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Soup for the Soul

I actually wrote this post over a year ago, when our neighbor suffered a devastating loss. It seems appropriate to share it here on a day that is synonymous, for so many, with loss and grief. If this day inspires anything, let it move you to love your neighbor and to care for those who suffer. The way I best know to do this is through food.

March, 2012

I wanted to walk up and throw my arms around her, to capture and steal her grief. It’s a grief no one should ever have to know, one I likely will never know, the loss of a child. A child who had played, grown up, married and had children of his own; but even as a grown man he was still this woman’s child.

Instead, I walked up quietly and took my place among the women of the neighborhood. No longer a child myself, I listened to these mothers trying to say something, anything, that might help with visages of empathy that only a mother could feel.

The only thing I had to offer were a child’s memories. Hazy visions of strong boys who moved furniture for us and the sounds of driveway basketball on a summer evening. Those boys were the background noise of my childhood, the cool (and cute!) teenagers that I watched from across the street. The talk turned to the past and, while those summer evenings are imprinted on me, the memory I offered was intended to make a fleeting smile.

Halloween was always a production, as it tends to be when there are so many kids in a neighborhood. But their house always took the cake. Cobwebs were draped from the gutters, the porch light nixed in favor of a black-light, and haunted eerie music from an open window. Scary enough when you’re a little girl, but as I walked up to the door, the teenage boy fell from the tree with a chilling shriek. You’d think that after a few years of this it would cease to be startling. And yet, for as many years as it went on I was always caught by surprise. I have no doubt that those boys thought it a highly amusing antic, not in a mean-spirited way but in the way that teenagers find such things humorous.

The story succeeded in bringing a small grin to his mother’s face. There were other stories told but even when these stories bring fleeting joy, there stays the throbbing undercurrent of inexplicable grief.

When hearts are heavy and words lose meaning, there is only one thing I can ever do: cook. It’s selfish, the need to do something, but also well intended. So, I volunteered. This dinner weighs heavy, both seasoned with smiles and salted with tears. My cooking tends to be intuitive and I can never seem to recreate a recipe exactly; this recipe especially was a creation of the heart, intended to be familiar and comforting. So modify as circumstance or desire dictates.

In deciding to make chicken soup, I knew I wanted something hearty. While I’d never before made dumplings, I thought they would be a perfect addition. My soup is influenced by The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Chicken and Dumplings. I used her dumplings recipe as written but happened to make mine slightly smaller than suggested and found them to be perfect.

Soup for the Soul
(written from memory, so quantities and times may vary slightly)

2 T. butter
1 T. oil
1 whole chicken, skin on, cut
2 T. herb poultry seasoning (or coarse butcher’s rub) + 1 cup flour
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
2-4 carrots, chopped
3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
1/2 cup white wine (I used a California Pinot gris that was light-medium bodied with peppery notes)
2-4 cups broth
1/2-1 T. dried thyme
1/8-1/4 T. dried tarragon
1/8-1/4 t. coarse black pepper or lemon pepper
1/4 cup apple juice
1/2 cup milk
1 batch of dumpling dough (I loved the texture yielded by this recipe)

Melt butter and oil in a heavy pan over medium heat. Season chicken pieces with herb/flour mixture. Brown chicken on both sides (work in batches if needed and don’t worry about cooking all the way through.) Remove chicken from pan and add carrots, celery, and onion. Cook for about 5 minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine, cook additional 5 minutes. Add chicken, spices, and enough broth to completely cover chicken. Cover and cook on medium low heat for about an hour.

Remove chicken to plate and let cool. Add cider and milk, return to simmer. Drop dumplings one at a time into pot. While dumplings are cooking, shred chicken. Let dumplings cook about 10-12 minutes before returning chicken to pot.

Top with minced or dried herbs before serving. Because there are lovely pillowy dumplings in the soup, you don’t even need crusty bread to serve this with. Just serve as is, perhaps with a crisp white wine or a kolsch.


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