Chicken Vegetable Barley Soup and Christmas Popcorn

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When I was growing up we always strung popcorn for the Christmas tree.  It was a family tradition from my mother's childhood.

Tree_2 My father would pop a huge tub (as in laundry tub) of plain popcorn; my mother would distribute needles with long, sturdy threads and we would make popcorn garlands for the tree.  Some years, when cranberries were plentiful and cheap, we would intersperse the snowy popcorn with bright red cranberries.  When Christmas was over, my mother would take all the ornaments and lights off the tree, then set it out in the front garden, with the popcorn garlands still on: to feed the birds.

In keeping with such a lovely tradition, one year my roommate and I decided to have a popcorn stringing party.  We invited a few friends over, popped the popcorn, made a few festive snacks and prepared  to trim our tree.  We had taken the trusty hatchet and gone to the woods the day before to chop it down, in the true spirit of a traditional, old-fashioned Christmas.

Well, you all know what they say about the road to hell and good intentions. 

One cannot (normally) have a group of 20-somethings at a party during the holidays without having something bubbly to drink, although in our case it was beer, not champaign.  What with everyone having such a good time and all, the next thing we knew Saturday Night Live was signing off and our friends were having contests to see who could throw the popcorn with the most accuracy at whatever the designated target was. 

We all decided it looked rather festive and proceeded to toss the rest of the popcorn on the tree.

"It's snow!"  we cried, laughing merrily!

We finished decorating the tree about 4 am; some friends left, some crashed on the floor, those of us with beds found them.

The next morning, after a healthy breakfast of coke (as in Coca Cola – get your mind out of the streets; we were good girls!) and cold pizza, we surveyed our creation. 

Then roomie and I carefully took off all of the ornaments and lights.  We took the tree outside and shook off all of the popcorn, swept and vacuumed the floor, and brought the tree back inside.  We re-decorated the tree, sans popcorn; and much more soberly than the first time, although with not as much fun.

As we finished decorating the house that evening, we paused with a bottle of bubbly each (beer) and surveyed our handiwork. 

We were pleased.

And yet, something was missing.

We had laid white cotton batting on our bookshelf.   It was meant to be snow.  We had carefully placed the nativity scene on the 'snow'.  And yet – it didn't look 'finished'.

Ah! Eureka moment!  We both had dogs.  With dogs one gets yellow snow.  There was no yellow snow in our little scene.

We ran off to find some yellow food coloring. 

We proceeded to make yellow snow.

"It's yellow snow!"  we cried, laughing merrily!

Once again, the next morning we realized that our fantastic idea was, well, somewhat less than brilliant.

At least the yellow snow was easier to fix.

Thank God we didn't know about caganer…..

419819075_20c0cdcab1_o1 With all  of the decorating, parties and shopping going on this time of year the lovely ladies of Heart of the Matter decided that some heart-healthy, fast and easy foods were in order.

To my mind not much is healthier than a bowl of soup brimming with vegetables.  And, while it may not be quick to make, it needs very little attention as it cooks and one can have it for 2 or 3 meals that require almost no time at all!

Our very talented food photographer, Ilva, of Lucullian Delights is hosting this month's event.  Visit her blog after December 18th (or 20th) for all the heart-healthy, holiday-quick recipes!

Barley is an incredibly healthy and underused grain.  It's high in fiber and antioxidants; is as good if not better than oats for healthy heart and blood; and has copper which is thought to ease arthritis sufferers.
Besides, I like it!

This will make enough for 2 – 3 meals for 2 people – but it doubles or triples easily…It's soup!

Chicken Stock 
  You could use purchased stock – but this is for 'Heart of the Matter' and this stock is so easy to make…

2 chicken thighs and legs with bone inChickenbarleysoup1
1 chicken breast – bone in or not
the tops from a bunch of celery if you have it
2 – 3 stalks (ribs) celery
2 carrots
1 onion
bouquet garni
enough water to just cover everything
1 tbs chicken base or 1 chicken stock cube or salt to taste  optional

Cut the vegetables into large chunks.  If you are using the tops to a bunch of celery use them all – including the leaves.  Put chicken, vegetables and herbs into a soup pot or Dutch oven.  Add water to cover.  Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for an hour – or 2 or three; the longer the better.  If you're using an uncooked whole chicken cook at least 2 hours.  Can be made anytime during the day, cooked for 1 – 4 hours unattended and finished before dinner.  It's best to cook it early or the day before, strain the stock and chill to remove fat.  Pick the chicken off the carcass, cut or tear into bite-size pieces and set aside.  Discard skin, bones and vegetables.

