Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sopa de Lima y Pollo

So, the origin of this soup started way back in the day when I was living in a small house in South Bend with my sassy half-Brazilian Roo Juliana.  One day in winter I came home from work or class or some sort of activity to find her making chicken soup in the kitchen since she was getting a cold.  Her usual method of cold symptom treatment involved overdosing on Vitamin C and taking homeopathic drops that smelled like rotting fungus, and in addition to that she was also on a gluten-dairy-soy free diet due to food sensitivities and thyroid issues.  So, naturally, I was generally intrigued by whatever she cooked.  Every home cooked meal was a struggle to triumph over overwhelming odds stacked against deliciousness.

But what caught my attention in particular that day was an unusual odor in a chicken soup kitchen.  It was bright and fresh and utterly welcome on a cold February day.  It was crisp, but also strangely comforting.  It was lime. 

“What are you doing?” I asked, slightly alarmed but overwhelmingly intrigued. “Are you putting lime in that soup?”

“Yeah,” she answered much too casually for my taste.

“In chicken noodle soup?” I pressed on, my tone hopefully conveying my growing bewilderment.  Lime in chicken noodle soup?  I demand an explanation!

“Yeah,” she turned, smiling at my insistence, “It’s Portuguese.”

“Ooohhhh…Interesting…”  She knew there was no faster way to derail my attention than to say that something was Portuguese or Brazilian or Mexican or French, or from any one of the places that she had family or that her family worked.  I would immediately go research it, and buy her a few minutes time to finish her dinner.  Clever girl.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back on it, I believe that this was where my dissatisfaction with traditional chicken soup was born.  Chicken noodle soup just tastes flat to me.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever really made chicken noodle soup, at least not unless I am under duress.  At best, store-bought soup is either too salty or flavorless, the chicken is dry (how, how you ask, can chicken that is floating in a liquid matrix be dry?  Well, go grab some canned chicken noodle soup and see for yourself) and the noodles are one nudge away from disintegrating.  To quote the newly budding food critic we have in the house “mama, that’s gwoss.”

The pollo in Sopa de Lima y Pollo.

If I make chicken soup, I make chicken tortilla soup, but I have always been dissatisfied with the traditional (by this I mean traditional American) base recipes for chicken tortilla soup as well.  When I make soup, I usually want to make it from scratch.  I want to own everything about that soup, from the chicken bones in the stock to the chopped vegetables to the tortilla…ok, well, not the tortilla chips in this instance.  But I just can’t abide adding a can of enchilada sauce to soup, it seems wrong and weird.  To me, who is a total soup psycho.  I have had this kind of tortilla soup before and don’t get me wrong, it is delicious.  It’s just not what I was looking for.
I own this stock, baby.

In fact, it was not until I came across this recipe for Sopa de Lima on one of my favorite food blogs, Homesick Texan, that I realized what I was looking for all along was some sort of Portuguese chicken noodle soup and chicken tortilla soup hybrid.  I wanted the thickness of the tortillas in the broth, the chunks of chicken, the myriad of chopped veggies, and none of the inevitably soggy noodles.  I wanted to freshness of the lime and the cilantro.  I wanted no chunks of tomatoes that I would put in out of guilt but end up throwing to my dog or giving to my daughter or just leaving in the bottom of the bowl.  I wanted the chicken to be the star, and the limey broth to be the best supporting actress that wins the Oscar.  I wanted this, what I have so arrogantly called, Sopa de Lima y Pollo.

Sopa de Lima y Pollo
For the soup:
2 medium yellow onions, diced
10 cloves garlic
3 bell peppers, diced
1-2 poblano chiles, diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups chopped cilantro, divided
Pinch of cayenne
Zest of one large lime
4 cups of tortilla chips
32 oz of chicken stock, home made if you can
4 cups of shredded or chopped chicken, your choice
4 ears of sweet corn, cut off the cob (or one bag of frozen sweet corn)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Juice of one large lime

For Garnish:
1/2 cup shredded Monterrey Jack or sharp Cheddar
1 avocado, pitted and peeled, cubed
Sour cream
1 lime, cut into slices
Tortilla chips

Dice the onions, peppers, and chili.  Grate the garlic cloves.  Chop the cilantro.  Zest the lime.

Throw the onions into a big, biiiiig pot and sauté them for a few minutes until they get happy (you know, translucent, goldeny).  Throw in the garlic for a few minutes, then add the peppers and chili.    Let all of the veggies get happy together for about five minutes.  Remember to salt and pepper the veggies each time you add something new.

Add in the cumin, coriander, cayenne and lime zest and let them fry into the oil for a little bit.  This will make the spices “bloom” and you will be happier when you eat the soup!

