Save for next week’s open thread, this will be my last post of 2020, because I want to give myself the gift of taking next week off*. (*Working nonstop in an effort to get ahead of 2021).
Last night I experienced a weird interlude of despair. I realized that, with Christmas over, I was out of things to look forward to. All my projects in the future are work-related, and with the exception of the launch of The Echo Wife, many of those will be solitary in nature and will take a while to celebrate. I have survived much of this year by looking forward to things, and running out of milestones to anticipate left me more than a little unmoored.
I felt alone in the dark of my own mind. I felt lost.
But then I remembered What We Share, the new feature I'll be launching on January 1, and a lightbulb clicked on. Just like that, I had a little pool of comfort to rest in.
Because here's the thing: this feature isn't just going to be a way for us to experience new things and connect as we share those experiences together — it will also give us lots of little somethings to look forward to. Each new something will be a fresh opportunity to explore and learn. What could be better than that?
I used that boost of excitement to make hot cocoa as a surprise for my household. It came out great, and all of us were warm and cozy and cheerful for the rest of the night. I thought this recipe would be perfect for the first installment of What We Share — a new recipe for us to try together, something fun and accessible and sweet and comforting. It's exactly the kind of thing I'm hoping to weave through the year to come.
But… I have a feeling I'm not the only one searching for an anchor at the end of this year. So fuck it, here you go, let's all have something nice:
Step 0 - Boil some water. Nobody ever lists this step in recipes, they're just like “add boiling water” as if we already have that lying around. We don't!
Step 1 - Add ⅓ C cocoa powder, ¾ C granulated sugar, a pinch of salt, and ⅓ C boiling water to a medium saucepan. Add a good dusting each of cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk it all together until it's smooth and pleasant to behold.
Step 2 - Turn the heat to medium. Stir for a few minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot frequently. When the liquid comes to a nice healthy boil, keep stirring for two minutes. Your kitchen will start to smell lovely.
Step 3 - After those two minutes have gone by, turn the heat to low. Slowly pour 4C of whole milk to the pot. Whisk the entire time.
Step 4 - Bring the heat up just a touch. Keep stirring until you get a nice gentle simmer. Do not look away from this pot - milk loves to foam over more than I've ever loved anything in my life.
Step 5 - Once it is simmering, take it off the heat right away and stir stir stir to keep it from foaming over. If you like, you can repeat this process, bringing it just barely to a boil and then removing it from the heat, a few times - it should thicken a little, and it will smell gorgeous.
That's it! You did it! You made hot cocoa. Well done. I like to serve this with a splash of peppermint schnapps and a huge quantity of marshmallows on top. I also like to share it with loved ones.
You can vary just about every part of this recipe based on your needs:
- If you don't do dairy (like me), you can use any non-dairy milk — I personally like a combination of coconut and almond milks.
- If you don't do cane sugar, you can substitute maple syrup or honey. I haven't tested plant-based sugar-free sweeteners like Stevia, but if you're familiar with them, I don't see a reason why you shouldn't give it a go. Stevia specifically is heat-stable to 392 degrees F, so it should be safe to try here. Heat breaks down aspartame (Nutrasweet®, Equal®, Sugar Twin®) and makes it toxic, so don't try your hand at those! Heatsafe artificial sweeteners include sucralose (Splenda®) and xylitol/birch sugar (XyloSweet®, Lite&Sweet®). (Thanks to twitter user @sinnahsaint for the heads up! They also pointed out the always-vital reminder to never give Xylitol to your pets - even a tiny bit is toxic.)
- If you don't do cinnamon or nutmeg, leave them out. You can also try a little cayenne, cracked black pepper, or cardamom.
- If you don't do cocoa, leave it out. You'll end up with a perfectly delicious sweet-spiced beverage, great for winding down around bedtime. Spice flavors will come through stronger without cocoa to dominate them; feel free to experiment.
- If you're living alone or can't share this cocoa with those you live with, don't worry. You're already sharing it with me and with everyone else who makes it. None of us is alone when we’re sharing the comfort of a warm mug on a cold evening, no matter how far apart we are.
If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this newsletter. The subscriber community is a wonderful and supportive one, and we’re going to spend 2021 finding new ways to stay connected and share experiences.
In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.