December is usually a hectic month but this year seems to have been an entirely hectic year. December hasn’t been the crazy whirlwind of other years but rather a continuation of the rush, bustle and busy-ness of the previous months. In an effort not to have Christmas arrive upon us with nothing done, no prelude, no Vorfreude, I have been trying to calm life down. To do the necessaries – buy gifts, decorate a little, send cards, set up the crib – and cut out some extras.
Along with the boys, I have been trying to incorporate more simple pleasures and make life a little cosier, warmer and more, well, mindful I suppose. That’s not a word I use much but it seems apt for the little elements of everyday life we’ve been enjoying more and more. Instead of thinking “we should…”, we’ve been doing all those things I wish we had the time for. I’ve left laundry in the machine for a few hours longer or not swept the floor to leave time for pre-Christmas activities with the children.
At breakfast we’ve had candlelight from the big red two-wicked candle in the kitchen.A few times now I’ve baked fresh raisin rolls, even on school mornings. In the evenings we’ve lit the candles on the Advent wreath on the coffee table and in the afternoons we’ve taken to making cocoa. That’s one thing that always reminds me of my own childhood afternoons. Cocoa with jam sandwiches after school, just before starting our homework.
Of course I am talking real cocoa here. Not drinking chocolate. I like the ritual of making cocoa. Mixing the powder to a paste, warming the milk, wondering will I manage not to let it get a skin. The boys, avid custard makers, love it too – all that stirring and whisking. It doesn’t take long, but the making seems to let them appreciate the end result more. Topped with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and drunk with a straw, it is almost enough to make the three year old burst with excitement.
Since everyone has their own ideas about how chocolately is chocolately enough and how much sugar is just right, I won’t give you a recipe here. But I’ll let you in on a few of our tips.
Begin by mixing the cocoa powder and sugar to a paste in a bowl or large jug by whisking them gently as you slowly pour in a little cold milk. Going slowly here is essential to avoid getting dry, powdery lumps in your cocoa.
Heat the milk (we use whole milk) in a wide saucepan, stirring to prevent it sticking to the bottom and to prevent a skin forming on top of the milk. When the milk is very warm but not boiling, add it to the cocoa paste and whisk well to incorporate all the paste into the milk with no lumps resulting.
Unlike drinking chocolate powder, cocoa needs cooking to give it a proper flavour. The best thing to do is return the cocoa from the jug into the saucepan, place it back on the heat and heat through for another minute or two before serving. Remember, don’t boil it.
Ladle or pour the cocoa into mugs and enjoy.
[Disclaimer: Laura Ashley kindly provided us with these lovely mugs as a gift]