Sip: Cara's Fancy Cocoa
Once upon a time, I lived in Brooklyn and stalked this amazing website called Yummy-Books and dreamed about one day meeting somebody as marvelous as its author, Cara. In my mind, Cara was funny and pretty and charming and self-deprecating and honest about how wonderful and challenging and delicious and overwhelming life can be sometimes. In my mind, Cara was intense and smart and at the same time, light and fun and easy to love. In my mind, Cara and I were fast friends.
And then one day I walked into Brooklyn Kitchen, which was all of 100 yards from our apartment in Williamsburg, and lo! Behind the counter at their butcher shop (The Meat Hook) was a woman who looked just like Cara! Yummy-Books Cara! She had the deep, dark hair pulled into a braid, tucked neatly under a bandana headband and strong arms and a lovely, pretty face.
I stepped out of line, starstruck with the serendipity of it all, and checked Yummy-Books. There it was, right there, in print! How could I have missed it? Cara of Yummy-Books was also a butcher at The Meat Hook! She had been right under my nose the whole time! I stepped back into line, then let two people ahead of me because I wanted-- I needed-- to have Cara help me. We were destined to be fast friends. I just knew it.
Be cool, be cool! I told myself as I stepped up to the counter. "What can I get you?" she asked with a friendly smile.
"I have a creepy question for you but I'm not a stalker, I swear... Are you Cara Nicoletti? Of Yummy-Books?" I squeaked out rapid-fire, excitement strangling all the charisma right out of me.
Her face lit up. It was all the answer I needed. "I LOVE YOUR WRITING!" I shouted in a star-struck tornado of panic and admiration, loudly enough to make sure everyone in the store knew what a loser I was.
And that was that. We were, indeed, fast friends. I was right about Cara: She's as smart and as cool and as real as you might expect if you read her writing (and you should). Her upcoming cookbook from Little, Brown is the most anticipated title on my long list of books to add to my collection. When I find myself homesick for New York, I often realize it's not for the city's sights, sounds, smells or even tastes as much as it is the people I left behind there, the friendships that made the metropolis home for so long. I don't miss Brooklyn nearly as much as I miss Cara, and the heartsick that goes hand in hand with that sudden lack of proximity to her and my other New York friends is so intense that it sometimes pulls the breath right out of me.
On days like that-- of which there were many through the Christmas holidays-- I let myself have an oversized mug of Cara's Fancy Hot Cocoa (inspired by The Polar Express). I always keep a small jar of it in the fridge, for days that are either so wonderful they warrant a small celebration or so hard that they require a little chocolate, just to take the edge off. I love her recipe because it's a little spicy and a little sweet and smart and balanced and complex and all the things you could ask for in a glass of cocoa-- sort of like how Cara is spicy and sweet and smart and all the things you could ask for in a friend.
- Don't round-up on the cayenne unless you're fearless when it comes to heat. A little goes a long way. That said, don't round down, either, until you've made a batch and tasted it once you reconstitute it with milk, which takes a little of the edge off the heat. If it's still too spicy, gift it to a cayenne-loving friend (I'll send you my address!) and ease up on the next round. But don't judge a cocoa recipe on its ganache flavor alone.
- I added 1/4-1/2 tsp. ground cloves to mine, mostly because I didn't realize the recipe didn't call for it before I dumped it in. It added a lovely layer to the flavor profile, so I kept it in future batches.
- I almost didn't listen to Cara when she said to make it with the orange before you make it without the orange, but I'm glad I took the note. Seriously. Make it with orange, even if you're hesitant about it. Try it once. You will not be sorry.
What's your favorite pick-me-up on heartsick days?