Saturday, January 7, 2012

The World is Ending, So Why Not Drink to It?

Remember September? You know, the month that Greenday wanted to be woken up at the end of? (Oh boy, there is a screwed up sentence. And we wonder why one of us sucks at her day job. But we digress. As always. And you love us for that, dontcha? Yes, you do. Oh, you do! Okay, now get back.) If you are not a Greenday fan, September also has a whole bunch of other stuff going. It is the late Mr Laden's favourite month, but we shall not make jokes about the dearly departed (it's rude and totally against Indian culture, you know. And what if Sapil Kibal is watching?). September gave the world Hugh Grant, Dev Anand, Will Smith, Asha Bhosle and Catherine Zeta Jones. It also gave us Nicole Ritchie and Aditya Pancholi, but then one presumes that into each month some idiots must fall.

September, apparently also has Fashion Weeks! Who knew?! Apart from a large section of the world that, you know, knows a thing or four about fashion. Which, of course, is not us.

Anywhoo, the reason why we are so meticulously trying to jog your memory about a relatively average month is so that we can also remind you that last year, it had Divali (the kind with the capital D)! And if you remember Divali, you will also remember how you were made to suffer through endless pictures and posts in all the other food blogs and Facebook and greeting cards about ALL the seemingly gorgeous food that people made and ate. Remember how you looked at those pictures, and wished that you had all that food on your table, while trying to navigate a spoonful of soggy cereal around that huge lump in your throat? We, being the sensitive little souls that we are, felt your pain as that singular tear dropped down your left cheek. And we, being the same sensitive little souls, vowed that WE would never contribute to that pain. Which is why we have been restraining from posting any pictures of our own divali (the kind without the capital d) table. Or even about the food we made and eated. THAT is how much we love you.

Just when we thought we’d survived, came December with all it's wintery longing and holidays-inspired feelings of emotional inadequacy. The cheerful world of food bloggers attacked with all their sugary, buttery, frost(ing)y vengeance and all of us whose roommates and other ‘loved’ ones abandoned us for greener pastures and yummier home-food were left nursing our fragile little hearts and big weeping tummies. But when faced with all that end-of-the-year pressure, self-doubt, and depression, did we crumble like a badly baked cookie? No, we kept calm and carried on. WE, looked at the world of pointless chipper-ness and unbounding optimism square in the eye and raised our glasses (or in this case, repurposed glass jars) of warm hot chocolate and said, “We don’t need your mountains of delicately created food, and cozy little parties and mid-night revelry. WE have hot chocolate.” After all, when faced with grave adversity how else does one fortify one’s defences if not with chocolate?

“Hot chocolate?” you ask. “That was your defence?” you wonder in surprise. “Why, yes!” we’d reply, in that ever confident tone of the calmly wise. “Hot chocolate. Because chocolate does not question. Chocolate does not make demands or have expectations. Chocolate, understands.”

And this is chocolate at its basic, undemanding best. Without its high-flying strawberry and butter friends. Without the fancy dress up of a cake, or truffle. This is chocolate at its roots. It needs only the little warmth of a splatter of cream, a few slivers of orange rind, and a whiff of cinnamon. But at the back of it, it carries the strength of sturdy dried red chillies. Or if you prefer, the robustness of ground black pepper. Like we said, chocolate does not question. It just knows.

Right now, as that the practical bitch in us is telling the whimsical fool to get on with the business already, ladies and gentlemen, allow us to present to you, Cinderella at the fancy-food ball, our long haired, frying-pan wielding rescuer from the New Year Monster, the untarnished awesomeness of a
Spicy Hot Chocolate.

You will need ingredients of 3 kinds:

1. The stars: Very predictably, milk and cocoa powder. Now one could, if one so wishes, use chocolate powder as well. But Crumbs who prefers her chocolate strong, dark and bitter, thinks cocoa is the purer choice. If you have to use chocolate, go easy on the sugar. Since we are making this for one, let’s go with one mug of milk, and 4 tbs of cocoa. (If you are making it for more than one, we hope you are good at math :P)

2. The faithful sidekicks: These are what take the cocoa and milk to the next level—namely, coffee and cream. Oh and sugar. Since, we (namely Crumbs) think that the coffee makes the world go round, we use 2 tablespoons. One would suffice for lesser mortals. About a quarter cup of cream—just to make the milk, well, creamier. Feel free to indulge and add more. Promise we won’t tell a soul. Neither will chocolate. About 1 tbs of sugar. And, errmmm, chocolate chips or chopped chocolate—you know, since, whoever said too much of a good thing is bad is a filthy liar.

3. The character actors: Now one can make a hot chocolate with just cocoa and water also. But that would not do much to lift up one’s downtrodden spirits, would it? So one adds various spices. The possibilities here are endless – What we give you in this recipe is what we think is the winner—one stick of cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, orange rind.cinnamon of about a finger’s length (we’d specify which finger but then, this is a family blog), one star anise, a quarter spoonful of orange rind and 3 dried red chillies. Yes, chillies. Nothing better to beat the blues with than chillies doused in chocolate. But since we didn’t have chillies on hand this photo session, we went with ground black pepper, which is pretty kickass too. But trust us on the chillies, will ya?

Now that we have the cast ready, let’s get ready to roll. Pour the milk in a deep pan worthy of milk-boiling. Add the cinnamon, star anise, orange rind and chillies. Pop it on the heat, and simmer. Kindly to note, we said simmer, DO NOT LET THIS BOIL. Keep the flame at low to medium all the time. Keep stirring every 34 seconds.

While this is happening, take your cocoa/chocolate powder, coffee and sugar in a small container. Spoon in a little bit (maybe one or 2 spoons) of the milk from the simmering pool and mix well to make a gorgeously gooey paste. We dare you to not nick a taste. Once this is thoroughly mixed, go check on the milk (you left it to simmer, remember?). Take it off the heat, and let the spices seep for another 10 mins. While the spices do that, go add the cream to the cocoa and whip the whole thing well to make it slightly fluffy. Don’t get ambitious, you are not whipping it to make chocolate snow castles, just a light beating will do. Check if you like the taste—you know, since it is very, very important to get this right. Very.

Once you are done licking your fingers, and er…washing you hands, go remove the spices from the milk. You could strain the milk but we just use a spoon. Less hassle. Then, pour the cocoa-cream into the milk all the while stirring vigorously. At this point, your heart should start beating a tad bit faster. But hold on, you are almost there.

Take this back to the stove, and simmer again. Again, DO NOT BOIL or bad things will happen. Add the chocolate chips, we like using both white and dark (we do not discriminate, see?), keep stirring until they dissolve all their differences in beautiful brownness of joyful hot chocolate.

Take off the heat. Scatter the ground pepper, if that is what your heart (and pantry) commands. If you are feeling a li'l adventurous, add a splash (or three) of liquor-- dark rum works the best wethinks, but hey, you are free to differ.

Pour into a warm mug, or whatever gives you comfort. Switch on the fairy lights, pull out a book, pull up your blanket, and sip. If you do not feel joy for the world, we suggest you rush to the hospital. Your taste buds might be as dead as your heart.

Harpy 2012, folks. We hope you enjoy your ride to the year at the end of the world.