l, the first of the holidays has come and gone, and the seasonal rush begins in earnest now. Are you ready for the shopping and wrapping and more shopping? I'm not!
   I'm content to remember our wonderful Thanksgiving a little longer. Lots of my husband's family came from Pennsylvania and California. We rented a house on the Coast, so we loaded up everyone, including the dog, most of the kitchen and enough food for a small army, and spent the better part of the week over there. The Vails are fun and funny, and I knew this trip would just be a hoot. I wasn't disappointed.
   I had planned the week's menu and done all the shopping before we had left. I tried so hard not to overdo and turn into a maniacal cook. I've been known to practically kill guests with kindness and too much to eat, so I went into this holiday determined not to go overboard. I think I succeeded.
   Certainly, no one went hungry, but I didn't spend every minute cooking. I did get to fuss and make lots of my favorite holiday dishes, so I was happy. Put me in a kitchen and turn me loose, and I'm pretty much satisfied.
   We broke with tradition and didn't fix a turkey. First of all, I didn't want to haul a big turkey over the mountains, and since it was a kitchen I had never set foot in, I didn't know what to expect as far as equipment. We decided to serve a Honeybaked Ham, which we brought up from California a couple of weeks ago.
   Turns out the ham was just about as big as a turkey. Of course, we didn't finish all of it, so the leftovers made the trip back over the mountains with us. This ham really got around.
   For lunch one day, I made a favorite soup of ours. It became a favorite of everyone else's, too. I ran this recipe about 3 years ago, but it's a good one to feature again because you can use leftover turkey. If you don't have any turkey left, just cook a couple of chicken breasts. For our big crowd, I doubled the recipe, which also gave us a few servings for the next day.
   This soup couldn't be easier. Just open a bunch of cans and put it all together. It's good for a cold winter weekend, and it's easy enough to make after a busy day of shopping. Fill a thermos with it and take it with you when you go out to cut a Christmas tree.
   Ease into the holidays with a comforting bowl of soup. Sit in front of the fire, watch your favorite Christmas movie and enjoy the peace and warmth of home. Shopping can wait until tomorrow.
    Sharon Vail lives in Powell Butte. She'll cook for her loving family any time, holiday or not. Readers may contact her at svail "Cooking from the heart of Oregon"
   Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Chowder
   1 1/2 cups milk or half-and-half (I like to use fat-free half-and-half)
   1 cup chicken broth
   10 3/4-ounce can cream of potato soup
   10 3/4-ounce can cream of chicken soup
   2 cups cooked, cubed chicken or turkey (a couple of chicken breasts will be enough)
   11-ounce can Mexicorn, undrained
   1/3 cup chopped green onions
   4 1/2-ounce can sliced mushrooms, undrained
   4-ounce can diced green chiles, drained
   6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) shredded cheddar cheese
   Salt and pepper to taste
    In a 4-quart saucepan, combine milk or half-and-half, chicken broth, cream of potato soup and cream of chicken soup. Blend well. You probably won)t get all the lumps of soup smoothed out, but that)s OK. They'll blend in later.
   Add all the remaining ingredients except the cheese. Mix well. Cook over medium heat 8-10 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally.
   Remove from heat. Add cheese and stir until it melts. Very good the next day, too.
   Makes about 8 cups.
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