Friday Fries

French fries are a miracle of culinary ingenuity. Where else can you find something so perfect, so incredibly delicious, so amazing in a few quick bites?

Which French fries do you prefer? Are you a McDonald’s fry fanatic? Do you put anything except salt on your McD fries? Of course not! McDonald’s fries are the only ones in the world that scream, “Don’t dip me in that!!”

If McD fries are hot and fresh, they’re terrific. If they’re beyond their life cycle and luke warm, they’re nasty. Ever gotten a bag of McD fries that were the crunchy burnt end pieces instead of real fries? You can break your teeth on those. Dogs love them, by the way.

Do you always look for the stray fries in the bottom of the bag? They’re actually the best ones in the whole bag. In their attempt to escape to freedom they fell into the bag anyway, but the effort shows they really are the best ones. The other fries just climbed into the box like most good fries do, followers instead of leaders.

My most wonderful memories of hot, scrumptious, mouth-watering McDonald’s fries was when I ate them with the old fashioned, huge, delectable cinnamon rolls McD used to have. Those cinnamon rolls were not twisted cardboard with crunchy white stuff on top. They were huge, soft, bulging with cinnamon and butter, made with real yeast dough, and smothered in icing.

I went to McD’s just for those cinnamon rolls as often as I could. I also ordered extra icing. Sometimes the icing dripped out of the container. I didn’t care. I could tell by the weight they had fully granted my request for more. I dipped the hot, thin, salty fries in the icing, and ate them. Then, I devoured the cinnamon roll and immediately started thinking about the next time I would get away to have another one.

Where do you get your favorite French fries? You might not have “Culver’s” in your area, but they have amazing fries. They’re thicker than McD’s and rippled. They require ketchup, not because they don’t taste good enough by themselves, but ketchup increases the delightfulness.

At a few restaurants, I have had breaded fries. Are you kidding me!? Breaded fries!? Maybe they don’t call them breaded, but they’re dipped in something before they’re deep fried. I call that breading. Anyway, they’re incredible.

What about “steak fries?” These are fries that look like small deep fried slabs of wood. Delicious.

Have you had cheesy fries? How about chili fries? I love cheese, and chili, and French fries, but not together.

French fries have different names around the world. “Chips” is a name that comes to mind. When I was young I had fries in a bag with vinegar on them. We were in Canada on a fishing trip.

I would love to hear about fries where you live. I wonder where “burger and fries” came from. Who decided burgers needed French fries? What about “fish and chips?” Whoever decided burgers needed fries and fish needed chips, I’m glad they made the call.

Thursday Therapy Thoughts

Mindfulness has been defined as “awareness, without judgement, of the world as it is, of others as they are, of yourself as you are.”

Awareness is described as “being fully present” in each moment. If we are fully present, we choose to listen and hear, and see.

If we struggle with constantly comparing ourself to others, mindfulness is a challenge. To be aware without judgement means comparison is gone. No more “I am better than…”, “I am less than…”.

Mindfulness. Awareness without judgement.

The Most Delicious Peppermint Mocha

I really didn’t think it was possible. Honestly. Finding a peppermint mocha, which I absolutely love, that is better than the ones I have so thoroughly enjoyed from Starbucks, was inconceivable. I don’t have any idea how many peppermint mochas I’ve happily sipped since I first tried one. Many Christmases have inspired me to buy them, always extra hot. Extra hot, by the way, at Starbucks is not as extra hot as it used to be. For a time, I ordered mochas at 190 degrees. Really. One time, when I reached the drive-thru window, the barista said, “Here’s your insanely hot mocha.” I loved it. Now, extra hot means the barista pushes a different button on the frother machine that automatically steams the milk just a few seconds longer. Not long enough.

In a recent post I wrote about our experiences in Holly, Michigan. Walking the streets of Holly is like a delightful trip into history. The shops along South Saginaw Street and Battle Alley offer a variety of items with a wide range of prices. My favorite are the antique shops, and there are several. During one of our visits to Holly, I found the best peppermint mocha I have ever tasted.

