From Food & Life

Cristina Acosta feather duster

Manifesting is Tricky Business

“As artists, we are manifesting thought into reality every time we create. Applying those same skills to the self is a natural transition.” Years ago, I said that. Thanks to, I can now remember that I said that! And, I can look at the words that came out of my mouth over fifteen years ago and reconsider that wisdom.

Manifesting is tricky business. At times, I’ve acted as though the process was a giant vending machine floating around the universe — put in the proper currency (affirmations, actions, positivity) and out would pop my latest desire or answer to my prayer. Sometimes, that seemed to have been true. I have had some wonderful manifestations, and some very odd things. The little odd things are so odd yet seemingly so coincidental, that I’m perplexed when much more important and sought after desires haven’t manifested. And conversely, some tough things I’ve never seen coming have manifested.

For example, years ago I was looking at my Bend, Oregon, gallery, covered in dust and pollen after a particularly potent spring wind had blown through, and realized that I needed a feather duster. I envisioned the huge ostrich-feather type of duster Mary Poppins would have pulled from her bag. Driving downtown that afternoon I saw that exact feather duster laying in the middle of the street in front of the fire department. At that moment a tall handsome man in a fire department uniform was walking across the street, a few letters in hand. I pulled over (my then pre-school age daughter was in her car seat) and asked the man if he could please pick up that feather duster for me. He laughed when I told him that I had just been thinking of one and he graciously handed it to me through my car window. I still have that duster because I’m still perplexed as to why I have it – in the metaphysical sense.

Why, considering all of the lush successes and dry, hard challenges I’ve had since then, has that feather duster manifested when career goals, personal goals, book proposals and exhibit opportunities have not panned out as expected? Even the occasional lottery ticket has gone to the recycle bin without any stops at the bank along the way. What the heck?!

My 20+ year marriage ended, my life changed in unforeseen ways that cracked apart huge continents on the planet that is my world view and still I carry around that feather duster.

It reminds me that manifesting is a reality, but that the course my tiny, insignificant, immensely precious self takes spinning in dark immense space with billions of other ephemeral beings on a fragile planet is not a course under my complete control. God has given me the opportunity to choose my dreams and visions and the energy to manifest them. What happens next are the small, medium and large miracles that make up my life.

Charles and Juanita Roos 1924 Indianist Composer and Pianist

Multi-Cultural Hispanic Music History in Southern California with Classical Music Indianist Composer Charles Roos and Latina Pianist Catalina Ortiz Acosta in 1920s

The early 20th century history of Los Angeles, California has a rich Hispanic and Native American Indian history that has been mostly lost to time because of institutional and cultural discrimination. That larger story lived on in my family history. From my grandmother, Catalina, I saw the life of the artist. For that, I am forever grateful.

My grandmother, Catalina Maria Ortiz (Acosta) was a classical pianist and friend of the Indianist Composer Charles Roos and his wife Juanita Roos. From her effects and the stories she shared during my childhood, I’ve put together this update to the history of Hispanics / Latinos in Los Angeles during the early 1900’s.

Los Angeles during the early 1900’s was not a friendly place for Mexican-Americans and Chicanos. Though originally part of Mexico, California was annexed by Anglos to become part of the United States of America in 1848. With the gold rush of 1842 and other immigration, the existing American Indian and Spanish / Mexican people of California were politically and socially marginalized. By the 1920’s lynchings, racially motivated attacks and “anti-greaser” laws were in place to control and dominate the Mexican American (Chicano)

Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta 1922_Pianist ©Cristina Acosta
Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta 1922, Latina Los Angeles, CA Pianist ©Cristina Acosta

population of California. Pressure on Mexican Americans increased and included segregated schools in areas of Southern California where large groups of Chicanos persisted. The famous case, Mendez vs. the Board of Education finally ended Hispanic segregation in the late 1950’s.

Intelligent, cultured and talented Hispanic Americans were not lauded. In fact, with the veil of racism over many Anglo peoples perceptions during that era, there was very limited press coverage of the positive cultural contributions of Chicanos in Los Angeles. History is written by the “winners”, and as a conquered population, Spanish / Mexican Californians have lost many of their historical cultural contributions to a lack of attention.

