When Eleni and I were little, we liked the leaves.
All kids like the leaves, I guess, but for two mildly obsessive-compulsive sorts, as sisters come, I find it funny now. That mom and dad would haul rakes to Jackson Park, and we’d rake and rake and rake and jump with abandon into the great piles of leaves (piles taller than us) – and heaven knows what else. We’d keep going, jumping and re-heaping and squealing for Baba to rake faster, to maximize our dwindling minutes. My mom would have her big black camcorder stuck to her eyeball documenting each leap. We’d do this a couple times in the season. Fall brought nothing nicer than the raking and the jumping on repeat.
There’s something about the smell of fallen leaves, right? All that rot and acridity and dampness, but in the nicest way imaginable. And then laying flat, placid for a moment, staring at the sky and its clear grey cast that makes everything prettier, more saturated, incredibly fall-like. Atop my crunchy-soft bed, and I’d tuck away the prettiest unblemished crimson leaves to take home (which, looking on my desk at the neat stack of drying maple leaves, I still do).
Inevitably, little hands became cold, and we’d trudge home weary and wasted and hair full of leaf-crumbs. Sometimes (most of the time) mom would have a thermos of hot chocolate for the walk. I suspect this is what began my affinity for cocoa-based drinks, that sweet-but-not-too-sweet sludge down my throat that tasted so good straight from the slender container.
In my twenty-three years, I’ve seen many hot chocolates. The Carnation variety in packets with little dehydrated marshmallows that melt into the hot liquid; chocolate syrup stirred into warm whole milk; my Papou’s ascetic version – just a spoonful of the best raw cacao in boiled water; and demitasses of drinking chocolate made of melted bars and heavy cream.
But there’s one recipe that I keep around, the kind I sip from a big white mug in the window as the wind blusters the leaves, and take in sitting on a bench in the dog park, something with enough sass and panache that friends declare it the best hot cocoa they’ve ever had. It’s a riff on those thermoses of cocoa and walks home from the park, reminds me of times sprawled in the leaves with my sister.
Childhood as I know it: bundling up and building paper mountains and diving into them without reservation. Knowing there’s someone to carry me home, and someone else to bring warmth and a little sweetness on the way.
(makes one big mug)
This takes just a few moments to stir in a mug, but for a really special frothy version, give the mixture a whirl in the blender for about 30 seconds, taking care to let the steam escape.
2Tbsp your best cocoa (see this post for favourites)
1Tbsp brown sugar
2Tbsp plus 1c boiling water
1/4c your favourite milk, warmed (I use almond milk)
wee pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
In a warm mug, stir together well the cocoa, sugar, cayenne and 2Tbsp of water to make a paste. Slowly add the hot water, then top off with warmed milk. Put on mittens and a sturdy coat and meander through these last days of fall, cocoa in hand.