This weekend a cold took me down like a lion fells a gazelle. It snuck up from behind, bit me in the ass and laid me flat. Like that poor wounded animal I kept trying to get up and escape my fate. In my case it was to attend to my family and home, trying to carry on as usual, but I ended up splayed out and whimpering shortly after each attempt.
Before I succumbed completely, I did manage to whip up a quick broth-based soup with noodles and veggies. The broth I made last week never made it into the freezer, so it was easy to just dump in some chopped carrots, celery and kale and a handful of tiny pasta. Man, did that taste good. And it made me feel better, too.
Sunday, after a nap, I had another fit of
mom-guilt insanity and headed off to the grocery store to buy ingredients for dinner. They had sold out of what I went for so I punted, leaving with something I was not altogether happy with. On the drive home I realized there wasn’t time to actually make what I had planned. Defeated, I finally submitted to the situation. I gave up and called in the reserves, in the form of non-homemade soup. Specifically Tom Yum, from our favorite Thai restaurant in town.
It was great, don’t get me wrong. But I felt defeated by my cold and poor planning. Last month’s $200 grocery challenge drained my supply of homemade sustenance. (I wasn’t replenishing the freezer as usual, except for zucchini soup.) Each time my family wanted to eat this weekend (thrice daily, can you believe the nerve?) my husband looked to me for guidance and I had little to offer. We are down to raw ingredients now…very few ready-to-eat meals. And unless it can be thrown on the grill or inside a tortilla, my husband’s meal prep skills are somewhat limited. (It should be noted, however, that he was quite a good meal procurer back in our take-out days. The man could find the best Thai among a thousand choices. It’s harder than it sounds, trust me.) So we ate a little of this and a little of that, thanking our lucky stars that our toddler thinks being fed cereal for dinner is a real treat.
The whole experience made me really mad. I resented that it all comes down to me. I wasted several good hours of the day on this jag. But in the end (after reading a bunch of radical feminist homemaker blogs – no, that’s not a contradiction), I realized that the DIY life I’ve chosen is exactly that: Do-it-YOUrself. As in, do-it-myself. And that’s okay. I am the one with the skills, interest and time to provide homemade food for our family (about 80% of the time). If it were up to my husband to feed us, which it no doubt will be one day when the see-saw tips the other way, he will fulfill that duty quite differently. And that’s okay, too. (At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.)
Now is my turn to take the lead on this stuff, and I choose homemade, from scratch, local, organic, sustainable…but not break-the-bank expensive. It takes a lot of time and effort to eat this way. I’m working on how to minimize that now that I have the cost part somewhat under control, but it’s a work in progress. No doubt this weekend renewed my conviction that the freezer is my friend. I have to recommit to stocking it with homemade soups, stews, chilis and the like to account for the margin (I’ll explain what I mean by that in an upcoming post, as well as document how I save time and money cooking in big batches bound for the freezer). I need to get out ahead of life so that when (not if, I’ve finally realized) I get sick, busy or just plain tired I have something homemade to fall back on. Otherwise, each moment of weakness (bodily or otherwise) is that much more costly.
A final note: I had intended to write this post as an introduction to a recipe for minestrone soup – something I might have liked to have at the ready this weekend. But while writing I realized that the hero of this story was not the Tom Yum, nor was the enemy the lack of minestrone in the freezer. I felt most nourished and comforted by the simple soup I made with homemade broth. Whether you use it as is to cure ills or as an ingredient in another dish, homemade broth is really worth the minimal effort. Below are instructions for how to make your own soup-to-the-rescue broth, no phone call required.
Time: 10 minutes hands-on, 12 hours total
Yield: varies (mine made 6 c)
1 chicken carcass (with cooked meat removed)
1 onion, quartered
1 celery heart (or 2 stalks), halved
1 carrot, halved lengthwise and crosswise
5 garlic cloves, halved
2 sprigs oregano (or 4-6 branches of parsley, or both)
2 bay leaves
1T vinegar (lemon juice or wine)
Salt (or garlic salt) to taste
1. Drop the chicken carcass into a slow cooker*. (You can use a chicken you roasted, in the oven or slow cooker – I’ll write a post on that one soon – or a rotisserie chicken you bought at the market. All that matter is that it was cooked and ideally the meat has been removed and put to better use.)
2. Chop the veggies as instructed. You needn’t bother peeling the onion or garlic unless it has a powdery film on it.
3. Dump veggies on top of the chicken bones. Add the herbs, peppercorns and vinegar. (You can add salt now or later, or skip it altogether.)
4. Add water until carcass is just covered.
5. Cover and turn slow cooker on low. Let it cook for 12 hours, give or take. This is quite forgiving. The longer it goes the stronger the broth will be. Less time produces a milder broth, but there’s no concern about food safety since the chicken was cooked beforehand.
6. When broth is complete, pour entire contents of the pot through a strainer (I used a mesh colander) to extract the solids. Pick off and save any additional meat that remains on the bones. Use immediately or refrigerate and then freeze.
A note about the fat: If you want to remove the fat, do so after refrigerating. After it’s chilled you can just spoon the fat layer right off the top. You can either toss it, or better yet save it for cooking. It would be a great fat for sautéing vegetables for the soup you might make with this broth! You can store the fat in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to use it. Cook with it instead of or in addition to the oil you typically use (I like half olive oil, half animal-derived fat (e.g., butter, bacon grease or chicken fat). It adds that je ne sais quoi (no wait, I do know, it’s meaty deliciousness!) to a dish.
*Alternative cooking method: You could do the same exact process in a large soup pot on the stove. Just simmer for several hours instead of cooking overnight.