Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How to Make a Peppermint Mocha

At the request of Rachel...

I don't happen to know the exact formula that Starbucks or Seattle's Best Coffee uses, but I can give you the ingredients and a general idea of the ratios. Vary for personal tastes, of course. :)

You'll need:

1) Hot chocolate mix. If you can get mint chocolate then you won't need the peppermint syrup. A lot of companies market their mint hot chocolate as "candy cane" flavor. White chocolate and vanilla chocolate also work well. (SBC's peppermint trio is supposed to be a combination of white, milk, and dark chocolate.) Sugar content varies with brands, and the sweetness of the hot chocolate will affect how sweet the drink is.

2) Espresso or coffee. Coffee is more diluted than espresso, so you have to watch how much liquid you use or you'll not get the right flavor mix. Depending on the strength of your coffee, you'll have to add less or more.

3) Milk or cream to add that creamy taste. Works best if you warm it up a little in the microwave so that the hot chocolate mixes in easier and the coffee doesn't get cooled down too quickly.

4) Peppermint syrup (if you can't find mint hot chocolate.) Peppermint syrup is not something I'd recommend if you're not used to using coffee syrups, because it can be really overpowering. (Especially the starbucks brand.) Plus, if you're adding candy cane pieces, they'll give the drink a little bit of sweet mint taste as they dissolve. The trick is to get a sweet minty taste, and not something that tastes like toothpaste. ^_^;

5) Whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and (mint) candy cane pieces. For an indulgent topping. :)

The trick we discovered last year is that it takes a few tries to get the right ratio of syrup, espresso, and mint. If you're using the syrup, I speak from experience when I say "less is more." Start with a little bit, because you can always add more.

Anyway, basically you make the hot chocolate, but instead of water or milk, you use a combination of milk and coffee with the powder. Unless you've got an espresso machine at home that can steam milk, you'll never quite duplicate what they do in coffee houses, but you can get pretty close with a little practice. And you'll have way more control over how sweet, minty, or chocolatey the drink is.

The topping is a dollop of whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and a sprinkle of candy cane pieces that you broke up earlier.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Review: Fragile Things

To be quite honest, I'm entirely biased about Neil Gaiman. I think he's brilliant. A well-loved copy of Stardust travels the world with me. (Well, it came to Japan and back, then to Los Angeles.) It's due for another reading, but just seeing it on the shelf has a comforting effect. The Stardust movie is, by the by, coming out in July 2007.

That said, it's always a bit hit and a miss for me when it comes to his short story collections. I can't fault him for his writing, but there's always a number of included pieces that just don't do anything for me. Is Fragile Things a "better" collection than Smoke and Mirrors? Possibly. While there's still the pieces that don't connect with me, at least I appreciate the way he's put those pieces together on a page.

What I always love most about his collections is the introduction. Biographies for the stories included, and always a story within the introduction—stories within stories feature in so much of his work. Smoke and Mirrors had The Wedding Gift, and Fragile Things has The Mapmaker. It was originally written to be included in American Gods, but he couldn't find a place for it.

This is how The Mapmaker begins: "One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story."

If that doesn't strike your fancy, there are thirty-one other flavors to choose from. Might I recommend my favorites?

1) Harlequin Valentine: a delightfully odd, wonderfully written little gem. Not for the faint of heart, but worth every creepy moment.

2) The Monarch of the Glen: an American Gods' novella that's no more a sequel than Anansai Boys was, but does detail one of the further adventures of Shadow. I liked this better than the original novel.

3) Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire: The strangest, most effective take on the question "why write fantasy" that I've ever read.

4) Locks: a beautiful poem about the importance of stories.

5) The Fairy Reel: a poem as musical as the dangerous enchanting song it describes.

6) Instructions: how to survive in a fairy tale. I do believe they ought to be handed out to every child, because you never know when you might need them.

There's also Feeders and Eaters, Closing Time, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and October in the Chair that are memorable inclusions. They're subtle, which makes them stronger tales.

If you've never read Gaiman before, Fragile Things is a good starting place. If you're a Gaiman fan, you're already going to read it, right?

Rating: A-