You know those special memories tucked into the recesses of your mind? The ones that seem to have slipped away until something lovely brings back the memory swiftly, like a heavenly scent. Last weekend I was at my mom's, and my sister stood stirring a pot of real hot chocolate at the stove for all the babies. I still call them babies, but our kiddos range in age from 4-9. When I was a kid, we had yard sales often. My mom was the queen bargain hunter, and we purged and cleaned our 900 sq. ft. home and kept it sparkling. No clutter, no laundry piled up. The bathrooms were cleaned daily and the carpets vacuumed and the furnishings dusted. 6 kids (2 of them cousins), 2 parents, a dog, anywhere from 2-5 cats, hamsters, and a goldfish named Martin, the 1st through the 5th depending on what fish we were on. This home demanded attention to detail so it wasn't chaos. I look back at these times and think, man, I am sooooo grateful. These times gave me grit, showed me how to be a family and how to really make the best/most of everything. On one of these cleaning occasions for the upcoming yard sale, my mom got rid of our microwave. I thought it was the end of popcorn and hot chocolate. Little did I know in my 11 year-old wisdom that the microwave couldn't hold a candle to stove-top pop corn and real hot cocoa. We had this sauce pan we used for everything as children (what I wouldn't give to have that pan back. Copper bottom, thrifted I'm sure, stainless steel with a black wooden handle). The first time I had this drinking chocolate I'm sure it was a hodgepodge of magic found in the cupboard. You made a paste of granulated sugar, a splash of milk, and maybe a few chocolate chips, then you turned on the burner to medium, slowly added milk and cream, and brought it the scalding point. Never boiled. We all stood by, mugs in hand and eager faces. My mom would ladle out this treat and we would put a dollop of anything creamy and white on top: cool whip, marshmallows, or even ice cream. Now when I make this, I am drawn right back into that tiny kitchen with my big, joyful family, and we are sharing life.
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4-5 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate chips slowly. Add cocoa powder, sugar, and salt, then slowly add the milk. Start with just 4 cups, then add more milk if desired. This is a party in a mug, so more chocolate and less milk is always my choice! Bring mixture to a simmer but do not boil. Top with marshmallows or whipped cream, and stir with cinnamon sticks.
Originally published in Nov.-Dec. 2014 425 Magazine. Also found in my book Rustic Joyful Food: My Heart's Table, available at Amazon.com or in my shop.