Nurturing Chicken Soup

"It's nurturing, nourishing, and when you take a sip it says "everything's okay."" - The First Forty Days, Heng Ou





Chicken soup (or "bobomyacin" as my parents call it) is a food that I will eat every damn day if it's available. It's easy to make, requires few ingredients that are relatively easy to acquire or keep on hand, stays well in the fridge for week-long eating, and freezes like a dream. It's a soothing, warm, and comforting hug. A nourishing dinner, lunch, and makes a wonderful breakfast too, if you're so inclined.


When my sisters and I visit my parents, my mother will often leave a pot of soup on the stove top throughout the day. There is just something about soup on a stove that says: home. About 10 years ago, I decided that I would bring the tradition home with me. Along the way, I (in a quite anti-common-sense manner) somehow associated soups with being left out. So, when I made my first turkey soup a few weeks later and left the thing on stove day-and-night, I called mom to tell her that my soup-that-had-been-left-out had gone bad. No surprise there! If I'm honest, the concept of refrigeration wasn't lost on me. I just think there was a part of me that so wanted to believe that there exists a particular culinary magic that causes soups to override normal food refrigeration needs, allowing them to be left out on stove tops forever-more, glowing under golden stove lights like a love-and-nurturant-chalice (those exist, right?). What can I say? Sometimes, imagining the comforting presence of such a symbol overrides objectivity, and there's nothing wrong with that.


Setting aside past episodes of gripping-onto-weird-and-dreamy-forms-of-naivety, my mindset right now as I think about chicken soup has less to do with sweet memories, and more to do with preparation. Preparation for our baby's arrival, that is.


In general, I've been more concerned about the postpartum experience than the pregnancy or birthing experience. I was a little sick during my first trimester, but not anything like stories I've heard. Sea-slash-car-sick-ish enough that I remember sitting with one of my couples and thinking "I might puke on you both right now," but...I didn't (puke, that is). Once I started my second trimester, apart from worst-case-scenarios taking up a bit of space and being a bit preoccupied with eating and exercising well, I haven't felt unlike my non-pregnant self. I'm still working, living, and agonizing too much about my work/art-making/life balance (i.e. feeling an urge to "figure it out" before the baby arrives in hopes that I might become an even more patient and grounded version of myself - cue laughter - can anyone relate?). Pregnancy, so far, hasn't rocked me off my center. I might even say that it's helped me find mine in a new way. And regarding the birthing process. Sure, I'm nervous. Like any new mother, I'll likely witness myself bear more pain than ever before, and I'll need to flex with whatever wrenches might be thrown into the process. I can do it, and things will go to go how they go. Will I create a birth plan? No. I am not interested in home-births nor to do I put particular birthing methods on a pedestal. If I’m in too much pain, I’ll take drugs. I come from a line of women who have had birthing complications and who have tended to deliver enormous babies. My plan? It's not even a plan. Find a doctor I connect with and trust, get myself to a hospital when I'm in labor, and deliver this baby - in any way that leads to a healthy baby, healthy mom, and informed/present/sane dad - please and thank you. It's going to go how it goes.


But, as I look towards my first postpartum period (in about 5 months), I do worry. I worry that I might...freak the *&%# out, if you know what I mean. Most of what I have read about the postpartum period talks about the importance of connection and having a support system around you, and - while I have an amazing family and couldn't ask for better friends in the world, reaching out can be a real struggle for me. For better or for worse, I tend towards overworking and overexertion more-so than under. I can easily imagine myself taking steps towards getting-back-to-life-as-usual-plus-baby, only to overextend myself, feel ashamed that I'm not handling things better, and not want to reach out until I feel like I'm beyond the end of my rope.


BUT (and I think the but is really important here), I'm also reminding myself to keep a level head-and-heart by reassuring myself that it's okay. As in, "even during moments when you feel like a complete failing-crazy-person, you have to remember that it's okay - you're okay - you're doing a much better job than you are capable of seeing in this moment." Plus, reminding myself that feeling like a "complete mess" is undeniably a relatable experience for anyone who has ever been a mother, and reaching out always turns out to be more nourishing than it is frightening. Again, everything will be okay.


In the spirit of a too-often-used-adage, "hope for the best, prepare for the worst," I'm experiencing the latter dictate as being all about offering compassion to my fear combined with a little literal preparation. For me, preparation looks like nesting, identifying my essentials so I don't feel overwhelmed by a mess of stuff, and...cooking! There is just something about a freezer full of home-made soups and prepared meals that feels reassuring, which is why I am so happy to have found The First Forty Days.


The First Forty Days is a lovely cook-book by Hung Ou, and it describes zuo yuezi, the no-nonsense Chinese tradition that views the early postpartum period as a time for new moms to retreat from unnecessary responsibilities, abide by recommendations to "replenish (her) life force," and stay warm and nested. The intention is for mom to be able to call upon stores of warmth and support in order to weather the beautiful storm of caring for a new life so she can evolve into (not a burned out, anxious, depressed, and depleted version of herself) but a vibrant, patient, ready-to-mother, physically-emotionally-psychologically-spiritually balanced version of herself of herself.


