Thursday, January 2, 2014

Simple Holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year's - an Update

The holidays - they're over!

Did you survive? I hope you did. We did, though there were a few skin-of-our-teeth moments.

I wrote in the previous post about how we were simplifying the holidays, and I wanted to write up a recap of what that looked like and how it went.

For Thanksgiving, we had nine loved ones over for Soupsgiving 2013. Now, if you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a deep and abiding love for soup. What you likely don't know is that I have an equally abiding hatred for roast turkey. So for me, the Soupsgiving was a win on several levels.

Soupsgiving 2013! Photo courtesy of Kara C. 
I made a pumpkin pear soup that was gluten and dairy free, and a potato leek soup that was absolutely not dairy free.  I have no recipes to share for either; the leek soup is one I've been messing with for a while, in order to best copy the one we had at Grand Central a while back.

Soup prep!
This go-round was definitely the most successful - I used a base of shallot (maybe three shallots?) and celery (three stalks), and while I think I intended to put in garlic, I think I forgot. There was also a lot of leeks.

So. Many. Leeks.
I cooked the savories down for a long, long time, mainly because I figured if I cooked them way down, I might have a shot at everything fitting into the same pot.

Pot o' soup + annex
It did not, but it still tasted good. I used chicken broth, added the potatoes, simmered everything, and then pureed it until it was very smooth. Afterwards I added some heavy cream, some creme fraiche, and some salt and pepper.

Crystal formation in the frozen potato soup - had to
make some adjustments to get the top back on!
I noticed after the soup was thawed and frozen that the salt had to be adjusted again. (Unfortunately, I discovered this after barking at my brother-in-law that the seasoning was perfect, and how dare he salt it?? And then I tasted it, and...yeah, it needed salt. Oh well.)

The pumpkin soup, on the other hand, started with a traditional mirepoix base of carrots, shallot, and celery, and I think some garlic went in too. After cooking those down and adding some chicken broth (three cups, maybe?) I added the pureed pumpkin and a pear. After cooking it for a while and tasting, I wound up adding a second pear and some maple syrup to get the sweetness just right. Also: coconut milk for richness. I think one can.

The soups I made ahead and froze, and dessert I made the night before, parbaked, and browned in the oven before serving. It's Smitten Kitchen's Pear, Cranberry, and Gingersnap Crumble, and it's a favorite. I like throwing a bit of brandy into the filling, just for kicks.

Sugared cranberries for the crumble.
So! That was Thanksgiving. Most everyone brought soup - we had five, I think, soups in total. I loved it - I loved it all. I would repeat it every year.

For Christmas, well, it was a nutty December. We had the snow, for one thing, which froze our kitchen pipes for a bit.

Our makeshift dish-station in the downstairs bathroom.
Which was cleaned with an inch of its life.

That was festive. But Shiloh looked awfully cute with a dusting of snow.  And then Danny wound up having to leave town the week before Christmas.

Shiloh, looking both noble and snow-dusted.
I wrote earlier about not being pressured to make Christmas gifts. And while I held fast to that for the most part, I did opt to make caramels for cousin gifts this year. Largely, this was because I couldn't bear to do much more last minute shopping.

Caramels! Those wrappers took forever.
And while they were my first caramels ever, they were delicious and wonderful, so everybody won.

Christmas piano!
We skipped a tree, in the end, because a.) there was no good place to put it, and b.) the thought of unpacking Christmas decor made me twitchy. So instead, I decided to wrap all of our gifts in white and silver, and stack them around the piano.

In the end, there were about four times as many gifts as pictured. I loved it! The only downside was that once we packed up the gifts to travel, we were suddenly very un-decorated.

(A note: if you actually play your piano, this may not work for you, or at least not at the gift volume that we deal in. But our piano is still re-acclimating to Oregon humidity, and won't be tuned for another month. So - decor it is!)

And for New Year's Eve, there were several reasons why we opted to lay low. Rather than cook or eat out, I picked up a couple prepped lamb chops and some sides from New Seasons, cooked up the lamb, reheated the sides, and done! Less work than cooking, less money than eating out - oh, and the wine the butcher recommended with the lamb was both tasty and cheap.

For New Year's Day, we began what I hope may be a tradition of a macaroni and cheese dinner.

If cheese is your thing, you need this book. Stat.
Find it here.
Convincing Danny to make this a regular thing will not be hard. I used the "Classic Mac" recipe from The Mac + Cheese Cookbook, with the Oscar Wilde Irish cheddar I found at New Season's. It was...really, really good. And it reheated well, without any separation of the cheese sauce.

So...those were the holidays. My hope for next year is that we'll simplify things further, hopefully with less travel and more quiet. What did work this year was that I had every single bit of wrapping done before we left town - that includes gifts for both my nuclear and extended family, as well as Danny's family - which was a blessing. Oh, and next year I want to try more candy making.

Starting in, you know, October.

Those were my holidays - what did you do this year that worked for you?

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