How to make a cup of magic

Life in Zbraslav 2014-152

This is a ‘how-to’ post about the best cup of hot chocolate ever. Good hot chocolate is kind of an essential in our line of work (that being the occupation of existing as a human). Definitely this time of year, when days are short and brisk and nights are long and cold, hot chocolate is the cure to a number of ailments, including but not limited to: homesickness, stress, hunger, boredom and the intense desire to Google search South American human sacrificial rituals (because, you know, everyone’s had that urge at least once).

I’m currently reading a fascinating book about the 150 year battle between early chocolate developers in Europe in the 19th century. It was originally sold only in liquid form, generally without sweeteners and heavily infused with potato flour, red lead and brick powder.

Needless to say, things have improved.

Now, I’m pretty sure this recipe works with any kind of chocolate powder, but the chocolate of choice here in Prague is a mix called “Granko.” It’s sold in a bright blue box with bold red and yellow lettering so that anyone unfamiliar with the nature of the product may just confuse it for a drain cleaner or dishwashing soap.

But it’s not. It’s a miracle in a cardboard box.

I brought some into school one day to make hot chocolate for the students in my afternoon book club. After we had gone through all the hot water, the kids starting eating the powder straight from the box by the handful. I’m not sure if that has more to do with the nature of eighth graders or the quality of the product, but it’s no shameful endorsement in either case.

So here’s how to make this delightful cup of joy.

[DISCLAIMER: I may or may not reference specific measurements in the following instructions. They are all made up. Do not feel obligated to follow them because I certainly do not.]

  1. Pick your cup of choice. When it comes to picking mugs for chocolate there are only two criteria – size and decoration. Size is obvious – the bigger the better, duh. The decoration is important because if you’re drinking from that mug you picked up at a conference from that job you were recently let go from, the contents inside your cup will sense the tension and the frothiness of your drink will melt away in morbid depression and pity. I suggest picking a mug with kittens or christmas reindeer.
  2. Pour one tablespoon of water into the cup and fill the rest with milk. Then pour mixture into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Add half a tablespoon of butter to the milk just as it comes to a boil. If you want to add more butter, no one on this side of my computer screen will judge you.
  4. Add half a teaspoon of cinnamon and take off heat.
  5. Stir. If you can feel charred milk on the bottom of the saucepan, worry not! I haven’t figured out how not to make that happen – so, really, if you DON’T get charred milk, please let me know what you did…
  6. Pour frothy milk into your mug of choice. If that nasty layer of coagulated milk appears, do not let it inside of your mug. It is to your happiness what dementors are to Harry Potters’.
  7. Add three (or more, or less – but only if you’re super lame) tablespoons of Granko and stir. The oil bubbles from the butter should be clinging to the edges like little fairy pools. Don’t let your cholesterol levels panic. You are in charge here.
  8. Let cool for three minutes so that you don’t ruin the experience with burnt taste buds, and then enjoy!

The art of opening doors

Prague Generic3

My friends and captors on Charles’ Bridge, February 2014.

“Just pull the handle down,” Kat said in a tone that suggested I didn’t know how to open a door.

“I tried that.”

The large double doors of the Old Jewish Synagogue in Prague sat there lazily, refusing to budge. I felt mocked.

“Maybe it’s closed already,” said Kačka. She too attempted to open the door – like Americans don’t ever do that sort of thing and must not know how.

Kat smirked at both of us – it’s a friendly kind of smirk that Czechs are good at. The clouds rolled over our heads and began misting us with cold droplets of sky, so we walked to the other side of the narrow lane and through a door (which did open for us) to ask about the Synagogue. It was late Friday afternoon so Prague’s Jewish Quarter was settling down for the Sabbath. We, however, were just getting started.

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