Christmas Is: Hot Chocolate!

Anyone who has read a post or two of mine may know of my life-long fascination with trains real and miniature. I have dreamed of living in the days when steam locomotives carried freight and passengers across the country. I was born just a few years too late.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered 1225, the Berkshire class Baldwin Steam Locomotive owned by the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan.

The beautiful locomotive was destined for the scrap pile many years ago when it was rescued by a group of dreamers who hoped to restore it to steam glory. Although the original rescuers did not see their hopes fulfilled, they were the first step in a long journey that ultimately gave the incredibly restored 1225 to the thousands of steam train fans waiting for a ride, including me. Little did those early dreamers know that one day this special locomotive would be used to provide the train sound track for the popular Christmas movie, “The Polar Express.”

I have enjoyed the incredible thrill of riding the “Polar Express” twice. The first time, our daughter and her two young sons and I took the trip. Several years ago my wife and I rode the train to the small Christmas Village in Ashley, Michigan. What a thrill to feel the power of the huge locomotive pulling us to our destination.

If you have seen The Polar Express, you are very familiar with the scene in the rail car with all the children in their pajamas as the dancing and singing waiters serve piping hot chocolate to all the kids. Christmas is hot chocolate!

Hot chocolate has been part of our family forever, and probably yours too. In the old days real hot chocolate was made by heating milk in a pan on the stove, and then adding chocolate syrup or Nestle’s Quik. My favorite was made by mixing Hershey’s Cocoa powder with sugar, stirring in a little warm milk and then adding it to the pan of steaming hot milk. Delicious!

I remember many Sunday nights after church my grandmother came home with us while our parents went out with friends. We always enjoyed hot chocolate and toast while watching Bonanza! For you young ones, Bonanza was a weekly television series about the Cartwright family, Ben (the father), Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe (played by Michael Landon of Little House on the Prairie fame.)

I am such a fan of hot chocolate, I even enjoy it from vending machines. Now that’s a hard-core hot chocolate lover. I hate to admit this, but I have even ordered hot chocolate at Starbucks! Don’t tell anyone. No one goes to Starbucks for hot chocolate, but I have.

Like all mochas from Starbucks, hot chocolate has to be enjoyed hot-hot. There is no such thing as good tepid hot chocolate. For a while, every time I stopped at Starbucks I ordered my mocha at 190 degrees. Literally! One time the barista handed me my cup and said, “Here’s your insanely hot mocha.” Now the “extra-hot” option is hot enough.

After thirty-one years in my previous career, I returned to university to acquire teacher certification which meant 1 1/2 years of classes including a year of student teaching at a middle school. Upon graduation I continued substitute teaching and returned to school again to complete a Master’s Degree in Educational and Professional Counseling. I had the incredible privilege of being a middle school counselor for five years before retiring for real. I told the principle who hired me I felt like I had been preparing for this position for the last forty years. My wife and I retired from the same school district, and both of us miss our family of colleagues at school.

One of the joys we experienced at school was serving the most amazing hot chocolate I have ever had. Each Christmas our lead secretary prepared for us what actually should be its own food group. This raised the term “hot chocolate” to a whole new level. The ingredients included a bag of dark chocolate chips, a can of sweetened condensed milk, a quart of whipping cream, and two gallons of whole milk. It was my privilege to serve each of our teachers a steaming cup of this tasty drink topped with peppermint marsh mellows. The crock-pot of hot chocolate was heating up in our back office, so it was my responsibility, obviously, to do a taste-check periodically since my office was just a few steps away.

Many years ago, my wife’s mother introduced us to home-made hot chocolate mix which we still use. It’s easy to make and we love it. I pour two packages of Carnation Powdered Milk in a large decorative jar. I then add a little more than half of a large jar of Coffee-Mate, then a bag of Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate mix. I shake it up in the jar until everything is mixed together. We keep a scoop in the jar. Boiling water added to one-third cup of mix (give or take according to taste) will give you a delicious cup of hot chocolate. Dropping a small candy-cane into the cup adds just the right amount of peppermint flavor.

Christmas has a magical way of bringing us back to the simple things that matter. Hot chocolate is one of those things that, if you let it, will help you rekindle what makes Christmas Christmas.

Here’s to another cup of great hot chocolate!

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