And, The Secret Ingredient Is . . .

For quite a few dinner preparations, I had to hide the above fact from my family lest I get early votes on something they weren’t going to try. Cauliflower has actually been the best thing that has happened to our mashed potatoes and once tried, the family doesn’t want to change back. In fact, a few weeks ago, I ran out of cauliflower and made the ‘regular’ mashed potatoes with, well, only potatoes like the normal people do. At the first bite, shocked faces turned to me and demanded, “What happened to the mashed potatoes?” I admitted that there wasn’t any cauliflower to add today.” They finished their dinner but left the table with, “Don’t EVER let that happen, again!”

Treat Yourself to a Piece of History!

Treat Yourself to a Piece of History!

The sweet tooth of the world can be traced back around 4,000 years, however, the most popular delicacy of all time did not appear until the time of the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures.

600 A.D. the Mayans migrated into the northern regions of South America. The earliest known cocoa plantations were established in the Yucatan. Both Mayans and Aztecs used the beans from the cacao tree and made a drink they called xocoatl. Aztec legends say the cacao seeds had come from Paradise and people who partook of the seeds gained wisdom.

Ancient Mexicans worshiped Tonacetecutli, the goddess of food, and Calchiuhtlucue, the goddess of water. The believed the two goddesses were the guardians of cocoa. With that in mind, each year, human sacrifices were performed to the goddesses. Part of the victim’s last meal?? Cocoa!

In the 1700’s, Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus, renamed ‘cocoa’ to ‘theobroma’ which is Greek for ‘food of the gods’.

It is purported that cacao beans were brought back to the court of King Ferdinand by Christopher Columbus from his fourth visit to the New World. Given the sparse information to this possible fact, the cacao beans were probably overlooked midst the many other treasures found that trip.

In 1519, Hernando Cortez visited the court of Montezuma. According to historian William Hickling’s History of the Conquest of Mexico (1838), Montezuma drank no other beverage but chocolatl. The general ‘recipe’ for chocolatl was a paste of the cacao bean, flavored with spices and vanilla which was reduced to a thick froth which gradually dissolved in the mouth. The drink was served cold.

Cortez brought chocolate back to the royal court of Kind Charles V in 1529. The cacao beans were secretly processed in the monasteries and chocolate was kept a secret for almost one hundred years. Italian traveler, Antonio Carletti, discovered chocolate in 1606 and it began its journey into other parts of Europe.

The first chocolate house is said to have opened in London around 1657 by a Frenchman. Being expensive, it was considered a drink for the elite. A quote from sixteenth-century Spanish historian, Oviedo, stated, “None but the rich and noble could afford to drink chocolatl as it was literally drinking money.”

Chocolate was also considered of medicinal value. Cardinal Richelieu dosed his various illnesses with it.

By 1730, the price of chocolate had dropped from approximately three dollars a pound to a cost that made it accessible to classes other than the extremely wealthy. In 1828, the invention of the cocoa press cut prices further and improved the quality of the end product. The Industrial Revolution furthered the popularity of chocolate.

Americans were introduced to chocolate at Prince Albert’s Exposition in 1851. John Hanan brought cacao beans to Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1765. The first chocolate factory was established there. For many centuries, chocolate was considered only a beverage. Actually eating chocolate began in 1674 in the from of cakes and pastries. With the use of a steam engine for grinding cacao beans in 1795, Joseph Fry of Bristol, English, was able to manufacture chocolate on a large scale. In 1847, Fry & Sons sold “Chocolat Delicieux a Manger” which is believed to be the first chocolate bar for eating. Nestle states that from 1800 to the present, four factors contributed to chocolate’s coming of age as a food product:

1. Introduction of cocoa powder in 1828
2. Reduction of excise duties
3. Improvements in transportation facilities, from plantation to factory.
4. The invention of eating chocolate.

Naturally from the 1800’s on, chocolate has continued to change and grow. The quick candy bar you grab for a snack today is a lot different from what was available one hundred years ago. The next time you let a delicious piece of chocolate melt in your mouth, don’t feel guilty about the calories because you are experiencing history! With that fact firmly in place, take advantage of the availability of chocolate today and try the following hot chocolate recipe and gift your friends with a New Year’s treat.

