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It’s good to have a cardigan when it’s cold – or a mug of hot cocoa

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.

sweater set crowd

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.

Nestle Quik chocolate drinkAs 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.

Spanish hot cocoa

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.

KPL with Daddy's sweater

Winter’s here! Enjoy the snow, then warm up the hot cocoa and get cozy.

It snowed here on Tuesday. Big fluffy flakes that just floated down all day long, like someone was dusting us with Frosted Flakes. The world beyond our yard disappeared, and all the sounds stopped – no birds, no wind, no more leaves rustling, that’s for sure. The pile on the front railing just grew higher and higher. Inside, the dogs got fluffier. That may sound odd, but if you have a dog you know they are great barometers. When it gets colder and less friendly outside, they get more cuddly when they are inside. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to go outside, though. Ella, my Chocolate Labrador, LOVES the snow. She is a happy creature by nature, but I swear the snow makes her brain come loose, and she just goes loopy! She is a wonderful motivator; how can you not smile and want to join in the fun when you see someone scoot around and kick up the snow and make snow angels? Even Simon, our older German Short-Haired Pointer, who has shorter hair and is not so keen to be out in the cold anymore, will romp with her when they go out together.

It snowed more on Wednesday, and again on Wednesday night, so this morning we all bounded out the door at top speed to make fresh tracks. No pristine winter wonderland at Rabbit Hollow – I have enough little footy-prints in the snow to create a labyrinth pattern worthy of M.K. Escher. “The troops”, as they are affectionately known, amuse themselves by eating snow as I shovel the driveway (Simon likes to catch it off the shovel – what can I say? Some of us are easily amused…). Then it’s off to the orchard to follow the coyote tracks or snow-doze between the trees in search of any other good scents. Once we have secured the perimeter (meaning the whole orchard, the vegetable garden, the pumpkin patch and the neighbour’s yard), then we have time for a bit of “Wild Kingdom”. (the Canadian version of “Wild Kingdom”, with Lorne Greene hosting – remember this?) Simon chases Ella through the field as fast as he can, and she outmanoevres him by doing a wonderful tuck-and-roll that lets her hop up and head out in a different direction. Simon always wins with a mock bite to her throat, but I think she enjoys the thrill before she finally puts her legs up in the air in defeat.  

Once this final bit of fun was complete, we could head inside – breakfast for them and me was in order. They enjoy the same old kibble with as much enthusiasm every day. For me this morning it was a delicious cup of steaming cocoa (made with a bit of cinnamon to add an exotic touch) and a bowl of Red River cereal. It made for a heartwarming way to start a cold day.

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