Monday, September 10, 2012

Hot Cocoa and Conversation with Friends

It is hot cocoa season 2012, and after a long respite, Valerie's Vignettes is waxing nostalgic about, what else? Hot Chocolate! This time 'round, the conversation is expanded to include a little help from my friends, The Cocoa Chronicles' guest contributors.  
Anthony Rainone is an established writer of mystery and other genres of fiction.  His vignette is a memoir of sorts, a nod to his youth, his mom and of course, hot cocoa.


A Cocoa Chronicle Vignette -- by Anthony Rainone

One of my earliest memories of hot cocoa is a happy consequence.  In the winter, my mother would make me and my siblings hot cocoa by shaving bittersweet chocolate into heated milk and then adding sugar to taste.  On the day of my sixth birthday – a cold January afternoon, my older sister met me at the school bus stop to walk me home.  She told me that a package had come in the mail for me. While a birthday card from a relative wouldn’t be surprising, a package was downright intriguing.  Who sent me something?  Our house was only two blocks from the bus stop, but the anticipation made it seem like miles!  I raced into the kitchen and there on the table was a brown paper wrapped box.  I tore through the wrappings and discovered inside a big red boat with white sails.  Man, it was a thing of beauty.  Unbeknown to me, my mother had noticed an offer on the chocolate label for a red boat.  My mother sent in the label.  Fate added its own peculiar twist to deliver that boat on a special day.  Maybe best of all: in the hold was a packet of cocoa!  The boat is long gone and so is my mother.  But that memory will stay with me forever, especially on those winter days when I have a cup of hot cocoa.

-- Anthony Rainone is a novelist and screenwriter.


Anne Shisler Hughes is a freelance writer and cultural journalist, covering art, design and history as well as food for Edible Queens,, and Fruit of the Forest. 

"Le Chocolat Chaud," a Cocoa Chronicle Vignette -- by Anne Shisler Hughes 

What do Americans call breakfast?  It’d be great if each of us could muster up something involving protein, even better if that plate could be served hot.  Or if we could attain a humble bowl involving truly untouched whole grains, wholesome dairy, or a piece of fruit.  But I’m willing to bet that most of our country – both for the sake of the limited early-morning palate and for that of the early-morning rush – go with a combination of bread and sweets. 

While those enormous boxes of cereal with their dusty stream of sugary bites is perhaps okay for filling the insatiable bellies of teenage boys, none of the rest of us can really pull it off.  But hear this, America, for all of our excess and highly-processed habits:  the French have no business scoffing at us – their petit déjeuner is simply one big chocolate fix, with pains au chocolat and endless chocolate spreads and especially, especially, chocolat chaud, the precious morning bowl of hot chocolate. 

So eager are they to consume this stewy delectable that they can’t even be bothered with handles on cups.  The sweet stuff is served in not-terribly-small bowls that are gingerly lifted with both sets of fingers and sipped accordingly. 

I’ll give the French this – there is a proper way to prepare chocolat chaud.  Start by heating milk in a saucepan, add in small pieces of bittersweet chocolate, stirring as they melt, let boil for a few minutes and, if desired, add a little light brown sugar.  It’s rich and creamy and is the perfect anecdote for day-old, crumbly baguette. 

The French are busy, too, and they occasionally purchase readymade varieties. Nearly all of the great chocolate shops make and sell their own specialties of the house in cans: Maxim’s, Angelina’s, Chapon, MarieBelle, and Pierre Herme.  There are also many brands available in grocery stores such as Poulain Grand Arome, Monbana, Le Gamin et le Chocolat, and many others.  Demand for a morning treat as beloved as this must be met from as many different angles as possible.  

If you make your own chocolat chaud from scratch or purchase it to prepare on the fly, don’t be afraid to dive right in - sip at it, soak pieces of bread in it, waft in the aroma.  The French do it.

-- Read more of Anne Shisler Hughes' musings at her blog:    


Gerry Wendel lives in Southern California, and is the Founder/Owner of 2 businesses, ModlandUSA (a marketing consultancy) and Groovy Reflections (specializing in one-of-a-kind hand tie-dyed t-shirts). Her writing ranges from nostalgic and pop culture pieces to tips on social media, market research, and branding.

