The Best Medicine

My 19-year-old daughter is home from college, recovering from a tonsillectomy, and I couldn’t be happier. Not about the tonsils, mind you; I hate seeing her in so much pain. But with two kids out of the house, and one essentially out the door, my mothering skills have lain fallow.The opportunity to proffer some much-needed TLC has presented itself, and I am grabbing that brass ring! Rest assured, there will be ample back rubbing, cuddling, reading, singing, story-telling, bathing, and general around-the-clock catering to all of her needs, basic and otherwise. As long as she lets me.

When the kids were very young, our days revolved around such activities. It was as if we grew three new limbs, each requiring tending to regularly, insistently, and seemingly without rest. Each child came into the world making his or her undeniable presence known, then and forevermore. Our exhaustion was pervasive, our patience was at a premium, and it seemed there was no end in sight. Oh how we longed for the day when we — my husband and I — could sit down to an uninterrupted meal and perhaps even engage in some “grown-up” conversation.

Well, you know how this story ends. We got our wish, and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. There is a sad, quiet sense of order in the house now (this coming from an obsessive-compulsive clean freak), an absence of chaos that sometimes makes my heart lurch and my throat get that strange tightening feeling that precedes a good cry.

In her book, A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg, perhaps my favorite food writer, beautifully explains the lure of the kitchen in a way that resonates with me:

“…I think that what it all comes down to is winning hearts and minds. Underneath everything else, all the plans and goals and hopes, that’s why we get up in the morning, why we believe, why we try, why we bake chocolate cakes. That’s the best we can ever hope to do: to win hearts and minds, to love and be loved.”

So you will forgive my slightly masochistic joy in having my daughter bed-ridden with a dastardly sore throat and utterly in need of the kind of comforting that only a mother (okay, father too) can provide. I will strap on my mommy gear and enjoy this ride, however fleeting it may be.

Old-Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup (what else?)*
There are about as many ways to make chicken noodle soup as there are to skin a cat (okay, not really, but I just like that expression). The point is, with a few basic, fresh ingredients, some patience, and a lot of love, you can easily create a steaming pot of this magically curative meal. Hearts, minds and stomachs will surely be won over.
*[Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence] 

Ingredients:
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, cut into thick slices
2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise and cut into thick slices
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 quarts homemade chicken stock (recipe to follow)
8 oz. wide egg noodles
1-1/2 c. cooked chicken, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional, for garnish)

Directions:
Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Saute next six ingredients, stirring continually for approximately five minutes until vegetables are softened but not browned. Pour in the chicken stock (recipe to follow) and bring to a boil. Add noodles and simmer for five minutes until tender. Fold in the chicken and continue to simmer for several minutes until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley (optional) before serving.

Chicken Stock:
1 whole 2-3 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 carrots, cut into large chunks
3 celery stalks (leaves included), cut into large chunks
2 large white onions, quartered
1 head of garlic, halved
1/4 bunch fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 T. whole peppercorns

Place the chicken and vegetables in a large stock pot over medium heat, and pour in just enough water to cover. Add herbs and peppercorns and allow stock to slowly come to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, partially covered, until chicken is cooked through. During cooking time, occasionally skim any impurities that rise to the surface. Add a little more water, if necessary.

Once chicken is finished cooking, carefully remove it and allow to cool on a cutting board. Once the chicken is completely cooled, shred it by hand and discard all skin and bones. Carefully strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer to remove solids and use stock immediately, as directed above.

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