Monday, August 29, 2016

A Favorite Recipe: Easy Chocolate Eclairs

This was my back-to-school post from four years ago. Time certainly flies fast, doesn't it?

Those same boys who went off to college then started their senior+ years last week. There's something about my kids...they never finish college in only four years. They add on second majors, or a minor, or change their majors, but at least they're employable when they're done...I think....

Anyway, this recipe is requested around our house at least a hundred times more often than I make it. We have a church dinner coming up soon, so I pulled out this recipe to take with me. I think I'll make a double batch!


Easy Chocolate Eclairs

The Boys on the Hill
 Saturday was a beautiful day here in the Black Hills. We went to visit the Boys (actually, this time we only waved from the road - the place was packed), and went hiking in the "Wrinkled Rocks" area on the backside of Mt. Rushmore.

Yes, we did a lot of strenuous hiking and climbing. Fall is almost here - do you see the yellow leaves on that Aspen?

Fudge. Always fudge.

After hiking we drove into Keystone for lunch.

No, not Keystone, Colorado. This is the Keystone that has a population of thousands from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and then from October to May the place shuts down - all except the taffy shop and the post office. You know, the important places!

We enjoyed sandwiches, people watching, and my daughter found a birthday present for her friend...

And motorcycles. A constant here all summer long.

Souvenir stores and restaurants. Are we in a tourist town?

And of course we went to the taffy shop :)

When we got home - hours and miles later, with loads of laundry waiting for me - I got ready to make a special dessert for Sunday, the official last day of summer around here.

School starts on Tuesday for our younger boys. College. Living at home. Schedule change and lots of money spent (theirs, not ours - we provide room and board, they take care of tuition). One is a freshman and the other is a sophomore. Our "first day of school" days are numbered!

So I made the Easy Chocolate Eclair recipe we were talking about here at the Cafe last week. It's the perfect special dessert for those days when you're pressed for time and energy.

Here's the recipe:


1 (8 oz). tub frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 large (6 servings) box vanilla instant pudding
3 cups milk
1 (16 oz.) box graham crackers


1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix together the whipped topping, pudding and 3 cups milk. Place a layer of graham crackers in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish (you can break them apart to fit), then cover with 1/2 of the pudding mixture. Repeat, and then add a third layer of graham crackers. (I never use all the graham crackers).

Now for the topping. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together sugar, cocoa and 1/3 cup milk just until boiling. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into a medium mixing bowl and cool, stirring often.

Hint: this is your time to change the laundry, or read a book, or take a cat-nap...

 Once it's cool, pour evenly over your eclairs. The topping will ooze its way around until the whole surface is covered.

Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. IF there are any leftovers, store in the refrigerator.

This is a great make-ahead for covered dish dinners. Once you make it, the only problem you have is keeping people from sneaking tastes ahead of time :)

And yes, you can substitute ingredients! If you make homemade pudding, use 3 cups and then don't use the 3 cups milk. Whipped cream can be substituted for the whipped topping - I think you'll need about 4 cups.

I've also had this made with Club crackers instead of graham crackers. They give it a very different, kind of sweet/salty taste.

Now, what about those boys who are starting school tomorrow?
The Sophomore

The Freshman (aka Drackler)

Off to the future...

Jan Drexler loves her family, her home, cooking and just about anything made by hand. But she loves her Lord most of all.

Stop by Jan's website to learn more about her books:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Homemade Mint Lemon Refresher or How to Make Sodas

