Vin bit lip as he looked over the list. He could get everything he would need easily enough, and the directions sounded pretty easy. He e-mailed Buck back, thanking him for getting him the information.
“Don’t forget to put nuts in the fudge,” was Buck’s response.
“I didn’t know the kid liked them,” Vin replied, wanting to get this right.
“He can go either way; but I love ‘em,” was the answer, with a big smiley face.
Vin looked over at his grinning friend, shook his head and gave him the finger.
Buck chuckled and went back the report he was working on.
Getting up, Vin headed into Chris’s office.
The blond man looked up as Vin entered.
“Got a question for ya,” Vin told him, closing the door.
Chris raised an eyebrow and indicated that he should take the chair. One of the things that Vin did as second in command was flagging Chris if he saw what could potentially be a problem. Frequently Vin would see the signs before Chris since he worked out in the playpen with them and Chris had a private office.
“Sarah ever make candy?”
Chris blinked, that was not the kind of question he was expecting. “Sometimes.”
“Did ya ever help her?”
“Not often; but occasionally if she was needing an extra set of hands I would stir or pour something. Usually I helped by getting Adam and myself out of her hair,” Chris replied.
“Ya know how to tell if something is a firm, but not hard ball?”
Chris said nothing but just looked at his friend. Apparently, Vin’s high stress job had gotten to him and he was losing his mind.
Vin took a deep breath. He knew that look; he had about six second to start explaining what he was up to.
“This one will be JD’s first Christmas without his mom. It’s going ta be a hard one.”
“I would imagine it would be,” Chris agreed. Both of his parents were still alive, and while not close to them he would hate facing the holidays without at least exchanging a phone call and knowing that they were still alive and well.
“He was talking about how his mom made caramels and fudge every year, so I figured I’d make him a batch for Christmas. Buck got hold of the recipes and the directions sound easy enough except with the caramels where it says about testing for a firm but not hard ball.”
Chris laughed. “I think that’s how you tell if candy’s done. Sarah used a thermometer and that was usually the part where she started swearing and tripping over me, Adam or the dog. There was a reason she didn’t do candy very often.”
Vin smiled, glad that his friend could laugh about some of his memories with his late wife.
“Think I could borrow that thermometer?”
“Sure, if you want to,” Chris agreed, trying and failing to get a mental picture of Vin baking. “Why don’t you ask Nettie for help, she’s made candy?”
“Since it’s the kid’s present figured it was cheating to ask someone else to do it. Kind of like when one of my foster dad’s would have his kids go out and get his wife’s Christmas present and she ended up getting all the gift for her family and his. Probably weird, but, it kind of got to me.”
Chris leaned back in his chair. That would have gotten to Vin, he knew how much thought and effort the Texan put into getting just the right things for his friends every year.
“I don’t think it’ll be cheating to ask for her help at least. You still would have been the one that thought of it and made them,” He told the younger man.
“I’ll keep it in mind; thanks,” Vin nodded to him as he got up and returned to work.
Chris looked after him. Buck was a surveillance guy, maybe he could set up some equipment in Vin’s kitchen? This should be quite a show and it was a shame that no one was going to be able to see it.
+ + + + + + +
C-day had arrived, also known as candy day, Chris was gone for the day, but had insisted that Vin do his baking at the ranch since it was full equipped from Sarah’s baking and cooking. Buck had convinced JD to go on an all day Christmas shopping marathon to ensure that JD would not be dropping in to visit his horse.
Vin unpacked his bags and compared what he had against what the recipes called for. So far so good, he had everything that was called for.
Hearing a knock on the door, he went to answer it. Soot, Chris’s lab, and Cleo, Vin's westie, were both eagerly bouncing in front of the door. Opening the door he found Ezra.
“Ezra? What are you doing here?” Vin asked, stepping aside and letting him in.
“I heard of your culinary ventures and thought I would offer my assistance,” Ezra told him, fondling Soot’s ears and rubbing Cleo’s belly.
