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School started last Wednesday. I bought my kids each a pair of Converse All-Stars, mostly as a bribe so my younger two wouldn’t complain about the uniforms this year, and also in a gesture of celebration. I loved going back to school when I was little, and I wanted the new shoes to help them get excited, too. The first day of school is, after all, the best day of the year, and they should get to be at least half as thrilled as I am.

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After we had our breakfast of Peach and Raspberry French Toast (the recipe will be in the cookbook next year), took pictures on the front porch, and I dropped them off at school, I called my mom. I heaved a they’re-finally-back-in-school sigh. She gave me an empathetic cheer, and then reminded me she always used to spend the first day of school crying.

Perfect.

She back-tracked of course, telling me I have it harder (I’m a single mom), and I have a crazier life (I work), yadda, yadda, yadda. Whatever, she was just a better mom. I know it.

Despite my mom’s reluctance to have us back in school, she always made an effort to make the back to school time a happy transition, whether it was spending more money than she could afford on new clothes so we would fit in with our classmates, or setting up a homework table after school with mini Snickers and Milky Way bars as rewards for getting our work done.

It felt really good this year to take a page from her book, especially after such a hectic summer—with two moves and not a lot of extra resources for fun. Our morning with the pictures and the French toast was exactly what our family needed. After my mostly peaceful day in solitude (except for the trip to the doctor to get one last shot for my first grader—you can see his sticker for bravery and his Band-Aid for a muffed finger prick in the picture), I followed our morning up with some after school malted chocolate milk.

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What kinds of things does your family do for back to school?

malted chocolate milk

2 cups milk, plus more for ice cubes
3 tablespoons chocolate syrup (recipe follows)
6 tablespoons malt powder (available in the grocery store by the chocolate milk mix, usually)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Fill an ice cube tray with milk and freeze overnight. Pop the milk ice cubes from their tray (run the bottom of the mold under warm water for a second or two if necessary), and place in the bottom of a blender. Add in remaining ingredients and blend until frothy. Serve immediately.

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chocolate syrup

1 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup water
1 cup cocoa powder
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Whisk agave nectar, water, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to a mild simmer and cook for a 2-3 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool completely, place in a jar or bottle and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

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