Where creativity grows

Tag: #challenge

The 12 Days of Hot Chocolate

This year, Tom and I decided that we were going to focus on making our own Christmas memories and infusing our home with the joy of the season. That is how the 12 Days of Hot Chocolate came to be. While we have always been somewhat snobbish about our hot chocolate consumption (ie no Swiss Miss and hot water allowed in this household), we have never searched for a recipe that takes our hot chocolate to the next level. 

 

Our basic hot cocoa recipe (2 servings)

  • 2 cups milk of choice

  • 2 TBSP dark chocolate cocoa powder

  • 2 TBSP sugar

  • Splash of vanilla

 Heat milk in the microwave and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Serve with your favorite toppings. 

 I turned to Pinterest to find twelve recipes for us to try. The teacher in me and the engineer in Tom of course had to make a rubric to score the recipes. We went back and forth on a lot of different ideas, but in the end opted to keep it nice and simple with a 3 candy cane rating system: 

 

  • 1 candy cane – we did not even finish the mug and won’t ever make it again.

  • 2 candy canes- we finished it, but probably won’t make it again

  • 3 candy canes- absolutely loved it and will add it to our personal cookbook

 I printed off the 12 recipes and made my shopping list. We were ready to get started!

 

The results:

I don’t want to disappoint you this early in the post, but full disclosure- we ended up not trying all twelve recipes. Very early on we discovered what we like, love and hate about hot chocolate. We used the recipes to explore different flavors, but in the end we didn’t need all twelve recipes to figure that out. I will include links to all twelve at the very end in case you want to do your own experiment.

 

All things being equal:

There are a few elements that we kept standard throughout the recipes, despite what the recipe actually called for. 

  1. 70% cocoa Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips

  2. Dark cocoa powder from Costco

  3. Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk or Organic Skim Cow’s milk

  4. Anywhere that called for heavy cream or half-half, we used Silk non-dairy half-half.

 And so it began….

 

Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate 

I am obsessed with all things chocolate and peanut butter, so I started our adventure with the only peanut butter and chocolate recipe. I was sure this would be my favorite before we even started. I mixed everything up and poured the concoction into the His and Hers penguin mugs we would be using for the challenge. I took a huge sip and let out a howl of excitement. Man was that yummy. Tom was less impressed. My initial impression was that I would drink it every day for the rest of my life. Tom thought he might finish it, but he is not a lover of chocolate and peanut butter like I am. Within a few minutes though we both felt like someone had stuck a straw into a jar of Skippy. To my shock and chagrin— neither of us finished our mugs! I don’t know if it would be better with higher quality peanut butter. I only had creamy Skippy on hand from my holiday baking as Tom prefers the chunky Crazy Richard’s peanut butter for everyday use. Perhaps more milk to thin it out or even less PB, but overall this one was a big bust!

Peppermint Hot Chocolate- 3 candy canes

Not much I love more this time of year than peppermint. Next up was a peppermint hot chocolate recipe that was sure to win our hearts— except for the fact that I cannot read. I made the recipe and we both agreed it was tasty, but it seemed really sweet. When I looked at the recipe, I discovered that instead of putting ¼ tsp of sugar, I poured in a heap ¼ cup. Oops! I made it again later that week with a more appropriate amount of sugar and we both really liked it. We started thinning out the recipes a bit with this one, because we prefer to drink our hot chocolate rather than chew it. This one was a WINNER! 

Colonial Hot Chocolate

 

Our third recipe was one that we were holding on to share with some friends when they popped by for a holiday visit. The Colonial Hot Chocolate recipe had a unique flavor palette and we knew our foodie friends would enjoy doing this taste test with us. This recipe involved me hunting down a few ingredients I had never used before (star anise & ground cardamom), but overall it was an incredibly easy recipe to make. Given the incredibly unique combination of flavors and how easy it was to make, we all agreed this was one of the best hot chocolates we had ever had. This is a solid dessert hot chocolate, but could also serve as a lovely regular recipe if thinned out a bit. 

Nutella Hot Chocolate

After the peanut butter hot chocolate recipe, I was a bit gun shy to try the Nutella Hot Chocolate. I could not have been more wrong! It was awesome— just nutty enough to be unique and the perfect balance of yummo chocolate flavor. 

Hot Chocolate

After a few recipes that were next level with flavors and add-ons, we decided to step back and try a basic recipe that could potentially be our go-to hot cocoa recipe. This one was a sure fire winner— with one change. Tom and I agreed that we much prefer to drink our hot chocolate rather than almost chew it— so I added in an extra cup of milk to the recipe. Yummo!