Coffee is an experience. Peppermint mochas are an elevated experience enhanced by a cozy atmosphere and heightened by the Christmas season. The Battle Alley Coffee Company, situated on the corner of South Saginaw Street and Battle Alley provides both. The shop is an amazing combination of color and comfort. The real test of any coffee shop goes beyond the taste of the brew. The biggest question is, do I want to stay while I enjoy my drink?

The shop invites you to stay for a while and provides several comfortable places to sit and enjoy.

The Battle Alley Coffee Company roasts their own coffee beans. Since the equipment they have in the shop will only roast two pounds at a time, and the demand for their coffee is so high, they do most of their roasting off-site.

Obviously, when you visit the coffee shop it will be decorated differently than when these photos were taken during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Whenever you choose to visit the Battle Alley Coffee Shop, you will enjoy an amazing cup of whatever kind of coffee drink you choose, and will want to stay.

During our visit when I made the grand discovery, I didn’t find the words “peppermint mocha” on the menu above the bar. I asked about a mint drink listed in the coffee section. The barista asked if I wanted the drink to be espresso or coffee-based. When I said I preferred espresso, she asked, “Would you like the mocha to taste like a Peppermint Pattie or an Andes Mint?”

“I’ll take the Peppermint Pattie,” I said.

While she began working on the large peppermint mocha, we wandered around the shop, taking in everything it had to offer. When our drinks were finished, my wife and I sat at a table near the front of the shop. I took the first sip of my peppermint mocha and I couldn’t believe the taste. It was amazing! It was very hot and delicious. I enjoyed every sip, from the first to the last.

When we were finished with our coffee and muffin, I went back to the counter to speak with the owner. I said, “I didn’t think it was possible.”

“Oh, did you spill it?” she asked.

I laughed and said, “No. I didn’t think it was possible to find a peppermint mocha that was better than Starbucks, but that definitely was.”

She thanked me and said, “The secret is, we use four full shots of espresso.”

I told her again how much I enjoyed the peppermint mocha and promised to come back. That will be soon.

The Harvest Coffeehouse in Frankenmuth, Michigan

For the last few months, I have enjoyed the delightful task of driving my wife to Frankenmuth, Michigan so she can meet with the student teacher she supervises. I always said the best job would be driving places and not having to do anything when I get there. I have arrived.

It’s only right that a blog called, “A Coffee State of Mind” would include plenty of posts about coffee.

The ambience of the place where coffee is purchased is almost as important as the taste of the coffee. When I visit a coffeehouse, I usually purchase some kind of mocha. I’m hooked, big time. Today I decided to go into the Harvest Coffeehouse in Frankenmuth. The coffeehouse sits in a prime location, right in the middle of town where folks are walking, enjoying all this famous town has to offer.

No one has to ask for a menu, it’s clearly displayed behind the counter. Most real coffee drinkers know what they want, so looking at the great menu is just part of the experience. In fact, real coffee folks would never let on that they don’t know what to order. And they would certainly never ask, “What is a latte?”

The real test of a coffeehouse is whether you want to stay after you get your coffee. If you feel like rushing out, then you might have good coffee, but you haven’t found a good coffeehouse. I can promise you, at Harvest Coffeehouse, you’ll enjoy both.

I ordered a “Peppermint Paddy.” I always order mochas extra hot, and this one was perfect! It was a delicious balance of espresso, chocolate, and peppermint.

The folks at Harvest Coffeehouse have their own line of coffees and teas. They offer several items for sale, all displayed attractively and within easy reach.

There are many reasons to visit Frankenmuth, Michigan. The Harvest Coffeehouse is a terrific place to stop for a fantastic hot or cold beverage and stay for a while. Of everything I enjoyed about Harvest Coffeehouse, beside my Peppermint Paddy, this was my favorite. Nothing I have ever read explains coffee quite as well as this.

