Adventures with Chicken Soup

My acupuncturist takes a quick look at my tongue. "You've got a low blood count," she says. 

I smile and roll my eyes, thinking of how my GP had to draw blood and process it for a whole week before working that out.

The acupuncturist carries on her diagnosis with remarkable accuracy.  As part of her list of suggestions, she advises me to have chicken soup. 

"I very seldom eat meat – I haven't liked it since I was a baby," I reply.

"Well, try it," she says, "and see how you get on.  It does wonders for the immune system.  Only make sure you boil a whole chicken, to get all its goodness."

 

"Dearest, will you make us some chicken soup, please?" I say to H. – a meat eater – as soon as I'm back home.

Once he's processed his surprise at my request for meat, and my explanation for it, he stares at me, his eyes momentarily blank behind his glasses.  "Why can't we just buy some ready-made?" he suggests, clearly trying to be helpful.

"Because this is supposed to be for my health, not something in a plastic tub, full of additives and preservatives.  In fact, we'd better get an organic chicken.  So will you make us some clear chicken soup? You keep talking about the one your mother made with Kneidel..."

"I don't know how to make chicken soup..."

It's my turn to look blank. I finally burst out, "Your family were Ashkenazi Jews from Poland – how can you not know how to make chicken soup?!"

"My mother was the one who made it."

"And didn't you ever watch her in the kitchen?" I say, and immediately realise the futility of my question when addressed to a man.  I remember, not without resentment, the hours spent – under duress – in our family kitchen.  My Armenian grandmother would say, in a self-satisfied tone, "Watch, Katia.  Watch and learn."  Being a girl can be so unfair.

"Where can I buy an organic chicken?" I ask no one in particular.

H. gives a constructive shrug.

"OK, I'll go and find one – and a recipe – but I've never handled raw meat, so you'll cook it, right?"

H. nods with deliberate obligingness.

Before my irritation degenerates into an accusatory rant, I grab the shopping bag and venture to the supermarket.

 

An hour later, there's a small, organic chicken on our kitchen counter.  I'm on the phone to my friend Sue.  

"Now whatever you do, don't wash it first," she says.

"Oh, but my grandmother always used to wash meat thoroughly before cooking it."

"So did my mother."

"Then why?–"

"They're now saying it's safer not to."

"'Safer'?"

"Yes.  They tell you to cover every surface with clingfilm, and if any raw chicken touches anything at all, then make sure you clean it with anti-bacterial detergent."

I suddenly remember stories of the extraordinary precautions taken by my mother, when giving me the polio vaccine when I was a baby.  Holding my hands to prevent me from putting them in my mouth.  Boiling or burning any contaminated bibs, towels, or kitchen utensils.

"Why do people eat chicken if it's so dangerous?" I inevitably ask.

"Oh, it's perfectly safe.  They just tell you to be very careful because of the bacteria."

"Who are 'they'?"

"The experts."

Oh, them...

 

After half an hour on the 'phone, I read out all the health and safety instructions to H. 

"Oh, yes, everybody knows that!" he says, casually.

I briefly consider hurling the chicken at him, then remember that, at all other times, I do love my husband.

 

I watch him at work.  As he cuts the string that holds the dead bird together, its limbs suddenly pop apart.  I gasp and jump back.  Perhaps I should leave the kitchen... No, I'd better watch and learn.

 

We take our largest pot but even that doesn't look big enough to contain the chicken.  H. stuffs it in with difficulty.  I hear something crack and feel nauseous.  I struggle to remember why I suggested all of this in the first place.  We cover it with water and add my home-made vegetable stock.  As it starts boiling, some disgusting-looking froth forms on the surface.  Neither of us knows what to do with it, so we take the executive decision of skimming off with a spoon and throwing it down the sink.

 

Then, something unexpected and terrifying happens.  The chicken, the dead chicken, slowly starts to move of its own accord.  It spreads its wings, its legs rise over the edge of the pan, and the whole carcass floats up, emerging from the stock.  

"What the hell is that?" I say, wondering if I should reach out for the rolling pin.

H. is very calm before this unexpected development.  "I don't know," he replies, "but I definitely think we should add some pearl barley."

