A Taste For Romance by Virginia CampbellThere has never been a time in my life when I have been without the companionship of devoted, furry, four-legged friends. For someone like me, a solitary person, there is no equal to the comfort, acceptance, and love provided by my precious pets. I shouldn't even call them pets--they really are my friends and family. I have recently lost two of my cat-children--my dear little freckle-faced boy named "Kid", and my majestic "black velvet" Elvis, who was the protector and guardian of our household. I am grieving for them, along with all of those who have gone before them, yet I can still find a chuckle or two in remembering their antics.
During our lifetime together, Mom and I and took in many rescue animals. First it was the dogs, and then the cats came. However, when I was growing up, my family owned a number of Boston Terriers, also known as "BTs". They are really wonderful little dogs, and the ones we had the longest were two sisters. I was nine when we got them, and they stayed with us until I was about twenty years old. My grandmother had a fondness for English Bulldogs, which were the dogs of her childhood, but my grandfather was not quite so fond of the breed. They compromised with the BTs, and we had many wonderful years shared with little black and white "mushed-face" dogs. The two sisters were real characters, and they had opposite personalities. One was slightly aggressive, and the other was more meek in personality. They were very close, although they sometimes bickered just like human sisters.
We always wrapped presents for them under the tree, and they loved to rip up the paper and find their rawhide chews and other goodies. They had a couple of other holiday habits which took us a while to discover. We kept finding broken Christmas ornaments under the tree. These were the delicate, old-fashioned glass kind, and at first we thought they were falling off the tree and breaking on their own. Then we discovered the real cause of the destruction: the BT sisters were grabbing the little glass balls from the lower limbs of the tree and crunching them! They didn't seem to be swallowing the pieces, they just enjoyed the snap, crackle, pop of the crunching glass. We had to put all non-glass ornaments on the limbs within their reach, and they would sit and look at the tree like they were expecting something! Those dogs were also nog-nippers. Anyone who sat a glass of eggnog within their reach would notice eggnog missing from their glass. When we caught the BTs with eggnog mustaches, we knew who to blame!
One of the most offbeat Christmas gifts that I have ever received was a Betta Fish. This present came after my home had become a cat refuge, and it came from people who had known me for a long, long time. People who knew I had a houseful of cats and still gave me a fish as a present. A beautiful fish, beautifully presented in bowl with greenery, but still a swimmy, swishy, swirly fish whose movements caught the eyes of the cats. I tried moving the fish bowl different places in the house, but I knew it was a lost cause from the first time I looked at Mr. Fish. My mother begged me not to go back to work after the holiday and leave her alone with the cats and the fish. I packed Mr. Fish up as best I could so he would be secure for his return car trip to the home of the clueless gift givers. I apologized to him all the way to their house, reassuring him that it was nothing personal and that it was in his best interest to be returned to the givers. They were not pleased that I returned the fish--even years later they would bring it up in conversation. My Southern manners would not allow me to say what I really wanted to say, but inside I was dying to let it out!
Mom loved yard sales, and I was her chauffeur. At one particular yard sale I didn't buy anything, but I gained one of the greatest treasures of my life. The lady holding the sale had found an adorable little black dog which she couldn’t keep, and she said she would have to find him a home or take him to the animal shelter. He was so bright-eyed, cute, and friendly, and he followed me all over her yard. I already had other dogs, but several days later, I went back and got him. He was a little mixed mini-dachshund, and I named him “Max”. He lived to be almost 20 years old. He was the light of my life. He never thought small–he thought he was a Rottweiler! As a matter of fact, one of his many, many nicknames was “Baby Rottweiler” : ) He had a “radar ear” which seemed to rotate in many directions. He communicated his feelings with that ear! He was always lively, but in his later years, he had a little trouble getting around. He had arthritis and other problems, but he was still "Mad Max". One holiday season, I ordered Mom a Whiskey Cake from Downey's Restaurant in Philadelphia. We had seen the cakes on a home-shopping program on TV, and I knew Mom would enjoy the treat. The first time we sampled the cake, we both agreed that it was delicious, and worth the extravagance. As soon as we unwrapped the cake, and tasted it, Max showed a keen interest in what we were eating. He gave us a piercing stare with the radar ear at a sharp angle. I spooned up a little cake with some of the whiskey syrup (just a tiny amount), and Max loved it! He almost ate the spoon, and then he gave his whiskers a good cleaning. Mom and I had a good laugh, and the next thing we knew, we heard snoring! It was Max, in a blissful whiskey-cake induced sleep. The three of us shared that cake, making the most of it for as long as we could. Marvelous, magical, mischievous Max--I miss you so!
I certainly could not write about animals and the holidays without telling the story of my cats and the ham dance. My very dear friend Jan, who comments here sometimes, is "The Greatest Ham Cooker Ever". She is so very kind and generous and cooks me a ham and brings me wonderful homemade treats for Christmas. The first time she brought the ham, the cats and I were ecstatic--you would be overjoyed too if someone brought you a superbly cooked ham with pineapple and cherries, and it was still warm from the oven!!! As soon as she left, just barely out of sight, the cats and I started the ham dance. We were on the front porch, in the dark, acting like famished fools about to fall upon that holiday ham, and we were unaware that my mother's best friend had quietly come through the front gate and was watching us. Mom had been gone for a while, but her friend still came by on occasion. Mom would have felt the joy of the ham and joined us in the ham dance. Her friend did not share our sense of humor and our closeness with our pets. When I turned around, and she was right behind me, I almost jumped off the porch! She was looking at me very strangely, and she asked me if I was okay. After just a slight pause, I responded: "Never better!", and I offered her some ham.
