Monday, December 17, 2018

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Back in October, when I heard that our local Cabela's was hiring part-time seasonal workers for Christmas, I thought it might be a fun way to make some extra money.

But I had no idea what I was getting into.

I was hired as a "Santa's Helper," which means that sometimes I take pictures. Sometimes I help parents navigate the finer points of easing a child through the first scary step toward approaching Santa. Sometimes I help a class of preschoolers patiently wait their turn. And sometimes I even get to be Mrs. Santa Claus!

I've learned how it feels to stand on my feet all day on cement floors (my body has adjusted), and I've also learned to remember to pack my lunch each morning.

But all of that doesn't come close to describing what this job is like. I really had no idea what I was getting into.

It's Christmas. It's Santa. It's children of all ages, from one week to ninety-nine years.

It's reindeer and fun crafts. It's dogs who love squeaky toys and teens who think they're "too old" to have their picture taken until we say, "Do it for your mom!"

Yes, a gratuitous Corgi picture!

No, I had no idea.

It's the big family groups who squeeze twelve or fifteen relatives of all ages into the picture because a photo with Santa is the best way to celebrate being together.

It's the Santa look-a-likes who spend a few minutes "talking shop."

It's grandparents bringing the little ones they're raising, trying to bring some semblance of normal into young lives that have known too much pain.

It's the couple celebrating their fifty-fifth anniversary, taking a photo with Santa to mark the occasion.

It's the misty look in a young mom's eyes as she watches her daughters greeting Santa like an old friend, reliving her own memories.

Really, I had no idea.

It's babies crying, toddlers with shining eyes doing a "high-five" with Santa, and pre-schoolers with their Christmas lists fisted in sweaty hands.

It's the girl with cerebral palsy who can't grin widely enough...and her patient brother who helps her sit on a chair next to the Big Guy.

It's Santa's gentle voice and smile that coax reluctant children to open their hearts.

It's the Down syndrome child who comes every Thursday with her dad to see Santa "just one more time."

It's princesses and Spider Man and Elsa and ballerinas and Air Force Captains, soldiers and reindeer and Paw Patrol pajamas, bow ties and vests and sparkly skirts and red velvet dresses, candy cane sticky mouths and favorite t-shirts, no matter how stained.

It's the look of wonder in a toddler's face when she gazes up at Santa. The Real Santa.

But most of all, it's scenes like this from a Cabela's store in the Dallas area:

The mission of Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops' Santa's Wonderland is to help families make memories during the Christmas season, and that's what we do.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I applied for this job, but I'm glad I did!

If you have a Santa's Wonderland near you, stop by and give Santa a hug. Better yet, have your picture taken with the Man in Red.

Make a few Christmas memories of your own.

I've had my picture taken with Santa several times this year! When is the last time you had your picture taken with Santa?

Jan Drexler lives in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, where you can find her working as her alter-ego, a "Cabela's Elf-fitter," until December 24th. After Christmas, she will return to her full-time job of writing historical romances with Amish characters.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Cauliflower and Mushroom Roast

Missy Tippens

I ran across this recipe in one of Martha Stewart's newsletters and promptly saved it to Pinterest. Then when we made plans to have some friends over, I went to find it. (Don't you love how Pinterest can store recipes for you?!)

Here's a link to the original recipe: click here.

Basically, you slice a head of cauliflower into steaks, brush with oil and roast partly.

Then you add a tray of oil-brushed mushrooms and roast separately. Then you flip the cauliflower, top with mushrooms, some cheese and breadcrumbs and finish roasting. I didn't bother with roasting the bread in the recipe. I just sprinkled on some breadcrumbs.

Be sure to slice thick enough so that the steaks don't break up like some of mine did!

I have to admit this dish ended up being over-done. An almost-kitchen-fail! (Another tip: Don't try new recipes when you have company.  haha)

I'd suggest not roasting for the whole time. My mushrooms were tough and dry. So play with it and watch carefully to make sure you don't overcook it.

Of course, I forgot to take photos of the finished product because our friends had arrived. But I will definitely make this again sometime! With a decrease in the roasting time. :)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Penuche (Brown Sugar Fudge) Redoux!

This is a recipe I developed myself and if you love a maple-tasting or brown-sugar fudge, then I think you will love this. Easy to make and it freezes beautifully and lasts well in a sealed container.... but this wasn't a big worry because it got eaten so quickly! So here it is, old-fashioned "Penuche" brown sugar fudge with newfangled ease!

