Aunt Grace’s Chocolate Pudding

February 3, 2016

When I was growing up, dessert at Thanksgiving and all family occasions was Aunt Grace’s Chocolate Pudding. The recipe had come down in my mother’s maternal line since the late 19th century.  When they were children in Illinois, my grandmother Ruth Potter Worley and her family shared holiday meals with the family next door, and “Aunt Grace” (the neighbor) always brought this for dessert.

Aunt Grace’s Chocolate Pudding always makes me think about legacy and remembrance. You won’t find Aunt Grace in my family tree, but this vintage Norwegian farmer’s wife is remembered fondly probably 100 years after her death.  ((I know she was Scandinavian because I have found this dessert in Norwegian connections.)) On the other hand, Aunt Grace’s husband is long forgotten. I think women have a better opportunity for remembrance, between passing down our needlework and our recipes and our folk remedies.

In the 30s, my great-aunt Maude (my grandmother’s sister) sized down the orig. Chocolate Pudding recipe to fit a one-quart mold. In so doing, the current recipe calls for one pkg Knox gelatin PLUS 1 teas. from a second pkg. Remember that before Knox came out with the little packages, ladies purchased their gelatin in bulk.   ((I have always said that you can tell “true” Potter women, because we all have half-opened Knox gelatin packages in our pantries.))

My mother further altered the recipe by using peppermint extract instead of vanilla ((a change that is anathema to me, but if it speaks to you, go for it!)).  My aunt always uses an electric beater just before pouring into the mold.  This makes the chocolate color more consistent, but frankly, I like the little lumpy bits of chocolate that are part of the original. Having said that, I’m no traditionalist:   In this age of Death by Chocolate I have increased the amount of chocolate to the quantities below.

Now that you know that, I will share the recipe.  And you know it HAS to be good, because it has so few ingredients.  Go for it!

Aunt Grace’s Chocolate Pudding

Soften 1 pkg Knox gelatin plus 1 t. gelatin (from a second pkg) in 1/4 cup water.  Heat at low temperature (a double boiler helps) the dissolved gelatin in 3 cups of milk.  Add three squares baking chocolate (squares are 1 oz each), 2/3 cup sugar and 1/2 t. salt. When smooth, pour over 2 well-beaten eggs.  Cook over medium heat until consistency is thick, like soft custard.  Do not boil.  Add 1 t. vanilla extract.  Pour into 1 qt mold and chill until set.  Serve with whipped cream.

God Made a Quilter

January 11, 2016


On the eighth day …

God looked down at the world he had created, and said:

“I need someone who can cut and sew

and make warm and beautiful creations.

So God made a quilter.


God said:  “I need someone willing to take perfectly good fabric

and cut it up into dozens of pieces.

Then, with the patience of Job,

take those pieces and sew them back together in a completely different order.”

So God made a quilter.


God said:  “I need someone who makes sure her children

are involved in music concerts, sporting events, theatrical productions.

And then, when it’s time for the child to graduate into the world,

Will collect all the tee shirts they’ve accumulated

And make a memory of what they have accomplished.

Showing them they can be successful in the future.”

So God made a quilter.


God said: “It has to be someone whose hands are never idle.

Who’s willing to take her projects on vacation, to play groups, and while waiting in line at the DMV.

Someone who’s willing to rip out an entire row of stitches in order to make the corners line up perfectly.

But who also knows that perfection is a goal, never truly attained,

and that “handmade” means, by definition,

Bumps and “oops,” and “I’ll do it better next time.”

So God made a quilter.


God said:  “I need someone smart enough to cut on a bias, mitre corners, and chain piece.

Someone who’s not afraid of pattern names like “Drunkard’s Path”, “Broken Dishes,” or “Storm at Sea.”

Someone brave enough to make that first cut and stitch that first seam and never look back.