Slosh in the chicken stock.  I say slosh because when I added mine in I added all 32 oz at once from another giant pot on the stove and there was a lot of sloshing involved.  Then squeeze in the juice of one lime.  Please, please, please use fresh lime juice!

Take your four cups, or four handfuls, of chips and crush them up in your hands into the pot.  The more crushed they are, the better, so really get out your aggression here.  Stir the chips into the pot.  The point of this addition is to help thicken the soup with the corn flour and meal in the chips, so there are a number of other techniques you can use.  You can use corn tortillas, corn meal soaked in hot water or hot milk.  Corn tortillas would probably be more muy authentico, but I didn’t have any so I used tortilla chips.

Add in the chicken, corn, and cilantro.

Bring the soup to a low boil and then turn it down to low and let it simmer for an hour or so.  Or, really, you can eat it at anytime right now.  But it is nice to give the flavors a little time to come together.

When the game is over and all your guests come home, start dishing out the soup.  Add in a little cilantro, a slice of lime, some diced avocado, shredded cheese, more crushed tortilla chips.  This soup also freezes and reheats really well, and is great in a crock pot in case you are taking it to a tailgate, party, squirrel fry, etc. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Picture Day

This week, we finally got around to taking family photos, something I have been wanting to do since Lucy was born.  I put it off and put it off, always using finances or Don’s residency schedule as excuses.  But now that Don is an attending we have the spare change and the time to do it (horay!)  Last week Don and I agreed to just pull the trigger, find a photographer, and get some pictures taken before Lucy is going off to college and I am sitting on the porch, sobbing, wondering why I don’t have any professional family pictures of her in addition to the 20,000 “amateur” photos we have.

On Monday, scrambling to get everyone ready, fix my hair and makeup, pick a top for Lucy, and several other things it became apparent that I was totally unprepared for the session.  I hadnt figured out what we should wear, I didn’t have any idea of where we would go or what we should do, I hadn’t thought about whether or not to bring our dog with us.  I went to the gym and 90 minutes before we were to meet the photographer at a park 15 minutes from our house I was still un-showered and screwing around on my computer.  After huffing and stomping around the house, we finally all managed to get dressed and made it into the car in a sullen silence. 

Don peeked at me and asked if this was something I even wanted to do, or if it was just something that he thought I had really wanted to do, and I was doing it because I thought he wanted family pictures.  It took me a while to answer, and when I did all I could say without bursting into tears was "I want to do it…I'm just not happy with how I look."

I know that this is something that deeply resonates with many other mamas, and many other women, out there.  I know because I remember the way my own Mom would react whenever the camera would appear for a candid picture.  She would cross her eyes or stick out her tongue or do something else funny.  I know because later that same evening, after we celebrated our family picture fait accompli by going out to dinner, I read this article by Allison Tate.  It is about her own fear of being photographed, and her deeper fear that she would not be photographed. 

What a curious and heart rending paradox of feeling, one that was incubating inside me only hours before.  I didn’t want to be in those family pictures.  I was considering asking if maybe we could just take pictures of Lucy.  I didn’t want a picture on the wall chronicling the ten (or fifteen) pounds I still need to lose and the new wrinkle by my mouth and the way one of my eyes always closes more than the other when I smile and my weird hormonal acne.  Even after getting a good workout at the gym I still felt bloated and muffin-topy and my hair was doing it’s frizzy not really going to curl thing.  I looked in the mirror, and the image I saw staring back at me was so discordant when compared with the image I have of myself.  My brain was releasing clouds of neurotransmitters that started breaking down my post-workout endorphin rush.  I was too hideous for family pictures, pictures that I wouldn’t want to look at in an old shoe box let alone frame and hang on our wall.

And yet, at the same time, I wanted to take these pictures desperately.  I want Lucy to look back on pictures of her family, and not wonder “where was my mama?”  I don’t want her to grow up thinking that if a woman doesn’t conform to society’s standard of beauty then she doesn’t deserve to be loved or celebrated.  That she doesn’t even deserve to be remembered.  I wish there was an instagram filter that captured the joy in a picture instead of bringing out blue or sepia tones, which could make you look the way you feel you should.  But there isn’t.  That joy, those memories, come from my presence and my attitude; they have to. 

I may not look like a model or an actress, or myself when I was twenty.  I may stiff be haunted when reading a magazine or watching TV or even looking at my friends pictures on Facebook by images of other women looking younger, more beautiful, more put together than I ever remember feeling.  I may feel frazzled and ill kempt and 10 pounds too heavy all the time.  But I am me, and to my daughter I am the image of what a woman looks like.

I want that image to be beautiful because I am happy and joyful to be together as a family.  I want that image to be playful and smiling and serious by turns because I am in the moment, not stuck inside my own head.  Most of all, I just want those images to BE.