As the youngest of three children, I’ve never been able to shake the label of being a little scattered, irresponsible and unprepared. And well into my 30s, I was still chafing at that, even though through circumstances, and OK, bonehead moves, I had regularly perpetuated the myth.
But, back in 1991, I was a fully employed, newly married adult, so I decided to put some of that teasing to rest by planning a fantastic Christmas day adventure for my somewhat reluctant family.
We lived an hour from Colonial Williamsburg, which was offering fire-lit, hearty Christmas day breakfasts in all of its historic inns. Thoughts of country ham and spoonbread and oysters danced through my head as I made our reservations. And yes, kids – with no Internet I had to order the brochure, pick the tavern we wanted and call to reserve a table for six at Christiana Campbells.
Even my truculant brother decided to forego his traditional Christmas day hunt to come along. Truthfully, my husband, I and my mother were the only ones enthused by driving to Williamsburg – the coldest, dampest place in Virginia in December – for breakfast and a chilly stroll to look at the historically accurate decorations. But everyone behaved until we got to the tavern, where we were informed that not only did they not have our reservation, but the second and final breakfast seating had started 30 minutes ago.
Flop sweat does not begin to describe the wall of shame that descended upon me and – because he is a very sympathetic person – my husband. The “screw-up” monologues began immediately – each family member taking a turn. And again, kids, this was the days before cell phones, so my father suggested we retreat to the roaring fire in the lobby at the Williamsburg Lodge and use the guest services phone to try and fix this. Four phone calls later, they found our reservation – at Kings Arms – and told us we had five minutes to hustle over for the seating.
We made it. Alcoholic drinks were promptly ordered, the fire crackled merrily, the food was hearty and satisfying and the grumbling stopped. Until I tried to the pay the bill with cash. Credit cards only. The look on my father’s face was priceless as he handed the mobcapped waitress his card and I shoved my cash over to him.
I stopped trying to prove anything after that, and truthfully don’t remember what I ate. But, because even bruised family memories are still poignant, I’ll share a time-honored Williamsburg recipe my mother perfected for peanut soup, which you can serve with or without eating crow.
Since it’s loaded with chicken broth and peanut butter, it’s also a comforting and strengthening soup for this winter’s round of colds and sniffles. It’s great served right out of the pot or gently heated the next day. Add shaved, cooked country ham for a rich taste. A dash of sherry would also be a welcome addition.
Williamsburg Peanut Soup
3 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped fine
3 stalks celery hearts, chopped
2 Tbsps. flour
4 cups chicken broth, hot
1 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup half & half
salt to taste
couple shots of your favorite hot sauce
pinch of cayenne pepper
juice from half a lemon or 3 Tbsp. sherry
In a large saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onions and celery over low heat until softened. Add the flour and stir and cook about five minutes. Don’t let it brown. Stir in the chicken broth, increase the heat to medium-high and cook and stir until soup starts to thicken – 5-7 minutes. Lower the heat and stir in the peanut butter, cream, salt, hot sauce and cayenne. Let it heat thoroughly without boiling, then add the lemon juice or sherry.