Holiday mish-mash: Santa tracking, food, and fun

This time of year, my email inbox is jam-packed with all kinds of goodies to share with my readers. I include as many as possible of those I think you'll enjoy in my annual Holiday Guide. Yet, as myriad merry mailings arrive long after I've completed the guide, I always end up with a handful that I never get around to sharing with my readers.

Not this year though! This year I'm passing along the best of all the rest, right here, right now (in, quite honestly, a rather lazy fashion, by using much of the text directly from the mailings in which the goodies were sent).

As I've not tried out all of these, I'd love to hear what you think, which ones you found worth sharing with the kids you know, grand or otherwise. And I really want to know which recipes you try and love...or not...especially those scrumptious-sounding Surprise Package Cookies.

Happy holiday fun!


This game is a fun project for kids to put together and ideal for building early reading skills. The free download includes the game board, pieces and instructions. Click the preview graphic below to download the PDF game from StudyDog for printing on sturdy paper.



Living in Colorado Springs as I do—the home of NORAD—I often forget that many folks may not know about this little treat. I'm happy they sent me a press release reminder that included the following:

The NORAD Tracks Santa website,, includes a Countdown to Track Santa clock as well as a Kid's Countdown Village, holiday games and information about Operation Goodwill, which provides links to organizations that support service members and their families. Starting at 12 a.m. MST (2 a.m. EST) on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa as he makes all the preparations for his flight. See it here:

Then, at 4 a.m. MST (6 a.m. EST), trackers worldwide can talk to a live phone operator to inquire about Santa's whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an e-mail to NORAD's "Santa cams" will also stream videos as Santa makes his way over various locations worldwide.

Parents and children can also count down the days until Santa's worldwide flight on their smart phones using free apps available in the Apple iTunes Store, Google Play, and Windows Marketplace. Tracking opportunities are also offered on Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and Twitter. Santa followers just need to type "@noradsanta" into each search engine to get started.



Hungry Santa
Fatten up Santa before Christmas. Tilt the device to move Santa’s mouth under falling treats, but watch out for the healthy broccoli. Santa gets fatter and fatter as he chomps on all the goodies. Give him some fatty bonuses by bouncing the treats off his belly before he eats them, or eating long strings of treats all in a row. Go for the elusive “Crazy Chomp” bonus. You can’t play this one without laughing out loud. Free.

Gingerbread Crazy Chef Cookie Maker
The tradition of leaving cookies for Santa has never been as fun and no-fuss as this. Gingerbread Crazy Chef is an innovative app that kids and parents can use together to create the most colorful, playful and crazy holiday cookies to leave for the Jolly Old Elf on Christmas Eve. Choose the shape, mix the ingredients and make “digital cookies” for Santa. Best of all? No mess and no clean-up! Great for kids, families and parents with children. Free.

Cut the Rope: Holiday Gift
From the creators of Cut the Rope, comes the Special Holiday Gift game, which combines all the outstanding physics, devilishly tricky levels, and bright colorful visuals of the original — with a festive winter feel. SHAKE your iPhone for a special surprise! Swipe your finger to cut the ropes and feed Om Nom candy. Don’t forget to collect stars as you play. Think before you cut, and be sure to avoid spiders, spikes and other obstacles … getting that candy to Om Nom won’t be easy! Free.

Santa’s Village
The perfect game for the whole family. Help Santa by building a bigger and better village, and save Christmas from being ruined by the Grumpkins. Start by building homes for Santa's elves, create a toy factory and make lots of toys, teach reindeer how to fly, and meet magical neighbors like Yobo the Yeti. Unlock special buildings and colorful decorations to make your village even merrier. Free.

Snowman Maker Plus
The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful … and since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Yes, you can sit by the fire AND build an adorable, realistic looking snowman when you play Snowman Maker. Free.

Holiday Rider
Makes car time for the holidays fun again! Whether you're by yourself or with the whole family, you can test your holiday trivia knowledge with our eyes free, hands free interface that uses your voice! Check our 15 levels of awesome holiday knowledge and see if you can master the 15 questions per round. That's two hours of awesomeness. It's great for those rides to grandma's house, or just for your daily drive. Free.



Yield: 3-½ dozen
Prep: 25 min. 
Bake: 10 min./batch

Each of these buttery cookies has a chocolate mint candy inside," says Lorraine Meyer of Bend, Oregon. "They're my very favorite cookie and are always part of our Christmas cookie trays.
-- Lorraine Meyer, Bend, Oregon


1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
65 mint Andes candies

1. In a bowl, cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until easy to handle.

2. With floured hands, shape a tablespoonful of dough around 42 candies, forming rectangular cookies. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets.

3. Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool. In a microwave or saucepan, melt the remaining candies; drizzle over cookies.

• • • •

Yield: 3-1/2 quarts
Prep: 50 min. + chilling

After just one taste, folks will know this holiday treat is homemade, not a store-bought variety.
-- Pat Waymire, Yellow Springs, Ohio, Field Editor


12 eggs
1-½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 quarts whole milk, divided
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Additional nutmeg, optional

1. In a heavy 4-qt. saucepan, whisk together eggs, sugar and salt. Gradually add 1 qt. of milk. Cook and stir over low heat until a thermometer reads 160°-170°, about 30-35 minutes.

