Liquid Gold, Delivered in a Bowl
Forward: This piece was written for a special net event hosted by Blogger 暗香盈袖. (http://blog.wenxuecity.com/blogview.php?date=201110&postID=31580）
As Chinese, most of us would be influenced and benefited through our proud soup culture one way or the other. But for me, soups created another complex dimension: my life has been entangled so deep and so wide with so many varieties of soups that sometimes I actually wonder what if a surgeon put me on the operation table to cut me open, he or she might be surprised to find out my blood vessels and arteries are flowing soups in alphabetic order, of course in Chinese pingig, instead of normal blood.
Growing up in eastern part of China, seasons came and went in my life were not just signaled by layers of clothes I needed to wear but the rotations of hot and cold soups brought up on the dinner table. I had soups made with ordinary veggies, bean curd, poultry, pork, beef, mutton, fish and ones made from exotic ingredients such as shark fins and swallow bird nests. Among all these soups I had, there is one soup standing out as my all-time favorite; that is an organic free-ranged chicken soup.
Yes! Chicken soup - the golden broth was so rich and intense resulted from hours simmering. The aroma floated out from the cooking pot in the kitchen and carried with soft murmurs of the woman’s chatting permeating into every corner of our house. Its delightful scent let you reach beyond the physical boundaries. To me, it was a well-defined motif bearing same meaning as a piece of well-versed culinary poetry or a piece of soft lullaby sang by a loving mother to her child.
You may ask what is so special about chicken soup. To answer your question, you may have to “hold your horse” for a moment so, allowing me to give you some background info before we get there.
Today I can be easily labeled as a big and tall guy, but few would realize that I was actually born as a preemie baby - about two months ahead of the supposed due day. I came to this world earlier because my mother was unfortunately hit by a bicycle rider. Before she knew it, I had been already placed in an incubator where she worked as an Ob-Gyn doc. She told me many times that she felt awful and cheated, in retrospect, that she never got a chance, as so many patients of her did, to hold me for few moments and say few tender words before the nurse would take the newborn away.
If the problem with me would end in hospital ward, then it would be an understatement. In fact, the saga of misery was just opening the first chapter. After my mother brought me home about two month later after I was born, my self-reliant mother with strong can-do attitude faced her biggest challenge she ever encountered in her entire life. Simply put, she could not produce enough milk to feed a hungry and growing boy whose digest system didn't agree with the powder milk in the cans. According to my grandmother, when it came to the feeding time, the supposed pleasant mother and son bonding time was quickly escalated into the “battles” - a torture for both. It often ended up with the crying mother and her screaming boy. Based upon my father's recollection, then I was so thin and weak that figuratively and literally I was like a malnutrition newborn dog puppy. And the irony was that my mother as an OB doctor who knew every possible cure available then for her less productive mammary glands and lactiferous ducts, and she tried them all. But to her dismay, nothing worked even with help of those milk-inducing soups and dishes my grandmother made. As a result, I was frequently brought to the hospital for medical attention. One day at lunch break, one of my mother's friends told my mother that her cousin in the countryside had given birth to a boy, but unfortunately the three-week old baby boy died at night due to incorrect sleeping position. “All the sudden, something lit up in my mind.” she told me when I was old enough to know certain things.
Later I found out that my family’s decision of hiring a wet-nurse worked out very well in several fronts. First, Auntie Li was able to escape from the nightmare of losing her infant son and as well as from the blames laid on her by the villagers and her own family. Secondly she was no longer suffered from her bulging and over productive mammary glands since there was this constantly hungry crying baby boy kept yearning for more milk. Thirdly, feeding an infant of her baby's age alleviated the mental pain of her own, giving her an opportunity to reclaim her ill-fated motherhood to some degree. Last but not least she was treated and paid well in our family that she realized that a person’s life could be so much different in a totally different place.
One major changed in our home after Auntie Li's arrival was the frequency of making chicken soups in our kitchen. To help her produce more breast milk to sustain the hungry baby boy, Auntie Li often made chicken soups with live hens every week, and she had never tired of drinking it. In fact, she credited its magical affects for her never-ending fountain of milk for a fast growing baby boy. My grandma told me many times that Auntie Li often chuckled with content after the feedings like that “Mom drinks more chicken soup so you'd drink more milk, growing big and tall.” My grandmother added that later but, knowing Auntie Li would never say that in front my mother, who often was torn between her own feelings and her son's health. Time to time when she returned home from a day’s work, my mother found out her affection towards to her son was mismatched by him. My mother has never said a word in front of me about her bruised emotions between her and Auntie Li , yet my father told me that Auntie Li became increasingly a “threat” as I grew older from my mother’s vantage point. Today I surely can understand the dilemma my mother faced: on one hand, It’s her who brought in the solution which not only solved the problem, but also made her life much easier, on the other hand, she was afraid that she was losing something in front her eyes every day as Auntie Li and her own son were getting closer and closer. One morning a few days after I turned to four when I woke up, I discovered Auntie Li was no longer in our house any more. My grandmother told me later with my grandpa's backup that I went berserk, refusing to eat and drink, and the whole house was in chaos.
When I was growing up, Auntie Li came to visit us every couple of years. Each time she come to visit , she would brought us bags of her local specialties such as dried cured eels, salty fish, new crops of sweet rice, fresh shelled peanuts, nine time out of ten, she brought live hens with her. Often she would help my grandmother and mother to clean the birds, making the chicken soup I favored with dry dark mushrooms or anther fragrant mushrooms with an interesting name – monkey's head. I remember when I was little boy, she would sit in my room and play with me for hours, she would carry me on her lap and use her chin to rub my hair a little, talking about something in her own life that I had no clue about it. I would crawl up and down of her lap, listening to her soft voices and showing my favorite books and toys to her. A couple of time, I questioned her why she called me her son, and why I was my mom's son too. For that, she never answered my question directly or be angry at me either. Sometime during our Q and A, her eyes would turn red, I would be quiet and lean my body to hers while he aroma of chick soup drifted around us. When I went to college, Auntie Li made less visits to our house. She told me that she was spending more time taking care of her aging parents and her sick husband. But each time she came, it would be a great time for our whole family; my mother would take her out for treats and buy her lots of gifts. Each time before she said bye to me, she would pinch my face a bit, teasing my shyness. Her hands that touched my cheeks were kind of coarse comparing with my mom's yet with the same degree of warmth. Her eyes shined with affection that you can tell only came from someone who cares.
Okay, enough these mushy stuffs, let us come back to the chicken soup.
As we know, not all the chick soup is created equal. The one I am talking about is the extraordinary one. For one thing, the bird in the chicken soup I mentioned above is made from the organic free-ranch chicken rather from those chicken packed in plastic in the supermarket we buy in America. Only these hens which roam free at their wills are able provide a strong and deep chicken flavor, plus the golden hue showed in the soup. More, the hours of simmering accompanying with ginger, scallion and mushrooms in a deep ceramic pot make the chicken meat so moist, wholesome, succulent and simply delicious.
Maybe, because of the years Auntie Li being in my life, treating me as her other son whom she has never had or because of her breast milk helped by the chicken soup saved my life and laid the solid foundation that allow me to maximize my physical potential, to me, chicken soup is no longer a hot liquid any more, it turns into a synonymous with love and comfort. If I can use a symbol to represent it, that would be the fuel made in kitchen by the women who loved me and filled up my tank for the journey where my heart leads to.
Note: The photo is from the net.