Such was the case with me and the Coaster Holiday Express. The Coaster is the Amtrack train that runs along the coast of California. During one weekend in December, the train runs a special holiday line, a 90 minute round trip ride from Oceanside to Sorrento Valley. During the trip there's a special Santa visit and some other holiday fun. Apparently this event happens every year, and sells out within minutes, and yet this is the first time I've heard of it!
Luckily this year I found out in time to snag some of those coveted tickets for our family. When you arrive, there are some fun photo opportunities to take part in.
And then you line up by car. They handed out some reindeer games to keep the kids occupied while we waited to board.
As a word of advice, which we didn't think about, seating is not assigned. Which means, if you're not early in line, there's a good chance your family will be separated. We lucked out and grabbed the last 4 seats together.
The train cars are decorated for the trip, festooned with garlands and other festive touches.
Our first visitor were carolers. They walked up and down the car singing with us.
Someone came around with special paper and pens for the kids to write their letters to Santa.
And then, Anna and Elsa showed up! While Thatkid was nonplussed, Thatbaby was beyond excited. As soon as he saw them, he started singing "Love is an Open Door."
They stopped to chat with each child, and when they got to us, they even sang along with Thatbaby. Which made his whole life.
As soon as the sisters left, Santa showed up! He wasn't quite as kind or interactive as Anna and Elsa, but Thatbaby was positive he was the REAL Santa. And both kids eagerly turned their wish lists over to him.
I'm not sure if we'd do this train ride again next year, but for this year, it was perfect for Thatbaby and his excitement over the holiday. He has been especially cute (which helps him survive because most of the time "destructive" is the more apt description), singing along to every Christmas song he hears, despite not knowing the words. His holiday favorite this year (despite the fact that he calls every Christmas song his "favorite") seems to be Fruitcake by the Superions, which he loves to sing even when it isn't on. In fact he asked if we could make fruitcake this year. And who am I to say no? Especially when I was pretty sure Alton Brown had a recipe in one of his books.
This fruitcake is different than most of the ones you see in stores, and even the different than the one in the song in that it uses dried fruits instead of "candied cherries, red dye number two, green cherries." There are a lot of ingredients, and it takes a long time to make, but the process itself is pretty easy. And there's a lot of down time.
Fruitcake (from Alton Brown)
4 1/2 oz golden raisins
4 oz currants
2 1/2 oz dried cranberries
2 1/2 oz dried blueberries
2 1/2 oz dried cherries
4 oz dried apricots
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 oz candied ginger
1 cup gold rum
6 allspice berries
1/2 cinnamon stick
8 oz sugar
5 oz butter
1 cup apple juice
1 tsp ground ginger
9 oz flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 oz pecans
1/4 cup brandy (in a spray bottle)
- Combine the fruits, zest, ginger, and rum in a plastic storage container. Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature.
- Grind the cloves, allspice, and cinnamon in a coffee grinder or spice mill.
- Combine the spices, the fruit and its liquid, sugar, butter, apple juice and ginger in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.
- Place oven racks in center and bottom of the oven. Place a roasting pan filled halfway with warm water on the bottom rack. Preheat oven to 325. Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
- Place dry ingredients into the saucepan and stir together with the cooling fruit.
- One at a time, stir in the eggs.
- Fold in the pecans
- Pour the batter into a 10 inch nonstick loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Remove to a cooling rack and spritz the top with brandy. Let cool completely.
- Wrap the cake in cheesecloth. Spritz with more brandy and store in an air-tight container.
- Over the next 2 weeks, check the cake every 2-3 days. If it's dry, spray with more brandy. The cake is best the longer it ages, so at least 2 weeks, up to 2 months, then enjoy!