Chicken Soup for the Shirley

To tell the truth, I’m really not feeling soup-er douper today. Yet another office cold has made the rounds, and it caught me this time. The bright side was that it gave me a day at home to take it easy and slow-simmer a big pot of chicken broth.

As luck would have it, I snagged some fresh carrots, parsnips and potatoes at the farmer’s market last night after work. After simmering a whole chicken for about 3 hours, I tossed in big rustic chunks (love how I can call it rustic instead of “lazily chopped”) of root veggies. About 20 minutes more in the big pot for those to soften. Then I put a single serving in a smaller pot, poured in some elbow macaronis to cook and sprinkled just a tiny bit of salt to heighten the natural taste of each ingredient.

My mom used to serve me broth & macaroni when I was little and home sick, so it always has that instant comforting association. If only she were here to take care of me (don’t worry, she’s just in China at the moment, she’ll be back). Slurping up hot soup, naturally sweet veggies and tender pasta really brought me back (to life, to childhood, you name it). I even reverted to an old habit: chewing with my mouth wide open while breathing in. I can’t explain it, but the colder air rushing in makes the aroma of the pasta and broth more powerful. I think it pushes the scent in more quickly and/or provides a contrast that makes the taste of the food stand out.

For a really simple meal, it has a lot of different layers. The varying sweetness of the chicken stock, carrots and parsnips play off each other in a really gentle, lovely way. It’s sweet without the harsh sting of candy. Deeper, earthier tones come from the potatoes which crumble gratefully with a touch of the tongue and the playful pasta that tries to bounce a little before yielding as I bite. Even the feeling, of leaning over the bowl and letting the steam envelope my face as I pause to inhale the fragrance of what I am about to eat, feels hearty and rich.

There’s a reason that bottle of Nyquil sits unopened in my cabinet. Some things really can’t be manufactured.

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Life, Unfolding

I’m not sure if it’s because I read a lot as a child or that my parents told me tales to make me fall asleep (I was a night owl even then), but I’ve realized that I view life as something that unfolds in front of me like a story. This realization was closely followed by a more startling thought: other people view life in very different ways. Some as a series of tasks to be performed in the same order every day, and some as a game of chess to be figured out. There must be many more, but they’re hard to spot and even harder to capture in pithy metaphors.

I suppose it’s not much of an epiphany in the grand scheme of things, but it shifted my perspective. What people refer to as faith, in a god or the universe or science, I’ve just been believing in as a plot that’s already been mapped out and edited. Hopefully by a prestigious publishing house. To me, the world may have confusing elements, but an unseen writer will eventually pull the disparate threads together into a satisfying conclusion.

It’s always startling to take a step back and view your own basic beliefs at an objective distance. I really have no idea how to apply this new knowledge of myself yet. The question comes to mind that if I believe a writer is in charge, and I strive to become the best writer I can be, do I have the nerdiest manifestation of a god complex ever? Or perhaps it’s the same as some religions teach, to lead life as a journey to finding god within yourself.

Either way, I’m gonna feel a little better about pouring myself a glass of wine as a nightcap. It’s almost like taking communion.

Viva La Mama!

Greetings, Chan-fans! I have a treat to make up for my month-long disappearance: a visit from Mama Channypants.

So, my cute lil nugget of a mom dropped by last weekend. She started from Connecticut on a Chinatown bus which broke down about 1 hour away from the city, and called me to say that she might be a few hours late since they were waiting for a replacement bus to come pick them up. I could hear a siren in the background, and she explained that the highway patrol was trying to decide whether he was protecting them from oncoming traffic or giving the driver a ticket. The passengers all yelled in confused Chinese and rustled their bright red plastic bags full of chicken bones until he backed off. Smart man. In a fit of defiance, however, he warned them not to get off the bus or he’d be back to give them a ticket. Then he drove off.

My mom shrugged (yes, I heard her) and hung up without saying goodbye. Normally, I’d still be speaking to empty air for another minute before noticing, but this time I needed to maximize every extra moment I got. See, I was panic-cleaning my apartment to prepare for the judgement-eyes. My mom is so good at cleaning that all the surfaces sparkle like in those bleach commercials. I knew I wouldn’t impress her, but I wanted to at least get the place up to a level that wouldn’t, you know, make her worried about what I was doing with my life. Anyhoo, I felt guilty about thinking of the bus breakdown as a minor deus ex machina in the very boring drama of my life, but I assuaged it slightly by using big words.

After another hour, I’d dusted everything I could think of, swept, done dishes and succeeded in coaxing sparkles out of two very small surfaces. The rest stayed stubbornly matte no matter how hard I scrubbed. It’s a mystery. The phone rang again, and again it was my mom. The replacement bus was nowhere to be found, the passengers had mostly fallen into naps of despair, yet she had somehow located a friend who just happened to be driving into the city along the same exact highway on which she was stranded (I have never met anybody else with the kind of amazing luck that both my parents exhibit on a regular basis). Meanwhile, the bus driver tried to stop her from exiting the bus because he had taken the patrolman’s instructions to stay very literally. I guess he didn’t expect her to bum rush him, jump into a getaway vehicle and immediate begin speeding towards Chinatown (allegedly). Laughing about her escapade, she informed me that we could meet in 40 minutes. Of course, she hung up before I could explain how the subway worked in Brooklyn on a Sunday.

After we met, the rest of the day was uneventful. We bought a ton of veggies, salmon and steak and went back to my place to cook. Dinner with my mom was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. She has this amazing recipe for salmon that blows people away. We just chatted, made fun of my dad, prank-called him (don’t worry, he’s a good sport), then hung up without saying goodbye (it IS fun being on the other side of that), and ate for hours. You want to know what came a close second to dinner though? When my mom looked around, nodded slowly, and said, “Not bad.” I think one of the surfaces that agreed to sparkle was in her line of sight. Yesss!