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!

What Can you do with a Giant Sand Dune?

IMG_1546Approximately 100 km north of Perth, Australia, nestled in between Indian Ocean Drive and the Indian Ocean is the small quaint fishing and tourist town of Lancelin. This literally  ‘don’t blink or you’ll miss it’ kind of place, is home to gigantic beautiful white sands dunes. A place where you can play and enjoy in a way you may have never thought of before. Whether it be 4 wheel driving or sandboarding, exciting adventures await in this neat little town. Lancelin is one of those hidden gems on the west coast of Australia that you don’t want to miss.

IMG_3974We had decided to rent a car for the day and go north of Perth. Our main goal was to go see the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park but had a couple of other stops in mind that day. We had already toured Yanchep National Park where we saw koalas up close in their natural environment as well as wild kangaroos; a must see for kids and any adult that wants that ‘classic taste’ of Australia. I had heard about the white sand dunes and the possibility of going sandboarding and this intrigued me. How cool would it be to sail down the gorgeous white sand in the warm spring sunshine. Shorts and bare feet a must?

One of the things I really feel is important when traveling is to vary the kinds of experiences you have. Not only is it great to see the tourist spots, the museums and well known sites, but it is very cool to experience it in an adventuresome way. An active way that will provide you with an experience that you will never forget. Besides especially with kids, you need to interject these kinds of activities into your touring. Plus honestly the adults need it to.

IMG_3978We were on our way back from the Pinnacles, about 45 minutes north of Lancelin. We had planned to stop in on our way back and check out the sand dunes. I was getting very excited about the prospect of these sand dunes and going sandboarding! My sister had been there before and said it was quite cool. And I knew Matthew and D’Wayne would really enjoy it.

We had timed it just right, as it was about 4 in the afternoon, so we still had a couple of hours of sunlight left. We stopped at the local gas station and inquired about the dunes and renting sandboards. Turned out it was super cheap! Only $20 a board for 2 hours, with a $100 deposit, which of course we got back when we returned the boards.

We rented 2 boards and were off. Just a short drive through town (about 2 minutes) and a turn to the left we came upon these magnificient sand dunes. Massive is exactly what they were and going on for miles and miles. Some of them looked pretty steep as well! Even steeper then some of the ski hills I have been down.

The boards themselves are actually just snowboards with no bindings attached to them (You can rent the ones with the bindings on them if you want). You waxed them with a light coating of wax (provided by the rental place), and then up the big hill you went to slide down.

IMG_3989The sand dune itself was fairly steep and a good climb. Matthew took off like a shot and was up the hill in no time, zooming down. His eyes alight and sparkling. I treked off with Chloe to go down. It was a steady walk up but we made it to the top no problem. It was when I looked down that I had to catch my breath. Yes there was stunning view of the sun shining over the ocean, but it was not that that had me with a lack of breath. It was a lot steeper than I thought it was and I was actually a little apprehensive about going down.

IMG_3991I knew I couldn’t disappoint Chloe who was very excited to go down. I took a breath and sat on the board, putting Chloe in front of me. I pushed the board and tried to get us going down the dune, but was having a heck of a time. Because of the weight of both of us, and not having done this before, we were a little stuck in the sand at the top. I called for back up 🙂

D’Wayne came up the hill with Luke and gave it a go. Of course he got them going no problem, so I quickly nominated him to go with the kids going down with each one at a time. I watched and took pictures and video for a while, enjoying the fabulous view of the sun setting over the ocean and watching all the kids go flying down the hill. Screams delight carrying over the hill.

IMG_3966Up and down, up and down, over and over they went, loving every minute of it. Eventually the kids ditched the boards altogether and started sliding down on their bums or stomachs, Matthew even rolling down the hill (that my friend is a brave young man). I eventually took my turn as well, first going down on the board by myself, then taking turns going with Luke and Chloe.

One thing we made sure Luke and Chloe did when they went down was to cross their legs in front of them. This was for safety as you could get going pretty fast and it’s easy for a leg to get caught and bent behind you (or in some other position you would prefer not to have it in).

We crashed a few times, I crashed by myself. Yet it was all a lot of fun. And it was the most perfect timing, zooming down the dunes as the sun was setting over the ocean.

After about an hour we were done. Not only had we gone about 100 times, we were tired and our legs were burning out from climbing the dune over and over. We gathered our things, put on our shoes and headed back to the rental shop to return the boards, everyone charged with excitement. It was an absolutely fabulous experience! It was definitely one of the best parts of our trip to Australia. And the only reason I had even inquired about it was because I had read in one of the tours to the Pinnacles that they stopped somewhere to go sandboarding.IMG_3973

We finished our evening ordering fish and chips for dinner to eat on our ride home. Happy and satisfied we drove back to Perth, ready to share our adventures and pictures, with those who would listen to us babble on about our fabulous day and the adventure and experience that sandboarding provided. An experience not to miss!

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