Homemade chicken and dumplings soup
It’s strange to string up Christmas lights around a window framing palm trees and sunshine, instead of cloudy skies and snow. Listening to Christmas music on Pandora just felt like a sham. I wonder how parents in San Francisco justify Santa’s sleigh. There’s nothing for his runners to skate over in California but fresh asphalt and no woods in which grandma gets run over. Santa would have to whip his reindeer through Golden Gate Park and mow down dispassionate hipsters instead.
It’s just started to get chilly enough at night to leave frost in the morning, so I decided to celebrate my lack of seasonal affective disorder by making my mother’s homemade chicken and dumplings soup. my family normally spends Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house, where my grandma cooks three different pots of soup (chicken noodle, chili, and clam chowder). We fill up on crackers and cheese and vegetables beforehand, but we eat two bowls of soup anyway. My grandfather is doing well, but he’s still recovering from surgery and needs to rest, so we’re giving my grandmother a break.
Instead, I wanted to create my own mini-Christmas. If chicken soup cures your sickness, chicken and dumplings soup is the effing elixir of youth. Not only do you have the warm broth and spices, but you have the soft, chewy dumplings. I’d prescribe this for most illnesses—heart, mind, body, whatever.
There’s no link to send you because this is a recipe I actually have written down on a card, in my mother’s handwriting, ending with the word “Yummm!” and a smiley face. I’d share it with you, but I don’t have my mom’s permission and frankly I’d like to keep it to myself. I’ll be coy with the details instead. This will be my only Grinchy moment, I promise.
First, I chopped up chicken, broccoli, carrots, and celery, and added them to a broth with cream of celery soup, some cloves and bay leaves.
To be honest, I was a little disappointed in the simplicity of the recipe. I’ve never watched my mother cook it, but I assumed she threw a bunch of ingredients together—a pinch of this and that, and it somehow came out perfect. Maybe this is part of getting older and realizing that your parents are actually people, but instead of thinking about it too hard, I put a lid on the broth to simmer.
I measured all the ingredients for the dumplings and stirred them into a bowl, then reread the recipe. I was supposed to have mixed the dry ingredients, then added the liquid ones. As usual, I immediately assumed the recipe would be a disaster and went about huffily mixing the dough, though I wondered what was even the POINT, now that it was ruined.
Next, the recipe told me to drop the dumplings into the spoon by the tablespoonful. I’d never learned the physics of dumplings, but I’d assumed they would drop in doughy little balls to the bottom of the pot. Not so. All the dumplings floated on the surface of the broth like Michigan’s winter cloud cover. I couldn’t even see the broth. How were they going to cook if they weren’t even sitting in the broth?
At this point, I wanted to call my mom and cry a little bit over my dumplings and make her promise me lots of Christmas chocolate in my stocking, but it was 11 p.m. in Michigan. After keeping an eye on the expanding dumplings for ten minutes, I turned the heat down, smushed them down with the pot lid, and let it cook.
After only a few minutes, I heard a sizzle from the stovetop, meaning the pot had boiled over. I love having an electric stove for all reasons but this—as soon as you spill something, it burns to a crisp on the hot surface and starts smoking and smelling all sorts of terrible. Even with my slight phobia of burning things, I wasn’t entirely surprised. What more was to be expected from doomed dumplings? I switched burners, turned on the fan, and waited a few more minutes.
Somehow, the dumplings cooked. Those that had been pushed to the bottom of the pan were a little doughier, those at the top were fluffy. I couldn’t imagine how that had happened, when most of the dumplings seemed to be above the broth’s surface, but I didn’t question it and ladled out two bowls. As a kid, I used to fill my bowl with more dumplings than soup, and my mom’s recipe had the ideal ratio, with a bite of dumpling for every spoonful. As usual, if I listen to my mom, everything will turn out okay.
I’m writing this from a plane, watching the red rock terrain change to snowy Rocky Mountain peaks, which shrink into plains where Santa would have no sleigh problems. I wish you warmth and a full belly for the holidays and the new year.