I don't drink alcohol. But that does not mean I fail to appreciate the delightfulness of a special treat in liquid form. My variations just tend to involve a bit more sugar :).
Since we've just had our first few actually cold days, and I'm about to start laying in a supply of whipped cream for the season, it seems like a good time to share some of my favorites. I take particular comfort in enjoying things special to each season. In the summer I consume my body weight in lemonade (preferrably pink), and for a special treat, I'll mix up my own strawberry lemonade (a half-gallon of Minute Maid lemonade, the yellow kind this time, plus a third of a pound of strawberries, washed and trimmed, and go after it with an immersion blender).
But this time of year, hot beverages are definitely the ticket.
The stores all have cider in (and on sale!), and that probably is my favorite hot beverage of all. It seems impossible to believe that all that deliciousness is pretty darn healthy, too. But then again, all food is good for you, in the proper context.
I have a few other seasonal favorites I like to fix up as well. Starting in the morning: my version of a chai latte. First you get the water boiling for tea. Then you take your chai tea bag (my favorite is the Twinings one in the red box, but that's a grocery-store brand - if you have access to an authentic imported one, don't let me stop you). Pour just an inch of boiling water into the cup - just enough to cover the leaves in the tea bag. Then find yourself something to fill five minutes (putting away the dishes? Fixing some cereal?) while it steeps until it's nice and dark. Then, fill the cup with milk. (I buy 2%, so I use that. Whole milk would be nice, too. I think skim would be pretty weak, especially since there's already water in it.) Then I microwave it until it's good and hot (with the tea bag still in) - two minutes, in my microwave.
Feel free to get distracted by another bit of puttering in the kitchen and let the tea bag steep for a few more minutes in the milk. When it's starting to get some color, get it out of the microwave, remove the tea bag, and stir in a teaspoon of brown sugar - whether scant, level, or heaping is up to you. Top with a nice head of whipped cream (the canned stuff is actually dairy, and though it's hardly all-natural, I'm not ready to whip tiny batches of heavy cream for each beverage), and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Perfection!
Then there's the evening option (at least, in my kitchen). Fill a mug with milk and pop it in the microwave for one minute. Once it's warm, add a wee spoonful (a quarter teaspoon? More than a small amount is difficult to dissolve unless you want to break out a saucepan) of cocoa powder, and stir vigorously. Stir in half a teaspoon of sugar, and check to see whether you need more. Then comes the secret ingredient: just 1-2 drops of Mexican vanilla (so good, and easily four times as strong as the American vanilla extract that baking recipes are based on - adjust accordingly). Then another minute in the microwave, and then, of course, cover with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
I confess, while I used to make cocoa from scratch almost daily, two winters ago I became totally spoiled by Trader Joe's mint hot cocoa. So delicious! A little under-sweet if you ask me (I add sugar - and, of course, whipped cream), but the perfect balance of chocolate and mint. It seems exorbitant at $5 a can, but the fact that a single cup of cocoa at a coffee shop costs almost that much really puts it in perspective.
And I can't discuss the topic of comforting hot beverages without mentioning my favorite tea on the planet: Loyd's plum and cinnamon. We get it at an imported food store that I visit anyway to get kabanos (I sound like a crazy grocery spender in this post, so I have to add that I buy almost everything on sale and refuse to pay for organic. These are a few little indulgences, true, but my grocery budget is pretty strict, I swear). I have no idea where a normal person could buy this (I have never seen it anywhere else), but if you find it, try it. You won't regret it (unless you hate tea, in which case, I really can't help you).
Put on something snuggly, and take a minute to sip and savor something delicious!