Perfect.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club

For many years we had a tradition that took us to Holly, Michigan the day after Thanksgiving. We met with other family members from the Detroit area to visit all the shops along Main Street and Battle Alley. I was always especially excited to visit the Detroit Model Railroad Club in the old Holly Theater. The club owns an incredible O-gauge layout of unbelievable size.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club, or DMRRC, as it is commonly referred to, was organized in 1935. After dismantling and moving layouts several times, the club finally landed in the old theater in 1974. Club members have been working on the layout ever since. As everyone in model railroading knows, a layout is never finished. The DMRRC layout is a great example.

I remember when we first visited the club over thirty years ago, the dispatcher, who ultimately controls where and when the trains are allowed to move, sat in the middle of the layout on a raised platform. The layout control area is now in the balcony, overseeing the entire layout.

The railroad is called The Detroit Union Railroad and includes many towns and villages through which the trains move. The mountainous terrain provides an amazing variation of views as the trains wind along the more the 6,000 feet of track. All of the track has been hand-laid by club members. Each tie is glued in place, each rail is spiked to the ties by hand. Below the layout, in the basement there are miles of wire carrying power to the track and fully operational signals above.

The individual trains are operated remotely by “engineers” carrying radio transmitters. Decoders in the locomotives allow the engineers to control the trains as they move along the rails. The dispatcher speaks to the engineers by radio and the engineers follow orders from the control center to move their trains. Visitors are able to walk along the side of the layout and watch as several trains of varying lengths roll along.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club is an amazing source of inspiration for those of us who have model railroads of our own. Club members patiently working on this beautiful layout for nearly fifty years have provided enjoyment to thousands of people, young and old.

When visitors first enter the club, they are greeted warmly by a member who offers information about the layout and its operations. The first view of the layout is a fascinating view of the city of Dorrance. Trains regularly roll through the city, so it is a great place to get a close-up view of the locomotives and rolling stock.

Many years have passed since our first visit to the Detroit Model Railroad Club. It will continue to be a favorite spot for this old model railroader.

Giving Thanks – Day 17: Cereal

I’m thankful for cereal. Where would we be without cereal? Where would parents be without cereal. Cereal answers so many life questions, it’s almost a miracle. In the cereal aisle I’m like a kid in a toy store five days before Christmas.

What do you eat when you don’t know what to eat? Cereal. What do you eat after church on Sunday night? (Wait, what?) Cereal. What do you eat in secret between lunch and dinner so mom won’t yell, “Don’t eat that you’ll spoil your dinner!” Cereal.

What do you eat when you don’t know what to eat because everything sounds good when you’re going to sit on the couch and watch a movie? Cereal. What do you grab when you’re late and you haven’t eaten yet? Cereal. What do toddlers eat while sitting in their high chairs so mom or dad, or aunt, or grandma, or sitter, can get just five minutes to stop chasing the little one around the house? Cereal. What do you find when you’re looking for your keys under the couch or chair cushions? Cereal.

What gives you a little sugar kick when you don’t want a huge chocolate chip cookie (Wait, what?) but need something sweet? Cereal. What fits in your pocket so you can discretely reach in and pull out a delicious morsel while you’re supposed to be paying attention to something? Cereal.

What do you need on a long trip for a crunchy munch while you’re driving? Cereal. What tastes great when you’re bored? Cereal. What is the magic item that has absolutely no calories because you’re only eating a few at a time? Exactly! Cereal.

Whoever came up with these little gems was a genius. Kids today don’t know how special snack packs are. In the old days, the boxes were scored so you could open the side, then open the bag inside, pour some milk in and eat the cereal right out of the box! Incredible!

Cereal has changed so much! Years ago, the cereal choices were slim pickin’. Cheerios, Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat, Puffed Wheat, and Puffed Rice was about it, at least at our house. Quaker used to have shredded wheat that was a round biscuit rather than the more familiar crumbly pillows that are the size of a bundle of steel wool. A great variation to plain Shredded Wheat was pouring hot water on the biscuit, let it soak for a moment, then squeeze out the water, add milk and a good bunch of sugar, and it was delightful! (Delightful is a word I never used when I was a kid. I don’t use it much now, either, except when I’m writing reviews of restaurants we might never go to again.)

