How to Create a Hot Chocolate Bar

hot chocolate barDecadent hot chocolate, topped with yummy whip cream, drizzled with chocolate…. something you usually only see at your local cafe or coffee shop.

But imagine creating this in your own home, or creating some other tasty combination. Chocolate orange, Lavender White, Peanut butter… oh so yum! This is the beauty of a hot chocolate bar – a simple but yummy idea that enables you to create these wonderful, delicious combinations to enhance your hot chocolate experience.

The basis of a hot chocolate bar is that you make a plain hot chocolate and then have a number of different toppings and combinations to choose from to add to your hot chocolate that make it… oh, just a little more. Good hot chocolate can certainly be enjoyed plain and definitely warms you all the way down to your toes, but these additions make it a little more lavish, make it a little more fun.

hot chocolate barIt is also super easy to set up. It does not take a lot of time or effort, the most effort you’ll have to make is to decide what yummy toppings you are going to use! I did this twice over the holidays, once for a ladies only night at my place and second as a fun treat for my kids and nieces while away over Christmas. Everyone loved it! It was super fun. We all had half cups at a time experimenting with different tastes and flavors. I had created a list of suggested combinations but of course you could pick and choose whatever you liked. Plus just looking at the spread set out was not only nice to look at but made you want to try them all!

We had chocolate pieces, peanut butter, orange zest, hazelnut sticks, homemade marshmallows (mint and cinnamon), cinnamon sticks, coconut and some essentials oils like peppermint and lavender. We even had a little ‘adult’ version – a splash of Frangelico, if desired for those over 18.

How to Set Up Your Own Hot Chocolate Bar

Start out with your own base hot chocolate – you can either do this by the cup therefore creating and meeting people’s dietary needs, like dairy free, sugar free or use the just add water powder mix. Or you can make a big batch of your favorite hot chocolate in the slow cooker. I have done it both ways and both have their advantages.

Pick your toppings – there are so many to choose from!

  • chocolate chunks
  • orange zest
  • peppermint stickshot chocolate bar
  • 1-2 drops of peppermint extract or essential oil (if using essential oil you’ll need to use very little but depends on your brand. Also make sure the oil is ok for taking internally
  • coconut cream (for the dairy free) or whip cream
  • peanut butter – word to the wise if using this topping advise your guests that less is more with this one as too much pb makes it sink to the bottom and essentially gets wasted
  • shredded coconut
  • marshmallows
  • cinnamon sticks
  • hazelnut sticks
  • dash of cinnamon
  • cardamom
  • cayenne
  • lucuma
  • mesquite
  • or….

Add desired toppings and enjoy! Use suggested combinations or mix and match to make your own.

A hot chocolate bar literally takes about 5 minutes to set up. When I hosted the ladies it was the easiest and shortest prep I ever had to do for a party. And I loved how visually appealing it looked before everyone dug in.

hot chocolate barThis is also something you can set up in your home on the counter somewhere and leave for a bit for people to enjoy. Of course you’d have to put some of the items into the fridge when not in use but for the most part many of them can stay out.

The thing I love about the hot chocolate bar is it can easily be sugar free dairy free and be very yummy and enjoyable. When my kids participated out of all the choices I set out there were only 1 or 2 that they had to avoid. The rest was far game. So it was easy for them to try different things, experiment and enjoy the full experience.

I also love the versatility of it. You can create one for parties, after tobogganning, weddings, birthdays, after skating – and because of the variety of toppings there’s something for everyone!

If you love hot chocolate then you’ll be super excited for the upcoming YYC Hot Chocolate Fest which I am proud to be a part of this year! Watch for more details to come!

How Many Ways Can You Make Hot Chocolate – YYC Hot Chocolate Fest

YYC Hot Chocolate FestWarm delectable chocolate and sweet cherries delight the palate, filling the senses and warming the soul…aaahhh heaven. The Black Forest hot chocolate, one of 36 possible heavens in the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest this February. A fundraiser to support Calgary Meals on Wheels, this is the 5th year various coffee shops, restaurants and chocolatiers in Calgary roll out their signature hot chocolate recipes and compete for the best hot chocolate in town.

