It’s a snow day in middle Tennessee. One of those rare, single digits, howling wind, bundle up because the snow is deeper than your boots days. We don’t get a lot of those, so I try to appreciate them when they come. When I wore a younger mans clothes, this usually meant putting the plastic bags from loaves of bread over my socks before putting my boots on to go sledding, usually being pulled behind the tractor by my grandfather. What can I say, the hills on our farm are more of the gentle, rolling variety than the exciting toboggan run style. We would usually follow that up with “skating” on one of the ponds before breaking the ice so the cattle could get a drink and making sure all the stock had plenty of hay. Somehow, he would hide the work in the fun in the same way that he would hide life lessons in that work. As cold as it would be out there, we knew that when we got back to the house grandma would have hot chocolate waiting for us on the stove and that still tastes like home to me. So, peel off those wet shoes, being careful to not tear your bread bag liners, as we stand in mostly dry socks and make a mug of Spirited Oaxacan Hot Chocolate.
Before you get all excited, this is not an actual according to Hoyle cocktail. I know, I should be better than this, but I was stuck with a snow day and wanted to experiment with some ingredients I picked up in warmer times and more temperate climes. This one is a warm cup of comfort in the same vein as a Verte Chaud or other Boozy Hot Chocolate, but with a nod toward southwest Mexico with the style and ingredients. We spent some time in Oaxaca with friends to kick off the holidays this year and in addition to the requisite mezcal and molé, we brought home a kilo of freshly ground traditional chocolate blend from El Mayordomo at the Central de Abastos market. This amazing food of the gods is a melange of cacao beans, granulated sugar, cinnamon and almond all made right before your eyes and to your specifications. I did not have any real plan for it, but it smelled so good I just had to have it. Of course, we sampled it at the time and added a little to our coffees that week, but after we got home it ended up out of sight and far from our minds, until today.
So the first step here is to make the chocolate caliente using that incredible Mayordomo chocolate blend. I know that this particular one can be tricky to find here, but there are several styles of this treat, usually packaged in small round pucks or bars meant to be melted into boiling water or hot milk. Taza makes some wonderful organic stuff in Boston and Abuelita is available in most any grocery, but I am fond of the Mayordomo version with the almonds added for a little interesting bitterness on top of the cacao. No matter who makes them, the tablets make things super easy, just melt one tablet in 4 cups of heated milk and froth using a whisk. Of course, if you are a bit extra like me, you can go the traditional route and toss a pinch of sea salt in there with a dash of chipotle powder and 1/4 ounce of Bell Buckle Country Store Pure Vanilla Extract before working some air into the mixture by rapidly spinning a wooden molinillo between your hands just like abuela used to. Once you have your traditional hot chocolate seasoned and frothed to your liking, pour it into a suitable mug. I went with some handmade pottery that we bought in the same market as the chocolate because that just felt right. My mug holds about 6 ounces of hot chocolate, so I added 1 1/2 ounces of El Rey de Matatlan Añejo Gran Reserva de la Casa Mezcal, 1/2 an ounce of Nixta Elote Liqueur and 4-5 drops of Xocolatl Mole Bitters. Give that a good stir to the beat of a Fierro Viejo remix and grind a little fresh cinnamon on top as garnish before serving.
Of course, that is amazing. Even 1,500 miles and weeks from where that chocolate was blended, it just has so much flavor. Let’s be honest, this hot chocolate is wonderful on its own, as our child can attest, but adding the mezcal, elote liqueur and bitters, just makes it sing. The richness of the alcoholic ingredients enhances the flavor and creaminess in a way that I did not imagine. Nothing overpowering, it just makes everything a little bit more than it was, if that makes sense.
I guess that is what a cocktail is supposed to do, to make things a little bit better, to enhance the experience and this one delivers. Is it like my grandma’s made from scratch hot cocoa? Not remotely, but it brings back great memories in the same way. Drinking my Oaxacan Hot Chocolate today, I was back in the market for a moment, the smells of the chocolate and cinnamon hanging in the air, the promise of this drink to come made all those miles ago. Rolling the molinillo in my hands I see the smile of the woman who made it. Choosing the mezcal, I was reminded of sampling several styles with friends before selecting this bottle as my favorite from that palenque. As I sip from the handmade cup I bought that day, I think about the efforts I took at my grandpa’s workbench to seal it with linseed oil to make it hold hot drinks. It is funny, but even though he’s no longer here to pull my sled, he still had a hand in helping me make it through another snowy day on the farm and there is something wonderful about that.
So, I find myself, holding a cup from a strange land, full of exotic ingredients I gathered on my travels; looking out across the snow covered farm missing my grandpa and the little boy that walked these fields at his side with plastic bread sacks in his boots. Jodi Picoult once said, “Maybe you had to leave in order to miss a place, maybe you had to travel to figure out how beloved your starting point was.” So, take a moment on this quiet day to look out into the snow, have a sip of something comforting and remember the people and places that make home for you and, as always, stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.