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SERVING UP THE SIMPLE TRADITIONS

One of my favorite books that has inspired and assisted me in getting through the holidays as a harried working mom is a small, easy-to-flip-through volume called "Little Things Long Remembered" by Susan Newman (Crown, $12.50).

Often just glancing at the title is enough to remind me that even if I can't manage to produce a perfect, elaborate, made-from-scratch feast this year, my children will not suffer. All they really need is my Desperation Hot Cocoa Mix, boiling water and a few minutes of my undivided attention.

Children love traditions, but as Ms. Newman reminds us in "Little Things," children don't require that traditions be difficult for their parents -- just that you repeat them every year. I found this out when my children were small and we celebrated St. Lucia's Day in the Swedish tradition with an elaborate breakfast in bed of homemade sticky buns and hot cocoa.

The next year, what did the children remember? Not the homemade yeast bread I slaved over. All they wanted to know was if we were going to drink hot chocolate in bed again this year.

Hot chocolate has become such a favorite treat that we usually serve it again on Christmas Eve during "family time" around the tree. Regardless of your family's way of celebrating the holidays, hot chocolate is sure to fit in. You can buy the powdered version from the store if you prefer, but we find that our slightly richer, homemade version is more appealing to adults. It's a snap to make, and more economical than the prepared version as well. The leftovers make great last-minute gifts when packaged in an attractive mug and tied with some cinnamon sticks.
HOT COCOA MIX

1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/3 cup non-fat dry milk powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine all of the ingredients in a 2-quart (or larger) plastic storage bowl that has a lid. Stir until thoroughly combined, then cover the bowl and shake vigorously to finish mixing.

To make cocoa, add 1/4 cup cocoa mix per 1 cup of hot water. Stir well and serve. Makes about 4 cups dry mix, or 16 servings of cocoa. Store in an air-tight container for up to 6 weeks.

Cook's note: For a festive touch, garnish the prepared cocoa with marshmallows, cinnamon sticks or whipped cream.

Approximate values per serving of cocoa (using Nutritionist IV software): 53 calories (29 percent from fat), 2 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 1 gram protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 16 milligrams sodium.

Send us desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; or e-mail: ddinnersaol.com

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