I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week with most of my thoughts exploring the suffering in our world. Suffering has been my close companion over the last three years, having experienced two difficult pregnancies and births; postpartum depression x2; pneumonia (while pregnant); chronic fatigue and joint pain; a busted leg; and in the last 24 hours, one nasty stomach flu. The challenges I’ve faced have been hard to handle, especially since I’ve always been very healthy, joyful, and relatively fit. In my mind’s eye, I’m a capable person, so I go at life full force but then am quickly frustrated when my strength fails me and I’m down for the count.

Hot Chocolate Three Ways 2

Chopped Dark Chocolate

The hurdles that have come my way have drastically altered the way I’m able to live my life, but here’s the thing: the more I mull things over, the more I see how small I am in this vast world of ours. It’s not that I don’t matter, as I know that God has a plan for me and he cares about my pain, but rather, there are others in this world, perhaps more than I realize, who are in the same boat, or worse. It’s a humbling thought for me as I consider the families of the Sandy Hook victims and can only imagine the magnitude of their anguish. It makes me want to forget my own problems and seek to be part of the healing for someone else. I want to reach out, even if I don’t have a lot to give.

Fresh Mint for Hot Chocolate

Dried Lavender for Hot Chocolate

Cinnamon Sticks for Hot Chocolate

Another thing I’ve realized is how much of my suffering is a result of my own foolishness. Tuesday was a crazy day. Our church community group had a Christmas party that night and between preparing items for the gift exchange, making a potluck side dish, and caring for the kids, I had a very full day. Too full. By the time we got home from the party, my bones were aching, and I was absolutely exhausted. Sure enough, the next morning I awoke horribly sick. Now, I don’t think my overexertion caused my illness directly, but my weakened state probably made me more susceptible to the yucky stomach virus that’s been going around. I think God’s been trying to show me this for a while, and I’m finally getting the message that I need to slow down.

And hey, while I’m at it, I might as well relax and unwind with a cup of freshly-made hot chocolate. I’ve been playing around with lots of different flavor infusions recently, and I’m quite happy with the results. The fresh mint is my favorite, but the lavender and cinnamon varieties are delicious as well. The bonus? They are super easy to make. I hope you like them, too.

Hot Chocolate Three Ways 3

Hot Chocolate, Three Ways

Makes: 1 8-ounce serving. This recipe can easily be multiplied for the amount of servings you desire.

Hot Chocolate, Three Ways

Ingredients

    Basic Hot Chocolate:
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 ounces (about 1/4 cup) chopped dark chocolate (I used 70% cacao)
  • about 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste
  • Infusion Options:
  • 1 sprig fresh mint (with at least 4-5 good size leaves), OR
  • 1 teaspoon food grade dried lavender buds, OR
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk along with the flavoring of your choice over medium heat until it begins to steam, stirring occasionally. Allow it to warm for 1 minute longer, then turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 15 minutes. (If using fresh mint, pressing the leaves against the bottom of the pan with the back of a spoon will help release its essential oils and intensify the flavor.)
  2. Pour the milk through a mesh strainer to remove the flavorings, then pour the milk back into the original saucepan. Heat the milk over medium heat until hot and steaming (but not boiling), remove the pan from the heat, then whisk in the chocolate and sugar until dissolved. Taste and sprinkle in additional sugar if desired.
  3. Serve hot with marshmallows or a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
http://www.pepperlynn.com/2012/12/hot-chocolate-three-ways/

Tips and Tidbits

  • The quantities of the mint, lavender, and cinnamon that I’ve provided in the recipe will result in a medium-intensity infusion. After the 15-minute steep, I recommend tasting the milk to see if the flavor matches what you are looking for. If it is not as strong as you’d like, allow it to steep for 15 minutes more; if it’s too strong, add additional milk to dilute it a bit. (Also, I found during my experiments with the lavender, if the flavor was a little strong, adding just a teensy bit more sugar seemed to do the trick to achieve a better balance.)
  • As I often suggest, I recommend using this recipe as a basic framework, but feel free to vary ingredients as you wish. Heavy cream or full fat coconut milk could be used in place of some of the whole milk to increase the richness, and sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar would add an extra dimension of flavor. While I like to stick with dark chocolate, you can use whatever type you desire (chocolate chips would totally work here). Just keep in mind that chocolate that is inherently more sweet than what I used may mean that you’ll need to add less sugar to the hot chocolate mixture.

ENJOY!

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