The Way of The Soup

Picture of Chicken Soup

I’m hesitant writing this since there is a famous book, that I am only passingly familiar with, that has already developed the association of soul and chicken soup. This article is something different, and chicken soup is just a delicious instrument for our work.

I am about to teach you magic–not some trick–actual magic: a technique for reliably tapping a great unexplained power for a desired effect. It’s an ancient family tradition, and its power has been compared to Voodoo, so be careful with this.

Chicken soup, where this journey begins, is just insanely nutritious. Don’t even get me started; I have spent man-months researching the chemical and biological properties of chicken soup, chicken fat, the minerals in the various constituents of a chicken, the different vegetables, herbs and spices one can add to chicken soup. I’m not going to blog about that right now. If I live long enough, that will end up as an e-book. No, the nutritional qualities of chicken soup are merely nearly-magical.

This process I am about to teach you allows you to transmute the mere nutrition of soup into something infused with the love your mother loved you with. It is not cooking. It is a way to capture the love of generations and channel it so that it flows down from the beginning of time into your family.

This magical secret was revealed to me when I was young by my paternal grandmother.

My grandmother was the Nicola Tesla of chicken soup. She had learned from her mother, and she taught what she knew to my mother, who is at least the Einstein. My mother combined the Polish tradition that came from her own paternal grandmother (who had been a cook in Warsaw) through her father who loved to cook soup and made it weekly, with the halushki dumplings my grandmother taught her. From what I could get out of my grandmother, the halushki had origins that predated the pyramids–and were even more shrouded in mystery.

My mother taught my wife this confluence of cultural rivers, this vital piece of the wisdom of the ages, wrestled from life itself by generations of refinement. And my wife taught me.

This has been my favorite food since the first time I had it, over forty years ago. The word “favorite” does not do it justice. Through a lengthy experimentation process, I have learned to add so much love to my homemade chicken soup that, if misused, it can actually cause a person to explode.

Ok, I was just joking there; trying to make sure you’re awake. This may be the most important thing you ever read. Possibly the longest.

Most of us eat so much processed food. Convenient food. Fast food. Nutritionists will tell you, at great tedious length that processed foods are not very good for you. But what nutritionists do not tell you is that these foods lack something even more vital than just vitamins and nutrients.

This chicken soup is the solution. It lacks exactly nothing.

You start by putting the carcass of a well-raised chicken in a pot with a gallon of distilled water, and then a dozen peppercorns, as many garlic cloves as your loved ones can stand–three is good for us, a couple actual cloves, a couple slices of ginger root, and a giant onion. I recommend distilled water because, in scientific terms, its extreme purity makes it ideal to contain the largest amount of love that can physically be dissolved in water.

Heat the water. As it comes to a boil, stand there and watch it. This is critical. Here’s why: junk, for want of a better term, will float to the top as the water comes to a boil. That junk is made up of various chemicals, toxins, metallic impurities and other nasties that will take longer to dissolve in the water and rendered fat, that will soon be on top of the soup, than the good stuff will.

Because you love the people you are making this soup for, you do not want the junk to end up in the soup. If you left it there, it would eventually dissolve; and end up in your loved ones. So you use a spoon, or whatever it is you choose to use, to get the junk out. And then, as you wait, so patiently, so lovingly, more junk comes up and you do the same thing. This goes on until the water is at a full boil and all the junk has been removed. The soup is pure now in a way that absolutely no other process can achieve.

Now, you turn down the heat so the water is right at the boiling point, but not bubbling all over the place, and you can cover it like my wife does, or chicken-vapor humidify the house, as I do. Your choice.

This is a good point to mention that my wife and I take turns making this soup for the family. The ritual is a collaborative one, which is like an advanced level of this–work up to it. The thing is, making soup has to reflect you. It is your self-expression. Just as a person in a Japanese Tea Ceremony might make a barely perceptible facial expression at some special point as a individualistic twist, my wife and I vary the routine in little personal ways. Her soup, with the pot covered during much of the cooking, is more subtle and ethereal, kind and gentle on the senses. My soup, uncovered for hours, is more concentrated, heartier and more savory. Each is like our signature.

Next, you lovingly go do something you want to do for about an hour. I like to lovingly surf the internet, mainly. But I keep a part of my mind focused, like a hawk watching the next mouse on it’s deathlist, on the soup and the clock.

When an hour has passed, yes, you check to make sure no junk escaped the initial process. If it has, deal with it harshly. I should say there are like 15 hand washings so far. Put those in-between every step. They are just a good idea no matter what if you are anywhere near food.

Now get out some celery and wash it thoroughly. That means every stalk gets careful attention. 100 percent of your being, focused like a laser on those stalks. Celery is a notoriously dirty food. You want your loved ones eating dirt? I didn’t think so.

Once washed, cut the celery, lots–like a whole bag–into halves and insert them into the soup.

Mmm, this is going to be good. Writing this makes me want to stop and make some soup right now.

Now the time has come for another hour to pass. Personally I like to spend a while watching the soup boil, because now the ingredients have begun to get into the steam coming off the pot. It smells like heaven. If you close your eyes, you might think you are in heaven. I close my eyes and pretend I am in heaven, fyi.

