Gluten Free Cookies: Chocolate Dreams

Next to cookie monster, when it comes to cookies I think I'm the biggest fan. There are very, very, very few (read: those awful little hard sugar cookies you get from the bakery section at a grocery store) that I don't like. And maybe cookies that have accidental raisins instead of chocolate chips. And any sort of frozen cookie, because “cookies” and “stone-cold” don't belong together. One of my favorite cookies is a no-bake, fudge-like best-in-the-entire-world creation called “chocolate dreams.” My grandmother got the recipe for chocolate dreams from a woman she despised and forever after has referred to them as “chocolate nightmares.” Taking a more charitable view of the matter, I only call them chocolate nightmares if I have tried to make them on a hot, sticky day in which case they won't set up and have to be eaten with a spoon. Fall, winter, and early spring are therefore the best time of year to indulge in these treats which I think is perfect – I mean, can you possibly think of anything better to do with your time when iced-in than to pinch spoonfuls of unfinished chocolate dreams from the stove-top and to sit around after scraping the bowl clean?

A fraction of you will respond, “Yes, learn some new yoga positions.”

The remainder will raise their wooden spoons and swear fealty to this recipe which, I'm just gonna put it out there, is ninety times more satisfying than any number of yoga poses. And good news for those gluten-free babes out there – if you use gluten free oats, this recipe is for you too.
Hide your kids, hide your wives, make the cookies.

Chocolate Dream Cookies
makes approximately 18 cookies
½ cup butter
2 cups sugar
½ cup milk
½ cup cocoa
2 cups oats
½ cup raisins
½ cup pecans (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. In a medium-sized saucepan on the stove, melt the butter. Add the sugar, milk, and cocoa and bring to a boil. Boil for three minutes, stirring gently.
  2. Add oats, raisins, pecans (if desired), and vanilla.
  3. Quickly drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper and allow to cool till firm.

Seven Artists In My Coterie

When I do my art, I always like to keep in mind the artists whose work I admire. My friend, New Zealand artist Felicity Bergstrom nee Deverell, even recommended to me that I take a piece of work from an artist I admire and copy it stroke for stroke, as well as I can. Though I haven't been so bold as all that, I continuously refresh my inspiration by flipping through books whose illustrators I admire, and following living-breathing artists on Instagram and Facebook. Some of these artists, of course, my style is nothing like, but there is a coterie of artists from whose work mine takes courage and flavor. Of course I'll never thoroughly emulate any of them, nor would I want to. I like learning from what made them successful, though, and what made them a name in the art-world. Since I enjoy working in and do work almost exclusively in watercolor, pencil, and pen-and-ink, the illustrators I chose for this post are artists whose work mine approaches in media if not finesse of technique. Therefore, if I was able to achieve my imaginary "perfect style," it would be a mashup of:

Tasha Tudor

Beatrix Potter

Robert Lawson

Ernest H. Shepherd

Inslee Fariss nee Haynes

Which artists compose your coterie?

Whipping Cream Biscuits

Every well-trained Virginia girl knows how to cook, but beyond that, every well-trained Virginia girl knows how to bake biscuits. Biscuits are that essential companion to the almost-too-salty-but-not Virginia ham for which we've become famous. Biscuits are the canvas on which we paint too much apple butter. Biscuit dough is what you fold around a block of razor-sharp cheddar cheese before baking. Biscuits are always made from scratch and what we always choose for a birthday breakfast. Biscuits are what you are mad at Cracker Barrel for limiting to one-per-guest. Biscuits are, to the Virginia girl, what grain-bowls are the PNW blogger-stylist-photographer chick: her traditional fare, her secret weapon. Her life-hack for everything from a pot-pie crust to what to serve alongside a bowl of soup or with a hefty salad. Gone are the days when we can brainlessly make biscuits daily. I mean, I'm a biscuit-fan (favorite breakfast food – putcha' hands up!) but I can't condone having them very often. Health reasons and all that. Still, having a Biscuit Arsenal to my credit is part of my identity as a Virginia native. Not just one recipe, but several. Not just one memory, but two-hundred.