Cereal can be colon central without being obvious about it. Kids will never know that their insides are being messed with when they need help. Bran Flakes. Raisin Bran is a little sneakier. If you’re serious, Bran Buds. Now there are all kinds of bran choices. All with the same results.

The only thing I ever heard my dear grandfather say that might raise an eyebrow among the very, very old-timers was a joke. He told me, “A man went into a grocery store and asked the clerk, ‘Do you have Grape Nuts?’ The clerk answered, ‘No, it’s rheumatism.'”

Hot cereal is not as easy to carry around, but it’s still great. The generational favorite is Oatmeal. Not that I think it’s worthy of the trophy. Oatmeal has found its way into all kinds of recipes. Granola, which is cereal, sort of. Apple crisp. Cookies, including chocolate chip!

My favorite is Cream of Wheat, although corn meal mush is right up there. No one remembers Ralston, which was like eating a mouthful of hot grain. I thought Malto-Meal was nasty. The hot cereal wonder-treat is Cocoa Wheats. “Cocoa Wheats, Cocoa Wheats can’t be beat. It’s the cream hot cereal with a cocoa treat. Tastes like chocolate, smells like it too. Helps make you strong for the things you want to do.” Can you hear the music? Sure you can.

When it comes to cereal, there’s a lot to be thankful for, and I am. My sugary crunch favorite today is Golden Crisp. I think I’ll grab a handful. Yum!

Giving Thanks – Day 16: Coffee

I’m thankful for coffee. I love coffee. I always have. I really love hot chocolate, but if I had to choose between one or the other or never have it again, I would choose coffee. I think I was four the first time I had coffee. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I associate different flavors of coffee with places we’ve been. By flavors, I don’t mean Irish coffee, or Vanilla, or Hazelnut. I just mean the different flavors of coffee. One town we lived in had a restaurant called “The Junction.” It was a small cafe and their coffee was like a meal. It was delicious. We sat with friends for hours and just drank the coffee. I discovered they used Bunn coffee machines, so we got one. Not the same. It was good, but it wasn’t The Junction’s coffee.

During visits to Louisianna, in restaurants they ask, “Do you want light or dark coffee?” And they don’t mean with or without cream. They mean light or dark black coffee. They also add chicory which is kind of a bitter taste. It was wonderful. The spoon could almost stand up on its own in the dark coffee.

When we were in Australia, in a restaurant we ordered coffee with cream. The waiter looked at us like we were from another planet. They brought black coffee with a small cup of heavy whipping cream. In Australia one is supposed to order a flat white, a long or short black, or a short macchiato, among others. It was a learning experience for sure, and the coffee was fantastic.

Coffee is serious. Coffee is not something to be messed with. I don’t take trips, no matter how short or long without coffee. Almost every time I go to town, it’s time for coffee.

I think the very best cup of coffee I ever tasted was Kona coffee in Hawaii. It wasn’t just being in Hawaii that made the coffee taste so good. Kona coffee is magical. I can’t begin to describe it adequately. We’ve had Kona since then and it’s good, but not like that first experience.

For consistent taste in coffee, one only has to visit any McDonald’s in the country. Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, all McDonald’s coffee tastes exactly the same. Many years ago, they changed their coffee blend and it’s better. Before, it had kind of a burnt taste. Or maybe the people making it didn’t know what they were doing. No one ever says, “Hey, let’s go get a glass of milk,” or, “Do you want to stop for a tea?” It’s always coffee. Big decisions are made over coffee, not milk or tea, at least not in the US.

