SYW: Holiday Cookies, Drinks, and Magic


Melanie has a new set of holiday-related questions for her weekly Share Your World.

  • What is your favorite type of cookie (they’re called biscuits in Europe I believe)?
    If you mean Christmas cookies, it would be a tie between the sugar cookies in different shapes with frosting and a brownie with peppermint candy frosting (not technically a cookie, but my niece makes these every year as part of her gift of cookies).

    Outside of holiday season, it’s homemade chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven!
    I don’t bake cookies in general, so we buy Tates – their chocolate chip cookie is thin and crispy.
We buy boxes of Tates like this at Costco. At other places, they come in smaller bags, but there are more varieties.
  • If you could choose one age and remain that forever, what would it be and why?
    65 – young enough to still have the energy and drive to travel and explore new things, and also be eligible for retirement and Medicare.
  • Do you have a traditional drink during the holiday season?
    Not this year, because we are not gathering as usual with our family, but normally it is Jolly Jolt. Jolly Jolt is basically warm apple cider with cinnamon cloves. My sister prepares it in a large coffee pot and everyone helps themselves! This year, I suspect it will be Cooper’s Hawk’s Winter Red wine, which we have a bottle of in our garage – also best heated.
    NV Cooper's Hawk Winter Red, USA, Illinois - CellarTracker
  • Are you able to still believe in holiday magic as you did when you were a child?
    No, not really. Warmth, maybe, magic, no. When I was a kid, holidays like Christmas were always extremely exciting. We kids got to do the fun stuff, like picking out and decorating the tree, helping put up the creche, and singing Christmas carols. As an adult, there’s the work side of it – things don’t magically happen! I do very little decorating, except to put up my collection of creches and hang a Santa Claus on the door. Usually I have a Christmas tree but haven’t had one for the last three years. I do more decorating if we’re having guests.

    The most magical and exciting moments during my childhood were early Christmas mornings. My dad put up a portable screen so we couldn’t see into the living room until my parents got up. So we kids would climb partway up the stairway to peek over the screen to find our stockings and all the presents my parents had added during the night. This is what I think about when I’m asked about holiday magic!

    Now I look forward to simple gatherings of families and friends, noshing, drinking Jolly Jolt and playing games. It gives me warm feeling, but not the magic of childhood.

Gratitude section: I’m grateful to be alive and reasonably healthy! And I’m grateful that 2020 is almost over!

SYW: On Beer, Age, Dead Bodies & Halloween

Monday = Melanie’s Share Your World!


Here are the questions:

When was the last time you tried something new?  How did that go for you?
This would have to be before Covid.

Last year, our library book club read a book called The Lager Queen of Minnesota. It was about three generations of women in a family who get involved in brewing beer. I don’t like beer but I learned a lot about different kinds of beer from the book. On the day of the discussion, the moderator brought some of the types of beer featured in the book and I tried a couple. One of them was actually tolerable: it was an infusion, made with peach. I can’t remember its name and don’t recall ever seeing it again, so I kind of forgot about it. And I still have no interest in drinking beer.

Not the one I tried but something similar, I think

What’s the most sensible thing you’ve ever heard someone say?
Donald Trump isn’t fit to be president. It’s not that he refuses to handle the job – he CAN’T handle the job. Psychologists (including his own niece) have declared him to be a pathological narcissist. I don’t know if this is the most sensible thing I ever heard from someone (many someones, actually) but it’s what’s on my mind lately.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?
I’m not sure how to answer this question. Perhaps if I had come from a society that didn’t have a calendar or keep track of time beyond day and night, I might think I was really old because in such societies life tends to be harder and people die earlier. However, in terms of my mind, although my body is aging, I still feel that I am the same person I was at 25.
No, cancel that – my mind has deteriorated to some extent as I’ve aged. So if I had to guess how old I was (because I was isolated and didn’t keep track), I’d probably pick some age close to my own, mid-60s.

Lastly, I’ll be doing one “Halloween” themed question per week during October.  Those who don’t observe the holiday are welcome to answer or to ignore it as they wish.

