food, holidays

Now it’s okay to play Christmas music…

So yesterday was Thanksgiving, which means that we are now in the middle of the holiday season. Our Thanksgiving was pretty low key. I vacuumed the house while Bill made a cherry cheese pie. Then I made macaroni and cheese, mainly because Bill made me want it. Finally, Bill made a chicken pot pie. We went with the chicken pot pie because of Bill’s dental trauma. He just had an implant installed and is healing, complete with stitches.

We had part of a chicken that needed to be eaten, so I suggested that he make a chicken pot pie. So he did, and it turned out great. I was especially happy about the pastry, which was perfect– flaky and tasty. The pie was less successful, because he didn’t use US products with his US recipe. He didn’t have cherry pie filling or American condensed milk, which is sweetened.

Anyway, it wasn’t the fanciest meal… and we didn’t even break out the good china for it. But it was tasty and filling, and there was no fighting or weirdness. We had good music and good company. So Thanksgiving was a success, in my book.

Mac and cheese, with a little leftover bacon thrown in. Technically, we had this for lunch.

While we were eating, I heard some Christmas music. For once, I didn’t change the song, because– hey– it’s holiday time. And because today is Black Friday, I started shopping for gifts. Actually, today I bought cheese and chocolate, as well as a few essentials for the house and a couple of gifts for Bill. Naturally, that activity made USAA’s fraud detection bots go nuts.

They sent me a message on my USAA app, but when I tried to verify my identity, the app decided I was taking too long. Then I got an error message. So I had to call USAA to get them to unblock my card, and I had to do that on my cell phone, using their local number. I was supposed to call them collect, but I don’t even remember how to do that. I haven’t made a collect call in decades.

I spent several minutes on the phone with one lady, but since she was dealing with credit cards, and the charges in question were on my debit card, she had to send me to another operator… a heavily accented fellow who sounded pretty bored with his work. Gone are the days when I’d call USAA and they’d address me by name and thank me for my many years of membership. USAA really sucks now, but they are among the few banks that will allow American expats on SOFA status to have an account while living abroad. Crazy that they didn’t seem to have a problem with charges from Armenia, but I do some transactions on Black Friday, and their damned bots go nuts.

In any case, the issue is sorted, and my cheese and chocolate and other stuff is successfully ordered. But one other issue came up. I turned on my VPN so I could navigate to a site that kept giving me the geo block. I forgot to turn off the VPN before I signed into my email account, so I got an alert for that, too. And in the process of checking that, I saw a bunch of people or bots or whatever, from around the world, trying to log into my email account. Fucking scammers. They need to get a real job.

I never knew what Black Friday was, even though my parents were retailers who depended on the Christmas season, until I worked in retail. I had a boss who got upset with me because I wanted to go home to my family’s homestead for Thanksgiving. I seem to remember having to race back to Williamsburg, Virginia from Natural Bridge on Saturday to go to work. I’m glad I’m not in that world anymore.

I completed another post for my Armenia series on the travel blog. I may do another later today, if I feel up to it. Or maybe I’ll just do another musical number. Or maybe I’ll take a nap and watch YouTube. I don’t know. I sure am not as physically active this week, as I was last week! That’s for damned sure.

I am shocked that it’s time for the holidays, though… 2023 has flown by. Maybe 2024 will bring a new dog into our lives. I am definitely ready for one. Hopefully, the weather will improve. There’s a wine stand tonight, but it’s cold and rainy outside. I have a feeling we’d rather stay home and drink wine in front of the fire.

The church in our town. I took the featured photo and this photo at the same time. Weather is so weird.
family, food, holidays, home, Virginia

I got it all done yesterday… and now I can just enjoy the lights!

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers who celebrate. Bill and I have very casual plans for “turkey day”. In fact, we’re not even having turkey. I mentioned that Bill had dental implant surgery the other day, so he can’t yet chow down on things that aren’t soft. Because he’s a sweet, thoughtful, kind husband, he stopped at the store and bought a duck leg, which he planned to sous vide for me. He was going to eat macaroni and cheese.

