Hot Chocolate: Best of Childhood in a Cup


My parents were inspired by the magical tale of Peter Pan, or so my Mom says, when they named me Wendy. They thought the name, ushered into greater popularity by author J.M. Barrie in 1904, held a sweetness and uniqueness of its own special enough to stand alone, and so they didn't bother to come up with a middle name. They didn't anticipate the intense "left out" feeling I'd develop when forced to admit my middle name was "nothing"; or my ensuing falsehood at school, when I registered myself as "Wendy Elizabeth", eventually having to re-register with the state of Connecticut, and moreover be re-baptized. They also didn't intend for me to acquire the persistent wanderlust associated with the name Wendy, nor the Peter Pan complex I can't really quite deny. It's not that I'm unwilling to "be a grown-up". But I do have a tendency to identify, perhaps too heartily, with childlike emotions, and to yearn for the innocent sense of joyful wonder that is such a key, beautiful part of the world unfolding to fresh eyes. I think maybe I've been doing a little bit of growing up recently, with the realization that holiday traditions are only truly meaningful when they're embraced in a relaxed,  shared manner... ie, going through certain motions and force-feeding oneself all the usual holiday classic movies in the space of a hectic day just isn't worth it. Today was a bit of an up and down day that emphasized this sentiment. I was feeling a little out of sorts and subdued in general; Dave and I found ourselves running around separately taking care of last minute errands when we'd have preferred to just chill and hang out. Navigating my way through crowds of others doing the same hasty shopping, my energy was flagging, and I was starting to give in to cynical voices and a gnawing disappointment. Just after the penultimate errand of the day, I stopped at an independent card shop/cafe for a small hot chocolate. Hot cocoa is one of those things that packs serious soothing power. Growing up, we drank it barely sweet, just a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder heated in milk with a teaspoon or less of honey, which is still what I like best. Today's was really more steamed skim milk with chocolate syrup in a little paper cup, but it was such a boost of comfort I decided that hot chocolate is like liquid childhood, and felt my holiday spirits restored.

The above seems like a lot of weight to put on a $1.10 hot drink, but with everything, timing makes all the difference. First of all, I wouldn't normally give in to  indulgence when I'm by myself--I'd hold off till home, or at most buy a plain green tea. By caving, I gave myself the mindset of "holiday treat". Second, I walked into the coffee shop not realizing it was already closed. The owner was so gracious and warm, I went from feeling weary to cheery, wanting to rush out and do nice things for people. Which, it turns out, was a handy mood to be in, because my final errand was actually a significant favor for someone, and chances are it wouldn't have been a successful trip if I hadn't been in a good mood. I can't disclose the details without compromising a secret of someone dear to me, but let's just say that even when a little white lie is created with the best of intentions, meant to protect someone's feelings, it has potential to backfire. I was able to accomplish my goal because a nice woman at Hobby Lobby took pity and fit a job in 10 minutes that should have taken two weeks, given the slammed schedule. While I was waiting, I bought her an ornament as a small unexpected thanks, and when I gave it to her, her smile said the tiny gesture made her day, which in turn made mine. I guess that's what the holidays are truly about, when it comes down to it. Peace, family, love, and friendship first, of course. But just as prominently, it's remembering little acts of kindness make a big difference, the power of "pay it forward". Here's my current favorite decadent hot chocolate recipe, adapted from the Barcelona Hot Chocolate from Cooking Light. Happy holidays, friends. xo

Hot Chocolate-Orange

  • 1/3  cup  hot water
  • 2  ounces  good-quality dark or bittersweet (60 to 70 percent cocoa) chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2  cups  1% low-fat  or skim milk
  • 1/4  cup  unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4  cup  honey or packed brown sugar
  • 1  teaspoon orange zest
  • Cocoa powder (optional)

Combine  water and chopped chocolate in a medium saucepan, stirring until chocolate melts. Add milk and next 3 ingredients (through zest); cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a whisk. Heat 5 minutes or until tiny bubbles form around edge of pan, stirring frequently (do not boil).  Pour into mugs. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired. Serves 2-3.

Photo credit: Flikr user Sebastian Mary