Welcome Christmas, but not the mouse

MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone! How did this wonderful season speed up so much! Anyway, whether we are ready or not, it is here for us to enjoy every minute of it. The little ones just think they can’t wait until tomorrow morning, and some of the older ones think that, too. The beautiful services in the churches will gladden the hearts of all of us this morning AND evening and the bells at midnight will be magical to hear. One of my favorite recordings is of the cathedral bells at Christmas time. As of this writing, a White Christmas is still in the questionable “dream world”, but we can hope. Remember, at Christmas time, no candy or cookies have calories, so enjoy every one you eat!

It seems that daily we hear of troubles, natural and man-made, everywhere. In our own valley, there are folks who must rely on the “free meals” offered by various churches and other groups just to have something to eat. The Food Pantries help, but can’t offer meals to those who have no home in which to cook them. There are so many, children included, who don’t know where they can sleep out of the weather and cold each night. Keep these folks in your prayers and help all you can – by donating winter clothes that are clean and still good, adding a few cans for the food pantries when you grocery shop, stick an extra dollar to the Salvation Army kettles, and even donating your time to help cook at the dinners or shelters. Some groups are not as “helping” as they should be, but there are many really good groups that do help those who need it. The “Toys for Tots” is very active in our area and glad to get new toys for children who would not have a Christmas without them. Now is too late to help them this year, but throughout this coming year, one can get an occasional toy and put it back to donate as soon as they start to collect them next year.

Many groups help those less fortunate to enjoy this holiday and they always can use an extra hand. No one is a stranger and it helps the “giver” even more than it helps the “receiver”. As the saying goes – Try it; you’ll like it. Encourage your young folks to do this with you. It helps them to see others who need help and takes some of that wanting everything for themselves away – a good lesson for their future lives. I am always glad to help those who truly need a helping hand. I have no use for those who are able but refuse to work or do anything for themselves and think they are entitled to live off the work of others.

Christmas time is a time for traditions and several requests were sent to me about something I had written many years ago, so I will be “traditional” this year and repeat it. I hope you enjoy the story of our wild, Christmas experience.

“THE MOUSE THAT STOLE CHRISTMAS”

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,

No one was sleeping because of that mouse!

Stockings which had been hung by the chimney with care,

Had holes nibbled in them – held nothing but air!

The dogs had all snuggled all snug on my bed –

No thoughts of mouse hunting had entered their heads.

And Norm in his PJ’s and me in my gown

Had just turned off the news of Parkersburg town,

When out in the kitchen I heard a pan fall,

And ran to the door to look at it all.

I ran to the counter: I saw a grey flash.

I knew in a moment it would be a clash!

The sugar that spilled looked like new fallen snow,

While cookies lay broken and crumbled below.

Then what to my maddening eyes did appear

But a beady-eyed mouse with a menacing sneer!

With whiskers that twitched and movements so quick,

I knew in a moment he wasn’t St. Nick!

More rapid than rabbits, the dogs, here they came,

In pure frustration I called them by name.

Now, Alex! Now, Klingon! Now, Heidi! Now, Fats!

If you don’t catch that mouse, I will trade you for cats!

As flour in a mixer on the counter will fly,

So went the cookies and candies right up to the sky.

Up on the counter, the pooches, they flew,

Then down on the floor went the cakes, too!

All of my work; the cooking; the kneading;

The dipping in chocolate; the Christmas bread seeding;

The money spend for flour and, also, the yeast –

Now all destroyed by that mouse’s feast!

I might have relented and said, “He enjoyed”

If he hadn’t pushed too far in what he destroyed.

The candy I made just for myself

And hid away back there on the shelf.

He tasted each one, knocked them on the flour,

Then he scurried away, right under the door.

The screaming and yelling and barking so loud

Destroyed “Peace on Earth” in this family’s yard!

Here’s a note to that mouse, “Better stay out of sight!

Or you’ll be a treat on this Christmas night.

I’ll hunt you and catch you here on the mat,

And dip you in chocolate as a gift for the cat!”

Merry Christmas, everyone, even Mouse!

***

PATTY’S PRIVATE STOCK

1/2 stick butter

2 to 3 tablespoons bourbon (or rum)

Confectioners’ sugar – enough to make a workable fondant

Hazelnuts or pecans halves

Dark chocolate dipping chocolate

Knead together butter, bourbon, and sugar until smooth and the consistency to make candy centers. Take a teaspoon of the fondant and wrap around a hazelnut (filbert) or pecan half. Make certain the nut is completely enclosed. Place on waxed paper covered cookie sheet and let stand at least 1 hour. Melt the candy coating and dip the centers in, place on the waxed paper lined sheet and let harden in the refrigerator. CANDY IS FOR ADULTS ONLY!

***

CINNAMON CANDY POPCORN

8 quarts popped popcorn

1 cup butter

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 package (about 9 oz.) red-hot cinnamon candies

Put popcorn in a large bowl. In a saucepan, combine butter (or margarine), corn syrup, and candies. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour this mixture over the popped popcorn and mix thoroughly. Turn onto 2 greased jelly-roll cookie sheets and bake in preheated 250-degrees for 1 hour, stirring every fifteen minutes. Remove from the pans and place on waxed (or parchment) paper to cool. When cool, break apart and then store in airtight containers.

NOTE: This can be formed into Popcorn Balls when removed from the oven (after it is cool enough to handle!). If you add a candy cane to the balls, they can be hung on the Christmas tree.

***

CARAMEL CORN

10 cups popped popcorn

1 cup pecan halves

1 cup whole blanched almonds

1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar

1 cup butter

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon rum extract

Toast the nuts – it brings out the flavor. Combine popcorn and nuts. In a saucepan, combine sugar, butter, syrup, and cream of tartar. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then cook without stirring, over medium heat, until the mixture reaches hard-crack stage – 300- to 310-degrees on candy thermometer. Remove from the heat and stir in baking soda and rum extract. Immediately pour over the popcorn and nuts. Toss gently and spread out in 2 greased large cookie sheets. Cool completely and break into chunks.

***

“NUTS AND BOLTS”

1 1/2 cups each of wheat and rice Chex

2 cups pretzels, broken

1 to 2 cups salted mixed nuts

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon each garlic, celery, and onion salts

Combine Chex, pretzels, and nuts and place in shallow backing pans. Stir together the remaining ingredients and pour over the cereal mixture and toss. Bake 30 minutes in preheated 300-degrees oven, stirring often. Cool and store in airtight container.

***

OLD-FASHIONED PEANUT BRITTLE

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup raw (or dry-roasted) peanuts

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cook sugar, corn syrup and salt over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Boil without stirring until candy thermometer reaches 310 degrees – about 5 minutes. Add peanuts and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer or until temperature reaches 280-degrees. The mixture should be a golden brown. Remove from the heat and stir in butter, then other ingredients. Pour into a buttered jelly roll pan and spread mixture into a thin layer with the back of a wooden spoon. Let stand at least 5 minutes or until hardened before breaking into pieces. Store in airtight container.

***

Patty Christopher is a longtime food columnist for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

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