I remember metal coffee cans that were opened with a small key that was welded to the bottom of the can. You broke off the key, stuck a little tab through a slot in the key and twisted the key around the top of the can, releasing the most incredible aroma from inside. Perked coffee has always been my favorite, but I have to admit, the new automatic coffee machines are pretty great, especially if I need a coffee quick.

I think our first drip coffee maker was a Bunn we purchased forty years ago. I hoped it would taste like the coffee we had at The Junction. Not quiet, but really good. We’ve had several Mr. Coffee makers, a few percolators, and three or four Keurig’s.

I have to admit the ambience of the place has a lot to do with how good the coffee tastes. You can have a lousy cup of coffee in a great place and it makes the coffee better. You can have a great cup in a cold, drafty, bland place and the coffee loses some of its appeal.

If bad stuff is happening, coffee is a great companion to ease whatever it is. If great stuff is happening, coffee makes it even better. If I’m tired, coffee. If I’m bugged, coffee. If I’m anxious, coffee. (I know what you’re thinking – hey, can’t caffeine make nerves worse? Yeah, I know, whatever.) If I’m happy, coffee. Sad, coffee. By myself, coffee. With family, coffee.

I usually drink coffee black. But sometimes I treat myself to cream and sugar at restaurants.

I’ll let you in on some great places to drink coffee. Zehner’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan. There’s a place on Mackinac Island, Michigan, that was called J.L. Beanery. I think it changed hands and the name was changed. It’s still a great place to drink coffee, right on the water. Culver’s Restaurant usually has great coffee. Tim Horton’s has good coffee. We had breakfast at Omega Ham & Corn Beef Deli in Grand Blanc, Michigan, this morning. Their coffee is fantastic!

Of course, we all know Starbucks captured the market when “Friends” became such a hit on TV. That show started the coffeeshop craze that is still with us.

One more thing. I do drink decaf a lot, but not always. I have some Nescafe Tasters Choice decaf that I sometimes sprinkle on ice cream! It’s amazing!

Coffee. I love it. I’m thankful for a great cup of coffee.

Giving Thanks – Day 13

I’m thankful for hobbies. Anyone who follows “A Coffee State of Mind” knows my main hobby is model railroading. I’ve written about it many times. I started with HO trains when I was fifteen. For Christmas that year I received a small “HO train set” that included an engine that didn’t run right, five cars, and a circle of 18″ radius track. I was as excited as any kid getting a train set could be. I was determined to build a railroad empire, which I did, at least in my own mind. In the early days, my layout was on top of a ping-pong table. At a local hobby shop, I traded my ill-running Santa Fe F7 engine for a metal 2-6-0 switch engine. My first steam locomotive! It was small but I loved it. I bought more track until I finally had a large oval. I added a few turnouts and soon had a “layout” that included a twice-around to complete the circuit.

The next year, I purchased a Baldwin Class Berkshire 2-8-4 locomotive. This is the same type of locomotive depicted in “The Polar Express” movie. By the way, if you’ve never been to the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, you really owe it to yourself to go see the beautiful, operating Berkshire 1225. There is just no way to adequately describe the experience of watching this incredible locomotive thunder past with smoke and steam exploding into the sky! This amazing locomotive saw many years of operation throughout Michigan as part of the Pere Marquette Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad before diesel engines took the place of steam across the country.

A lucky break for the retired 1225 took place when it became part of the steam restoration project at Michigan State University. After many years of stop-and-start activity on the engine, it finally found a home at the institute in Owosso. For many years, the mighty engine has been pulling restored passenger cars full of steam railroading fans on The Polar Express Train, as well as steaming across the state on various excursions. We have ridden the Christmas train a couple of times, it’s a wonderful experience. Arguably, the biggest break for the 1225 came when Warner Brothers made audio recordings of the locomotive under full steam for the sound track of the movie, “The Polar Express.”

I’ve had other hobbies, a few didn’t last longer than a few weeks. For example, my grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet. I had my own knitting bag with yarn, needles, and a jar of crochet hooks. I never made anything but long ropes.