Hello, everybody! The Fresh Pioneer is back and I first wanted to share some of our local library's art. This is all made with a paper punch and those free paint chip samples. Isn't it awesome! 
 This is my favorite. I really love trees and have quite a few tree art pieces in my own house. I think I'd try this if I thought I could make it look as nice!
 Soooo, I found this great book called "Homemade Rootbeer, Soda and Pop" (you can get it here on Amazon) in our local library and we were very excited to try it out. There are a lot of "make your own pop" books but I liked this one because it has historical recipes. If you've read my Austen Takes the South books, you'll know I loooooove old recipes and always include the history of the food when I write it into a scene. Food, history, and stories. The perfect trifecta!
 First, this funny recipe from Anonymous in 1771 for Pumpkin Ale. No, we didn't try it, but it made us think of Harry Potter's Pumpkin Fizzies! Anotherpart of the book reminds readers that there was no line between alcoholic and non-alcoholic back then. It was more of a matter of how much alcohol, since anything that was fizzy was slightly fermented, and therefore had traces of alcohol.
This is relevant. I promise.
So, I thought this lemon mint refresher sounded wonderful. Remember, I really have no experience in fermenting anything but I figured sugar, flavoring and some fizz... what could go wrong?
 First, piles of mint... Check!
 Vintage jar filled fresh lemon juice... Check! (I was making a big batch, so if you try the recipe, follow the one above. I was tripling and adjusting as I went.)
 Pour boiling water over the mint leaves and let it set. (Oh, be sure to wash them first. Ours came straight from the garden and needed to be de-dusted.) Pour the mint water and the lemon, sugar, and yeast together. Put on the lid. Let it sit for a day. Now, this is where I went wrong. It was very warm in the laundry room where I had the jar (it was supposed to be in a cool, dark place) and plus, I left it for two days.
 So, when I went to open it up, the lid nearly popped off! My friend who works at a winery shook his head when I told this story because I'd basically created a lemon-mint BOMB in my laundry room. So glad I didn't let it sit for a week! The whole thing could have exploded.
But it didn't!
What it did do was fizz all over the place. My friend said we'd made "no-messin'-around" bubbly, like champagne. It was certainly... *gasp* No what I was heading for. We all had a sip and declared it quite interesting and chalked it up to a learning experience. I think we'll still with mixing flavors with soda water!
And one last photo. My husband took this picture of a snapdragon seed. SO funny. If you have snapdragons, go check them out. They're like tiny people.

Until next time! Feel free to stop by my author pages at Mary Jane Hathaway or Virginia Carmichael, or by my blog on The Things That Last!

Friday, August 26, 2016

No-Cooking Friday...Plus a Mini Vacation

Missy Tippens

Okay, I admit it. I was at the beach last week, and I only cooked one or two meals. Both of which were boring and the usual stuff I've already posted here multiple times. The rest of the time we either ate sandwiches or leftovers or ate out. Sooo...

I'm just going to share a few beach photos from Orange Beach, Alabama, so you can feel as if you've had a little vacation. :)

This is the night we arrived. We stayed in a different condo this time. Here was the beautiful view...

Here's the peaceful view from the balcony the next day...

Pour you a cup of coffee and enjoy a morning of waves lapping against the sand with the cry of seagulls to relax you... 

Of course, you need a little fun time down at the water. Enjoy the warm sand and the waves...

Oh, and since I write romance, I had to share this. Someone wrote this huge love letter on the beach one night! :)

Our last evening there, telling the beach goodbye for another year...

Oh! I do have a shot of food! While there, we usually try to eat at Lambert's Cafe--"Home of the Throwed Rolls." :) Hot, gigantic, wonderful yeast rolls tossed across the room to you. :) My kids made great catches this year. I won't share stories of all the years the bread went awry. :)

We had a wonderful vacation. Now back to real life. (big sigh) So, what's your favorite vacation spot?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Homemade Chocolate Cream Pie

First, the crust...

I make my own and you can find that recipe here... and then I cut the big dough ball into 4 equal pieces (I use deep dish pie pans) or you can cut it into five equal wedges if you use normal pie pans or 8" pie pans...

Or you can make a cookie crust or use a packaged crust. Whatever works for you and your family is fine by me.

Rumors that I am a crust-snob are GREATLY EXAGGERATED, aren't they, Missy Tippens?????


So you need one 9" pie crust, ready to go.

