I’ve groused a lot about how some times these holidays fall at inappropriate times of the year. I believe that if you are going to celebrate a food that tends to be seasonal, you should celebrate that food in that season. I was irked at Cotton Candy Day falling in December and peeved that National Sundae Day came in November. Both should be in the summer. That’s why I was delighted to see National Cocoa Day fall right in the heart of the holiday season at the beginning of winter. There’s something right about that.
The origin of cocoa comes from the ancient Mayans who used this diverse bean by grinding it into a paste along with cornmeal and chili peppers and combining it with water to create a cold frothy drink. It was different back in those days and much bitter having no sugar. When Cortes defeated Montezuma in the Aztec Bowl of 1528, he brought the beans back to Spain where it would slowly grow in popularity among the elite of Europe. By the 17th century, sugar was added creating a sweet beverage, although still expensive because the cacao beans all came from South America. Milk was also added to the menu too at that time creating milk chocolate for the very first time as a way to combat the bitter taste. In 1828, Coenraad Johannes van Houten developed the first cocoa powder producing machine in the Netherlands which separated the greasy cocoa butter from cacao seeds, leaving a purer chocolate powder behind. This powder, much like instant cocoa powder used today, was easier to stir into milk and water. As a result, another very important discovery was made: solid chocolate. By using cocoa powder and low amounts of cocoa butter, it was then possible to manufacture bar chocolate. The term “chocolate” then came to mean solid chocolate, rather than hot chocolate. (Source: Wikipedia)
For my celebration, I did a quick search for notable Cocoa places in Rhode Island. I found two ‘Best of” lists, one from RI Monthly magazine and the other from a blog called Taste Trekkers. Both had three places in common on their list of five. One was a place called The Shop in Providence which I checked out their website but it seemed to have not been updated in a while and the menu didn’t mention hot chocolate. Understandable, but risky. Another was a place in Pawtuxet Village (Cranston) called Sweet Indulgence. That looked good too but a longer trek for me to go. The last place was called The Duck and Bunny in Providence which is kind of a coffee/tea shop/restaurant but they prefer to call themselves a snuggery. That just seemed right for cocoa. A snuggery by the way is a cozy or comfortable place and also a word that we should use more frequently in our daily lexicon. As serendipity would have it (and I use the word serendipity as a small shout out to the NYC restaurant of the same name that has made frozen hot chocolate a foodie craze), I had an appointment in Providence today a few blocks away from my local snuggery.
Lola was also in Providence today too, so it gave us the chance to meet up for lunch. The Duck and Bunny is on Wickenden Street which I believe is East Providence (I’m still getting my Providence bearings). It’s kind of a funky little neighborhood with unique stores, artsy attitude, and a hipster feel to it, but not in a bad way. The D&B is located in an old converted house and when you walk inside, you feel like you are being welcomed into your cool aunt’s living room. Ahead of us was a big sitting room with comfy chairs around a warm hearth while to our left was the coffee bar and a few tables. The elegance of this beautiful old house was still very much on display while being accentuated with modern touches of design to add to the comfortable feel. If ever you wondered what a snuggery should look like, especially with a fire in in the fireplace, this was it. The staff was welcoming and friendly too and sat us in a cozy seat by the window. It was busy too which is always a good sign.
I ordered a large Drinking Chocolate to start and Lola went with her more traditional latte. The cocoa did not stand out on the menu in any way or was not billed as being the bomb-diggity. It was actually kind of hidden in between all the coffee and tea flavors and the smattering of fun cocktails available, but it was there and looked good enough for me. The rest of the menu was interesting too. They feature brunch every day, which is always winning me over, and they also feature crepes as a specialty. You don’t see that many places. They make cupcakes too which are on display in a case beneath the bar and there was a stead flow of people coming in to get theirs. Everything on the menu was fresh and locally sourced as well. For lunch, I ordered a crepe burrito which sounded pretty interesting and Lola went with their version of Eggs Benedict served on rosemary focaccia. We went with a side order of truffled pomme frites too because we had too.
So that’s it. That’s the best Hot Cocoa in Rhode Island. They did it! In all honesty it was a really, really good cup of hot chocolate. It was perfect temperature, made fresh, nice and frothy and a great chocolatey taste. Not too sweet – just right. It was big too. Sometimes when you order a hot beverage in a coffee shop you want that giant cup that they show in the movies. This was that cup. The barista (I’m not sure if that what he called himself but there was a super-informative guy behind the bar making all the drinks) took his time to make this drink and it showed. Lola’s latte was made with equal care as well (and was also delicious). Our meals were fantastic too. The burrito was as good as any burrito I’ve ever had and being wrapped in a freshly made crepe gave it a unique little twist. Lola’s was great too and the fresh focaccia pulled it all together. A great meal and a place we will go back too.
Our plan was to do some Christmas shopping afterwards but when we were finished, we just weren’t feeling it. When you try to go Christmas shopping when you’re not feeling it, it just doesn’t work. You just become negative about everything and can’t wait to get out of each store you go into and get home. So we cut our losses and went home. Just one of those days.
Later at night, I still had some more celebration in me so after dinner I warmed up some milk on our stovetop in a pan and once it was sufficiently hot, I added in some Ghirardelli hot cocoa mix and stirred it in. The white creamy milk turned to a nice dark chocolatey brown and I let it heat up a little more. Finding that right temperature when you are heating milk is a tough spot. You want it hot, but don’t want to scald it. I poured it off into two mugs and then added in some coffee liqueur to each. I topped Lola’s with whipped cream (her choice) and mine with some marshmallows and served with a spoon (a spoon is an important part of the hot chocolate experience). That was our final little celebration of Cocoa Day. And it was tasty, warm and cozy.
What did I learn today? Well, for one, cocoa can be especially enjoyed in a snuggery. It also is very appropriate to celebrate cocoa in December when the air is cold and the streets are bustling with Christmas spirit. I also learned that sometimes Christmas spirit just doesn’t go down as easy as a nice hot cup of cocoa does. Some days you feel more festive that other and even though you are trying to celebrate every day, you can find it hard to keep pace with the rest of the world. It just happens. But that’s why we all have our own snuggeries to keep us cozy when it all gets a little much. Plus, there’s chocolate here too.
Next Up: National Biscuits and Gravy Day