I was very excited to discover this event this year (and wondered why I had not heard of it before). Throughout the month of February you can try as many hot chocolates as you like, then go online to vote for your favorite, as well as leave comments and participate in the additional contests.

Hot Chocolate Fest

Black Forest

I have had the pleasure of enjoying 3 so far, the Black Forest, Australian Summer and the Creamy TLC, all different and unique, all with flavors that are hard to compete with. My goal is to try them all, which will be a challenge in itself in just 28 days, but it’s hard to resist when there are flavors such as Red Velvet, Tiramisu and Butterfinger Peanut Cup to enjoy.

I realize this means that there may be some days where I will have to have two or three hot chocolates just to make sure that I get them all in before the 28th, but sacrifices have to be made, and happily I will make this one.

Hot Chocolate FestI love the idea behind this Hot Chocolate Fest, (especially with chocolate involved!), it’s fun, gets the community involved and is a great way to create awareness. It also supports local businesses, encouraging people to explore the unique coffee shops and niches in Calgary, it’s creative, expressive and supports a good cause! It is also a great social event, one where you can invite friends to join you, and create more of a network online. Who doesn’t love hot chocolate? (yes I realize that maybe someone doesn’t, but many of us enjoy the thought of a nice warm drink on a cold day. It means cozy, it means social, it means tastes buds coming alive with the different and unique combinations to enjoy).

The other thing I love about the Hot Chocolate Fest is many of the vendors offer dairy free options for those of us who wish to do so. When I ordered my Black Forest at the Higher Ground Cafe, I could choose from soy milk, almond milk or coconut milk. Now this did mean no whip cream and my cherry sunk to the bottom, but it was great that this option was available so I could participate too, and my body would be happy with me.

A Hot Chocolate Fest just gives me an all around good happy feeling, making me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So whether you are tempted to try one or try them all, go out and check out the YYC Hot Chocolate Fest. Don’t forget to pick up your Hot Chocolate Passport from one of the vendors and check off each one as you go along to enter for additional prizes. I might see you out there. Come back here and share what your favorite was. Happy Hot Chocolate Drinking!Hot Chocolate Fest

Light Up the Night – Magical Musical Christmas Light Displays

IMG_2549Lights sparkle and shine as they dance with the music. Delight in the twins eyes as they wait in anticipation, the music building, wondering what will come. Then, in a crescendo of light and music together the spectacle really begins. Movement and rhythm, flowing and moving as their eyes follow the dance. This wonderful light display one of many that light up Calgary this holiday season.

I’ve always enjoyed those videos on youTube with the houses all decorated for Christmas and the musical accompaniment that goes in time with the light display. I always thought how cool that would be to see some of those live instead of just online. Little did I know that in Calgary there are a number of houses that do have such a light display. When my friend told me this a couple of years ago I was quite excited! So one night we went out and did a tour. It was wonderful! We enjoyed the light display from the comfort of our car, tuning into the posted radio station, which plays the music in time with the lights.

People are quite creative, incorporating all kinds of things with usually about 4 or 5 different songs before the show repeats. This year I took the kids out to see the lights for the first time. We made an evening of it, bringing hot chocolate and snacks to enjoy while we watched the lights. Luke and Chloe loved it! Dancing and moving it in the van while watching in wonder. We stayed at each house until the full set had run and then moved on to the next one.

IMG_2544The neat thing is that there are tons of them in Calgary and you can view as many or as few as you like. The site Lighten Up Calgary lists and maps out the houses that have such displays and you simply go to the site and create your route. We visited 3 houses when we went out last week but that was just the right amount for Luke and Chloe. And I thought it was great that they knew their limit and knew when it was time to go home. I would’ve have gone to one more, but they had seen, enjoyed and were ‘full’.

