Monday, January 9, 2012

Hot Cocoa Bar

Today marks one week of success with my Stopping Spree!  I know that one week isn't much to brag about, but it does give me some motivation for the remaining 51 weeks.  My readers motivate me, too.  Thank you for sending me emails, texts, and Facebook messages with your feedback and post ideas.  I genuinely value your support! 

In January of 2011, a few of my teaching pals and I started what we called Project Life Club.  We met about once a month to work on our Project Life albums or family blogs.  Over the last year, I’ve grown much closer to this group of girls, and I feel so lucky to work with such positive, kind, and FUNNY ladies. 

Hot Cocoa Bars are pretty trendy right now, so after selecting that as my theme, it was easy to collect ideas.  Naturally, I turned to my BFF for inspiration.  Have you met Pinterest yet?  We crossed paths in July, and we have been inseparable ever since.      

*Disclaimer: This is a Pinterest-heavy post.  If you have an aversion to the greatest idea sharing system ever created, you probably won’t find all my pinteresting very interesting. 

Ok, now for the party details!


I made these cookies from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe.  Here's the link to BHG, where the recipe originated.  They're called White Chocolate Cherry Shortbread cookies - and this is what they're supposed to look like.  Study this picture carefully before you move on.

Apparently, the best Christmas cookie ever.  Cookie exchange girls raved!  

On Pinterest, they were nicknamed “the best Christmas cookie ever.” It’s not Christmas anymore, but I’m always up to try any cookie boasting a reputation as “the best.”
They looked promising all balled up, but everything started going downhill after that.  First of all, the “flatten the balls with the back of a glass dipped in sugar” thing was an epic fail.  When I tried to flatten them, they crumbled into pieces - and the sugar wasn’t sticking to the glass or the cookie.  So I sorta smashed them down with my hands, reshaped them into a circle, and rubbed some sugar on top.

I thought the cookies would improve once they were in the oven.  Um, not so much.  They never flattened or melted right.  Sad day.

The important thing is that they tasted great; they just looked homely (at least compared to the photo in the recipe).  At this point, I was OVER the cookies, so I didn't even bother to dip them in white chocolate.

In hindsight, the directions said to use baker’s white chocolate, finely chopped.  At the grocery store, I found white chocolate chips and thought, “Total score!  Now I don’t have to chop any chocolate!”  But I think that was the problem.  The chips were just too big and didn’t melt into the cookie.

Anyway, my ever-courteous friends all said the cookies were delicious, and it’s the thought that counts, right?

I also served crackers, cheese, grapes, and carrots…and of course, hot cocoa for dessert!

Hot Cocoa
The hot cocoa was fab!  Zero complaints.  Check out the recipe here

I used small, galvanized pots to hold different hot cocoa toppings.  These little pots are serious multi-taskers.  I use them in the spring for starting seeds and in the summer for planting herbs.  And now, they get to add “serving dish” to their resume.  I offered: marshmallows, Andes mints, peppermint Hershey Kisses, whipped cream, candy canes, and sprinkles.  Basically, I used up all my leftover Christmas candy (savvy money saving!).


I went with a red and white theme because I have an impressive stash of red and white stuff.  I know that in January, lots of people take a break from red (after all January is wedged between Christmas and Valentine’s Day – both red-loving holidays).  But red is one of my favorite colors, and I never tire of it.  The photo below is dark, but you can get a general idea of the Cocoa Bar set-up on our kitchen island.

I already owned all the decorations.  I bought the paper lanterns at Target in November. You’ll likely see them featured on this blog again on Valentine’s Day.  And 4th of July.  And Christmas.


I saw these chalkboard mugs on Pinterest and was like, “Those would be perfect!” 

Pinned Image

I was jazzed because plain white mugs and chalkboard paint are both things I already own.  On Saturday morning, I read the directions only to find that you don’t use normal chalkboard paint for this mug project.  You have to use special ceramic chalkboard paint.  Being that I’m on a Stopping Spree, I can’t buy that special paint…but just in case you’re wondering, the ceramic paint is backordered on Amazon until late February. (Apparently, half of America thought, “Those mugs would be perfect!”)

