Saturday, January 15, 2011

Safety First?

Originally, I had thought to address the simple logistics of keeping kids safe in a place that has hazards in every nook and cranny.  But it snowed this week, and that presented the perfect opportunity to teach my kids to make hot cocoa from scratch.  So, I'll do safety later.

Certain foods and flavors bring back vivid memories from my childhood, and cocoa is one of them.  There was always a steaming mug waiting for me after a day of playing in the snow.  I'm always hoping to give my own kids some of these lifelong comfort memories, so I spend the next 20 minutes donning snow pants, boots, mittens, coats and hats, and head out to shovel the driveway.  We have a north facing driveway, and if snow is not removed regularly a sheet of ice will form that will last until May.  Shoveling is a "must do" chore at our house.

When I am about halfway done, I notice my daughter is joyfully kicking snow back onto the driveway.  She's having fun and I don't want to ruin the mood, so I give her a gentle reminder that I'm trying to complete a task and please don't undo the work I've just done.  Two angels later, she's back to kicking snow onto my freshly shoveled driveway.  "Honey, I'm trying to get the snow OFF the driveway.  Please don't make my job harder than it already is."  She looks up at me with a big toothy smile and says, "I don't like working, I only like playing."  I have to laugh, "Most people feel that way, but you need to get your work done so you can play."  Her retort: "Yeah, but I'm a kid so I don't have to."  Perhaps we should have some Mexican hot cocoa to celebrate her spiciness!  When the shoveling is complete and the yard is full of snow angels, 3 shivering children head into the kitchen for their first lesson.

I discovered Mexican hot cocoa as an adult, and it was love at first sip.  As I drag out a pan, pour in some milk and set it on the stove my children look at me with heads cocked in curiosity.  The only cocoa they have ever seen comes out of a packet and is made in the microwave.  This is something entirely new and they are riveted.  Now that I have their attention, I have to keep it.  Here we go!  Turn on the burner to start heating the milk, grab the chocolate chips, cinnamon, vanilla and the cayenne pepper!  Keep the momentum, but keep control.  One violent shake of the cayenne and the concoction will be ruined and my children will never look at cocoa the same again.  I've got the 6 year old stirring, "keep stirring gently so the chocolate doesn't sink to the bottom and burn.  Careful not to splash."  The 3 year old  pours in the chocolate chips and then a BIG shake of the cinnamon.  A little more of each than I would have put in, but it's hard for kids this young to pour or shake with precision.  (If precision is needed, better do it for them or pre-measure and let them dump that into the mix.)  All 3 kids are standing tippy-toe in their stools, craning their necks to see as the milk, chocolate and cinnamon start to incorporate.  Steam rises, and the smell engulfs us all.  Stir in a little vanilla and just a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper and it's ready to be served.  I see them sitting in their chairs, eyes round with anticipation as I add the final touch of  5-6 small marshmallows in each cup.  They eagerly dig in and I take a moment to savor that first taste.  I am instantly transported back to my mother's kitchen.  The snow melting off my boots and out of my hair, enjoying each smooth and chocolaty sip.  For just a moment I really feel what it is like to be a kid again; to exist in a time where there is only play.  As I watch my kids intensely focusing on their mugs, I can only hope that they are forming some of the same memories that I now treasure.  Will they notice the spice?  It's there.  Just a subtle, lingering warmth.  Nope, they drink every last drop.  Satisfied, they run off to play.  I survey the damage to my kitchen content in the knowledge that my efforts will pay off, and my children will remember these days fondly.  In short, the work is worth it!

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