 

An hour later, the flat is heavy with the smell of fat, the sick ward in a hospital, the sour, musty smell of a second-hand clothes shop.  We sit down to eat.  I stare into the swirls of fat forming shapeshifting paisley patterns in my bowl, stir the slippery barley, keep telling myself this is good for me.  I finally muster the courage to lift the spoon to my lips.

 

A smile is beaming over H.'s face, as he wolfs down his second bowl of soup and reaches out for a third helping.  "Mmm... Just like the soup my mother used to make," he says, dewy-eyed.  

 

I push my bowl away.  The yellowish, viscous liquid has gone cold. 

 

I go and raid the kitchen for bread, cheese and olives.  There's a bag of curly kale in the fridge.  Tomorrow, I'll bake it to a crisp in olive oil and salt.  I'm sure it will raise my blood count.

 

 

Scribe Doll 

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Hilarious! Certainly a prescription for raised blood pressure! ... Read More
Sunday, 29 May 2016 20:43
Katherine Gregor
Glad it made you laugh. I think I'll stick to being a non meat eater...
Monday, 30 May 2016 10:37
Rosy Cole
Very wise. The long and short term health hazards of eating meat are well known to the medical profession. Any in-depth procedures... Read More
Tuesday, 31 May 2016 12:25
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Luxembourg Wine

In Anglo-Viking-Flemish Norwich, a Londoner and a Roman invited a Venetian for dinner at their home.  The Venetian had some Austrian, Spanish, and Moroccan blood, the Londoner originally came from a Polish-Jewish family, and the Roman was of Armenian-Welsh-Cornish descent.  All three were Europeans to the core.

 

While the meal – a Sicilian dish – was simmering in the kitchen, the hosts and their guest sat in the living room, chatting in an English interspersed with Italian words, and an Italian with the odd English expression slipped in, listening to a Bruxellois singer on CD, and sipping wine from Luxembourg.  A smooth, silky, golden, elegant Riesling with a twinkle in the eye.  It had been sent courtesy of a newly-formed acquaintance who was not only very knowledgeable about classical music but – all three agreed – clearly a connaisseur of good wine.

 

There was a strong difference of opinion regarding the absence, in English grammar, of gender for nouns.  The Venetian argued that this lack made English colourless.  The Londoner insisted that there was no logic in arbitrarily deciding that a chair was "she", a book "he", or vice-versa.  The Roman expressed outrage that animals should be referred to as "it", as though they were inanimate objects, then went all sentimental when mentioning that in Russian, белка – squirrel – was feminine. 

"Why? Don't they have any male squirrels in Russia?" the Londoner asked.

"In Italian, scoiattolo is masculine," said the Venetian.

"So are all Italian squirrels female, then?" the Londoner enquired.

 

Nobody answered his questions and, during the brief pause in the conversation, the Roman brought in a steaming bowl of pasta with Sicilian caponata, into which she had stirred some creamy French goat's cheese.  They all tucked into this dinner, the ingredients of which had been thought up by Jews, Chinese, Normans, Arabs and North Americans – in other words, a European dinner.

 

As they ate, they discussed travel.  It's only an hour's flight to Amsterdam, or Paris, or Hamburg.  You're an hour away from Dutch, French and German.  Here, we don't fly for hours and hours and still hear the same language when we land.  Because our small continent is like the colourful pattern of Harlequin's costume, with lozenges of different, contrasting colours, all sewn together.  Over the centuries, we have complemented one another, enriched one another, challenged one another's comfort zones.  Foreign winds have blown new seeds onto our lands, and sprouted into new fruits, and our winds have carried our seeds abroad.  We have destroyed any dams that threatened to turn our limpid, gurgling rivers into stagnant, smelly ponds.  We have knocked down fortresses that imprisoned people within their walls and restricted their human rights.     

 

"Oh, look, there's still some Luxembourg Riesling left," says the Roman, toying with her napkin, wondering what she's going to do with all the food left over despite everybody's triple helpings.  

The Londoner picks up the slender bottle and pours the remaining golden liquid into the three glasses in equal measures.  "What shall we drink to?" he asks.