Someone who gets goose bumps at the idea of a new project,

Who searches high and low for the perfect shade of blue,

And thinks a good pair of scissors is a better investment than a new pair of shoes.”

So God made a quilter.


God said:  “I need someone who enjoys working with needle and thread,

And enjoys even more lending them out for a good cause.

Someone committed enough to make projects for every conceivable occasion or no occasion at all.

Someone willing to stay up all night to finish a project,

then give it away the next day to a newlywed couple or a wounded soldier or a newborn baby.”


God said:  “I need someone who can send a word of thanks, of love, of you’re important to me

Without saying a word, but using only fabric and pins.

Someone who can gather together their friends and neighbors

and share the same thing.

Someone who understands intuitively why family hand-me-downs are precious,

and who stands ready to teach the next generation,

So that they too can create beautiful treasures for their children.”

So God made a quilter.


–revised from




About Those Liqueur Glasses

December 23, 2015

My Dad was a target shooter and frequent participant in pistol and rifle matches.  He came by this interest naturally:  In fact, when he was growing up,  his Dad turned the basement of their home into a rifle range.  But that’s another story.

Men (in those days it was all men) whoIMG_0114 shot at organized matches come home with many, many trophies — so many, in fact, that the NRA (which in those days had the interests of hobby shooters at heart, not the interests of gun manufacturers) created a point system and a catalog of goodies.  Win XX number of points in a match, and those points could be traded in for consumer goods out of the catalog. Dad accumulated so many points that he “won” a set of sterling silver flatware for 12.  My sister inherited the set, with the NRA logo on the front and what/where Dad won every spoon and fork engraved on the back.  (Great flatware if your name happens to be Nathaniel Richard Adamson, a cousin said.  But I digress.)

One of the things Dad “won” was a set of silver liqueur glasses, again with the NRA logo on them.  I loved them as a kid — Dad only brought them out on very special occasions, and meanwhile, they stayed in their lined box in the dining room chest.  My mother passed the set on to me a few years ago, and I had grand plans to use them, but frankly, sterling liqueurs engraved with the NRA logo are not really in my universe any more.

Fast forward.  This past October, on one of my trips to visit Mom, we invited Dad’s good friend and shooting buddy Glenn and his wife Betty to lunch.  The purpose of the visit was good conversation, but I took the opportunity to ask Glenn to go through Dad’s shooting memorabilia to let me know what/if anything was worth saving.

In the course of our conversation, the NRA “point” system came up.  I remembered that Glenn had won a few silver flatware pieces which he had passed along to my Dad because Glenn didn’t have enough to make a set.  I told him that my sister had them now.  Then I mentioned the liqueurs.  Glenn’s eyes lit up.  He said that he had had a box of liqueur glasses as well but that they had disappeared years ago; he didn’t know where they had disappeared but always blamed his ex-wife.  He mentioned how much he would enjoy having them now.  Maybe you traded Dad your flatware for the liqueurs, I suggested, but he didn’t think so.

After I returned home, I dug out the set and sent him a picture of the glasses.  “The glasses look like mine,” Glenn emailed back,  “even the case lining, and I would love to have them, but I have no recollection whatever of giving them to your Dad and I cannot think of any other scenario he might have gotten them other then he won them. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience claim them. I do thank you for thinking of me.”

It was clear to me that as far as Glenn was concerned, that was the end of it.  But it was also clear to me what my next step would be:  “If my Dad were alive,” I emailed back, “he would say that the liqueurs should go to the person who will use them/cherish them, irrespective of who originally won them.  So based on that, I will get them in the mail to you.  My only request is that when you do use them, please raise a glass to Dad and maybe even think of an appropriate sea story.”