They fell asleep on our way home, tummies full of hot chocolate, and dreaming of dancing lights. Next year I’m sure we’ll go out again, as it’s another great free family activity to enjoy over the holidays. Most of them play every night in December and up until New Year’s. Who knows maybe one year we’ll even create our own display and be on the route – apparently it’s as simple as buying a kit. How fun will that be!

Everything Chocolate

IMG_4653Rich dark chocolate melting in your mouth, delighting the palate as it brings your tastebuds to life and activates natural soothing in the brain, making us feel oh so good.

Chocolate dating back to the Aztecs and Romans, has long since been considered an aphrodisiac, a treat associated with love and romance. Women love it, men crave it. Not only is it a popular gift, but a popular treat as well.

It’s no wonder that during the week of Valentine’s Day, a holiday long associated with love and romance, 58 million pounds of chocolates are sold, being the third largest holiday in sales of this popular treat (Halloween being first with Easter as the second).

The good news is that chocolate is actually good for you, as it contains fat, produces natural opiates which soothe nerves and make us feel good, as well as natural chemicals that lower your risk of cancer and heart disease (sounding pretty good doesn’t it?) Chocolate provides even more health benefits when made with cacao instead of cocoa, both derived from the same bean but processed differently, creating a superfood (cacao) that is rich in vitamins and minerals (getting better and better all the time).

IMG_4647Chocolate is also one of those things that goes with and can be used in just about anything, creating a myriad of delights for the palate to enjoy, a sensation of pleasure and joy in our human experience.

Since I have discovered how to make my own chocolate at home, (ready in about 10 minutes this really is a quick simple and easy way to make chocolate), we have not only been able to enjoy more chocolate in our home, but also enjoy lots of great things around the holidays.

For instance, this Valentine’s Day, we will enjoy heart shaped chocolates, Chocolate Dream Pie, Chocolate Truffles and if the spirit moves me, I may even make Chocolate Cupcakes with chocolate icing of course (even better these recipes are sugar free and dairy free). I love doing it up around the holidays and seeing what kind of fun things I can create; and the kids look forward to it!

Making your own chocolate is very easy, all you need is cacao butter, cacao powder, vanilla and natural sweetener of your choice (such as honey, pure maple syrup, etc.) I have a detailed post on how to make chocolate, as well as one on possible additions or variations you could use to flavor or fill your yummy chocolates.

IMG_4655This chocolate mix is also great for making Chocolate Dipped Strawberries (simply dip fresh strawberries in warm melted chocolate before it sets) or using it for Chocolate Fondue.

Other chocolate delights I have discovered, whether it be for Valentine’s Day or other, are Chocolate Macaroons (could shape them into little hearts for Valentine’s), Chocolate Pudding (one with chia seeds, one simple chocolate), Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Waffles, Hot Chocolate, Chocolate Smoothies and even Chocolate Marshmallows! And I love that they are all dairy free and naturally sweetened! On holidays, like Valentines, I often have a hard time picking only a few things to make 🙂

IMG_4658So now you know, you can live guilt free this Valentine’s Day and enjoy your chocolate; or you can venture out and make your own for yourself or to share with others (but you may not want to). Of course with anything, regardless of how good it is for you, everything in moderation (I know I just took all the fun out of it – but here’s the thing you can make MORE or try a new chocolate recipe, another version of chocolate).

So enjoy your chocolate with a great big smile this Valentine’s Day, and if no one gives you any, go get your own, it’s ok 🙂

*The majority of these recipes can be found on my blog or I have linked them to the appropriate site for you. Just click on the name and it will take you to the recipe. Enjoy!

A Warm Drink on a Cold Day

warm capuccino-saidaonlineThere’s nothing like coming in on a cold day and enjoying a nice warm drink. Cuddling up on the couch, your hands surrounding the mug for warmth as the steam floats up and you inhale the beautiful scent of coffee, hot chocolate, tea or hot apple cider, to name a few.

It doesn’t matter what you have been doing, if you’ve been enjoying some time outside doing outdoor activities, toboganning, skating, skiing or even just shoveling the walk, there is something about that warm beverage that offers you comfort like nothing else.

