Monday, January 29, 2007

Nagymama’s Hungarian Chicken Soup for Your Family’s Soul

OK. I promised you my Hungarian chicken soup recipe. Being that we are suffering from an arctic blast, with wind chills in the negative 15 to 25 degrees, it seems that a wonderful pot of simmering chicken soup is the perfect anecdote for the bone-chilling days we’re experiencing in many parts of the country. Here is the way I remember Nagymama, my Hungarian grandmother, making it. I’ve carried on her tradition by making it this way for my own family as well:

• Fill up your stock pot about two-thirds of the way with water. No need to measure; just fill it so that there’s enough room to add all of the following ingredients. (two-thirds should be just about perfect.)

• Rinse your chicken with cold water and add it to the pot. Use either a whole cut-up chicken with the insides removed or three to four split breasts, with skin. Season the pot with ground kosher salt and pepper. Partially cover the pot and bring to a boil.

• When it boils, remove the lid, reduce the temperature to a roaring simmer, and once you get the boiling under control, partially cover again. Cook at this temperature for around 30-45 minutes, until the chicken is tender when poked with a fork.

• Turn off heat and remove the scum from the top of the pot. Then remove all chicken from pot. De-skin, de-bone, cut into bite-size pieces and put it back into the pot. Add peeled carrots (the authentic Hungarian way is to add them whole, not cut up), diced celery (again, add whole stalks if you want to be authentic) and quartered peeled medium size onions. Check your seasonings, now adding genuine, sweet Hungarian paprika (I also add a healthy does of thyme, although Nagymama never did!) Simmer on low heat for at least a couple of hours, until the flavors have a chance to mingle. (You can also let it simmer all night long on the lowest possible heat, removing it from the stove first thing in the morning.)

• Right before you’re ready to serve it, add thin egg noodles right to the pot, turning up the heat so that they cook through (about eight minutes.) Enjoy!

Nagymama always served this with homemade bread and pure butter. A European pastry was also served, as was a good cup of after-dinner coffee or tea.

Fewer aromas fill up your home better. Fewer memories of your children’s home could be stronger than the ones this will create. Try to keep a pot of this going for the rest of the winter. I am trying to do the same……

Until next week,


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Whipping Your House into New Year’s Shape

It’s not quite fair of me to write this newsletter. Not yet, anyway. Normally one to be completely on top of this kind of thing, I’m nowhere near ready this year. I have a litany of wonderful excuses—none of which you want to hear—but wonderful excuses they are and hey, one’s reality is one’s reality after all! And my reality this month left no room for un-decorating after the Holidays. So whipping my house into New Year’s shape is, today, a hypothetical at best. Heck: my Christmas tree still stands (proudly, I might add) in my foyer; angels and Father Christmases still line my kitchen window seat; and candles still stay light in every window (which, frankly, this year are staying up until Easter. But that’s another Newsletter). Friends are coming in from out-of-state next weekend (no time to whip things into shape before then either). So, looking at February for me is about the best I can do (and if this gives you liberty to lag along with me, well, that’s what rocket mom friends are for!)

But hypothetically or for real, it’s time to at least start thinking of de-constructing your home’s Holiday wonderland. Time to throw out the gingerbread houses and un-eaten cookies. Time to put all of those hard-to-find-home-for gifts away. Time to read the Christmas cards one last time and organize the photos.

So some thoughts:
• The first thing to come down is the tree (obviously). Ours is a 12’ tall artificial one (our kids have allergies to the real thing). It could stay up year round (and one year it really did. Funny story: it was in my living room and was easily visible to anyone passing by as I kept it lit most of the day and we lived on a very busy street. One night in May—so like five full months after Christmas—my pharmacist, who still made house calls—called and asked if I knew that my Christmas tree was in my living room. Duh?!? Like I could walk through my house and miss it….Had no time that year to take it down so left it up all year. Hmmmm. Looking like a great idea this year, too. ) But if you’re less eccentric than I, take the thing down, put all the ornaments in green and red plastic boxes so you’ll be able to find them next year, and get it all neatly put away and stacked in your attic.

• Next, dismantle any of the artificial greenery and pinecones or anything else that you might find at your local greenhouse (which is artificial) and wrap it up in plastic boxes or plastic bags and keep it all organized together. I take all of this stuff down, blow off the dust, wrap them in clear plastic garbage bags with a tight twist tie, and put them in my garage on a high shelf so that they’re airtight and out of sight until the next year.

• Pull down all of the Christmas things that cannot stay up as “winter decorations.” Santas should come down. Angels could stay out forever. This could be a tough call; if your house is like mine, once everything comes down, the house looks like it just had a bad haircut. So if you need to leave a few things up, so be it. The decorating police will probably cut you some slack.

• Lastly, organize those cards and photos. My girlfriend, Leslie, wrote to me that she takes all of her cards and organizes them by size; she also takes the photos and punches a hole in the corner and strings a ribbon through, making a nice and neat little keepsake in the process. When they visit friends throughout the year, she can easily pull out the photos to remind the kids who they are going to see. She also uses the opportunity to take the cards and photos to her computer where she inputs and updates the names of the kids. I take those same cards and pitch them (sorry!) but I do save every single photo. I store them by year in the hopes that one day when my hair is white I’ll drink herbal tea and eat crumpets in my conservatory and fill up archivally-correct books with all of them. In chronological order of course.

