When I was little, the holiday decorations in our yard never stopped traffic. Like the rest of the neighborhood, our display was pretty modest. A life-size Santa did not peek down our chimney. The entire house was not outlined in flashing bulbs. Instead, Mom put electric candles in the windows and hung a wreath with a big red bow on the front door. Then, under the watchful eyes of his two little girls, Dad untangled strings of colored bulbs. He carefully wound them around the rhododendrons that flanked the front stoop. Dad completed the tableau with a spot light aimed at Mom’s wreath. My sister Brenda and I generally pleaded for bigger and better but it was not to be.
My childhood fondness for holiday decorations was not limited to our front yard. One of my favorite Christmas rituals was driving around town to see the lights and decorations. Of course, I wasn’t doing the driving; I was only five. I was in the back seat with Brenda, our noses pressed against the windows A week or two before Christmas, usually with little or no warning, Mom and Dad loaded us into our big blue station wagon and the treasure hunt began.
After circling the neighborhood, we’d widen our net. Never satisfied, we’d twist and turn away from familiar streets in search of the best and the brightest. Our philosophy was the bigger the better. We gave no points for subtlety or quiet, tasteful decorations.
Bouncing from one side of the car to the other for a better view Brenda and I giggled, oohed and ahhed. Most houses sported a few strings of lights wrapped around bushes or a tree. Others were more extravagant with lights wound around front porch railings or along roof lines. We drove all over town in search of spectacular. The truly remarkable displays combined a ton of lights with life-size wooden cutouts of snowmen or Santa in his sleigh.
When it came to lights, we all had our favorites. Brenda and I preferred the big, fat multicolored bulbs. Big and brash we loved all that color. On the other hand, Mom liked the icy glow of all blue lights. Dad drove and more or less agreed with everyone.
To blink or not to blink was an annual topic of conversation. Far from a debate, we were all in agreement. To our shock and dismay, we’d turn the corner and face a riot of flashing color. To our New England eyes, there was done and overdone. Santa and eight reindeer on the roof elicited enthusiastic applause. Flashing lights got nothing more than a disgusted ugh.
About the time I started high school, I stumbled down the path of discreet, good taste. I no longer dreamed of a plywood snowman on our front lawn. I had no desire to encourage Dad to bring out the extension ladder and hang colorful bulbs along every edge of the house and roof.
Instead, I clamored for little white twinkle lights and was more than happy with the spot lit wreath. At about the same time, I noticed a few big, old colonials with small wreaths on every window. Oh my goodness, l thought they were fabulous. That said, I didn’t want to press my luck and kept my eye on the prize of little white lights. It took a few years to convince my parents. After all, what self-respecting frugal Yankee is going to toss out perfectly good decorations in order to replace them with some newfangled invention?
Enjoy the lights and bon appétit!
1 large onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 teaspoon or to taste red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
2 pounds precooked garlic sausage or smoked kielbasa, cut in bitesize pieces
About 3 cups cooked small white beans – 2 (15 ounce) cans or 8 ounces dried
1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind* (optional)
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
6-8 or more cups chicken stock or broth
1 pound baby kale or spinach
Parmesan Crostini (optional)
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
Lightly coat a soup pot with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the onion, carrots and celery and season with pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion is translucent, add the garlic and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer until reduced by half.
Add the sausage, beans, Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Add more or less stock depending how you like your soup – more like a stew or nice and soupy. Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
If you have the time, cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Stir in the spinach and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the greens wilt, about 5 minutes. Remove the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, thyme twigs and bay leaf, ladle into bowls or mugs, top with Parmesan Crostini, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
* Adding a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind will add flavor and richness to your soup.
1/2-1 baguette, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Lightly brush both sides of each baguette slice with olive oil. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018