TT: Seasonal Favorites

PC Guy IV poses the following question for his weekly Truthful Tuesday challenge:

Whether it’s soups, stews, or chili, are there certain foods that you consider “winter fare”, only suitable when the temperature dips low enough to turn the furnace on, or do you just eat whatever whenever?

I think it’s natural to prefer certain foods in winter, as opposed to summer, especially living in a climate with cold winters. It’s nice to hunker down with hot chocolate or apple cider to drink, and to choose soups for winter lunches. But I don’t like to give up on summer fare just because it’s winter. Dale went to Costco a couple of weeks ago and looked for Sangria – their brand is our favorite. Finding that they weren’t just out of it, but had actually taken it off the shelves, Dale asked an employee why and was told that “sangria is considered a summer drink.” OK, I can understand that – it conjures up lazy nights at outdoor bars or cafes in Spain following hot summer days – but we like to drink it all year! Apparently we weren’t the only ones to complain because within two weeks it was back in their wine selections!

Ice cream is another one – I do love ice cream in the summer and am more likely to have it in the summer, but if it’s on the menu as the dessert of the day, I will choose it no matter what the season!

I’m a member of a wine club that allows me two bottles of wine per month, and in the winter I sometimes get what is called “Winter White” or “Winter Red.” Of course these wines can be drunk chilled or at room temperature, but I like to heat them up and add a few cloves or cinnamon sticks!

In contrast, I hardly ever eat soup in the summer, but I have it almost every day for lunch in the winter – it’s easy and good. I love salads year round, and don’t mind fruits and vegetables imported from South America. Chili is great in winter too, although it’s rarely offered here; I’m not sure why.

But in the winter, what I most look forward to is movie night in front of our TV, with a winter snack of microwave popcorn accompanied by Mexican hot chocolate!* This hot chocolate is prepared with milk over the stove, stirring in a piece of a bar of chocolate usually flavored with cinnamon. I use a whisk when stirring to make it frothy! While normally I am content to have No Sugar Added Swiss Miss or hot tea in the evening, I’ve got chocolate bars made in Mexico on hand for those special movie nights!

I find it harder to lose weight in the winter than the summer. I don’t exercise as much (especially with limited access to fitness centers during the pandemic) in the winter. Perhaps it’s a sort of instinctual need to hibernate like bears. Put on a layer of fat and sleep the cold away!!

Hibernation Bear HD Stock Images | Shutterstock

*You can find fancy recipes for Mexican hot chocolate online, but I make it very simply, the way I learned in Mexico:

2 tablespoons or approximate Mexican bar chocolate (easy to find in Mexican stores or ethnic aisles in supermarkets) Ibarra brand. (But any brand will do.) This bar chocolate has a grainy texture and is already flavored with cinnamon. (See photo below.)

2 cups of milk (I use skim – use whatever you prefer)

Using a small saucepan on the stove top, add the milk and the chocolate chunks over medium heat. Do not allow it to boil by constantly stirring with a spoon, until the chocolate is melted. Then use a whisk to froth the mixture.

Pour it into ceramic cups and enjoy!

Using one wedge of one of these bars per cup of milk is ideal.

February Love Me 1&2

Paula Light has a new challenge for the month of February, to post something we love for every day of the month! I’m a day late on this so I am going to post two things!

Feb. 1: I love…flowers. All colors, shapes, and species – and I love to photograph them too!

Feb. 2: I love…chocolate! Although I am trying to lose a little weight and watch my diet, I cannot resist ordering chocolate desserts! I keep a stash of fancy candy bars in a drawer of my desk, and every once in a while, I break off a small chunk to savor! I have made it a rule that this sweet treat does NOT count toward my calorie count for the day – although my regular dessert does!

5 Things Tuesday: Make Me Smile

Years ago, there used to be a weekly feature called “5 Things.” I don’t remember who hosted it but I really got into it. Every week the blogger would write about five things pertaining to a certain topic. I think it is great that Dr. Tanya is resurrecting it! And what fun for us all to share our five things every week!

