Memphis kids learn early that to long for snow is a sure path to sorrow. Nonetheless, they have rituals rooted in hope. Some employ reverse psychology, perversely chanting “don’t snow” at the clouds. Others do an atavistic snow dance. A fourth-grader named Poppy instructed me in her family’s method: “You drop two ice cubes in the toilet, don’t flush, and wear your pajamas inside-out.” My kids haven’t tried this one yet, but once they hear of it, I’m sure our icemaker will be hard-pressed to keep up.
With winter getting off to a warm start, this year could be tough. After two rounds of polar vortex-induced snow events, expectations are high. As parents, we can’t control the weather. We can provide winter comforts, though. A steaming mug of cocoa doesn’t replace a snow day, but it might sweeten a cold, wet, brown winter afternoon.
So when the kids are driving you mad and you crack and send them outside to play in the cold mud for a while, give them and yourself the gift of a homemade hot drink. You don’t need those packets with a picture of a little Teutonic girl to serve up a cup of chocolatey love. A little extra effort and a few pantry ingredients can spare your children the sadness of water-based cocoa. (I used to steal those packets and eat the powder, all by itself. Now that’s good. But naughty.)
Hot cider has curative properties, too, and is clinically shown to blunt the force of no-snow-day letdown. It’s worth using real cider. Unlike apple juice, it has a complex, tart flavor that shines when spiked with spices. And it lends itself to an adult upgrade, if needed. After a real snow day, when the kids and parents have been cooped up together for a little too long, some moms and dads might enjoy adding a jigger of rum to this beverage when the kids are looking the other way… I won’t tell.
Adapted from the recipe on the Hershey’s Cocoa box
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, depending on how intense your kids (or you) like your flavor
- A pinch of salt
- 1 cup milk, preferably whole
- A few drops of vanilla extract (or try peppermint extract)
In a generous mug, stir together the sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
In a heatproof measuring cup, microwave milk on high for 1-1 ½ minutes, or until hot. Gradually add milk to dry ingredients, starting with a small splash and stirring to break up lumps before adding more. Add vanilla and stir. Pop in a candy cane for extra fun.
For 4 servings
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼-½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- Dash salt
- ⅓ cup hot water
- 4 cups (1 qt.) milk
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
Stir together sugar, cocoa and salt in medium saucepan; gradually stir in water, eliminating lumps. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil and stir for a minute. Add milk; stirring constantly, and heat to serving temperature. Do not boil milk mixture.
Remove from heat; add vanilla. Garnish with whipped cream, tiny marshmallows, leftover candy canes, or even cinnamon sticks.
Hot Mulled Cider
Adapted, over time, from Joy of Cooking
- 1 quart apple cider (real cider is so much better than juice here)
- 2-4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 8 cloves
- A navel orange or two lemons
In a medium saucepan, set the cider over medium heat. Add spices and stir in sugar.
Use a vegetable peeler to strip at least four good-sized strips of peel from the orange or lemons, and drop those into the cider. (For the bartender’s touch, twist the strips of peel over the cider first to release the fragrant oils.)
Cut citrus in half and squeeze for juice. When the cider comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer. After about 10 minutes, add about half of the citrus juice and taste. Add more sugar or juice as needed, and simmer for up to 45 minutes longer. (If too much boils off, add water, a half-cup at a time.) Serve in mugs, with a cinnamon stick in each.