Shannon here: Angela Breidenbach shares a romantic excerpt from her latest Historical Romance, Bride of the Rockies, plus a recipe for Caramel Corn. Comment or answer the question in this post to enter the drawing for an ebook copy. Deadline: Jan 15th, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Angela:
Bride of the Rockies romantic moment excerpt from chapter 4:
“Have you heard of candied popcorn?” Luke pointed at the busy booth on the thoroughfare. An ornate sign advertised A Cracker Jack, Sweet confection of popcorn with peanuts and molasses invented by Frederick William Rueckheim and Brother. The aroma of buttery popcorn and rich molasses wafted over to them floating in the warm, late spring air. His mouth watered at the scent.
Bettina indulged his sudden curiosity. “Cracker Jack. Yes, it’s delicious. Would you like to taste it?” Slipping her hand through his elbow, she tugged him along as she shared what she knew. “There’s a little shop that started selling earlier this year near where I live. It’s fun to get some and share it during readings, picnics, and parties.”
They parked themselves at the back of the long line. “That good?”
“Sweet chewy popcorn and peanuts in a candy sauce? Delectable.” She craned to see the front of the line. “I wish it wasn’t so sticky, but I can’t resist.”
“Then I’m sure I won’t be able to either.” He didn’t mean the Cracker Jack stand as he looked at her.
When Bettina glanced up, her green eyes caught the light. All he could do was stare.
Then she asked him to put words together coherently. “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself? Until today, the only thing I knew about Montana and its people is that they became a state four years ago. That’s not very long to become civilized. I’m so curious.” She shrugged with a half-smile. “Well, and I now know much more about the flora from visiting your exhibit.”
“You realize there’s more than one Montana exhibit? We’re a diverse population for as few of us as there are.”
“I haven’t been as far around the fair as I’d have liked today.” She turned her head to look around and lifted a shoulder slightly. “The sheer size of it is daunting. I’ve been able to take in several agricultural and botanical displays. But I didn’t look for any particular state presentations, other than a quick walk through a few buildings.” She admitted.
“Why did you come, if not to experience the world at your fingertips?”
“I came to connect with botanists more than anything.” She looked to see how the line was moving. “What other exhibits should I see when I come back?”
She planned to come back! What would she enjoy? “There’s the Montana Building full of crafts and skilled workmanship. You’ll learn our state has talents and resources that rival any in the known world. We’re much more civilized than you think.”
She giggled at his twitching lips. “That sounds like an interesting exhibit. What else?”
The mining exhibits would likely fascinate the scientist in Miss Gilbert, but Luke was after the opportunity to properly court her, if she wasn’t already spoken for. If she believed Montana offered civility and culture, there’d be one less hurdle to leap should she consider him husband material. “Then this evening one of our ladies will sing at the opening of the music hall.” He decided to take a chance. “Do you like music?”
“Yes.” She moved forward with him in the line. “But we’re supposed to be talking about you.”
“I like music.”
She laughed and his heart pounded a little harder. A wife with a gentle, but quick laugh. Yes, that would be a good quality. Humor could help weather hard times.
“What kind of music do you like?”
“Ah, too general I’m afraid. Please be more specific.”
More specific? That answer would satisfy most women. Could that mean true interest? He thought for a moment. “I suppose I enjoy marches that inspire and invigorate, like John Phillips Souza, and songs with words.”
She looked a little surprised. “Songs with words?”
“Songs I can sing when I’m working or want to take my mind off something difficult.”
“Oh, that’s interesting.” She considered his answer. “Then you like to sing as well. See? I learned something about you. Music is cultivated so therefore,” she paused and gave him a mischievous look down her nose, “I declare thou must be civilized.”
Her playful expression made him smile. “We Montanans are relatively sophisticated, Miss Gilbert. We’re even a cultured people. I’d be happy to prove it if I may escort you to the concert tonight?”
She grinned, but shook her head. “I do appreciate your thoughtful invitation. But I’ve promised to return home before dark. My parents are worried enough that I’m off alone.”
She’s from Chicago. “How did you manage to pull off such a feat then?”
“I explained the need to make connections with people I admire in my field. It’s not appropriate to take parents along for potential business contacts.”
“Wise on both sides.” They finally reached the cart and she waited while he ordered. Hands full of a box loaded with fresh caramel corn, peanuts sprinkled through it, Luke guided Bettina to the soda shop and managed to order sandwiches and sparkling refreshments in half the time it took to obtain the sweets. They found a shady spot next to a tree surrounded by droves of fair-goers picnicking or resting on the lawn and a duck quacking in the pond.
“All right, your turn. What interested you in botany?” He asked then separated a chunk of sticky stuff from the rest. He leaned back against the tree and chewed a bite as he listened, amused at the delicate way she handled the candied corn. Neither had chosen the sandwiches first.
“When my oldest brother began studying medicine, my father bought a microscope. I thought it was the most fascinating toy ever. I put everything I could find under it. Plant life fast became my favorite.” She picked a blade of grass. “Did you know you can see leaves breathe under a microscope? Actually, they’re undergoing photosynthesis and creating oxygen so we can breathe. But the way light becomes food in, say, a blade of grass is amazing.” She spun it between her thumb and forefinger. “Don’t you think?”
He thought he understood. “Where I see a blade of grass, you see a whole different world. Is that it?”
