The best temperature to heat milk to is 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s the optimal temperature for ‘milking’ the flavor out of the moo juice, because it’s when the sugar (lactose) has been broken down to the simple sugars of sucrose & glucose. To go higher in temperature breaks down the sugar further to its less than sweetest point. Milk also has fat and protein. The temperature rising breaks down the chains of protein molecules which can either blend with the melted fat or go out into the air to escape the water. Have you noticed the rim of bubbles as the milk goes up in temperature – and if you happened to turn away during the critical moment – the whole thing inflates like a hyperbole’d soufflé.
So it was at 2 this morning when I decided to make hot chocolate after the dog woke me up with its pacing to let me know it needs to go out. I’ve been an addict of hot cocoa lately. It’s just a phase (I think) with the weather being cold and the season getting festive. I was contemplating adding a splash of Cointreau into my cocoa. Then my mind wandered about the transformative property of heat as I waited for the magic. I whipped the milk with the chocolate, played with the temperature knob impatient to have my cocoa.
My writing can be impatient too. I want magic without the work of blood and guts. In writing the journey is about the transformation. I write because I’m curious about something. In my exploration I can transform my perspective. In story telling the journey is a transformative experience for both the writer and the audience with the vehicle of change being the plot, the characters and the process. In cooking it’s also the cast of the ingredients and the process of applying the heat that transforms everything into a magical melange.
Heat isn’t just a physical property. There’s heat when there’s interaction between the two sexes. There’s heat when there’s a debate between opposing camps. Heat transforms life. Without the light and warmth of the sun there wouldn’t be life on the third rock from the sun. Another concept of heat is used in yoga. “Tapas” (not the delightful Spanish word for appetizer or snack) is a Sanskrit word meaning “to burn”, originating from “tap”. There are yogic breathing exercises that uses bodily locks (akin to lifting the pelvic floor like Kegel exercises) to burn impurities in the body. Tapas is a philosophy dictated in the yoga bible, Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras”. It is through tapas – the fiery discipline, passion and courage – that impurities can be burned off physically, mentally and emotionally to regenerate life like nature’s wisdom of forest fires to recycle and give new life to the earth.
“A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine. Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value. Life without tapas is like a heart without love.” – BKS Iyengar
Here’s another example of heat… Check out this solo from Monte Montgomery with his song “All On Men”. He’s cooking something soulful on his Alvarez guitar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KiUnGVOY1A ; at around the 5 minute mark of this video he turns up the heat. Watching an artist unleash that passion in his instrument is transformative. It makes me aspire to that height; it makes me want to be in the presence of the guitar god like him. I believe this is one of the attractions of going to live performances because its transformative to be part of the magic making. It’s the reason we also gather for rituals of the holidays because it renders the ordinary to extraordinary; a meal isn’t just something to get through. It’s the preparation and the celebration of life which renders it holy and sacred.
A gathering of bodies generates heat. Friction generates heat. Zeal and passion is heat. In what seams like the bleak and lifeless cold of winter there’s heat in the DNA of the trees that knows to “turn on” when the conditions are just right. So how do I turn on the heat in my writing? The question contains the answer – Patanjali’s sage advice is to tap, tap, tap on the keyboard through discipline, passion and courage. This practice of discipline, passion and courage is love. The secret to good cooking is love; and the love of doing what we do is what transforms something good into something soulful that aspires our spirit to align to our highest self.
But first, another sip of hot cocoa with a dash of Cointreau.