Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hot Chocolate in the Limelight

Tonight's hot chocolate was a luscious bite of decadent, nostalgic indulgence that turned up at 47 W. 20th Street in Manhattan's Flatiron District. Once a throbbing, pulsating and iconic disco-tech beating in the heart of a gothic church, the Limelight has again re-made itself, turning the sacred into yet another iteration of the profane.

Ostensibly blaspheming hallowed ground, the space, once a place of worship, has been transformed into Limelight Marketplace, in bold but lively and irreverent challenge to John 2:16.

A host of vendors line the walls of the multi-levels of the space, peddling their wares of bejeweled baubles, scented soaps, savory nibbles and sugary-sweet desserts. Nary a dove, drag queen or outrĂ© night creature of yester-year was to be found on this evening in the place which seemed to be thriving, clearly skewed for a newer, younger clientele of nocturnal monster -- ala  Gaga, Kanye, and Minaj -- with an insatiable penchant for things sweet.

Clean and pristine, the locale's blasphemous sub-text didn't even occurred to me until after I had left, thrilled at my latest chocolate find. It was on the second floor of the building, on the wall opposite a stained glass, rose window. Tucked in the far back corner at a stand-up bar was featured some of the most deeply rich and indulgent sweet treats to be found this side of heaven, or perhaps, in this case, "H – E – double-toothpicks."

Ruby et Violette is probably better known for its dizzying array of cookies, in flavors which I was told count in the hundreds, brownies, and frozen, cookie-dough-spiked creams. But it was the hot chocolate and drinking chocolate, two unnaturally rich, warm beverages that ranked in my book.

I started with a tasting. The hot chocolate was first. Smooth and velvety in texture, it was noteworthy. Then, however, I tried the drinking chocolate. The woman at the counter likened it to a candy bar you can drink. In one sip, though, I knew differently. Within an instant of sipping it, I felt as if I were again in Madrid, in the after-hours cafes where people by the dozens wait in lines to gnosh on "churros and chocolate" in the early morning hours before day break.

Now, standing squarely in Manhattan, at the marbled counter-top, the thick-as-pudding elixir coated my palate, and saturated my taste buds with memory of heady nights spent dancing until dawn, partying through the streets, enjoying the seemingly endless "marcha" of cosmopolitan Europe.

Made giddy with memory as much as the flavor of a rediscovered treasure, I searched the counter space for hot chocolate's perfect compliment – a crispy, light, freshly fried churro. None was to be found. Instead, rich cookies and assaultingly sweet creams were all around.

With that first sip still reverberating through my senses, churros, and only churros would do. I tried to remember when I had last had one. Suddenly, nearly spontaneously, I bust into laughter as a vague vision of French-blue pinstripes gave way to the mental image of the couch in my old home on which I lay awaiting homemade churros, and for my contractions to pass while fully engaged in labor, on the day gave birth to my now 15-year-old daughter. I laughed out loud.

Bearing through contractions still too far apart, I had been told by my ob/gyn to wait a bit longer before heading, with my then husband, to the hospital. Making churros had been the diversion concocted to pass the time.

The recollection of the day leading to my child's birthday was as clear and vivid as the crescendoing flavor of chocolate. It was then when it occurred to me, too, that it must have been in January, about this time of year, so many moons ago, that she, whose birthday is in October, was conceived. The realization was a moment I savored. It was good.

I purchased a serving of the beverage to go, as it was late in the evening. It came in a demitasse-sized paper cup, 3/4 full, appropriate for the drink's potency.

To satiate my visual appetite, I also bought a ½ cup sized, Rainbow Wood Bowl that dressed up the luscious treat. Among the top selling gifts from the holiday season past, according to the shopkeep, the repurposed houseware proved a wonderful vessel, with warm, earthy tones and texture that complimented the same qualities of the drink.

Ultimately, a biscotti stood in for a churro. The Italian dipping cookie did well, robust enough to hold up to the viscosity and flavor of the chocolate. Could it be an otherworldly hint?

I dipped, sipped and wondered, passing through the snowy shouldered streets of New York City, winding my way to and over the George Washington Bridge toward home, my heart warmed with hope, by memories and chocolate.

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

Footnote: Per the bible text of  John 2:16, and when the passage is read literally, a church that was used as a marketplace, would be considered blasphemous. However, I would put forth that once a structure, previously used for worship, is no longer actively used as "a place where two or more gather to worship the Lord." Such a structure would no longer be considered a church and therefore the activities carried out therein, neither would be blasphemous.
Moreever, the suggestion that a group would endeavor to be so bold, is noteworthy and a very strong marketing device, which as in its hayday as again today, resounds and draws interest,  particularily among those aware if the scritpural passage. This arguement is a theologically distinction. From a communications and language point of view, the use of the words "quite literally" are just that, meant to highlight the textual contradiction, driving the characterization as blasphemous. The contradiction and tension are also what make the Limelight Marketplace so intriguing from a consumer marketing perspective. Last, in practical terms the distinction between the literal -- in this instance could be liked to a de jure reading -- should be juxtaposed with a de facto interpretation, in which practical matters must be taken into consideration when attributing meaning. As such, the phrase ends by simply alluding to the biblical challenge which is ostensibly, the very point of tension that makes the venue and its approach to marketing fresh, new, and of interest.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hot Chocolate -- My Perfect Cup of Tea

It snowed again today, about 6 inches of the fluffiest, powdery-est, wet snow to blanket the area in a whole week. Co-workers and I had speculated days before it actually fell about whether or not we'd have a snow day.  Now me, a non-native to the snow, and unsure of how heavy the "weather event" would be or last, I decided to stock up on essentials. Food, water, milk, and … chocolate!

