Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Treats for Giving

Before I begin this post, I have some sad news to share.

Custer State Park January 2017
We had a forest fire that swept through Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and surrounding ranch lands last week. Strong winds added to the problem, and made the fire hard to contain.

Go here to see some pictures from the height of the fire: Wildfire Today

The news Saturday night was that the fire was 90% contained. The really good news? Even with the gusty winds, this was not a hot, out of control fire. Many of the trees will survive and the grass will grow back. Wildlife appears to have come through all right, and none of the historic buildings had damage.

Hopefully we'll be able to make a trip out there sometime soon, and I'll keep track of the recovery process. :-)



But the big news today: Can you believe that Christmas Day is only one week away?


Snow, sleighbells, Christmas greenery, the fragrance of Christmas cookies baking....


...and neighbors greeting each other with more than the usual wave.

At least in our neighborhood we do.

For the last several years, the neighbors around our little cul-de-sac have shared cookies and other treats with each other as a Christmas greeting. Neighbor to neighbor, getting to know each other a little bit better.



Nothing fancy, nothing big.

Just a little something to say, "Merry Christmas!"


Last year I made Mindy's Pumpkin bread and shared one of those little loaves along with some fudge and a few cookies. You can find Mindy's recipe here: Mindy's Pumpkin Bread

This year, I'm adding a bag full of my amazing Crunchy Cereal Mix. What makes it amazing? Because I've tweaked the "official" ingredients to make my own blend of spices. You can do that, too - mix in some Cajun spice, or maybe add a bit more garlic. Is siracha more your style? Add it in to the spice mixture! Here's my recipe to get you started: Jan's Crunchy Cereal Mix

I made some fudge this year already. Carrie, Katie and I got together for a baking day a couple weeks ago. But where is the fudge??? Alas, I didn't hide it well enough! So today I'm making a batch of my favorite peanut butter fudge, and another one of chocolate fudge. Grandma's Peanut Butter Fudge

Whatever we put in our bags or containers for our neighbors, we know it's appreciated. And it isn't something that happens in a lot of neighborhoods anymore. People move - like we have - and it's hard to form friendships. Front porches are non-existent in newer sub-divisions. And if you don't have children going to the same school, you may never really see your neighbors.

But this one time a year, we leave a bit of a snack on a neighbor's doorstep - - and it has made a difference on our little street.

Joe, a few doors down, found out we have a wood stove, so he collects the scraps from his woodworking hobby for us to burn (thank you, Joe!). And his wife loves to read...so guess who gets a copy of my books?

The family with all the dogs (4?) had a problem with their back gate last summer and the two biggest dogs escaped one day when everyone was at work. When the dogs came back home to an empty house, Joe and I tied them in the shade with a bowl of water to wait for their owners.

The family at the end of the street - in the rental house - is always fun. Every other year it's someone new. It's so much fun to surprise them!

But more than anything else, giving these little gifts reminds me of Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas Day - it takes so little to give something that can make such a difference in someone's day!


So as the year winds to an end and the winter chill sets in, let us all spend this week - this last week before Christmas - with the spirit of giving in our hearts and a smile of joy on our faces. Because no matter what else is happening in our lives, this is the time we celebrate our Savior's birth.

What is your favorite way of giving this time of year?






Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband and growing family. When she isn't writing, she loves hiking in the Hills or satisfying her cross stitch addiction.

You can find Jan on Facebook, Jan Drexler, author, or her website, Jan Drexler.com.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Church Christmas Decorations

I don't have a recipe to share this week. I wanted to share some wonderful photos I took at church last week. The sanctuary looks so beautiful, I couldn't help but run around and snap pictures with my phone. :)

Welcome to our church! Here's the pretty wreaths on one set of doors.


Inside the sanctuary, we have the beautiful Chrismon tree. In case you're not familiar with what that is, here's a little history from the United Methodist Website.

Ornaments made from Christian symbols (or Chrismons, a contraction for 'Christ monograms') were first developed by Frances Spencer and the women of the Ascension Lutheran Church in Danville, VA. Many churches display a Chrismon tree during the Advent and Christmas season decorated with handmade ornaments.


Here are closeup photos I took of some of my favorite ornaments.














Most are ceramic and painted with gold. So very pretty! And there are some cross-stitched ones as well.

Oh, and here's my front door. I bought a new wreath last year, but, once I put it up, I realized that it was too bland. It blended in with our green door! So I wrapped it with a gold bow this year. I still think it needs something else. Maybe some red glass balls. I may add those next year. :)



My daughter is finally home from college, so I'll have some help decorating the rest of the house. But for now, we're happily snuggled on the couch under a soft, fuzzy throw blanket, working on our computers. :)

I have to say I think snuggle time is a little more important than whether we have lights on the bannister. So I'm not rushing anything!