As a third generation Californian. I have some personal hamily Hispanic / American history that pertains to the larger political climate and the cultural life of elite Angelinos during the early part of the twentieth century. In the early 1920’s my grandmother Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta and her family, lived in Los Angeles. The last of eighteen children, my grandmother Catalina was the daughter of J. Nestor Ortiz and Maria Salazar Ortiz. J. Nestor was a wealthy man who had owned several businesses  and a sheep ranch in the town of Ortiz, Colorado (near Antonito, on the border with New Mexico). J. Nestor sold his interests in Colorado and re-located in Los

1924 American Indian and California Spanish Music Concert Los Angeles
1924 American Indian and California Spanish Music Concert Los Angeles with Catalina M. Ortiz, Latina pianist. ©Cristina Acosta

Angeles, California in 1903. Catalina was born the next year. Though her ancestors where among the founding families of Santa Fe, New Mexico (and other towns in the region), she would often refer to herself and family members as  “Californios” or “Spanish”.  Either were terms that people (Anglo and Hispanic) in her generation used to refer to the Spanish families that lived in the American Southwest when that region was under the control of Spain/Mexico. Because she was born in California, the term “Californio(a)” is accurate, but not completely reflective of her cultural heritage. The term she used usually depended upon her sense of the listener’s knowledge of these finer points of cultural history.

Though the term Californio/a is dated and not used today, it was very meaningful for Spanish citizens of California who became citizens of the United States because of the Mexican War in 1848. My grandmother would often express herindignation towards prejudice that any family member encountered with the comment, “Those peasants don’t realize that we are Californios.” I smile when I think about that. She disdained the prejudice that she deemed more a result of a lack of a good education than a lack of kindness. (I’m including this information about her cultural ethnic appellation because you will

Chief Yowalche 1924 Indianist Music Movement
Chief Yowalche 1924 Indianist Music Movement publicity portrait shot in Los Angeles, CA ©Cristina Acosta

note that the concert program below refers to her as a “Spanish-American Pisaniste”.)

The Ortiz family befriended Charles O. Roos and his wife, Jaunita E. Roos. The family connection was certainly enriched by Catalina’s friendship and professional relationship with Jaunita. Catalina (1904-1991) was then a twenty year old classical pianist and the featured pianist at concerts the Roos organized. My grandmother spoke with admiration regarding Juanita’s musical abilities. Charles, an Easterner, moved to Los Angeles and worked as a newspaper feature writer when not involved with his work as a lyricist. His wife Juanita was a gifted pianist. They collaborated to create a variety of  piano compositions. Charles also wrote poems and lyrics for other composers’ music. The concert program for the event at the Ramona Convent in Alhambra, California illustrates the typical concert Roos organized. Nordskog Records recorded the concert. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of that recording or know of it’s existence.

Sifting through my Grandmother’s photo albums I found several photos of Charles and Juanita. The photos of the people in the Native American outfits are my grandmother Catalina, and Chief Yowlache,  dressed in traditional Native American clothing for publicity photos that Roos used in his concert promotions. Chief Yowlache was the “Indian baritone” for the program. Catalina accompanied him and also played solos.

During a time of escalating social injustice, Juanita and Charles Roos were creating musical compositions that celebrated different cultures. Though women had only just received the vote, and womens rights were often negated, Charles Roos publicly acknowledged his wife Juanita’s contributions, including her name on compositions they collaborated on. The concert program at the Alhambra Convent School illustrates that the Roos were actively promoting the beauties of the Native American and Hispanic culture to the elite of the dominant Anglo society. Understanding the political climate within which my grandmother was making her musical contributions to culture increases my admiration for her artistry and strength. She steadfastly dedicated herself to excellence in her art form and understood the symbolic importance of her image as a intelligent and accomplished Hispanic woman when many minds were closed to the idea of such a person existing.

I searched the internet for more information about the Roos and found an interesting essay.  I’ve included an excerpt  with a link back to the original author. You’ll recognize the name “Lieurance” in the Composer/Lyricist column of the concert program. I’ve also included some links to historical documents that record the political culture of the era. The following excerpt sheds light on Roos connection to like minded Anglo intellectuals during this time.