Chocolate filling:

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 2/3 Cup sugar
1/2 cup corn starch
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup Hershey's Cocoa
4 cups milk
4 egg yolks
3 teaspoons vanilla

(These are all normal ingredients, like Really Normal, nothing earth-shattering here!)

Melt butter in 3 or 4 quart saucepan. Remove from heat

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add to butter. Stir until butter is blended throughout.

Add Milk and egg yolks. Whisk in. Return to heat and cook over medium-medium high heat until pudding is thick and bubbling, stirring regularly and then constantly once pudding is thickening. Cook about 1/2 minute while bubbling.

Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Whisk in. Cover hot pudding with plastic wrap pressed against the hot surface if you want to avoid "skin"... although I love to eat that "skin" so call me and I'll come to your house and eat it for you.

I'm nice that way.

Chill pudding completely. Make sure pie crust is cool. Spoon pudding into pie crust.

Top with whipped cream.

2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar

Put into large mixing bowl... beat at high speed until stiff peaks form. Spoon and spread on chocolate pudding filling deliciousness...

Garnish with mini-chips, chocolate shavings or dust with cocoa. (My sifter has a hole in it, so dusting is not an option right now!)

And that's it!

I'm in Nashville today, after having a wonderful time at the Christian Fiction Reader's Retreat yesterday... but this was my handmade personal birthday treat last weekend, andit was just as good as it looks! I had a piece Sunday... and possibly a piece on Monday, too!

And in the space of time when you take a gallon of water out to the side porch, THIS HAPPENS:

A born storyteller, with Grammy's wild hair...

Oh my stars! Morgan!!!!


Ruth Logan Herne loves life, God, her family, country, chocolate, dogs and coffee... she lives on a small farm in upstate New York and loves to get dirty outside because flowers Don't Talk Back!

Find her on facebook at Ruth Logan Herne or stop by her website! With over a million books sold, Ruthy is living her dream... and still has to pinch herself to make sure it's real!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Holding Down the Fort

So I guess I'm holding down the fort today while half the staff scurries off to Nashville.

As Jan and I were discussing, I had to replace my refrigerator which has made cooking anything unusual a bit of a challenge. Our food is divided between two neighbors.

So instead, I thought I'd share a few songs from one of my favorite TV shows - Nashville, and a few ideas for what to eat while you're in Nashville. That way the rest of us can pretend/dream we're there.

I really like this song. It inspired one of my characters. I Will Never Let You Know.

This one is full of angst, but it's great for getting into a dark character.

Then there's this one from the (almost) series finale.  Love You Home

When I first heard it, I wasn't overwhelmed with love, but it's grown to  be one of my favorites.

One last one - the song I play when writing Dylan and Grace's story. I Know How to Love You Now.

Okay, we've got the music background, let's talk food!

I've never been to ACFW, but my conference experience usually includes very little time outside the hotel. So we may find out more about Nashville food than the conference attendees.

On Nashville, the hot spot to spend time listening to music is The Bluebird Cafe. Apparently the show's success has meant a huge line waiting to get in to The Bluebird.

I thought this video was hilarious. Have any of you ever had to do online queuing?

Arnold's Country Kitchen is listed as favorite -  a real family restaurant.

Their website says: 
We've been serving up home-cooked "Meat & 3" here in Nashville for more than 30 years - and we look forward to serving you.
 You an actually watch a video about the history of the restaurant with lots of food.

"Sorry, grandma", the "memorable" mains and "down-home" sides at this "legendary" Gulch Southerner add up to the "best damn meat and three on the planet", and "cafeteria-style lines" "sneaking out...

here's no better place to sample a wide array of Southern fried goodness than at 34-year-old Nashville institution Arnold's Country Kitchen 

 If you'd prefer something more upscale, say for after the CAROL Awards, how about southern food from a James Beard award-winning restaurant in an old mansion?

According to Chef Brock, “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door.”


Perhaps you'd like some Deviled Eggs with Pickled Okra?

