If you ride a bike in San Francisco there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the annual Holiday Lights Night Ride—a rollicking nighttime bicycle tour of the city’s most highly decorated holiday homes. Conceived of and led by Robin Marks of Discovery Street Tours, the Holiday Lights Ride has been a San Francisco institution since 2004. Every year riders of all ages and levels of cycling experience tour the hilly city’s most colorful and festive streets, riding bikes decorated with battery-operated light strings, glow sticks, tinsel, and even an occasional rack-mounted Christmas tree. A boom box or two broadcasting Christmas music, combined with the cheerful ringing of bicycle bells, provides a jubilant soundtrack to match the visuals. The pack usually starts out a few dozen strong—sometimes over 100 riders show up—although this year’s mid-ride downpour washed away all but about 15 stalwart enthusiasts. (Yes, the little cutie in the photo was one of the final 15—riding tandem with her dad, soaking wet, insisting on sticking it out to the end.)
Arguably, the best part of every Holiday Lights Ride is the pot-luck picnic dinner at the very end. Tired and exhilarated riders share cookies, cakes, homemade bread, chips, dips, soup in thermos bottles, wine, Irish coffee—you name it. I always bring some kind of savory entree to balance out a buffet that generally tends toward the sweet. (You’ll read about Sara’s Savory Strata in an upcoming post.) And to help take the edge off the chill, I bring a thermos of hot, rich Lavender Hot Cocoa, too. It’s always a big hit, and it’s fun to let people try to guess what the secret ingredient is. Serve it at your next wintery outdoor picnic—or just at home cuddled up in front of a movie. By the way, you can buy dried culinary lavender, grown specifically for cooking, in the spice section of your supermarket, from a specialty gourmet shop, or online.
- 4 cups milk
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup sugar
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon culinary lavender (plus an extra pinch for garnish)
- whipped cream (optional)
- In a medium saucepan, whisk 1 cup of milk with the cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Mix well.
- Place lavender in a tea infuser and set it in the saucepan.
- Add the remaining milk and heat over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to simmer. Maintain a slow simmer (not a full boil), continuing to stir occasionally, for about 5 minutes—or longer if you want to let the lavender steep more.
- Top with optional whipped cream and a decorative sprinkle of lavender.