Excerpt of an essay by Linda Marsh Helfman,© 2007 (The Photos are mine)

    “His (Lieurance’s) interest in tribal music began in 1902 with a visit to his brother who was an Indian Agent on the Crow Reservation in Montana.  From that time he began a life-long fascination with the music and customs of the Native Americans.  He visited over 30 reservations and amassed a collection of several thousand recordings and transcriptions as well as a large number of Indian flutes.  He also invited Native Americans to his studio in Lincoln for some of the recording sessions. It was often difficult to coerce the Indians into performing for his recording machine, but his understanding and patience with tribal ways won them over.  He had an enormous respect for the people and had learned a great deal from the Native American wives of two of his brothers.  Much of his vast collection now resides in the Smithsonian Institution, the New Mexico Museum, and the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress.

Lieurance drew upon Native American melodies for many of his own compositions which he then clothed in what he called the “harmonizing which our ears demand’.  His most famous piece is “By the Waters of Minnetonka”.  It was first published in 1913, and became the number one sheet music hit of its day, with many subsequent published arrangements.  It was performed and recorded by some of the leading musicians of the era and enjoyed world-wide popularity.

In the early 1920s Charles O. Roos, a feature story writer for a Los Angeles newspaper, happened to read about Lieurance and his work with Native American music.  In his younger days Roos had been a woodsman and raftsman on the St. Croix River and had written poems based on his experiences with the local tribes there.  He realized that Lieurance was the right person to set the poems to music.  The two of them met and decided to travel together in the Chippewa forest country of northern Minnesota in order to gather additional material and inspire themselves further.  Using thematic material from Chippewa homeland, rain dance, ceremonial, and mourning songs, Lieurance composed music for Roos’ poems, and the result was the “Eight Songs From Green Timber” song cycle which appears in this collection.”  © 2007Linda Marsh Helfman


References and History:

In the United States in 1924, Native Americans were denied many civil rights. They were not allowed to vote, educate their children and live freely. Mexican Americans inexorably lost the civil rights they had enjoyed prior to  the Mexican War and been promised in the Treaty of Gudadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and related legislation. Following are facts from the historical time line on the site

  • 1902:  The Reclamation Act is passed, dispossessing many Hispanic Americans of their land.
  • 1912:  Brutality against Mexican Americans in the Southwest territories is commonplace. Lynchings and murders of Mexican Americans in California and Texas result in a formal protest in 1912 by the Mexican ambassador of the mistreatment.

The social and political climate damaged the social, political and economic rights for Mexican Americans, setting the stage for continued injustice eventually resulting in segregated schools in Southern California.
This excerpt from Digital  quotes and article in the Hutchings’ California Magazine, July 1857. for the original document.

“The first California Assembly, meeting in 1849 and 1850, asked Congress to bar all foreigners from the mines, including the Californios, who were naturalized citizens. A rapid influx of Anglo-Americans rendered Mexican Americans politically powerless. The Spanish-speaking population fell from fifteen percent in 1850 to four percent in 1870.
    Mexicans and Indians in California were quickly reduced to second-class citizenship. The Foreign Miners’ Tax of 1850, a $20 monthly fee for the right to mine, was applied not only to foreign immigrants but also to Mexicans born in California. Early in 1851 the tax was repealed, but it had already had its effect. California’s Indenture Act of 1850 established a form of legal slavery for Indians. The state antivagrancy act of 1855, popularly known as the Greaser Law, restricted the movement of Californians of Mexican descent. Other 1855 statutes outlawed bullfights and negated the constitutional requirement that laws be translated into Spanish.
    The Californios suffered a massive loss of land. The legislature placed the heaviest tax burden on land, which put great financial pressure on Californio ranchers.”

Hutchings’ California Magazine, July 1857. See to read the entire original document.

Photos are: Catalina Maria Ortiz (Acosta) age 18 in 1922.  Photo of Charles and Juanita with a dedication to Catalina written on the photo.  Photo of Indian man in canoe — Chief Yowlache costumed and posed.

