Happy new year, friends! In the spirit of the annual burbling of self improvement sentiments (or what other folks tend to refer to as new year’s resolutions), I’m focusing my devotion once again on cooking and writing and blogging and y’all. This is a post I composed mostly in November, but upon which I have been sitting for some months for no reason other than general winter malaise/laziness. I figured that finishing and finally posting it would be a good way to get things started back up, especially with this particular soup. Enjoy!
On November 1, we got one less hour of daylight. It was 6:30 or so in the evening and I was walking down Kedzie toward Grand with a certain Dude on my arm. We were dispensing tutorials on family nicknames, pointing out strange/tasteless/now-outdated Halloween decorations, and talking about being late for movies. (We were late for ours.) To be sure, I was engaged in the conversation, but my mind and, quite frankly, my stomach, was churning, waiting for the right moment to… just… jump in and… ask something.
A discernible, but by no means pregnant, pause between topics and:
“So. Um, am I your girlfriend?” I blurted.
“Well. I’d like to call you my girlfriend. If… that’s okay?”
Probably another pause, though it’s punctuated in my memory by a huge mental (and probably physical) exhalation.
Relieved, we both confessed that the question had been weighing on both of our minds for a week or two, and, I dunno, you know, how do you just bring that up?
“Just like that,” I said.
Only as we were crossing Grand Avenue, looking down the empty street for a possibly, hopefully approaching bus, did it occur to me how dark it was; it could have been midnight. There is a weird thing that the mind does around this time of year to prepare for the coming winter. It’s this hybrid of hazily remembering Last Winter and wondering whether the experience could be at all useful in preparing you for This Winter. It’s almost like when you’re trying to remember a strange dream: Was last winter bad? How bad? Worse than the winter before? How much snow was there? Did we think it was bad at the time? Did I make the best of things? I need to learn how to mend socks. How often did I go out? How did we deal with winter? I think maybe we probably drank more. Whoa, wait, how warm is my coat? God, I wanna make some soup. And so on.
These were my thoughts as we sat down at the stop, as Danny hit up the CTA bus tracker on his phone, as he commented on the broken glass on the ground, as I noted, but did not comment on, the broken, hard-boiled egg on the ground (another post: my deep, abiding, quiet love for all things absurd).
Danny: So a bus is coming in like 7 minutes.
Me: You know, I have been thinking about how dark it is.
Me: And how we deal with it. I think we just become nocturnal, right? We do all the things we used to in summer, just in the dark.
D: Right. Come sit down with me.
And I sat with him. And I remembered when I was little and how, given my 7pm bedtime, I thought that all the grown-up and cool things I was clearly missing out on must have been happening after I had gone to bed. So then, my entire vision of being Grown Up and Cool came to life in front of a shimmering black backdrop of night sky and stars (and… well, in my five year old head, sequins and bright red lipstick).
We sat, in the early evening darkness, arms linked, waiting for the bus, seeing our breath.
Later that night, after the movie, we talked more about the dark and the cold. And about soup. And about my blog, actually. Danny asked why I hadn’t been updating it lately, and I explained that all I had been doing in the kitchen for the last few weeks was making soup. I mused that I should just change the name of my blog to Crazy Soup Lady. Or Soup A Week. He mused that I should open a soup cart in the Loop and have one different soup every day. And it would be tasty. And people would love me.
D: And you could have regular soups. Like Wednesday could be your parsnip soup.
Me: Yeah! And Thursday could be roasted red pepper & tomato soup.
D: And Monday could be chicken noodle soup. People’d need something cozy and nice for Mondays.
Me: Yeah! But wait. I… do not do chicken noodle soup.
Me: I dunno, I mean, maybe I just had a bad experience with chicken noodle soup growing up. It’s not something my mom or dad ever made, so the only kind I had was Campbell’s in a can. Which was a pathetic excuse for a soup.
As the words came out of my mouth it occurred to me how silly I sounded. With all of my chicken-stock-making and adventures in dough/dumplings and general adventurousness in the kitchen, I clearly had not yet put it together that I could – DUH – wrest chicken noodle soup from the jaws of bad/bland associations with my own Gra know-how.
It was time for a Reclaim.
So, a few nights later, gazing wistfully/incredulously at the last wisps of sunlight as they fizzled over the November horizon and noting the time – 4:27 pm – I put on my shoes, strapped on my grocery/bike bag, and went to market. It was dark and cold and I had charged myself to (re)define my relationship with winter, and, really, living in the dark.
- a roasting chicken
- fresh sage
- fresh thyme
- a lemon
- a few heads of garlic
- an onion
- a bunch of celery
I was going to make chicken noodle soup.
And then I remembered that I own neither a rolling pin nor a pasta roller.
CORRECTION: I was going to make chicken and dumpling soup.
First, I roasted a chicken using this method. (I considered the resulting croutons my prize/fuel as I finished making the rest of the soup.) Once it had gotten cool enough to handle with my bare hands, I pulled it apart, separating meat from skin and bone. I made a nice chicken stock with the latter two materials, as well as half of an onion and a bit of celery and parsley.
In separate nice big pot, I cooked down the other half of the onion, diced, with the rest of the celery, thinly sliced, and some garlic. I added chopped parsley, sage, and thyme. (I warbled Scarborough Fair begrudgingly and tunelessly in my kitchen and mused upon the devastating ridiculousness of Art Garfunkel’s hair.) I made a mental note to highlight in this very post the absence of carrots…
I like carrots. A whole lot. I might make a soup from them very soon. But I’m a sucker for a nice color scheme in a dish and I had always found rather jarring the presence of orange carrots in an otherwise serenely green/brown/translucent white chicken noodle soup. So, because this was my very special reclaim and mine alone, I omitted carrots. Because I like nice things and sometimes nice things have to be pretty, regardless of possible hurt carrot feelings.
As my vegetables were cooking down, I chopped the chicken meat into hearty, but bite-sized pieces. Then I mixed together in a bowl, with my hands:
- 3 eggs
- 2 cups of flour
- a generous splash of water
- a generous sprinkle of salt (maybe about 1/2 teaspoon, which, in hindsight, should have been more. I like a salty dumpling.)
I emphasize the hand-mixing because a) it can and should be done in most situations, and b) I want the world to know that I don’t have a stand-mixer. Whether that garners me a KitchenAid for Christmas, or a new level of respect from my (five) readers, I don’t care. Mixing by hand is awesome. Most of the time.
So. The dough for egg dumplings was mixed. The chicken meat was ready to go in. I added the warm stock to the vegetables, along with some water (it was a strong stock), and the chicken, and brought it all to a gentle boil. I plunged my hands back into the goopy dumpling dough and, basically, dropped pieces of it into the pot in a rather graceless, but necessary fashion that allowed me to pull/peel/mangle it off of my be-doughed fingers. As with the previous week’s gnocchi, the dumplings floated dutifully to the surface of the pot when they were done.
And when the dumplings were done, the soup was done. And it was still dark. But I had done it, just like that.