A happy topic to start:5 Things That Make Me Smile!

  1.  Kittens – really cats of all ages. I have a whole separate blog about cats, but I don’t add to it much. I mostly post my cat pictures/stories here!

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Kittens and cats

2.  Flowers – I love to discover them, photograph them and admire them!

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Daffodils are special because they are the heralds of the beginning of spring.

3.  Ice cream or anything chocolate

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Oh, how I’d love to have one of these right now!

4.   Baby animals – It’s so fun to walk around the campus of our community right now, because we get to see baby ducks, baby geese, and very soon baby swans!
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5.  Just the right music for my mood – from Beatles to Mahler

Dr. Tanya’s challenge and her answers remind me of a song, which is appropriate to end this post:

Cashews, Chocolate, Clowns and Other Topics

Melanie B. Cee created 11 questions to fulfill the requirements for the Sunshine Blogger Award and has opened them up to whoever wishes to answer them. So here they are, followed by my answers.

1. Have you ever made a decision that changed your entire life?

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A “selfie” my son took at Mont-St-Michel in France

Yes, (and at the risk of sounding cliché) deciding to have a child. I was in an unhappy and lonely marriage. I became convinced at the ripe old age of 32 that I could never get pregnant, so at the time of the month that I calculated I was most fertile, I “seduced” my husband. And guess what? I got pregnant! Although our son’s coming into the world propped up our marriage for a couple of years, when he was six, we got divorced. I was a single mom for a few years, then remarried – this time happily. My second husband had a daughter from his previous marriage, so we ended up with a “blended” family and contented ourselves with that since we didn’t want to have a child together by that stage in our lives. However, my son did change my whole life because he will always be a part of it. And because he often calls me to ask for money! :-}

2. What time of the day do you feel the most energetic and what do you usually do in those moments?
Afternoons. That’s when I get my butt over to the fitness center, take a walk or clean up the house or whatever. I like evenings, which is when I multitask: doing some artwork while watching the news shows on TV. (I guess “listening to” the news shows would be more accurate.) Two of my drawings and two mandala coloring book pages show how I spend many evenings.


3. What could you spend all day talking about?
Travel. Where I’ve been, where other people have been, and travel plans for the future. There are a lot of other things I could talk about for a long time (I’m known as being a person who talks too much!) but travel was the first thing that came into my head.

4. If you were a band, what type of music would you play?

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Lindor truffles are one of my favorite candies!

Some sort of international fusion with a good beat. Musicians that are classically trained but are versatile enough to play different kinds of music and to experiment with different instruments. When I was younger, I wanted to be an ethnomusicologist!

5. What’s your favorite type of candy?

Almost anything with chocolate in it. But please no peanut butter! Peanut butter belongs on a sandwich, not in sweets!

6. How do you feel about clowns?
I think they are – or should be seen as – funny. My motto for this is: “Make Clowns Funny Again!” They were never meant to be scary and then horror movies made clowns – and DOLLS – frightening. That was, is, a terrible trend! Clowns (and dolls) should be entertaining and fun. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to recapture that childhood innocence that made us curious and delighted by the world?!clown

7. What have you forgotten? If you can remember it….
I forget stuff all the time. It’s getting worse as I get older, but because I have ADHD, I have always had memory problems. The good thing about this is that the experience has made me develop strategies to remember things – post-it notes and Google calendars are my saviors!

8. What’s an obscure food that you’ve eaten that most people have never tried?
Cashew fruit (or “cashew apple” as it’s called in English, although it bears little resemblance to an apple) – it’s rather fibrous, but some people can make a rather tasty juice out of it. There are also several recipes online. I tried it when I lived in northeastern Brazil, where the “largest cashew tree in the world” is located. Note: the cashew nut that most people are familiar with is just at the floral end of this fruit. I’m posting a photo so you can see what a cashew looks like.
cashew apples

9. What’s the most creative excuse you ever made up?

I can’t remember (that’s not the creative excuse – but it’s a fact).