Baking could be described as a hobby, I guess. I’ve been baking since I was ten years old.

Is writing a hobby? I don’t think of it that way. I’ve been writing seriously for almost thirty years. I have actually made money writing. For two years, I had a weekly column in a newspaper with a circulation of 50,000. That was fun. For several years, I wrote curricula for church publications distributed throughout the country. I’ve written four books, “The Good, The Bad, and The Funny,” “Camp’s Over, Now What?” “One Plus One Equals Three,” and my first middle-grade novel, “Smivvy Stepward In Love and Other Misery.” Nope, none of them are available on Amazon…yet.

Another hobby I have, or had, was flying radio-controlled airplanes. I really enjoyed that! I have one plane that crashed three times (twice by me, once by someone else) and I rebuilt it each time. It looks a little rough but still flies great. The problem now is my hands. A condition called Essential Tremors has made it almost impossible for me to fly. RC airplanes don’t respond well to shaking hands. Bummer.

What are your hobbies? How often do you work on your hobby?

I’m sure there is lots of research about hobbies somewhere. I think we naturally drift toward things that work for us. I’ve always liked trains and planes.

I think maybe I’ll write a post about why those of us who write write. It’s probably the same kind of thing as building a model railroad layout. Why would anyone do that?

Whatever your hobby is, or hobbies are, whether painting, sewing, building, growing flowers, planting shrubs, feeding birds, watching animals, taking pictures, traveling, restoring old cars, driving new cars, quilting, clipping coupons, spending money, riding the rails, flying, playing video games, designing video games, watching others play video games, wondering how to play video games, playing solitaire, playing poker, watching soap operas, amateur radio, dressing up, antiquing, wondering why people like antiques, writing, drawing, doodling, wine tasting, exterior illumination, beer sampling, beer brewing, interior illumination, reading, listening to audio books because you don’t like reading, Legos, Lincoln Logs, watching cartoons, singing, writing music, playing instruments you don’t know how to play, imagining playing an instrument well, pretending, acting, walking, running, standing, sitting, watching TV, binge-watching Netflix, watching and re-watching every episode of Friends, shopping and returning what you bought, or playing trains, if you love it, do it with all your heart and let your hobby be to you what it’s meant to be.

Wiring the Maple Valley Short Line – Part 2

The Maple Valley Short Line RR is now operational. I can successfully run two trains simultaneously on two long lines. The outer loop rises to four inches at 2% starting at the Maple Valley River Bridge. The inner line completes a circuit by passing through two tunnels, crossing the Maple Valley River, and winding through the village.

As every model railroader knows, operational does not mean finished. The outer line has been running for several months. Last week I finished wiring the inner line and all the sidings. I decided to use Atlas Selector Switches rather than soldering DPDT toggle switches. I may yet change my mind about that. I plan to wire LED turnout and block signals on my control panel. The panel in the photo is temporary.

Last week family members came just to see the layout, so I had to finish the track wiring and make sure it all worked. I discovered my small furniture dolly with a piece of plywood works great as a cart allowing me to move around under the layout without kneeling and bumping my head. Wiring was a much simpler task as I avoided stops at the first-aid closet to bandage cuts on my head.

To you expert electricians, this is nothing new. But the slickest help I found on YouTube is using “heat-sinks” to keep my plastic ties and wiring insulation from melting. Two little alligator clips worked perfectly! This is the first time I used buss feeders on both rails, so I did a lot of soldering.

I staggered the feeders on the track. I used black wire for the common feed, red wire for the block feed. I put a number sticker on each block feed to correspond with the Atlas Selector Switch. (Now that the track is wired, it’s time to complete ballasting.)

I took a lot of time thinking about how best to run the wiring underneath the layout. I was not careful with the underside of previous layouts so I had different colors and wires running in every direction. It was a real mess when something stopped working and I had to figure out why.

