So, the other day, I took the subway seven stops clutching a small tree.
This time of year it’s not that rare to see otherwise sane looking adults dragging whole trees, minus the roots, through the streets of New York. Tourists point and stare at grown men in expensive coats struggling against the weight of the trees on their backs as they try to walk down the subway stairs. Women in heels choose trees twice their size and tip delivery men because they know better.
When I was growing up we always had an artificial tree so, of course, I always wanted a real one. If we’d always had real trees I’d probably be sitting here writing about the joys of fluffing and shaping artificial branches.
Every year since getting my first apartment I’ve had a real tree. This year I went for a modest 3-footer, but over the years I’ve had big ones, small ones, potted ones, cut ones, and little tiny live ones that came with teeny tiny ornaments attached. A few years ago we just decorated a house plant because we were so strapped for cash that we didn’t want to waste money on a tree. It was a 3 foot dwarf palm with string lights and blue, green, and purple bulbs. No star.
I’d had those blue and green and purple ornaments for years, and I bought a few of them from the dollar store in Saranac Lake, New York for my very first tree in my first apartment. Last year we decided to finally put them to rest, and to simplify with a white and silver scheme instead.
When I was little I’d made craft dough Christmas ornaments with my mother and sister, so last year I adapted the idea and made “gingerbread” salt dough ornaments cut into the shapes of snowflakes and furry woodland creatures. If you want to try the project out for yourself, check out my gingerbread salt dough ornament tutorial.
To warm us up while we decorated I made a spiced Mexican dark hot chocolate with homemade whipped cream. I recommend using the highest quality chocolate you can get for this. Use a chocolate bar that you would eat on it’s own, not something you find in the baking aisle. Since there’s little more to this than milk, a bit of spice, and the chocolate; the chocolate you choose will make a big difference in the flavor.
This hot chocolate is rich and dark and thick and creamy. It’s got just a hint of spicy warmth, and a tiny bit of caramel-y sweetness from a touch of brown sugar. It’s just barely sweet, but is still so rich that a small serving is completely satisfying. If you don’t care for dark chocolate and want to use milk instead, I’d recommend you skip the addition of brown sugar or it may end up too sweet. If you like to get down, I’d also highly recommend adding an ounce or two of whiskey to each serving. If you don’t want to get too crazy but like a touch of the sauce, you could add a tablespoon or so to your whipped cream instead.
Mexican Dark Hot Chocolate
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
4 ounces good dark chocolate (about 70%), chopped
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
more cinnamon, for dusting
Place the milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cayenne in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Off the heat add the chocolate and vanilla. Let the chocolate sit and melt in the milk for a minute or two before whisking in to combine. If necessary, reheat the hot chocolate over low heat just until it simmers.
In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the cream and powdered sugar until the cream whips up into stiff peaks. You can use a hand mixer or stand mixer if desired, but it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes or so to do by hand, and you’re not making much.
Divide the hot chocolate between mugs and top with whipped cream. If desired, dust very lightly with cinnamon before serving.