In those patches of nature still left in Washington, four-legged creatures are hibernating, their sensible furry selves tucked away until spring while the two-legged creatures slip on ice, stick in snow and watch the narrow days close in.

Even the cheeriest are in need of solace -- of a cozy Sunday spent with friends, sprawled in front of a hot fire while nibbling on the comforting foods of childhood:

Thick pieces of bread, speared on long forks and toasted over the coals, then lavishly spread on butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

Sturdy mugs for hot chocolate, and a bowl of real whipping cream to ladle on top.

Popcorn, popped in an old-fashioned wire popper (if your hardware store doesn't have them, W. S. Jenks & Son at 738 7th St. NW, does) while everyone takes turns shaking the kernels over the fire to keep them from burning. Make sure you have a bowl large enough to accommodate the popcorn and the hands grabbing for it.Add melted butter and a vigorous shaking of salt. Then make a quick check of the TV guide to find an old movie to watch while eating it.

Sweet potatoes or Idaho potatoes, the skin slit for safety, buried in the coals until they turn charcoal black and the flesh inside is white and tender -- ready to be mashed up with butter and pepper and cheese and sour cream and bits of bacon.

Fudge, with one group of you assigned to stir and another to crack the walnuts, while someone else reads aloud a chapter from "Mary Poppins."

Pudding -- rice pudding, bread pudding, custard or tapioca -- still warm with a little bit of maple syrup drizzled over the top.

Chestnuts, roasting in the fire while someone reads Dylan Thomas' short story, "The Outing," a wonderful and wild pub crawl as seen through the eyes of a young boy.

Whole wheat bread, cheese and warm milk, to the accompaniment of "Heidi," who, with generations of children to follow, found it the best meal she'd ever had.

Pancakes. Not crepes, but true, old-fashioned pancakes with butter and syrup, which taste entirely different when eaten in late afternoon or early evening.

Or to really shut out winter, people could take turns reading Lawrence Durrell's evocative descriptions of Greece and the South of France in "Spirit of Place" or "Bitter Lemons," or Robert Louis Stevenson's "Travels With a Donkey," or enter the turned-about world of the "Wizard of Oz" or the feline one of T. S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats."

Both are foods of childhood and the sound of sometone reading aloud are comforts that are too soon abandoned.