Fun  CREEPY Halloween Question:

Have you ever seen a ‘fresh’ corpse (aka dead body)?
Not in person, no. Just on TV or in movies. And I tend to cringe and hide my eyes behind my hand when I see something gory. But the ones in the morgue are easier to look at. I have seen dead people at open casket funerals, which I don’t like at all. I would normally choose not to look at the body, but in the case of my sister I had no choice – I was seated in the front row. My brother-in-law was so distraught that he let the funeral home director make all the decisions. I feel sure he would not have chosen open casket if he’d thought about it. It’s not what my sister would have wanted either.

I’m grateful that I have never seen a freshly dead body.

GRATITUDE SECTION (always optional)

Do you enjoy any seasonal traditions around this time of year?
Not anymore – when my son was young, I would take him trick-or-treating and I’d put up some lame decorations on the door. I had a cool witch figurine that made spooky sounds, but one year I put it outside to entertain the kids on Halloween and it got stolen. Another thing I did with my son is make jack-o-lanterns. The problem was that the squirrels would attack them – what’s the point of making jack-o-lanterns if you can’t leave them outside?

However, the one time of year I really miss teaching is at this time of year. The kids got so excited about Halloween. I’d dress up as a witch and we’d have a class picture taken dressed up in our costumes. There would be a parade around the school. I had a lot of fun, Halloween-themed educational activities that I did with students. Since I was a bilingual teacher and my students were mostly from Mexico (or their parents were) we would always celebrate Day of the Dead. We did some really cool projects and shared them with the whole school.

CFFC: Still Life

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge has the topic glasses, cups and saucers this week.

I created two “Still Lifes” at the restaurant Gianni in Chicago, on Halsted just north of North Ave. This is our favorite “go to” restaurant when we go to Steppenwolf Theatre, just down the block. In fact, the playbill for that night’s performance is included in the first still life.


A “smiley face” still life made with a cup of coffee, a banana, and two Babybel cheeses. I did this shortly after we moved into our new home last August.
Wine glasses in Vienna – still life among human activity?


SYW Holiday Edition: On Beating the Holiday Blues, Jolly Jolt, Jesus’ Birth, and Christmas Music

Melanie’s weekly Share Your World this week is about celebration of the winter holidays.

What’s your remedy for the Holiday blues?
Sing carols or if singing is not your thing, listen to cheerful holiday music. Go to a light show at your local botanic garden or zoo or wherever there is a holiday light show. Stay inside, curl up near the fireplace (or some other warm spot in your home) with a hot beverage and read a good book.
reading by the fire with hot chocolate.jpg
Your favorite beverage (if it differs) during the holiday season? If it doesn’t differ, just answer the ‘what’s your favorite beverage” part.
In our family, the tradition is to serve “jolly jolt” on Christmas – this is hot apple cider with cinnamon and cloves, and possibly spiked with a bit of liquor – this is added to taste (rum, vodka, brandy, wine), so the children can enjoy jolly jolt without the liquor!
This one has been asked before, but what’s your take on pumpkin spice?
I like pumpkin spice, as in cake or cookies.
Is there is a person or god connected with your holiday?
Yes, the “son of God” or Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I was raised that “Jesus is the reason for the season” and while I do believe that and I love to celebrate and put up a creche or nativity scene in my house, I don’t actually believe literally in the story of Jesus’ birth. It just doesn’t make sense to me that three wise men followed a star or comet that led them to his birthplace or that angels appeared to shepherds and told them to go to Bethlehem to worship him.
jesus-birth.jpgI’m not even sure that he was born in Bethlehem, although I did go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem last January and was just as excited as anyone to see the place where he was supposedly born. In my opinion, Jesus was just a baby, born like any other baby and probably “worshipped” only by his parents and other family members. But it doesn’t matter – the Christmas story is symbolic and it is the spirit of the holiday that counts. As well as all the traditions having nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, such as Christmas trees, decorations, snow, etc. I enjoy giving gifts and also receiving them and I enjoy singing carols and spreading the love of the season to others. Love, family, friends – that is what Christmas is all about.
• Who are they and do you believe in them?
I do believe in Jesus Christ but not as literally the “son of God.” He had an earthly father and mother and was conceived like any other baby. Call me blasphemous, but that’s what I believe. He was a man of peace, a very pious Jew who nevertheless challenged the Jewish establishment; he was the Messiah, as it were. But to me he isn’t technically a god.
• If you do not believe in these people or gods, does the celebration/honoring of that being, bother you in any way (e.g., ignored, dismissed, angry, etc.)?
I believe in freedom of religion and respect everyone’s faith or lack thereof. My husband is Jewish and every year is bothered by the onslaught of commercialism and Christmas-in-your-face from October through December. I sympathize with his feelings in spite of thoroughly enjoying the season myself.


