Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Maker's Soul

My daughter has a book of crafts for kids. Spontaneously, after she had been told what it was (she was only 3 at the time) and tried out a couple of the crafts, she starting calling it a “Making Book”. I like that, a making book. It’s a broader concept than crafts of course, which is why it’s so satisfying to me. A making book can be a woodworking or home repairs book, a sewing or knitting book, even a cookbook. It is different than other books in that it has expectations of you. It wants you to give back; input then output.
Now, I confess, I own a lot of making books, from some of which I have never made anything. But I do make things, as much as I can. Some people ask “why make something when you buy something for less money that’s just as good?” It’s true; most things can be bought cheaply these days, saving time and money over handmade. And in many cases the quality is good. So why make things? Why not just buy them?
What I and other “makers” know is that the making is the point, not necessarily what is made. When I make something I get more out of it than just the handmade item. The journey is more important than the destination. I can think of no better example than the chicken soup I made the other day.
My friend Jane recently learned she has breast cancer. Many in my family and friends have faced this frightening diagnosis and I was determined to do what I could to help Jane through it. Just before her surgery I jested, “I’m coming over with soup when you get home”. “What kind?” said Jane. “Chicken noodle,” I answered, without hesitation. I had seen Jane consume copious quantities of the packet variety over the years.
When Jane got back from the hospital I went to see her. She was pale and tired, but walking around and positive about the outcome. “I’m making the soup this afternoon,” said I. “I will call you when it’s done.” That afternoon I set to it. Now the interesting thing about this is that I didn’t shop for this soup. I had some chicken thighs in the freezer and a few vegetables so I thought I would just use what I had. I can’t give you the recipe because I don’t remember. I didn’t measure anything. I started with sautéed onions in butter, added some chopped baby carrots then covered that with organic chicken stock. I sautéed the chicken in olive oil and garlic and threw that in. Then my visual esthetic sense wanted something green so I headed out to my half dead herb garden and picked some thyme, parsley and sage. Washed and chopped, that added just the right amount of color. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and a bit of lemon juice. Finally I added frozen peas and penne noodles, cooked until tender.
When I was happy with the result, I called Jane. As she lives next door, she said she felt up to coming over. A few minutes later she came to the door, looking tired and in pain. She was stiff from not being about to move well, and she’d just had the drain taken out, which was also painful. She wasn’t allowed to have a shower until the incisions were closed and she hadn’t washed her hair in a week. In short, she felt like crap. I sat her down at the table and set out a bowl of hot soup in front of her. “Wow,” she exclaimed, “This has real chicken in it!” While she ate it, I rubbed her shoulders and brushed and braided her hair. Jane went home with two Tupperware containers of soup for later.
The best part of this soup story is what came later that day. I had kept a serving of the soup for my daughter’s dinner. My daughter is not a fussy eater; she’ll eat anything but it’s hard to get her to eat a whole meal. She usually gets bored about a quarter of the way in. Not so this soup. She devoured it, marveling at the plump noodles and copious chicken. When I told her I had made it for Jane, she was delighted and asked many questions. When she left the table there wasn’t a scrap left in her bowl. The soup was all gone and I personally had eaten only a few tastes as I made it.
Chicken soup is an amazing thing. It is actually scientifically shown to improve immunity. In one form or another, folk wisdom from many cultures imbue it with medicinal or even magical qualities. Eating it is almost universally believed to be beneficial. Even vegans, who of course never eat chicken, believe in the powers of vegetable or bean soup. But what I discovered that day were the benefits of MAKING soup. I went to bed that night feeling not only like a good “maker” but a good friend and an excellent mother.


  1. I love making soup...I make a mean leek and potato soup that Sophie and Will also love. Soup is very forgiving and will lovingly incorporate most anything you can throw at it. It is comfort food for both giver and receiver.
    Now where is your chicken soup recipe, missy?

  2. great story, gab!
    i, too, love making soup... chicken, turkey, leek and potato, squash...

  3. I think this story needs to get sent in to those cheesy Chicken Soup publishers and fast.