ALL PHOTOS ©Cristina Acosta. Reproduction with written permission ONLY.

Woodland Series: Chickadee by Cristina Acosta 10" x 10" Acrylic and mixed media on wood panel

Free Your Inner Bird

Have you ever seen a songbird trapped in a house? It’s flown in through an open window or door and is panicked, slamming itself into walls and window coverings in an effort to escape. In my experience, it’s not until the bird has stunned itself after a headlong flight into another hard surface that I can gently catch it and carry it outside. Setting the bird down in a safe place, I will retreat and let it gently recover it’s equilibrium before it flies off again into the open sky.

We can be like the trapped bird. Life has somehow boxed us in and we throw ourselves bravely and valiantly against the barriers keeping us from freedom. If we are unable to escape we are often stunned senseless, and often we continue to participate in deadening our senses. All sorts of distractions and addictions  are at our fingertips.

There are a million and one ways to be trapped. This isn’t about those people who are culturally or politically dominated and imprisoned, but about those of us with the blessings of personal freedom who find ourselves trapped in the box between our own ears.

I’ve been fortunate to learn that my thoughts determine my happiness. That doesn’t mean I’m super good at being happy all of the time, I still get tired, frustrated, anxious, etc. But now, when I notice that unhappiness is dominating my feelings, I make an effort to step into a neutral place. I aim for a neutral place first, because sometimes, jumping to extreme positivity doesn’t seem the right and real response. And at other times, I’m just not ready to let go of my unhappiness.

How strange is that? Realizing that I am holding onto unhappiness when I don’t have to has been sobering. The first time I became viscerally aware of this truth was during a meditation retreat. Though I’m not Buddhist, I admire the compassion and kindness espoused by the Dalai Lama and other prominent Buddhists, so I was open to attending a Vipassana meditation retreat opportunity about four years ago. I didn’t investigate it fully and was rather surprised to arrive and realize that I had signed up for 100 hours of sitting meditation over 10 days, along with a vow of silence that included minimal eye contact, no touching, journaling or listening to music.

I was there and my schedule was clear, so I decided to stay at the meditation retreat as long as I didn’t discover I was been brainwashed into a cult. I wasn’t brainwashed. It wasn’t a cult. The retreat didn’t involve dogma or much of anything except instructions and the environment necessary to sit with my eyes closed while concentrating on my breathing and the physical sensations I perceived while mentally “flowing” my attention up and down my still figure. That was it. Ten hours per day of sitting still with my eyes shut.

It was tedious. It was boring. It was difficult. It was a lot of things that for me, were challenging.  And it was illuminating. Gloriously, painfully illuminating. During that retreat pain surfaced from the layers of past suffering and broke to the surface of my consciousness, popping like huge bubbles of fetid sewer gas. For a few days I was a hot mess. I also learned that the up-side of silence and no eye contact or touch is that there is a particular kind of privacy and non-judgement that is possible among fifty strangers in a large room when one breaks into a sobbing, snot draining mess.

Where the pain had been, I had clarity. I realized in that moment that while I had been injured at the hands of others, the ignoring, suppressing, re-living and analyzing I had done to evade the psychic pain of those injuries had only increased my suffering. Like the bird trapped in the room, I had dulled my senses while wildly trying to evade the pain.

During the four years since that retreat, I often think about that moment and use it as a reminder to find my mental and emotional equilibrium as soon as I can when I am stressed. I open the door for the bird that is myself and I gently set it outside where it can take to the sky, unburdened and without self-imposed barriers.




Quick Master Scone Recipe with Dairy Free Options

Quick scones to make for a special morning breakfast. These scones are beautiful to look at, they taste wonderful and the scent of baking scones filling the house is enough to get most anybody to the breakfast table. This is my master recipe that you can alter to make a variety of types of scones.

If you want to make dairy free scones, substitute non-hydrogenated shortening or lard for the butter and plain or vanilla soy milk (or other type of milk) for the cow milk.
Some of my favorite scone variations are: Cherry Pecan (with dried tart cherries), Wild Blueberry, Cranberry Orange Scones (orange zest & dried cranberries), Lemon Poppyseed (with lemon zest), Chocolate Orange Nut (with orange zest, chocolate drops & nuts). Experiment and have fun with this recipe.