Missy

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Almond Bark for the Holidays!

Almond bark is one of the easiest and most appreciated holiday treats... and by easy, I mean super easy.

First, I start with Ghirardelli dark chocolate or white chocolate melting wafers....


I set up a "simmer" system on my tiniest burner, the itsiest bitsiest burner I have on my stove... at the lowest possible heat.... and I set a 3 quart saucepan with about an inch-and-a-half of water in it... Just enough to steam the bottom of the bowl I'm going to set on top.

Grab a Pyrex or glass bowl. Set it over the pan. Make sure the bowl comes to the edge of the pan, we don't want steam getting into the chocolate. Water and melting chocolate FIGHT.

No fighting at Christmas!!!!

Throw a whole bunch of melting wafers into the bowl... Okay, I can get more scientific, but really, with this, it's not a big deal.... 

Melt the wafers in the bowl over the water.  Stir now and then. 

Cover a large cookie sheet with aluminum foil.

Add more wafers and stir them into melted wafers in bowl... 

Add dry roasted almonds.... I like a lot of almonds-to-chocolate ratio, so I add a lot.

Stir.

Spread over aluminum foil until desired thickness... I like single layer nuts so I spread it thinly... Cool.



When hard, break into pieces.

Repeat with White Chocolate melting chips.



Like every single step... repeat. Repeat. Repeat... ;)

And then you have two big trays of chocolate and white chocolate salty deliciousness to share with family and friends.

Friends will love you.

Family might cut you some slack when they want to talk about someone. #freepass!!!

Break into pieces and it's ready to serve! 

This looks really nice if you serve foil-wrapped candies in the middle of a candy dish, with bark on either side...

We have snow here! At last winter has come to the Great Lakes and the donkeys are kind of stoic... the little one, "Tom" is not amused... the hens are SCARED TO DEATH and don't want to come out to eat! 

And it's so much prettier now than covered with gray trees, brown dirt, gray branches, gray roads, gray skies....

Oh, yes! Give me snow! 

Boots and mittens have earned their day!

:) 

We're on the 12 day countdown here, and we're actually having our big family Christmas on the 23rd... Early!!!

And we never do that, so this is an adventure for us. Both Manhattan boys/men are coming home and have to leave on Christmas, so we're jumping the gun and it will be so much fun to have almost the whole family here. Our North Carolina branch won't be here, but we'll be missing them from afar... and raising a mug to their health.

And for all of you.... a Very Merry Christmas!!!

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, her family, dogs, chocolate, miniature donkeys, coffee and little kids. And big kids, too! Find her on facebook.... or follow her on Twitter and Amazon and Bookbub! That makes her editors very happy!

You can find her on her pumpkin farm in WNY where she curls up in the dark of night, writing sweet stories and baking really good cookies. Any time of year!




Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Freekeh

Checking in from north of the Red River (which only makes sense if you read Mindy's post yesterday).

Our unexpected snow this weekend looked like this. Nothing too troublesome. The roads stayed totally clear, and it was lovely to look at.










Now the recipe I'm going to share does not look like it belongs with these snow scenes at all - it involves freekeh, blueberries, and pineapple.

I'm imagining the first question on your lips may be "What is freekeh?"

To begin, according to the package, you pronounce it "free-ka." It is an Aramaic word meaning "to rub."

Freekeh is the young green wheat. It is harvested, roasted over an open fire, and then the chaff is rubbed off. What is left is a super nutritious young grain that is slightly chewy.

I first discovered Freekeh when I saw an article called

Meet Freekeh, the Supergrain That Might End Your Relationship With Quinoa

 Since I'm not a huge fan of the taste of quinoa, I was intrigued. Then I happened to see a package while I was in Whole Foods so I figured I'd give it a try. It's low in fat, high in protein, and has a low glycemic index.

 

But what do you do with it?

 

Well, first of all, it's as easy as cooking rice. You mix 1/2 cup of freekeh with 1 1/2 cups of water, bring to a boil and simmer about 20 minutes. You drain off any remaining water


 After that,  what you do is up to you. I had a plan in mind, but at the last minute, I was craving something completely different, so I heated some pineapple and frozen blueberries and spooned them over the top. It was delicious!!!!! And I felt so virtuous because it was so completely healthy.

 

 

 

Some recipes suggest eating freekeh for breakfast and I can certainly see this as a breakfast option, maybe with some toasted walnuts added in. Or with walnuts, apples and cinnamon.

 

You can make the freekeh ahead of time and store for up to 8 days in the refrigerator!