My husband has this bumper sticker on his car; I used to also, on my old car, but have not bought a new one for my new car.

Share a song that you enjoy during this Winter season (whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, The Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa and so forth.
It’s hard to choose just one. I enjoy Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs, and many secular songs of the season. I guess my favorites are Angels We Have Heard on High and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, as well as the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah. As a classical music lover, I enjoy Handel’s Messiah and other oratorios of the season, as well as madrigal groups singing medieval and Renaissance carols. I also enjoy singing a Christmas cantata every year in my church choir as well as the traditional carols and secular songs.


Here is a nice French carol sung sweetly by a children’s choir: He Is Born, the Divine Christ Child.

This song, Lead Me Back to Bethlehem, is from the cantata our church choir sang last year,  (but this is a different choir – we don’t sound this good!!) – I loved singing this cantata, called Lead Me Back to Bethlehem by Pepper Choplin.–xs




WPPC: Touring an Austrian Winery

The Weekly Prompts Photo Challenge this week has the topic of bottles.

On July 5, our Viking Grand European Tour river cruise ship arrived in Austria. We spent the day exploring Melk and cruising; then in the evening, a few of us took an optional tour to visit the Mörwald Winery, and were shown around by the owner, Grüner Rosenberg, with the help of our guide to translate (and mimic)! 20190705_164925.jpg
The vintner, wearing lederhosen, greeted us outside and showed us his wine-making operation.

Our guide was actually an American (I asked her, since her English was absolutely American-perfect!) who has spent several years living in Austria. She always leads the tours to this winery and she and Grüner have a tremendous rapport! When he would make gestures to illustrate some aspect of wine making, he expected her to make the same gestures as she translated! Actually, Grüner does speak some English, but is more comfortable explaining in German with a translator.

Viking buys a lot of wine from Mörwald Winery, and may be at least partly responsible for keeping them in business! 350,000 bottles of wine are produced for Viking each year by Mörwald alone!

Mörwald is located in the Wachau Valley in northern Austria, which is well known for its wines. As we were cruising the Danube, we saw many hillsides covered with wine-growing grapes.
At least three people are involved in the actual production of wine. Three people working in one room can produce 3,000 bottles of wine per hour! Grüner took us through the factory and explained how different types of wine are made.
One type of wine, for example, is called “Malachit” – this is one of the finer wines: it is less acid and takes more time fermenting.  Another type, “Grappa” is schnapps made from red wine mash. Grappa is made from some of the leftovers of the production of the more common wines.

Wine production today, of course, is no longer a matter of actually squishing grapes with one’s feet, but instead takes place inside these huge vats, using heat and pressure.
Here Grüner explains what happens inside the vats using pressing down motions, which the guide obediently repeated while translating!

Finally came the best part – wine tasting! We were seated in a room at high tables, which were supplied with wine glasses, a tub for emptying whatever we didn’t drink before taking the next sample, and water to cleanse our palates. We tasted six different types of wine that Morwald produces (and probably had tasted a few of them on board our ship already!).  Grüner sat on a bench with his wine glass and made sure we all learned how to raise a toast in German!
If you ever take a Viking cruise in that region, I strongly recommend taking this optional, fun tour!



Tuesday Photo Challenge: Winding & Windy

Frank Jansen at Dutch Goes the Photo has a Tuesday Photo Challenge. This week the topic is wind. Depending on how it’s pronounced it’s either a noun or a verb. Here are a few of each.

Glacier winding down a mountain at Glacier Bay National Park, AlaskaKODAK Digital Still CameraAt Glacier Bay National Park, a steward came around with split pea soup on a tray and handed it out to grateful passengers. It was so windy on the deck that the steward’s tray almost got blown away and he had to hold it with two hands!The steward holds on tight to the tray of soup.Here you can see that it’s windy by my blowing hair.
Fast forward to this year:  On our recent road trip, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park near Denver, Colorado. We went up a very winding road, with a lot of switchbacks.
Note the road sign on the far left.
We saw winding mountain streams…
…and a rushing waterfall that winds its way through descending cliffs.