They also serve lowcountry cuisine in a beautiful mansion in Charleston!

According to Eater Nashville, the hottest restaurant in Nashville is The Treehouse Restaurant. They have their own organic farm 50 miles from Nashville.

 The remaining nine are:
Butcher & Bee  - it started with sandwiches
Bajo Sexto Taco Lounge (Oaxacan dishes and Mexican with a twist)
Salt & Vine
Old Glory - this one is in a boiler room in an old industrial space
Five Daughters Bakery - can we say 100 layer donuts!!!!!
Vui's Kitchen - If you've had enough southern cooking, how about some Vietnamese?

If you ask Southern Living, Arnold's tops the list.

MacK & Kates Café & Wine Bar or Macke’s Restaurant (named for the owners' daughters)

How about a Speakeasy Hangout - Patterson  House. Southern Living says - "The 30-stool bar retains a hush-hush, Gatsby-and-Governor sophistication, and savvy bartenders stir and shake in Capone-era getups."

Supposedly a Legend - Prince's Hot Chicken - chicken cooked to order

I Dream of Weenie - come get your hotdogs from a vintage yellow Volkswagon bus!

And finally Margot/Marche´ - sunny eggs and sausage polenta with a pomegranate mimosa

So, by now, you're either feeling stuffed or you're drooling. I'm wishing more than ever that I was there.

But we saved a dog's life this year so no conference for me.

But he's worth it, don't you think?

Have you been to Nashville? Is there someplace that I've missed?


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Boys Will Be Boys - Removing Rust from Clothing

Ah, the beautiful Red Mountains. Such a lovely site. 
I took this picture when we were in Ouray a few weeks ago. What a glorious morning it was.

The reason I'm showing you this picture is so you will understand the source of the rest of this post.
A day or two before this photo was taken, we took the boys to the abandoned mining town of Ironton.
Ironton is a neat little place that a lot of folks don't even realize is right off of the main highway. Many of the buildings are still standing in this place that was once home to over a thousand people. Today, it's a quiet respite. At least for us adults.

But if you're a kid, it's ripe for all sorts of mischief. Like throwing rocks.
Notice the golden hue to the water. That's from all the minerals as the water flows past the Red Mountains. Actually, it usually has more of a rusty tint, so I was a little surprised by the different color.

Whatever the case, our little genius in the aqua shirt was pretty irritated when he discovered those wet rocks had left deep golden spots all over his shirt. 
Rather than spark his ire by reminding him it was his own fault, I told him he could change shirts when we got back to hotel and I would try to rinse out the color.

No go. Those marks were there to stay. At least until we got home and I had all sorts of laundry products at my disposal. 

So, once we got home, I pretreated the spots with liquid laundry detergent. 
No go.

Stain remover.
No go.

By the way, I never put the shirt in the dryer. That would set the stains for sure.

Since the stains actually reminded me of rust, I took to the internet, looking for ideas on removing rust from clothing. Believe it or not, I found something that really worked. And everything I needed was in my kitchen and right outside my back door.

Okay, so these are the spots in question. 
Sorry, I didn't even think about taking a picture until I'd already treated them.
 By now you're probably wondering what I treated these pesky stains with, aren't you?
A simple slurry of salt and lemon juice. Just enough juice so it's thinner than a paste, but not too soupy.
I spooned it evenly onto each of the spots.
 Then laid the shirt out in the bright summer sun and waited for the magic to happen.

Round one - stains were faded, but still obvious.

Round two - faded more, but still there.

 I rinsed the shirt out after the first two applications to make sure the stains really were fading and not simply covered with salt residue.

