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A la Carte: A quick warm up

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By Rachel Hergett EBS COLUMNIST

It was a rainy May weekend in northern Idaho and an extra face-full of cold water was certainly not on my wish list for a run down the raging Lochsa River. But my decision to forgo a seat at the front of the raft meant I found myself perched on the tail end as we backed up to a giant wave called Pipeline, intent on surfing it—paddling upriver to suspend the raft on top. If you’re on the back of the raft, like I was, you can look over the apex of the wave and down into a hole of raging water. 

This is exactly what I was doing when the wave overtook us, flinging the butt of the raft into that hole where it swallowed me face first and pulled me under the wave. I could regale you with a tall tale, but the swim itself was pretty uneventful: I held onto my paddle until the wave spit me out, and was almost immediately pulled back into the raft. I’m clear-headed in high-stress situations and love water to the point I may be part fish. 

The problem came after the swim. I was a shivering ball curled on the floor of the raft, willing my body to heat the river water soaking my wet suit. 

I felt a tap on my shoulder and was offered a steaming cup from the top of a thermos. Inside: manna.

Any warm beverage would have heated me from the inside, but hot chocolate does it best. And this one—laced with peppermint schnapps to make it, technically, an alpine—warmed body and soul. 

Maybe it’s the connection to the holiday season. Hot chocolate makes me think of Christmas tree hunting and gathering around a winter bonfire. Or of Bozeman’s Christmas Stroll, when I usually start at La Chatelaine, the chocolate shop in the Baxter that serves an impeccable version, and then sometimes cross the street to the Cannery to top it off. Cocoa makes me think of the Tim Allen move “The Santa Clause” and Judy the elf who perfected her recipe over 1,200 years. And of my longstanding December tradition to drive around with friends or family looking at Christmas lights—fancy dress and to-go hot chocolates required.

When I mentioned I wanted to write about hot chocolate to the EBS managing editor, Jason Bacaj, he divulged that hot chocolate is also his go-to hot beverage. As a lover of Type 2 fun in all manner of weather, he keeps half-and-half and a dark chocolate cocoa powder on hand for a winter warm-up. 

There are many ways to make a cup. I tend to use the Mexican hot chocolate tablets that are flavored with vanilla and cinnamon melted into a saucepan of warm whole milk. But if I don’t have the tablets on hand, chocolate chips and chocolate syrup work too. Or baking cocoa, sweetened with sugar or honey or maple. Each brings a bit of a different flavor—which sounds like the perfect reason to do some hot chocolate taste testing of your own. You can also experiment with toppings like whip cream, marshmallows and candy canes, or flavors and spices. 

Hot chocolate doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective as the perfect warm-up after a romp in the snow or dunk in a river. Sometimes all you have is Swiss Miss and hot water. I’ve been there (and recommend doubling up on the chocolate). It’s not great, but still soothes. 

Whatever adventures find you, stay warm out there… and pack hot chocolate. 

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