Holiday Hot Cocoa

First the quick way, then the “real” way.

Basic but nice:

  1. Hot chocolate mix and hot water
  2. Tea spoon of decaf instant coffee
  3. Cream or half n half or almond milk to bring it down to drinking temperature
  4. 2 drops peppermint extract OR two shakes ground nutmeg
  5. Stir gently and thoroughly
  6. Whipped cream topping and sprinkles

Fancy way:

  1. 2 spoons baking cocoa with just enough boiling water to dissolve it
  2. Confectioners sugar to taste, gently stirred in
  3. 2-3 spoons brewed decaf coffee
  4. Cool milk or cream added to desired drinking temp
  5. (Optional: Stir in using a milk frother for more of a latte texture)
  6. Peppermint extract 2-4 drops, OR 1/2 teaspoon of 1:1:1 mixture nutmeg, ginger, and all spice (Not everyone likes the added flavor, though)
  7. Pure heavy cream, beaten until you have God’s greatest creation, homemade whipped cream
  8. Top with whipped cream and either sprinkles or nutmeg

A few afterthoughts:

  • You can leave out the coffee if you can’t stand coffee flavor no matter how slight. Most people will not even taste it, but rather it will potentiate the chocolate flavor.
  • When I say spoons I mean the ordinary eating utensil. Our cutlery set has larger and smaller spoons and we use the smaller ones 99% of the time. Ultimately those measurements are to taste and the size of the mug used will affect this, too.
  • I am experimenting with salted caramel and maple syrup versions.
  • Chocolate syrup drizzle could be a nice addition.
  • In the quantities listed, you could use regular coffee and the caffeine would still be negligible for most people.
  • For plain hot chocolate without added flavors, I’d recommend a pinch of sea salt on top. This is also a good hack for coffee that is too bitter whether from over-brewing or imperfect beans.

The year 2020: reflections

The year 2020 was confusing

What a memorable blur of a year. Reflecting on the year 2020… Some days and weeks slid by without events to mark them. Other days, especially holidays, birthdays, milestones, and anniversaries, stand out for their stark contrast to past celebrations.

Now the weather is getting colder, it takes a little more effort to get out the door for a therapeutic dose of nature. It is worth it!

2020 theme: Appreciating nature more

Beauty is everywhere ephemeral. This year nature put on especially good displays in the garden, in the forest, and on the lake.

Reflecting on 2020, we were just more aware of the show, being on lockdown. The whitetail deer fawns arrived on schedule, and in the fall we spotted a larger buck we hadn’t seen before. The wrens and swallows that favor certain spots raised their fledglings in the spring.

Hordes of geese descended, swam, and took flight. Epic splashdowns. Honking battles. Show offs standing around and chatting on top of the thinnest ice. They are very self-important, these guys. Occasionally, a couple of mallards brave the edges of the lake. The reticent wood duck family made appearances once or twice.

There is a particular dead tree where the juvenile bald eagles roost for a few days after their parents kick them out and before they find their own territory. Red-tail hawks and Cooper’s hawks were more common, likely in part due to the proliferation of backyard vegetable gardens in 2020.

This led in turn to a proliferation of squirrels and opossums. Less so, racoons (too crafty) and rabbits (too delicious to predators, apparently). We only saw foxes a few times.

Hooting owls all over the place. I learned that it is usually a pair of owls. The male and female hoot to each other. Now whenever I hear one, I listen for the other.

I am still just beginning to learn the names of the various flora. It could take my whole life, and that just in the North American part of the world that I love so much.

The year 2020 highlighted the neighborhood

One of the things I really enjoyed this year was the friendliness of the neighborhood. We have amazingly kind neighbors on all sides, really. This is not something you can buy. It is not something you can know until you live in a place.

In a rather contentious year in the broader political landscape, people were stuck at home more.

