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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Noodles and Nostalgia

I really love to make home made chicken noodle soup. I also really love to eat it. A few days ago it was cold and snowy, so the timing was perfect for bowls of steaming-hot chicken deliciousness. It's almost like a hug and a warm blanket in a bowl. That being said, though, I don't think there's ever a wrong season for this loveliness.

The making of soup (as well as some other things) provides more than nourishment for me and the people who will be sharing it. As I immerse myself in the various stages of the soup's becoming, my mind goes on a journey. I recall other times that I have made this soup and the joy I have had in eating it with others. As my hands go about their work, I am reminded of women who have meant so much to me.

I smile as I remember finding our Aunt Lizi in Hungary. When we walked into her home, she led us straight to the table to eat. Even though I had long since forgotten the Hungarian I spoke so fluently as a child, I guessed what she was saying even before my cousin translated for her. We were being told to sit and eat, and that we wouldn't be leaving the table until all of the food was gone. She began with chicken noodle soup made from the chickens she raised. The noodles had also been made in her kitchen. There was a lovely green salad with a fresh and brightly-flavored dressing. Then a gulyas porkolt, a goulash stew with tiny home made dumplings, followed by chicken prepared in Lizi's own special way. She spread a layer of stuffing under the skin of each piece before roasting it to perfection. Later in the day we had hard-boiled eggs and slices of ham, both raised on her property. There was a jellyroll cake filled with the apricot preserves she had made the previous fall. The meal was seasoned with love, which added to the flavor.

Almost every time I make chicken noodle soup, I remember my Gram. I would come home from school to the fragrance of the chicken simmering in a pot with onions, celery, and carrots. My mouth would water as I saw the chicken cooling on the counter before she removed the meat from the bones, cut it up, and returned it to the pot with the noodles. The soup had a lovely layer of golden schmaltz and was bursting with flavor. The only thing required to make it a complete meal was a bowl and a spoon. Like Lizi, someone Gram never knew of or met, Gram was always making sure everyone was well-fed. 

Finally, I am transported to my mama's kitchen table in Chicago. There was a very important process going on, and I was allowed to help. Noodle-making day was very important. The flour was mounded on the table, and a well made to hold the eggs. Mama mixed it all up with her hands and then the magic began. The noodles were rolled out into a large thin sheet, which was then cut into long strips. These were stacked on top of each other and then cut into noodles. They were hung on wooden racks in the kitchen to dry for future use. 

Noodle day was also a soup-making day. While the noodles were being made on the kitchen table, a large pot of soup was cooking on the stove. The last chunk of noodle dough wasn't rolled and cut like the rest, though. Mama would get out her box grater and run the dough over the largest holes, right into the simmering soup. The fresh dough cooked into tiny dumplings, making the soup even more delicious and filling. It was a wonderful feast.  

Finally, there is the nostalgia that comes every time I make my soup using a whole chicken. It's also a memory of a female, one who was very small. She was an eight and a half pound poodle named Paris, and she loved to go in the kitchen to watch magic and food being made. She followed me around with great interest when I made chicken soup, because she knew that I was also making something special just for her. I would show her the giblets and neck that I put in a small pot with some vegetables. She sniffed at the contents before I put them on the stove, and supervised while I diced everything up and put it back in the pot with a handful or two of rice. When it was time for all of us to eat, all that I had to do was say two words - chicken stew - for her to know that her home-cooked meal was ready. She flew off the bed where she had been resting and raced to the kitchen at top speed. She watched eagerly as I spooned some of the cooled mixture into her bowl. She ate with gusto, and still looked more than willing to help us out if we might accidentally put too much of the mommy-and-daddy soup in our bowls. 

The soup I made the other day was loaded with chicken, vegetables, and rice instead of noodles. We had enough for hearty servings that night as well as some left for the next day, which we shared with my sister Liz. No, it didn't taste exactly like Gram's, and I didn't tell anyone that they couldn't leave the table until it was all done, but it was quite tasty, if I say so myself. Making and eating it warmed and nourished my heart, body, and soul. What more could you ask for in a meal?


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