Hot Chocolate Mix

11 cups of powdered dry milk
2 cups of powdered sugar
11 oz. powdered non-dairy creamer
2 lbs of instant chocolate drink mix
4 heaping tbsp. of unsweetened cocoa
1 small box of instant chocolate pudding mix
2 bags Mini marshmallows
6 quart-sized mason jars – or decide the size you want for gifting.

Blend the powdered milk in a food processor until finely ground.  Mix all ingredients except marshmallows. Layer 6 tbsp of mix followed by a good handful of marshmallows until the jar is full, ending with the mix. Makes 6 one quart jars of hot chocolate mix. Don’t forget to add a direction tag: To make a cup of delicious hot chocolate, add 3-4 tablespoons of mix to six ounces of hot water.

You can change the taste around with the addition of some cinnamon to the dry mix. It’s fun to include a stick of cinnamon bark to each jar, too, for a festive addition. Grinding up some vanilla bean into the dry mix can never go wrong.

Italian Pasta Salad – Recipe

I enjoy salads of all kinds. Even for events, like Thanksgiving, there have been times when I included a side dish of a new salad even though it didn’t traditionally fit into the menu. I’ve also noted that salads like the one following here, actually taste even better the next day so many vegetable treats are time-saving, do-ahead dishes.

Italian Pasta Salad

3 ripe Roma tomatoes, diced
1 15-ounce can of chickpeas, drained
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 cup cooked, rinsed, and cooled pasta – shape is your choice!
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 tablespoons your favorite Italian dressing
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Combine the tomatoes, chickpeas, celery, pasta and cheese in a serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until serving. Goes nicely with toasted rounds of sour dough bread brushed with melted butter and garlic.

Labels, the Downfall of Civilization?

Reading labels is a must when you are striving to save money and get the best deal. In the course of my budget-shopping excursions to the store, I have run into a few labeled words that gave me pause to think and wonder.

One of the most misleading to me stated, “Take two tablets with your favorite meal.” Fair enough, but do I have to avoid them when I eat something I don’t particularly like? Do I have to cook all my favorite meals as long as I need the tablets? We are told to always read the directions before using a product. I wish this one had left it with, take with food.
Antibacterial products are suspect, too. The new spray, soap or cleaner arrives on the market and you use it with confidence. A few months later, the label reads, Improved, kills all bacteria normally found in the home. I want a bacterial body count next time so I can really compare the effectiveness.
There are sometimes interesting messages at the meat counter. I am not adverse to buying meat marked, Special Today, Value Pack, or Sale Priced. I do tend to wonder about meat marked Reduced for quick sale. We should, at least, get some kind of time frame. How many days have to elapse before it really becomes inedible? And what kind of problem are we talking about here? And will the new, improved antibacterial spray be of any help?
Shampoo bottles promise a multitude of things, all the way from shining hair to thicker, fuller, more manageable hair. All you have to do is shampoo it in, rinse and for best results, use the conditioner from the same company. They never mention this on the front of the bottle. There have been mornings when I sneak in a conditioning rinse from some company’s competitor and wonder if the shampoo police will call and interrupt my shower.
Store at room temperature has always presented a problem to me. Does everyone have an even temperature in their homes? What exactly constitutes room temperature? The seasons could have a bearing on this as well, whether you live in the temperate or tropical zone.
Toothpaste labeling changes on almost a daily basis. The tube you brought this morning is probably obsolete by evening.
I think I will solve my dilemma by not dwelling on this any further. I think I will fix my favorite meal from the reduced for quick sale meat. While my feast is cooking, I will shampoo and not use a conditioning rinse. After dinner, I will vegetate with a good book, avoiding unnecessary exercise in order to keep myself at room temperature. When I brush my teeth later, I will avoid reading the label on the tube and if the toothpaste isn’t enough, I can always give myself a generous spritz of new, improved antibacterial spray.

Anything Free in Life Always Has a Price!


