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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