Time: 10 – 15 minutes to prepare, 15 minutes to bake    Yield: About 8 – 10 scones (depending on how you cut the dough)
Tools: Hand held pastry cutter, OR a food processor OR 2 dinner forks
standard size flat baking pan (one that fits in your oven), oven, spatula, 2 bowls. Optional: Vitamix

  • 2 cups flour (I use unbleached white mostly, sometimes I’ll substitute 1/2 cup of whole grain flour — more than 1/2 cup makes for a very heavy scone)
  • 1/3 Cup dry milk
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup brown or white sugar
  • 1/2 t. sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries (wild are best as they are small)
    • 1/2 cup dried fruits such as: raisins, chopped apricots, pitted cherries, sweetened cranberries, etc.
    • 1/2 cup chopped nuts such as: pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts
    • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
    • 1 teaspoon (more or less to taste) of spice such as: cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, coriander, ginger
    • 2 Tablespoons poppy seeds
    • 2 Tablespoons fresh orange or lemon peel zest (don’t scrape off the white part of the rind as it will be bitter).

Optional Topping: Mix 1/2 cup powdered sugar with 1 Tablespoon of liquid to make a glaze. Suggested liquids are: espresso, orange juice, fruit / chocolate / or maple syrup, milk, water


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spray a baking pan with release or grease it with butter/shortening.
  3. In a Vitamix or by hand using a fork and a bowl: beat together until frothy – eggs, milk
  4. In a large dry bowl mix together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, sugar, sea salt.
  5. Using a pastry cutter, food processor or 2 dinner forks, cut the butter into the dry mix until the mix resembles coarse meal and there aren’t any chunks of butter much larger than 1 grain of rice.
  6. Add any fruits, nuts and/or spices to this mix.

Then. . . .

  1. All at once add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir just until the dry mix is saturated. Don’t over mix or the scones won’t rise.
  2. Dust a little flour onto a clean counter and after flouring your hands, pour the batter on to the counter (it should be almost like a very wet biscuit dough).
  3. Sprinkle a little flour on the dough and knead it for about 5 – 10 strokes. To knead the dough, pat it down til it’s easy to grab the far edge. Bring that edge over the front edge of the dough (by your belly) and make push it together hard with both hands. Do this a few more times, turning it until the dough is easy to pat into a shape.(Sprinkle on more flour if dough is too sticky).
  4. Pat dough into a circle about 1″ thick.
  5. Just like you’d cut a pie, cut the dough into wedges.
  6. Transfer the dough to the pan (with a pancake spatula) and spread them on the baking pan at least 1/2″ apart so they won’t grow into each other as they cook.

Bake the scones at 425 until browned. About 15 minutes.

Pour glaze on when the scones are cool enough to eat. (optional)


Cookies for a Crown recipe by Cristina Acosta

Easy Cookies for a Crowd

School events, holidays, potlucks and parties are busy enough without making yourself crazy with complicated baking. This cookie recipe is easy to modify and makes  bunch of small cookies. I

Cookies for a Crown recipe by Cristina Acosta
One cookie recipe for many types of cookies is easy for kids to help. Great for school events, parties or Christmas cookies.

usually make three kinds of cookies from one batch. Divide this dough into portions and add different ingredients and you’ll have a batch of cookies for any occasion.

Tools: Blender / Vitamix or Food Processor or by hand, Oven, 

Baking Pans: 2 to 4 large cookie sheets – as many as your oven can handle at once
Yield: about 12 dozen
Baking time: 6 – 8 minutes.  Assembly time 45 – 60  minutes
Oven 400 F  (preheat for at least 5 minutes)

  • 2 Cups Butter softened
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 4 eggs large – beaten
  • 1 1/2 C. Sugar – Mexican Moreno sugar, organic “white” sugar or light Brown sugar (or a combination)
  • 3 to 3 1/2 Cups flour – unbleached white or add in some whole grain if you prefer, though the texture will change.
  • 2 t. cream of tartar
  • 1/2 sea saltOptional ingredients:
  1. 1/2 C. colored sugar – roll teaspoon of dough in sugar before setting on baking sheet.
  2. 1 C. Chocolate drops – add to dough or insert large drops on top of single cookie
  3. 1 C. powdered sugar – when cookies are warm from the oven, put them in a paper bag and gently turn them in the sugar until completely coated. Repeat process again when they are cool if desired.
  4. 1 C. dried fruits and nuts – add to dough
  5. spices – 2  t. cinnamon,  2 t. ginger, 1/2 cloves for spice cookies. Adjust amounts to taste.Directions:
    Mix together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add only 2 1/2 cups flour to start.

