I was speaking with someone the other day and I asked him, “What does Christmas mean to you?” Instantly, he replied, “Wonder and awe.”

I believe it is important to mention that this was not a child, but a middle-aged man. His answer stuck with me, and I thought about it all that week.

As we get older, our perception of Christmas changes. While it’s possible, it’s not very common to find an adult who views the holiday the same way a child does. Yet, why is it that way? I’m here to say that Christmastime, at any age, is magical.

Christmas songs are a unique genre of music, in that there aren’t many new ones. We’ve all been singing the same songs our whole lives. Sure, every now and then, someone comes out with something different that later becomes a classic. But, for the most part, we know the hit list by heart.

However, it’s the meaning of the words in the song that we should really be paying attention to. Take “Joy to the World” for example. One of the main verses throughout the song is, “Let every heart prepare Him room.”

How often do we make room in our hearts for God? Not often enough, and we definitely should be doing so at Christmas.

How about “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”? Again, in the first part of the song we hear, “Let your heart be light. From now on, your troubles will be out of sight.” Troubles are rarely out of sight, but we’re reminded that at Christmastime, they can be.

My husband and I have a tradition of watching Midnight Mass from the Vatican every Christmas Eve on television. In 2021, the pope’s message was to remember that the greatness and grandeur of God, at Christmas, comes to us as a child. “La sua grandezza si offre nella piccolezza.”

He went on to say that during this time of year, you should make yourself as a child. I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with His Holiness. In fact, I think that we don’t make ourselves as children nearly as frequently as we should.

Think of some of the other themes of the holiday season. What are they? Well, lights are one of the big ones. We put them on just about everything we can. How about sweets, treats and candy? And, of course, you’ve got the decorations, toys and gifts.

What do these things all have in common? They are equally enjoyed at any age. Whether you’re 9 or 90, you can’t help but delight in the pleasures of driving by a house that’s shiny and bright, or enjoying an ice-cold glass of milk with fresh-baked cookies.

Now, let’s talk about New Year’s Eve traditions. I’ve got to tell you that we Cubans really go all-out on Dec. 31. The first one I’ll mention is the grapes. From midnight to 12:01 a.m., we believe that you need to eat 12 grapes. One to ensure good luck for every month of the year ahead. This tradition originated in Spain, and we adopted it.

To be certain that we’ll travel in the upcoming year, we walk around the block with our suitcases. To get rid of all the bad luck from the year that’s on its way out, we throw a bucket of water out the front door.

So, every year, from midnight to 12:01, you’ll catch me frantically eating grapes, while walking around the block with my suitcases, after having thrown my bucket of water. I leave it all lined up so I’m ready to go at midnight — first I start with the grapes, then the bucket and, out the door I go with the suitcases.

Through the years, I’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve in many different cities around the world. Once, at 11:45 p.m., I asked a waiter at the Four Seasons in London to please bring a bucket of water to my table. At midnight, I threw the water out of the front door of the hotel and then proceeded to walk with my suitcases down Park Lane, all while eating grapes from a little bag I had stuffed in my suit pocket.

Take this time of year to embrace God and the true spirit of Christmas. Also, give in to a little whimsy. Put up the lights, decorate every surface you can, eat the cookies, wear the reindeer-antler headband, invest in a good Santa hat. Carry the suitcases, throw the bucket of water.

When the pandemic was at its worst, I jokingly told my friends and family that at midnight, I was going to break open the fire hydrant by my house. A bucket wasn’t going to cut it. I actually threw four buckets of water into the street that year.

Here’s the thing, there is no surplus of wonder and awe in this world. In fact, there’s a deficit, and it’s in very short supply. We can all do our part to change that. Enjoy this season, and do what you can to make yourself a child. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May the good Lord bless you and yours.


Santa Snaps

For the recipes this month, I’ve decided to go the sweet route (no surprise there). The first one is for a cookie I like to call “Santa Snaps.” They’re like ginger snaps, but chewier. They go great with coffee, eggnog or coquito. I also hear that the big guy in the red suit is a fan of them as well.



