serious hot chocolate

Normally I am an avid coffee drinker. I’m talking fresh ground beans every morning in my French press.

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However, my breastfeeding baby doesn’t react well to the caffeine. Or should I say… she DOES react… too much! Since I value what little sleep I get these days, the coffee had to go. My mornings were left lacking. Not only do I enjoy coffee for the flavor and boost, I realized I love and rely on the ritual of preparing and enjoying my a.m. libation. Without my usual routine, I felt a bit listless.

I couldn’t just do without. I needed a replacement. Tea was out of the question, since it also contains large(ish) amounts of caffeine. Herbal “teas” (technically they aren’t tea, but infusions…. I will rant about that in another post) just sounded depressing. I was running out of options. Thankfully, my addiction to YouTube cooking videos came in useful, and I found my replacement! To be sure, chocolate DOES contain some caffeine, and the amount depends on the cacao content. I was a little nervous, but decided to at least give it a try.

It did the trick. I am happy. Baby stays sleepy. Life is good. Maybe even better than before! Funny how chocolate seems to have that effect…

Below is the video that started my obsession. I’ve made some changes (reduced sugar, increased antioxidants), and I will share my recipe below, but I’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Even without changes, the recipe in this video is delicious.

Now, for my version. I like my chocolate like my sense of humor: dark and moody (but cathartic!). As a busy mom and homemaker for a family of five, I also appreciate the virtues of cooking in bulk.

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I start with two liters of whole milk. Except I’m American, so what I really mean is I start with a little more than eight cups. Let’s just say 8.5. I pour almost all of it into the pan *reserving roughly 1/3 cup in the measuring cup* and get that heating with my cinnamon bark to taste, 4 teaspoons vanilla, and pinch of salt. I recommend actual cinnamon bark for this, not cinnamon powder. The flavor cooks better. Unlike the video, I do not add sugar.

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Into the reserved milk, I whisk 4 level Tablespoons of cocoa powder. Don’t stress if it doesn’t immediately incorporate well. I’ve found that lightly mixing, then allowing it to sit for a couple minutes, allows the powder to absorb most of the milk. Then whisk again to ensure all lumps are gone and the mixture is smooth. This will make it MUCH easier to mix into the pan of milk later!

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As you can see, the cocoa powder mix is thick and smooth. Remember to gently stir the pot as it heats up. Milk has a tendency to scald and burn and boil over easily. You don’t need to get it to a rolling boil… just heat it until you see a bit of steam and foam forming, as described in the video. Then lower the heat to the very lowest setting for ten minutes to allow the cinnamon to infuse its flavor, and allow the milk to thicken slightly.

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This is where the separate milk/cocoa powder mixture comes in. Once the milk and cinnamon have infused, and you’ve discarded the cinnamon bark, pour the milk/cocoa powder into the pan. You will likely have a lot still stuck to your measuring cup, so carefully pour some of the hot milk back into the measuring cup, and stir a bit, then pour back into the pan. By then pretty much all the cocoa powder should be washed out of the cup and into the pan. As in the video, carefully strain the mixture into a bowl, wash the pan, then return the mixture to the pan on the very lowest heat. This step also helps achieve a smooth, lump-free beverage.

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Next comes the REAL chocolate! I aim for 400 grams. That translates to about 3.5 (4oz/113g) bars. I favor using 2.5 bars of unsweetened, and 1 bar of 56% cacao. You can easily adjust the ratio to your own preference. Keep in mind, the higher the cacao content, the more antioxidants and potential health benefits (worth another blog post perhaps?).

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Slowly add the chocolate pieces, and give it a few minutes to melt. Stir gently until all is melted and the mixture is smooth, creamy, and tantalizing. You may like to add a pinch of powdered cayenne pepper at this point. I like pepper in my chocolate, but since my family doesn’t appreciate it as much, I refrain from adding it to the whole batch and instead only add a pinch to my individual cup.

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And there we go! I’m left with two milk bottles for the fridge, and enough left over for a generous serving. When I’m ready to serve, I pour out what I need and gently heat in the microwave.

When I drink two or more cups of this per day, the baby’s spit up ends up smelling like chocolate. So I guess that’s another perk…


8.5 cups whole milk

400 grams baking chocolate (I recommend 2.5 bars unsweetened, and 1 bar semisweet)

4 cinnamon sticks

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

4 Tablespoons cocoa powder

Bring 8 cups of milk to a slow boil in a pan with cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Frequently stir gently to prevent burning to the bottom of the pan. In the meantime, mix the cocoa powder with the reserved milk. Once the milk is steamy and foamy, reduce heat to the very lowest setting for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove cinnamon bark. Pour in the reserved milk/cocoa powder mix. Pour some mixture from the pan back into the measuring cup to thoroughly retrieve all the cocoa powder. Stir, then pour back into the pan.

Carefully strain the contents of the pan into another container and wash out your pan. Return mixture back to the pan on the very lowest heat.

And chocolate pieces and gently stir as everything melts and blends thoroughly.

Remove from heat and enjoy!

(When serving from the leftovers, shake and/or stir thoroughly)

shine on

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Sterling silver has been my metal of choice for most of my life. It’s beautiful, sturdy, and relatively affordable. The only con is the frequent polishing it requires to keep the tarnish at bay. It’s a never-ending battle, if you want your pieces to stay sparkling and bright. Over the years, I’ve spent my money on various creams, baths, cloths, etc. to keep my silver in top shape. I recently happened upon a much easier alternative that I hope will save you time, effort, money…. and fingers stained black from polishing by hand.