Not having lived in a neighborhood per se growing up, and then having lived in small apartments and for a year, a rented room in someone else’s house, as a young adult; the neighborhood still feels a little novel to me. I think it always will, in the same way that winter, true cold, and the far North will always fascinate me, having grown up in the desert Southwest.

So, people were stuck at home more. But with the daily grace of living in a place where taking walks outside is a practical thing to do, even during the days of full lockdown. Reflecting on the year 2020, agree with me that walks are good.

And so we began to know our neighbors more. We had met our immediate neighbors, but now we started to know almost the whole neighborhood by sight and to say hello to.

You would just smile to see your neighbors. A break in the monotony of isolation. We were all feeling the strain.

The year 2020 is drawing to a close

Life is a bit bleak right now.

We are still hunkering down.

We are not back to normal.

We are not sure about the new normal.

But this, too, shall pass.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Dr. Maya Angelou

We will not forget how you made us feel, 2020.

Celebrate Harvest Season

Celebrate the Summer Harvest

Once again, it is my favorite time of the year! Time to celebrate harvest season. The leaves change color and fall, and it is time to put the garden to sleep for the long winter. But first, we take some delicious veggies to the kitchen.

Summer veggies!

Reflecting on the summer garden, I realized that we have actually made a lot of progress in a relatively short time.

Celebrate Progress in the Garden

First there was a late frost, and then significant competition for our produce from the deer, squirrels, and birds. Now that the harvest is wrapping up, here are a few of the successes after a couple of years in progress:

  1. Increased the number of raised beds
  2. Added mulch (and learned how to get a truckload of free mulch for the asking)
  3. Added compost (accelerated by adding the birds’ used bedding to the pile)
  4. Blackberry bushes grew well and so produced more berries
  5. Tomato vines were enormous
  6. Peppers and onions grew better than expected
  7. Herb garden expanded to include rosemary, parsley (2nd year plants!), mint, garlic, onions, cilantro and coriander
  8. Planted some new flowers that seem to be doing well
  9. Perennial garden including hazelnuts, cranberries, and elderberries continued to grow well
  10. Added a couple of trees
  11. Kept my potted lemon tree alive another year and it produced two lemons
  12. Indoor garden added a few plants and propagated a few plants

Celebrate Positive Reflections

This year I felt like the garden had setback after setback, but when I actually reflect on it, there were a number of areas of growth and success just because of things set in place in the first year. The soil improved. The perennials are more established and more productive. Time to celebrate the harvest season and the transition from summer to fall.

Reflections on 2020

Never has the garden meant more than in such a wild year 2020!

One Minute Latte

Photo by Vova Krasilnikov

This is the easiest way to make a one minute latte in the comfort of your own home. Under the assumption that you do not already have a full coffee shop set up in your kitchen. Yes, I did a stint as a barista at two different establishments back in the day.

Save glass jars with lids. I like Mason jars. I have a good supply of them and the deer decimated our tomato crop so I am not expecting to do a whole lot of canning any time soon.

Photo by Brett Sayles

Microwave milk. This is very important: WITHOUT THE LID. Do not microwave metal unless your intent is to ruin your microwave and start a fire in one fell swoop.

Shake jar. This is also very important: WITH THE LID.

Obviously, if you want to buy another kitchen gadget, the “real” way to froth the milk, is with a milk frother.

Add coffee or espresso or cocoa or tea and maple syrup or agave or cinnamon or nutmeg or other flavorings to taste. Drink hot or pour over a generous amount of ice. If you are going to pour over ice, you want to make your coffee/espresso/cocoa/tea at least twice as concentrated.

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs

I think this would work with any milk substitute with a decently high fat content. I like it with regular milk, coconut milk, or cashew milk. Skim milk or almond milk works and will taste fine, but is not going to froth nearly as well.

Fresh whipped cream is an ideal topping. Pure heavy whipping cream in a jar WITH THE LID ON and shake until it is whipped. Set aside and then top the latte. Any extra will go perfectly with some fresh berries. Easy.

So nice. I hope you enjoy the one minute latte and find your best personal combination.