21 July 2009

Chicken soup

Rain at the cottage: the kids are in the kitchen playing Monopoly, our youngest nephew is napping, us parents are reading newspapers, magazines, and old books left here from summers past, and the plash of rain through the canopy of towering maples soothes us all as much as the huge pot of chicken soup simmering on the stove. A cut up-chicken, a few extra legs from the icebox, a heap of vegetables - onions, celery, carrots; a few herbs, and salt and pepper.
Here with several of my siblings, all of us remember our mom's cooking and expansive love and generosity. And I think about all the changes in eating habits since we were kids. While processed food was available when we were kids, its widespread presence in today's American diet is something my siblings and I shake our heads at. One of my sisters has food sensitivities and this morning she was saying how hard it is to find half and half that doesn't have preservatives in it. "Why," she asked, "can't I find a product that's just milk and cream? Why does cream need preservatives? People use it quickly, and it doesn't need anything else in it." She spends more time reading labels than she'd like to.
Making food isn't as time consuming as food marketers want us to believe. I can make a tomato sauce in the time it takes the water for pasta to boil, so what time savings is there by opening a can of prepared sauce? The time it takes to make a rich chicken soup is negligible; a few minutes chopping things and then hours of good smells to whet the appetite. A few voices rise to challenge a play on the Monopoly board and threaten the little one's nap, but the slow gurgle of stewing broth percolates through the cottage, filling each room with the fragrant scent of herbs and stock, keeping everything on a pretty even keel.
Taking short cuts seems too prevalent in our society and it's especially apparent in our food choices. The cooking I grew up with wasn't haute cuisine and it didn't require much more than a few minutes thought and a little preparation. Prepared and packaged foods may get us to the dinner table a few minutes quicker, but when we consider the afternoon smells of a long-simmered pot of soup as a mere prelude to the meal itself, I'll take the long road to dinner every time, and spend that time with family and friends.

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