During our many annual wintertime visits to Northern Minnesota, one of our favorite things to do is to glide through the winter wonderland on a horse drawn sleigh, being pulled by huge Belgian horses, snuggled under a pile of warm quilts. Sounds like something out of the "Little House" books, but it is one of our favorite family activities!
It is only a short distance from our favorite place in the world - Gunflint Lodge - to the Patten Family Homestead. It always feels like coming home!
At the rustic barn, we greet the massive horses and everyone climbs aboard the huge wooden sleigh, and with a creak of the runners and jingling of the sleigh bells, we are off flying past the perfectly flocked pines and firs, gently illuminated by more than a hundred lanterns - it is like a journey through Narnia!
Oh what fun it is to spend a winter evening sleighride deep into the towering woods and along Bow Lake, enjoying both a pristine quiet that can't be described, or singing Christmas songs at the top of our lungs - even when it isn't Christmas time - there is just something so perfect and timeless!
This is pure northern Minnesota, with an unspoiled wilderness - a glorious adventure, pink noses and cheeks, and laughter that warms the heart. Every trip always includes a stop at "The Kissing Tree", a perfect spot to to share a kiss...
Every sleigh ride we have been on has been unique and special in its own way...from starlight to moonlight to snowfall. The horse-drawn sleighs are so nostalgic...and the evening ends sharing homemade hot cocoa from enameled metal cups, fresh baked cookies served from a wood cook stove in the warmth of Mark and Nancy's century-old log home, who delight us every year with stories and history of the area. I think I could hear the same stories year after year - they are magical and a look back through time. And it doesn't matter how young or old anyone in our group has been - they are always spellbound by the experience.
Over the years we have shared our sleighrides and cocoa parties with not only our kiddos, but also Grandma & Grandpa VandenPlas, Grama & Grampa Benesh, and many cousins, aunts and uncles, and family friends. It is always memorable, amazing and wonderful fun!
A starlit night, gliding and flying along through crisp fresh snow, with the sound of sleigh bells jingling...
And it is a surprise every time as to what wildlife we might see - moose, deer, fox - always a glorious catch-your-breath moment when you encounter them in their native and natural environment.
When sledding or skating season finally arrives here in Ohio, I set up our own Cocoa Bar, with all the fixings. Coffee and tea are always ready by the side, but everyone sure seems to love a steaming cup of homemade hot chocolate with melty marshmallows or swirls of fresh whipped cream!
This is one tradition that transcends Christmas and can be carried over to the long, cold and snowy months of winter. Very easy to set up, whether you have a serving cart or counter space available, and we enjoy it often over the long winter months!
Favorites are kept in air-tight containers - peppermint stir sticks, homemade marshmallows (when I have the time - and they go soooooo fast!), soft fluffy flavored marshmallows (chocolate and vanilla swirled, peppermint, strawberry and gingerbread), cinnamon sticks, grated chocolate and peppermint sprinkles for sprinkling on top. I keep everything in glass jars so it is easy to fill or replace with something new.
For a crowd, I like to keep a big crockpot of hot cocoa ready; for a smaller group it's easy enough to whip up a smaller pot of hot chocolate.
A coffee station on the side, with a selection of Baileys, and an assortment of teas and golden honey, and we've got winter covered, no matter who stops by to join us!
Bailey's has a new flavor available - Salted Caramel - and it is beyond fabulous when you add a quick pour to an adult hot chocolate. YUM! Whether you are getting ready for some sledding, snowman building, ice skating or sleigh riding - hope that you will be inspired to create your own Cocoa Bar!