    In a mixing bowl whip butter with sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla and beaten eggs and whip for a few more seconds until everything is mixed.  Reduce mixer speed to low and pour the dry mixture in gradually. The dough will stiffen, so you may need to finish mixing by hand. Add the flour slowly after 3 cups (or not at all if the dough is dry). Dough should be a little bit sticky but still easy to roll into balls

    If you want to make more than one variety of cookie, divide the dough into portions and add the optional ingredients or plan for them depending upon the cookie you want.

    Drop by small spoonfuls on greased baking sheets about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 6 – 8 minutes and remove onto a rack to cool.

Chocolate with Water (Chocolate con Agua)

Chocolate is a famous “New World” food. When the Spanish invaded Mexico in the 1500’s they noted that the Aztecs and other indigenous groups drank a hot beverage made from bitter cocoa beans. It wasn’t long after that chocolate became a European obsession.


I was recently traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico. The state of Oaxaca is the home of the Zapotecas and

Took this photo in Oaxaca, Mexico at a chocolate store. Chocolate con Agua  or Chocolate con Leche are local favorites. The green pottery and wood whisk impart a unique flavor to the drink. What a treat! Que rica ©Cristina Acosta
Took this photo in Oaxaca, Mexico at a chocolate store. Chocolate con Agua or Chocolate con Leche are local favorites. The green pottery and wood whisk impart a unique flavor to the drink. What a treat! Que rica
©Cristina Acosta

over twenty other indigenous groups. The colonial architecture of the town is centuries old and filled with charming, warm people. Craftspeople sell their wares at street-side markets, and the stores and large mercados are filled with local products. Wool rugs hand woven with yarn dipped in natural dyes, fanciful wood carvings, silver jewelry, tin work, straw woven goods, black-clay pottery and green-glazed ceramics are some of the many arts and crafts  for which Oaxaca is famous. One of the foods Oaxaca is known for is chocolate. Traveling down the streets (calles Aldama y Mina) between  2 large markets, Mercado Juarezand the Mercado 20 de Noviembre, I could smell chocolate. Following the scent, I found a street with several chocolate shops which though appearing very similar, boasted of their special blend of chocolate. My favorites are La Soledad and Mayordomo. Here are photos of a chocolate store and a photo showing a woman (her hands) mixing the chocolate in a typical Oaxacan green-glazed ceramic pitcher. Note the handmade wooden chocolate wisk.

Day after day I visited chocolate stands, stores and tried chocolate drinks at most every opportunity. What a great trip! Here’s what I discovered — I love chocolate with water  (Chocolate con Agua).

Here’s the recipe for 2 servings:

Tools: Blender / Vitamix or whisk

Chocolate with Water

  • One 42 gram (that’s  about 1.5 oz.) of Mexican Oaxacan chocolate in the shape of a disc. OR 1 large disc – In the U.S. the brands Abuelita or Ibara are most common. I consider this ingredient to be the “sugar”.
  • To make mine less sweet I then add  about 1.5 or 2 oz of dark bar chocolate (at least 50% – 100% cocoa).
  • 2 Cups Boiling water

Put all ingredients in a blender, secure cover and start on low. Blend until mixture is smooth and frothy. Pour and serve immediately. The traditional Oaxacan method is to blend the chocolate in a pitcher with a wood wisk designed for this purpose.