My kids love cuddling up on the couch with their drinks and maybe some cookies or other treat and watching a movie, tucked up under blankets. Nice and cozy and relaxing.

warm-drinksOf course when we decided to eliminate sugar at our house we could no longer default to the hot chocolate mix we bought at the store (and we used to buy the big can, you know that one that is super tall and would last for months). I know in the good old days hot chocolate was simply milk heated with cocoa mixed into it, but it had been a long time since I’d done that. In fact I remember one time when I was little and my aunt was looking after us, she did just that, and my sisters and I looked at her like she had 3 heads and asked her what the heck she was doing. In the end she ended up making the instant stuff but I know now what I missed out on.

I really like the milk heated version as I find it to be richer and creamier, even though it does take a little bit more time and work to do so. What I do now for the kids is actually a little fancier than that (something I discovered in my Raw Chocolate Making class), but it is soooo yummy and also very good for you.

Now I use a mix of almond milk, cacao powder (considered a superfood and high in minerals such protein, zinc, and iron), natural sweetener of choice and depending on the day some added spices. It’s actually quite easy to do and tastes delicious! I also like that I can make it different every time depending on what I am feeling like that day.

Dairy Free Hot Chocolate

4 c. almond milk (or your choice of dairy free milk)HBC-DJ12-hot-chocolate-shrstock-48722137

3-4 tbsp. cacao powder

3-4 tbsp. natural sweetener (I usually use pure maple syrup, but you can use honey, stevia, etc.) *amount of sweetener depends on sweetener used and personal preference

spices – sprinkle of to taste cinnamon and cayenne, or lucuma powder and mesquite powder

Place all ingredients into blender. Turn on low, then turn up to high, blend well. Pour mixture into pot. Heat on medium to desired temperature. Pour into mugs and serve.

Serves 4

What other delectable hot drink recipes do you enjoy?

The Magic of the First Snowfall

IMG_2343The first snowfall of the season is such a magical time. I love waking up to the snowy morning, seeing the world blanketed in snow. It makes it feel like Christmas and I want to run downstairs and put on the Christmas music, regardless of the date.

Now I know for those of us who have to get up, scrape the car and venture onto the road to go to work, the first snowfall of the season may not seem like so much fun. There’s no magic in people seemingly forgetting how to navigate in the stuff (cause don’t we all have short term memories and have to relearn how to drive in it). It’s stressful, it’s slippery and you’re wondering what idiot is going to come out too soon, or too fast and cause an accident.

But I invite you to see (and remember) through the eyes of a child, what that first snowfall feels like. The excitement and wonder of the snow coming down. Itching to get out to play and enjoy it.

IMG_2341Our first snowfall this year was on a Sunday, which is a little easier on many of us. We did not have to get up and go anywhere. We took pleasure in the white stuff. I did run downstairs and turn on the Christmas music, dancing around the kitchen with the kids. Luke’s eyes glowing as I spun him around. Luke and Chloe rushed through breakfast and then scrabbled to get their coats and boots on to go outside. Happily chattering about how maybe they could make a snowman and snowballs.

IMG_2344They shoveled it, they laid in it, they wanted us to get out there with them and play in it. And we did, we got out there and helped them make the first snowman of the season, adding the traditional carrot nose and rocks for eyes. Using big sticks for hands. We threw snowballs and made paths through the snow, playing and enjoying the wintery wonderland.

Once we were tired and cold we came in to enjoy hot chocolate, one of those wonderful treats that is so loved and enjoyed on a cold snowy day after playing in the snow. The kids loved it! We loved it! and that feeling of coziness and warmth carried on with us throughout the day, as the big fluffy snowflakes continued to fall to the ground.IMG_2347

I even ventured out to do some errands in the afternoon and found the roads to be not bad at all. Yes I know not everyone is a lover of snow, and it does have its drawbacks when you have to travel, but maybe just maybe if we all looked at it through the eyes of a child, and took a moment to remember those feelings of fun, play and laughter. All the good times we had in it, that might be enough for us to drive to work feeling more at peace with the snowfall, giving that extra space to the car ahead, feeling content and happy with where we are and the feelings of joy that this wonderful white stuff can bring! I know it may sound a little hokey, but it’s true 🙂 And this morning when the kids got up they wanted to head out and play in the snow once again.IMG_2349

Wintery Fun in Kananaskis

Today the kids and I spent the afternoon in Kananaskis, having been invited by our neighbors to join them for quading, a campfire, food and fun. It was a wonderful afternoon with certainly no shortage of food, laughs and friendship.