Adams Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park

At Hotel Donaldson in Fargo, North Dakota, they provide free wine and appetizers every evening in the lobby. We stayed two nights there last year, so you could say we were wined and dined at the hotel, to use a homophone! 🙂

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.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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!”

KODAK Digital Still Camera

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!


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:


Curitiba’s “third best” steak house

November 15, 2016

Carlos and Eliane had quite a discussion in the car about which churrascaria (Brazilian steak house) was best.  They had given us an option of different kinds of restaurants, but Dale was interested in trying out a typical Brazilian churrascaria in Curitiba.

They settled on the “third best” one in town – Batel Grill.



Arriving there with Dona Lais at 1:45, we were told we’d have a 30-40 minute wait.  This was fine, even expected.  There was a bar and lobby full of people.

Like at Madalosso, there were complimentary mini batidas to sample in small plastic cups, as well as appetizers:  polenta sticks, mini meat pies (pastéis de carne) and French fries.  I had a batida de côco and another of maracujá. I ate a few polenta sticks but didn’t want to eat too much now, knowing how much food we’d be offered.


Dale in the bar with his empty batida cup

After we were finally seated, we got plates and went to the buffet.  I tried to put just a little of various different salads and things, but my plate was completely full when I returned to our table.

my plate of food! Is it a wonder I couldn't eat it all plus the meat?

My plate of food from the buffet!

To drink, someone ordered water and Dale and I ordered caipirinhas – actually mine was a caipiroska!  Waiters arrived with long spits of meat and carving knives.  I refused the first few because I didn’t have any room on my plate, but eventually I shoved food aside to make room for small pieces of meat.  Besides meat offerings, there were also pastas, pastéis and other kinds of food.

If you have ever been to a Brazilian steak house, you will know that the waiters show up with meat and long knives every few minutes, one after the other!

I ate very slowly and eventually couldn’t eat any more.  I think just the amount of food was overwhelming. I let them take my plate away, still ¼ full, including a piece of palmito (hearts of palm), which I love!

Dessert? Forget it!


Curitiba’s Municipal Market

November 12, 2016

We planned to go to the large Mercado Municipal, an enclosed market of mostly food stalls.  My points of reference were those in Peru and Mexico.

On our way there, we stopped for a late lunch at a popular churrascaria which catered to a lunch crowd, Pepino Azedo, which was about to close.  However, they were willing to serve us. The meat of the day was alcântara. This is not the type of churrascaria that serves 12 different kinds of meat! The waiter asked how we wanted it cooked – some wanted “mau passado” (rare) and I wanted “bem passado – ou meio passado” (medium well).  In the end, there was mostly med-rare to rare, but I found a few pieces to my liking – better that way, not too much meat on my plate!  I tried to fill up with onions and tomatoes and also French fries, although I didn’t help myself to a lot of the latter.  And there was farofa on the table (Eliane had it exchanged for a fresher container) – manioc flour, as we explained to Dale.  He put some on his meat and seemed to enjoy it.

This place was convenient because it was on the way to the Mercado Municipal. We parked across the street and went into the market, which was cleaner and more organized than I expected.

20161112_164137Carlos bought some fish to cook this weekend.  We tried several free samples and I bought some chocolates.  Eliane bought us two shot glasses at a store that sold a wide variety of cachaças. One says, “Eu (heart) cachaça” and the other said, “Eu (heart) Curitiba.”


Vo Milano Cachacaria  (Grandpa Milano Cachaca Store)- the only store in Curitiba 100% specialized in cachacas.


There was a place that sold palmito (hearts of palm), including long thick sticks of it, the size of which I’d never seen before – I didn’t know they could be that big.  But thinking about it, it’s actually the inside of the palm trunk and there are several sizes of palms.




Eliane also bought some different kinds of bananas – including a few plantains and little bananas called banana ouro and banana maçã.

Sights and flavors at the Municipal Market:







Cashew fruit – the cashew nut grows on the top of the fruit. Cashew fruit is often made into juice – it has a mild taste but fibrous texture.


Cacao fruit, from which chocolate is made







(Hot) pepper burns as it goes in, but it cures when it comes out.