That was just a few days ago, and already, the liqueurs are boxed and on their way to Maryland.  This morning came Glenn’s response:  “I am overwhelmed by your willingness to send me the glasses. You can rely on me to cherish them and use them and certainly to raise a toast to a good friend whenever they are used. The sea story I will tell at that time is how I got them and the toast will be to a wonderful man, your mom and the children they raised.”
It’s a trifecta:  Glenn and his wife Betty will enjoy the glasses as they should be enjoyed,  and in the doing, Dad and Mom will be remembered with new reason by an old friend.  And as for Frank and me, we get one more thing out of the house.
Merry Christmas!


Day of the Dead

November 3, 2015

IMG_0165Frank tells me the word is syncretism — the perfect combination of two religious traditions.  November 1 — All Saints Day — in Mayan belief is the day that the dead return to this world for 24 hours.  Families go to the cemetery, decorate the graves of their loved ones with flowers, candles, pine needles, have a picnic, and commune with the dead — asking for advice,  sharing the news, and generally celebrating the family.

This  tradition is very different from Day of the Dead in Mexico, where skeletons abound amid a sense that “this will happen to us all.”  Rather, in Guatemala, November 1 is a family day, when  the whole family — including those no longer with us — have a chance to be together.  Sort of a combination of our Memorial Day and Thanksgiving, rolled into one.

Also on this day — in the indigenous regions, I mean —  kids (of all ages)  fly kites, symbolizing the connection between this world and the heavenly world.  What is unique about the rites in Sumpango, however, are the size of the kites!

The really, really big ones are as large as 40 foot in diameter, made of paper mounted on bamboo sticks, and no way they can fly! They are constructed by confrades — fraternal, semi-religious groups — and the planning and execution can take all year.  Sumpango is on a major crossroads, so it’s no surprise that it has become a hotbed of activity of people who come to share, and to gawk, to picnic, and to take part in the activities.

What was fun for us was that it was a celebration for the local people.  Everyone  was there — grandmothers bringing the picnic; fathers and mothers overseeing the grave decorations, and children running around, flying kites and eating.  The meal du jour is fiambre, a sort of pickled salad, which makes sense in a cemetery but I had tried it in a restaurant several days previously, and let’s just say that fiambre is an acquired taste.

Then on to the really big kites on the futbal field. Frank went for a seat on the bleachers in the shade, while I watched one of the confrades trying to set up their kite.  The problem is that the kite is constructed of small (8.5 by 11) sheets of colored paper, held together with tape, laid on a frame of bamboo poles that are themselves several poles lashed together to get the necessary height.  All this needs to be lifted up — and if the wind is wrong or the physics not entirely correct, the kite will tear away before it is even on display.

The crowd watched breathlessly — and in the end, cheered as the confrade men and women erected their kite!

A hot day, a celebratory day, and an exhausting day. Day of the Dead.

A Day off in Antigua

November 1, 2015

IMG_0039We’ve been to Antigua (almost) every time we’ve been to Guatemala, which is to say (almost) annually since 2005, but I can’t remember ever being in this World Heritage UNESCO city during a “lay day.”  We started off with a leisurely breakfast at Cafe Condessa, a gringo hangout on the main square — Frank had not been enjoying the breakfasts at the Radisson in Guatemala City, so he was due.

Then we looked obvious until we found a tour guide, who we hired to take us up to the Cross above the city.  It’s a popular attraction — great views — and although the danger of street crime is probably over stated, we preferred to be safe than sorry.  Our guide, Jose, took us seriously when we said we wanted to walk slowly, and took the opportunity to point out lots of stuff without making up much history.  I quickly discovered that his English was not as good as first seemed — the answer to all questions was “yes,” and further explanations were of the “pizza is cold” variety after we had asked why the sky was blue.  Still, he got us there and back in one piece, and that was the point!

The view from the top was worth the effort, and even better, the area was replete with local families — lots of kids — flying their kites in anticipation of tomorrow’s holiday — November 1, the Day of the Dead.  More on that tomorrow.

Back on terra firma, Frank took a nap while I did some shopping, followed by lunch and a more serious nap.  The weather is warm — quite warm for late October — and all the more enjoyable since we know what we will be returning to New England only too soon. But for now, I write this from the balcony of our room, looking out over the rooftops of Antigua and an idyllic evening.

