There’s something so satisfying about making stuff. As a child of the 80s, boxes and packages of commercially-produced food formed part of my culinary landscape. Hamburger Helper was far from our family table, but the grocery store scene and the post-agrarian commuter town I grew up in did nothing to plant the DIY spirit. I thought nothing of this situation until I hit my mid-20s, when people I admired started becoming more interested in what this thing called food is all about.
I’m not sure when it started. Maybe I realized it was cheaper to make stuff like granola, rather than buying boxes of the sugar-laced junk. Maybe it was in my early 20s, when I accepted the fact that I actually enjoyed baking and cooking. Maybe it was my first summer tending a garden, when I experienced that constant wonder at a planet that gives so much without asking for anything back.
Somewhere along the lines, I started caring what was in my food. And though there are people out there (some of them who read this blog) who believe that thinking about food diminishes the joy of eating, I’m not one of them. Food is both a pleasure and a necessity. It’s both an end in itself, and a vehicle for nutrients. It can rollick the senses one day, and just get you by the next.
With the recent peanut butter contamination, people have been up in arms about food safety. And rightly so. Some have been indignant, some informative, others just plain hilarious: Jon Stewart’s attempt last week to eat a Chinese toy-spinach-tomato-peanut-butter sandwich cracked me up more than his teeth.
It all got me thinking about turn-of -the-century hero Upton Sinclair, who in 1906 shook the U.S. with his novel exposing the horrors of the meatpacking industry. I’ll spare you the details, but Sinclair’s outrage led to that year’s passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act.
After following the pb story, I realized again how literal the term junk food truly is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no sanitation freak. I’m still well after numerous dirt-flecked garden carrots and trips overseas without hand sanitizer. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s good for you, either.
But rat hair, maggots, and mildew? No thanks. I’m not going to start making my own ketchup or anything, but the whole racket makes me want to keep as much food preparation under my control as I can. So what I don’t bleach my countertops every second day, at least I try to keep out the FDA’s allowable “30 or more fly eggs per 100 grams.” *
In the meantime, I just wanted to be able to infuse some chocolate into my (neutrally flavored) protein shakes once in awhile. Is that too much for a triathlete to ask? Whisking in stright up cocoa left it lumpy, and every bottle at the store boasted high-fructose corn syrup as its first ingredient. I’ll take real sugar, thanks.
So here it is, in all it’s pure, sweet, no-fat chocolately glory. Ready to spoon over commercially-made ice cream, stirred into factory-farmed milk, or into my favorite of the fake protein delivery systems. Isn’t being alive today such a wonderful paradox?
Bring 1½ cups water and 3 cups white sugar to a boil, stirring often. Reduce to medium and whisk in 1½ cups cocoa, 1 Tbsp vanilla extract, ¼ tsp salt, and 1 Tbsp honey (if the mixture starts to rise, simply take it off the element while you whisk). Whisk over medium heat until all solids have dissolved. Simmer until the mixture has thickened, strain (if you’re worried about chunks, mine seemed OK) and cool for a few minutes on the counter.
Pour into a squeeze bottle or jar and store in the fridge. Because of the high sugar content and lack of fat, the syrup should keep for at least 6 months.
*U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that present no health hazards for humans.” FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Available here.