Today, I'm sharing the ultra-simple, frighteningly-easy Whipping Cream Biscuit. Just two ingredients: self-rising flour and whipping cream. It's a two-to-one ratio which you simply cannot mess up. These biscuits don't have the shattering butteriness of the more involved traditional biscuits and their texture isn't as delicate. But when you're simultaneously working on the roux for your macaroni and cheese, boiling pasta, chopping a salad, and baking ham, you're gonna be glad you knew this recipe. Snip, snap, snout, my tale's told out.

Whipping Cream Biscuits

3 cups self-rising flour
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

Combine ingredients and stir till dough comes together. Turn onto floured surface and knead ten times. Roll to 1” thickness and cut with biscuit cutter. Arrange on stone pan and bake in 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until the tops are golden. Serve warm with good butter or a fruit compote.
Variation: Cinnamon Roll Biscuits – roll dough into 1/2” thick rectangle. Spread a thin layer of butter over its surface. Rub a generous teaspoon of cinnamon into the butter and follow with several tablespoons of sugar. If desired, add raisins. Roll into a log and cut into 2” thick slices. Bake as directed and serve with a powdered sugar glaze.

Makes 12 or more biscuits

Airport Food: Stories For Laughs

In case you weren't sure, I will say it: people make me infinitely curious. Whenever I go someplace new or do something routine, the people I encounter are the component that excites me the most. My recap of a social event isn't complete without a fantastic person-related story to tell my family. I feel gypped if I don't have at least a semi-interesting interaction to tell. In this state of mind, you'd think that the top place to have interesting people-encounters would be on board an airplane. It's not such a far-fetched idea, is it? I mean, I'm stuck for several hours with my upper arm glued to a perfect stranger's upper arm while we fly in a pressurized steel tube across half the Deep South. I feel like that's solid grounds for having a conversation. Though...come to think of it, it might be equally solid ground for ignoring one another and pretending this cheek-to-cheek position is actually not happening.

REGARDLESS, the airplane people-stories don't always happen. But when they do, they seem to come in droves. On my recent flights to and from New Orleans, I had an uncommon degree of mid-air interaction with my seatmates.

First flight, reading Bob Spitz's Dearie: The Life of Julia Child

Woman sits down, buckles up, turns to Rachel: “Is that a good book?”
Rachel: babbles something too effusive and ends up embarrassing herself and her seatmate

Second Flight, reading Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me?

Different woman sits down, buckles up, turns to Rachel: “Is that a good book?”
Rachel: babbles something too effusive and ends up embarrassing herself and her seatmate

Second Flight, waiting patiently for my paltry cup of Sprite.

Flight Attendant hands in cup, looks from woman and daughter to Rachel and back again: “At first I thought you girls were twins, but I see the difference now. Y'all are just sisters!”
Girl-Stranger and Rachel exchange unbelieving looks. Look at their sodas and feel embarrassed. Look back at each other. End up laughing. Make a point to not notice one another the remainder of the flight.
Rachel: shocks herself by uncharitably hoping she don't look as tired as the Girl-Stranger does.

