Only three more sleeps . . .
until Christmas Eve, that is. The big day for us. Being German, we celebrate that evening. A very special time.
When we were children, the tree would just have gone up Christmas Eve morning or the day before. Candles were lit. Christmas dinner was served (traditional Rouladen with red cabbage and dumplings). A special church service was attended, then we came home and were whisked to bed, to be awakened in the night, after Santa had come. (It was probably around 10 or 11 at night, but it felt so magical and late.) We would rush down the stairs in suddenly-wide-awake-wonder to see the tree and all the presents under it.
In later years, Santa came earlier, and would conveniently stop off at our house while we were at church, so the festivities could start once we returned home. Once we were all seated around the tree, would come hours and hours of singing – well, so it seemed to us as we kept watch on the presents under the tree, trying to guess which colourful one was ours. We would sing a mixture of German and English Christmas carols, reading from the old newspaper song sheets mom stored with the Christmas ornaments every year. There was the inevitable discussion over which verses of the German carols to sing, as mom and dad each had different versions that they swore were the ‘right’ ones. We usually had to sing both.
It was all so very lovely and sacred somehow, as mom and dad’s voices harmonized beautifully, the candlelight and tree lights reflecting in all our eyes, as we sat close in a group, singing.
But, in the way of all children, we didn’t focus on the special love and holiness of this evening. No. We were too impatient to begin with the presents. Our parents dragged out the singing for as long as they could, savouring the moments and the memories they were making.
Not until I had my own children impatiently asking “Can this be the last song, please?” did I understand what my parents felt. I, too, wanted to make this moment last so much longer . . . this feeling of closeness and love and beautiful singing and holiness. I, too, made our children sing way more songs than they wanted to, trying to imprint the memory of it all in my heart to pull out in those moments when parenting wasn’t quite so rewarding.
Now, that our children are getting older, they are starting to get it. They know the presents won’t go away. They appreciate the moments of tradition and closeness as a family. They even ask to sing another song or two.
And after we’ve all sung our fill, we always sing the same last song – a quiet, reverent rendition of ‘Silent Night’ in German.
There is a moment of stillness, and then . . . the presents . . . which are nice, but not nearly as important as the time we spend together.
The next day – there’s the visiting and the Christmas goose and all the trimmings.
How do you celebrate Christmas?
If your Christmas feast includes a turkey, or roast chicken, you will have a carcass to deal with.
Mmm. Turkey soup. Simple comfort food. Just what you might be needing.
Kitchen Frau Notes: The day after, when everyone is relaxing around the house, playing their new Christmas games and reading their new Christmas books, you can simmer the bones and make a wonderful soup. Or . . . . as I lazily do – Put the carcass of your turkey or chicken and any extra bones, but not too much skin, into a sealed plastic bag, pop it in the freezer and pull it out a few weeks later when you have a few hours to make your soup. Sometimes there’s too much other food around to deal with and I just don’t want to face that carcass, but can’t bear to throw all that rich flavour away. So freeze it.
This soup includes an unusual but, to me, absolutely essential flavouring for chicken soup. Star Anise. My mom always included it in her chicken or turkey soup. I cannot make it without a star anise pod or two. The flavour is subtle, but intriguing (though you can omit it and the soup is still great.)
Here’s my post on roasting a turkey with a killer gravy including star anise.
The following recipe makes a large batch of stock which is wonderful to freeze for future soups or risottos. Make a big enough batch and you can make soup with half of it and freeze the rest!
If you don’t have a large chicken or turkey carcass, use two smaller ones – even two carcasses from those roasted supermarket chickens will work. Freeze one and the next time you have another chicken, pull out the frozen carcass and plop it into the stockpot with the fresh one and there you go.
Homemade Chicken or Turkey Stock
- 1 large chicken (at least 8 lbs) or turkey carcass (or two smaller chicken carcasses) or one carcass plus a pound or so of fresh chicken pieces
- 4 quarts (16 cups/4 litres) water
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 to 4 whole star anise pods (or 3 to 4 whole cloves)
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) whole black peppercorns
- 2 to 3 stalks celery, cut into 3 to 4 pieces
- 2 to 3 large carrots, cut into chunks
- 1 large onion, quartered, unpeeled
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) salt (optional)
Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for a long time. 2 hours is the minimum time, but I’ve often simmered it for up to 6 hours. The longer it cooks, the more nutrition and flavour you get from the bones. If you cook it long enough you’ll get the natural gelatin from the bones, and the soup, when chilled, will set into a nice quivery gel.
Taste for seasoning and add salt if you wish. At this point you can chill the soup, and if you wish to remove some of the fat, it is easy to take off the top when it hardens. I like to leave a little of the fat on for flavour.
Measure out, label and freeze a portion of the stock if you wish, then rinse out the stock pot, and return some of the lovely rich stock to the pot to make soup. You can always add a little boiled water to top up the stock if you don’t have quite enough.
Pick through the bones and remove any bits of meat to add to the soup you’ll make.
Kitchen Frau Notes: The amounts and variety of ingredients you add to your soup is entirely up to you. I like to keep it simple with onion, celery and carrots and some kind of starch ingredient – noodle or rice. But the sky’s the limit, really. You can add peas, beans, snow peas, corn, chopped cabbage, rice, barley, potatoes . . . you get the idea . . .
Chicken or Turkey Soup
8 cups (2 litres) chicken or turkey stock
Bring to a boil and add:
- 4 cups diced vegetables – 1 cup (240ml) diced onion and
- – 1½ cups ( 360ml) diced carrots and
- – 1½ cups (360ml) diced celery
- – (or 4 cups combined vegetables of your choice)
- 2 cups (when cooked) starch – 2 cups (480ml) raw diced potato or
- – ½ cup (120ml) raw rice or
- – 1¼ cups (300ml) small uncooked pasta
- 1 to 2 cups (240-480ml) diced, cooked chicken meat (optional – if there’s any left from off the bones)
- 2 to 4 tablespoons (30 -60ml) chopped parsley (optional)
Return to a boil, then turn heat to medium, cover and boil gently for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and your starch ingredient is cooked. 2 or 3 minutes before it’s done, add the chopped parsley, if using. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
Makes 12 cups soup, about 8 to 12 servings.
You might also like: