If we've learned nothing else over the last few weeks, we've learned that the weather in Wine Country is unpredictable and the mercury can be, well, mercurial.
Even if it stops raining again, there's an 80 percent chance of needing to snuggle by the fire in February. Because whether there's a wintry chill settling into your bones or you just want to capture the winter apres-ski vibe, Sonoma County has plenty of spots to cozy up, chow down and let the braised, steamy or sweater-wrapped feeling melt away your mid-winter blues.
Check out some of our favorite cold-season warmers.
The standard-bearer for liquid warmth, it's impossible not to become a kid again as you sport the inevitable whipped cream mustache and cup icy fingers around a steaming mug of cocoa. One marshmallow or two?
The Peppermint Patty, Warm Puppy Cafe: Sure, there may be fancier cups of hot chocolate in Sonoma County, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a better one. Pull up a rink-side seat at Snoopy's Home Ice and wrap your lips around one of these tasty concoctions. For a little added spice, order a Peppermint Patty, a hot chocolate with a splash of peppermint and peppermint sprinkles. Plus, staff are used to tiny tykes and get the temperature just right for eager young sippers. 1667 West Steele Lane, Santa Rosa, 546-7147.
Aztec Hot Chocolate, Flying Goat: While coffee is their main game, The Flying Goat makes a mean Aztec Hot Chocolate. Spiced with cinnamon and chili, this sweet-hot drink harkens back to chocolate's Mexican origins as xocoatl, a bitter brew served to kings. 10 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 575-1202; 324 Center St., Healdsburg, 433-3599.
Mexican Hot Chocolate Ice Cream, Screaming Mimi's: Like the Aztec hot chocolate, this ice cream has some sweet heat, cinnamon and spices to dress up plain old cocoa. 6902 Sebastopol Ave., Sebastopol, 823-5902.
Mexican Hot Chocolate and Savory Hand Pies, Petaluma Pie Shop: What could possibly be more warming on a cold and rainy day than a steaming cup of cocoa and a freshly baked hand pie filled with mushrooms and cheese? The newly opened Petaluma Pie beckons with the warm scent of buttery crusts and spice-dusted fruits. To wash it all down, a freshly-brewed cup of cocoa made from cacao paste, sugar and spice.
You can learn a lot about a person by sharing a pot of fondue. Do they yield generously, stab blindly or rudely leave behind chunks in the pot? From cheese to chocolate, it's an exercise in communal communication.
Classic Swiss, Henweigh Cafe: Melted Gruyere and Emmentaler cheese for two with bread cubes and veggies to dip, and pineapple sausage a la carte, $28. 4550 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol, 829-7500.
Potato Skin "Fondue," Stark's Steakhouse: Grab your Lipitor; you may not make it out of this one alive. A mound of fried, bite-sized potato pieces surround a molten pot of cheese. Topped with bacon. 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 546-5100.
Viva Cocolat, Chocolate Fondue: On Friday and Saturday nights, this Petaluma chocolatier offers fondue for two in milk, dark or white with an assortment of delectable dippables including strawberries, bananas, cake, marshmallows and more. Reservations suggested. Patisserie Angelica, 110 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma, 778-9888.
A warm start: breakfast
It's the most important meal of the day, and coffee isn't the only way to get those fires lit.
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