Saturday, October 25, 2008

A strong cuppa

This is a new blog, so I understand if many of you are not yet aware of my dependency problem on hot chocolate.

My daily habit started when I was studying abroad in Paris. My host family was responsible for providing breakfast daily, as well as dinner 3 or 4 times a week, so my host mother happily replenished delicious jams, cereal, milk and Nestle as often as needed. Every morning, I'd get up and turn on the electric tea kettle first thing to get the water going for my chocolat chaud. Breakfast vacillated between cereal and baguettes, but hot chocolate was my one constant.

Now, I'm not trying to complain here, but it has been really hard for me to be in a climate so hot that chocolat chaud is out of a question. Not only am I missing my favorite season (fall), but I can't even raise a toast to its passing with a cup of hot chocolate.

This story does have a happy ending, I promise, and it was found in the mountainous region of northern Vietnam called Sapa.

I travelled up to Sapa via night train after a few days in Hanoi. The second I arrived, I knew I was in love. The place was at least thirty degrees farenheit cooler than Hanoi (which was sweltering), completely enclosed by mountains covered in mist. Through the early morning fog, I could just make out row upon row of rice paddies built at harrowing angles into the sides of the mountain.

I found a hotel quickly, with a lovely balcony overlooking said mountains. I set my bags down and fell into bed, happily burrowing under covers for the first time in a month. Truth be told, I had been hoping for a place with a fireplace, but if I'd found one, I probably never would have left.

The first day I arrived, my traveling companion fell sick and spent the entire day and following night asleep in bed, which left me a lovely bit of freedom. Sapa itself is a fairly small town, so I managed to explore a good chunk of it within an hour. I took a seat on the steps of a Catholic church (!) intending to do some people watching, but soon found myself chatting with a lovely Hmong woman and playing with her adorable baby who was strapped to her back.

Of course, I was then surrounded by lots of other women trying to sell me jewelry, bags and the like, but I still enjoyed a nice conversation about work, her village and family.

Later that afternoon, I grabbed a book that my older sister had recommended and which I also heartily endorse, and went to the cafe next door for a snack. I spent the rest of the afternoon buried in my book, coming up only for air and sips of hot chocolate. Heavenly.

Now, I have a certain way of making hot chocolate on a daily basis that I feel I should share, as well as one for special occasions. For my daily dose, I doctor up the powdered stuff with a bit of crushed red pepper and some cinnamon. Easy, and makes such a difference.

For the good stuff, however, the stuff of hot chocolate dreams, you must try the recipe that Molly writes about here. It's adapted from the lovely Dorie Greenspan's book "Paris Sweets", and it is truly the best hot chocolate I've ever made or tasted. Not too rich, not too sweet. As said in the post, you feel like you want to swim in the stuff...or curl up with it and a book as often as possible.

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