by Alicia Lieu
Be sure to check out the recipes at the end of this post and check back every month as Alicia shares her adventures of How I Met My Dinner!
Regardless of how commercial Christmas gets, I will always love Christmas. Even though I can do without the retail craziness that the holiday season has become, I have always loved spreading Christmas cheer. The religious significance remains important to me today but I have always enjoyed the activities that go along with it: decorating the Christmas tree, getting presents, giving presents, wrapping presents. I would always watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life. I also consumed more baked goods around Christmas time than any other time of year.
Neighbors and friends would seem to dust off their baking skills during the holidays. Visitors to the house usually meant that they were bringing over edible Christmas spirit. And I was always quietly ecstatic when I received an Advent calendar to count down each day before Christmas with a piece of chocolate each day. Come to think of it, the Advent calendar just might be the responsible party for my chocolate addiction– oops; I mean daily– need for chocolate.
The Advent Calendar has now come of age. It has evolved into other things besides chocolate. For the kids, there are still chocolate ones by Trader Joe’s, Cadbury, and Lindt. For the grown ups there are beer, whisky and gin countdowns. Non-food ideas I have seen include beauty products, nail polish and book Advent Calendars.
For the geeks out there, there are Dr. Who and Lego calendars. My personal favorite so far this year is the Hubble Telescope Advent Calendar. For the past few years, I started putting my own Advent calendars together. I saw the idea for making your own Advent calendar in Martha Stewart Magazine one day. Assembling these calendars as Christmas gifts is fun, creative, and rewarding. Shopping for small gifts for the friends that I know really well is really joyous because it is like a scavenger hunt to find things that are special to them or unique to our friendship. Inevitably, many of the gifts in my Advent calendars are food–candy, chocolate, nuts, hot chocolate mix and teas. It may seem daunting to come up with 25 gifts and a fun way to present them but it is not as complicated as one might think.
Making your own Advent Calendar is very straightforward. The process is simple, although the times it takes to complete one range from somewhat time intensive to extremely time intensive. There are websites that contain printable kits that you can assemble yourself, as well as the traditional ones with scriptures that illustrate the Christmas Story. Saveur had published a cookie Advent calendar in 2012, and handily, Food Network has published 100 holiday cookie recipes on their website.
I’ve collected Advent calendars on a Pinterest board that you can view for inspiration. There are a lot of fun and creative ideas out there, ranging from simple and hand drawn to printable and extra fancy. It’s not too late to still create a calendar or two. Traditionally the countdown begins on December 1 but I don’t think there is a hard, fast rule about how many days are required for counting down to Christmas. Sometimes I was unable to deliver my calendars by December 1 so my friends just opened multiple gifts the first day until they were caught up to the right gift on the right day. How could that be bad?
You would never want to include highly perishable items in an Advent calendar, but you could deliver some winter cheer along with them. I am including a simple recipe that will charm your friends and neighbors. It brought tons of smiles to my co-workers faces. I most likely saw this idea somewhere on Pinterest, as well, but I am having a hard time pinpointing the original pin. For those of you who don’t know what Pinterest is, it is an online pin board where you can collect online clippings and organize them into boards that you can name yourself. Just to give you fair warning, you could easily lose yourself in it and not know where the time went! For those who are already on Pinterest, it’s probably too late to go back to life before Pinterest!
Hot Chocolate Mini Cupcakes
1 box Devil’s Food or chocolate cake mix
3 large eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
(or as otherwise directed)
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup butter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 bag mini marshmallows
1 medium size bag of mini pretzels, unsalted
1 bag of mini chocolate chips or chocolate shavings (optional)
Mix the box of cake mix as directed. Prepare mini cupcake tins with mini cupcake liners. To bake, reduce the oven temperature by 30 degrees and bake for half the time that is printed on the box for regular size cupcakes. Let the cupcakes cool while you make the frosting.
The frosting is most easily done with a stand mixer. A hand blender would also work or hand held electric mixer would also work. First, mix the sugar and butter on a low speed, then increase the speed to medium for 3 minutes. Then add the vanilla and cream and mix on medium for another minute. For a thinner frosting, add cream incrementally until desired consistency is reached. Fill a piping bag fitted with a tip for quicker frosting.
With a sharp, small knife, cut a slit into the side of each cupcake and insert a pretzel so that half of the pretzel forms the handle of the mug. Frost each cupcake with a circular pattern so the frosting looks like whipped cream. Top off each cupcake with a few mini marshmallows, placed to look like they are floating in a mug of hot chocolate. Optional: take a chocolate bar and use a knife to create shavings or top also with mini chocolate chips. Finally, surprise and delight your guests!