Monday, December 5, 2016

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt of 2016, and Orange-Molasses Snickerdoodles

It's that time again!

Our midday view to the south in December.

Long nights, short days, and Christmas trees!!!

Every year, on the first Sunday afternoon in December, folks from our church make a mad dash up into the Hills. We spend a couple hours tromping through the woods, looking for the perfect Christmas tree, then head back to the church for a chili supper.

After many years (this is the sixth year for our family!), we've developed a method that has proven successful every time.

The first ones to arrive at base camp build a fire.

Then we gather, spending many minutes chatting and visiting. Thatcher made a new friend this year. :)

He wasn't too sure about Titus until a snack was shared between boy and dog. Now they're best buds.

But finally, all have arrived and it's time to head into the forest with our saws and high hopes of finding the perfect tree.

Thatcher has an unusual hunting technique. He runs as fast as he can until he thinks we're too far behind. Then he races back, tags one of us, and he's off again. By the end of the hunt, he was one tired Corgi!

And then - look! - can it be? The perfect tree?

It takes experience to pick the perfect tree from 1.2 million acres of forest! The one to the left looks good, until you notice the big hole on the lower right. The one in back? WAY too big! That one in the front center?

Yes, I see the hole on the right side of this one, too. Shhh! It will look beautiful once it's decorated!

The next step is to cut our perfect tree and carry it back to the car.

Before you wonder if our adventure is beneficial and legal...yes, and yes. Cutting the trees this way helps thin out the smaller trees, which can grow in thick groves, stunting the growth of all of them. The trees are much healthier if there is space between them and plenty of room to grow. Thinning the trees helps cut down on Pine Beetle damage and forest fires.

Legal? Yes, we bought our permit!

Then, finally, once everyone has chosen successfully bagged their trees, we all pose for a group picture.

With all those hungry, cold people who have spent the afternoon hiking and hauling trees, you'd think the chili supper would be a hit. And you would be right!

I took a crock pot full of my favorite chili (you can find that recipe here), and we also had venison chili, Cincinnati-style chili, two kinds of white chili, a half-dozen pots of chili of various degrees of heat, some beef stew, and Dan's chili. Dan's chili is more than spicy. It's in a class by itself!

But this year, I thought I'd share the dessert that my daughter, Carrie, brought.

Orange-Molasses Snickerdoodles

The original recipe for these cookies came from the Food Network magazine (a great magazine for people who love to cook!), but Carrie substituted candied orange peel for the orange zest. Delicious!


2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 400°.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Beat the butter and 3/4 cup sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about three minutes. Beat in the egg, then the molasses and orange zest.

Reduce the mixer speed to low. Then beat in the flour mixture until just combined.

Combine the cinnamon and the remaining 3 Tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Roll heaping Tablespoonfuls of dough into balls, then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat.

Arrange 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. 

Bake until the cookies are just set around the edges but the centers are still soft, 11-13 minutes. Let cool 3 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Carrie added a squiggle of Royal Icing and some sprinkles to dress the cookies up for Christmas.

And how are the newlyweds doing? Getting ready to spend their first married Christmas together!

In other exciting news, "Hannah's Choice" is available in e-book for only 99 cents!!!

Go Here to get a copy for your Nook from Barnes and Noble,

or go Here to get a copy from Amazon for your Kindle.

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:


  1. Hi Jan, this brought back so many memories of when my family would go out and cut their tree. This was when we lived in California. Here in Arizona, we are too far away from the pine forest.

    The snickerdoodles are another family favorite, especially at Christmas time. But I've never tried it with the orange zest. Our orange trees are ripening now so I will definitely give this recipe a try.

    Happy tree decorating.

    1. Hi Sandra!

      These were delicious cookies. I love regular Snickerdoodles, but with the orange and the hint of molasses, these are stellar!

      We've cut trees at Christmas tree farms when we lived farther east, but hunting a "wild" tree is a different experience! There's nothing like spending the afternoon in the Hills, and the whole process makes the tree even more special. :)

  2. First, I love the Christmas tree hunt, and I never knew about the permit/tree hunt until I was looking for a state for my Waterbrook Cowboy "Double S" series... and that would be a friendly home to a Christmas tree farm. In so many Western states, folks do just what you did! They go into the woods and cut their tree.

    But I needed a blend per the editor's request, so Washington State proved to be the winner because they have cowboys.... and lots of Christmas Tree farms near the populated areas, so I could tell a believable story IF folks from Washington bought it!

    Jan, I love this, the trees are beautiful... and I can't wait to try those cookies! Candied orange peel, huh? I know where to buy that!

    Although you used to be able to buy candied fruit anywhere, and now it's only certain stores that carry it. That sounds so marvelous, I love a little orange tang in cookies, and I wouldn't have thought of this. Kudos to Happily Married Daughter!!!!

    1. One thing I was surprised about when we moved here is that there aren't any Christmas tree farms! I guess it's too dry?

      And the candied fruit...Carrie's mother-in-law made it when she was visiting a few weeks ago. Once Carrie told me that, I knew I had to get the recipe! I'm on the hunt as we speak!

  3. Now this is one kind of hunt I could participate in!!!!! What a fun adventure! And I love that Thatcher got to come this time. Isn't it amazing how far and fast those little legs can carry a corgi? And I love the 'tagging'. Such a herding dog thing. I had a little sheltie who would drop back to tap the back of my knee every so often, even on a leash walk.

    I'm into anything orange when it comes to baking so I'll definitely give this recipe a whirl. And love the artistic icing swirls. Very festive.

    1. Yes, our Border Collie used to do the tagging thing, too. :) Such sweet memories!

      But when we take Wynter into the woods, she's all "Guys, it's going to be dark soon. We can't get too far from the car. I'll show you the way back." And once we make the turn to head back to the parking lot, she's off. She won't get too far ahead, but she is always waiting when we get back to the parking lot.

      She's old enough now, though, that we don't take her on trips to the forest. She gets very anxious, and the rocks hurt her feet. Poor dog. She just wants to stay home. Near the fire. In the den. With her pack. :)

    2. Jan, that's so sweet that Wynter is trying to lead you home.

  4. Jan, I love that y'all do this every year! What a fun tradition. Of course, that blows me away to see that snow!! It's been almost 70 degrees here at the the end of last week.

    These cookies sound amazing!

    1. We don't have snow, either (although we have plenty of cold weather!). The place where we hunt the Christmas trees is about 1500 feet higher in elevation than in town, and a bit farther north. All of that equals more snow, and longer-lasting snow.

      I think we need to move up there.... :)

  5. When worlds collide.

    Out Christmas tree "hunt" means fighting off the hordes of people on the avenue as we look to see what we can find (and afford!!!!!!! My are these trees pricey!!!)

    Snickerdoodle purist here. :) I'm very curious though.

    1. These trees aren't pricey... Of course, they aren't trimmed, either. And they may have an old bird's nest in the branches. But cheap!

      I'm a snickerdoodle purist, too. I hate to call these snickerdoodles...but they're still a good cookie!

  6. Oh, this looks so fun! We just go to the Christmas tree farm. Way less fun!