Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Eve Ritual

I love soup. I love just about every kind of soup there is. I love silky bisque composed of nothing but the essential flavor of one or two ingredients plus cream. I love big, chunky soup full of vegetables and pasta, shimmering in a tomato broth. To this day, after a two week stint in Martha's Vineyard when all we ate was clams the only way I can enjoy the little bivalves is in chowder. But oh, what enjoyment...little bits of clam and tiny cubes of potato bathed in sea-tinged cream - again with the cream.

When I was a singleton I ate a lot of soup. I could make a big pot of it, stowing away the bulk in the freezer for any time. I probably had soup at least twice a week, if not more. I experimented with "exotic" soup during that period: carrot soup, lentil soup...I tried to recreate my Mum's potato and corn chowder, which never tasted quite as amazing as hers but would do.

I was a big fan of avgolemano, that glorious Greek combination of lemon, chicken and rice. One year I worked the lunch shift at a Greek restaurant. I had to be at work by 10am, for an 11am opening. Since most nights I was out clubbing, and since the restaurant was a 5 minute walk from my flat, I would roll out of bed at 9:45, pull on a skirt and blouse and hie to the restaurant. I'd pour myself a cup of coffee, dip up a bowl of fresh avgo and that was my breakfast every morning for a year. I never grew tired of it. Thick and yellow but with that bright hit of was gorgeous soup.

But alas and alack, I married a man who is not a fan of soup. He enjoys a good stew, thick with chunks of meat, but soup not so much. He hates minestrone, loathes tomato soup and merely tolerates the rich bisques I sometimes make for dinner parties, but only because it is one course and I usually serve the soup in martini glasses (for a more dramatic presentation, don't you know) and so it is over quickly.

Most of the time I don't mind the absence of soup from our menu. But in the winter it is a challenge because these are the days that cry out for soup. Not just for the satisfying warmth of a bowlful, perhaps with a dollop of sour cream and always with some nice, crusty bread for dipping but also for the satisfaction of an afternoon that is perfumed by a big kettle of something simmering away on the hob. Sigh.

There is one time when I manage to get away with soup for dinner and that is Christmas Eve. That day is always a busy one, what with us waiting until then to put up the tree and green the house. There is the last of the wrapping to do and the first of the preparations for the next day's feast. And then there is the late afternoon get-together at the grand and stately Sorrento Hotel with SCG and her family before going off to hold our places in the Cathedral for the 5:30 vigil Mass. No time to think about dinner, plus we'll each some elegant and massively overpriced noshes at the hotel. That will hold us but we'll be a little peckish by the time we return home, around 7pm and by then I'll have no interest in preparing a "real" dinner.

Soup is the convenient choice, but it is more than that. My best friend from college days was married right after we graduated and the traditions she and her husband instituted were very influential. To my mind, everything they did was tinged with elegance and romance. They always had soup and bread and wine on Christmas Eve and that became my standard. I too began to have such a supper, whether I was dating someone at the time or not. That meal was imbued with ritual. There was (still is) a French bakery in the Public Market and I would go down to get a fresh loaf of bread for the Christmas Eve soup, something round and crusty, with the word Noel written out in dough. (Not living as close to the Market these days, I have foregone that bit of the tradition, although I sometimes make my own loaf and decorate it for the season).

So it is that I still serve a soup supper on Christmas Eve. All that is required is to warm the soup, make a quick salad and serve. Still mostly full from whatever treats we had at the hotel, The Spouse is more tolerant of a liquid diet and I can indulge in a meal that is more than food; it is a cherished ritual. That Christmas Eve bowlful is a symbol to me of all the years when I didn't have someone. And now I do. Two someones, who I love very much. Even though one of them doesn't much care for soup.

Chantrelle Soup

Dust clean and slice 1 # fresh chantrelles. Saute in butter, with 1 clove finely minced garlic, until mushrooms are tender.

Deglaze pan with a shot of dry sherry.

Strain off liquid and reserve. Roughly chopped the mushrooms and set aside.

Return liquid to a large saucepan and add in one quart of rich chicken stock. Simmer to blend flavors, about 15 minutes.

Stir about 1/2 c. of cream into broth to thicken and add salt and pepper to taste.

Return mushrooms to broth to reheat.

Garnish soup with edible flowers.


Buck said...

WONderful post! Loved it.

I have to admit, I'm not a good soup-maker. I try, but much of it goes into the garbage disposal.

laurelmoons said...

I enjoy soup but tend to make stews...but this is a mouthwatering recipe and I may just have to break my usual habits!

Doralong said...

It's the house tradition here as well- steak & mushroom soup. I have proposed something new many times, but the riot the occurs after such a statement is more than I care to deal with..

Lorraine said...

That totally surprises me, Buck.

Let me know if you do, Syd.

Steak and mushroom, Doralong? Please to be sharing the recipe...that sounds like a big pot of yum.