As a lapsed Catholic keeping a Jewish home, I tend to be a little cagey about what I believe, but when it all gets simmered down, I believe in Chicken Soup.
Chicken soup, served with love and intention, will calm the agitated, cure the sick, and suffuse a home, or office, or clinic, or in my case backstage, with peace and the warm smell of garlic. Chicken soup is about nurturing, taking care of, reaching beyond barriers, feeding a soul — opening up and being hospitable. The chicken soup must be traditional– whatever you define your traditional to be, but it also should be improvisational—maybe with potatoes or noodles or dumplings this time. The chicken soup, if its served right, with love and intention, could even come from a can, though its ALWAYS better if made with the land’s finest ingredients and a chicken you knew had lived a good life, and cooked for hours. We are what we eat you know, and really good eating takes time.
Just like religions, it’s not the recipe, but the meaning that is critical with Chicken soup. Perhaps it means to warm you, to heal you, to welcome you, to connect you to people you are just getting to know, or to people you know too well. Sometimes your chicken soup is your bubbe’s pierogi or abuelita’s tamales or daddy’s chili or mama’s fried chicken. It’s a flavor and smell and sensation you carry with you through life like a genetic imprint, and a legacy you pass on to your children in the form of a verbal recipe, or perhaps a way of doing things—mama always cooked the chicken whole, mama always put two tablespoons of miso in her soup…the garlic must be crushed, mama NEVER minced it. Your chicken soup might even be vegetarian. The recipe needs to be forgiving enough to move over and make room for quirky family members so everyone can fit at the table and have some.
Every time I make a soup, it telescopes my life and my history. This is a soup like the soup my children’s great grandparents made before the second world war erased their lives, this is a soup like the soup my great grandmother made in Hungary before she packed up the featherbeds and came through Ellis Island. This is a soup like I made for the mother in our school community battling cancer. This is a soup like I make on a cold Friday night when we just need time to be together as a family. Chicken soup is a culinary hug. I have made it for the supernumeraries at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and for an unknown sick person at my temple. Each time I get out the pot and begin the ritual, the drawing of the water, the chopping of the garlic, I become mindful.
Chicken soup is my prayer for a better world, and a hope for goodness for the people in it.
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