Food Matters: Bowled Over | AspenTimes.com

Food Matters: Bowled Over

by AMANDA RAE

IT STARTED with a sniffle on Saturday morning. "I think I'm getting sick," I whined to a friend later when I met her for a comedy show. I was sipping soda water while the rest of the bar was boozing it up, which made me even more annoyed that the lead performer was more than 90 minutes late to arrive. Eventually the comics took the stage, and they were hilarious. My congested sinuses and throbbing temples the following day, despite precaution? Not so funny.

I woke up craving soup. But after sleeping in until Sunday afternoon, I didn't have time to roast a chicken, pull the meat from its bones, and boil the carcass with vegetables and aromatics for hours to produce a rich, savory stock. So I did the next best thing: I ventured out in search of sustenance.

I'm superstitious when it comes to chicken noodle soup, and my go-to restaurant version in Aspen always seems to stave off sickness and soothe scummy feelings about life in general. Unfortunately, it costs $16 per serving, so it's reserved for special occasions when I'm feeling anything but special.

At least the "Big Bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup" at the Hotel Jerome is a generous portion: sparkling, golden stock layered with chopped onions, carrots cut to the size of large dice, and giant hunks of breast meat — almost a whole breast, ripped into five or six pieces. The broth is as good as the one my mom used to make; matchstick noodles remind me of Lipton instant-soup packets, a rare treat I enjoyed as a kid. Fresh herbs add brightness. At first I wasn't sure why this chicken soup was so soul-satisfying, but now I understand: it's chef Rob Zack's addition of schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat — a staple in Jewish home cooking.

I was a Catholic girl who attended preschool at a synagogue — probably because it was conveniently located and known for its creative, diverse curriculum. My mom might have gotten the idea from a Jewish family who lived down the street from us; they had a daughter born a few months apart from me. Whatever the reason, it wasn't religion.

Still, our class celebrated Passover, braided and baked challah every Friday, and, if memory serves me, reenacted historic events abroad that required some of us to wear dishtowels on our heads secured with stretchy headbands. Preschool at Congregation Knesset Israel is why an Irish-German like me might adore matzo crackers and noodle kugel to this day.

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Based on the last names I'm able to remember, I bet that the majority of other four year olds in my class were, in fact, Jewish. I'll never forget the time we assembled a home-cooking recipe book as a class project: I felt equally confused and repulsed as to why a peer would choose "baked haddock" as their submission. I wrote about spaghetti sauce — from scratch, natch. We didn't eat fish on Fridays in my family. Back then I wouldn't touch fish unless it was tuna from a can, and even that was a struggle. My mom would bake cod in the toaster oven, likely to prevent me from running away from home.

I suspect that my affinity for the Hotel Jerome's Big Bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup with schmaltz draws on deep-rooted nostalgia I've been carrying around for almost three decades. And nostalgia might be the reason why, as Zack told me a few years ago when I interviewed him for another story, he can't take the soup off the menu. "People would revolt," he said.

I've explored sentimentality often over the three-plus years I've been writing this food column and, looking back, it's often in times of sickness (check), heartache (check), or shock (double check). Comfort food is what our country craves right now, and it's not because Thanksgiving is less than a week away.

Extreme emotions in the aftermath of the election may have inspired many of us to act as if it was the end of the world. Some have felt paralyzed since last week, taking to the couch with a tub of ice cream; others hit the town for tequila shots (See "Emotional Eating," opposite page). Either way, after embarking on a free-for-all for a day or two, we must realize that the only sane option, really, is to accept our new reality and move forward. At least we can all agree on one thing that has the power to subdue scary feelings about the state of our union: food.

I don't blame my sudden sickness on Trump (at least the head-cold portion of it). But I do credit my speedy recovery to chef Zack's Big Bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup, spooned slowly while reading the news, slumped forward in the corner barstool where Dr. Gonzo used to sit in an effort to avoid banal chitchat with fellow barflies. It's no miracle, but worth every cent of $16.

amandaraewashere@gmail.com

EMOTIONAL EATING

Takeout orders spiked last Wednesday following the 2016 presidential election, according to MarketWatch. Here are top orders, plus the percent increase compared to other fall Wednesdays in those cities. Analysts attribute these spikes to the fact that “food delivery is more common in larger and coastal cities, many of which voted for Hillary Clinton in the election, according to the returns.”

New York

Greek fries 425%

Chef salad 367%

Moo shu pork 300%

Singapore mai fun 300%

Chicago

Macaroni al formaggio 484%

Fresh baked cornbread 382%

Chicken wonton soup 302%

Meatloaf 271%

Los Angeles

Baked salmon roll 642%

Grilled sweet corn 398%

Satay chicken 357%

Southern spicy fried chicken 243%