This Christmas tree makes me giddy. I think it's beautiful, but not just because of the colors or the sparkles, though those are enough to induce giddiness themselves. The memories that each ornament sparks make trimming our tree an entirely pleasant occasion.
But first...the tree itself. Growing up, my parents always, always bought a live tree, a Fraser fir, every December. The shape was attractive and the scent was heavenly. But my mother likes an enormous amount of little lights on her tree...I mean, each branch was wrapped. Each. Branch. Was. Wrapped. It took a looong time and luckily, I was always excused because she thought it might "get my allergies going." I am still thankful for that! But all I wanted was to get in there and put the ornaments on and what in the world was taking so long???
Somewhere along the way, when I was almost grown, she finally gave in to the siren call of the pre-lit tree...and has never looked back. And although I always said that I would have live trees when I had my own house, well, a trip to Target four-ish years ago changed all that. Due to a mislabeling incident, I lucked out with paying only $50.00 for the tree. This big, tall, realistic-looking tree! That would have been at least $300.00! I couldn't believe it. So, obviously, it was meant to go home with me and be my tree. It did and we have been very happy together. We're even happier because I get to burn my Yankee Candle What's My Pine soy candle (purchased much cheaper at TJMaxx) to get that delightful fresh-tree scent.
The ornaments that are pulled out, carefully unwrapped, and placed on this tree are the next layer of sweetness. My mother had the great foresight to start my collection of ornaments from each of our travels through the years. I am highly trained in this endeavor and I am very picky. There will be no vague ornaments, such as a pair of flip flips sporting a tiny plaque reading "Charleston, SC." Oh, no. Yes, I admit - the beachy themes are cute, but they can be found at any beach. I need a little more creativity. I ask a lot of my travel ornaments.
A thistle from Scotland
A scottie dog, also from, well, Scotland
Niagara on the Lake
Charleston in the foreground, Venice in the background
My mother was in an ornament swap for many years. Both my dad and I have also, unofficially, been a part of the swap because we, too, have spent hours in planning, consultation, and construction of the ornaments each year. We are all partly sad but partly relieved that my mother gave up the swap a few years ago. It takes a great deal of time, but we do have an enormous amount of beautiful and unique handmade ornaments to show for our trouble.
I have quite a few of these on our tree - not only one each of the ones we constructed but also because I worked for the husband of another lady in the swap. Ms. Hope has always made extra ornaments to give away as gifts and I have often been one of the lucky recipients. One year I saw a very familiar homemade ornament at my dentist's office. I kid you not. Right then and there I knew that Ms. Hope also went to this same dentist - and I also knew she was Superwoman. Well, I had already known that, but this confirmed it. =)
There are quite a lot of ornaments that were part of my life before Jeremy entered the picture, but now we are collecting them together. I don't know if he's as excited about it as I am, but deep down, I think he approves. Deep, deep down.
My friend and former roommate Rachelle gave me these as a present a couple of years ago. Or last year? It all runs together. Anyway, Jeremy hung these this year and I thought it was so cute that he hung them this close together. I mean, I would have hung them "together," but more along the lines of being five inches apart. You know the rules. Hanging them so close to each other was surprising and sweet. =)
Now for our recipe. If you live in Tennessee, you need to know about Demo's. It's our very favorite restaurant, but there's not even one near us. But when we travel, we scheme up ways to make a stop there, usually in downtown Nashville - but sometimes Murfreesboro. There's also one in Lebanon, where his brother lives. (Come to think of it, we need to visit them more often.) And I believe there's one in Florence, AL. We haven't tried that one yet, but we need to add it to the list.
Demo's is an family-owned Italian steakhouse. But it's just more than that. You can even get chicken salad served in a pineapple half. And everything I've ever had there is incredibly delicious and plenteous. And not expensive! It's so, so good. The restaurants are pretty large, which is good because there is always a crowd. It's got brickwork inside and pretty gas lanterns, both of which I am a huge sucker for.
Jeremy almost always gets the chicken alfredo. I usually alternate between the garlic brown butter spaghetti (the menu notes it's "why Doris married Jim" - and I think it's totally a legitimate reason to marry someone) or the chicken salad. Whatever you get, you have the option for soup or salad. I always, always get the baked chicken soup. Because it's awesomely delicious. With the primary insights from my friend Heather (who is a lucky girl to live near a Demo's in Lebanon) I came up with the following recipe, which tastes almost exactly like the real thing. The lemon juice is the key. It was such an exciting discovery! Especially since the recipe is incredibly simple. Merry Christmas to me!
As-Good-as-Demo's Baked Chicken Soup
Makes about 6 large servings
5-6 cups chicken broth (or more, if desired)
3 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups Minute white rice
2 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in cold water
2 cups cooked chicken (more chicken than theirs has - already had it cooked/frozen. Also, mine was chopped in chunks; theirs is sliced)
juice of one large fresh lemon, or to taste
Italian spices, to taste (I used garlic powder, dried basil, thyme, oregano, poultry seasoning, and cumin)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup milk or half & half
Heat up chicken broth in stockpot. Dissolve butter, once broth is warm enough. Add rice (must be minute rice to cook quickly) - cover pot to bring to a boil. Keep boiling for another minute or two and then uncover and reduce heat to medium to add cornstarch (already dissolved in cold water), cooked chicken, and fresh lemon juice, starting with juice from just one half. You want to taste the brightness from the lemon without it becoming a "lemon soup." I played with the spices also...if you are doing the separate spices, as I did, give a generous sprinkling of each and adjust after tasting the soup. Add the salt and pepper, also testing to make sure the rice is done. You may simmer the soup for a bit and then add the milk or half & half to heat through just before serving. A green salad and cheesy bread (just like at Demo's) would be a wonderful way to round out this meal.
This is naturally a thin, brothy soup. I found that the soup thickened up considerably once cooled - since the rice soaked up more of the liquid. In reheating the next day, I added more chicken broth and a little more spices and lemon juice to thin it again.
And last of all...I promised you a song. All month I plan to be sharing my most favorite Christmas songs and this is one of those. I have fallen in love with it just this year. Brand new stuff from Dave Barnes...it may take a few seconds but it'll load. =)