When he told me about his plans, I kind of rolled my eyes. It’s not that I don’t appreciate his plans to cook a duck leg for me. I just didn’t need him to go to such a special effort. Thanksgiving is historically my favorite holiday, but in Germany, it’s not a holiday. Most of my family is in Virginia, which is thousands of miles away from here.

I suggested that instead of cooking a duck leg just for me, Bill use the leftover chicken in the fridge to make a chicken pot pie. That way, we can both enjoy the same thing for dinner. It’s soft enough for him to eat, will get rid of leftovers, and is the perfect kind of food for a cold, blustery day like we have today. Bill liked that idea, so he’s planning to do that, and he’ll cook the duck leg later. He’s also making a cherry cheese pie. I don’t need to be eating that, but I won’t turn it down.

Yesterday, I decided to put up the Christmas trees. I was a bit tired and cranky by the time Bill got home from work. I asked him if he’d seen the email I sent asking him to pick up a couple of strands of lights. One of the strands we had was kind of dying. The lights were really dim on the tree and looked terrible.

Bill hadn’t seen my email, so I told him to forget it and I’d just make do. He said “Why don’t you wait until tomorrow to finish this.”

And I said, “Because I just want to get this over with.”

He said, “I could help you with it.”

I responded, “Yes, but you plan to cook tomorrow. Besides, you get in my way.”

He sighed and shook his head, then cracked a smile. Bill is truly the perfect man for me.

I mentioned yesterday that decorating for Christmas isn’t that much fun for me anymore. I’m not good at it; it wears me out; and makes a big mess. However, I do really enjoy seeing the lights and having our living room look more homey and lived in. For that reason, I keep decorating. I think when we move out of Germany, we’ll ditch the smaller tree we bought in 2007, after we forgot to pack our Christmas decorations in our baggage when we moved here with the Army.

Bill finally said, “I’ll go up to the Rewe to see if they have any lights.”

So, while Bill was looking for lights, I continued to decorate the larger tree, which had fully functioning lights. Bill came back later with two strands of German lights that make our smaller tree look like something out of Clark W. Griswold’s most fantastic Christmas wet dreams. Now I wonder if we shouldn’t have just bought all new lights for both trees, because the smaller one is showing up the bigger one. I’ll have to keep that in mind for next year.

This morning, I had vivid dreams of Yerevan. I think it’s because I’m writing a very intense travel blog series about the city, where I lived from 1995-97. Those were considered part of the “dark years” of Yerevan. It’s certainly not a dark place anymore!

I also woke up to a nice Thanksgiving greeting from one of my cousins, who has repeatedly said he wishes I was in Virginia. That’s nice to read, although I think if I were in Virginia, we’d just be black sheep together. 😀 Then he posted that he wants to visit us in Europe. I told him to come on over. I’d love to see him! My home and my heart is always open to those who love and accept me for who I am… and he is one of the people who does.

Anyway, I miss my family, in spite of everything. I hope they all have a good time at Granny’s house. I’m with them in spirit. And I can’t believe it’s been nine years since I was last home with them. Maybe 2024 will be the year I go back over the pond.

By the way… last night, we did another Champagne bucket drawing last night to decide where we’ll be going next… I think 2024 will be a good year for travel, if we’re able to do these suggested trips.

family, food, housekeeping tips

When cocoa powder opens new doors of world discovery…

Yesterday, Bill got a very interesting video from his younger daughter, and it led to a discussion that I think will open new doors of discovery. Younger daughter, who is currently expecting her latest baby, said that she had a craving for hot cocoa the other day. She said she doesn’t often eat chocolate or drink hot cocoa because chocolate seems to upset her stomach and give her a headache. Her husband has the same complaint. However, because she’s pregnant right now, and has some intense cravings for certain foods, she decided to risk the discomfort.

The only problem was, she didn’t have enough cocoa powder. Like a lot of Americans, she’d had good old fashioned American cocoa powder in her cupboard. She doesn’t use it very often, though, because chocolate stuff seems to make her feel ill. So she only uses cocoa every once in a great while, and she’d forgotten to buy more the last time she’d used it for something.

