Christmas season really jumped in on us in a hurry this year. I don't know why it has surprised me so much as it does that every year, but this year seemed even more rapid. Guess getting older slows one down somewhat and days just go faster than we want them to do so. Anyway, as usual, I am nowhere ready for the season. One good thing, all I have to do is take the flowers off the tree and put the Christmas ornaments on it for a decorated tree. My sister-in-law gave me that idea years ago and it has saved me a lot of work. We have really enjoyed that lighted tree with flowers all year and there have been no storage problems to conquer. The kids use it as a nightlight when they stay over and it relaxing to sit and read by it with a cup of hot tea iced tea in the summer. I don't consider us lazy just smart.
We recently returned from a visit to the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. The weather was perfect, the food great (Southern fried catfish.), the natives very friendly and the gas prices around three dollars a gallon. That area is mainly a retirement area and considered one of the best in the country with a change of seasons but still very moderate in temperature and moderate living expenses. Years ago, we had considered planning our own retirement there, but life interfered and we stayed here in the valley. Now, the grandkids are still in school and neither of us wants to be away from watching them grow up. No matter how nice an area might be, if family and friends aren't there, it would be mighty lonesome. So we just visit and husband Norm looks longingly at the five golf courses there. Maybe someday.
What was supposed to be a relaxing week turned into a "ride in the car" several days as we had to leave Tennessee and drive to Delaware to close up the summer house. We haven't taken much advantage of Norm's mother's house on the water since he has been so busy and it is some distance away with limited time to enjoy it. It really would be nice to be able to clone one's self in order to take advantage of all the things we like to do. One of my favorite stores is over there (Goodwill.), and I took the chance to get another stack of books. Norm asked if I thought I really needed them, but he did carry them for me and didn't complain about it. I guess I should start a lending library.
All in all, it turned into a relaxing time away from work, but I had my doubts as we started out. Norm was fighting a bad cold he rarely is ever not feeling well and you know how some folks are when they don't feel up to par. I felt sorry for him, then started feeling sorry for me as he loudly told other drivers what he thought about their driving. If they had been able to hear him, there might have been an example of "road rage." Of course, the car had to show itself, but it was quickly and easily handled by some very friendly mechanics who just happened to be in the right place when we needed them. Thankfully, he started feeling better and the grumbling slowed. The place we stayed had a great fireplace and all that was needed for a roaring fire was to call the front desk and firewood was delivered.
A warning to all spouses if your guy or gal isn't feeling great, delay that car trip for a day or two. A closed environment, like a car, with someone just ill enough to complain about it constantly is a bad way to start a vacation. Thankfully, Norm got better and we ended up having a nice time, even if the GPS sent us through downtown Washington, right down Independence Avenue.
It was a joy to see the houses decorated for Christmas as we drove through the countryside. That inspired me to get busy as soon as I got home to do the same. I still have baking and cooking not entirely finished, but it is a pleasure to do it. I may be shopping on Christmas Eve (a new experience) but I will be ready. No one but me knows what I want to do, so, if it doesn't get done, no one will know. Too late in life I have quit being critical of what I don't get done and just being glad for what does get finished. What is the old saying, "Too soon old, too late smart.".
This is the second Sunday in Advent. As we light the second candle, it is a time to continue getting our hearts ready for Christmas. Too often, we get so busy with life that we forget that the peace and joy of this season should stay with us all year. Do something nice for someone who isn't expecting it. Share your time, talents and fortune as much as you can with someone who needs it. Keep a smile on your face and a happy voice even when you may not really feel like it, and it will help you to feel more like Christmas. This is a good time to instill in the children that we should all help each other as best we can.
So enjoy this wonderful season. Don't overdo buying gifts, cooking, cleaning, etc. Sit by the fireside, drink a cup of Christmas tea and count your blessings.
31/2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup water
One- fourth to one-half teaspoon flavoring oil
1 teaspoon food coloring
Using a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup and water. Cook on medium-high heat until mixture reaches three hundred degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir until sugar dissolves, then occasionally. Remove from heat and add oil and coloring. Immediately pour into an oiled cookie sheet. Cool and break into pieces. Store in airtight container.
Good combinations are cinnamon and red coloring, peppermint flavoring with green coloring, and lemon with yellow coloring. You can make any flavor and color you like, using this method. The oils I use are the little ones you buy on a card in the drug store or grocery. Use oil, not extract, and watch when you add the oil to keep your face away as the odor is very strong.
(This is the easiest of any confections to make)
Using dried apricots and melting chocolate dark, milk or white dip the apricots into the melted chocolate coating. Place on waxed paper to harden. These can be totally dipped or half-dipped. Two other variations on this theme are to put raisins and/or nuts in the melted chocolate and dip out by the spoonful onto waxed paper. Get a bag of twisted pretzels and dip in the same manner. White chocolate with red and green sprinkles are especially festive.
SOUTHERN LANE CAKE
1 cup butter
Two cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
31/2 teaspoons baking powder
Three-fourths teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
8 egg whites, beaten
Cream butter until smooth; add sugar gradually and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with egg whites. Pour batter into four round 9-inch cake pans that have been greased and lined with parchment paper. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for about 20 minutes. (If you have only two pans, bake half the batter at a time.) After removing the cakes from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes, then turn out on wire racks to cool. Spread Lane Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Cake is best if stored several days before serving. Some recipes for Lane Cake use a Marshmallow Frosting on the sides of the cake.
8 egg yolks
1 1/4 cup sugar
One-half cup butter or margarine
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup finely chopped seedless raisins
1 cup flaked or freshly grated coconut
1 cup finely cut candied cherries
One-fourth teaspoon salt
One-half cup whiskey or fruit juice
Beat egg yolks slightly; add sugar and butter. Place in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until sugar is dissolved and mixture is slightly thickened. Do not overcook or let egg yolks become scrambled in appearance. Mixture should be almost transparent. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. Let cool before spreading. HINT: use a double boiler. It doesn't scramble the eggs as easily.
EASY BUTTERCREAMS TO DIP IN
2 pounds sifted powdered sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 can condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
Flavorings and colors of your choice
Mix ingredients together and knead until smooth. Divide into several parts and use different flavors and colors in each part. Roll into small balls. If too soft, chill before dipping in the chocolate of your choice. Examples: Lemon flavoring and yellow coloring; Mint flavoring and green coloring; Cherry flavoring and red coloring; Orange flavoring and orange coloring or yellow with a drop of red coloring; Rum flavoring with natural color; Vanilla flavoring and natural color.
COCONUT CENTERS FOR BONBONS
One-fourth cup light corn syrup
6 large marshmallows
1 cup dissicated or macaroon coconut
One-helf teaspoon vanilla
Cook marshmallows, quartered, and corn syrup in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring gently until melted. Remove from heat, add vanilla, then coconut. Let cool enough to handle, then shape into balls. Dip in your choice of melted dipping chocolate.
21/2cups dissicated coconut
Three-fourths cup light corn syrup
Combine ingredients and let set for 30 minutes. Form into small balls and dip. NOTE: If you don't have dessicated coconut, use regular coconut and put it into the food processor and process until it is quite fine.
Patty Christopher is a longtime food columnist for the Parkersburg News & Sentinel. Contact her at email@example.com.