Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Going Back, Moving Forward: Spanish Hot Chocolate

It was strange to land in LA and find the landscape so familiar; I found myself re-mapping the city in my head, block by block, freeway by freeway, backseat driving before the second day was through.

On the first morning, since the kids were up way before anything was open, we drove to Venice Beach, and walked along the deserted boardwalk.  I couldn't help thinking about my first landing in LA almost 20 years ago, and the drive to the beach through the darkness, so I could put my feet in the Pacific Ocean, feeling like I'd just discovered another continent.  Pulling our sweatshirts against the wind, my son and I watched the early skateboarders and talked about homelessness in warmer climates.

Later we drove across town, past my old grocery store, past the alley where I was mugged at gunpoint, past my old apartment building where I lived next to a rockabilly couple on one side and a drag queen on the other and upstairs from a large Russian Orthodox Jewish family, past (and later, into) the bakery where I drowned my graduate school sorrows and celebrated triumphs with the best white chocolate raspberry cake on the planet.  We wandered around the Fairfax farmer's market, which had gotten a facelift thanks to the new upscale shopping center that colonized it.  We parked at the LaBrea Tar Pits--where I'd never been, despite the fact that I'd lived just blocks away--and marveled at bubbling asphalt.

We spent a day at the zoo with an old friend--the one I credit with responsibility for my return to the East Coast--and had a drink with an old boyfriend, who drove across town through rush hour traffic and walked to the end of the Santa Monica Pier in the wintry wind for the meager reward of a margarita and a quick conversation.  We drove to Long Beach to hang out at the aquarium with our old neighbor, who was thrilled to see the kids again and to be hug-bombed by familiar arms and faces.  And on the last day we drove through the rain up the PCH, stood on the beach in a break of sunlight and collected Pacific Ocean water at Leo Carillo beach, wandered back along the canyons on Mullholland Highway, and ate a huge brunch at Canter's deli.

We're back in the land of snow and hot cocoa now.  But I haven't entirely left LA, like I had last time. For everything people say about not being able to go back, it was easier to be there than I thought; actually, it felt oddly like I was tying up a loose end in my past, or bringing closure by returning as a different version of myself.  Maybe I'd let enough time pass so that the city didn't have such emotional power over me any more: I'd gotten a different doctoral degree, had a family, put down roots.

The more I thought about it, the more I think I've decided it's possible to go back somewhere (or even to look backwards) while also moving forward ... in fact, sometimes I think it's almost necessary to keep those pieces of our past intact, to remind us of where we've been so we can remember where we want to go, or at least appreciate where we are.

Happy New Year to you all.  Look forward to the year ahead.  Make plans.  Aspire.  But don't forget to touch base, once in a while, with the former yous.  Because they're no less you than you are now.

Spanish Hot Chocolate
I saw an advertisement in LA for "rich hot chocolate" and was a little disappointed with what I got because I think I was imagining this drink instead.  Another remnant from my past; this hot chocolate is the sort you dip churros into on brisk mornings in the cafes of Madrid.  Anything else that claims it's "drinking chocolate"?  Isn't.

1.25 oz. dark chocolate (60% or more)
1 c. milk
2 t. corn starch (less for thinner, more for thicker chocolate)
2 t. sugar (or to taste)

Pour half of the milk into a small saucepan and add the chocolate.  Melt over medium-low heat.

In the meantime, dissolve corn starch into the rest of the milk.  (Make sure it's fully dissolved, or you'll get lumps.)

Slowly add the milk and corn starch to the melted chocolate mixture.  Whisk in sugar.  Continue to whisk for about 5 minutes, or until the hot chocolate thickens.  Strain into a mug and drink ... or dip ... or eat in small mouthfuls with a spoon.
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  1. Ooh, chocolate con churros. Phoar.

    Glad your trip laid ghosts to rest, by the sound of it.

  2. Welcome home. I'm glad the trip was so good.

    I think drinking chocolate is in my near future.

  3. That looks incredible! I am such a chocolate lover!

  4. OMG. A few years ago Starbucks had something called Chantico, which I loved but which didn't last long (enough).

    I just made your recipe and it's even better than Starbucks'. THANK YOU!

    Sounds like your trip was wonderful. Your present meets your past and all is well.

  5. You are really an awesome writer J. I just read this post and your previous one back to back and was so taken in by your words, the beautiful way that you express yourself. Whether it was recapping 2012 or your visit to your old stomping grounds, you capture it all so well.


    "The more I thought about it, the more I think I've decided it's possible to go back somewhere (or even to look backwards) while also moving forward ... in fact, sometimes I think it's almost necessary to keep those pieces of our past intact, to remind us of where we've been so we can remember where we want to go, or at least appreciate where we are."

    Yes, what a wonderful point to make and your last sentence about touch base with our former selves and how they are not less than you are now. Thank you for that. I for one needed to read that heading into this new year with once again high (and probably at times unrealistic) expectations for myself and my family.

    As for the Spanish Hot Chocolate, the version I recall has cinnamon in it, at least that is what I think of when I think of Spanish Hot Chocolate. Yummy either way, I am sure.

  6. I absolutely believe that looking back helps us move forward. I'm a very firm believer in that.

    Just today my mom confided in me that their goal is to have their house on the market by the summer of 2014. This news settled like a rock in my heart, even though I know they don't need the space and with my dad's 4 year unemployment, selling the house is a necessity. But still, it's so hard to think that some day they won't live there anymore and I will never be able to go "home" again.

    I'm glad LA was a fun trip.

  7. After I graduated high school and went through those years (and years) of what-next-edness, my mother often advised me that there are no "geographical cures." You take your little turtle shell house with you wherever you go, after all.

    But I've found that this is not quite true. Some places click, some don't. Some retain such an emotional pull that they may as well be ex lovers.

    Funny, now that I'm married and settled, ex-boyfriends and ex-never-were-boyfriends no longer hold any power over me. Several places, however, still do.

    I hope you feel that you "belong" back East--geographical cure or no! :)

    Also, that hot chocolate looks like heaven.

    Happy New Year!

  8. There is something life affirming about visiting a place we lived long ago and being able to realize how far we have come in our lives since living there. I am glad you had a good trip to LA - and am glad you were able to go home again as the person you are now.


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