There’s something so satisfying about making stuff. As a child of the ’80s, processed 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.
I’m not sure when it started. Maybe I realized it was cheaper to make stuff like granola, rather than buying boxes of junk. Maybe it was in my early 20s, when I realized 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.
Somewhere along the lines, I started caring about my food. Food is both a pleasure and a necessity. It’s both an end in itself, and a vehicle for nutrients. It can stimulate 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, like Jon Stewart’s attempt last week to eat a Chinese toy-spinach-tomato-peanut-butter sandwich. 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 peanut butter 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. 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.” * Ew.
In the meantime, I just wanted to be able to infuse some chocolate into my protein shakes once in a while, and whisking in straight cocoa left it lumpy. Every bottle at the store boasted high-fructose corn syrup as its first ingredient.
So here it is, in all its pure, sweet, no-fat chocolatey glory. Ready to spoon over (commercially-made) ice cream, stirred into (factory-farmed) milk, or into my favorite of the fake protein delivery systems. Ah, the paradox. It’s no fancy, rich chocolate ganache, just a simple, homemade substitute for basic chocolate syrup.
Homemade Chocolate Syrup
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.