Nothing terribly out of the ordinary, right? On the second flight home from New Orleans, my luck changed. We were only half an hour from my final destination when the airplane screens mid-aisle began to show a Jamie Oliver Christmas Dinner special. To the girl who had eaten nothing since breakfast and found herself on the far side of the evening, the sight of an attractive, enthusiastic British cook fixing a sumptuous meal was almost painful. I couldn't even hear the sound, and I was overcome. My face must have betrayed my feelings (what's new?) because the sunburnt man beside me leaned over with a teasing smile.
Sunburnt Stranger: “What do you reckon he's making?”
Rachel: “It looks like some sort of Beef Wellington?”
Sunburnt Stranger waits a moment, leans over again with another smile: “I guess he's making Beef Wellington.”
Rachel folds hands in her lap and hopes the man does not notice that he has repeated what she just said a few seconds prior. Sunburnt Stranger smiles again and Rachel begins to wonder if he does anything with his life but kiss his wife in the seat next to him and smile teasingly at lonely girls for watching a soundless Jamie Oliver program and practically drooling over it.
Rachel decides she ought to make one more overture: “Wow, it looks like he's putting the whole Beef Wellington on the stove-top before putting it in the oven. I wonder if it makes the bottom crust crispy?”
Sunburnt Stranger: “ looks like it might be to make the bottom crust a little crispier and more sturdy.”
Rachel wonders if she can really be hearing this correctly. Second Sunburnt Stranger from the row in front turns around.
Second Sunburnt Stranger: “It's to stiffen the bottom so the juices don't seep through the crust. I'm a chef. You're talking to a chef.”

At this point, I was totally starving and pinned between two men who seemed to not understand a word I said. They began to talk about cruise ships and the sunburnt stranger from the second row explained that he was a chef on a private yacht. The sunburnt one beside me said that he had thought about going into the culinary arts at one point in his life but gave it up for something utterly forgettable. I could have had a lot of questions for the yacht-chef, but his very blonde and equally tan girlfriend was sitting beside him looking forbidding. Anyway, there was the issue of the seat-barrier so conversation would have been somewhat stilted. I nestled back in my chair and tried to look unapproachable, hoping no more wise cracks would be made about my adoration of Jamie Oliver.
I wasn't so lucky.
And as I got off the plane and escaped into the vast emptiness of my hometown airport, my staircase-wit awakened. What I should have said finally came to mind. Something that would have cemented our triumvirate of food-boasting.
I'm a recipe developer,” I announced in thought. “I write a food blog.” And then I went in search of dinner.

Wendy's had never tasted so good.  

At Home: My Kitchen Collection

Though I don't subscribe to the whole minimalist aesthetic, I do see the beauty in simplified things. Life is so full of so much. There is a constant stream of information flooding into my mind from the people I encounter, the responsibilities on my plate, and the way I live my life, down to the senseless information stream caught through scrolling mindlessly through Facebook on my phone before bed. So where I can, whether that's cutting off screen-time a half-hour before bed or choosing to read a book rather than look at the tiny updates on 367 friends' lives for the tenth time in the day, I like to simplify. Ever so slowly, that habit is making its way into the future renovation/redecorating project of the bedroom I share with my sister, Sarah. In a very small step toward simplified success, I rearranged my over-flowing, poorly-organized dish cabinet into something I am proud to look at. It's so inspiring to open the doors and not only see all my pretty dishes but to know that they aren't in danger of tumbling out the door whenever I open it. Psssst. My favorite shelf is, predictably, the glitzy corner.

Blue is such a soothing color.

"...of shoes and ships and sealing wax; of cabbages and kings..."


The red section is a little misfit, but see those tiny boxes? They're match boxes and they both come from places in my D.C. and conjure up vivid and wonderful memories, so I adore this corner as well. Beneath these two shelves (the gold section is opposite and adjacent the red), I keep a portion of my sizable teacup collection. The rest have been stuffed in the cabinets downstairs for frequent use. I probably have more dishes to my credit than is perfectly reasonable in a person who still lives at home, but what can I say? I love pretty things. I'm a bit of a magpie. A simplified magpie, but a magpie all the same. 

How have you simplified your life recently?

Dear Confused Twenty-Something

(I know this is a bit of a lengthy post and not my normal subject, but it's something I wanted and needed to express to any fellow twenty-somethings.)

