As a child you lived in books. The great fantasies were your playground. They taught you things about yourself, still teach you things, even as an adult. Some books taught you what it meant to be the type of child you weren’t, what it is to be adventurous, what it is to be neat and put-together and so very British; what it would be like to to be a girl named Jane and to have biscuits and tea sandwiches and to have wise, mysterious great-uncles, older than time, who would bring cocoa in bed when you couldn’t #sleep.
Your mother did not make cocoa for you before you went to bed; it was not a drink you drank for one reason or another, despite all the snow. If you were drinking something hot it was usually tea, or when you were older, coffee. You loved the idea of cocoa, though, the sheer, romantic belief that a milky hot drink could cure all ills. You wanted to be a child from your books, a Jane sitting up in bed, feeling the warmth of the mug seeping into your hands, letting yourself be soothed by the milky scent of the cocoa.
Of all the scenes in those books, it is that scene that still sticks with you. You have forgotten the shape of the books, the plot points, some of the characters, but this you remember: Jane in her bed with a mug of cocoa lulling her to sleep.
Now you are an adult and you can make your own comforts. You can drink cocoa in bed, if you so desire, though you’ve learned that the best thing for a sleepless night is not a hot drink, but some melatonin and a good, long New Yorker article. And yet, the moment there is a chill in the air, you make some hot cocoa. In your old, drafty stone house, you drink your cocoa and drowsily think of Jane.
This meeting of words, #food, and sense memories is so strong. We can create memories that never were. Listen: A nap in your bed in a patch of sun on a day with no obligations. Somewhere far away a screen door slams shut. A child shouts to their friends. Someone rides a bike past your house. The sun moves across your body. Downstairs, a person—someone you love—is baking a cake. It smells deeply of sugar and vanilla, but it will not be too sweet, only a hint of the vanilla will remain, like a secret. You turn over in your bed and open your eyes. Why move? Why not remain here in this perfect stasis of the glowing wooden floorboards, the weighted lassitude of your body, that sweet scent of care and affection rising up the vents to where you are?
None of this has happened, but it is real. You are napping in the sun and you will have cake.
Warm Hot Cocoa Mix
Adapted from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Cook’s Illustrated (Dec. 2014)
I like a little spice with my hot cocoa, which is why I’ve added cinnamon and chili powder to this basic hot cocoa mix. (Which I suppose makes it Mexican hot cocoa). You can play around with your own flavors or just omit the spices for plain, good old chocolate flavored hot cocoa.
Place dry ingredients in a food processor. Whizz until fine and grainy, like sand. You should end up with about 1 ¾ cup hot cocoa mix.
Warm a cup of milk in a small saucepan until just before a boil. Add about 3 tablespoons of the hot cocoa mix and whisk until smooth. Pour into a mug. Drink.