"To this wine – from a country none of us has been to – for bringing us all together this evening," the Venetian suggests.

"To peace and unity within this dear Old Continent," the Roman adds, raising her glass.

 

 

Scribe Doll      

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
And so began the legend of the Amazon squirrels of Italy. A charming tale.
Sunday, 22 May 2016 17:05
Katherine Gregor
Well, Montaigne did say that a mixed man was an honest man.
Sunday, 22 May 2016 17:33
Anonymous
I landed to wait out a fog once in Luxembourg - does that count? Because I really wanted to be at your table!
Sunday, 22 May 2016 21:08
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– and that's Jazz.

It's 7.45 and all the tables are already occupied.  The staff are carrying in more chairs.  Drinks are sipped.  The hubbub of chatter hovers over the room, an evocation of the cigarette smoke of yesteryear.   

 

The jam session is advertised for 8 o'clock and, as always, I wonder why everyone arrives so early, since the music never starts before about 8.30.  8 is when the odd musician strays in, casual, as though he happened to be passing and decided to drop in.  He deposits his instrument on the stage area, then backtracks to the bar.  A couple of other musicians drift in and slowly start tuning up.  They catch sight of a familiar face in the audience, nod, smile, go and say hello.  Totally oblivious to the social convention of time.  Someday, someone will explain to me what makes jazz musicians think they are exempt from the professional courtesy of starting their performances on time.  Classical musicians manage it.  Actors manage it.  The audience don't seem to mind waiting.  Maybe the fact that the performers are free to be themselves, faults included, makes the audience feel loved.

 

Eventually, the musicians start playing and the audience starts nodding and foot-tapping in time with the rhythm.  Everybody knows the drill: about two-thirds of the way into the song, it's solo time.  The double bass player strums, pinches and boings, eyes closed, Dum-dum-dum-ing to himself.  It's the cue for the audience to applaud.  Then it's the turn of the bass guitar.  Eyelids scrunched up together, face tense, suggesting a painful orgasm.  Audience duly applauds.  Last, but not least, comes the percussionist's exhibition.  It's often the longest, with all the hide, wood and metal getting an extensive thrashing that culminates in another hail of applause.  

 

The singer steps onto the stage, with perfected languor and stylised weariness.  She brushes her mane of hair from one side of her neck to the other.  Eyes closed, head slightly thrown back, the mic almost brushing her lips.  It's just her and the song in a private, intimate space.  Shall we all tip-toe out and remove our voyeuristic presence? 

 

I observe that everyone on stage has either his or eyes closed, or half-closed with a vacant, expression suggesting sense-altering, direct communication with an extra-terrestrial dimension.  

 

A jazz trademark seems to be to cut the verse of the song and attack it straight from the chorus.  Maybe doing what the composer and lyricist intended for the song would be too banal, too conventional, too conformist?

 

Ah, jazz.  Jazz is life. Or is it life is jazz

 

Let's just drop all that jazz.

 

 

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Anonymous
Happy New Year, Katia. Still out there and always read your blogs with great pleasure. Thank you, Nicholas
Sunday, 03 January 2016 19:44
Katherine Gregor
Thank you, Nicholas. A Happy New Year to you and your family!
Monday, 04 January 2016 11:13
Monika Schott
Life is jazz! It's such a treat to read two stories from you in a week - thanks. x
Sunday, 03 January 2016 20:13
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Advent Carols at Norwich Cathedral

"We should get there at least half an hour earlier to get a decent seat."

"Half an hour!"

"Bring a book."

"I don't know... reading a book in church?"

"Other people chat before the service, which I find infuriating.  At least quietly reading a book doesn't disturb anybody else."

 

Convinced by my logic, H. stuffs a book into his coat pocket, while I slip the usual A4. brown, spiral notebook into my bag.

We are greeted at the entrance of the Cathedral by ladies and gentlemen who hand us an order of service with the usual, upstanding citizen smile of church wardens all over the country.

 

We notice a large proportion of seats in the nave being marked Reserved for Ticket Holders.  "So much for the democracy of the Church," I say out loud.  "Are we becoming as exclusive as King's College Chapel now?" I think that even at the Temple Church, which I regularly attended in London, and where every molecule of the congregation oozes a sense of almost aggressive hierarchy, seats were occupied on a first come, first served basis, whether you were a QC, a court clerk, or just me.