10. What’s the worst topping to put on ice cream?

Is there such a thing as a peanut butter topping? If not, I guess I’d say gravy!

 

11. What’s the worst song lyric you ever heard?
Because it’s the Christmas season, holiday songs fill my head. I heard a terrible Christmas song on the radio the other day, but I told Dale to change the station halfway through – I think the title was something like “Candy Cane Lane.” It was probably the worst Christmas song I’d ever heard.  But here’s one I really don’t like that our community choir had to sing in our concert last week. These are the words but the melody wasn’t much better!
At Christmas Time – words by Clara B. Heath
At Christmas time! At Christmas time!
At Christmas time, we deck the hall
with holly branches brave and tall.
At Christmas time, we deck the hall
with holly branches brave and tall.
With sturdy pine and hemlock bright
and in the Yule log’s dancing light
we tell old tales of field and fight.
At Christmas time! At Christmas time!
At Christmas time, we pile the board
with flesh and fruit and vintage stored.
At Christmas time, we pile the board
with flesh and fruit and vintage stored.
And mid the laughter and the glow
we tread a measure soft and slow
and kiss beneath the mistletoe.
At Christmas time! At Christmas time!
At Christmas time!
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Yuck!

SYW: On crossword puzzles, doctors, dates with parmesan cheese, and dogs

Cee’s Share Your World this week:

In regards to puzzle what’s your choice: jigsaw, crossword, word search, mazes, logic or numeric puzzles, something else, or nothing?
I do lots of different puzzles but mostly crosswords or jigsaw puzzles on my tablet or phone. I find myself obsessively doing one after another while I’m supposedly watching TV!

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Crosswords are the best, however. My husband and I do them together and between the two of us, we can figure most of them out. 20180725_182137
Dale sometimes gets stuck because he spells something wrong and then I come along and fix it, then fill in more of the clues! We take crossword puzzle magazines on trips and I work on them while he drives. He’s able to visualize what should fit without looking at the puzzle better than I am. I occasionally do Sudoku also, but mostly the easy ones I have on a phone app.

List at least five favorite treats and it doesn’t necessarily have to be food.
1. Anything chocolate
2. Dates with parmesan cheese inside (New! See below)
3. Ice cream
4. Traveling to new places
5. Sitting on a dock next to a cool lake in Wisconsin and watching nature.
6. Sitting on my porch when the rain is coming down all around me outside.
7. Being able to read as much as I want to (I love being retired!)
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What is your favorite type of dog? (can be anything from a specific breed, a stuffed animal or character in a movie)
When I was a kid, my favorite was collie because I liked the show Lassie. Lassie
I also preferred beagles because we had a mutt that was mostly beagle. Now I like just friendly dogs. And puppies, they’re always cute! puppyThis is a hard question to answer because I haven’t had a dog as a pet since Corky (our mutt-beagle) died. I like dogs but much prefer cats.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week? Feel free to use a quote, a photo, a story, or even a combination.
See #2 under “treats” above: at a gathering of girlfriends the other day, one woman brought dates stuffed with pieces of parmesan cheese. I found them so exquisite! Something about the texture and melting in my mouth reminded me of fudge, but it doesn’t taste like chocolate.

Several weeks ago, I fell on the sidewalk and really bashed up my face and my right knee. The knee is the only thing that is still recovering – still somewhat swollen from a hematoma. What I appreciate about this is that different doctors (emergency room, my GP) had suggested different things for why the swelling had continued and why my right foot had gotten swollen and sore a week after the fall: bursitis, cellulitis, septic arthritis – the scariest of all! Finally, I went to an orthopedic doctor referred by the ER doctors, who examined my knee and told me it is (just) a hematoma. As for my foot, it was a sprained ankle, but it’s now healed. I appreciated this last diagnosis by the specialist because I don’t have an infection or any other complications! I am grateful that my knee is getting better every day and I can walk normally again.20180725_183923

CFFC: Making Chocolate in Tuxtla Chico

Cookie Monster sings, “C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me!” I agree, but in my opinion, the best cookies have my favorite thing in the world in them: CHOCOLATE!