The year before I finished twelfth grade, I started mailing out inquiries for brochures on various colleges I was interested in possibly attending. It was exciting to get mail and read about all the interesting classes that fit into my plans for life. I remember staying up late, one evening, excitedly reading about one college in particular. It offered all the classes I wasted plus many I had never thought about. I was especially excited about the junior year where the students would study in Europe. I was enthralled at the possibilities and actually ran downstairs to tell my mother about it. Well, in my enthusiasm, I didn’t note the late hour and woke my mother up. She, however, carefully listened to what I had to say and then burst my bubble with, “There is no way we can afford this for you.” I trudged back upstairs to bed and that was that. Even working during the summer wasn’t going to make this possible. Fortunately, my high school had an excellent student counselor who took note of my good grades and strongly suggested I enroll in the community college and then see how things go. I just made the deadline for enrolling, my summer wages covered the cost of books and the tuition was reasonable.

Meanwhile, a relative made fun of me for not getting into a four-year college. Following my graduation, she graduated from her own high school and insisted her parents send her to a four-year college in the area. Since she chose a state college, the parents managed with some difficulty to cover her expenses. When she hit her junior year in college, she wanted to study in Europe and her mother gently told her that it would be a severe strain on the budget. The young lady applied, unbeknownst to her mother and was accepted. The parents gave in so as not to disappoint her, and she went off to Europe for a year. I observed how the parents struggled while she was away to make sure she got regular care packages and spending money even though they went without.

Meanwhile, things got tight at my house and I cashed in my credits earned to date in college, got my AA degree, and got a job. When the relative came home from her stint in Europe, she liked to make fun of my ‘lack of education’ and told people I had only gone to college to find a man and when that didn’t workout, I got a job.

Ten years past college found us both working in similar jobs making about the same pay. She was constantly in debt with maxed out credit cards. I saved up my salary and went to Europe almost annually. Shows was a ‘little’ education can do for one, right?

When I hear about the current students march to demand so many free perks in life including totally free college education, I remember my time in college. Nothing was free and if you wanted it, you worked for it. If parents were able to help, that was a bonus but wasn’t a perquisite for doing so. As in the case of the relative, demanding and getting what she wanted when she wanted it didn’t do her well in the long run. Free education for all will fill the colleges with eventual malcontents who would never figure out from where their blessings come. They are the product of a society that has become afraid to discipline or be straight forward with their children and teachers who give everyone a reward in a contest so there are no hurt feelings. It’s putting self-esteem ahead of reality and calling in counselors every time someone stubs their toe so no one has to deal with the real problems in life and learn from them.

I don’t see this relative anymore which is fine with me. Real family doesn’t always have to be related by blood. My last conversation with her she was bemoaning the champagne tastes of her children which kept her maxing out her credit cards, saying, “What can I do? I just don’t want them to lack for anything like I did growing up!”

Temper and How Do You Temper It?

What do we have in common that many of us are always losing? Few people have been able to keep this in hand forever. At one time or the other, we have all lost this, probably more than once. And losing this is always detrimental to the people around us and our own sense of being. What is this elusive object that we seem to misplace so easily? Our temper.

The stress of life and the problems facing us, contribute to this loss, however, we don’t have to let it’s loss control our lives.

Although there can be occasions of justifiable anger, I, personally, have not been victim of too many episodes of that nature.

Temper is a spur of the moment reaction to something against your wishes. It is usually a self-centered response because your space has been invaded.

An outburst of temper alleviates your stress for only a minute. Bitterness soon takes its place as you resolve to hold your ground because you are right and the recipient of your wrath is wrong. How can you easily forgive someone who is in opposition to your feelings or ideas? A loss of temper, instead of making a point, poisons the one who lost it. Many times, the temper is evoked because you don’t want to admit wrong, guilt, or even stupidity.

“Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of nature.” Orson Welles

There is a moment of justification in your mind when you have ‘set someone in their place’ but when you lose your temper, you lose a bit of your own worth. People won’t respect your ire. They will avoid your company.

Some people say their temper isn’t really temper, but their ability to speak their mind. If speaking your mind hurts, embarrasses, or alienates another person, we are talking temper not virtue. Guidance by your words or actions is entirely different from getting your way with an onslaught of temper. Loud noises cause us to close our ears while a whisper draws our attention.

Losing your temper is a selfish event. You get to vent. You get to shout. You get to let people know that you are not happy. You get that minute’s worth of enjoyment at seeing another person suffer. Are there any long-term benefits to your tantrums?