I was hunting around the estate sales and antique stores for a silver-plated tea set, and approached my elderly neighbor for advice on how to spot quality quickly. She’s a Southern Belle, and knows silver! After taking notes on her suggestions, and the name of the best jewelers in town who can repair silver-plate, I was floored when she told me how she polishes her silver. First of all, she does it herself!! That alone shocked me. All that tedious scrubbing and polishing must be overwhelming for one person… and her [large] collection is always luminous! As it turns out, there is no scrubbing at all, and I was left lamenting all the hours I’d previously spent on the endeavor, when there was a much easier option.

For the sake of this example, I’m using a small silver-plated bracelet that I’d forgotten about and had developed a grimy sheen in the back of one of my jewelry drawers. (Side note, I bought it for $6 on Amazon. Yes, $6!!). Admittedly, I’m still refining my photography skills, so the tarnish isn’t as visible in the below photo as it was in real life. Trust me. Now put the kettle on.

No seriously, start boiling some water.

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Next, line a non-reactive bowl (I used ceramic) with aluminum foil, place silver item inside, and sprinkle with a copious about of baking soda. This isn’t an exact science. Just have fun and go full “Salt Bae” on the item.

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Once the water is literally boiling get ready to pour. But before you do, perhaps I should warn you of one of the few caveats to this cleaning method: if your silver contains delicate elements, gems, etc., the introduction of the boiling water could cause some components to crack. If you notice here, I am using a bracelet that is just plain silver-plate. No enamel, gems, pearls, etc. Anyway, if you feel daring, start pouring and stand back and enjoy the explosion.

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Once the water has stopped violently bubbling, just fish out your item, rinse, and buff dry!

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That’s it! Silver polishing fun for the whole family! My kids immediately went rummaging for every piece of silver jewelry they could find and we spent the next 20 minutes polishing silver and enjoying the froth and foam (and ease!).

My Southern Belle neighbor (I’m tempted to refer to her as Scarlett O’Hara on this blog…) said that when she needs to polish large pieces and collections, she lines her entire porcelain sink with aluminum foil, and follows the same procedure. Albeit with substantially more baking soda and boiling water.

I did end up finding a gorgeous tea set for an absolute steal, and now I’m joyfully anticipating the opportunity to try this method on the set next time the tarnish builds up.

In which I try blogging and glycolic peels for the first time.

A few weeks ago in my Instagram stories I briefly mentioned how I’d finally built up enough nerve to try a 30% glycolic acid at-home “mini peel”. Now that I’ve had adequate time to evaluate how my skin has reacted (not to mention learn how to write a blog in the first place), it’s time to sit down and share! This is only about my first use, but I will be repeating this procedure once a week(ish) for six weeks and plan on doing a follow-up post once I’m truly finished.

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I used Oz Naturals glycolic acid that I purchased on Amazon for $19.95, and a fan brush designed specifically for use with glycolic peels for $5.92 (I can no longer find the listing for the exact brush I purchased, but here is a similar one). The bottle was securely packaged and came with instructions, which included directions for preparing the neutralizing solution, which I prepared beforehand. The whole peel goes quite fast (4 minutes or less!!), so having all my materials staged and ready was essential to avoid possible chemical burns.

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And here I am! In my pre-peel, makeup-free, #nofilter glory! After a 15 year battle with cystic acne, I really don’t look too bad (all things considered!). For further comparison, I am a thirty year old mother of three. In fact, I recently gave birth to my third less than two months before I took this photo. My skin concerns that I would like to address are enlarged pores, melasma from pregnancy, and sun damage…….. so much sun damage….. years of competitive swimming before my parents and I caught on to the importance of sun protection will do that, I suppose.

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After gently washing my face (NO exfoliating, per the instructions), I applied the chemical goo to my face with the fan brush. For my first use, I only left it on for 3 minutes before carefully wiping my homemade neutralizing solution over the application area, then rinsing. The peel itself caused me no discomfort, but when it contacted the neutralizing solution there was a dramatic bubbling and a minor burning sensation. I also poured some of the neutralizing solution onto my brush to thoroughly remove any residues.

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This photo turned out a bit fuzzier than I realized at the time, my apologies. Anyway, here I am completely bare-faced after the procedure. The difference, to me, is subtle. I noticed the biggest difference in the reduction of my sunspots and melasma! That was definitely noticeable after only the first application.

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To the right is the cleanser I used before the peel. To the left is the moisturizer I used after. As with other chemical peels, it is absolutely essential that one use a good quality sunscreen with a high SPF… otherwise you can end up with more sun damage than you started with! On this day, I opted for Shiseido.

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One of the things I learned from this experience is that I have horrible selfie skills! But here I am, once again, in the name of scientific discovery…… this time after my little at-home procedure, with moisturizer and sunscreen applied:

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As advertised, there was no down time or noticeable peeling that you would get with stronger clinical peels. My skin felt slightly dry and taut for the next couple days, but it was completely bearable. I returned to my usual cleansing and gentle exfoliating routine the day after I used the peel, and I have been using my sunscreen like a good girl. As of this writing, I have since used the peel for a second time. Again, a reduction in brown spots (they are almost gone, in my opinion), and an increase in overall brightness and evenness. And while I don’t think there is really any way to permanently reduce pore size, I’m finding my pores are looking less noticeable these days.

To be continued…


It is now later.. much later… almost two months later.

My photography skills are still atrocious, but I love what this product does to my skin! In the below photo I’m wearing nothing on my face (I didn’t even wash my face the morning I took this… so I literally DID wake up like this). No filters, no makeup, no selfie-light. Just perpetually sleep-deprived me, standing in front of a window.

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All I can say is, I really enjoy this product! It didn’t give me the “brand new face” that I’d hoped for, but I suppose I would need to see a professional for those types of results.

I do like that this is mild enough to be SAFE for at-home use. It’s effective without me risking burning my face off by accident. Once this bottle runs out I plan on repurchasing and using this once every week or two to amplify my usual exfoliation routine!

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