I believe a cardigan sweater is the adult version of a teddy bear. It’s warm and snuggly, giving one that warm-fuzzy feeling we all crave from time to time. Cozy but not overbearing, if you’ll pardon the pun. On a cold grey day, I love wearing a cardigan.
Of course most things we love have to do with memories. I suppose my love for cardigans goes back to my teen years.
I grew up with a fascination for the 50’s, it having been the decade when my parents were kids. I heard all kinds of stories and saw all the old movies about bobby-socks-ers and their letter-sweater boyfriends. Girls either wore these cute finely knit cardigans that were part of a sweater set, or they wore the over-sized chunky cardigan given to them by an athlete wooing them. My first impression of sexy was the coquettish look those pony-tailed teens had in these outfits.
I was always torn between trying to fit in and wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t figure out until my 30’s that I’m one of those people who was not meant to fit in, but rather to stand out. (You’d think the horizontally striped socks I wore would have clued me in, but no.) There was one place I knew I could find comfort though – the kitchen.
Cooking has always warmed my heart and my soul as well as my tummy. But sometimes you need a quick fix rather than hours of putzing around. A mug of hot cocoa is the best quick fix I know.
As a kid, warming up a bit of milk with a heaping spoonful of Kwik was good enough, but then I developed my palate and became a gourmand. I travelled to Europe and discovered steamed hot cocoa in Paris. Then I found nirvana at breakfast one morning in Barcelona when I sipped on an elixir that was akin to warm chocolate pudding. Needless to say, my Quik days were over.
When I returned from Europe and got ready for university away from home, I wanted to be independent but still feel connected to home. My Dad gave me one of his cardigans to keep warm in the damp Vancouver climate. It was a bit like having a teddy bear, or a cape with super powers that made me feel safe.
Nowadays you can buy mixes that have definitely stepped up a notch or two from the Quik of my childhood. And artisan hot cocoa from chocolatiers is a popular take-home item.
I like to buy chocolate from Thomas Haas in Vancouver. When I get to the city his cafes are at the top of the list of places to stop. There is nothing like dunking one of his flaky croissants in a mug of his deliciously rich hot chocolate. But there is something wonderfully decadent about being able to make this kind of hot chocolate at home.
Homemade authentic hot cocoa is very simple. Here are my proportions for 1 cup (250 mL). I like to use whole milk. Please just don’t try this with water.
Method 1 – with chocolate
- Heat milk in a pot, or steamer. Measure 5 tablespoons (2-1/2 oz or 70 g) of dark chocolate (55-70% cacao) into your cup, in small pieces or grated. Whisk chocolate and milk until blended. If desired, add a sprinkle of cinnamon or a bit more grated chocolate on top.
Method 2 – with cocoa
- Rinse a small pot with cold water (this helps keep the milk from scalding in the pot).
- Sift together 2 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon corn starch and if desired, 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon or ginger.
- Pour 1 cup of milk into the pot, and stir in 1 tablespoon honey. Stir in the cocoa mix and heat to medium-high, stirring constantly until bubbles form and a gentle boil starts. (you have to get the liquid to a boil for the cornstarch to react.)
Either way, I like to top my homemade hot cocoa with vanilla ice cream, not marshmallows. You know how they say, “Go big or go home”? Well, why not go big at home?!
I have had a few sweater sets in my day, although I discovered the matching type of look was not really me (it’s more for those who really do fit in). But I do still have Daddy’s wool sweater, which I wear every so often with a jaunty scarf and sometimes a hat. It still makes me feel special, and a smile comes over my face every time as old memories come back. The same thing happens when I sip a good cup of hot cocoa.
Chocolate and peanut butter. Some people aren’t crazy about the combination, but most North Americans love it. It could be argued that this is the best example of a truly original American taste.
Did you know that Mr. H.B. Reese invented the chocolate covered peanut butter cup? Yes, there really was a Mr. Reese. And guess what? He worked for Hershey’s before he left to create his own candy company in the 1920’s. Apparently the one condition Hershey’s had for him when he left was that he buy all his chocolate from them. How about that!
Even today, almost one hundred years after this unique confection was created, it is still the best selling candy in America. Hershey’s bought the company in the 1960’s but the Reese name still sticks. Even the increase in people allergic to peanuts has not slowed their popularity.
I am a big fan of chocolate and peanut butter together. Peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips are more than a bit better, they are close to nirvana. Chocolate peanut butter ice cream, if well made, should probably be illegal. But I had never made an actual candy with chocolate and nut butter.
To be fair, the recipe I used was for cashew butter with chocolate. It’s good, but next time I’m going to use peanut butter. My brain tasted the finished product and I could hear it saying inside my head, “it’s fine, but it would be just that much better if it was the real thing.”
I’ll let you decide. Perhaps you are allergic to peanuts. Since cashews are a tree nut, they might be a good alternative. You can easily leave out the pomegranate seeds in this recipe, too – add dried cranberries instead if you like, or nothing. Power Bark is good even if you make it with just the chocolate and the nut butter. Just sayin’.
You know those days when you just feel like your get up and go got up and went? Today was like that for me.
I got up this morning early to a dark sky. We were out of yogurt, my best morning energy boost. Ella and I walked in the rain, muck up to our ankles and clouds around our ears. Even the tulips were on strike.
As the day wore on, I just seemed to get colder even though I was inside. (It was supposed to be a day working on garden projects but pouring rain doesn’t make for good digging weather.) I needed to focus on my wellness, as it was suffering
I decided about mid-afternoon that my best chance for a pick-me-up lay in the remainder of the Chocolate Pudding Cake on the counter. I set my sights on dessert to heal my spirit. (Not the most healthy option, I’ll admit; but sometimes instant gratification offers the energy for the next step.)
Thankfully, Wednesdays have a built-in bonus for me – it’s the night I volunteer with Girl Guides. Our Sparks troop, a wonderfully rambunctious bunch of 5 and 6 year olds, is the best remedy for low energy or feeling down. After a very bouncy Easter egg hunt, ribbon dancing and a parachute game, they all went home smiling, and just a bit more tired. I felt much better.
Now that I’ve had my tea and dessert, I feel prepared to tackle the world again tomorrow. I’m so thankful I got a chance to soak in some positive energy today (and a bit of chocolate).
We are rebuilding our front deck. Yesterday was demolition day, and today we loaded all the wood and other debris into a trailer for the landfill. And it’s Monday. There are always loose ends, and surprises, and a big to-do list on Mondays. So I decided we needed a boost.
One of my favourite desserts as a kid was my mom’s Chocolate Pudding Cake. I have spoken of Mom’s Lemon Pudding Cake before; it is a delicate, tangy soufflé. The chocolate version is on the other end of the scale – rich with oozing decadence, the original lava cake.
The good news is, pudding cake is easier to manage than lava cake, being a bigger entity. It’s a straightforward recipe to assemble. The trickiest part is planning to have the first portion warm, but to wait long enough so you don’t burn your tongue.
As I finish this last paragraph, my tummy is all warm inside. I feel a bit like Winnie the Pooh after polishing off a pot of honey. The muscles I worked out lifting boards and branches feel a bit better. I am sure I will have pleasant dreams.
I hope you do too. If not, try making Chocolate Pudding Cake tomorrow.