2. Pour into a large heatproof bowl; stir in the vanilla, nutmeg and remaining milk. Place bowl in an ice-water bath, stirring frequently until mixture is cool. If mixture separates, process in a blender until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

3. When ready to serve, beat cream in a large bowl on high until soft peaks form; whisk gently into cooled milk mixture. Pour into a chilled 5-qt. punch bowl. Sprinkle with nutmeg if desired.

Editor's Note: Eggnog may be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for several days. Whisk before serving.

• • • •

Yield: 12 servings
Prep: 65 min. + chilling
Bake: 15 min. + cooling

This eye-catching dessert is guaranteed to delight holiday dinner guests. Chocolate lovers will lick their lips over the yummy cocoa cake, mocha filling and frosting. For a festive touch, I garnish the log with marzipan holly leaves and berries.
-- Jenny Hughson, Mitchell, Nebraska, Former Field Editor


5 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
½ cup cake flour
¼ cup baking cocoa
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup confectioners' sugar
1-½ teaspoons instant coffee granules

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup baking cocoa
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1-½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon brewed coffee
2 to 3 tablespoons 2% milk

1. Line a 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan with parchment paper; grease the paper. Place egg whites in a small bowl; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks on high until light and fluffy. Gradually add ½ cup sugar, beating until thick and lemon-colored. Combine the flour, cocoa and salt; gradually add to egg yolk mixture until blended.

3. Beat egg whites on medium until foamy. Add cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high until stiff peaks form. Stir a fourth into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining egg whites until no streaks remain.

4. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until the cake springs back (do not overbake). Cool for 5 minutes; invert onto a linen towel dusted with confectioners' sugar. Peel off parchment paper. Roll up in the towel, starting with a short side. Cool on a wire rack.

5. In a large bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add confectioners' sugar and coffee granules. Beat until stiff peaks form; chill. Unroll cooled cake; spread filling to within ½ in. of edges. Roll up again. Place on serving platter; chill.

6. In a large bowl, beat frosting ingredients until smooth. Frost cake. Using a fork, make lines resembling tree bark.

• • • •

Yield: 10-12 servings
Prep: 15 min.
Bake: 2 hours + standing

My mom topped beef roast with bacon and onion. Whenever I prepare it, I can't help but reminisce about the wonderful life she gave me and my brothers. 
-- Betty Abel Jellencich, Utica, New York


1 bone-in beef rib roast (4 to 5 pounds)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 small onion, sliced
6 to 8 bacon strips

1. Place the roast, fat side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Rub with the garlic, salt and pepper; top with onion and bacon.

2. Bake, uncovered, at 325° for 2-3 hours or until meat reaches desired doneness (for medium-rare, a thermometer should read 145°; medium, 160°; well-done, 170°).

3. Transfer to warm serving platter. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

• • • •

Yield: about 3-½ quarts
Prep/total time: 25 min. 

Cloves and cinnamon dress up a blend of fruit juices for special occasions. The spicy warm drink is sure to help you forget about any nip in the air.
-- Dorothy Anderson, Ottawa, Kansas


    2 quarts apple cider
    2 cups orange juice
    2 cups pineapple juice
    ½ cup sugar
    ½ cup lemon juice
    12 whole cloves
    4 cinnamon sticks (3 to 4 inches)
    Orange slices and cranberries, optional

1. In a Dutch oven, bring the first seven ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes.

2. Discard the cinnamon and cloves. Garnish with orange slices and cranberries if desired. Serve warm.  

All recipes above reprinted with permission from Taste of Home. For more information, visit, and follow on Facebook and Twitter



Peppermint HINT Martini

2 ounces HINT Peppermint water
1.5 ounces  vodka
1 ounce 100% cranberry juice
Approximately 1 ounce seltzer water
Ice cubes
1 mint leaf for garnish

In a cocktail shaker, combine vodka, Peppermint HINT, cranberry juice, and ice; shake until well combined. Strain into chilled glass and top with seltzer water. Garnish with mint; serve immediately. Serves 1. Nutrition facts: 122 calories, 13.9 grams alcohol, 0 grams fat, 6.8 grams carbohydrate, 6.8 grams sugar, 0 grams fiber, 0 grams protein, 1.5 mg sodium

• • • •

Peppermint HINT Blueberry Blitzer

3 ounces Peppermint HINT
2 ounces 100% cranberry juice
1 ounce seltzer water
Ice cubes
Approximately 1/4 cup blueberries

Muddle blueberries and add to a chilled glass. In a cocktail shaker, combine Peppermint HINT, cranberry juice, seltzer water and ice; shake until well combined. Strain into chilled glass; serve immediately. Serves 1. Nutrition facts: 46 calories, 0 grams fat, 12.2 grams carbohydrate, 10.5 grams sugar, 1 gram fiber, 0 grams protein, 1.5 mg sodium

Today's Christmas-y question:

Were you ever in a Christmas or holiday program? If so, what part did you play?