The kids got a chance to go out on the Razor, Matthew usually riding in the front passenger seat and Luke and Chloe being pulled along in the toboggan on the back. Luke, being the trooper that he is, was the first to try it out.  Hopping into the toboggan with no worries, totally trusting that he would be safe and wanting to find out what it was all about. Chloe being less sure refused the first time, but was then upset when Luke set off without her.

Luke on his toboggan ride

Riding with the neighbor Mr. Koop, Luke simply enjoyed the ride, taking it all in. As they were riding Mr. Koop would ask Luke if he was having fun and Luke would just nod. He would later ask if he wanted to ride some more and Luke would nod again. That’s my boy, he just sits and observes, but it doesn’t mean that he is not having a good time, he is just quietly enjoying it.

While others in our group took their turns on the Razor/ toboggan we cozied up around a campfire in the trees, having hot chocolate, brownies and roasting hot dogs. Everyone brought something and shared, there was plenty to go around. Now for us it’s a bit challenging to share foods with our requirements of no dairy and no sugar. But I was prepared and  brought our own hot chocolate, made with almond milk and sweetened with maple syrup, a little mesquite and lucuma powder; as well as cinnamon salted caramel brownies. This recipe, (sugar free, dairy free and gluten free), I discovered while shopping at Community Natural Foods earlier in the week. They are sooo good!

Chloe enjoying her hot chocolate

I managed to whip up a batch before we headed out so that the kids would have something to enjoy. Cause like I said sharing can be challenging, not for us to share with others, but for others to share with us. Everyone was fascinated by the brownies and many had a taste. Sheila commented that she would never know they had no sugar in them if I had not told her (and thought they were delicious).

Matthew was a bit frustrated by the amount of things that were there that he could not have, while the twins didn’t know the difference. But it challenged Matthew to branch out a little; he tried roasting grapes over the fire and seeing what it was like. He said they were not bad. It also demonstrated how much of our food has sugar in it – which I pointed out to Matthew. So many of our convenience foods and foods we choose to bring to gatherings contain sugar! Many of these things, like baked beans or chocolate cake I can make with natural alternatives, but they also take time and I am not always able to pull these things together if we get invited on short notice.

Roasting grapes

Overall though Matthew survived and though he felt a bit slighted and a little upset with me, he had a great afternoon. He got 3 rides on the Razor and even Chloe eventually got on. Chloe, Luke and I took a turn together in the toboggan and had a great time. We did flip over at one point and tumbled out, but we got back in and enjoyed the ride. Luke and Chloe screamed in delight and we returned to our site with rosy cheeks and covered in snow. (Now just so you know Conroy was driving very slowly with the little ones in the back but it was just the right speed for me and enjoyable and safe for the twins) Even though there were moments where Chloe was a bit concerned, if you asked her if she had fun, her eyes glowed and she nodded adamantly.

It was so great to get out for the afternoon and enjoy the winter snow. It’s amazing that we have hardly any snow in Calgary but to drive half an hour down the road into Kananaskis there is tons! It was a beautiful mild winter day with gently falling snowflakes that came off and on. We totally skipped Luke and Chloe’s afternoon nap to go and I left the house in a mess and came home to the same mess, but sometimes you have to do those things in order to enjoy life. I am a big believer in routine and rarely deter from it (in fact some people call me militant), but sometimes you need that change, that spontaneity.Yeah I had to clean up when I got home, and supper was a little late, but I was able to handle it all calmly and cooly just doing what I needed to do. And because I had that break and that socialization it did not bother me at all that I still have to clean up a little or stay up a little later (yes there are still dishes awaiting me in the sink).

