Fall can be a lively time, a season of overt transitions, of showy leave-takings, and bountiful harvests. As trees display their bare limbs to the world, and the well-laden tables at the farmer's market showcase hardier goods like winter squashes, gourds, and maple syrup, my heart starts to fear the coming winter. The endless days of grey skies, the bone-rattling cold that seeps through three layers of clothes, and the gorgeous snow that turns from sparkling to tawdry with each footprint and passing car...alas, this is the price we northerners pay for our gloriously temperate summers.
So I look for the silver lining in those foreboding clouds. And I have only one word: CHOCOLATE.
My favorite fall/winter bedtime snack (because, let's face it, who can't help but love a pre-somnolent treat?) is hot chocolate. You can forget your swiss miss or carnation (though I lived on a ginormous canister of swiss miss during the winter in college). I don't go all out with fat laden milks and melting pure chocolate (well, on an extremely rare occasion...). It's as simple as 1 TBS best cocoa powder (I'm partial to the mahogany bliss of Valrhona, though you may have to search for/mail order the stuff, and it isn't inexpensive), 2 tsp sugar (I use raw or vanilla sugar), a splash of vanilla (I like Mexican), and 6-8 ounces of milk (I use skim or 1% organic valley). Place the first three ingredients in a small sauce pan, and add a splash of the milk. Stir with a small whisk until smooth, and then add the rest of the milk. Heat over low-ish heat until it reaches your desired warmth. Serve with or without marshmallows and/or liqueur (I'm fond of starbucks coffee, bailey's irish cream, or godiva chocolate). Eat a piece of lightly buttered toast on the side (I've been using Natural Ovens--a local sandwich bread bakery--organic whole wheat + flax seed bread).
This is how ritualized my hot chocolate moment is: I actually have a designated mug, a Holly Hobby mug my mom bought for me from my cousin N. for a school fundraiser. It's trademark blue and white, with a lovely blue interior, and a floral sprigged exterior that features Holly and the phrase "start each day in a happy way." I like to think that my late-night treat is setting me up for a peaceful morning:)