  1. Oaxacan chocolate comes in bars flavored with Coffee, Cinnamon, Vanilla or 100% bitter Chocolate. You can use a good brand of high quality of chocolate bar such as Giradelli, Lindt, or Green & Black as a substitute.
  2. If the drink is too watery for you, add more chocolate!
  3. Remember the movie, Like Water for Chocolate? Not only is the movie wonderful, the title is a reminder of a important cooking tip if you’re not using a blender or hand mixer: Before you mix your chocolate into milk, gently blend the chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat with a small amount of water until it’s smooth, then add milk or water.
  4. The photos below show a typical chocolate store. A worker would scoop chocolate beans into the steel machines against the wall. They would mix with sugar and spices. The result was a deep rich brown mixture that resembled fresh turned farm soil. How beautiful! ¡Que linda!
  5. Choc_mx_store2.jpgChoc_mx-store1.jpg

All photos and text ©Cristina Acosta

Sangria Sonrisa

The Spanish word sonrisa means smile. And you’ll get plenty of smiles when you serve this Sangria at your next get together. The perfect fiesta drink, this recipe is easy to put together and flexible. Start with an inexpensive red or white wine, add plenty of fruit and some bubbly and you are done. This recipe is light, fruity, and not too sweet.
Serve the Sangria in a clear glass pitcher and ladle some of the fruits into the glasses along with the liquid. It’s easy to refresh — just add another bottle of wine along with a bottle of ginger ale and you’re good to go for a second batch.

Serves 4 to 6

Tools: Sharp knife, food slicer (optional), pitcher


  • One 750 ml bottle of red or white wine
  • One 12 oz. bottle of quality Ginger ale. I use brands with real ginger and sugar instead of  corn syrup.
  • 1 cup thinly sliced strawberries

Note: wash the outside of the citrus fruit and slice with the skin on.

  • 1 medium/large orange, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium/large lemon, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, halved and thinly sliced
  • One 20 oz. can of pineapple chunks in their own juice.
  • approx. 1-2 cups ice


All ingredients together and serve.  You can make this ahead an hour or more, so that the flavors can meld, but it’s not necessary. Note that red wine will dye the fruits after it sits for an hour or more, so they will not be quite as pretty when served. If that bothers you, put it in an opaque pitcher. White wine maintains the color of the fruits.

For a spicy option:  Slice a fresh jalapeño pepper in half lengthwise and mix with the fruits. The longer the mixture sits, the more picante (hot and spicy) the Sangria will become.

Fruit options also include watermelon and peaches. I don’t think apples go well with wine. Experiment with other fruits.

©Cristina Acosta

Midlife Exercise Builds Both Physical and Emotional Muscle

When I turned forty, my friend Suzanne Schlosberg gave me a copy of her book, “Weight Lifting for Dummies,” and told me that from then on, exercise was like flossing my teeth. The most effective midlife exercise requires weight bearing exercise. I had to do it, she insisted, the margin of laziness that youth offers was over and I had to do weight-bearing exercise forever more. Suzanne rarely gives a strong life-altering opinion without a little help to go along with it, I love that about her.

And it’s true. Living a healthy life into and beyond midlife requires exercise to maintain lean body mass and bone strength. And exercise can be in some aspects like flossing your teeth. But unlike flossing, exercise can be part of a sport or a practice like yoga, activities that offer much more than the opportunity of physical health.  Practice anything athletic for a long time and you begin to realize over the years that your sport or practice offers many life lessons that build emotional and spiritual muscle as well as physical strength.

This morning, as I was literally falling in and out of a yoga balance pose in class, I was thinking about the lessons the pain of pushing oneself can offer. In any athletic practice, learning when to push through pain and when to heed pain as a warning to stop is a continual process.

Sometimes being easy on myself is a form of avoidance. Sometimes it’s vitally important to nurture myself with ease. And knowing when to push and when to stop takes continual practice. Practice that never leads to “perfect”. Everyday and every situation bring a different self to the practice. It’s a challenge that I find intriguing, especially as I age.

Exercise in midlife brings with it old injuries and new weaknesses. Consistent practice enables me to navigate the new body I’m given everyday. A body built by yesterday that I live in today.

