Mountain Cedar and Chicken Noodle Soup

I was five when I told my first lie. We lived in Kentucky then.  In a little ranch house with not enough room.  My sister slept in the laundry room, her bed was by the washer.  The house had one big tree in the backyard, broken bricks in a corner of the lot.  The fence on the left was overrun by blackberry bramble.  My sister and I would see who could fit the most in our mouths, the juices running down our chins like well-fed wolves.

In that house, I told my first lie.  I told my mother I was sick, that I couldn’t get out of bed, that I couldn’t move.  She said I looked pale and I held her hand while we watched a movie on the bottom bunk of a bed I shared with my brother.  My mother had long hair then, thick and that kind of black hair that turns blue in the right light.  She was 29 then and worked in a warehouse for produce and generic-brand food.  Her whole life was over by then, I think.  She was never really her own person by the time I came along.  But she sat on the bed with me and we watched movies.  I lied to her and we both took a nap together.

In that same house, that small little house in Kentucky, with the vinyl siding and it’s creaky front door, a tornado hit and my 29-year-old mom drove home to protect us. She drove a green pickup truck.  She tied a sun-bleached red bandana on the mirror the day she got it.  It was a summer then, hot on the skin and the heat broke the sky. She put that same mattress we fell asleep on over our heads and we watched as a tree branch smacked the window pane, leaving a scratch that was still there when we left two months later.

I haven’t stopped lying since I was five.  I do it every day.  I do it over small things, like if I put cream in my coffee.  I do it about big things, like when I tell people I love them.  I do it as a way to get attention, as a way to hold someone’s hand.  I do it for pity and for protection.  I do it for fun.  I lie to my mother more than anyone else.  I tell her I forgive her for everything, for the missed birthdays and the time she hung up the phone on me when I called her from Italy, drunk and alone and only had ten minutes left on the pay phone, only a few cents left in my pocket.  I lie to her to make it easy, because I remember how she sat on the bed and held my hand and loved me even when I was lying to her.

Every time I was sick after that day, she’d stay home with me and watch a movie.  She’d take my temperature with her hand flat on my forehead and at night she’d have my dad carry me to my room.  We had tradition, we had rituals.  We had moments that I haven’t been able to share with anyone else.  I lied to her over and over again for seventeen years now, but every time I call her and tell her I’m sick, she always remembers this day, too.

Last week, I called her and told her the mountain cedar was blowing.  I told her that my eyes itched and how I didn’t want to go to work.  She told me about her chicken soup with big noodles and roasted chicken.  Carrots and celery and oil.  She told me who I used to eat it and ask for seconds and thirds.  She told me how she wished she could be here now, in my kitchen in Texas, making it for me.  I lied to her again and said, “Yeah, me too.”

Instead, I did it myself, like so many things these days.  This soup is an apology, a memory, a souvenir from when we all played sick and tried to get out of school with the flu.  It’s a revisionist tale of how life should have gone.  It’s to my mother who was 25 and young when she had me.  It’s to a little boy who still has family in Kentucky he’s never met.  It’s to the 1,500 miles in any direction to the closest people I love.  It’s a warm soup, a comforting soup.  It’s a soup you eat when the tornado heat breaks and you have three small children to stop crying.  It’s the soup you reheat when the dollar has to stretch because you’re saving up to move out of a house where your daughter sleeps in the laundry room.  It’s a soup for a home, not for a house.

Chicken Noodle Soup and a Boule

Chicken Noodle Soup and a Boule

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 large chicken breasts, defrosted
  • 3 sprigs rosemary, divided
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 head of garlic, minced
  • 96 oz chicken stock (as always, preferably homemade, but there is a lot of flavor in the soup for store-bought)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon chicken base (found in supermarkets)
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 16 oz egg noodles, cooked separately in another pot

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450
  2. Rip two aluminum sheets off big enough to wrap your chicken in.  Place chicken breasts on respective foils and rub salt, pepper, and olive oil all over.  Add four lemon wedges per chicken breast and rosemary.  Wrap tightly.  Bake on sheet for 25 minutes or until cooked through.
  3. Set chicken aside to cool.
  4. Begin on the mirepoix.  In a large dutch oven, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat.  Before butter burns and when oil is almost smoking, add carrots, celery, and onion.  Cook down 10-15 minutes and stir occasionally, until vegetables are tender and onions are translucent
  5. Add garlic and remaining sprig of rosemary (diced finely).  Cook only for a minute to release some flavors and not burn, stirring constantly.
  6. Pour in chicken stock.  Allow to heat through and bring to a low boil for five minutes.  While waiting on that, tear the cooled chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks with your hands or a fork.
  7. Add the chicken base, pepper, and lemon pepper.  Stir thoroughly to ensure that the seasonings have incorporated into the soup
  8. Add the shredded chicken
  9. Cover and let simmer on low while you prepare the egg noodles in a separate pot (follow package instructions here, but add a little bit of chicken stock to the liquid for some added flavor)
  10. Drain noodles and add to soup.  Simmer to warm noodles up.
  11. Serve with Laura Calder’s Miracle Boule and have for the rest of the week
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