I used 14 AWG solid wire for the buss feeds from the power supply. I used 20 AWG solid wire as the feed soldered to the rails. As you can see, my 14 gauge power feed is green, the 20 gauge feed to the rail is red. At this point, instead of soldering each feed connection, I used wire nuts. I plan to go back and solder later. (You’re right, unless I start having problems, that probably won’t happen.)

Assisting me in the project, not only so I can see, but also working the magic of battling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) I struggle with every year, is the sunlight lamp our daughter purchased for me. It works! Instead of feeling like crap when it’s twenty degrees, dark, and snowing, I feel like jumping, running around and laughing. Not really, but it does help.

All the while tough work is going on under the layout as I scoot around taking care not to cut my head, these guys paddle down Maple Valley River like they don’t have a care in the world. (Current ripples on the surface will be added some time down the road.)

It was an exciting moment when I was able to sit back against the wall on my little cart under the layout and admire the terminal strip complete with buss feeds in place. The black wires on the right are the common feed and I used jumpers between the three terminals. The rest of the terminals are numbered from left to right, with number tape on all the wires. Turned out nice. Troubleshooting will be much easier.

I still have the big but fun job of wiring all of the turnouts, signals, and buildings. I plan to find some street lights for Maple Valley.

The Maple Valley Short Line Railroad has been a long and satisfying project that is no where near completion. But that is the fun of model railroading. There is always something more to do. Whether it’s small weeds along the river and around buildings, kids playing in a back yard, townsfolk going about their business, neighbors arguing over lot lines, or a train load of tourists stepping off The Old General into the wonder of Maple Valley. Which is still stirring over the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. It has been months since anyone has seen her. There are still no clues to her whereabouts…or are there?

Giving Thanks – Day 12

I’m thankful for hot chocolate. Does anyone not like hot chocolate? Does hot chocolate mean the same thing to everybody? If you enjoy hot chocolate, how do you like it? With whipped cream? Marshmallows? With a little bit of something else? Do you prefer real hot chocolate made with milk? If you prefer instant hot chocolate, what kind?

Hot chocolate is comfort. I have always loved hot chocolate. Growing up, my favorite hot chocolate was made with milk and Hershey’s Cocoa mixed with sugar. The secret is mixing the cocoa with sugar and a little bit of hot milk, then mixing it into the pan of hot milk. Ooooh, my, that is good!

I used to love hot chocolate out of a vending machine. It was always piping hot and frothy. Short but good. Nestle’s Quik was the go-to mix in the ’60s. In middle school I had a friend who had a paper-route and I helped him a few times. Early one morning he made instant hot chocolate with boiled water and chocolate mix from a box. I couldn’t believe it!

Hot chocolate was always a favorite after church on Sunday nights. If my parents went out with friends, which was the normal Sunday night after church activity, we went home, had hot chocolate with toast, and watched “Bonanza.” Years ago, in most churches, Sunday services were morning and evening. I actually think church used to be an all-day event. Folks came in the morning, brought food to share after morning worship, then finished the day with another time of worship. I think that’s where church potlucks came from. As years passed, worship times grew shorter, dinner time grew longer until folks started going home for lunch to return later. Now, most churches only have Sunday morning worship. Not sure, just a hunch.

What would ice skating be without hot chocolate? Or ice fishing? Or snowball fights? Or building a snowman?

What is your favorite memory of hot chocolate? How long has it been since you had some hot chocolate?

In recent years I’ve become addicted to hot chocolate mix that we make at home. You can make it too! The secret is Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Mix (make sure it’s the hot chocolate mix and not baking chocolate. The bags look the same.) Sometimes you can find it at a grocery store, but at times I’ve had to order it. Mix a 10.5 ounce pouch of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Mix with an 8-quart bag of powdered milk, plus about half of a 35 ounce container of CoffeeMate. Mix all three ingredients together thoroughly. I use a large jar with the lid on tight to shake up the mix. (Mixing it in a bowl creates a whole bunch of powder in the air.) Put three heaping scoops in your favorite Christmas mug, pour in boiling water, and you are in for a real treat!