“Never do anything when you are in a temper, for you will do everything wrong.” Baltasar Gracian

Someone apologized to me once after giving in to a massive tirade that lasted twenty minutes as I stood there in shock. Her later explanation for the behavior? She was having a bad day and whatever I had said, set her off. She went on to say that she was always apologizing for her temper as if it was a virtue. She is on the way to being alone with her ‘virtue’. Better to have held your temper in the first place than trying to justify it.

A quick look in the dictionary gives an interesting view on temper. One meaning of the word is “Proneness to anger” and the other one is “To exercise control over”.
As we enter into the Advent Season and start our approach to the stable at Bethlehem, what form of temper will we use on our journey?

Barbara M. Barthelette

“REMEMBER –For every minute you are angry with someone, you lose 60 seconds of happiness that you can never get back.” Will Rogers

Fall of the Berlin Wall – November 9, 1989

On November 9, 1989, East German officials opened the Berlin Wall which allowed people to travel from East Berlin to West Berlin. This was one of the important events beginning the end of the Cold War. This action by East Germany was preceded a few weeks earlier when Hungary opened the border between Hungary and Austria.
The day after this announcement, Germans, probably on both sides of the wall, began to reduce this symbol of tyranny into a pile of rubble.
I grew up knowing about this wall and what it meant. In the final days of World War II, the Americans came into the small German town where my mother and grandmother lived. American soldiers were billeted into the homes of the Germans and my grandmother took in six or eight of the soldiers. My mother spoke fluent German which helped them manage the situation but it was my tiny grandmother who, in strict German, lined them all up and made them wash before allowing them to settle into her home.
Although the German people were happy to have an end to the bombing and war, it was a tentative peace as rumors flew that their little country was going to be divided up like spoils of war and word had it the Russians would be taking over the Eastern part of Germany. My mother, being able to speak both German and English, had been an invaluable help to the American military so she, being a good listener, knew it was just a matter of time before the Americans would withdraw. Every day, she would run down to the main square to see what flag was flying and the morning she saw the American flag coming down and the Russian one going up, she realized her world was changing once again. One of the soldiers she had been helping with translations confided in her that if she came down to the train station with basically the clothing she was wearing, he and the others that had lived with them the last few weeks, would see that she got out of what was to become East Germany.
My mother went home and her mother helped her pack a very small handbag and they went down, like everyone else, to see off the Americans at the train. As they stood there, two soldiers appeared on either side of my mother and just whispered, “Keep walking!” and they successfully got her hidden in the ‘mess tent’ compartment of the train. They put her into oversized Army fatigues, a hat on her head, and told her to put her hands in the pockets to hide the fact she was a female and pretend to sleep. Naturally, military police went through the train cars and when she didn’t move, one of the other soldiers laughed and said, “Too much celebration last night, officer.” and they went on without further investigation.
The reason my mother wanted to leave and her mother insisted that she leave was they realized how things would probably turn out with the Russians in charge. History proved that out. And, as we all know from said history, the wall went up and the gates closed and everyone there when they closed, stayed there, including my grandmother.
Later on, my grandmother made friends with a priest who had been in East Germany helping with parishes when the wall went up. He was not allowed to leave. His family was living in West Germany. The ‘rule’ was that anyone under 65 had to remain behind the wall. However, once someone turned 65, they could leave for a visit for two weeks exactly or forfeit their pension.
We only saw my grandmother once in our lives. My mother went back to visit Germany and my grandmother used her two weeks to visit and stay with the family of the young priest friend who also made me and my mother welcome there for the visit.
My mother, by some twist of fate, was in Germany when the wall came down. She decided that she didn’t need to see what kept her family apart all those years. She didn’t travel to join the celebrations. She’d seen and lived enough of that already.
My grandfather’s family lived in East Germany so when the wall came down, a great many relatives were reunited with the fortunate ones that had gotten out in time many years before. My cousin’s parents left East Germany when people were still allowed to go back and forth a bit. They left with my cousin in her stroller and that was about all. Initially, the Russians at the border wanted to keep my cousin to guarantee her parents’ return but they relented when they saw they were not trying to take anything other than themselves and the baby over the border presumably for a day excursion.
Events in the world leave the decedents with a stronger bit of history in their make up. For instance, I know for a fact that there is no Jewish blood in my mother’s side of the family because at the onset of the Hitler regime, it was mandatory that every person have their family legally traced back two or three generations in order to include this in their paperwork. From an early age, I read all I could find on Ann Frank and related topics. I often wondered why as did most reasonable people.
The Cold War deprived me of a relationship with my grandmother and a lot of relatives as they were ‘kept out of reach’ behind the closed border. It often makes me ponder how many other people were caught in the trap of the Wall when it went up and hope they eventually found their way home to their families.
Ancient history? Perhaps, but looking at the situation in the world today and the problems going on, I don’t think we are too far from even more horrendous situations we will have to contend with and wonder what traces of history will affect our children?