It’s been over ten years since Suzanne offered me her advice. Over the years I’ve weight trained and also done other types of weight bearing exercise. I think about her advice when I’m too busy to exercise and it often helps me get some perspective and get back to my practice. Sometimes I’ll just take out my jump rope and get in ten minutes. And the days I do that, I think about Suzanne and agree. Yes, exercise is just like flossing my teeth.


Hot Mexican Chocolate Cookies

I  warn people about the chili pepper in these cookies before I serve them. Mostly because I hate watching people gag while eating something I cooked for them. If you decide to eliminate the cayenne in these cookies, they’ll still taste great, they just won’t be as “interesting”.
Inspired by the Mexican version of hot chocolate this recipe has a well rounded chocolate flavor with an after-bite of heat. These thin cookies are wonderful with ice cream or coffee or my Creamsicle Flan.

Tools: Mixer or by hand, oven

Yield: aprox. 4 doz. thin cookies


  • ¼ cup rounded unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 rounded t. dry instant coffee granules
  • Optional:  >1 to 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper (adjust for desired “hotness”). I use 1 teaspoon.
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • ½  cup (1 stick) real butter, softened to room temp. (Use a little extra butter if you prefer butter on your baking pan.)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2  eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour (rounded is OK) or slightly more*
  • ½   t. sea salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 Centigrade).  Butter or non-stick spray pans or put baking parchment on cookie sheets.
  2. In a mixer at medium speed; combine cocoa, cinnamon, coffee, ground peppers, butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Beat for approximately one minute or until mixture changes texture and appears “whipped”. No more than 3 minutes.
  3. Gently stir in flour and salt combination until fully integrated.  No more than 1 minute.  *If you want the cookie to be a bit higher, add approx. 1/3 cup more flour.
  4. Arrange by small teaspoonfuls on the cookie sheets and bake for 8-11 minutes.  If using the convection feature on your oven, bake for 8 minutes and check immediately.
  5. OPTIONAL: You can roll the small teaspoonfuls of dough in granulated sugar before putting them on the pan. The baked cookie will sparkle with the sugar granules (and you won’t drip powdered sugar on yourself when you eat them.)

Remove from cookie sheets immediately and cool on racks.

Decorating options:
•    Dredge in 1 cup powdered sugar  OR
•    Frost with Kahlua glaze – 1 cup powdered sugar with 2-3 T. Kahlua.  Mix well and drizzle on the cooled cookies.

by Cristina Acosta ©2005-2015

Three Sisters (and the little brother) Tamale Pie

This easy to assemble casserole has the traditional flavor of tamales and saves you the time needed to wrap each serving in a corn husk.  Serve with Cristina’s New Mexican Style Red Chili Sauce on the side or poured over the top.Guadelupe_wThree_sisters_we.jpg
In the historic American Southwest indigenous peoples could develop a viable settlement if they could grow three staples often referred to as the three sisters:  Corn, Squash and Beans. With those crops in place people could raise turkeys and hunt game for additional nutrition. The chili pepper, which often grows in the same regions, is the “little brother”.

Tools: Food Processor or by hand. One 8” x 8” x 2” baking dish, oven.
Yield: As a main course – 4 to 6 servings. As a side dish – 9 to 12 servings.



  • 2 ½ cups Masa mix for tamales
  • ½ cup (1 stick) real butter
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 t. salt


  • 1 cup raw squash such as Acorn, Danish or Gold Nugget. Seed, peel and chop the squash into aprox. ½” pieces.
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed
  • 1 7 oz. can roasted green chilies, diced
  • 1 ½ cups grated white cheese such as: Mexican queso Oaxaca style, jack, or mozzarella

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees


Dough – In a food processor or by hand:

  1. Mix Masa with Salt. With food processor on pulse, cut cold butter into the masa until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. Add Chicken broth and olive oil and continue to pulse (mix) until mixture forms a soft dough.
  3. Divide dough into half.
  4. Pat ½ of the dough into a 8” x 8” x 2” buttered pan

Filling –

  1. Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl. Spread the mixture over the masa dough in the pan. Press the filling down gently.
  2. Pat the remaining masa dough over the vegetable ingredients.
  3. Cover tightly with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 50 min.

Top with gently heated Cristina’s New Mexican Style Red Chili Sauce