As the countdown to Christmas begins in earnest, the tempo at our little house in the big woods has gone from busy to very busy. I love Christmas, and, for me, the preparations are part of the pleasure. Last weekend, my husband, Clif, and I set up the Christmas tree and decorated it. We went into the woods by our house to gather winter berries and greenery for the window box. Clif hung lights on the hedges outside, and now the house looks all twinkly after dark, of which there is plenty to be had this time of year.

I’ve outlined a cooking schedule for myself, and yesterday I made pumpkin bread, which went into the freezer. The pumpkin bread will come out the day before Christmas, and it will be what we nibble on as we open our presents. Today, I’ll be making regular bread, also to freeze—toast and scrambled eggs will follow the pumpkin bread on Christmas morning. I expect this might even qualify as a hobbit’s second breakfast. I’ll also be making a chili for Clif to take to a work potluck tomorrow.

Pumpkin bread for Christmas morning
Pumpkin bread for Christmas morning

As the days lead to Christmas, there will be more things to bake—-additional loaves of bread, some to keep and some to give; peanut butter buddy bars; lemon-frosted shortbread; cinnamon pie knots; chocolate-covered pretzels; homemade ice cream for ice cream pie; and peanut butter balls. Phew! No wonder I had to devise a cooking schedule to keep it all straight. Fortunately, Clif will be helping me with some of the more time-consuming items such as the pretzels and the peanut butter balls.

Last night, inspired by Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal—I wrote about this book in the previous post—I decided to make a soup using odds and ends and enhanced by a mushroom broth. I had a bit of leftover turkey, 1 cup of stock, and a small amount of left over rice. Not enough for two adults, especially when one of them has an appetite like Clif’s. Adler is a big advocate of making stock from whatever is on hand—vegetables or bones—and I decided to see what I could do with a small package of mushrooms I had as well as some leftover celery. I cut the mushrooms into fairly thick slices and chopped the celery, including the leaves. (Adler would definitely approve of this.) Into a big skillet, I drizzled a fair amount of olive oil—No, Shannon, I didn’t measure—and when it was hot, I added the mushrooms and celery. I sautéed them for a few minutes then added two chopped cloves of garlic. I sautéed all of this for another minute—I didn’t want the garlic to burn—and then added enough water to barely cover the mushrooms. For some reason, it seemed to me that a bit of butter would make a nice addition, and I put some in. Again, I didn’t measure, but I probably used a little over a teaspoon full. Now, for some spicing. Believe it or not, I have some rosemary outside in a pot, and the rosemary is holding its own. I snipped a sprig and chopped about a teaspoon full of rosemary to go in the mushroom mixture. (For those of you who don’t have rosemary in a pot, it would be perfectly acceptable to use dried rosemary.) I let this mixture simmer, adding more water as needed, until the mushrooms were tender but not ridiculously shrunken. I tasted it, and then I had Clif taste it.

“Really good!” he said.

Good enough to use as a base on its own, and I began to think of the possibilities, of adding some white beans to this mixture and serving it over rice. But since I had the stock, the chicken, and the rice, I mixed them all together and had enough soup to satisfy Clif.

His verdict? “Really, really good!”

The beauty of this “dish” is that it can be adapted to accommodate personal tastes and what’s in the refrigerator.  I’m a big fan of garlic, but you might prefer onions, leeks, or shallots. So use them. I had leftover celery, but carrots would also be a good addition. As would zucchini, sweet red peppers, and any number of vegetables. I think mushrooms really add an essential earthiness to this broth, and I just used the white button mushrooms available at the store. But I bet other varieties would be delicious, too. (My mouth waters just thinking about them.)

An inexpensive meal, a filling meal, and one that we ate with pleasure.

Come, Christmas, come.




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