Dear Confused Twenty-Something: 
(a frank confession)

I'm twenty-three years old. It is neither an old age nor a very young age. I'm five years out of high-school. I'm three years into my twenties. I'm single, both maritally and relationship-wise. I'm busy all the time. I've traveled three times in Europe on missions trips and around the US in the occasional summer-camp or campaign brought about by slightly-above-average political involvement. I've self-published two novels and won a contest that published my version of “Cinderella.” I've been published in a magazine. I've kept my sanity. I've kept my good humor. I've kept my common sense. I've kept my determination to never mess with alcohol. Not because it's evil, but because I know that its abuse blossoms in both branches of my family tree. I've become a modern-day Mary Poppins. I've become a home-school teacher. I've launched three blogs. I've shut down nearly as many. I've road-tripped and missed flights and seen beautiful and wonderful things I never expected I'd get to see. I've met fascinating people and made friendships that don't make sense on paper. I've lived life and I've missed sleep and I've skipped college and I've read great books. I remember to check my oil and I have my own car. It even has good tires.

I've done all these things. In a lot ways, my young self would call me a success.

But I still don't know what the heck I'm doing.

And I don't like that. You know, I thought I would avoid the classic “mid-twenties” crisis that all the romantic comedy leads encounter. I thought I would surely avoid that shocking sense of being flung around the head a couple times and let off like a sling-shot. I thought I would surely avoid feeling as simultaneously full of potential and utterly confused as a Lego set with the instruction booklet violently shredded. Because I had a plan: I would continue writing and become a novelist and get married by the age of twenty-two (if not sooner). I would not be sitting in my girlhood bedroom with a cooling mug of tea beside me, writing these words on my day off. I would probably have a kid by now and certainly a husband, and I could walk into any Barnes & Noble and pluck one of my own books off the New Release shelf.

That's not how it worked, of course. I have that career, but it's different than I expected. I'm doing it all – the housekeeping, the homeschooling, the cooking, and caring-for – that I expected I would do. But I'm doing it in someone else's home for someone else's children and I make dinner most nights of the week for someone else's husband. I'm writing, but it's not novels. It's a blog. It's letters. It's flash-fiction and finely-worded tweets and a manuscript I keep promising I will work on when I have time.

My life is both the same and worlds-apart from what I thought it would be. And I don't know. Is it good enough? Is it worthwhile? I have a fear of wasting this one wild and precious life of mine doing things that aren't what I'm meant to do. Maybe I worry too much about what I'm meant to do. Most days I adore my life and the things I get to do. I love the two little girls I take care of and my boss (their mother) never ceases to make me laugh. I love my family. My friends are fantastic. I have a safe home and earn plenty of money for small list of things I need. It's a wonderful life.

But when I get quiet and begin to listen to my heart, the confusion wells up. Is this what my life should look like at this point? I've used up the “grace-age.” I've used up the fumbling-around of the early twenties given to kids graduating college and moving out and launching into full-on careers. I'm a full-blooded woman now and it's nothing like I thought it would be.
There's so much more knowing.
There's so much more not-knowing. Will I ever get married? Can I even write a good novel? If I don't get married – and that's okay – what do I devote myself to? Will I play Mary Poppins my whole adult life? If not, then what will I do?
There are so many more moments of, “What in the world is this?” than I counted on. I've even surpassed my mother in terms of the number of years I've lived without being at least engaged. In an ironic little twist of events, I have sometime begun to feel that the expiration date of even her (always accurate) experience of Single Life in The Twenties is up. I've passed the deadline of my original plans and, seemingly, everyone else's. I'm walking everyday in uncharted territory. I was okay with a Plan B but I didn't realize Plan B would involve living each day wondering toward what end I was working. I thought I'd have a big goal. A big end-game. What I have is cold feet and a heart that throws itself daily into the work before her, hoping its enough.
Enough for what? Enough for noticing. Enough for seeing a pattern. Enough for looking back in twelve-months and being able to discern a theme. Any theme. I wrote about it in my journal before the new year:
“My life is a story. It has a plot (IT MUST). It is its own screenplay and suddenly I've been thrust into the role of lead, cameras fixed on my disconcerted face, and no one remembered to give me a copy of the script. Have you ever tried lip-syncing to a song you don't know at a church you've never been to when a tall, balding guy is blocking half the words on the projector screen? You gape and pantomime just one syllable behind the congregation and you begin to sweat under the double pressure of knowing you look like an obvious idiot (to the person whose mind wasn't on the worship), and the fact that to stop now would be twice as awkward. Basically, I'm tripping over the lyrics of life, singing along to a song I've never heard, feeling like I should have an answer because I'm an intelligent young woman. But guess what? I DON'T KNOW.”