Last year, when Bill and I went to Antwerp, Belgium, for my birthday, we stopped by a Belgian chocolatier and bought some stuff for younger daughter and her family. One of the things we bought for her was some real Belgian Dutch processed cocoa powder. It came in a fancy blue canister. Younger daughter opened it for the first time a couple of days ago and was immediately shocked by how different it looked, compared to her American cocoa powder.

Then she made the hot cocoa and was blown away by how much better it tasted, compared to the American stuff. Not only that, but she didn’t suffer a headache or stomach issues due to the cocoa, as she normally would have. After she excitedly told us about how excellent the Belgian Dutch processed cocoa was, she added that her husband also thought it was much better and didn’t suffer the usual ill effects. He said, “We can’t ever go back (to American cocoa powder, that is)!”

Bill explained to his daughter that the Dutch processed cocoa is treated with an alkalizing agent that reduces the acidity of the cocoa and takes away some of the bitterness. It’s also much lower in caffeine than non Dutch processed cocoa is. Since younger daughter and her husband are devout Mormons, it’s likely they are sensitive to caffeine. They don’t drink coffee or black tea, and probably don’t drink a lot of cola. While caffeine can help get rid of headaches to those who are addicted to it, it can also cause adverse side effects in those who aren’t used to it.

There’s also the fact that Belgian chocolate is among the very best in the world, and is made to very different standards than US made chocolate is. If you’ve ever eaten a Hershey bar, you might notice that they tend to have a distinctive smell kind of reminiscent of vomit. But other chocolate doesn’t necessarily have that pukey aroma. I’ve never encountered it in Belgian or Swiss chocolates. The weird smell is there because of the presence of butyric acid, which is also present in rancid butter, Parmesan cheese, and vomit. Hershey’s claims that they do not put the acid in the chocolate; and yet, somehow it still seems to make its way into their products. If you click the link in this paragraph, you can read more about how and why the acid is in Hershey’s chocolate, when the company swears they aren’t the ones putting it there.

After Bill told his daughter about Dutch processed cocoa and the high quality of Belgian and other European chocolates, I quipped “Now you’ve bonded over cocoa powder. She’s learned about European chocolate because of you.” Her mother never exposed her to many things from Europe. Indeed, she seems to embrace knock offs rather than genuine articles. Almost everything in her life– from her handbags to her children’s father figures– is fake.

I’m glad younger daughter is getting to talk to Bill about these things now… but I wish she’d been able to do that when she was still growing up. I wish Bill could have taught her things when she was a child and a teenager. And I wonder what could happen when she has a quiet moment or two, sometime in the future, and realizes what was stolen from her when she was coming of age. Her father could have died on 9/11, or when he went to Iraq to fight in a war, or even on his many commutes to and from work. Fortunately, he’s still here, and technology allows him and his daughter to finally get to know each other, in spite of her mother’s efforts to destroy their bond.

Well, at least they can talk about these things now. At least now Bill can help her broaden her horizons, even if it’s just through talking about cocoa powder from Belgium. This story could have turned out a lot worse. Anyway, I’m glad younger daughter is enjoying the Dutch processed cocoa powder. Bill used some the other day when he made us brownies. I was craving them, even though I’m definitely not pregnant.

I’m not sure if we sent her the Van Houten Dutch processed cocoa powder, which is from Belgium. However, I have a feeling that now that she’s tried it, she won’t want to go back to Hershey’s. I hope someday that she and her husband, at the very least, can visit Europe and experience it for themselves. I think if they had a chance to travel outside of the United States, they would be shocked and awed by what’s out there.

As it is now, younger daughter has some favorite German candy. She’s partial to gummi bears, of course, but she also loves Milka chocolate bars. She hasn’t even tried Ritter Sports yet. Bill was going to send some to her in our latest care package, but the store had run out of them. Next time we send her some goodies, we’ll have to throw in Ritter Sports, which are made very close to where we used to live. Something tells me once they try them, she and her husband won’t be able to go back… or unring the bell, as it were. This could turn out to be a metaphor of their lives as a whole.