Hello, my friends! Ruthy here, "The Yank" and all of us up here in the cold, snowy North are wishin' all o' youse a very Merry Christmas!
A baby shepherd has been sighted! :) This is Finn, when he was one year old... He didn't quite make it into the Living Nativity picture. We decided he was a wandering shepherd... a nomad, mayhap?

I love fudge. I love stopping by places with signs bearing "FRESH FUDGE" because fudge-lovers know what that means: Old fudge just isn't as good.

So the trick with fudge (to me, anywho!!!) is to develop recipes that taste great... and keep tasting great!

This one is perfection. I used Maple Syrup with mine, but if you wanted a more "brown sugar" taste you could use molasses and just cut the amount in half because molasses is a much stronger flavor.

Basically I took the recipe from the small Fluff jar and played with it. Most often I find that if you have a good basic beginning, changing the elements might change the taste, but keep the quality. So that was the goal.

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
6 oz. evaporated milk (half a big can) Or if you're using a 5 oz can, add cream or whole milk to go to six ounces. That silly little extra ounce makes the fudge creamier and stay creamier longer. 
4 TBSP (1/2 stick) butter
3/4 tsp. salt
1 jar Marshmallow Fluff
1/2 cup real Maple Syrup (or use 2 TBSP molasses instead)
1 12 oz bag white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (if desired)

In large saucepan combine both sugars, milk, butter, salt, Fluff, syrup or molasses. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. (I like a medium-medium/high heat.) Don't worry if marshmallow gets golden... it's supposed to! Make sure you're stirring all edges of pan. 

Cook to soft ball stage (235° to 238 ° on a candy thermometer) 

To kick the thermometer to the curb, test fudge by drizzling a spoon full of fudge into a coffee cup half-filled with cold water. If the fudge schlurps together into a ball, but flattens when you remove it from cup, you're at "soft ball" stage! Go you!!!!

Add in the 12 oz of white chocolate chips and nuts if desired. Stir until all is melted together and pour into foil lined 13" x 9" pan. Cool completely before cutting.

This fudge is amazing. I keep it sealed in a cool room or in the freezer and it loses no quality even two weeks later.

Air "sugars" fudge, making it crusty and taste stale. Keep it sealed and cool.... and while refrigerators are great tools, if your kid leaves the fudge open in the fridge while helping themselves to a piece, then the fudge takes on the smell of the fridge...

So I usually keep it out of the fridge for my own sake because yes... I love fudge!!! This is two weeks later and as sweet and creamy as the day I made it... 

And here's a little catch-up from the farm! Punch and cookies for the kids who call this home before and after school:

And remember the living room floor project? Well, here are the before and after shots!

And a holiday BOOK GIVEAWAY, my friends just like I did on Petticoats and Pistols! A copy of "A Cowboy Christmas", my duo with the amazing Linda Goodnight wants to come live with  you OR a Kindle copy of "Christmas on the Frontier", three wonderful prairie Christmas romances. Because I do love romance, my friends!

Leave a comment about Christmas baking or candy-making and that will get your name into the Christmas Candy Dish!

Wishing you the merriest of Merry Christmases! 

Leave a comment below (or if Blogger gives you a hard time, then leave a comment on my facebook page Ruth Logan Herne....) and we'll count it! 

May God bless you... May the king of all that's good and holy shine upon you and yours and may your heart be healed from any sadness or grief... And may you feel God's love rain down upon you during this beautiful holy season... and all through 2017.

Multi-published, bestselling author Ruth Logan Herne has over a million books in print, and still pinches herself each day to make sure this is real... and it appears to be!

Visit her website or friend her on facebook (Ruth Logan Herne) or  CLICK HERE follow her on Bookbub  She loves getting to know folks!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Gardens Aglow

Instead of a recipe today, I have some photos to share of a beautiful holiday sight.

Last weekend, my oldest daughter drove up to spend the weekend doing holiday things with my younger daughter in Maine. They visited a Christmas tree farm and cut down a tree, did some shopping, ate out a few times, but by far, the best thing they did was visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

You may remember that 2 summers ago I shared some photos from our trip there in July.
Being that it's Maine, the gardens formally close down at the end of October, but then they reopen in November 15 - December 31st for a light extravaganza called Gardens Aglow. From the website:

New England’s biggest and brightest light display, with over 650,000 lights!

I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

The cold is pretty biting, so the bonfire was a popular attraction. The girls spent about an hour or so there before retreating home to warmth and a marathon of Christmas movies.

I love this new tradition.

Do you have any similar light displays near you?