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.
Today would have been my Dad’s 74th birthday. He passed away almost 10 years ago, but every year on his birthday especially, my thoughts are of him. He and I were close, and some of my favourite quirky food memories are of times with him. So it seemed only fitting that today’s entry would be in his honour…
When I was a kid, my diet started out with rather small parameters. My mom says I used to eat mostly fruit as a baby, and that sausages were one of the first – and only – proteins I liked. I did get over that picky stage, but we were a Prairie family and my dad was a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy back in those days. My mom cooked what he liked. Pork chops and applesauce, or meatloaf with mashed potatoes and turnips were regular stand-bys. My dad’s contribution was the traditional grilling component: he did cook a mean steak, and he mastered vegetables in a tinfoil package with butter and herbs, steamed over the coals. (I still love doing these with steaks in the summer.)
I was a baker long before I was a cook, but my dad never had much of a sweet tooth. He loved a good cookie (not too crunchy, of course – we agreed on that) In true Prairie fashion he also loved apple pie, with a slice of cheddar cheese. But his favourite dessert was jelly roll.
When I was a teenager, my parents took a trip to California. After that, food changed. All of a sudden we were having nachos with salsa, and eating more fish. Then the stuffing for the turkey at Christmas had nuts, and there was no going back. By the time I was an adult, my mom could cook anything and he would try it. My dad had started to cook and even bought cookbooks. He made salads with dried cranberries and toasted pecans, veal piccata, ice cream sundaes.
My favourite foodie memories with my dad are in the years when I was first married, and we both lived in Vancouver. My hubbie was working some nights and so Daddy and I had a standing date on Friday for appies and drinks. We would while away the evening over tidbits he had made and wine I had brought. Our conversations ranged from trivial tidbits to solving the problems of the world. I would often bring dessert, as I was working at Senses, a gourmet food store and bakery that featured the treasures of Thomas Haas. My dad finally gave up jelly roll as his favourite dessert, replacing it with Thomas’ Stilton Cheesecake with Rhubarb Compote.
In later years, we didn’t get to share many meals between the miles and my dad’s ill health. I am very grateful we shared so many memories for me to enjoy. Every time I taste jelly roll, or salad with dried cranberries and toasted pecans, I think of him. When I taste something new and exotic, I smile and think of how he would have enjoyed it.
I’m also due for a piece of Stilton cheesecake on my next visit to Vancouver. Just for old time’s sake.