Low-Cost Labor

October 31, 2015

IMG_0028From our hotel room in downtown Guatemala City we’ve been watching a construction project across the street — typical of Guatemala, the construction site is a bee-hive of activity — 50 or more workers are in evidence at any one time, all using pre-Industrial-Age tools to build the new building.

So it was fascinating to join high-school age scholarship students from Cooperative for Education as they visited the factory for the Guatemalan Domino’s Pizza franchise, to learn about job opportunities for them after they graduate, and to visit the assembly line.

The kids were remarkably attentive, and the Domino’s representatives did a good job, but did not leave any opportunity for questions.  That’s the expectation in Guatemala — most kids are not trained (and certainly not expected) to question authority by so much as asking a question of a teacher or elder.  But the CoEd students have been taught differently — and next time, the Dominos people need to be asked to expect questions.

IMG_0017Then, it was face mask and hair net time, and we went down to the assembly line to watch the pizza dough go from dried mix to frozen dough each the size of a future pizza, and ready to be trucked in refrigerated trucks to  Domino’s stores throughout the country.

It was fascinating to see an assembly line in a country where manual labor is so inexpensive.

And it was something like watching the old “Lucy” episode where she and Ethel gets jobs on the candy assembly line.

Because the assembly line was there — but jobs that could easily have been done by a robot were being done by hand.  In the United States, I am sure the same jobs are performed by one person watching a CADCAM device.  Here, workers took trays on and off the assembly line by hand — one poor guy lifted the big bags of dry mix to empty them into the mixer, then ran the mixer under the machine that mixed it, then ran it to the next machine that poured it into the machine that made it into small balls.  Make sense?  I didn’t think so.  There were also people working in the freezer room, wearing heavy overcoats with their face masks, and all I could think of was the freezer warehouse  Tom Wolfe describes so visually in “A Man in Full.”

But I am sure these are good jobs.  Although not for the young people who will soon have their HS diplomas which will entitle them to work in an office, rather than with their muscle.

IMG_0032We also visited a brand-new computer lab in a rural basico (junior-high school).  The government is requiring all kids to have computer training now — and old computers are apparently not that hard for the municipalities to purchase.  The problem is finding teachers who are trained to teach, and a curriculum that is useful to the kids.  CoEd has a problem-solving curriculum and teacher training program — as well as IT guys on hand to solve technical glitches — which the schools buy into when they acquire the machines from CoEd.

The day (talk about busy!) was rounded out by meeting staff including Ronnie, CoEd’s new country director, and watching construction of CoEd’s new headquarters in San Lucas, half-way between Guatemala City and Antigua.  A great location.

And then Howard brought us to our hotel in Antigua, and the opportunity for a “free” day in this UNESCO heritage city.


A Dream Fulfilled

October 30, 2015

IMG_0006When Hanley Denning started Safe Passage, her goal was to get 30 kids through basico, which is junior high school.

This year that many young adults will walk away with their high school diplomas.

They will join around 70 other graduates — Safe Passage has about 100 high school graduates to its credit. And these are all students who started school late in terms of their biological age.

The program now serves around 500 families.  Approximately 30 two- and three-year-olds start the preschool program in the escualita each year, and that number will soon double if the current fundraising campaign — and concurrent building program — meets its goals.

We spent the morning at the escualita, watching the little kids learn numbers and colors in English, and watching them play with Legos and dance with Shannon, their long time volunteer.

When the escualita was first opened in 2007, these little kids –the older siblings of the current crop, of course — had spent all their time on their mother’s backs or in a cardboard box.  They had extremely poor motor skills, poor hand-eye coordination, and zero socialization skills.  Today, the situation is completely different.

What a difference enriched education — and ten years — can make. Hanley would be remarkably proud.


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