And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Wow, has this ever been a busy holiday season! I have been cranking out my handmade Christmas cards for orders since before Thanksgiving, and have probably produced close to 150 in that time—not bad for my first holiday season at it!

Some of the cards were donated to Nolan’s preschool for a holiday craft fair and bake sale at the beginning of December, put on to provide tuition assistance to families who can’t afford it for their kids. We are so fortunate that Nolan’s preschool tuition is covered by the state of Colorado due to his special needs status, but preschool is such an important developmental step for beginning academics that I hate the thought of any child not being able to attend. In addition to sets of Christmas cards, I also baked 6 loaves of povitica—cranberry, walnut, chocolate, and apple cinnamon flavors—to enter in the bake sale (plus two more that were gobbled up at home!).

Then it was time to think about gifts for Nolan’s teachers and therapists—between preschool, OT and speech, this child has a whole team of professionals interacting with him every single week, and we wanted to do something nice to show our appreciation for their efforts. I knit scarves for his private therapists, but there wasn’t quite enough time to knit something for the entire preschool team…

First there were candy cane cookies, flavored with peppermint and colored with natural additions like raspberry juice and mint green tea ground to a powder. This platter went to the holiday party on the last day of school, another bag went to an elderly neighbor, and Nolan kindly took care of all the cookies that got broken in storage.

As for teacher gifts, I ended up ordering custom “Scribbles by Sparks” mugs and filling them with homemade hot cocoa mix and cinnamon-dusted marshmallows, with a reusable Scribbles Christmas card. The lovely packaging was courtesy of my mother.

I can’t even tell you how many people oohed and aahed over the whole concept of homemade marshmallows. They came out nice and fluffy, subtly spiced, and the perfect garnish to melt in a mug of steaming cocoa. I wanted a recipe that didn’t require corn syrup. The one I chose calls for agave instead; even though I personally avoid agave also, my mom had some in the pantry from before Nolan and I moved, so I went ahead and used it up. Next time I will use honey. And the recipe turned out to make twice what we needed for gifting, so I strongly suspect some riffs on s’mores in my near future… more on that, with recipes, to come!

In the meantime, I strongly suggest you whiz up a batch or three of this hot cocoa mix! Although mostly overlooked due to the marshmallow frenzy, this mix makes delicious rich hot chocolate and doesn’t contain any of that nasty milk powder.

Hot Cocoa Mix

1 (4 oz) bar bittersweet chocolate, 55-70% cocoa
6 T high-fat Dutch process cocoa
2 T brown sugar or rapadura
1/4 C vanilla sugar (make your own by sticking a vanilla bean in a canister of sugar for a few days!)
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot

Roughly cut chocolate in small pieces and pour into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients. Pulse until chocolate is reduced to powder (this will take a few minutes, but if you whiz it up in one go the heat will melt the chocolate, so be patient and pulse). Pour the hot chocolate mix in an airtight jar or other airtight container and keep in a dark, cool place.

To make hot chocolate: Pour 3 tablespoons of hot chocolate mix in a small pan. Measure a mugful of milk, then pour 3 tablespoons of it into the pan and whisk with the chocolate mixture until it forms a smooth paste. Slowly add the rest of the milk, stirring, until well combined. Put over medium heat and bring to boil, stirring. When the chocolate reaches boiling point, let simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until it thickens slightly.

Source: Positively Beauty.

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