Liking what I saw, I kept going. I don't remember if I did three or four rounds, but I was determined to get those stains out. And I am happy to say that I was successful. It's always good when moms can score brownie points with their kids. And resurrecting their favorite shirt from the dead scored me plenty.
Okay, I just now took this picture instead of when the shirt was first cleaned and it has been worn and washed several times since. That light area over the logo did not appear until this most recent washing, so I'm not sure what caused it.
I will tell you that the person who posted this information on the internet did say they had only used it on whites. But since the shirt was headed for the trash anyway, I figured it was worth trying. It did lighten a couple of the areas at the bottom just slightly, but not enough for my son to notice, so I didn't say a word.

All in all, it was a fun experiment so I thought I'd pass it on in case you ever had to tackle a rust stain.  Or mineral deposits from boys throwing wet rocks. :)
I'm also wondering how this treatment might work on some yellowed antique linens I have tucked away. Nothing too delicate. Perhaps when I unearth them during the move I'll consider giving it a go.

Do you have any stain removal secrets? If so, you know we'd love to hear about them,

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summertime Sandwiches: the BLA

No, that's not a typing error. My favorite summer sandwich is a Bacon, Lettuce and Avocado sandwich. AKA, BLA!

It's what I like to make for a quick lunch, especially if I'm going out of town for a week, and these are in my refrigerator:

I hate it when avocados go bad...they're too delicious to waste that way!

A BLA is super easy to make. In fact, it's a lot like a BLT.

Cook up some bacon, toast your bread, get the Ranch dressing out of the fridge...

Yes, Ranch dressing rather than plain mayo. It adds a bit of yummy deliciousness to the sandwich.

And then start layering - A bit of salad dressing on both pieces of toast, and then a generous helping of lettuce, avocado slices, and top with bacon.

Put the lid on (aka, the other slice of toast) and you're set to go.

Warning: this is a very messy sandwich. Don't try to eat it on the run!

Another delicious lunch I've just heard about is avocado toast. From the number of recipes available on the internet, it seems like I'm the only one who has never run across this before!

Easy peasy lemon squeezy! A slice of toast, mashed avocado, and a topping. My favorite is crumbled bacon.

Do you sense a theme here? Avocado and bacon are delicious together!

I've been doing quick lunches for the past week or so because I'm getting ready to take off to Nashville tomorrow for the First Annual Christian Fiction Readers Retreat  and the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) Conference.

If you haven't heard about the Readers Retreat, go here to get the scoop!  You'll notice that some of your favorite writers are involved, and it's a day centered around our favorite people: Readers!

And then the ACFW Conference starts on Thursday.

Just imagine, an entire week (at least, Wednesday through Saturday) filled with readers, writers, and other people who love books. Doesn't that sound like a dream come true?

Since we just got done with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (ten days of not leaving home to head up into the Hills) and I'm getting ready to leave for the rest of the week, my husband and I HAD to make a trip up to some of our favorite places on Saturday.

I ignored my new office and the paint-less walls, the vacuuming and weeding and laundry that needed to be done, and we went to the center of the Hills, up to the Needles Highway.

This is what we wanted to do:

Our intention was to hike the Cathedral Spires trail, but there was a problem. We couldn't find anyplace to park near the trail head. Or near our alternative hiking choice in that area, the Little Devils Tower trail. So we drove and dodged other cars.

I'm not complaining, though! It's a beautiful drive....

Do you see why it's called the Needles Highway? Those granite spires....

There are narrow tunnels along the way, and the one at the top is breathtaking. Here's the approach...

Suck in your tummy when you meet those trucks!

Looks good so far, but remember - it's a one-lane tunnel.

Oops, traffic jam. Everybody wait your turn...

And if you aren't driving, be sure to look up as you go through!

The other side of the tunnel was packed with cars, trucks, pedestrians...and I forgot to take more pictures!

But here's a great video someone took during last year's Rally. They have people directing traffic during that week!

Do you see why I hate leaving home, even for the ACFW Conference? I'll still have plenty of fun, though. My roommate for conference is the best, isn't she, Ruthy?

Have a great week, everyone!

Jan Drexler loves her family, her home, cooking and just about anything made by hand. But she loves her Lord most of all.

Stop by Jan's website to learn more about her books: