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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.

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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.

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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.


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Weck Jars

Popsicle sticks baker’s twine Maple sugar Pernigotti Cocoa Vanilla Beans
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Maple Hot Cocoa

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.

64 Responses to “Maple Hot Cocoa”

  1. alex

    LOVE the popsicle stick snowflakes…might have to find an excuse to make them this weekend even though there’s no little ones in my house. Beautiful photos!

  2. Lorna

    Dear Ashley,

    I am off to Scotland on Sunday to spend Christmas in my motherland and just wanted to wish the most beautiful of Christmases to you and your family. I also want to thank you. You have made my days brighter with every story you have shared, every recipe you have divulged and every single word you have written. You are such a talent Ashley and such an exceptional soul…… With love and great affection, Lorna XXX

  3. Dave

    Your writing and photos are lyrical. Its one of my simple pleasures to just read and savor the words and photos. Well done!

  4. donna ward

    I love the jars you chose for this presentation…. Will you please share where one could find these?
    Stunning photos and love your style as always.
    Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  5. merry jennifer

    What beautiful gifts these are. Of course, I’m in love with the jars themselves – what is it about jars that makes me covet them? Merry Christmas to you and your family, Ashley. 🙂

  6. Melissa

    This sounds great! And what a fun gift idea. I may also have to try the dried oranges!

  7. Deanna

    My only experience with maple sugar is in maple candy. Next time I am at Whole Foods I will look for it. I’m making marshmallows today to go with the hot chocolate mix for a food centric gift basket.

  8. Ashley Rodriguez

    I added a link to the Weck Jars. You can also order them on or if you are in the Seattle area, The Pantry at Delancey is selling some as well.

  9. sara

    delicious. I have heard so much about maple sugar and have yet to get my hands on some. you inspired me. Looks like the perfect gifts.

  10. Sara

    Love all the ideas in this post. When you package the orange slices with cinnamon sticks and cloves and give them as gifts – is it for a sachet? Beautiful projects and ideas!

  11. Brian @ A Thought For Food

    Stop the madness! First of all, damn you crafty people! I don’t have these skills and I’m always so impressed when I see these creations.

    And oh that hot chocolate… what I wouldn’t do for a mug of that.

  12. MikeVFMK

    Looks fantastic, Ashley. I’d love a mug of this rigth now and a couple holiday movies to watch while enjoying it. Great gift idea and love the glasses.

  13. Jessica

    What size jars do you use? Pint? I think this sounds delicious and I cannot wait to gift my coworkers with this!!

    • Ashley Rodriguez

      @Jessica – These are the dimensions from the site. Height: 5 3/4″ Opening: 3 7/8″ Volume: 28.7 fl oz. It makes a lot, although we went through a jar in under a week. 🙂 A smaller jar would be fine too.

  14. Stephanie

    I am suddenly longing for a snowday. Hot chocolate and crafts – I am in heaven! I am absolutely in love with you photos!

  15. Adrian

    Great pictures as always! Guarding the Christmas tree.. I always wanted to do that but was never allowed. If one of our kids ever asks to do this…I am going to let them.

  16. molly

    i am so digging those popsicle snowflakes!! thanks for sharing…

    and a very merry christmas to you, ashley + co.

  17. Gayle

    The recipes are great but the crafty items are awesome too! I have some nearly expired oranges right in front of my computer. I think I’ll slice them up and let key daughter make some decorations with them. It’ll help beat the Christmas vacation boredom that is sure to set in! Thanks and Merry Christmas!!

  18. Torrie @ a place to share...

    was referred here (after a request for ideas!), and this is the *winning idea! …making 24 8 oz jars of the cocoa (much, much smaller than these, but the only way we could do it with such a large amount of gifts to make!), along with brown sugar cookies… looks like I’ll have to do a little math(!) to get the per/jar measurement just right. =)

  19. Kaitlin

    Your photos are always so amazingly beautiful. I love the projects you’ve shared, and I love Pinterest for the same reason. It’s so inspiring!

    Also, the eloquent way you shared your memories in this post was so calming. Lovely.

  20. Torrie @ a place to share...

    okay, i’m so happy you said that. I’m waiting on my amazon order to arrive (tonight!), and although I knew this was an option, your jars look so, so pretty, that I still was determined to layer. But in an effort to *enjoy the night, this recipe, the brown sugar cookie baking (that will accompany these jars!)… I think I’ll take your advice and just make it all together and funnel. 🙂 I really, really appreciate your reply, and I am so happy to have found your blog. (my order just arrived as I was typing this!)

  21. QQ

    making this for my in-law’s xmas gift. couldn’t find maple sugar anywhere in my area, so i am attempting to make my own today. wish me luck! looks amazing.

  22. Annette

    I have never seen maple sugar, but then I haven’t looked for it. I will the next time I am at the specialty food store. This looks great.