Did you hear? My mom's in town!
She got here last Monday, we get to keep her 'til next Monday, and we're all pretty much as excited as can be.
It's no small thing, hurtling yourself across the country (am I the only one who thinks of modern travel this way?) Although it probably pales next to settling into our home, trying to catch a moment's peace while keeping pace with little lives. Mamo being here means so, so much to all of us.
It means Henry gets an eternally patient poem-reading buddy. Zoë gets her very first little purse (it's pink and it's satin and it has with roses!). And Max gets to make Mamo her very own Mii. I'm pretty sure he'd all but abandoned all hope.
It also means I get first-person knitting advice, and the best-ever antiquing comrade-in-arms, and a fellow soul whose heart skips several beats over the mere notion of Meyer Lemon by the scoop. Not to mention stolen moments to capture the last of our first blue iris and the first of our royal purple iris and our one-and-only white iris. We're so tickled we could burst.
Until then, I wanted to leave you with a nice bowl of soup. Chicken soup, specifically, though maybe not your grandmother's (or mine). My ancestors are resolutely Northern European, but when it comes to chicken soup, I break all blood ties. Sick or well, up or down, what I crave most is this one, Tom kha gai if you know it, Thai chicken-coconut if you don't.
It's meaty with mushrooms and softly-poached chicken, and creamy from a broth based on coconut milk, but it's the riot of flavors that floor me every time. Sweet, sour, salty, swank, every bite's an adventure, different and grand and totally heady. It tastes like a diamond, sparkling and bright, always shifting on the tongue like a well-cut solitaire. The ingredient list might look a little fussy, but check the notes for easy sources and substitutions. Once the hunting's behind you (and it's not hard, not at all), the whole thing comes together in twenty minutes, easy. Which is pretty important, when the company's this fine.
Thai Chicken Coconut Soup (Tom kha gai)
adapted from Nancie McDermott, Quick and Easy Thai
Fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal are available in Seattle at Central Markets, Uwajimaya's, and most Asian grocery stores. Fresh ginger substitutes admirably for the galangal, and a bit of extra lime juice for the lime leaves, if you can't find either (I often can't, here in Ohio). If you do find lime leaves, buy extra: they freeze beautifully.
The final soup will have inedibles floating about — lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal or ginger. I usually pull these out as I serve it, though you could always warn a grown-up audience to eat around them.
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, + more to taste
2 Tablespoons fish sauce
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 Tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped, + more to taste
6 kaffir lime leaves, torn
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp. sugar
10-12 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger or galangal
2 stalks fresh lemongrass
3/4 pound boneless chicken (breast or thigh), sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 cup mushrooms, stems removed, thinly sliced (cremini, shiitake, buttons, or enoki, sliced from their base and left whole)
In a small bowl, combine fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and scallions, if using. Place by the stove, along with the chopped cilantro. Prepare lemongrass by slicing off root end, peeling off outer layer if browning or dried, and slicing each stalk into several 2" pieces, up to the point where the stalk becomes a fairly dark green (I usually use the lower two-thirds of the stalk). Bash pieces slightly with back of knife or small can, to release flavor.
In a medium saucepan, combine coconut milk and chicken broth over medium-high heat. Bring to a gentle boil, then stir in galangal (or ginger), lemongrass, and lime leaves. Add the chicken and mushrooms, return to a gentle boil, and simmer gently until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, pour in fish sauce/lime juice mixture, and stir well to combine. Top with chopped cilantro, and taste for flavors. You are after a bright balance of sour, salty and sweet. If any of these is too muted, add a dash of each flavor to bring into balance (fish sauce for salt, sugar for sweet, lime juice for salt.) Slurp in the presence of good friends and family.