So why do we reach for food when we’re worried, worn out, scared bored, stuck? Even when we’re not necessarily hungry.
Here’s another thing. Why, when we’re a little lost and lonely, do we find ourselves thinking about particular dishes that we ate as kids?
What’s going on between our minds and our hearts (the ones that break and swell) and our appetites?
I don’t want big, fat, theoretical answers to these questions. I want stories. What, and how, and why, real-life, people stories.
And then there’s this. When things are going wrong, or we’re feeling wildly threatened, some simple cooking can help. We’re not really fixing the troubles, but we’re at least moving, putting some things right, occupying ourselves enough so that we don’t just shut down.
When the Good family met for our weekend get-together recently, our book discussion was about Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food, and Healing, by Paula Butturini.
Paula and her husband, John, got socked on all sides by a pile-up of troubles. Sniper fire, and an out-of-control infection as a result, along with a merciless beating—as their wedding neared. On top of all that, an unspeakable depression, the shocking death of a parent, and children from John’s earlier marriage at too great a distance.
Food didn’t fix things, but it did more than feed these people’s bodies, Paula says.
● “The simple, good food, served without pretense, helped put an end to the physical shock of my mother’s death.”
● “The mere act of cooking centered me, kept me close, available, ready to help, kept us fed, kept me sufficiently focused on present tasks so that I wouldn’t panic about the future, kept me going through the string of bad days, weeks, and months.”
● “. . . the table and its simple pleasures—never just the food, but the food and the talk, the food and the laughter, the food and the tears, the jokes, the memories, the hopes—hold us in place, well anchored in a safe harbor.”
There’s some human mystery here that we don’t need to understand. But we do need to practice cooking and eating what we’ve made as often as we can.
Here’s a recipe for an honest soup that always makes my stomach—and my spirit—happy. We ate it often when I was a kid. It’s probably my all-time favorite soup. It brings Dad and Ma and my grandparents to my side whenever I sit down with a bowl of it. I love the flavor, and I know I am not alone.
Chicken Corn Soup
Makes 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 45 minutes, including cooking the chicken
Cooking Time: 20-30 minutes
3- or 4-lb. stewing chicken, cut into pieces
¾-1 tsp. salt, according to your taste preference
2 quarts corn, fresh, frozen, or canned
3 or 4 hard-boiled eggs, diced, optional
dash of pepper
1. Place chicken pieces in large stockpot. Cover with water.
2. Stir in salt.
3. Cover. Bring to boil. Then reduce heat so water simmers.
4. Simmer until chicken begins to fall off the bone.
5. Remove chicken pieces from broth. Allow to cool. (Keep broth in stockpot.)
6. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
7. Return meat to broth.
8. Add corn. Cover and bring to boil.
9. Stir in rivels and/or hard-boiled eggs if you wish. Cook until rivels are cooked through.
10. Add pepper and serve.
I loved these as a kid. I called them doughballs, which is a pretty apt description. They help extend the soup, plus charm at least some kids.
¾ cup flour
1. Put flour into mixing bowl. Break egg into flour. This sequence is important.
2. Mix with a fork until dry and crumbly.
3. Break off a piece of dough, about ½” around, and drop into boiling soup. Stir after adding 3 or 4 rivels to prevent the rivels from packing together.
4. Continue until all of dough is used.