 

It also reminded me a little of bulgur wheat in texture, so I plan to try some cold salad dishes like tabbouleh with it as well. I'll let you know how it goes.

 

So did you know about freekeh? Have you tried it?




Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Christmas Miracle!

Snow at the ranch!
I kid you not. Snow in South Central Texas.
It started Thursday night while myself and a bazillion other women were celebrating Ladies Night Out on the square.
I love it when God provides the ambiance.

At a little after midnight, the ground was covered with snow. And while my son woke us up to share in the spectacle, none of us got any pictures. 
So you will have to settle for my morning after pix.
Best sunrise I've seen in a long time.
And though there may not be much on the ground, that's more than just a heavy frost.
That's wet, white snowflakes clinging to life on anything colder than 32 degrees.
Some of the cows were rather curious.
As was our Dixie dog.
But my magnolia trees held the proof.
Most every day, I ask God to show me His glory. And on this day, He showed me something I never expected to see south of Waco. 
I know this may seem skimpy to my northern friends, but I am delighted to know that my God cared enough for me to bring snow to a place I thought I'd never see snow again. Okay, so a gal in my Sunday school class thinks He did it for her, but I know better.
This was just for me.
However, as I mentioned before, this is South Central Texas, so you know what that means.
SCHOOL WAS DELAYED TWO HOURS!!!!!

(Insert raucous laughter from anyone north of the Red River)

Now it's your turn.
Do you ever ask God to show you His glory?
It can come in any shape or form. We just have to be on the lookout.
How has God showed off for you?

  


Mindy Obenhaus lives on a ranch in Texas with her husband, the youngest of her five children and two dogs. She's passionate about touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her grandchildren. Learn more at www.MindyObenhaus.com  













Monday, December 11, 2017

Tenacity

Jan here, loving life in the Black Hills.



We had snow this week, but as you can see, it's gone already. No worries! We'll get more soon, hopefully after we get our roof fixed.

Yes, after last Sunday's gorgeous weather, a storm came through with a little bit of snow and a lot of wind. Three days straight of strong north winds. How strong? 20 - 30 mph winds with gusts up to around 50 mph. If we had had snow all three days, it would have been a first class blizzard!

But it was bad enough. That wind pried up the fascia on the north side of the house and plucked off the eave piece by piece, as if long, wicked fingers were trying to force their way in.

The storm is long gone, though, and this past weekend was beautiful again!

Two weeks ago, I wrote about going to Hill City on Black Friday to order our Christmas gift to each other. On Saturday we got to go back to the gallery to pick it up.

What a chore! (insert sarcasm here!!!)

Actually, we love going to Hill City. The Alpine Inn is one of our favorite restaurants, and we often go there to celebrate a new contract, or a book release, or...well...just about anything. We weren't in town during lunch on Saturday, though, so no meal at the Inn this time.


Hill City is small town America tucked into the center of the Black Hills.


In the summer the streets and sidewalks are filled with tourists, and we generally avoid stopping.


But in the winter, the place belongs to the locals.


Jon Crane's studio isn't the only art attraction in Hill City. One of John Lopez's pieces, "Iron Star," is on Main Street - you can't miss it.


Every time we walk by, I have to stop and see what new detail I can find!

Do you see the horse under the mane?
Even the front leg holds surprises!

To learn more about John Lopez's sculptures, visit his website.
There might be a sculpture near you - you never
know! Check out the map!

Finally, we headed toward Jon Crane's gallery and picked up our print.


It's called Tenacity. Do you see why?


Mr. Crane painted this picture early in 2017, and I'm so glad he did. After we left Hill City, we drove down the road where this ranch is located, just a few miles from Mt. Rushmore.

Time has finally taken its toll.


Even though the ranch is still holding on, the tree isn't.

Yes, that is the same tree. The trunk is at least four feet in diameter.


After all those years, it finally released its hold on life.

It reminds me of two things:

The first is that even though life is fragile, individual life is tenacious. A single tree will cling to life, even though the end is certain. It stands, rooted in the ground, strong and sure. The tree continues to cling to the earth with tenacity, even though the future cannot be changed. Don't we hold on to life the same way?

And the second thing is a truth that rings with hope - -

"The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever."
                Isaish 40:8 ESV

Thanks be to God!


As we head farther into the Advent season and our lives are crowded, our time short, and our plans often thrown into disarray, I wish you all a blessed and merry week! 










Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband and growing family. When she isn't writing, she loves hiking in the Hills or satisfying her cross stitch addiction.

You can find Jan on Facebook, Jan Drexler, author, or her website, Jan Drexler.com.