So, this blog hasn’t been getting a lot of love lately, though not for lack of interest. I’ve been compiling recipes and have a big project that I had planned to start this year that will hopefully debut shortly.
Right after I posted the last recipe – for peach cobbler – I received a text from my husband Robert: a picture of a little amigurumi cow. (Amigurumi is the Japanese art of knitting or crocheting small, stuffed yarn creatures.) The year before, he had completed his first children’s book, “Moo Thousand and Pun”, the story of Shakes the Cow and her adventures in space. I had been insisting that we needed toys to go along with it because I’ve always felt that a companion toy makes a book come alive for a child – it was certainly that way for me and has been for my daughter – and the character of Shakes *begged* to be a toy.
We’d been researching the toy business, and were quite disheartened by what we discovered: there are very few toy manufacturers in the US, and even they generally send the product to China for creation and at least partial assembly. There are companies in Canada, as well, but they also ship to China. And, seemingly, you pay through the nose no matter what the order: a friend of ours had toys manufactured in China, and had to pay $24,000 up front for a minimum of 6000 toys. You can place orders for much smaller amounts, but the price per item rises sharply. We also heard stories of excessive taxes and shipment tampering. With all of that knowledge, we tabled the idea.
And then, in April 2016, Robert found the amigurumi cow. In the text, he asked if I could make a Shakes like it, but bigger. Previously, when we thought of toys, we were both thinking of fleece plush. Neither one of us had considered a crocheted toy. I’ve crocheted for DECADES, but had never even considered venturing into toys, but as everyone knows I can’t back down from a challenge. I researched a few patterns, worked through design issues with my husband, and a week later, Shakes the Cow was born. “Big Shakes,” as she was quickly dubbed was soon followed by “Medium Shakes:”
Since then, Shakes has been joined by Stanley the Bear from my husband’s other children’s book series, The Bear From AUNT; Shakes’ and Stanley’s pal Percie the Penguin; my flying pig logo now named Chrys (short for Chryosaur); my new character Spicey the Radical Moose Lamb and her cousins; and my daughter’s character, the Mighty Hippofartamus. (All of those characters are available on our website, https://squareup.com/store/deansfamilyproductions.)
Our characters have also been joined by cosplay versions of themselves: A-Moo-zonian Warrior (WonderShakes), Wonder Pig, Pollock Shakes, and FrankenShakes and his Bride. (All specialty characters are available through Etsy, https://www.etsy.com/shop/dfphandmade):
Even more surprising to me was the fact that as people discovered that I was making our toys, the requests to make THEIR toys as well started rolling in and a small toy business was born! As of right now, I’m fulfilling several contracts for manufactured toys, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. That’s okay, though: I like the idea of becoming a provider of small-batch toy orders for reasonable prices to help creators bring their characters to life.
SO, that’s a long explanation for where I’ve been for over 18 months. However, food has never been far from my mind, particularly since I eat it every day. 😀 The challenge was in finding time to get back to it, and finding the right first recipe to post. And then it came to me: French Vanilla Chocolate Mix. It’s been nippy in the mornings lately, and my daughter and I decimated our previous stock. I also need a place to keep this recipe because I cannot keep track of it otherwise!
A couple of years ago, I gave my daughter an assorted gift pack of hot chocolate mix for Christmas. Of all of the flavors, the French vanilla was her favorite. She made it last as long as she could and when it came time to replenish it, we couldn’t find it anywhere. Apparently, it’s only available for Christmas. Well, we’re not waiting until Christmas to restock, so I made my own.
Just a couple of quick notes: you can make this regular hot chocolate mix by leaving out the vanilla-flavored creamer. You can also reduce the amount of powdered sugar – I like it a little sweeter – but that is entirely up to your taste. The texture won’t be affected at all.
You really do need to stir this mix to make sure it is well-combined. I’ve tried just shaking it, but that doesn’t get rid of clumps of ingredients.
This stuff also lasts FOR-EV-ER. I won’t presume to estimate how long, but all of the ingredients are shelf-stable. I’ve had big batches of this last nearly a year with no problem as long as it’s kept in an air-tight container. It also makes a great easy, inexpensive gift.
French Vanilla Hot Chocolate Mix
1½ cups confectioner’s sugar
½ cup Dutch-process cocoa
2 cups non-fat powdered milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vanilla-flavored non-dairy powdered creamer
Combine ingredients in large bowl or container. Store in an air-tight container.
To serve, measure milk into as many mugs as you need, then pour into the pan. (You can use water, but I prefer milk.) Add 3 tablespoons of the mix for each mug of milk and whisk until combined. Heat mixture until warm. Pour back into mugs and top with marshmallows.