Trader Joe's European Sipping Chocolate
Feeling less gourmet and more in a survival mode, my choices skewed to the tried and true: Trader Joe's European Sipping chocolate. Now this stuff isn't a slouch in the category, albeit of the powdered variety. Especially when prepared according to the directions, the liquid love has a dense, rich flavor that is smooth in texture, with a slight bittersweet hint at the end.  It's just the stuff to take the edge off of a sweet-tooth bent on being satisfied, or as a substitute for your winter morning cup-a-joe.

Hershey's Cocoa
Also in the crowd of tried and true that I sipped, instead of eating a heavy dessert, was a ladylike cup of Hershey's hot chocolate. Even more of a classic, this stuff is a bit more labor intensive, when following the directions.

Two teaspoons of sugar are meant to match up with one of 100% cocoa in the cup or mug of your choice, and then stirred, with a dash of salt, into smooth syrup, to which a cup of milk is poured and heated. Delicious!

Now, I added a third spoon of cocoa and will probably opt for kosher salt next time, but think it is this recipe, or perhaps in its liquid, less chalky-finishing form, that will prove a great base for experimentation.

Years ago I realized I am a visual eater, one for whom the way in which food is presented can be filling and is as much a part of the meal as the food itself.  And so, part of this chocolate adventure will be the exploration of cups, mugs and ways in which this beverage is served.  The cup and saucer featured here, like the chocolates discussed, is a basic, standard-sized, white china, Corning teacup set.

Hot cocoa. Yeah, that's my perfect cup of tea.

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

I Love Hot Chocolate! -- a Strategy for Winter 2011

by Valerie Williams-Sanchez on Monday, January 10, 2011 at 12:32am

I love hot chocolate! Salted caramel hot coco macchiato, European sipping, or old fashion Americana with 'mallows or whipped cream; I love 'em all. During my daughter's trip here to the East Coast during the Christmas holiday, I was reminded of just how much on our visit to Dylan's Candy Bar.

Now that winter and snow season in New Jersey and New York is squarely upon us, hot chocolate has moved into the top spot for my drink of choice. To make this winter more beararble for me, a So. Cali. native, I plan to get creative with hot chocolate through the winter months, posting findings, photos and recipes of my adventures with hot chocolate.

And this won't just be for kids. Getting back to chocolate's "spirited roots" as described in this historical overview by CusineNet, you can read about hot chocolate's roots and look for suggestions for homemade varietals as well as grown-up versions of this delicious beverage including liquors, cordials and other spirits, too, in later posts.

With such exotic origins, it is no wonder that chocolate is synonomous with exploration and creativity. So, of course, feel free to add to the mix by posting your favorite on the wall.

Winter is looking better already!


A Very Brief History of Hot Chocolate
An excerpt from

Before the British firm of Fry & Sons figured out how to make it into a candy bar in 1847, chocolate had been drunk as a beverage for thousands of years. Chocolate was first brought to Europe by Cortes, who toasted Montezuma with a golden goblet full of the Aztecs' favorite libation before betraying and murdering their proud emperor. However, it seems that the Spaniard liked Montezuma's refreshment almost as much as he liked the golden mugs it was served in. Along with pillaged precious metals and gems, Cortes brought chocolate back to Spain, where the court of King Charles V quickly adopted it. The elite drank their chocolate boiled in wine, heavily spiced and sweetened, and served in deep, straight-sided cups for breakfast. For centuries, Spain had a monopoly on this new elixir, but eventually the secret leaked out into the golden cups of all European monarchs, who began planting cocoa plantations wherever an area of fertile soil and the right climate could be colonized.
Chocolate remained all the rage until the industrial revolution brought forth a less decadent, business-oriented atmosphere, which was more suited to the stimulations of tea and coffee. The mid-nineteenth century saw the innovation of cocoa powder (developed in Holland, hence the term Dutch-processed), which was much less rich and more soluble than chocolate. With it, the drink was relegated to the nursery, since it was digestible enough for children, and nourishing as well.

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

Friday, January 7, 2011

About My Diploma...a repost in response to an article from the Village Voice.

(Previously titled: About that Diploma and the Media in Which It's Printed,
by Valerie Williams-Sanchez on Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 8:40pm)

Whew, thanks! I needed to read the Village Voice article: Columbia Journalism School Is Worth Time and Money Even Though It Won't Make You Rich; There, I Said It, (

Yes, classes began anew for J-school initiates yesterday, a realization that took me back some 17 years to my first days at the school.
Since that time, my so-called "journalism career" hasn't emerged into even an abstract impressionist version of what I envisioned back then, seated, raptly listening to stalwarts of the journalism industry in the World Room.
Newsroom cut-backs, lay-offs, the internet and well, life, have complicated things for me in ways I never could have dreamed or anticipated. But also over the same decade-and-a-half, there have been other lessons, key learnings, and hope.
Probably the biggest coup my degree has enabled in recent years, though, was paying-off all the debt associated with the Master of Science degree, by myself.
My parents didn't pay for it. My now ex-husband didn't pay for it — not even by way of any sort of alimony payment from my divorce. Neither was I, or am I currently, independently wealthy. I didn't have a trust fund to pick up the tab (though, had I, I would not have been adverse to using it).
Financial aid may have provided the up front money, but I have repaid that debt and its accompanying interest, in full.
The seemingly Sisyphean effort it took taught me a host of life lessons and called on many if not all of my reporter's skills. It also provided another layer of resonance to a former professor's most quotable quotes. Professor David Krajicek frequently told us during our RW1 meetings: "If you can do print, you can do anything."
Surprisingly, it is this financial lesson and accomplishment that was for me one of the program's most grueling. But in learning and mastering it, I, a print journalist, have developed a new found respect for the craft and one particular piece of printed media, my diploma.


(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez