Winter

Screw Swiss Miss: Simply Delicious DIY Hot Cocoa

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Winter made a few tentative appearances before settling in for good in a pre-Thanksgiving whirlwind of slushy snow. Ugh. One of my favorite ways to fend off the winter chill is with a steamy mug of homemade hot chocolate. I have to hand it to the marketing departments of Swiss Miss and their ilk – the ubiquitous hot chocolate mixes of the world have made us forget just how easy it is to make this stuff from scratch! Here’s my easy-peasy recipe, though you’ll want to adjust the sugar/cocoa/milk ratio to taste. Kiss your Swiss Miss goodbye!

Ingredients:

1 heaping teaspoon pure, unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 non-heaping teaspoon sugar (I like the extra depth that brown sugar adds, but use whatever sweetener you fancy)
2 tablespoons half-and-half
8-ish oz (1 coffee mug’s worth) milk

Directions:

1. Combine cocoa powder, sugar, and half and half in bottom of empty coffee mug. Don’t worry about mixing it well – that’ll be much easier once you heat it up.
2. Microwave mixture for 30 seconds or until it starts to steam a little.
3. Whisk/stir to form a smooth slurry.
4. Add milk, microwave 1-2 minutes until desired temperature is reached, then give it a final stir as needed.

Et voila! It’s divine straight out of the microwave, or you can add whipped cream, marshmallows, or use an immersion/stick blender to whip it up into a nice froth. Enjoy!

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Video Tutorial: Transforming Pumpkins into Wintery Works of Art

I got a little crafty during the snow day we had earlier this week, and am so thrilled with the results that I put together a few tutorials so that you can create your own wintery works of art! Here’s a shot of the final product – if you want to know how I did it, watch the quick, 45-second tutorial video above and read on below for more detailed instructions.

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Here’s the list of things you’ll need for these projects:

To make white pumpkins:

  • Newspaper or tarp to protect your work area
  • White spray paint (use a semi-gloss or glossy finish to create a porcelain-like effect, matte for a more “natural” effect)
  • Painter’s Tape
  • Gloves (optional, but highly recommended – this stuff gets sticky quick.)

Here are the additional things you’ll need to make the large, “stenciled”-style pumpkin:

  • Leaves of your choice. (I used gingko leaves from the trees that line my block.) Use as few or as many different types as you’d like, just make sure they’re not too dry/brittle or they won’t stand up to the process.
  • Glitter Spray Paint* in colors of your choice. I recommend choosing one metallic (gold, silver, copper, etc.) and one in a vivid, contrasting color (red, blue, green). If you just use metallics, the effects of the stenciling will likely be too subtle to see.
  • (Optional) Small paintbrush for touch-ups

*Please note: I do NOT recommend the Krylon brand paint pictured here and featured in my video. I had some serious technical difficulties with the stuff, and based on the reviews I read online after purchasing it from my hardware store, the problems I had are fairly common with this brand. I was able to get them to work long enough to complete the big pumpkin, but wasn’t able to use them on any of the smaller pumpkins and gourds as I’d originally planned. Boo.

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In addition to everything listed above, here’s what you’ll need to make the smaller pumpkins that feature the red leaf appliques pictured above:

  • Spray adhesive/glue – I used Elmer’s in a can and it worked great.
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To make white/silver pumpkins:

1. Spread newspapers or tarp all over your workspace, and then some. (Spray paint travels far, fast.) I highly recommend working outside given the high level of fumes from the spray paints and glue.

2. Use painter’s tape to thoroughly cover the pumpkin stems.

3. Go nuts with your white spray paint. Hold the can 10-12 inches away from the pumpkin surface to prevent pooling and paint dribbles.

4. Wait about 5 minutes, then spray on a second coat to cover any thin areas or stubborn spots that are showing through. 2 coats should do the trick, but if you feel you need more, go for it.

5. (Optional) If you want your white pumpkins to have a nice sparkly sheen, give them a coat or two of your metallic glitter spray paint after you’ve let the last coat of white paint dry to the touch. (Otherwise they’ll mix and pool and it won’t be pretty.)

To make the “stencil”-style pumpkins:

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1. While the white paint is still wet, carefully stick your leaves of choice to the pumpkin in your pattern of choice, smoothing them so they lay flat against the surface. Feel free to give the area where you’re going to put the leaves an extra spritz of white paint so the surface is nice and sticky for the leaves. (Don’t worry about messing up the metallic glitter coat if you chose to apply one – this will all be covered up shortly with colored glitter so you won’t be able to tell)

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2. Grab your glitter spray paint – the bright, contrasting-colored one – and spray it over and around the leaves with a smooth, downward sweeping motion. (If you go back and forth with the spray or make it too choppy and burst-y, the leaves may detach from the pressure of the spray.) I chose a diagonally sweeping design. Whatever you choose, make sure the area that you’ve sprayed with the bright glitter goes at least a little ways past the edges of the leaves.

3. Grasp the leaf stems and carefully peel the leaves away from the pumpkins. If the white paint underneath the leaves gets mussed when you pull away the leaves, just use the small paintbrush to carefully touch-up those areas.

Et voila! Masterpiece complete!

To make the appliqued pumpkins:

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One happy result of making the stencil-style pumpkin above is that you are now left with a bunch of leaves that are covered in glitter. Waste not want not!

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1. Spray the unpainted sides of the leaves with your spray adhesive/glue. Be generous, especially around the thin stem areas.

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2. Pick up the leaves by the stems and gently lay them on the pumpkin surface, then carefully smooth them so they lay flat against the pumpkin. Press the leaves and stems into the pumpkin and hold in place for at least 10 seconds  Be sure that the fingers you use to smooth and hold the faces of the leaves do NOT have any glue or wet paint on them, or they will mess up the glittery face of the leaves. (These are much harder to touch up than the white “leaves” mentioned above, so don’t put yourself in that position!)

And there you have it! Autumnal gourds transformed into winter-time works of art! Here are some more photos, just for funsies:

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