Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Snacks for a Christmas Journey

Shalom Friends! At least that is how I will be greeting people in my family, my very large family, over the next few days. I will be portraying a fictional Jewish woman, Naomi, who will travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem with her husband, Gaddiel, daughter, Elizabeth, and a large, newly-acquired "family" in order to pay their taxes. During the course of our Journey, we will encounter Roman soldiers, three magi who have been following a new star, shepherds who are visited by an angel, a rabbi and his students who are studying the Old Testament prophets, and tax collectors - all before we finally make it to Bethlehem. Once we do make it to Bethlehem, we will be turned away at the inn. In our efforts to find a place to stay, however, we will have our own personal encounter with Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus.

This is all part of my church's annual presentation of Journey to Bethlehem. We have been presenting Journey to Bethlehem since 1997. It is a live, outdoor nativity event that we offer as a free gift to the community. As our guests arrive, they are placed into "families" who will then experience about a 45-minute journey as part of Gaddiel and Naomi's family.

An event such as Journey to Bethlehem requires a large cast and crew. During the course of each night, the cast and crew always are ready to enjoy a snack or two to keep our energy going as we are able to catch a momentary break. For this post, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite Journey to Bethlehem snacks that seem to be hits with kids through adults. They are rather portable and easily consumed. They are also relatively easy to put together which is always a bonus during Journey week.

Caramel Cereal Mix
I prefer to use the Chex brand cereals, but any type of crispy corn and rice square cereal will do.
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons margarine or butter
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 cups crispy rice square cereal
  • 4 cups crispy corn square cereal
Microwave the brown sugar, margarine, and corn syrup in a large microwaveable bowl uncovered on high for 1-2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute, until margarine is melted
Stir in baking soda until dissolved. 
Stir in cereals. 
Microwave on high for 3 minutes, stirring every minute. Caution: the bowl will get hot so handle carefully.
Spread out onto a large cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Allow to cool and break into pieces. 
Store in an airtight container. The Christmas-themed plastic containers that are available this time of year work great and are a ready-to-go serving bowl.

Popcorn balls
These turn out nice and soft and caramel-y. They do take a bit of time because you need to boil the caramel coating on the stove, but they are well worth the effort.
  • 1/4 cup margarine or butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 bags of microwave popcorn, popped (I prefer to use a "light" variety to avoid too heavy of a butter taste - the caramel taste doesn't need any competition)
Pop the bags of popcorn and empty them into a very large container. I use a large stockpot. You will need the space for mixing the caramel mixture over the popped corn.
Combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until soft ball stage (234 to 238 degrees Fahrenheit). Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. 
Pour over the popcorn, toss the popcorn and caramel mixture together, shape into balls, and wrap in plastic wrap. Be careful - the caramel mixture will be hot!! At the same time, you need to work somewhat quickly because as the caramel mixture cools, it also hardens, making it more difficult to form the popcorn balls. I also spray my hands with non-stick spray to keep the caramel from sticking to my hands while forming the popcorn balls.
In the spirit of the Advent season, here is a Christmas hymn to listen to while preparing your own Christmas treats. This arrangement is by Red Mountain Music from Birmingham, Alabama. Their focus is arranging new music for all-but-forgotten hymn texts. Their album, Silent Night, is available from iTunes store as well as their website.
Shalom! and I hope to see you on the journey. Feel free to make some of these snacks for yourself and bring them along.