Even though our weather has been really wet and chilly off and on recently, I still haven't felt that little intangible bit of crispness in the air that makes me realize it's officially autumn. All the signs are there, of course. The kids are a month into school, soccer is in full swing and there are pots of mums sitting out in front of my local grocery store.
There are piles of pumpkins, too, leading me to my annual question of who buys pumpkins the middle of September? What must they look like by Halloween? We all love pumpkin, and I cook with it a lot, especially this time of year, but decorative pumpkins six weeks ahead of the fact always puzzles me.
But in our house there's one thing that is always a sure indicator that Fall is right around the corner. It's when I make up a huge bag of hot cocoa mix and stock up on mini-marshmallows. And that's exactly what I did today. (All three of the kids requested it within about twelve hours of each other. Interestingly, I already had the ingredients on my shopping list. Clearly, we're related).
Here's the basic mix that's been around for a zillion years:
25 5/8 ounces nonfat dry milk powder
6 ounces powdered non-dairy creamer
2 cups powdered sugar
16 ounce container instant chocolate drink mix
Everything gets mixed up in a (really big) plastic bag. (I use the same three gallon ziplocs that I keep knitting projects in. This recipe makes a lot). Once it's all ready, throw a couple of tablespoons of the mix into a cup of hot water and you have cocoa in less than a minute. Even better, the kids have been able to do it themselves for years, which makes me pretty happy, too.
There are as many variations on this recipe as there are cooks, and I'm guilty of customizing my mix, too. The original isn't chocolately enough for us, so I mess with it. Here's how I tweak it:
I use a nice, high quality dark chocolate instant chocolate drink mix.
I add a fair amount of plain old cocoa powder to the mix.
Sometimes I use a french vanilla flavored dry creamer.
And I add a bunch of cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg.
I've even made it with Splenda instead of sugar, and it works perfectly.
When we're actually adding the mix to the water, sometimes we put in a drop of mint, orange or vanilla extract, or some mini chocolate chips (mint chips are good). Mini-marshmallows are mandatory, and if there happens to be a little cool whip in the house, no one says no. Sprinkle some cinnamon sugar on top if the mood strikes.
And drink to Fall. My very favorite season.