I paused when I read, "following a short program of special nutrition, resting and body care after such a big event as birth (is) seen as utterly natural." There is just something about the idea of preparing soups in advance and drawing strict boundaries around work and movement for the first month-ish of motherhood seems...obvious, valid, realistic...even necessary, if at all possible? While I don't see myself following the classic protocol, (nor would I expect the majority modern day working mothers to have that kind of support), I do want to put as much stock into nurturing food preparation as possible (pun intended).


Cooking in preparation for the early postpartum period has crossed my mind before. And, even though anything that even resembles a plan seems as though it might trigger the "anything-related-to-babies-or-kids gods" to strike-a-mom-down in their classic tragi-comedy style, cooking seems like a safe call. We keep a chest freezer in our basement, and I have visions of said freezer chock full of soups and home-cooked meals. My hope is that for the first month or so, I will have enough back-up that I can cook when it would feel soothing for me to do so and not because I'm scrambling to un-starve-i-fy our under-slept selves (cue visions of Cathy comic strip - now that I mention that, was Cathy a mother?).


While I am excited to try several recipes in The First Forty Days, I'll begin with one of my own. Without further ado, here is my simple recipe for nurturing chicken soup.


Nurturing Chicken Soup

















- INGREDIENTS -


2 lbs chicken legs with skin

2 c cooked quinoa (1 c pre-cooking)

3-4 large carrots (depending on how carrot-y you like your soup)

3-4 stalks of celery

1 yellow onion (or 3-4 shallots for a lighter oniony flavor)

4 cloves of garlic (or more if you’re using small cloves)

1 bunch green onions

bunch of springs fresh thyme (I use a lot of thyme in my soup!)

2 bay leaves

a few sprigs fresh oregano (optional - I love using fresh oregano because a few years back my oregano exploded and I've been chipping away at the dried stuff for a while, but I probably wouldn't recommend the crushed/dried store-bought version)

4 whole all spice

1 TBSP salt (or to your taste)

1 tsp peppercorns (or to your taste)

1 tbsp (or one solid glug) olive oil

8 cups water


- MAKE IT YOUR OWN -


For extra protein: boil two chicken breasts and shred the cooked chicken into your soup. I do this all the time!

For added comfort: add a starchy carb of your choice. Boil potatoes, yucca, rice, or bow-tie pasta. When I do this, I tend to cook them separately and add them to our soup for meals, otherwise they act strangely. As a side note, I did not grow up eating yucca growing up, but my husband introduced it to me and I prefer it to potatoes in soup! Yucca has a natural buttery flavor and comes out less firm than potatoes when fully cooked. But, again, potatoes and yucca will go bad before the rest of the soup, so you really do need to cook and add them later. Rice and bow-tie pasta will continue to absorb the stock until they are bloated and mushy. Not good. You'll see quinoa in my recipe. It's full of protein and doesn't bloat in a soup.

For additional warmth: finely chop a thumb-sized piece of ginger and cook with your mirepoix and garlic.

For richness: add a parmesan rind, remove before serving simmering.

For a bit of brightness: add a squeeze of lemon or some organic lemon zest.

For extra iron, B-vitamins, and a splash of green: add 3 big handfuls of spinach.

For a cheesy flavor and extra B-vits: sprinkle and dissolve a tablespoon of nutritional yeast into your hot soup when serving.

It's summer, you don't struggle badly with acid reflux and like a little savory/tang flavor: slice some tomatoes, and add them to your soup towards the end.

For faster preparation: use a spoon-full of Better than Bullion or store bought chicken broth. I find the broths made with these products have less of that rich-home-cooked-chicken-soup-flavor, even when using a product without MSG. But, sometimes we just don't have hours and it's just the easier way to go. Still, delicious! Have fun with it and make it work for you.


- INSTRUCTIONS -


Chop your mirepoix plus garlic (dice carrots, celery, onion, and garlic - or, even better, use a garlic press) and saute in a pan with a tablespoon-ish size glug of olive oil until fragrant.


Add your chicken legs, and saute for a few minutes (not so long that they brown or you'll have a darker broth. If you like a dark broth, brown away!).


Add your water, green onions, and spices.


Uncovered, bring your pot of soup to a rolling boil and allow water to reduce by about an inch. Cover, and let simmer on the stove top for a few hours (this time on the stove allows the heat to draw flavor from the chicken bones). Add more salt to taste.


And, voila! Easy, right? I love to make this soup early in the morning on a day that I'm puttering around the house.


Serve right away or store in your freezer for up to 6 months (leave an inch or more space in your jars if you are freezing - liquids expand when frozen!).

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