Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chicken Soup and Giving Thanks

"If the only prayer we ever said was, 'Thank You,' that would be sufficient." -- Meister Eckhart, Christian theologian, scholar and mystic (c. 1260 - c. 1327)
Today is Thanksgiving, there is snow on the ground, and friends have invited me for dinner so I don't have to cook. But I like to cook and last weekend, since I didn't have to plan a holiday meal, I made batches of soup. One reason to make soup was simply because it's something I like to do when it is cold outside. There's something warming and satisfying about having a big pot of comfort food on the stove and pleasant aromas filling the house.

Another reason was that I wanted to do something for my neighbor and his wife. He had open heart surgery last week and came home over the weekend. His surgery was two years, to the day, after my hip resurfacing surgery. So many people did so many kind things for me after my operation that I promised myself to "pay it forward" whenever I could. I decided to make big batches of my Red Soup, Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup, and Chicken Vegetable soup (see recipe below) and take a container of each to my neighbors.

As I roasted chicken, chopped vegetables, sauteed, simmered and stirred, I thought about the wonderful people who did so much for me two years ago. They ran errands, called me daily to check in, brought me groceries and took me to the doctor. Thanksgiving Day was one week after I came home from the hospital. I was still using a walker and my operative leg was so swollen that I couldn't wear anything nicer than my baggiest pajama pants. But I had a lovely turkey dinner, with all the trimmings, brought to my table by tenants in my building who were cooking dinner for their family and wanted to share.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a friend who was making a second Thanksgiving dinner for her family brought me another lovely meal. She brought it straight from her kitchen, served up on real dishes and arranged on a tray. She wrapped it all in foil to keep it warm and drove it down to my house before the food could get cold. The presentation was so beautiful and the gesture so thoughtful, that I cried when I sat down to eat.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, even though I still needed a walker to get around, my surgeon gave me permission to drive. I was glad. I don't like being dependent on other people and hate to ask for help. I was happy to be able to drive and, as long as I was careful, do a few more things for myself.

But then it started to snow. At first, I didn't think much about it. It doesn't snow much or often in the lowlands of Seattle, and when it does, it usually melts away by the next day. However, that wasn't how it worked in December of 2008. A series of storms kept us in snow and icy conditions for about three weeks. Even if I could get my car out of the driveway, streets and parking lots were covered with ice and I wasn't sure it would be safe for me to get out of my car and attempt to walk anywhere. A fall could have been very serious, because I was on a blood thinner and still healing from surgery.

Again, friends and neighbors came to the rescue. One chained up her Subaru and sent out an email offering "snow taxi" services. Neighbors delivered groceries. My tenants shoveled the walks and kept them clear after each storm system. When I ran out of snow melt, a friend's husband managed to get to Home Depot just as a new supply came in. He brought me a bucketful before heading off to take care of his own properties.

I've always been so independent. Throughout my life, I have been the one to deliver meals, shovel walks and run errands, not the other way around. The experience of having to ask for and accept help left me both humbled and grateful. It also taught me a lesson. I know how good it feels to give to others. Allowing other people to give to me allows them have those good feelings, too. It isn't fair of me to hog all the joy by always doing the giving. Being a gracious receiver is just as important as being a generous giver.

And so as I am about to head out the door to receive a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, I offer you the gift of a classic chicken vegetable soup. It is the soup I make for myself when I'm sick and the one I make for friends when they need a lift. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chicken Vegetable Soup
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
4-6 carrots, sliced into 1/2" rounds
2 small (about 6" long) zucchini, split lengthwise and cut into 1/2" slices
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup diced, cooked chicken
3-4 cups chicken broth
2-3 tsp. dried organo
1 tsp. thyme, fresh or dried
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a stock pot over medium heat.
Add onion, garlic, celery and saute about 5 minutes.
Add carrots and saute another 5 minutes.
Add zucchini and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and bring the soup up to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
Taste broth about halfway through cooking time to check seasonings. Add more herbs, salt or pepper to taste.