When Snert was first talking, he had the most high-pitched voice you ever heard. Cisco and I worried to each other “Do you think it’ll stay that way?” (It didn’t. He sounds normal now.) I remember it so well: making dinner in the kitchen of our second apartment (it had mustard-colored appliances and a glorious in-unit washer and dryer), and in toddles not-yet two-year-old Snert, squeak-yelling “Mom! Mom! Ah you makin’ dinnah? Ah you? Mom! Ah you makin’ chickin’? Aaaahhh you?”
Cooking for that boy has only ever been deeply satisfying. Such appetite! Such joie de chew. The first time baby Snert tucked into a booster-tray of my cooking, I swelled with joyful pride unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It was so right, so primordially satisfying for me, in a way that even breastfeeding him never was. I’ve never felt more maternal.
I love to feed people. Somewhere inside my crusty heart lives a Jewish mama. And an Italian one, for that matter. I like to tell Cisco that there’s also a very exotic woman inside of me, trying to bust out of my buttoned-up exterior. She dances with her hips (can’t), kisses strangers (won’t) and is the best, big-heartedest company you ever had. She’s a sloppy cooker, obviously, so at least I have that part right. Cisco looks a little frozen when I talk like this. Intrigued, maybe, but uneasy. Seeing as how he married a pale-ish, repressed-ish, clumsy person who has terrible posture and no fashion sense, that other lady is probably not his type. Well, people can change, Cisco! People can change.
On that note, I invite you to make possibly the least exotic dish you could make: chicken soup. I know, but wait. I am not a soup person, either. No matter how many times I’ve been pleasantly surprised by soup, I can’t get excited about making it. But if you are cold all the time these days, if your people are sick, if you have a chicken in the fridge that’s skating dangerously close to its expiration date, or if February blues have set in and you would like a hug that doesn’t feel as pathetic as actually hugging yourself, chicken soup is the ticket. As the Brits say. Or is it just old people? They have all the best phrases, old people. Kiss your grandma! I can’t kiss mine without getting more Heathcliff than I would like.
Lately I’ve been using the Pioneer Woman’s chicken soup recipe, and it’s about as basic and tasty as they come. I use it as a rough guideline and throw in whatever I have around. The point is to use a whole chicken. This is key for several reasons: for starters, you plunk it in the pot right out of the package, thus minimizing human-to-poultry interaction. There’s no browning, no spattering oil, no softening of mirepoix, no faffing whatever. It’s easy easy easy, and your soup won’t suffer for it. Most importantly, though, you must use a whole chicken so that you get all the goodness of cooking with the bones. Even the smell is more nourishing and silky with the bones. If you have any soup left at the end of the day, you’ll notice when you next pull it out of the refrigerator that it has set up into a gelatin. That’s the sign of a good soup.
In PW’s recipe, you chuck in some onions, carrots, parsnips, celery, etc. and cover the whole mess with chicken broth. The broth is extravagant and unnecessary, and yes you could absolutely use water and it will still be delicious. I have been throwing restraint to the wind and using the broth, though, and oh, is it rich and lovely! Her recipe is so very simple that you can really do whatever you want with it. Perk it up with colorful spices, herbs, lemon, garlic, or leave it plain and comforting. Add noodles or rice, or any number of vegetables. That’s the thing about a soup. It’s endlessly forgiving of both culinary whims and tired fridge contents. Either way, the smell in your home will be heavenly, and fill your heart with a sense of rightness. When chicken soup is bubbling on my stove I feel all bosom. Maternally Speaking.
Just for the love, season your soup well. Soup always needs more salt than you think. If it tastes like a sad failure, it’s probably just not seasoned enough. Add salt, bit by bit, until gradually, like the rising dawn, your soup begins to have flavor. You’re nearly there. Add a bit more, and a good deal of pepper, and be delighted. There’s a reason Christ urges us to be salt. It changes everything.
As a parting pinch of persuasion (culinary alliteration, ten points!), soup is all the excuse you need to rekindle your romance with butter. Chuck together a banana or pumpkin quick bread, or just have a slice of sandwich bread. Butter cares not. Butter forgives. Butter covers a multitude of flaws in luscious reassurance. This is getting too sexy, so I’ll wrap it up. Make chicken soup this week. It will only cost you a few minutes of prep and a couple of hours of heavenly smells. Great will be your reward.