The ham dance is a much-loved annual tradition between Jan and me and the cats. I make her my Garlic Cheddar Biscuits for her own ham, and we are all well-satisfied...and well-stuffed. The ham dance...don't knock it until you've tried it.
Do you have favorite and funny animal stories from the holidays to share? What are some really strange gifts that you've received? I come from a fruitcake-loving family. Fruitcake--do you, or don't you? What is your all-time favorite holiday treat?
FOR YOUR HOLIDAY READING ENJOYMENT:
"1225 Christmas Tree Lane"---Debbie Macomber writes wonderful romances with an involving immediacy of characterizations. She makes the people very real for the reader and quickly draws you into the story line. Review...
"Snowflakes and Stetsons" by Jillian Hart, Carol Finch, and Cheryl St.John---A perfect example of why I have come to really enjoy anthologies: A trio of terrific tales written by three talented authors of the historical western romance genre. Each story is quite different, yet each tale offers poignant romance, and touch of humor, and a satisfying serving of seasonal spirit. Review...
"The Nine Lives of Christmas" is a perfect little holiday present for lovers of poignant and funny romance, ornery and endearing pets, and finding the spirit of the season in unexpected places. Author Sheila Roberts gifts her readers with a terrific, touching tale of a tabby cat named Ambrose down to his ninth, and last, chance of finding a happy home for keeps. Review...
"Christmas in Sugarcreek" is the fourth and final book in Shelley Shepard Gray's series "Seasons of Sugarcreek". I have not read the first three books, but I plan to correct that very soon! A few pages into this book, and I was hooked. The characters are wonderfully etched, and I was immediately drawn into the story line. I fell in love with Ben outright--his strength, gentleness and humility were so very appealing.
Simply Superb Stroganoff
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 small yellow onion, sliced
1 16oz. carton French onion dip
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 small can or jar of sliced mushrooms, drained
1 pint cream
1/8 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
pinch of paprika
salt to taste
1 large bag of egg noodles
Spray a Dutch Oven lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Brown beef and drain excess grease. Reduce heat to low and stir in sliced onion. Stir constantly until onion softens. Add in remaining ingredients except egg noodles. If needed, mixture may be thinned with milk. Heat through, stirring occasionally. Serve over hot cooked noodles.
Holiday Gumdrop Cookies
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. margarine, softened
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
2 c. quick-cooking oatmeal, uncooked
1 c. flaked coconut
1 c. chopped pecans
1 c. gumdrops, sliced
Blend together butter, margarine and one cup sugar. Stir in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla until well mixed; set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to butter mixture and mix well. Stir in the next 4 ingredients just until mixed; chill dough about one hour. With floured hands, roll dough into 1-1/2 inch balls. Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Flatten cookies using the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen.
Glazed Whiskey Cake
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 yellow cake mix
1 small package instant vanilla pudding mix
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup Whiskey
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/2 cup cold water
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 stick butter
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 cup Whiskey (to your taste)
Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease and flour a bundt or tube pan. Sprinkle nuts over bottom of pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine remaining cake ingredients in order given, and mix well. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool; invert onto plate. Prick holes in cake. Prepare glaze: Melt butter in saucepan. Add water and sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in whiskey. Drizzle glaze over top and sides, allowing it to be absorbed into cake. Continue until all glaze is used. Cake should set at least one day before serving.
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1 (27 oz.) jar prepared mincemeat
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups (1 lb.) mixed candied fruit
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts
Heat oven to 300ºF. Coat a 10-cup fluted baking pan with no-stick cooking spray. Stir together flour and baking soda. Combine eggs, mincemeat, sweetened condensed milk, candied fruit and nuts in large bowl. Blend in dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 1 hour, 45 minutes to 1 hour, 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes. Remove from pan. Garnish as desired.
FRUITCAKE BARS: Coat 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan with no-stick cooking spray. Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Cool. Glaze, if desired. Makes about 4 dozen bars.
FRUITCAKE COOKIES: Coat baking sheets with no-stick cooking spray. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Bake 15 to 18 minutes. Makes about 5 1/2 dozen cookies.
Tangy Holiday Chutney
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup raisins, chopped
1/2 cup dates, chopped
1/2 cup honey
Place tomato sauce, dried fruit, and honey in medium saucepan; mix well. Cook over medium heat until gently bubbling around edges. Reduce heat and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until most of liquid is absorbed. Serve warm or at room temperature with roasted turkey, chicken or pork.
Holiday Wassail Punch
1 (64-ounce) container apple cider
2 cups orange juice
1 (64-ounce) container cranberry-raspberry juice
4 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, sliced thick, slices studded with whole cloves
Combine all ingredients in a large slow cooker (at least 5 to 6 quart size). Heat on High setting until mixture is steamy. Reduce to low setting to keep at serving temperature. Stir occasionally.
Garlic Cheddar Biscuits
"wonderful with sliced ham"
2 cups biscuit mix
1 tsp. California--style garlic salt (with parsley flakes)
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 tbsp. sugar
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (regular shred works better than fine shred)
2/3 cup milk*
if desired, melted butter for biscuit tops
In large mixing bowl, combine biscuit mix, garlic salt, paprika, and sugar. Stir in shredded cheese. Add milk, mixing well. *The cheese sometimes absorbs the milk, so you may need to add a little more milk to make a softer dough. On floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut out biscuits and place with sides touching on baking sheet. Bake at 425 F for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. If desired, brush biscuit tops with melted butter before serving.
Causes Virginia Campbell Supports
I live in a very small town with few job opportunities. I would love to be employed in a position which allowed me to promote literacy and put books in the...