Everyone has a lista list of defining places, music, films. I'm sure you could rattle off a few "life-changing" songs. You could probably tell me the books that moved you and continue to move you well after you've finished them. And, most likely, there are geographical places that you feel especially connected to. We are creatures that like to accumulate. These accumulationsthese piles of things that matterdon't necessarily create who we are, but they certainly help tell the story.
I have a list, too. My list is long and winding. It includes lobster shacks in small Maine beach towns, angsty Ani Difranco albums, T-shirts, Audrey Hepburn movies and a pile of poetry books as high as my knees. My list also includes a bowl of soupspecifically, a bowl of my mom's chicken noodle soup with matzo balls.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I grew up as a Jewish girla gay Jewish girl, nonethelessin a small Southern town. To say that this circumstance presented a fair share of challenges would be an understatement. You can find a lot of great things in Tupelo, MS ( fried chicken, magnolia trees, Elivs' birthplace ) , but a large and functioning Jewish community isn't one of them. Growing up, the only Jewish people I knew were my family members.
To me, being Jewish meant three things:
1. I celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. For eight nights every December, I would light the candles in the menorah and recite a Hebrew prayerall awash in the twinkling lights from our nearby Christmas tree. "Christmas is an American holiday," my mom would say. She said this about any non-Jewish holiday that afforded her the right to buyand receivepresents.
2. I was, under no circumstance, allowed to like Jesus. This also proved to be a difficult task. We were surrounded by peoplefriends, classmates, co-workersthat had a remarkable fondness for the guy. I was invited to more church events than I could recount. My friends regularly took me to events like Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flamesan uber Christian haunted house that was supposed to scare you into salvation. It worked. I was saved three times during my pre-teen years. "You better save yourself from me," my mom barked through the phone line when I called her to let her know that a friend's family had taken me to church and that I wanted to denounce my Judaism. Read more story below....
3. I had a cuisine that was all my own. Unlike the hamburgers and pizza slices all of my friends were enjoying, I had a bevy of Jewish dishes that wereto my mindexotic. There were crisp potato latkes bathed in applesauce and sour cream, noodle kugels ( both savory and sweet ) , cheese blintzes, corned beef sandwiches, eggy challah loaves and gelled jars of gefilte fish. All of these foods were uniquely mine; they set me apart from all of the kids around me. They helped me feel Jewish. None of these foods, however, were eaten as regularly in my house or with as much adoration as what is, for me, the ultimate Jewish fare: matzo ball soup.
Matzo ball soup wasand still isthe cornerstone of my Jewishness. It's the meal that connects me to my family, and it is the meal that makes me feel like I am part of a community, an ancestry.
I make the soup the same way my family always made it, relying on suspiciously yellow chicken bouillons. ( For a very long time, we used Croydon House chicken soup mix. As it became increasingly more difficult to find, my grandmother would ship us boxes of it. Now, it's nearly impossible to get. I have taken a liking to L.B. Jamison's chicken soup base, and it's a worthy substitute. ) It's delicious.
I seek it out every time I'm at a Jewish deli. I still regularly tease both my mom and my grandmother that my soup tastes much better than theirs. And, inevitably, whenever I meet someone that is Jewish, the first thing I always say is, "You should try my matzo ball soup."
I'm a collector by nature. I hang on to the things that mean something to me, things that have made me who I am. I haven't quite begun filling a cedar chest with these things just yet, but rest assured that if I do, one of the first things I'll add will be a bowl of this soup.
Chicken noodle Soup with matzo balls
I have only ever made this soup in the soup pot my mother gave me. It's so large that I can barely lift it. So, please excuse me if this recipe yields enough soup to feed a whole congregation. Though, I promise, it won't go uneaten.
8 quarts water
3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 bag baby carrots
1 whole onion, peeled
½ cup chicken soup base
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. chili powder
1 bag broad egg noodles
1 box of Manischewitz matzo ball mix ( not to be confused with the matzo ball soup mix by the same brand )
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
1. Put water in large soup pot and place over medium heat.
2. Add whole chicken breasts, onion ( whole and peeled ) , baby carrots, bay leaves, chicken soup base, chili powder, salt and pepper to water. Simmer on medium for 1 hour.
3. After soup has simmered for an hour, begin preparing matzo balls according to directions. I use both packets of matzo ball mix for this recipe. Simmer in a separate pot and then, once cooked, transfer to soup. Once you add the matzo balls to the soup, remove the pot from the heat.
4. While matzo balls are simmering, remove the onion from the soup and taste the broth. Adjust seasonings to taste.
5. Remove cooked chicken breasts and shred with a fork. The chicken should be very tender and will shred easily. Return shredded chicken to soup.
6. After you've added the cooked matzo balls to the soup, cook your egg noodles. Drain cooked noodles, add them to the soup.
7. Add chopped parsley to the soup and serve.