Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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When it’s cold outside, only one thing will do – seriously good hot chocolate and the great outdoors! If you only have a couple of hours to spare this weekend, forget the holiday stress, shopping and chores. Grab your warm layers and go out with the kids. Fresh air! Warm drinks! No pressure! They’ll love a hot chocolate family hike and you can jazz up this winter tradition by making the hot chocolate mix yourself. I swear, it’s easy! I just added all the ingredients in my mixer and pushed on the button. It was done in minutes and my girls rummaged through our pantry for fun toppings – mini meringues, cinnamon, candy canes and the such. After that, we only had to get out the door. My girls loved that this hike had no other goal than finding a good spot to mix their hot chocolate. You can make yours as short or long as you want, as long as it includes a hot chocolate stop. How’s that for relaxing? OK, here goes.
First things first, the hot chocolate mix. If you want to go directly to the recipe, click here. I prepared it at home literally 30 minutes before we left. It was a last-minute idea and took less than 10 minutes once I had the ingredients out of the cupboards. Since I didn’t have exactly all the ingredients of the Smitten Kitchen hot chocolate recipe, I adapted it with what my pantry had. As you can see, I just threw in the mixing bowl: sugar, powdered unsweetened cocoa, dark chocolate chips, sea salt, potato starch (I didn’t have corn starch) and a whole vanilla bean (I didn’t have powdered vanilla bean but it would have been better).
Seal it. Pulse. Presto!
I packed the hot chocolate mix in an empty jam jar and my girls added their toppings in a backpack. In no particular order, they picked:
You’d think we were doing the Elf movie sugar spaghetti or something! For good measure, I added powdered cinnamon and powdered milk, the latter in case they wanted a dairy-based hot chocolate. Turns out they didn’t notice it was missing. We filled two Thermos bottles with hot water and those went in the backpack too. Last but not least: spoons or cinnamon sticks to stir. We were ready to go. We hopped on the train to Hampstead Heath and right outside the station, stopped at Euphorium Bakery to buy our picnic lunch.
On the outskirts of the park, we scanned a map to find trees. It might seem silly but at Hampstead Heath, the forested parts feel a lot wilder than the open hills because you can’t see the city when you sit down for a picnic. Sure, the city is all around it but if you can’t see any buildings, you do feel like you’re in a green oasis. It was a clear, cold and crisp day, which our winter jackets felt deliciously warm. To brave the cold, we even had wool hats and gloves. As we were doing a bit of orienteering as well, we had everything we needed.
Pushed for our hunger for lunch (these quiches lorraines looked so good!), we found trees quite fast and looked for a good spot that was dry and a little ways away from the walking paths. It wouldn’t do to pitch our hot chocolate picnic in the middle of the path.
As soon as we put down our backpacks, my girls went crazy with the hot chocolate activity. I had laid it all out on a placemat so that little jars wouldn’t topple and they had a lot of fun mixing this and adding that.
This is my cup: 2 Tbsp of hot chocolate mix, hot water, a pinch of cinnamon and sparkling sugar for the festive feel.
This is my 10-year old’s cup: 3 Tbsp of hot chocolate mix, 1 Tbsp powdered milk, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, whipped cream, sprinkles.
And my 12-year old’s cup, Little Miss Candy Cane: 3 Tbsp hot chocolate mix, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 candy cane broken to pieces inside the cup, hot water, whipped cream, mini meringues, sprinkles and another candy cane.
Now, you try it!