Lark Ascending: Chicken soup, like Mom used to make
I am making chicken soup today.
I am making chicken soup because it’s snowing. And because there are about 100 other things I should be doing, and I don’t know where to begin.
It has been three weeks since Alan and I returned from Florida after my mother passed away. We drove from West Palm Beach to Summit County in a moving van packed with furniture, files and various household items from her house. We finally made it home just before our driveway became impassable with snow and ice.
By now, many of the items have been dragged upstairs to the living room or bedrooms, but many more still are downstairs in the mudroom and garage. Nothing is where it should be and the house is in complete chaos.
My mom liked to make chicken soup on a cold day. The process was a long one, or it could be, and always gave us plenty of time to talk. Sometimes she’d turn the burner on low, and we’d go out for a walk. I remember how the aroma of soup simmering made the house I grew up in smell cozy when you came back inside.
“I think we now have enough beds to start our own bed and breakfast,” Alan observes. He has been patient and kind, doing whatever needs to be done, from wrestling furniture into the moving van to hauling it all out again. So I didn’t want to bring up the fact that a bed and breakfast is probably shooting too low. We could easily expand to a small inn, taking into account the dozens of tablecloths I couldn’t bear to leave behind as well as Mom’s dining room table, her extensive set of blue china with the gold rim and multiple sets of silverware.
Everything seemed to possess some special meaning in my mother’s house, and my sister, brother and I agonized over sofas and chairs, beds and dressers, paintings, paperweights, rugs and dishes. And then, of course, there was Mittens the cat.
Mom’s cat, Mittens, was mostly silent in his cat carrier during our trip from Florida. Once at home in Breckenridge, a regrettable, unplanned encounter with our dog, Luke, resulted in a surprised Luke dashing after Mittens then throwing up his dinner while Mittens raced upstairs to hide in the guest bedroom.
Four days later, Mittens reemerged.
Despite the urgency of reestablishing order in our furniture-overloaded house, Alan and I stopped everything to rearrange pillows and comforters for Mittens to make him feel at home. Alan created for Mittens a special elevated lookout tower with eating platform, which Luke can only gaze up at with envy.
Mittens is now fully in charge.
If Mittens is in a generous mood, Luke gets a friendly head butt from him. Otherwise it’s a swat from Mittens’ big polydactyl paws. And when it comes to the best position on the couch, if Luke is in the way, Mittens will blithely walk right over Luke’s head to get to where he intends to be.
I think I probably make chicken soup the same way my mother did: somewhat haphazardly and with many cloves of garlic. Like Mom, I keep a bag in the freezer into which all manner of chicken carcasses are deposited. One day, when the urge strikes to make soup, I’ll pull out my biggest pot and put on some classical music.
In goes the chicken, then carrots, celery an onion with the skin on and cut in quarters. Parsley and thyme, whole peppercorns and lots of garlic cloves. I put in enough water to cover everything then turn the heat to a low simmer.
I go out several times to walk the dog and refill the bird feeder. I put off everything that was on the to-do list and pull out that story I was working on instead — Mom used to have a piece of embroidery she’d be stitching. Eventually, the big messy witch’s brew of bones and unidentifiable vegetable matter gets strained through a wire colander. What remains is the essence of comfort.
The house is still a disaster. But at least we have found a place in the living room for Mom’s couch. It is a place by the fire, where Luke can sit on one side of me and Mittens on the other. And I can postpone what needs to be done until tomorrow, and enjoy a hot mug of chicken soup, just like my mother used to make.
Christina Holbrook’s column “Lark Ascending” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Holbrook writes about life in the mountains, from the beauty of the natural surroundings to the quirkiness of friends and neighbors to what makes a good life. She moved to Breckenridge in 2014 and is the author of “Winelands of Colorado.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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