“You know how to make candy?”
“No, by my uncle was a baker and I used to help him. While not the same, it is more experience that you have so I thought I would avail myself to you if you required assistance,” Ezra replied, ten added rather sheepishly. “I also happen to enjoy cooking and it sounded like fun.”
Vin grinned, “Just might be at that, and I can use the help.”
The two dogs followed the two men into the kitchen.
“Recipes right there, Ez, figure we best start by collecting everything.”
Ezra looked at the note card.
“1/2 cup butter, pinch of salt, 4 cups sugar, 3 ½ cups dark karo syrup, 4 cups heavy cream,” he read aloud.
“Good Lord, no wonder JD's so hyper if he grew up eating this!”
Vin chuckled, and began tossing it all in pan.
“Cook at moderate heat (an easy rolling boil) for approximately one hour. Sir occasionally to prevent sticking. Test for firm but not hard ball in cold water,” Ezra continued reading when all the ingredients had been tossed in.
Looking on the candy thermometer the Texan was beyond relieved to see that it had a marking for firm. He could do this.
The two got into a card game, while taking turns stirring the mixture every five minutes.
“Got the pan it’s going into ready?” Vin asked and hour later, seeing that the candy was ready to leave the heat.
Ezra scrambled to lightly coat the 9 X 13 pan.
They both groaned, and the mixture refused to come out of the poking pan that it had now hardened in.
“I do apologize for my failure to be properly prepared.”
“Just means we need to make another batch. We’ll leave this one to soak,” Vin told him accepting the apology, while Ezra set the pan with the stuck candy in the sink full of water to loosen it. They hoped.
The second bath was started and on the stove boiling in a different pan.
“Might I inquire what you brought to listen to?” Ezra indicated the CD pack by Vin’s jacket.
“Tale of Two Cities, listening to it on CD,” Vin responded.
Ezra looked at his friend in surprise. He had known that Vin was highly intelligent, but had not imagined that he enjoyed the classic.
“What do you think of it?”
“Had a hard time getting into it, but I like it.”
The two men discussed the book and put in the CD.
When the second batch was finished, it certainly looked okay and poured into the pan without a problem.
They both tasted it.
“Caramels should be smooth, right?” Vin asked running his tongue around in his mouth.
“I fear that these are, rather, ah, gritty,” Ezra sighed.
“Awe hell,” Vin sighed. “Need to figure out what we did wrong.”
There was another knock on the door.
Ezra went to get it.
“Vin Tanner, if you wanted candies I would have been happy to make you some!” One of Vin’s favorite voices told him.
“Hey Nettie; I was making them for JD for Christmas. It’s his ma’s recipe.”
“Fancy Pants was just telling me that they got gritty, sounds like you moved them off the heat too soon.” She told him, looking over the recipe.
“Here, you go get ingredients for another batch,” she handed it to Ezra.
With a two fingered salute Ezra left on his errand.
“Fudge would make a saint swear,” Nettie said as she read the recipe and began directing Vin who moved smartly to follow orders. He had had drill sergeants that could have taken lesson from her.
Vin appreciated that Nettie seemed to understand that he wanted to this himself so directed and instructed, but left the doing to him except for the few parts that according to her, you just had to have a feel for.
Returning, Ezra inhaled and smiled at the wonderfully, homey smell.
“Only a man would try to do fudge and caramels at the same time without ever having baked before,” Nettie snorted.
With her expert help, the third round of caramels went without a hitch.
What they would have done without her, the men never wanted to know. The important thing was that their friend would have his Christmas sweets in spite of the loss of his mother.
+ + + + + + +
A week later, the team was gathered at the ranch for the Yule day. JD was speechless when Vin brought out a tray of the candies. The young tech had been keeping a tight hold on himself not to get sad about his mother and everything she did to make Christmas Christmas no longer being around. Sniffing, he passed the treats around for his new family to share.
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