Crock Pot Cocktail: Pumpkin Spiked Hot Cocoa

Per usual with Virginia weather, the seasons changed overnight. On Sunday I was slathered in sunblock on the James River, and two days later, I'm enthusiastically hoping a sweater still fits. And it feels wonderful! Not just the fact that the sweater fit. I'm talking about all of it. The crisp, clean air, the cozy throw blankets, the smell of wood smoke. Sigh.

The latest online cooking class from Ladles and Linens got me even more in the spirit. Sweet, sweet Sarah made Hot Coconut Milk Punch (pictured below). For anyone who hasn't joined the party, these cooking classes on Facebook are free - one of the silver linings of COVID-19. 

spiked coconut punch

While we're all feeling warm and fuzzy, I'd love to share a crock pot cocktail recipe. Pumpkin Spiked Hot Cocoa! It's creamy and delicious, and when made in a crock pot, a real crowd-pleaser. I'm a big fan of ready-made cocktails for guests. In the summer they're in iced pitchers and when it's cold out: the crock pot. No muss, no fuss, and more time to relax.

Note: If you are hosting underage visitors or non-drinkers, skip the vodka and this is good to go! 

What you'll need:

  • 2 cups heavy cream


  • Put the slow cooker on low
  • Mix in all the ingredients (except the chocolate chips)
  • Whisk until smooth, then add in the chocolate chips
  • Cook on low for at least 2 hours, until the chocolate chips are fully melted
  • Whisk again and serve with marshmallows or whipped cream dusted with pumpkin pie spice

Enjoy! As evidenced by the below photo, my sister (pictured right) and I really get into the autumn spirit. Bonfires, hayrides, the whole bit. I can confirm that a simmering crock pot of goodness was responsible for the bottom two photos!




The Great Pumpkin Spice Debate

Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice is here to stay. What started as a seasonal treat from Starbucks has turned into a market-driven phenomenon. From benign products like pumpkin spice candles and pancakes, to the extreme, such as pumpkin-spiced Spam, facials and deodorant, it's everywhere. 

Years ago, an astute food writer mentioned that pumpkin itself isn't a very tasty vegetable. In fact, it isn't used in many recipes as is. The mild flavor is dominated by cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, then baked into pies.

But I'm not sure that even matters to pumpkin spice fanatics. Because for many, it's more than a novelty latte at the coffee shop. It means an end to humidity and the unending bikini selfies on Instagram. It means cool nights by a bonfire, apple picking, cashmere sweaters and changing leaves. What began as a flavor has become an idea.

Besides, what's Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? It's also a great source of beta-carotene, fiber and vitamins B, C and E. And if a burning pumpkin spice candle doesn't make you feel a little warm and fuzzy, it's an economically-sound way to gage whether or not you're dead inside. 


Packing the Ultimate Picnic

It's August, but you wouldn't know it if you were out shopping. I ran into Halloween displays at Michael's on the last day of July. Blink, and it will be pumpkin spice everything. But I'm holding on while we still have August. Soak it up, or you'll think back on time wasted once January hits. And what better way to revel in summer than with a picnic? 

A picnic forces us to slow down, be in the moment and delight our senses. Realistically, you'll only do it once, so you may as well make it amazing. 

We need to talk about fried chicken. I love it like Garfield loves lasagna, but cannot understand why it's a picnic staple. By the time you drive to your destination, walk to a shady spot and unpack, the condensation turns the crispy skin soggy. Then there's the bones. Unlike compostable things such as banana peels and apple cores, chicken bones can be dangerous if found by dogs - even fatal. So I'd like to plead my case for sandwiches. They can be enjoyed at room temperature and don't leave behind a trace. Clearly I have an issue with sogginess,  so if it's plain bread be sure to toast it. But why not go for a crusty french roll, or baguette? No toasting needed, and heavenly. Some fun combos:

  • Roasted red pepper, goat cheese and roasted chicken
  • Smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, onion and tomato
  • Hummus, marinated artichokes, queso fresco and alfalfa sprouts
  • Pancetta, provolone, arugula and sun-dried tomatoes
  • Classic bologna, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise - it will take you right back to your childhood!

As for fruit, enjoy seasonal treats that won't be here for long. Watermelon slices, bing cherries and cantaloupe. And no need to carry around the pits and rinds. Toss them into the woods (off the trail) to delight the bugs and feed the trees. 

If you're feeling really festive, bring mason jars of homemade sangria loaded up with seasonal fruits. It beats a plain bottle of wine!

You have to have a salty side, and I'd never scoff at good old fashioned potato chips. They're lightweight, don't require utensils and can add a crunch to your sandwiches! If you want to go healthier, there's always crudites and dip.

And of course, you need a little something sweet. I'm a fan of avoiding utensils to keep the packing simple. If you want to go for the all-American slice of pie, make a batch of hand-held pies. Otherwise, chocolate-covered strawberries are decadent, and cookies are a cinch. Since this is the ultimate picnic though, go for something out of the ordinary, like chocolate orange whoopie pies, or oatmeal cookie pies!

Make sure to keep things extra cozy with cloth napkins, an oversize blanket and real dishes. Keep things safe from summer heat with a sweat-free ice pack. If your picnic basket doesn't have something to secure your plates, stack cloth napkins between them or buy melamine plates. Gorgeous, and indestructible! This way, you create less waste while making this picnic feel extra decadent.

Now, go enjoy the last of summer before the pumpkin spice takeover!