emergency tonic

My mom had an emergency appendectomy last week. Is there any other kind, really? My appendix decided to cash things in when I was seventeen. And it too was an emergency. In retrospect, the real emergency came several days after surgery. I was sent home to recover, but I never did. I have a vague memory of dad slinging me over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and laying me into the back seat of the family toyota for a run to the emergency room. The details from there on out are sketchy at best. Being force fed what seemed like a considerable amount of chalky, white, nauseating barium is the only thing that really stands out. The rest is all hearsay. My intestine had twisted over on itself and to complicate matters, it had leaked. Infection was raging. A second surgery was ordered.

Evidently the prognosis was dire. Dire enough that my dad felt compelled to smuggle our family cat, Max, into St. Paul Ramsey Hospital. Here was a man who didn’t mess around. He knew just how to get to the core of things. He drove Max downtown, stuffed him into a soft sided brief case, rode up several flights in the elevator, and waltzed into my room. They didn’t stay long, but long enough. Somehow I managed to pull things off. Or rather my surgeon managed. I spent another solid week in the hospital, but eventually I got home. Home to Max. Home to my parents who nursed me back to life.

Needless to say, I was glad to learn of the tremendous technological strides that have been made in the world of appendectomies in the last 20 years. Three cheers for laparoscopic surgery. But medical advancements or not, I went to help my mom recover. She’s always been tough, and this was no exception. Her sturdy farm-girl roots shinned from the get-go. The surgeon made her promise to at least fill the pain prescription. She did, but the bottle sat in the bathroom, unopened. She was in and out of the hospital in under 24 hours. And once I got her home and settled in, I proceeded to do what seems to me like the obvious thing to do in almost any situation – I cooked.

I made silky parmesan risotto with mushrooms, creamy macaroni and cheese soup with roasted tomatoes on top, and a ginger chicken soup. I think everyone should have a reliable, cure-all soup recipe in their back pocket to pull out in times of need. And this is my new standby. It’s flavor is very grown up – not like any other chicken soup I have tasted. The broth is beautifully clear and infused with ginger. The chicken itself comes out amazingly tender and packed with the rich flavor of the broth. I know this is a tonic I will crave the next time I’m under the weather.

This recipe originated from Nina Simond’s A Spoonful of Ginger, but I found it in the Essential New York Times Cookbook. Hesser’s version calls for Shaoxing rice wine, which I didn’t have, so I subsistuted sake – and would do so again. I loved the flavor. Depending on the situation, I can see serving just the broth by itself or with the chicken loosely shredded into the soup, which is what my mom and I did. There was plenty of left over chicken for other uses. In fact my mom told me tonight that she ate the last of it in a kung pao chicken.

Clear Steamed Chicken Soup
Adapted from the Essential New York Times Cookbook

One 3 1/2 pound chicken cut into 10 pieces, trimmed
(I opted to remove a good deal of the skin, but left some in tact for flavor)
1 3/4 cups sake
10 scallions, trimmed and smashed gently with the flat blade of a knife
12 quarter-sized discs of fresh ginger, smashed with the flat blade of a knife
6 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
Chopped scallions for garnish

Heat the oven to 425ºF. Fill a pot large enough to hold all of the chicken pieces with water and bring to a boil. Blanch the chicken pieces for one minute and drain.

Combine the everything but the salt in a Dutch oven or casserole with an oven prof lid. Cover tightly with aluminum foil, then place the lid on top. Pour an inch or two of boiling water into a roasting pan that is large enough to hold the pot of chicken. Place the pot of chicken in the hot water bath and put the whole shebang in the oven for 2 hours. Check the water level in the roasting pan and replenish with more boiling water if necessary.

Once the soup is out of the oven, skim the top to remove the fat. Remove the scallions and ginger. Add salt and adjust to taste.

Add a handful of loosely shredded chicken to each bowl. Serve the hot broth sprinkled with scallions.

4 Responses to “emergency tonic”


  1. 1 Julie February 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    You are a good daughter.

    • 2 Mom March 1, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      She is indeed a very good daughter – I am blessed and may have to fake a relapse to get some more of her fabulous cooking – she took good care of me!

  2. 3 Judy Kaster March 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Sorry to hear of Mom’s trouble, but we’re glad to keep up with things via the Pig.
    We’re in San Antonio, TX, waiting for the thaw to get to MN
    Love to mom & you, Lee & Judy Kaster

  3. 4 Sara March 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    Glad to hear that Mary is on the mend, & I really liked the story of Dick smuggling the cat in to see you. Cats always make things better.


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