Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hot, Hot Cocoa, Everywhere!

It's been a sinfully sweet few weeks and months through which I have sipped, dipped and slurped. It seems hot chocolate is even more plentiful than I had first imagined, with iterations that are limited only by those doing the pouring. In private places and commercial spots, too, chocolate has been abundant.

When I'd headed out of JFK airport for my recent trip to California, a kiosk featuring Illy Italian Coffee products offered the special of the day, a "Zebra" Hot Chocolate that was concocted with milk and white chocolate hot cocoa, while a "Morocchio," hot chocolate with a shot of espresso and whipped cream, rounded out the menu.

Heading to the warmth, I thought the chocolate would pause, but even out and about in the Southern California sunshine, the warmth didn't stop the ubiquitous beverage, or me from indulging my sweet tooth.

At Jamba Juice, I found hot cocoa took a healthy spin, with soy. I didn't order it as such but found the subtle flavor twist one that kept me guessing what the secret spice could be. At first, I thought the splash of flavor was an unexpected splash of smoothie residue. Turns out, it was soy, and delicious.

Even at the home of Auntie Chrissy, who strangely, does not like chocolate -- how are we related again? -- we were treated to Keurig pods o' hot chocolate brewed barista style, in the signature, high tech and equally high-styled, espresso-press machine. Her cups were brewed with water, rather than milk, and noted a mellow sweetness which, like California itself, was refreshing and light.

Hot chocolate, the result of melted chocolate, and its cousin, hot cocoa, the marriage of cocoa powder and warmed milk or other liquid, are multi-generational crowd-pleasers that everyone from myself to my mother, a retiree, has testified to including on her "beverage of choice" line up. Our cases notwithstanding, it seems golden-agers with dietary restriction look to the chocolaty libation as a delectable treat still to be enjoyed despite lifestyles that increasingly include daily medications, different than over-the-counter drink offers with alcohol. Also, for those with diabetes, sugar-free hot chocolate, particularily if topped with equally sugarless creams, mallows or other toppings, is the perfect  indulgence.  And for those who don't "do" caffeine, by mandate or choice, variations of hot chocolate can be looked to as alternatives to coffees and often any similarily charged, caffeine-loaded, brewed teas.

It was fun to share a cup of cocoa -- instead of coffee -- during a visit with my mom. During the visit, she, my now 15-year-old little girl and I sat and gabbed, telling each other stories of the latest family what's up, high school gossip download, and community scuttle-butt.

Reminiscent and rich, Mom's hot chocolate of choice was a traditional cup of Swiss Miss made with whole milk, the same blend my daughter spiked, in her cup, with jumbo marshmallows. Old fashioned, and fun, I thought the choices were clearly those indicative of the purests they are. Their choices paired perfectly with conversation that was equally warm and up beat.

Now returned to the Eastern cold, after the visits to my native Southern California last week and its 80 degree weather, it is again flurrying, here, in the North. When will it end? Puxatauwney Phil, the sage groundhog with mystical powers of weather devination, recently promised Spring's arrival would come sooner rather than later. But whenever the season does arrive, it will still be too far off for this sun worshiper's druthers.

Meanwhile, and true to my goal at the start of the season, I am meeting Mother Nature's coldest and snowiest with chocolate. Today, thinking back and conjuring up the warmth of the people and places of a few weeks ago, I opted for a chocolate on chocolate, "triple chocolate suicide." That equals hot chocolate topped with chocolate whipped cream and sprinkled with chocolate shavings. Perhaps less creative than cups crafted on previous days, I took the less (ingredients) is more approach on this one. You'll feel like a kid again, slip-slurping the decadent, nearly saccharin-sweet delight.

Make the moment complete, and indulge your inner child. Consider this idea for a blistery northern winter day like today, or even a comfy Cali night. Curl up with a cups cocoa for yourself, others and kids. Then read a story to a child. If you don't have a favorite story of your own, consider one of these. With just a few cups and a book, you can create a new memory of life at its very sweetest.
  • "Good Night Moon", by Margaret Wise Brown;
  • "Glad Monster, Sad Monster", by Anne Miranda;
  • "Young Cornrows Callin' Out the Moon", by Ruth Forman;
  • "My Skin Is Brown", by Paula DeJoie; 
  • "The Snow Day", by Ezra Jack Keats;
  • "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", by Eric Carl; and
  • "95 Kilos of Hope", by Anna Gavalda.
Which book title would you add to this list?


(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

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