 

"I don't know if we're King's College Chapel," says an elderly gentleman with a Cathedral badge on his lapel, "but you can go beyond the organ screen, in the presbytery.  It's great to sit there."  He gives me a half smile to which I beam a sincere "thank you." 

We take seats in the second row of the Mediaeval presbytery seats, wide and with comfortable rounded backs to support you.

 

I peruse the order of service.  On the first page, I read: 

Since the effectiveness of the service partly depends upon hearing from a distance, you are invited, when standing, to turn to face the direction from which the sound is coming.

 

I remember reading this in last year's order of service too and, then like now, stifling a giggle.  I wonder if there is really anyone above the age of six months unable to work that out for him or herself, or why special authorisation is needed to turn your head towards the sound.

 

As the organ pours notes of Bach and Brahms into the air, the lights are switched off one by one, until we are plunged in a darkness disrupted only by the golden half-light of the outdoor illumination floating down through the arched windows and gently lingering on the stone pillars.  I hold my breath in marvel.  In the darkness the Cathedral seems to come into a life of its own, and find the voice of its history, of all the Benedictine monks that prayed here, eight centuries ago.  During that – sadly brief – moment of silence, I think I hear them gossiping, discussing theology, begging forgiveness, reading the Rule of Saint Benedict, or uttering a prayer to the Almighty.  

 

The clergy gather under the Advent wreath, the candles flames casting flickering shadows over their faces.  After the blessing of the light, they process past us to the West end of the Cathedral.  Last, walks the Bishop of Norwich, wearing a mitre.  I find myself wondering if he knows the ancient reason for the pyramid shape of his headgear.  The same reason why  in early churches, the altar was always beneath a dome.  The same reason why wizards' hats are traditionally conical.  A reason of physics.  Yet another piece of ancient wisdom that's been widely forgotten.

 

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

Redeem thy captive Israel (...)

 

My favourite Advent hymn.  There is something arcanely wise and full of longing in its tune.  I belt it out, hoping I'm not going off tune.  I haven't sung in a very long time, and my vocal cords feel somewhat stiff and uncooperative.

 

"... the Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

"And also with you," is the response printed in the order of service.  But I cannot speak those words.  I have never been able to.  They always sound so mundane to me.  Instead, I mutter under my breath, "And with thy spirit." 

 

I suddenly recall the religious fervour sometimes bordering on intolerance that I witnessed at my old Durham college.  Where many viewed "thee"s, "thou"s, the King James Bible and especially incense with frowning suspicion.  A college in whose Norman chapel the first Catholic mass since the Reformation took place in 1989, after much campaigning with the College Council.  I was at that mass, one of the majority of Anglicans come to support the triumph of our Catholic fellow students.

 

The voices of the choir are carried over from beyond the organ screen.  The rich voices of the men, the limpid, crystal-clear voices of the girls, and the vulnerable, moonbeam-like voices of the boys.  

 

Advent Sunday is when I give myself permission to start indulging in a Christmas activities, such as listening to carols.  Also when I start feeling the atmosphere of Christmas.

 

After the solemn blessing, the choir sing a Vesper Responsory.  Its melody is full of mystery and hope.  It spreads throughout the Cathedral and rises up to the fan vaulting.

 

As we come out into the cold, starry night, I realise that, unlike other years, I do not feel a sense of Christmas.  Not yet.  But as I look up at the starts shimmering like diamonds in the black-blue sky, I feel a sense of hope.

 

Scribe Doll 

 Please also read my piece about the Temple Church.

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Thanks for sharing your sparkling account, Katia. Always good to prepare well for this season, the opening of a new year (which I ... Read More
Sunday, 29 November 2015 22:47
Katherine Gregor
Thank you, Rosy. Let's hope so :–)
Monday, 30 November 2015 08:41
Orna Raz
Your story about the reserved seats reminded me of Barbara Pym's books. Have you read A Glass of Blessings? I am sure you would lo... Read More
Monday, 30 November 2015 06:06
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