I let the celery cook for an hour. With everything else. When almost an hour has passed, I come back and get the carrots out of the fridge. A whole bag like with the celery. I wash those carrots like there is nothing else in life. Which is to say, very conscientiously. I could buy organic carrots. Where, exactly, would be the joy in that?

Once washed, cut the carrots into slices and fill up a bin with those slices. My wife makes thinner slices, which can be good because if they are too thick, they will not soften to the point of melting in your mouth when the soup is done. And they must melt in your mouth or else, sorry…you’re just lame.

Now me, when it comes to the carrot thickness, but only when it comes to the carrot thickness, I like to live on the edge. Through decades of practice I have perfected the cutting of carrots to the maximum thickness that they can be and still end up melting in your mouth. It’s a zen thing. It has absolutely nothing to do with actual dimensions in observable spacetime. It has to do with knowing each carrot, instinctively, in a way that transcends subject and object…just slice em thin until you get the hang of it.

Ok, now take a big strainer spoon instrument of some kind and carefully remove every bit of everything that does not run through a strainer, and place it onto a big giant plate. Let it cool a little while or you will burn yourself on the next step. I recommend taking a moment to admire the pure amazing yellow fatty goodness you are creating at this point. It transcends beautiful. When I look at this soup, I know how Michelangelo felt when he looked at the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Put the sliced carrots gently into the soup so as not to splash a single precious drop anywhere.

When the chicken has cooled a little bit–only a little bit–separate the meat from the bones and place it in a little bowl or plastic bin. If you have a dog, and you love your dog like I love mine, take some skin and not-quite-perfect meat and set that aside to give him so he can share in the magic.

Once all the meat has been separated into the bin, look it over closely. This is for the most important people in your world. This soup is being made not just with love, but on a deep level of love. It is about as close to making something holy as you are going to get. Make sure, again, that there are absolutely no bones or joints or anything other than perfect little pieces of perfectly cooked chicken meat in there.

We’re in a good place now. The finish line is in sight. Put the meat back into the soup. Again, avoid splashing. Splashing disturbs the happy calm state of the fat. Strangely enough, within the next few minutes, a bit of junk will probably be visible rising to the top of the pot. I have no idea why. It really does not make much sense from a chemistry point of view.

Anyway, repeat the loving removal of anything that is not water or fat or meat or carrots from the soup.

Once that is done, and you have perfectly pure soup, it’s time to add the saffron. If you add saffron sooner, it ends up making it extremely hard to get the junk out of the soup without getting the saffron too. And saffron is almost as priceless as love. There are a million places to skimp in life. This is not one of them.

If you like, you can also add a tiny bit of turmeric at this point. It adds a bit of additional deep yellow orange color, and it is really good for you. It’s flavor though is something like perpendicular to the flavors of the other spices in the soup the way I make it, so I only add maybe forty or fifty atoms of the stuff.

And now. I repeat, now. Is when you add sea salt. You know why we did not add salt earlier? Because the process of osmosis will pull the nutrients out of the bones; minerals, good things science has not even identified. You don’t want salt molecules messing up that osmosis. Can you use regular table salt? Well, sure. And while you are at it, why not go into the living room or wherever your family is, and kick them all in the shins?

No. Sea salt. Sea salt is from the sea, it has the goodness of mother nature. It’s actually a different octave of the love you are putting into the soup. And it is important. Sea salt has something like 200 million different minerals in it; 99 percent of which have not been discovered by science yet. But they are known to magic.

You see how this works? It is the attention to detail, the tenderness and thoughtfulness with which we prepare this food that infuses it with love, the tangible respect throughout the process for mystery as well as for knowledge, that takes it out of the realm of the mundane and into the realm of magic.

Now all the soup needs is a little more time on the heat. And home made dumplings.

So wait a half an hour. By then the fumes from the soup pretty much have your family intoxicated. There should be a word for when you are intoxicated on nutrients. But apparently there isn’t, so, just proceed to finish up the soup.

Put up a saucepan full of distilled water on high heat to get it boiling. Add a pinch of sea salt just because.

Get another bowl or bin–I use bins–and break six cage-free organic or just really nice eggs in there. Eggs from the happiest healthiest chickens you can find. Stir the eggs until you have painful cramps in your forearms. Ok, this is optional. Stir it really well. Extra credit for cramps, though. Add a bunch of flour.

Scientists claim we have five senses. Apparently I have six because one of my senses is sensing how much flour to add for the dumplings. If you were born without this sense, add a cup or so and then add a little more after stirring it in, and then a little more until the consistency is just right. About like bread dough. If you have never seen bread dough–where the hell did you grow up?–you want something somewhere in the neighborhood of play-dough. Then you add a little water and stir it in. You do this several times until you get the consistency just right. The resulting batter should be slightly higher viscosity than heavy motor oil; a little thinner than honey.

