Spring flowers, courtesy of The Garden at Gatorbone last year (or the year before, or maybe the year before that...?)Whatever the year, perhaps a touch of spring color will brighten your evening and make up for my winter-cold-or-flu-induced absence. Certainly the touches of spring from other pals, including the gorgeous camellias I've been seeing from Ms. Moon's garden, have been welcome here. Not that I should complain about the weather, of course; we had a beautiful weekend here. It was cool but the sky was that clean, shocking blue I always rave about. Still, one is always eager to see the azaleas waking from their long sleep. And birds, working hurriedly on new nests. We have cardinals and wrens here year-round, but about this time of year we start to see goldfinches and other species we consider to be rather exotic, for no better reason than the brevity of their annual visits.
My friend Sue and I always remark on the migration of the robins. Their arrival reminds us of the lengthening of the days, though it doesn't herald spring's arrival in any reliable way. Still, they arrive, as always, and the days lengthen, as always, and the eternal rhythm is a comfort when the chill lingers in the air of late winter. (It may be me, but they seem to have stayed longer this year. I saw one today, and I'm just about positive they were gone this time last year. Remind me to ask Sue about that.) The goldfinches seem to travel in large but amiable gangs of birds, who descend on the little sock-shaped feeders we fill with black thistle seed and squabble with one another for most coveted feeding locations. Some years, we're fortunate enough to see painted buntings; the sightings are rare, quick and usually don't happen more than once or twice in a matter of days before the visitors leave our gardens behind. Their visits stay in our memories, though, because they have those absurd combinations of primary colors, so eye-popping on the males, much muted on the females.
One year late in April, we saw a family of indigo buntings. Talk about lingering in your memory...I don't think I'll ever forget those birds. They seemed to be a family of mature and recently-fledged babies, and there were about half a dozen of them sporting the eponymous color. If you've never seen one, look them up. It's sort of like seeing someone with hair so gorgeously, richly red that you can hardly believe it's real, hair with highlights of gold and copper and deep low lights no hairdresser could replicate. Except it's blue: breathtakingly, perfectly blue. It took me awhile to recover, as you can tell.
How are things with you? Any birds at the feeders, or in the yards or gardens? Any signs of spring, keeping your hearts alive?
I'll finish tonight with a reminder about Chicken Soup, because I was sick this week and didn't feel like cooking and tried all sorts of artifical remedies, all in search of this simple fix-all. My friend Diana's mother, Hortie, made a version of this called Chicken and Veg-e-table Soup, in her New York accent. It was wonderful, and I don't think this will come close to it, but I do have confidence in you, and yours is probably even better. If it is, you have to share the recipe.
You can start the soup with cooked chicken (you can use a cup or so of boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked for some other purpose and leftover, along with store-bought chicken broth) but it's best if you start with a leftover chicken carcass. So if you roast a chicken for dinner one night, or make Cornish game hens and have one or two leftover: that's perfect. Put them in your big stock pot with enough water to cover them, season as needed with salt and pepper, rosemary, a whole lemon, quartered...you know what your people like best. Boil this gently until the meat falls away from the bone, and then set aside until the chicken is cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, in your cast iron skillet saute some chopped onion, celery, carrots and garlic in olive oil or butter, or a combination. You can add other vegetables, of course, depending on what your people like. When the vegetables are cooked though, deglaze the skillet with a little white wine. (Remember what Julia Child said: if a wine isn't good enough to drink, it's not good enough to cook with, so use whatever wine you're drinking, or that open bottle you have in the fridge. And if you don't have white wine, water or chicken broth will do nicely.) Set the veggies aside.
Return to your cooling chicken and broth; remove the chicken and all the other solid things, like the lemon pieces, from the broth. Pull the chicken off the bone and return to the broth. I usually set aside the big pieces to chop or pull into bite-sized pieces, but either way, all the chicken meat goes back into the soup, and you can save the skin and any other gross-looking bits for your dog or cat (and be sure to throw away all the bones). When you have a nice strong stock filled with tasty bites of chicken, add the deglazed veggies from your skillet and return to a simmer. Taste and correct for seasoning. Besides salt and pepper, I use marjoram, rosemary and parsley in the soup. When someone has a cold, I add fresh or ground ginger. Whatever tastes good to you is perfect.
When you have the simmer going, add a package of egg noodles and boil gently until they're cooked through. Depending on the yield of your chicken broth (ideally, you add the noodles to 2 or 3 quarts of liquid) you may need to add water. Remove from heat, correct for seasoning, add any final touches (cooked spinach, a touch of grated Parmesan) and serve.
What's your chicken soup recipe?