You know what's also confusing? Those twenty-somethings who seem to know their lines. I look at them and think, HOW? They have a glittering career or a new family or some huge mission burning such a hole through their hearts that the soul-light pours out. I love those people. My very best friend is one of them. These people inspire, challenge, and thrill me. I love watching their stories unfold and being a part of the grand hustle and sparkle of it all. To those of us who are waiting, sent out of the safe harbor of adolescence but unsure to what destination our cargo is due, I extend my empathy. It is difficult to see our comrades sweep by with wind in their sails, colors flying when we long so much to go. It's especially hard if you, like I, have the energy, passion, and wherewithal to withstand such a mission. When we want to go, to be, to do, and we can't figure out where to go or who to be or what to do, it's difficult to not wonder if we've done something wrong. Missed some chance. Turned down some dead-end lane. Missed the last exit before a toll-bridge. Forgotten our social security number while mid-form at a doctor's office.

I'm so glad I swore allegiance to Christ because it is His power that comforts me. It is His unchangeable character that can balm my heart, bruised from pushing and being pushed against by life and the confusion of it. I know that my God is the God who specializes in taking daily not-knowing and forming it to His plan. I signed on to do whatever He requires of me and if that is walking in this haze for a season or even several seasons, then I know that's my work. Daily obedience. And it is good work because it is His work. I've never doubted that. It's an immense comfort to me and something I cling to, knowing that where truth and light is, darkness cannot also be.

But I want to comfort you, dear Confused Twenty-Something, that you're not alone. If you feel like you have no idea what's going on, please realize that more of us share that feeling than not. If you feel like you've lost touch with whatever it is you thought you wanted to be, or if all your plans have changed or if you're no longer certain, even, of what it is you are doing, don't freak out. Because I have freaked out and it changes nothing. I have also done my ground-work and I think it's a safe guess that three out of five twenty-somethings you talk to will identify with that promising and directionless Lego set mentioned above. It's okay. It's actually okay not to know. It's okay for life to be different than you thought it would be your whole life. Those people who seem to have Googled the lyrics to their life-song, I bet they're not always confident. I bet even they have days where they don't know. Because no one is omniscient.

Please enjoy their life. Don't succumb to jealousy or comparison. Support them. Encourage them. Glean wisdom from them and ask how you can help them be even more fantastic.
Please enjoy your life. Many of those put together people will tell you they miss the days of untapped inspiration and potential. Of not being sure what adventure life was taking them on. Take risk and adventures and ask someone to have dinner with you out of the blue.
Please do lots of things. Activity is a wonderful cure for confusion. If you can't determine the exactly perfect thing to do (and who can?) then you had much better be doing something
Please don't lose hope. Just because you can't see what's going on doesn't mean that nothing is going on. Or that nothing will go on.
Please don't take it out on other people. It is no one's “fault” that you feel confused or frustrated or out of the loop. Take time in this unidentifiable stage to love the people with whom you come in contact. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions. Pay for someone's lunch. Give more hugs than are strictly necessary.
Please keep dreaming. If you have a big goal, pursue it. If you have some dream that requires a skill you don't have, pursue it. Learn that skill. Take those classes. Go that way. Keep it up. And if your dream shifts to another dream, wish the first one farewell and get to work on the second.