For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, the letter C at the beginning of a word with 4 or more letters is the theme this week.

Chocolate comes from cacao, a fruit that grows on a tree native to Mexico. The ancient peoples of Mesoamerica (primarily Mexico and Guatemala) had made a bitter drink from cacao seeds for millennia before the Europeans arrived, but it took the European palate to make chocolate into the delicious treat we know today by adding sugar.  The language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, gave us the word from which our word “chocolate” is derived:  xocolatl.  

On our first stop in Mexico during our Panama Canal Cruise was at Puerto Chiapas, just west of the Guatemalan border.  I had chosen a shore excursion that included a chocolate making demonstration.

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The basket on the right contains cacao fruit as it looks when picked from the tree; on the left is a sweet ade drink made from its pulp.

We went by bus to the village of Tuxtla Chico, where in the central plaza a stage had been set up, with rows of chairs facing it. Surrounding this makeshift outdoor auditorium were vendors, selling primarily products made from chocolate as well as coffee, although there were vendors selling colorful embroidered blouses as well, and my husband and I took time to bargain for a couple of them.

On the stage, a couple of long tables covered with brightly colored woven cloth were set up with the accoutrements for making chocolate. The cacao fruit is filled with a white pulp which surrounds the seeds. The pulp can be made into an ade, which we were encouraged to try, dispensed into tiny plastic cups from the spigot of a large jug. The drink was somewhat sweet and refreshing, but I don’t know if it was pure or sugar had been added.

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One of the guides demonstrates what the fruit looks like inside to her English-speaking tour group.

The first step in making chocolate by hand, as the native women were doing, is to separate the seeds (or beans, as they are often called) from the pulp. The beans are then spread out on a tray to dry and then roasted. Raw cocoa beans cannot be eaten.

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After the beans are roasted, they are crushed into a coarse powder using a metate and brazo (mortal and pestle).

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In the foreground a girl grinds the cocoa beans using a mortar and pestle, while next to her a woman roasts the raw beans over a charcoal fire.

At this point, the demonstrator adds flavoring to the powder – sugar and cinnamon or other flavors, and continues grinding and mixing until the mixture forms a paste.

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Here are some of the flavors that can be added to the chocolate powder. Nuts, coffee beans, or cinnamon sticks are also crushed prior to adding them to the powder.  Note that the little bowls labeled “sugar” and “cinnamon” are much smaller than the large bowl for “tips!”

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Mother and daughter pat and shape the dough into cylinders (or other shapes), then cut them into pieces for packaging.

These chunks of grainy, flavored chocolate are also used to make hot chocolate by melting them in milk. All of us were given cups of hot chocolate to taste!

I have loved the delicious Mexican foamy hot chocolate since discovering it on my first trip to Mexico in the late 1960s. The chocolate is sold in solid bars, plain or with added  flavors (cinnamon is the best and most common). To make Mexican hot chocolate at home, cut off a section of the bar (usually they are scored for individual portions) and melt it in milk in a pan on the stove. Stir constantly with a whisk until the chocolate is melted and you have a foamy hot chocolate ready to drink!

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The bag on the right is the chocolate we bought in Tuxtla Chico. On the left is Ibarra, which can be found in most Mexican grocery stores.

 

After the chocolate demonstration, there was a show with dancing and music.  First was the Dance of the Jaguar.  Then women in traditional dress danced to marimba music. At the end, the ladies in the flowered dresses invited people to dance – I was one of them!

Here’s a short video of the dancers:

¡VIVA MEXICO!