I add a tiny flourish here, it’s optional. But I add a pinch, maybe 50 tiny crystals, of table salt. Table salt is ok now because it is very hard to get sea salt to dissolve in the batter. But you know what, now that I mention it, I think next time I will dissolve sea salt in the water I mixed in the step described above. I also add a pinch of ground pepper. And a pinch of sugar. Less that 1/4 tsp of sugar. It is intended to add just the slightest, only subliminally detectable, trace of sweetness and flavor to the dumplings. Dealing with flavors that are subliminal is just part of being thorough.

Once the water in the saucepan is boiling, take a tablespoon and drop tablespoonfuls of batter gently into the water. I go counterclockwise starting at the nine o’clock position, probably because I read and write from left to right. Innovate if you like. What does matter is that you leave a tiny bit of room between each dumpling. And use a system, because when you get to the third or fourth batch you will not be able to see exactly where the dumplings are and need to use just your system for placement.

I personally like dumplings that resemble small pancakes. My wife prefers somewhat more edibly-sized dumplings, so I make the kind of dumplings she likes first. And then I make the big ones for me and my son in later batches.

After a couple minutes the dumplings will probably rise to the top of the water. I stand there and watch them cook, turning them over and contemplating one-pointedly how incredibly freakin illegally good they are going to be. I am generally so innutrientated by the soup fumes at this point, that my face hurts from smiling.

The dumplings require 7 minutes to be fully cooked. When the first batch is done, if you have timed things right, the carrots have had an hour to cook.

We have certain bowls we use for soup, different sizes for each of us. Just like in the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This took a long time to get just right. People like servings of different sizes and we take that into account this way.

Take the bowl for your wife or whoever it is you made the soup for that likes small dumplings and put the small dumplings in the bowl. Carefully spoon the soup and the proportion of carrots and meat you know that this loved one prefers into the bowl. For example, my son does not take any carrots. I take double carrots.

Then, if they like parsley, as my wife and I do, but my son does not, add the appropriate amount of that. In serving, individualization is key; demonstrating knowledge of, and respect for their individuality. For God’s sakes, don’t drop the ball now. Take a look at the picture if you want to know what I think the appropriate amount of parsley looks like–it’s not much.

Let the soup cool a minute or two so that it is less likely to burn. When my mom made soup for me as a kid, I used to add ice cubes because I was so frenzied with anticipation that I could not wait for it to cool. Kids often do not appreciate the power of waiting. Time to start more dumplings.

When the soup has cooled a bit, and the next batch of dumplings is cooking, you can serve. Oh, this is so important. Bring it to the loved one. Smile the smile you save just for them, not just some off-the-shelf smile. The one that comes from a million miles inside of you. Tell them, “here you are, my love,” or some other gushy emotional loving thing to say. If, like me, you are male, use all your concentration to repress for a moment any manliness filters you might have that would otherwise prevent such a display. A brief kiss is a nice touch, the forehead will do.

Most of the time, the soup will need to be salted to taste, because you made it to match the taste of the person who likes the least salt. Because you know what your family likes. Because that’s what kind of person you are. For this step, it can be table salt because a little iodine might not hurt at this point. Also, we’re at the point now where the experience is all about them. Your silly rules about what kind of salt and hare-brained theories do not exist here, in this serving world. Only your family exists, and the soup, i.e. the material manifestation, the very symbol, of your bond with your family.

They can even add crushed Doritos, which my son does on occasion. It does not matter. Wince inside if you must, but not on the outside under any circumstances. The effort that went into this soup was not a quid pro quo in any way, it was a sacrifice. Let go of it. When you advance in this discipline, wincing ceases to be an issue, because, in this particular moment, there will be no you there to wince.

Make the next batch of dumplings and serve the next loved one the unique bowl of soup you made just for them, just the way they like it. Repeat as needed. Bring napkins, salt shaker, and inquire if they need anything. Pepper? More parsley?

When everyone is set, then, and only then, prepare your bowl the way you like it and enjoy. You’ve earned every delicious bite.

There you have it. This is my family secret to making magical love-infused soup with chicken flavor and nutrients.

You’re welcome.

If I have failed in this written description to bring you to full understanding of the power of this magic, and how to unleash it, you may need to try the practice for yourself, so you can see for yourself.

Nutrients may refresh and nourish the body, but a meal prepared this way refreshes, nourishes, and even heals, the whole person. It’s said that love is a verb: something you do, not feel. There are many forms this can take, but this one might be the purest of them all.

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2 Responses to The Way of The Soup

  1. carol cunkle says:

    Mark,
    Hi, it’s been a long time. Chicken soup is one of my favorite things to make and I will definitely try your, step by step. I am enjoying your blog. Brings tears and joy. Carol Cunkle

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Carol, I’m delighted you’re enjoying the blog.

      It’s funny, the people I wrote the article for, the people who can benefit most from it, may be the least likely to make it to the end.

      Men tend by default to think of love as a physical thing, and as protection of, advising, guiding, and providing for those they love. Which is fine, and that is a great start.

      But over time many men come to see that a far deeper fulfillment is possible. They can grow their love and improve their loving by learning to care more, where the feeling is expressed through what they attend to–by giving time and attention, by being careful.

      Perhaps men should watch mothers more because this understanding seems to come very naturally to them.

      It means a lot to me when a mother praises this post because it tells me I hit the target I was aiming for :)

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