I was totally spoiled in the food department as a child. My mom is probably the best cook I know. She can make something delicious from just about any combination of random pantry ingredients. My friends always wanted to come to our house and the action always happened around the kitchen island because they all knew that there would be fresh homemade rolls, with all kinds of toppings, dips, sauces, and cheeses to go with them. There would be sweet tea in the fridge and if somebody was hungry for more than a snack, it wouldn’t take long before mom had a full blown meal whipped up for all of us.
In graduate school, I had a group of friends who were all from Texas. Feeling badly for them being so far away from home (aka a home cooked meal), I asked mom to prepare the full spread for them and we piled in a car and drove the 90 minutes from Winston-Salem to Davidson in order to fill our tummies with a taste of home.
I knew mom’s kitchen was a special place, but there’s one recipe that was totally taken for granted: Mom’s Chicken Soup.
We had it fairly often in my youth. It was an easy weeknight dinner so there was almost always a fresh or leftover version of the soup whenever somebody got hungry. It was the staple that was always available when I came home for a visit, filling the kitchen with a heavenly fragrance. As I have grown older and now have share a kitchen with my husband and daughter, I’ve tried a few times to make a big pot of that same chicken soup.
Each time I call or text my mom asking her to remind me of the ingredients. Each time I add them, one by one. When everything is cooked, I fill my bowl and prepare to enjoy my soup. Each time I find… it’s just not as good as my mom’s.
Last summer when my parents came for a visit, I asked mom to teach me to make the soup while she was in town. She stood over my stove, using my soup pot, my ingredients, my seasonings, and the parsley growing in my garden. From these, she created that same soup I knew all those years in her kitchen.
I watched her and took notes as she cooked. A few weeks later, long after she and dad were gone, I figured I’d make the soup, while it was fresh on my mind. I put in the broth, the veggies, the chicken, a tiny bit of rice and a fresh sprig of parsley. It smelled so good. I filled a bowl and sat down to take the first bite.
Not the same.
I’ve tried a few times since, all met the same results. Good soup, but just not as good as mom’s.
So after a little reflection on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that mom’s soup has one secret ingredient that I have always left out when trying to replicate it on my own: Home.
When mom makes the soup, she serves up a little bit of home with it. Whether in her kitchen or mine, when mom makes the soup, it comes with a healthy portion of grace, more than a dash of compassion, and an infinite amount of unconditional love. When mom makes the soup nowadays, it’s when I need a break from the stressors or respite from a storm. When she makes the soup now, it’s because she’s come to town to help out for a little while or because we’ve come to her house to get away and spend time with family. When mom makes the soup, we are invited home. Home to rest, home to relish in the gift of family, home to give and receive love.
Here we are in the “home stretch” of the Advent season and all of us are invited. We are invited home to our church family, home to our sanctuary, home to the traditions that have held us together, and home to the new expressions that remind us of a God who is always creating. We are invited home to the manger to wait, watch, see, and then proclaim that Christ is born once again! Christ is born and has come to dwell – to make a home – around us, among us, and within us.
Like a simple soup so easily under-appreciated, this invitation is something special. It is an invitation to experience love that is unparalleled and unconditional. This invitation, the one that is born as a little child in Bethlehem, the one that offers us peace and joy and hope and love, that invitation is ours to accept, ours to receive, and always ours to share.
So come on home, and bring a friend. There’s more than enough to go around.
In case you’d like to try the soup, here’s mom’s recipe (in her own words):
It’s kind of whatever I’ve got…
- Start with a good chicken broth.
- Add carrots and celery.
- Sometimes I put in potatoes chopped into little pieces, if not potatoes then I’ll add a little bit of rice (white or wild) or barley.
- Of course, put the chicken in.
- I do add English peas, but I do those last because you don’t want to overcook them. Oh! and you can do green beans in lieu of English peas if you like.
- I like the flavor of dill so I like to put in just a few chunks – you have to be careful though b/c they’re salty. Put them in early because of the salt; you’ll want those to go in before you start seasoning it.
- Corn! take a couple of ears of your frozen corn out of the freezer, cut the kernels off and throw them right in.
- Fresh Parsley is a must!
- Let it all cook. Serve up a bowl. Enjoy!