projects – cooking and otherwise – that make up my to-do list. Many of them exist for the purpose of building memories and traditions and trying to instill the same excitement that I remember from my childhood.
I wanted to share with you a few things we’ve been doing around our home to awaken our senses to the season.
I get so excited when I come across a project that is both visually appealing and easy enough to get the kids involved. I saw these snowflakes on Pinterest and immediately broke out our popscicle sticks. With a bit of glue and spray paint our windows were suddenly festive.
In the middle of our popsicle flakes I created a photo wreath (again the idea came from Pinterest) using prints from our iPhone and polaroid. I may never take this wreath down. I never grow tired of seeing their smiling faces and sweet memories from the previous year.
To create the wreath I cut out a cardboard frame, attached a string then covered the frame with photos. I carried the same idea into our bedroom with a heart shape frame.
One of my favorite parts of this season is coming home. We all rush inside trying to escape the cold and are welcomed with warmth and the lingering sweet smells of citrus and spices – and quite often butter. A lot of butter moves through the house this time of year.
More often than not you’ll find a simmering pot of citrus slices, cloves, and cinnamon sticks sitting on the stove. As if this wasn’t enough I decided to dry some orange slices as well.
1/4″ inch slices line a sheet tray then sit in an oven on its lowest setting. About 4-5 hours the slices are completely dry and ready to be strung as ornaments, laid in a bowl to sweeten a room, or packaged with cinnamon and cloves and given away.
Our craft time turned into snack time as my little “helper” kept eating our project. It’s a good thing I work quickly and a good thing she’s so darn cute.
Then of course there’s hot chocolate. You know by now that this year is the year of hot chocolate for me. I’ve introduced you to my fresh mint version but now there is another.
Maple hot cocoa. While I love the richness that comes from hot chocolate made from a base of ganache (chocolate and cream), there is just something about a cocoa mix that satisfies in a way that no other can.
This is a slightly elevated version of what I drank as a child. While there aren’t any dehydrated mini marshmallows in this mix, the subtle maple sweetness and the rich cocoa flavor make up for it.
I’ve been gifting this mix as well. I love the way the ingredients look layered in the jar especially with a vanilla bean tucked in there just slightly disrupting the perfect layers. With or without a side of marshmallows, this is a perfect holiday gift that can be made in minutes. Just be sure to assign a jar for yourself so you won’t feel guilty when you inevitably break into to one of the gift-destined jars.
I really do encourage you to seek out the maple sugar for this recipe. It’s an ingredient that I haven’t used much and am realizing that I have a lot of lost time to make up for.
It smells of syrup, as it is the crystalized version, but in this application it provides enough sweetness without having to use a lot of sugar. Most hot chocolate mixes call for 1 part cocoa to 2 parts sugar. This is 2:1. The cocoa flavor prevails as you are drinking it but there is a depth that suddenly makes this mix seem more grown up.
Just over one week until Christmas and I have nearly every moment of each day planned with holiday activities. There are more lights to see, more cinnamon to simmer, and more carols to sing to my baby girl as she falls asleep in my arms. All the while making sure to leave plenty of time for hot cocoa drinking, of course.
Maple Hot Cocoa Mix
You can find maple sugar online or at many grocery stores. It’s worth the search, I assure you.
2 cups cocoa
1 cup maple sugar
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 vanilla bean (optional)
In a large jar layer the ingredients. Tuck the vanilla bean down the side.
Before preparing a cup of cocoa shake the ingredients together. Add 2 heaping tablespoons mix to 6 ounces hot milk – that is, if you like it good and rich, as I do.