"Hot Chocolate on Ice," a Cocoa Chronicle Vignette -- by Gerry Wendel

How lucky was I as a kid to have my very own, almost private, ice skating rink?

An asphalt basketball court that saw little use was located right behind the town firehouse. During the cold New Jersey winters, the firemen, including my Uncle, would take turns squirting a fresh coat of water on the existing ice. The newly smoothed surface was ready for another evening of skating!

Several nights a week I’d make that eight minute walk to the rink, thermos in hand and skates dangling from my shoulder using the laces as purse straps.

Sometimes a friend or two would be there. It didn’t matter. I was there to skate! Upon arrival, if it wasn’t already on, I’d flip the switch that would flood the court in fluorescent light; you didn’t think I was skating in the dark, did you? Seated on the bench, I’d shed the fur lined rubber boots and switch to skates, removing the plastic blade protectors moments before hitting the ice. My thermos stood proudly on the bench, keeping that all important hot chocolate ready to warm me with piping hot liquid.

No instant hot cocoa here! Warmed milk over the stove, a few tablespoons of Nestlé’s Quick, and lots of stirring with a wooden spoon created that delicious elixir.

Time to skate! For some odd reason I enjoy skating backwards most of all. I was able to fly backwards at lightning speed. For what purpose? Who knows? Guess it was a challenge.

Break time! A little hot chocolate; sometimes shared with friends.

Back to the ice. Go home? Fuggetaboutit!

Sometimes my dad would come and pick me up.

Good night, skating rink! Until tomorrow…

Oops. Wait dad! Go back! I need to turn off the light.

-- Visit Gerry Wendel's blogs: and


Leslie Fields-Cruz is a storyteller whose preferred media are stage, film, and television, particularily public television. 

"TV Time and Hot Cocoa," A Cocoa Chronicle Vignette -- by Leslie Fields-Cruz

When I was a little girl I remember winter evenings in California, sitting on the couch with my siblings drinking a cup of hot cocoa and watching TV. For a kid who loved chocolate as much as she loved watching television, TV time and Hot Cocoa was truly a treat.  
But the activity of watching TV has changed so much since then. My parents placed several restrictions on our viewing time (no TV until homework and chores were complete, or, no TV programs with strong sexual innuendos like SOAP or Love American Style), and we only had about five or six channels to choose from back then, appointment-viewing TV was one of my favorite things to do.  Nowadays, with the ability to watch programs on any and every device invented since the turn of the century, I wonder if there’s something that we’re missing from the very act of appointment viewing.
Perhaps I miss the way in which appointment viewing taught siblings how to get along. Many of my big brother and my verbal fights were around who controlled the TV dial.
“I sat down first!” I'd say.  “So!" He'd counter, "you already watched your program, now it’s my turn.”
Other times, he'd bark, “I said MOVE! I can’t see!" Or even: "I’m still WATCHING that!"
Which always drew the inevitible response: "I’m telling, MOM!”
Although we had different tastes, I learned to appreciate science fiction (Star Trek, Twilight), and superhero cartoons (Justice League), as much as he learned to appreciate old movies (Casablanca), musicals (Singing in the Rain), and insipidly stupid sit-coms (The Brady Bunch).
We agreed on another thing, too: we both liked hot cocoa. Nowadays, there are few disagreements my brother and I can’t resolve. More, I still enjoy appointment TV-viewing whether it is done on a Saturday morning via laptop, while on a train rushing towards the city with a smartphone, or curled up in an easy chair with an IPAD. 
But most of all, now married with children of my own, I still like my cup of hot cocoa sitting on the couch with my family, watching TV on a cold winter’s night.

-- Leslie Fields-Cruz is Vice President of  Operations & Programs for National Black Programing Consortiam in New York. Check out some of her favorite tales on, "AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange" streaming at, or the WORLD Channel, at -- hot cocoa and couch, sold separately.