Christmas came early this year for us.
It’s been almost three years since my mom, brothers, Jason, and I have all been in the same place at the same time — a fact that is incredibly hard to swallow when I look at the timestamp on our last photo together from our wedding.
But that terrible streak finally ended this past weekend as my mom and brothers descended upon Denver: my mom traveling from Phoenix, Alex from Wichita, and Andrew from San Francisco. It was long overdue and, in short, felt every bit as if the holidays had come early. [I mean, they are gifts in and of themselves, but the fact that they all brought gifts with them — jewelry from mom, Peruvian essentials from Andrew, and a vast knowledge of all the to-try beers and whiskeys from Alex — was definitely a bonus!]
Fortunately, the pressure of hosting my family subsided long ago. They have all made enough of their own respective trips to Denver that the burden of “ideas” and “activities” never plagued us in preparing for their arrival. We knew that as long as there were home-cooked meals, plenteous alcohol, and a range of game options, we were set. Sure, a few outings would be nice, but they would simply be the icing on the cake to what we saw as an epic weekend of quality time together.
Here’s how it happened…
Everyone arrived midday Thursday and preparations for our evening meal began almost immediately. [I’m not sure of the last time Jason came home from work to a fully prepared meal, but I think it was somewhat of a luxury for him.] A beef pot roast with red wine sauce and farmers market veggies, plus brown sugar and black pepper roasted brussel sprouts and entire bars of South American dark chocolate, paired well with our Merlot and Syrah toasts.
Photo by Alex, who is quickly becoming quite the cook himself!
All of us had to work full days on Friday, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying Jason-cooked breakfast tacos and Jason-recommended Philly cheesesteak sandwiches from Taste of Philly for lunch.
Perhaps our most novel idea of the weekend, however, was a post-work, de-stressing excursion to Denver’s amazing 1UP arcade bar. It was basically like reliving childhood, but with alcohol. My brothers destroyed me in all things Mortal Kombat, pinball, and X-Men, but I proved dominant in Skee Ball, Pac-Man, and driving games. Some no frills, hole-in-the-wall pizza from The Well and multiple games of Telephone Pictionary rounded out our evening and made me realize that I was too busy having fun to take any pictures of our evening escapades. What I do have, however, are multiple drawings of Andrew as a ballerina, which is worth everything…
Saturday was almost like an entire weekend rolled up into one. We began the day at Red Rocks, hoping to show them a glimpse of the iconic amphitheater. But after climbing a few too many stairs, we found out that it was closed in preparation for a concert. Undeterred, we took them instead to the ultimate low-impact crowd-pleaser — Triceratops Trail — which is full of interesting fossilized dinosaur footprints and palm fronds. [For the record: palm fronds are way cooler than the dinosaur prints].
Our exercise complete, we quickly made our way to Prost Brewing for a sneak peek at their just-tapped seasonal MÄRZEN, one of our favorite brews in town, and grabbed lunch next door at Avanti Food and Beverage, a place we like to take out-of-towners simply for its multi-vendor, open concept dining options and stellar view over downtown. [Though when crowded, we avoid altogether…]
The final stop on our Denver food-and-drink tour was one of our favorite neighborhood breweries, Factotum Brewhouse. We especially love them because they are involved in our church’s annual St. Dominic’s Oktoberfest, which we help organize every year. This visit was particularly exciting as Factotum had just tapped our church’s collaborative “ALE-LELUIA” Belgian Blonde brew, which Jason had helped create. A few pours of it and a fun round of Cuisine a la Card, and we were ready for our afternoon naps!
Come Saturday night, it was Jason’s turn to take over the kitchen [much to everyone’s excitement]. We decided to go full out with beef, chicken sausage, and vegetable kebabs paired with three [yes, count ’em, THREE!] desserts: a pear and blueberry crumble, a chocolate pecan pie, and s’mores around the fire pit. It was our last evening together, and it could not have been more perfect.
Our final day was a cherished day. Andrew was leaving us that evening, so we tried to fit in all things “cool Denver” to impress his San Francisco heart, as well as a few family-friendly pastimes.
First, we departed straight for our local Highlands Square Farmer’s Market where we sampled everything from sangria to salsa. We introduced them to our favorite cheese shop, stopped in for some artisanal bread from Denver Bread Company, and scored some amazing ice cream from Sweet Cow. [Proof below.]
We even had time to catch a quick Suicide Squad matinee and meander through Union Station before seeing Andrew off on the train to the airport. From there, it was just the four of us, so we took advantage of mom’s desire to try out a new recipe and our newly acquired farmer’s market finds to create a beautiful charcuterie spread, followed by a delectable Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.
I wish I could say that the food was the highlight of the evening, but even though it was memorable in its own right, I think the best part of the evening came when we all relinquished our phones at the dinner table and just talked … for hours. We couldn’t tell you how long we talked, but we know it was well after midnight before we finally made it to bed.
It is for that reason and more why we cherish this Chicken and Wild Rice Soup recipe… it may have been 70-degrees outside, but something about it allowed us to begin a conversation that explored hilarious stories, heated politics, and even personal confessions long past our bedtime. It’s those hours that we were the most surprised and comforted by, so it is this soup that we have chosen to share as a memento from our weekend together. Mom and Alex may have taken off the next day, but the remnants of all of my family’s love, complexity, support, and joy stayed with us for many days after.
Who knows when we will all be together again, but boy could we get used to this whole Christmas in August tradition!
Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
NOTE: You can prepare the rice, chicken, and stock the day before to help with time management. Just allow to cool and refrigerate until ready to use.
- 1 c. long grain wild rice
- 1-3/4 c. water
- 2 chicken breast halves, cooked and shredded
- 6 c. chicken stock*
- 1/2 c. butter, melted
- 3/4 c. flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 tsp. onion powder
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 fresh sage leaves
- 2 c. heavy cream [optional]
* We made our own chicken stock by covering our collected frozen meat and vegetable remnants with water and letting simmer overnight. Once ready, simply drain, let cool in the refrigerator, and skim the fat off the top before using.
- In a medium saucepan, bring water and rice to a boil. Cover and cook at low heat for 45 minutes. Remove heat and allow rice to steam for 10 additional minutes with the lid on. Set aside and cool.
- In a saucepan, place chicken breasts in enough water to cover and boil over medium heat for approximately 15 minutes [until meat is no longer pink]. Transfer chicken to a cutting board or bowl and allow to cool before shredding.
- In a large soup pot, heat chicken broth/stock and add chicken.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together the melted butter and flour with about 1/4 c. of the stock to create a roux. Add roux to the stock to thicken.
- Once slightly thickened, add the rice, seasonings, and herbs and simmer for a minimum of 1 hour [we let it simmer for about 6 hours on the stove while we went shopping and saw a movie].
- Half an hour prior to serving, add cream if desired.