December 30 2016

A Soup For the Solstice

My mother once said that soup cures everything, and I'm counting on it.
matzohballsoup

Tonight is the longest night of the year, and I felt it. My body cramped and blood stained already faded stains of my underwear. Things just felt wrong all day, like I was half awake in a dream and I wasn’t able to do any of the things I needed to do to be alright. But it turns out, things are all right.

Tonight will be long and cold but I am going to make soup to celebrate. Matzoh ball soup. I roasted a chicken on Sunday night, something that always makes me think of my mother, although she always preferred to buy her chickens pre-roasted at the store. As soon as she got home, we would peel off the paper and pop off the plastic top of the packaging, savagely picking away at the crispiest bits of skin and the juicy, tender morsels of dark meat that clung to the wings and thighs. After a while, my mom would shoo me away, “I need this for the soup!” she would say.

My mother’s chicken soup is magic. It’s her cure for agita, she says. If she’s anxious, it’s likely you’ll find her in the kitchen over her bubbling cauldron, the aroma of stock and vegetables thick like steam in the air. When a friend’s mother got seriously sick, my mom made her soup. When there is a death, there’s soup. A cold day, a sick moment, a lull in time and space and a void in heart, there’s soup.

So tonight I make soup. Matzoh ball soup is part of me also, but not my mother’s part specifically. I spent countless passover dinners heaping my aunt’s homemade fluffy clouds into my bowl of steaming broth, savoring its airy exterior and dense, salty interior. With this comes the memory of the laughter of cousins, the absurd Passover puppets my uncle would make each year and the cloyingly sweet zing of Manischewitz on my young tongue. 

Tonight I’m making soup. It’s an amalgamation of traditions that I’ve had with family that have morphed into something I want to be mine. I gather my ingredients, my vegetables and parsley, my garlic, and I lay them on the table nicely. I think about taking a picture but I dare not break the spell.

Next, I take out my chicken. While I managed to steal some perfect morsels when it first emerged from the oven Sunday, hot, moist and perfectly browned, I again steal some tender meat from a drumstick and drop the carcass into the pot with stock and water. On goes the heat, in goes the vegetables, the garlic, the parsley. I add a few heaping handfuls of salt and add some more. Several turns of ground pepper. Now that it has boiled, I turn it on low and wait for it to turn into something lovely.

Once the chicken is tender enough to fall apart, I carefully pull the steaming carcass from the pot and pick the juiciest pieces of meat, returning them to the soup. Before throwing it away, I thank the bird, now a sad pile of crumbling bones and marrow.

The matzoh balls were a first for me. I worked carefully and with curiosity, rendering the schmaltz, brown and flecked with browned butter, garlic and bits of chicken skin, then adding this to the matzoh meal with two eggs, a few pinches of salt, and dill. I let this chill in the fridge for an hour and using my hands, rolled small, sticky balls and plopped them into the soup. After 40 minutes, the matzoh balls began to expand and puff up.

It’s funny what loneliness does, makes you ache to define the parts of you that you always took for granted.