Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chicken Noodle Soup

The sickness had come upon me quick and all encompassing, much like the ice storm that preceded it. I was taken to the mat fast, disoriented with a full body ache, and surrendered quickly to vivid fever dreams.

Like all fever dreams this one was scary and disconcerting, with sharp dips and swells of volume and texture. Circus mirror perspectives. Gypsy Jazz Violin players, long legged & sharp hipped. The air had that ozoney taste of vertigo.

In this fever dream, at this State of Anxiety Fair, there was a beautiful woman dealing out fortunes from a pack of European cross-hatch-backed playing cards. She was shimmering, given the light, the weave of silver and gold in the thin gauze of the scarves around her head, her waist. The jewelry on her fingers and bracelets running the length of her thin arms caught the light from the soft white electric bulbs lining the trellis above.

The hand lay before her, unfolded. She looked at me with a kind despair, exhaling for me. She reached out with her pale fingers and held my face in her palms.

“Oh,Honey,” she said, “You gotta stop looking for the past in the future.”

I woke in a start, cold and hot. It was close to the part of dawn that suburban doves pay attention to. A snow had fallen and was still fine and untouched. It was in this perfect still moment that I decided to make Chicken Noodle Soup.

The Lesson of Chicken Noodle Soup is the key: Everything you need to fix you is right there in front of you. It is the alchemy of leftovers that gives chicken noodle soup its mojo. More to the point, even in a fevered haze is it possible to take the odd bits of your life, things forgotten but not discarded, and make use of them. The act of making use of them is the act of healing, it is the act of getting better. Each ingredient heals an individual wound. Each ingredient warms a cold corner of the soul. That is why soup tastes like that.

• Chicken Stock– 4 Cups
• Shallot (chopped)- 1
• Carrots (sliced)– 4-6
• Mushrooms (sliced)- 1 cups
• Celery (chopped) – 2 stalks
• Potato (cubed) - 2-3 small
• Black Pepper (freshly ground) – 10 turns
• Salt – 2 TBS
• Thyme – 1 TBS
• Oreganp – 1 TBS
• Cream of Tartar – 1 Tsp
• 2 left over,baked chicken breasts (cubed)
• 2 handfuls wide egg noodles

Like every other recipe it begins with washing your hands. This is an especially loving gesture at the tail end of a cold, fever still lingering in the dried corners of your eye. Before a piece of food is touched, before the pots come out from the cupboards or the spoons are flexed or waved like wands, hot water pours from the faucet. Its steam betrays the coldness of the floor, the chill of the room. The stream will also make you breathe deeper as you scrub to the forearm.

Each of these vegetables are the loose bits rummaging around. The carrots that didn’t make it into the feta salad. The Shallot that missed the date with the parsnips. There are always more potatoes.

Chop the shallot first. Its tears are sweeter than its even its sister Vidalia. The smell will hang in the wet air, sweet and sharp as the back of a debutante’s knee.

Each peel of the carrots reveals a brightness of orange, crisp as Tibet. For years I would slice carrots for speed, for flash of the steel and for careening percussion of my knife against the beaten cutting board. Still slow from the sickness, at ease and lingering sleep and kitchen steam, I sliced each carrot evenly and slowly. Each oval fell in even thickness, tumbled over like a herd of coin. It was soup, after all, and there is no rush. It was morning, after all, and there was no need for cacophony.

Slice the mushrooms more slowly than the carrots. As you breathe with each slice the dense smell of the earth hidden in the mushrooms will be released from its flesh.

Celery is hilarious. Just listen to it when you slice it. I mean, come on. Hilarious. Celery isn’t too proud to laugh at itself. The smell of celery is cashmere sweaters and bloody marys.

Cube the potatoes after having peeled them. As the skin comes away from the potato, moisture beads its ivory flesh.

The very root of optimism lies within chicken stock. It is in the corner of everyone’s cupboard. I love that hope spring, ultimately, from the marrow in the bone.

Get the Big Pot.

Bring the Stock to slow boil on a medium high heat. Don’t rush the boil. Don’t rush anything. You are still sick after all, and time moves wonkily for the fluish. You may find yourself leaning into the pot, over the pot, splay legged with your hands propped on either side of the stove as you being to find yourself breathing, slowly, ingesting the vapor. You are on your way to feeling better.

Add: shallots,carrots,mushrooms,celery,&potatoes.

Each of these, remember, is from some other meal. Each was the discarded object of another’s affection. Chicken soup is that kind of catch all home for those memories still rattling around the present. Resolution, after all, is salty.

When you add the spices do it with pronouncement. Do not let the oregano fall into the pot as if it slipped over the side of a gunwale. Toss is like it is pixie dust, magic powder, voodoo juju. Imagine Tom Waits is your witch doctor. It is that kind of soup.

With the addition of each spice let some piece of your past go; that is how you make room for the future. It is easy to do when you are weak from a cold, hazy from bad sleep, twitchy from fever dreams, high on chicken stock.

Do the same when you dice the chicken breast as add it to the pot. Do no linger on the memory, turning it over and over like some weird fetish. Simply surrender it to soup.

Reduce to low simmer and cover with a crooked lid, allowing the stream to escape into you kitchen’s stratosphere.

Let it sit on the back of your stove and let it cook for an hour. A nice hot shower and a lovely cup of tea fit nicely into this fortuitous space of time.

Add the noodles a half an hour before you intend to eat.

Eat it slowly and breath evenly.