Awful Memory – Laundry Mouse

Recalling past events can often bring back awful memories. One time, I had to face a situation that absolutely terrified me. I am sure it is a fear that lurks in the subconscious of every homemaker and mother. Well, one day, that particular horror left the realm of the subconscious and became a reality. I found a mouse in the garage when I went out to do the laundry.

That morning, I went out to do the first load of the day and as I pulled the wet laundry out of the washer and dumped it into the dryer, I noticed SOMETHING. Close inspection showed it to be a very wet, pretty much deceased mouse. I stood back, calmly assessed the situation and then screamed. Looking back, I cannot accurately remember exactly what I wailed but it brought my children running.

We all gathered around the washer and peered at the most unwelcome laundry guest. I got a pair of tongs, a plastic bag, a box, and a fish net but couldn’t decide who would retrieve the mouse. Actually, I had already determined that I wasn’t going to do it! I gravely turned to my then eight-year-old son and said, “When your dad isn’t here, we consider you the man of the house . . .” With intuition born of necessity, my son replied, “Forget it! I don’t do mice!”

My six year old daughter volunteered to hold the box if I purchased her a new book. My four year old daughter stood back and declared, “I think we should name the mouse Luke . . .”

We finally decided to run our unwanted friend through a rinse cycle to confirm the actual time of death. My son did get the mouse out for me, the six year old shut the box on it, and I tied the whole works up in a plastic bag and the final resting place was the outside trash can. My four year old, continued her one-person conversation, and said, “Maybe, we could name her Sally . . .”

Coupons, Marriage, Children, and Life!

After thirty years as a wife and mother, I now realize that bargains, coupons, sales and deals were a latent part of my personality from birth. When it came to spending money, I preferred having more cash on hand for the recreational side of life than tied up in the kitchen.

My sixth sense for deals didn’t appear, however, until I had been married for about a week. Up until then, shopping was merely the deposit of various food needs in a cart with little thought of cost. My new husband and I were on our first joint grocery shopping venture about five days after the wedding. We were strolling blissfully along, both of us chummily guiding that one shopping cart. As we turned the corner from canned goods, we saw a group of fellow shoppers crowded around some kind of display. Without a conscious decision on my part, I temporarily broke away from my newlywed bliss and joined the throng. After some pushing and shoving for a turn at the display, I triumphantly returned to my bemused spouse, two chickens in hand.

“Can you believe these birds were only 59 cents a pound?” I exclaimed. “Did you know what was on sale there?” my husband asked. “No, but I figured it must be something good if there were that many people interested,” I answered.

At that point, my novice husband realized that there had been a personality change in the relationship and it wasn’t his.

Over the years, more subtle changes occurred in our married life. Where once I would share the paper with my husband on a Sunday morning, I now ransacked it for coupons. Television after a hard day at work was ignored as I prepared elaborate lists of grocery needs and then tried to figure out how to pay less for it all. Quick trips to the store turned into scouting missions as I mentally kept track of who had the best price on items. We still shopped together but my husband had sole charge of the cart as I had to keep alert and on the watch for previously unannounced sales. Sneakers were a must and our conversations went from newlywed sweet nothings to “Quick! That’s the last one! Grab it!”

When the children came along, they could be a distraction from the business at hand every Saturday morning. My husband, somewhat regretfully I’m sure, opted to stay home with the children while I braved the bargain hunters set loose on the weekend.

Time mellows everything and working within a budget encourages creativity. We miss our solitary strolls through the market but enjoy the surprise meals and desserts my coupon and bargain hunting helps produce. Our only complaint is that happy repasts have added to our weight but I know, deep down in my heart, I am still a size seven hidden somewhere about my person. Besides, you need the extra muscle to get ahead of those people who think they can grab the last two for one item on sale this week.