And when you’re all done doing this wonderful little yearly ritual, get out the vacuum cleaner and whisk away all of the dirt. Dust, too, but only if you’re in the mood. Make yourself an espresso and if you happen to have a cookie in the house, treat yourself to one of those, too. Whipping—houses or heavy cream or thighs-carrying-extra-Christmas-weight for that matter—requires a lot of energy.

Blessings on your week,


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rocket Mom Takes on Winter Old Wives Tales

A weekend is meant to be spent doing all of the things that you love…or at least doing all of the things that you hate but know that you have to do anyway (laundry, bill-paying and grocery-shopping come quickly to mind. Urgh!)

So imagine my disgust at having to spend the entire weekend in bed—and I’m talking entire as in twenty-five-hours-in-bed-without-getting-up-or-able-to-move-my-pounding-head—without the ability to do any of those things which I love (writing books, playing tennis, going to the symphony; yup: all three were on my weekend agenda) or hate (yup: laundry, bill-paying and grocery-shopping were there, too). Seems I caught not the flu (got my flu shot weeks ago) but an especially virulent stomach virus. Probably from my twelve-year-old son, who brought it home a couple of days before. Or perhaps from a colleague, who came to work the morning after being up all the previous night in the bathroom. Thankyouverymuchforsneezingonme.

Spending precious time in bed sick does not come easily to me. I had plans, for crying out loud! And grand ones at that. But it got me thinking, once my head stopped pounding that is, about all of those old wives tales that your mom and mine—and our grandmothers, too—told us when we were little kids. About keeping colds and flu’s at bay. Believe it or not, some of them are true and some of them are just plain silly. De-bunk or adhere as you see fit. Here goes: Rocket Mom takes on Winter Old Wives Tales:

1)OWT: Going out with wet hair will make you catch a cold. Sounds perfectly sane. But actually, I believe that going out with not really wet but slightly damp hair helps your body stay immune from catching colds as it builds up your resistance to the elements. I leave the gym almost every morning with slightly damp hair. The doctor’s take: an old wives tale. Going out with wet hair doesn’t make you sick; viruses do. (OK. So the docs and I agree on this one.)

2)OWT: Catching a chill gives you the flu. I am convinced that this is the truest of all old wives tales. I can re-count five times that I caught the flu within 24-48 hours of getting chilled. By that, I mean that I shivered. Complete wisdom from our mothers. The doctor’s take: While doctors for years have always claimed that only viruses give you colds and the flu, the latest research supports me. Researchers placed volunteer’s feet in cold water for twenty minutes and found that they were more likely to catch a cold within a few days than those who did not. Ha! My kids, who are convinced that I am soooo wrong and who refuse to wear winter coats to the bus stop, will hate me for doing the research on this one. But the docs and I agree. If you shiver, you get sick. (Period. End of story.)

3)OWT: Chewing garlic and eating onions keeps you healthy. Completely convinced. Except there is no need to chew it. (You’ll have no friends, after all). Instead, take one or two caplets daily to keep weirdo germs away. I completely swear (and I use the word gently here) by this. Have taken garlic for over thirty years. Almost never get sick. Have plenty of friends. The doctor’s take: garlic is good for lowering your cholesterol. May have some preventative aids. (C’mon. It’s my numero uno biggest health secret ever.)

4)OWT: Chicken soup is Jewish penicillin. Absolutely! Are you kidding?!? The best cure in the world. (And I’m not even Jewish.) Drink it in spades when you’re sick, when your tummy hurts or when you’re feeling blue. The doctor’s take: we can fly a man to the moon but we still haven’t figured out a cure for the common cold. So eat it if you feel like it, but don’t expect it to be an immediate cure-all. (They don’t know what they’re talking about. Make buckets of it when viruses are floating around your whole family. And if you need the Hungarian recipe for Jewish chicken soup, email me.)

5)OWT: Starve a fever, feed a cold. Or is it the other way around? Why does everyone mix this one up? I think it best to starve a fever. Your stomach just can’t handle too much food when it’s busy fighting away those nasty germs. The doctor’s take: it doesn’t matter. Eat if you can. You need the nutrients to get better. (OK. So eat then. But if you throw up, don’t call me.)

6)OWT: Sweat out a cold. I never exercise when I’m sick unless I’m at the tale-end of the cold or illness; I just don’t have the energy for it. But the minute I feel a little better, I’m right back at it. The doctor’s take: don’t exercise when you’re sick because you need your strength to fight the cold. You can’t sweat it out or burn it out or exercise it out or sauna it out. (Humph. I’m convinced I can swim it out or weight lift it out or tennis it out. I am.)

7)OWT: Colds and flu’s are most contagious before the symptoms even appear. I’d think this is true, except in the case of when the sick-o is sneezing right on you or coughing and then touching you. Yuck! The doctor’s take: not true. Colds and flu’s are most contagious when the symptoms are the strongest or at their height. So stay away from someone if they have a runny nose, are sneezing like crazy or coughing up a storm! (Carry hand sanitizer with you and use it after you shake someone’s hand. It’s flu season, for Pete’s sake! And ditto for after touching door knobs or being anyone who is obviously sick.)

Lastly, if you are sick, please do not go to work! Do everyone at the office a favor and stay home! And really lastly: the myth that chocolate causes acne is just not true. Daily usage reaps a beautiful complexion. The secret is eating it everyday. And dark only. It has been scientifically proven in every major university study throughout the world—and for centuries—to keep colds and flu’s at bay.

Hmmm. I must not have been eating enough of it.

Happy, healthy week!