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate

Next up was going to be a Mexican Hot Chocolate, but neither of us were excited about the idea of something spicy. Instead, I opted for a recipe for a cinnamon hot cocoa that I was hoping would be similar to the cinnamon crunch latte I had at Panera last week. We were both busy with projects and it was the perfect time to throw in a cup of holiday cheer. Tom proclaimed this was his absolute favorite recipe and I was very close to agreeing. Steeping a whole stick of cinnamon in milk for ten minutes produced a beautifully delicious hot chocolate. With some fresh whipped cream on top, this one was AMAZING! I actually made this again the very next day,

 

Parisian Hot Chocolate

We gave one last recipe a try before declaring the challenge complete. The Parisian Hot Chocolate recipe was elegant and grand, but it was WAY TOO MUCH of everything for us to enjoy. Even with me thinning out the recipe, neither of us finished the mug. We agreed that we know the basics of what makes a great cup of hot chocolate in conjunction with how we like ours prepared so that we can now mix and match a bit from the recipes we tried out. 

Here is a list of all the recipes in case you want to do your own comparison:

  1. Nutella Hot Chocolate

  2. Mexican Hot Chocolate (House of Yumm) / Mexican Hot Chocolate (Green Healthy Eating)

  3. Peppermint French Hot Chocolate

  4. Colonial Hot Chocolate

  5. Parisian Hot Chocolate

  6. Homemade Hot Chocolate Recipe

  7. Italian Hot Chocolate

  8. Maple Sea Salt Vegan Hot Chocolate

  9. Homemade Cinnamon Hot Chocolate Recipe ~ Barley & Sage

  10. London Fog Whipped Cream Hot Chocolate

  11. Thierry Rautureau’s Hot Chocolate (from Theo Cookbook)

  12. Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate

2.5 x Warrior

52 Frames and why you should take on a challenge project

In December of 2017, I was preparing to deliver the last few copies of my book The Many Faces of Elgin. The previous 24 months had been consumed by writing, making portraits, editing, layout, sign-offs, marketing and so much more. It was everything I did during those two years. I squeezed in a for-fun photography outing every once in a great while, but it was not often. Landscapes, flowers, butterflies, etc were placed on a long-term back burner. When I was done, I wondered if I would ever pick up my camera again.   

When I randomly happened onto a post about a photography challenge called 52 Frames. The rules were simple– submit one original photo taken the week of the challenge based on that week’s theme. The goal is to be a weekly warrior (submit a photo every week for 52 weeks straight). It did not take much to convince me to sign up for the challenge. 

You can start the program whenever you want, but I was starting with the first challenge of 2018. Every year the first challenge of the year is a self-portrait. What on earth had I gotten myself into? Remember what I said about portraits and flowers and landscapes and such? Not only am I not good at portraits, but I despise being in pictures. The nightmare was real. I won’t lie— quite a few tears were shed that week, but I submitted my first image and my journey had begun.

When I look back at the two photobooks I have made so far (2018 / 2019), I am struck by how much this group has helped me to grow not only as a photographer, but also as a person. When I first started sharing my photography on social media, I definitely fell victim to the dopamine hits I got from getting likes. Because my family and friends liked everything I ever posted. I had an inflated sense of reality. 52 Frames challenged me to learn new techniques, shoot subjects that never interested me and most importantly to pursue my photography for me and not for anyone else. Each week I specifically seek out comments that help me improve and grow. I used to tell my husband that I was a fair-weather photographer. Now 52 Frames has me shooting 52 weeks a year. I have submitted a whole mess of self-portraits— even when it was not directly the challenge theme. I have taken pictures of M&Ms, soldering irons, flags, eggs, candy corn, Darth Vader, flowers, strangers, fire, graffiti and so much more. Most weeks are REALLY hard for me and I consider myself a creative person! I am pushed to my limits regularly and somehow every week I show up. I am more than half-way through my third year with this project and I cannot see myself stopping any time soon.

I highly recommend challenge projects because they force you to show up and practice. Here are some ideas:

  • 52 Frames– This is a photography based project, but you can see the weekly challenges on their website if you wanted to apply the theme to a different medium (writing, painting, doodling).
  • Project 365– Take a single photo every day of the year. The original Project 365 was to take a selfie every day. Some people choose to document food or just an event from their everyday lives. Again, you could apply the concept to anything you want to do every day for a year.
  • Project 52- same idea as project 365, but only once a week. 
  • 365 Thank you notes (based on this book). Write and send/deliver a thank you card every day for an entire year. You’ll be amazed by what this gratitude exercise does for your overall well-being.
  • 100 strangers. Take a photo of 100 different strangers. If you are not a photographer, perhaps you write a short scenario about 100 strangers. Snap a quick image with your cell phone and then write up your scenario.
  • Learn a new word everyday.

Here are few more ideas:

Everyone has creativity within them, but it is a muscle that needs to be used and flexed from time to time. These challenges encourage you to make having a creativity mindset a priority in your life. 

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