And as always, please remember that the survival rate for the twenty-somethings is pretty high. I've heard that both males and females, by the age of thirty, have escaped with their lives. Take a breath, lift your head, and get going. I'm gonna stand by you.

Ways To Simplify Your Tea Party: Guest Post by Angela Bell

Today, as a departure from the normal blogging schedule, I'm hosting a friend of mine from the writing half of my life. Meet Angela Bell!

I first met Angela through a creative writing critique group which I was a part of until it disbanded some time ago. Since then, we've kept in touch and I've been pleased to see her writing career take off in many fun ways. In celebration of the publication of her Victorian-Era novella, she's here talking about how to simplify a tea-parties. I am not a huge one for simplifying things - maybe I should try it sometime? So it's fun for me to get to peek inside an efficient mind and see how it works. Please welcome Angela to Lipstick + Gelato! 

Novelist Angela Bell is a 21st century lady with 19th century sensibilities. Her activities consist of reading, drinking tea, and writing letters with a fountain pen. She resides in Texas with pup Mr. Darcy and kitties Lizzie Bennett and Lord Sterling. Angela’s Victorian Era novella, The Substitute Bride, just released in TheLassoed by Marriage Romance Collection. Pop over to her website,, to learn more and connect with Angela on social media.


I love fancy and frivolous, but I am also the queen of simplicity in my family. Whether it be make-up, fashion, or tea party planning, I do not like complicated.

Complicated can very quickly cause me to hyperventilate.

This recipe has twenty-one ingredients, fifteen separate steps, and takes six hours to make! Does it come with Downton Abbey’s kitchen staff as well, then?

Therefore, if there is a way to simplify, I will do so every single time.
Mix four ingredients and bake for ten minutes in a store-bought crust? Why yes, I think I will.

I love how simplicity frees one from the burden of perfectionism and allows us to enjoy the extraordinary delight of celebration year round. Here are a few ideas to simplify your next tea party, so you can relax along with your guests.

Ways to Simplify Your Tea Party

Forgo Mini Portions
Yes, teeny tiny deserts and sandwiches are traditional tea party fare. However, I’ve found that preparing miniature delights can also take significantly longer than their regular sized counterparts. If you wish to spend more time eating than in the kitchen, opt to forgo mini portions. Normal-sized quiche tastes just as scrummy as bite-sized, trust me.

Host a Potluck Style Tea
Instead of feeling pressured to make all the party food yourself, simplify by hosting a potluck style tea. In the invitations, state that you will be providing the main course along with the tea and then ask those who RSVP to bring either an appetizer or a dessert. This alleviates stress from your shoulders and allows guests to feel more involved in the festivities by displaying their culinary skills.

Invite Fewer Guests
You should not feel obligated to invite ALL your friends, relations, and acquaintances to every single gathering you host. There is a time for large parties, but there is also a time for intimate get-togethers over a strong cuppa. By inviting fewer guests, you create a cozier atmosphere and simplify your prep work. Organizing a tea party for three is much easier than planning one for thirty.

Serve Buffet Style
Arrange your sweets and savories on a kitchen counter or side board and let guests serve themselves buffet style. This is a great way to simplify your hosting duties because you spend less time on your feet fetching yet another round of scones.

Have an Indoor Picnic
You don’t always have to host a traditional tea party at a long, elegantly decorated table. In my novella, The Substitute Bride, my hero Elliot arranges a tarp on the floor of his library, making a casual indoor picnic tea for the heroine Gwen. Following the same notion, pick a favorite room in your house and spread out a favorite quilt on the floor. There’s just something so special about a picnic! And by having it indoors, you can enjoy the charm of a picnic tea even during the cold winter months.

Downsize your Table
If you don’t fancy a picnic but wish to try something other than the traditional dining room setting, simply move to the living room and down-size your table. Use whatever small table is available—tea-table, coffee table, or even an old trunk or study ottoman. Once you’ve selected your table, make a no-sew tiny tablecloth out of a doily or handkerchief. By downsizing the table, you simplify the amount of décor and china needed. And by having guests sit round the table on living room sofas, it makes for a more casual and comfortable vibe.