Chicken Vegetable Barley Soup Chickenbarleysoup2

3 – 4 cups cooked chicken, more or less
4 – 5 carrots
3 – 4 stalks (ribs) celery
1  – 2 onions
1 can sweet corn, 15oz (450gr)
1 can whole tomatoes, 15oz (450gr)
1/2 cup uncooked or 3/4 cup partially cooked (Ebly) pearl barley
1 1/2 – 2 quarts (1500 – 2000ml) fresh chicken stock

Bring stock to a boil over medium high heat.  Cut carrots in half, the long way then thinly slice. 1/8" (3 cm).  Add to stock.  Thinly slice celery, add to stock.  Chop onion, add to stock.  Open and drain sweet corn and add to stock.  Add barley to stock.  Cover and simmer – may need to reduce heat a bit.  Let simmer for 30 minutes.  Open tomatoes and drain.  Chop tomatoes and add to soup.  Add chicken to soup.  Cover and simmer 15 minutes longer.
Now: too thick?  Add more stock or water.  Too thin?  Add 1/3 cup vermicelli (cooks fast and thickens nicely)

SkeletonsFinally: Don't forget to search your closet/pantry for skeletons.  Remember, confession is good for the soul.  It can, but doesn't have to, be an actual recipe, or just the description of the, um, food or any food and holiday related debacle/story/mishap…. Really, any dirty little secret you feel like sharing!  You have until Christmas to post – the round-up will be just before Dec. 31.  The usual rules: post, link to me, send me an e-mail with permalink.  Click for details!  I'll be doing an interim round-up next weekend.

Come on, tell!  Share the pain…you'll feel better!  And so will we!

Comments 17

  1. lol
    Love to decorate with popcorn but find it much easier to thread if you let it go stale so leave for a day at least the softer stuff goes less crumbly… but maybe I will try just flinging it at the tree this year.
    Not exactly a confession but after making off with all the leftover cheese at last years Christmas party I am well known as a bit of a fregan full story http://junctify.wordpress.com/2006/12/09/party/

  2. What a lovely tradition… great story! Although the recent one with your friends looks funnier! Thank god didn’t go further with caganer!!!
    The soup looks comforting (I have to try to add some sweet corn to my soups too).

  3. Katie, love your stories! Isn’t it amazing all those clever ideas you can come up with while drinking beer? And your soup looks so yummy!

  4. Tanna, yeah, maybe that was 1 six-pack…. the memory, you know….
    Heidi, you’ve heard ‘Don’t eat the yellow snow’, right? The popcorn was very pretty – but, as you see, I know longer do that.
    Kalyn, I do too – so much better than noodles!
    Junctify, just remember to fling ‘artfully’ that’s the key…
    Thanks, Nuria, I don’t usually use sweet corn…but it was in the pantry and I rather liked it! The caganer would have completed it!
    Pam, and even more wonderful things when drinking wine! Amazing how clever we become!

  5. I have been meaning to try to make my own chicken stock. The soup does look really healthy and tasty. I don’t use barley nearly enough.

  6. That is the perfect comfort food — I love barley soup (mushroom barley is a staple in our house), and it’s good to be reminded of the nutritional benefits, too. Yum!

  7. Great entry! Thanks Katie, it looks wonderful! And thanks you for revealing these interesting particulars from your past, I always enjoy them!

  8. The barley soup looks fabulous. My father makes a mean beef-barley soup, and he always has is ready when we get to the States after our gruelling flight.
    Hope all is well! I’m quite behind on all things blog-related, but hope to catch up during the holidays!

  9. Kevin, chicken stock is so simple…I should do it lots more often. And barley is good…
    Lydia, mushroom barley, now that does sound good. Is the recipe posted…not to self: check Perfect Pantry…
    Ilva, you’re welcome…and thanks!
    Betty, I dearly love beef barley soup – and what a wonderful thing to go home to! Things do get kind of crazy this time of year.
    Christine, you have it all. Put the kettle on and good read a good book while it cooks!

  10. Great story! Two things I have never done – strung popcorn on a tree and make my own chicken stock. We were a tinsil (sp?) house, and I always just by the stock. I am going to have to make some. It is so much tastier!

  11. Chris, we did the little icicles but never tinsil… Stock is so easy…I kick myself for not making it every week, but then, cubes are pretty easy, too.

  12. A very unbias article you wrote there mate. Having smaller meal portions each day and sticking to a high protein diet works best in losing weight. In addition, whenever there is a craving for snacks, it is best to stick to plain, unsalted, unbuttered popcorn during the popcorn diet. Drinking plenty of water and eliminating fatty foods in the diet will certainly help produce the intended results. I have read more about Popcorn Diet at http://www.howtoloseweight.org/Popcorn-Diet.html Do you think Popcorn Diet is very useful for weight loss?

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