3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup powdered sugar (for rolling)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cream the butter and brown sugar until combined. Add in the egg and molasses, mix until the dough looks fluffy. Add the baking soda and spices. Mix in the flour, a third at a time.
Refrigerate the dough for two hours (do not skip this step)! After the dough has chilled, pinch off small pieces and roll it into balls. Roll each ball in the powdered sugar until it is covered. Bake the cookies on a parchment-lined sheet for eight to nine minutes.
This recipe differs from most cookie recipes in that it has no salt. The spices are so strong that they give it enough counterbalance to the sweet. A pinch of salt won’t hurt it, but I don’t find it necessary. I’ll leave that up to you.

Sparkling Panna Cotta With Crystallized Fruit

Next is this recipe for a sparkling panna cotta with crystallized cranberries. Since it has champagne, I like to make it for New Year’s Eve.


For the panna cotta
1 1/2 cups chilled prosecco or champagne (this is a great use for that half a bottle you’ve got left over in the fridge)
4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (just under two packets)
3 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup, plus 1-2 tablespoons, sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the crystallized fruit:
25-30 whole raspberries, blackberries, grapes, small strawberries — all work well. Do not use sliced fruit.
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg white, at room temperature
Pinch of salt Lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)

Pour 1/2 cup of the chilled champagne in a small bowl, and sprinkle the unflavored gelatin over it. Let it sit, undisturbed, for about five to seven minutes.
Combine the cream, 2/3 cup of the sugar, salt and vanilla in a small pot. Warm the mixture gently over low to medium heat, but be sure to not let it boil. When the cream is warm, remove from the stove and whisk in the softened gelatin. Allow this mixture to cool for five to seven minutes.
Pour the remaining 1 cup of champagne in a medium-size bowl. Very slowly, whisk in the cream mixture. Depending on the sweetness of the champagne you’re using, you may need a tiny bit more sugar. Taste the mixture and add additional sugar if needed; 1-2 tablespoons are usually enough. You may not need it at all. Divide the mixture equally among six to eight individual ramekins, coffee cups, teacups, etc.
Cover with plastic wrap (being careful to not have the plastic touch the mixture), and place in the fridge until firm, about six hours but overnight is best. This recipe should be made ahead of time, two to three days before. This allows the alcohol in the champagne to mellow.

To make the crystallized fruit:
Wash and gently pat the berries, grapes, etc., and place the sugar in a shallow, little bowl. Whisk together the egg white with the salt in a separate bowl. The salt will help the protein in the egg white become less viscous and easier to work with. Add the lemon juice to it.
Toss the fruit in the egg-white mixture until coated. Take each piece of fruit, and shake off the egg-white mixture. You want the fruit to be moist with the egg white, but you don’t want globs of it on the fruit. Roll each piece in the sugar and place on a parchment-lined sheet. Try to work quickly with these, and place them in the fridge. This step can be done a few hours before you want to serve this dessert. If you do it too far ahead, the fruit will begin to absorb the sugar and lose the crystallized effect.
When you’re ready to serve, place the fruit, two or three of them, on top of each individual panna cotta.

Eggnog Tres Leches

Lastly, is this indulgent dessert. By now, most Floridians are familiar with the delicacy that is Nicaraguan tres leches. I take the traditional recipe and take it over the top by soaking the cake in eggnog. This recipe, too, is best made two to three days before.



1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
5 eggs
Zest of 1 small orange
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

To soak the cake:
4 cups of eggnog (make your own or spike up store-bought; you want a nice, boozy eggnog
for this recipe)

To frost the cake:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and heavily grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together; set aside.
Beat sugar and butter together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, vanilla and orange zest; beat well. Add flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing until well-blended. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool for about an hour. Pierce cake all over with a fork.
Pour eggnog over the pierced, cooled cake.
At this point, you can refrigerate the cake for two to three days. The topping should be made no more than a few hours before serving.
For the topping, whip cream in a chilled glass or metal bowl with an electric mixer. Slowly add in 1 cup of sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Keep the cake refrigerated until serving, and top each piece with a maraschino cherry. Do not place the cherries on the topping ahead of time, as they will bleed into the whipped cream.


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