For more Ways to Simplify Your Tea Party, drop by my blog, 21stCentury Victorian Lady!

Winter Citrus: Discovering Pommelos

I'm late to a lot of food-trend parties because I live in the original Middle of Nowhere and nothing more exotic than an English cucumber ever comes through the produce section of my grocery store. Imagine my surprise when I encountered a bowling-ball sized citrus fruit couched among the lemons and grapefruit. But there it was, a giant moon-colored fruit piled near its brethren, bearing a strange name.
So I'm probably late to the pommelo party. There are about thirty-three ways to spell the name of this fruit which might have something to do with the fact that I just called it a “pommerang” and had to think several minutes as to what it was actually called (incidentally, I think the word I coined was a combination of “boomerang” and “Pomeranian,” neither of which are anywhere close to correct.)

//not my photo//

I snatched up the enormous thing and bought it. Because its produce sticker had got stuck to my sweater, the boy at the checkout had to ask me for the number of “this giant lemon thing.” Later, in the safety of twenty-minutes away, I googled what the heck a pommelo was supposed to be and what it tasted like and how to eat it. Because friends don't bring UFO's (unidentifiable food objects) into other friends' kitchens and expect them to be happy about it. Better come informed.
Thankfully, the friend whose kitchen was hosting my pommelo was completely fine with it. We sliced into the pommelo's yellow skin, with curiosity at first and then eagerness. The pale pink pith (think the white part of an orange) smelled faintly like gardenias while the dark pink flesh smelled like grapefruit. Pommelo is enormous – probably three times the size of your average grapefruit. Taste-wise, it falls between a sweet orange and a grapefruit...if I was hard-pressed for an exact answer I would say the flavor of a pommelo is like that of a Ruby Red grapefruit minus any of the bitterness, which puts it into a weird class of its own. It isn't sour at all, yet its flavor is quite distinctly citrus.

Google searches on this fruit turn up results like “quinoa and pommelo salad” and “pommelo marmalade.” A gardenia-scented, pale-pink marmalade? Heck yes. After turning the fruit inside out and upside down like particularly scientific-minded baboons, we devoured the fruit by “supreming” it with our fingers – the translucent skin of each section is quite thick and best peeled off, leaving behind thick, firm segments of the pommelo. I have never seen a fruit that is more of a “lady-fruit” than the pommelo; from its pale yellow outer skin to its fragrant, creamy pink pith and the rich, rose-colored fruit itself, the pommelo is an unexpected mid-winter feast for so many of the senses. I hope the grocery store still has them next time I go back – I want to make some marmalade or another batch of shrub. Take my advice: see a pommelo, buy a pommelo. They're really quite something.  And hey, pssst. You heard it from me. 

How To Make Gourmet Hot Cocoa From The Packet-Stuff

The title of this post sounds like some drug reference but I promise it isn't. Also, I apologize for the random post-without-a-recipe on Tuesday! That was meant to stay as a draft and somehow sneaked out of the fold. Anyway.

A girl makes friends her whole life and sometimes – rarely, but sometimes – those friends know how to make The Perfect Cup of Hot Cocoa. And even more rarely, that friend will agree to let you invade her kitchen and, you know, spill all her secrets and let you bring weird fruit no one has ever heard of before. Meet Candace Rarick: the woman behind this alchemy.