We went out and connected with nature, fed our spirits and just had fun! Which my goodness sometimes we just need to do in life. Leave the laundry, dishes, cleaning and go play! Enjoy this life and the time we have on this planet cause we are only here for a short time, might as well make it excellent!

Plus we created some wonderful memories for the kids (the kind that will be “Remember when we fell out of the sleigh…”, connections with others and some great pictures. (it’s unlikely that the same can be said for the laundry) Now who can put a price on that?

What adventures did you have this weekend? Leave a comment and share below

Once Upon a Christmas

One of the things that I love about Christmas is all the activities and events that surround the holiday. There are craft fairs, carol sings, Christmas parties and many community events that you can choose to participate in to celebrate the season. There is something for everyone, depending on what you like to do.

One of my favorite events is Heritage Park’s Once Upon a Christmas, that runs every weekend starting late November for the 4 weeks prior to Christmas. This is a wonderful family event that includes all kinds of activities for kids and adults alike. They offer kids crafts, visits with Santa, carolers, plays, wagon rides, mazes and a ‘Kids Only’ Store where parents are not allowed to enter with their children. This year they added firepits placed throughout the park, which are great places to cozy up and have a chat and warm up by the fire.

There is so much to do there that it is easy to spend the day. The challenge is that most of it is outside so you have to be to dress for the weather and be prepared to be outside. So for me I always choose a mild weekend to go with the kids. It is much more enjoyable for everyone and we can stay longer and enjoy what the park has to offer.

As this turned out to be a mild weekend, I decided to pack up the kids Sunday morning and head out. Though it was a bit of a challenge to get us all out the door (and I would have prefered to have left half an hour earlier than we did), we made it there with a packed lunch, hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies, dressed and ready to go.

Luke and Chloe love Heritage Park so I had no trouble convincing them to go, in fact they chatted about it the day before hoping to see the “choo choo train”, which only runs in the summertime, but I told them we would ‘check’. Matthew enjoys the park as well and though he had mixed feelings about going easily went out the door.

I always hit the wagon rides first, as the line for that tends to get long as the day goes on. Plus Chloe loves horseys, so was looking forward to it. Chloe was beaming and smiling and pointing things out, while Luke was just taking it all in.

Matthew's Christmas Reindeer

We ventured to the kids crafts where Matthew made a clothespin reindeer and Luke and Chloe made little puppets out of old Christmas cards and popsicle sticks. This area is really well set up, as there is a selection of craft ‘kits’ that the kids can choose from to make their craft and there are lots of volunteers on hand to help the kids out. For the younger children they have coloring sheets and the puppets as options.

Matthew really wanted to hit the Kids Only Store as he went for the first time last year and really enjoyed the freedom of shopping on his own and spending some money 🙂 We also saw Santa and went to the petting zoo.

Luke petting the sheep

The highlight for me though was definitely the Christmas Model Railway, housed in the pool hall. It is one of those as soon as you walk in you go “Wow”; as it really is a Christmas wonderland. There are at least 3 or 4 trains going around this beautiful Christmas scene, villages and houses, lights and trees. I love it because I have always loved trains, and the magical Christmas scenes. I have no idea why I love trains so much, but I think they are cool, especially the model railways that go around and around all by themselves. Which is interesting cause that’s all it does is go around and around- but I could watch it for hours. The railway was really well done; on loan from some private collectors, it was a beautiful site.

The Christmas Railway

We chowed down on peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks on a bench outside Gunn’s Dairy Barn and enjoyed homemade hot chocolate, made with fresh almond milk (very easy to make your own), cacao, and spices, as well as homemade gingerbread cookies (sugar and dairy free of course). It was a bright sunny day with clear blue skies, a perfect wintery day, with the air of Christmas all around.

After walking and exploring we headed home, tired but satiated and satisfied with our Christmas adventures. Who knows where we’ll go next?