Food writing seems to be having a renaissance, or perhaps I had just never paid much attention until last year. In any case, I'm paying attention now, and this weekend brought new food writing treats, helping to counterbalance the decidedly unappetizing experience of reading McCarthy's The Road. In contemporary food writing, Michael Pollan had a new essay in this weekend's New York Times Magazine. On Friday night, I explored the more vintage side of food writing and went book shopping, where I picked up a book of letters by M.F.K. Fisher, as well as a copy of Choice Cuts by Mark Kurlansky (author of Salt and Cod). The latter is an assembly of food writing from across time, from Herodotus to M.F.K. Fisher and beyond.
Two pieces on hot chocolate in Kurlansky's anthology - one by Alice B. Toklas and another by James Beard - tapped a nerve. Hot chocolate is one of my favorite treats. I hope for snow simply so that I have a good excuse to break out the cocoa powder and heat some milk. According to Mr. Beard, I make it all wrong (hot chocolate apparently has nothing to do with powder) but it tastes oh so right. Hot chocolate is a deep psychological stimulus. I have five separate definitons in my mind for hot chocolate, as follows:
Hot chocolate.This week I might take a cue from Alice B. and James and try it with proper chocolate for once, and perhaps in the process I'll create a new definition:
1. Breakfast beverage on the farm. When made by my grandmother, called "hot cocoa." Served in a steaming mug by my grandmother with a soft smile. Side of bacon and eggs in a farmhouse kitchen. Secret ingredient: non-dairy creamer.
2. Liquid pumped from a machine at the ice rink. Through the smell of icy sweat and cold damp feet, we wobble on blades, ankles bent awkwardly inward, to the vending machines, drop in our 25 cents, and receive a piping hot paper cup of chocolate flavored water.
3. Cause of earliest memory of burnt tongue. I was six and we were on our way to church. We stopped at a fast food restaurant for a quick breakfast. Little miss sweet tooth orders hot chocolate with her hot cakes, decides she wants to drink it through a coffee stirrer, and suffers through an hour of church with a horribly burnt tongue.
4. A treat offered upon our return with the toboggan. Must be consumed after snowsuit and boots have been removed else puddles of water form in the kitchen and cause accidents while consuming. Made from Nestle Quik. Served in a steaming mug by my mother with a soft smile. See also: hot cocoa, variations of.
5. City comfort. Scharffen Berger powdered chocolate. Sugar. Water to make paste. Heat milk (whole or 2%), add chocolate paste. Watch snow fall onto the New York City streets, to be churned into mush minutes later by passing traffic.
6. The proper stuff. Useful for impressing dinner guests. To be consumed proudly and in large French bowls. Allows one to be safe in the knowledge that Julia, Alice B., Mary Frances Kennedy, and James would all approve.(This just in via my foodie co-worker, who once had a bad experience with bay leaves in hot chocolate: NY Magazine picks New York's top hot chocolates.)