I first encountered her brand of hot cocoa madness at a girls' night during Hurricane Joaquin (which didn't actually make it to Virginia). Candace was all, “I'll bring stuff to make hot cocoa!” in the group message and the other girls and I let her have that one, little realizing what she actually meant by “I'll bring stuff to make hot cocoa.”
Hot cocoa packets.
Chocolate syrup.
Chocolate chips.
Whipped cream.
Oh my goodness. This girl's serious about her cocoa. After a little begging on my part, Candace let me watch her deceptively easy steps to making the perfect cup of cocoa. Before my eyes, this 5'2 brunette turned a bagful of groceries into a dozen mugs of hot cocoa the perfect color, consistency, temperature, and flavor. If I had not watched her dump the packets of hot cocoa into the mugs, I would never have known this cocoa wasn't made from scratch. It tasted like brownie batter in liquid form and wrapped around the my weary soul like a chocolate-flavored plush blanket. It tasted the way the Swiss Miss commercials make it look like their instant packets would taste. It tasted like all your childhood dreams of hot cocoa not ruined by that ubiquitous cup of tepid brown water we all anticipated after a rare snow day. You know, the kind that has mummified mini marshmallows that still crunch when you bite them, and a half-inch of undissolved powder when you finally reach the bottom of the cup? Candace formulated her recipe over the years by trial and error, making a batch and thinking, "No, that isn't quite right - what can I change?" It began with extra powder. It ended with the recipe as we know it today, which I daresay would be hard to improve. As I watched Candace conduct this magic I crouched. I waited. I asked if I could come again sometime for lessons. She said yes and we forced our schedules to collide and now, after months of waiting, I can finally share the definitive way to Make Packet Hot Chocolate Taste Gourmet.

See, at some point in your life you will want hot chocolate and are A) out of cocoa powder to make it from scratch or B) out of range of a stove. This recipe, then, is for those moments. But though making totally homemade hot cocoa will never go wholly out of style, I think it's safe to say that this recipe for hot cocoa equals (or beats) any completely homemade version I've ever made. It's indulgent and best enjoyed in place of a meal (because, really, who wants just a taste? Go all or nothing, I say) and you'll be forever changed. But before I get to the meat of the post, we have to define some terms:

Hot Chocolate: a hot, creamy drink based off of melted chocolate mixed with milk, rather than cocoa-powder-based.
Hot Cocoa: a hot, creamy drink based off of cocoa powder, sugar, and milk.

What we're making is hot cocoa, which means that the finished liquid should be dark brown rather than the paler color permissible in hot chocolate. The various steps are also important and will be further described in the actual recipe. What you need to know now: you're mixing all your “dry” ingredients, adding BOILING water (yes, you really want it actually boiling, as this will melt the chocolate) and cooling the drink to perfect sipping temperature with a splash of cold milk. Got it? Now: Candace's recipe.

Decadent Hot Cocoa (from a packet)
For a large mug (or thermos) of hot cocoa:

2 packets hot cocoa mix (Ghirardelli makes a fantastic mix)
A generous Tablespoon of Hershey's Chocolate Syrup
A few pinches of dark chocolate chips/chunks (about 8 chocolate chips)
½ cup whipped cream (plus more for topping off)
6 oz. BOILING water
1/3 cup cold milk

  1. Start off by dumping the contents of the packets in your mug. To this, add a generous “globble” of chocolate syrup. Basically spin the bottle several times, squeezing hard. This is inexact. Toss in the chocolate chips.
  2. If using Reddi-Whip-style whipped cream, spray a generous portion (about ½ cup) into the mug. Allow to soak into the powdered ingredients while your kettle boils. In place of stove-top boiling, you may boil water in the microwave. When the kettle is boiling, pour 6 oz. (or a bit less, depending on the depth of your vessel) of water into your mug and stir into a concentrate of all things miraculously chocolatey.
  3. When your concentrate is all set, go ahead and douse it with the cold milk. At this point you're just topping and cooling with the milk, so fill your mug as far as it will go and stop there. Top with a generous display of whipped cream and a little more drizzled chocolate syrup.

Though there are probably five hundred and twelve calories in every mug, sometimes (especially post-snowball fight) it's worth it. And you'll know when you taste it that you've been in the presence of genius. We hail you, Candace, Queen of Hot Cocoa. MAYSHELIVEFOREVER.