So…Plan B?  I cut some 1-inch strips of red/white polka dot paper, looped the strips around the mugs, and attached the ends with glue.  Super simple, FREE, and I think they added some cheer to plain mugs.

Goodie Bags
I dipped plastic spoons in two kinds of chocolate and topped them with sprinkles.  It was such an easy process that I’m pretty sure that I’ll be making them again this year. 
(Oops.  I may have just spoiled your Christmas surprise.) 

I used both milk and white chocolate.

Then I put them in the refrigerator to harden the chocolate before sliding them into plastic bags with cute red twist-ties.

Later I slipped the spoon sets into the most adorable paper bags.  Kraft paper and polka dots…TOGETHER?!  Dreamy.  And hard to part with.  Really hard. 

But guess what?!  After all that,  I FORGOT TO GIVE OUT THE DANG GOODIE BAGS!!

I'll confess that my first thought when I found the undistributed bags was, “It’s a sign!  I’m supposed to save the polka dot bags for something else!”
But then I had a short talk with myself about how it’s OK to use the things I love.  In fact, one might even say it’s ideal to use the things I love…that is why I bought them, after all.  In the end, I decided that I would just bring the goodie bags to school for my friends.  Crisis averted. 


Here's a photo of us chatting and sipping on cocoa. 

And of course, what gathering is complete without the obligatory tripod/self-timer shot?  (Or is that just at my house?)  From left to right: Me, Anna, Kelly, Stephanie, Becky, and Hailey.
I can’t leave out our tiniest guests of honor.  Kelly and Becky each had a baby last month, and this was my first chance to meet the cherubs.

Say hello to beautiful Molly.
And don’t forget handsome Coen.


Biggest "a-ha" moment?  Not being allowed to buy any supplies for the party actually made the event easier!  Rather than get bogged down trying to find the perfect paper cups, I knew I had to work with what I already owned.  I considered that in advance when choosing my theme and décor.

I was especially pleased with my mug intervention.  Usually when something doesn’t go the way I want it to, I get discouraged and abandon the entire project.  Although I didn’t get to do the chalkboard mugs of my dreams, I came up a simple solution– plus it’s something I can emulate for other holidays or themes, using different paper.  I know it’s not that creative (paper strips around cups…woopidy woo), but I still felt good about it.

For those of you who are curious, the budget breakdown went like this:
All dishes/decorations – FREE
All goodie bag supplies – FREE
Food items - $38.48 (out of my monthly grocery allowance)

So…TOTAL cost of Hot Cocoa Bar = $38.48

A Stopping Spree purist might argue that I spent unnecessary money out my grocery budget. 

While it’s true that I’m trying to eliminate debt, I’m also trying to alter behaviors that got me into debt.  Last year, I would have bought all new things for the Cocoa Bar - colorful mugs, table cloths, candles, etc.  Hosting a small party while on my Stopping Spree forced me to use what I already owned – one of my goals for the year.  I also want to prove to myself that it is possible to stay social while restricting spending. 

Plus, my grocery budget is for food...and that's what I bought.  Spending $38 on food for the Cocoa Bar just means that I have $38 less to spend on other groceries.  Honestly, I've been known to eat Cheetos for dinner some nights, so I'm probably not going to miss the $38 too much.   

Cheers to that! 

(Did anyone else notice I'm somehow missing an entire ARM in this picture?!  Note to self: Watch more Top Model.  Learn from Tyra how to pose without a missing appendage).


  1. LOVED the hot cocoa bar! It was such a creative, affordable idea for hanging out with good friends. :)

  2. I had so much fun, and everything was super festive! And I'm glad you parted with the goodie bags--they are great!!

  3. Thanks again for having us over! What a fun day and great excuse to get together.

  4. Well if that isn't an amazing bunch of young ladies! You all look great and I miss you bunches!