In Italy, I drank a lot of tea. Too embarrassed to order the proper coffee and how many packets of sugar I used; I got mine from vending machines on campus anyway. I would nurse it while craning my neck to look at a fresco, taking notes, doodling in the margins when my teacher would switch to Italian. I did not know Italian. I never thought to learn before moving there.
Italy is a blur now, I remember it in fragments. In some ways, I can't remember much of anything except the cafeteria, the silent nuns who nodded their heads. The liturgical smell of the monastery that was a mix between parchment and antiseptic solution. I remember the art in vague metaphors of form and color. I think I cried seeing the David, but it could have been an eyelash. My contacts were old that day too, I do remember that.
October was a blur. I took trips to Belgium, Ireland, Spain, and Tunisia. I didn't bother to answer my phone when my mother called to wish me a happy birthday. I ended an email to a professor with "Besos". I was not myself, but I was a lot of things. I ate with my hands, standing up, quickly with my head down. I smoked a joint on a statue with two friends and fell asleep in the cab home. I didn't get the hang of it all, but I thought I did.
By November of that year, I started to figure out how to order coffee, the rules and rituals of calling Rome my home. We had a fake Thanksgiving and then Christmas rolled in lazily. Marketplaces and stands selling witches and baubles. I bought nothing but a ticket to the carousel and the icy air turned my cheeks red and dry during finals week.
It's six years ago today since I left for a flight to JFK. The morning before my bus left, I ordered a hot chocolate. Something to keep my hands busy and warm, as impatient as they were back then. The drink was thick, nearly a pudding, its silken warmth coating my throat. It was spiked with an alcohol I never quite tasted again but it hung on my tongue like a whispered prayer.
And this is my approximation, with Reddi-wip and chocolate sprinkles and smooth peanut butter. Made on the stovetop in a saucepan I found at a Texas flea market. It all comes full circle, it just took a few years and a few thousand miles to get there.
Italian-style Hot Chocolate!
- ¼ cup cocoa powder
- ½ cup white sugar
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup almond milk
- 2 TB cornstarch
- 2 TB whole milk or water
- 6 oz milk chocolate, best quality you can afford, chopped
- 2 TB smooth peanut butter
- 1 TB pure vanilla extract
- ½ TB almond liqueur
- Whipped cream, marshmallows, and sprinkles, if desire
- In a saucepan, whisk together cocoa, sugar, cream, and milk
- Heat on medium until sugar is dissolved, but making sure to stir frequently so the cocoa doesn’t clump
- While the saucepan is heating, in a small bowl, mix together cornstarch and milk to create a slurry
- Next, heat your cream mixture until bubbles form around the rim, then immediately take off heat and stir in your slurry, chocolate, peanut butter
- Continue to stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until everything is well-mixed
- Finally, stir in extract and liqueur
- Now, if you feel your chocolate was a bit clumpy, you didn’t stir enough, or your slurry did not fully incorporate into your mixture, I recommend running your entire mixture through a sieve to make it extra silken
- Serve immediately, top as desired. This recipe doesn’t not store wel