“Yes.” Bettina tilted her head. “But it’s more. I see ideas, solutions to many of the problems our world faces like starvation, healing, and even future inventions. Can you imagine what it would be like to discover a way to optimize crops for higher production? How many more people could we feed if crops produced even ten percent more? Lack of nutrition is the highest cause of illness and mortality. What if a new plant enzyme cured a childhood disease? Who’s going to cure tuberculosis?”
“You see all that in a plant?” His brows drew close. “What do you see when you look at an animal then? Or a human being?”
She peeked up from under the short brim of her pretty purple hat. “Complex. Human nature is part of that package.”
He chuckled. The woman before him could be described as that and then some. “How does one study the complexities of human nature?”
She dipped her chin and brushed her fingers across the grass.
He couldn’t see her face except for the gentle slope of her cheek and the length of her graceful neck. His fingers itched to brush her soft skin the way she touched the lawn.
“I don’t know. That’s why I chose plants.” Then she raised her face to him. “I’ve never been very comfortable with people. At school,” she gestured back toward the Woman’s Building, “and with people who enjoy the science of botany, I know how to communicate. But I’m less of a social person than most. I don’t understand how to—”
What was it about this woman that made him want to encourage her? “You’re doing fine with me.” Very fine, as a matter of fact. He doubted the conversation would be as stimulating with her if all she wanted to discuss were dresses, shopping, and gossip. “I’ve never thought of a blade of grass or a leaf breathing or making oxygen so I could breathe. You look at creation differently than anyone I’ve met before.”
Bettina grimaced. “I know. Again, I don’t know how to make small talk no matter how hard I try. Hence my mother fears I’ll never marry.” She shrugged.
“No beau then?”
Not spoken for. If he could leap for joy at the news, he would. He checked his excitement so as not to push her away. He might be on a time schedule with only these few months, but she didn’t need to know it.
Recipe for Romance.
I’d heard Cracker Jacks had their start at the Columbian Expedition of 1893, but then researching for this story I found quite a bit of truth in the story. The fun connection to my family is that I have been making caramel corn since I was 15. I had a disastrous job in a caramel corn shop in the mall, but boy did I learn to make the confection!
My husband and I have been making caramel corn together for friends and family now since we married back in 1998. We schedule the time in the evenings and on the weekend. Then we fill the orders. Yes, orders. The first time we did this together, he delivered to everyone to gleeful responses. Then after Christmas, they began returning the tins with the express request for more next Christmas!
So now we’ve created a tradition (and expectation) that we’ll deliver our own version of Cracker Jacks for years to come upon the return of a tin. We don’t mind at all. Every year there’s a sweetness in the air between us as we work together in the kitchen. And, then we must taste test each batch like little kids. It’s a tradition we refuse to miss with one another. Caramel corn time is an appointment scheduled and kept.
Would you like to start your own caramel corn tradition? Tip: Be sure you use a heavy insulated non-stick pan. A thin pan will cause burned caramel.
Here’s our recipe for Chewy Caramel Corn
12 cups of popped popcorn. (We do tend to use buttered microwave simply for the ease of it.) Keep it warm in a buttered pan or bowl. It also helps to use 2 bowls and an extra helper. I keep them in the oven on the lowest temp possible so the caramel stirs easier through it before hardening.
Making the caramel:
1 cup butter
2 cups dark brown sugar (trust me, don’t use light brown sugar)
½ cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
Melt and keep stirring over medium-low heat until it boils. Once boiling, set your timer for 5 minutes. Stir often. Turn off the heat after 5 minutes.
1 level teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Stir well. The reaction will cause a color change and foaming. Make sure to stir quickly being cautious of the hot caramel. Then pour out onto butcher paper to cool. I’ve also used buttered tin foil when in a pinch.
What not to do? Don’t bake it! Baking causes the caramel to harden into a candy coating. Nice, but second best. Chewy takes the prize.
In fact, it was the chewy caramel corn that originated for the 1893 fair. The candied baked corn came later as it was commercialized. Chewy caramel corn has a shorter shelf life. So after a ton of experimenting, Cracker Jacks baked for mass production. What you have here is closer to the original you’ll read about in Bride of the Rockies. And the dark brown sugar? Closer to the molasses of the original recipe that caused such a sticky mess.
If you can save some to share (not usually our first batch), you’ll have lifelong friends coming back with the tin!
About Angela: Angela Breidenbach is a professional genealogist, media personality, conference speaker, bestselling author of eighteen books, and screenwriter. Angela lives in Montana with her hubby and Muse, a trained fe-lion, who shakes hands, rolls over, and jumps through a hoop. Surprisingly, Angela can also. Catch her show and podcast, Genealogy Publishing Coach! Learn more & connect:
About the book – Bride of the Rockies (Book 5 – Queen of the Rockies series):
Would she give up her dream for love?
For botanist, Bettina Gilbert, mining is an offense against God’s green earth. With the shortage of women in Montana, Luke travels to Chicago to manage the Montana mining exhibition hoping to also find a wife. Only that pretty botanist keeps disrupting his mining presentations … and his chances of meeting the right woman! A city girl who despises his way of life would be the worst choice for a miner’s wife, wouldn’t she?
Can’t wait for the drawing? Worried you won’t win? Interested in Angela’s other titles?
Get your copy/copies now! Angela’s books – Amazon
Question for Readers: What tradition has been passed down in your family?
Come back Jan 11th for Sara Harris!