The Revealing, Secret Diaries of a Not-So-Secret Foodie

Chicken Soup

In Essay, Faith, Food, Gab, Photos, Recipe on March 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm
Swiss Chicken with Grape Tomato & Argula Salad

Swiss Chicken with Grape Tomato & Arugula Salad

The year I was born my aunt was nine years old. My mom, her sister, was twenty-one and still wearing braces. How unaware we all were that day of the unusual, yet needed tie, that would be formed between the three of us in the years to come. Sometimes, someone else’s tragedy is your unknown blessing, even if not fully realized until many years later. Sadly and suddenly, I had received a precious and beautiful gift sent straight from God, albeit unexpected and unsolicited. I received an older sister, overnight.

My mom, I later came to believe, had also been given a gift that day. An important, life-changing responsibility had been assigned to her. Ultimately, this new responsibility provided an unlimited source of strength and direction to guide her after losing two important people in her life, her parents. It was also the bridge that carried her into the next chapter of her life, enabling my mom to become the strong woman she was destined to be.

 
Somehow our unexpected bridge fit perfectly, smack in the middle of our rowdy clan. My aunt came to live with us in her fourteenth year. Barely a teenager, still a child, yet somehow, an old soul; an old soul like me. From Pennsylvania and finally transplanted to the Amish country of central Ohio, my Aunt came to live with her sister, my mom, and her young family. Not really understanding the tragedy of events that had provided us the opportunity of having a new playmate, my brother, sister and I were thrilled at her arrival.  Our Aunt became the leader of our small, but mighty tribe of three.
 
With her long, feathered-back hair set in place with a good aerosoling of White Rain and the final touches of frosted, sky blue Maybelline eye shadow applied under her brow, the unlikely den leader, would head out with our pack. Fearlessly she led us on our various excursions into nature. She took us on hikes through the maze-like rows of cornstalks which to us seemed ten feet high because they obscured the views of the outside world. We would disappear for the afternoon. Some of the most memorable were adventures to the large hill that because of its height was left unsown, unlike the surrounding acres of fields. The hill became our secret island destination far away from our home, when really, only one house away from the all-encompassing parallel rows of corn. An island to be explored and enjoyed for what it was; an oasis for the imagination.
 
We’d explore, we’d play, and we would enjoy the entertaining beauty that nature provided. There, the ordinary could be transformed into the extraordinary. A simple milk weed pod would turn into a life lesson straight from nature. My young Aunt would show us how the stalks would seep with tear-shaped drops of a milky substance when broken or how the puffs of dandelion-like seeds could be released into the winds and carried off to far off places, destined to put down new roots. And in so, fulfilling their unique purpose of providing a much-needed respite for the migrating monarchs and more importantly, food for the young caterpillars they’d left behind.
 
In retrospect, it seems only fitting that she would be by my side some thirty years later when I needed her quiet, yet strong respect of the nature of things. A second-time mother, I found myself unexpectedly in the emergency room with my one-month-old son. Surrounded by doctors and many nurses they worked on our infant son for hours, trying to get his heart rate down. His rapidly beating heart was stuck in an elevated cycle. His erratic and rapid heartbeats were reflected by the blinking numbers on the beeping monitors. However, it did not take a computer nor monitor to alert me that it was wearing him out. With his breathing labored and his color changing slowly before my eyes, I began to be fearful. He was so small, so precious, and so helpless. I was his mom, but couldn’t do anything to comfort him except, whisper in his ear that I loved him. My mom not wanting to cause alarm but also having to do what needed to be done, quietly asked if it was ok for her to call a priest.  We needed to have him baptised quickly. I nodded with my approval understanding its significance and then also requested that she call my Aunt, my sister, Lynne.
 
Time stood still in an eerie fashion that evening. For the first time, I candidly asked the doctor working the ER, if my new son would be ok. His reply that night was clearly preserved in my mind. It is recalled with ease, even today. “He is tolerating this well” was the answer I heard.  A simple phrase.   One which I heard him repeat several more times to various people in that cold room filled with even colder, stainless-steel furnishings. He said it in a way that made me think my son’s outcome still remained unknown in his mind. Before more fear had a chance to set in, my Aunt entered the room, calmly and quietly.
 
Without saying a word, she walked over to my son and laid her hands on his head. With eyes closed and mouth shut, she said a silent, heartfelt prayer to God. She prayed a mother’s desperate prayer for me when I was unable. His heartbeat, although only for a moment, dropped to normal and then quickly returned to the unnatural racing rhythm. Then, almost as if by design, a priest from an unknown parish entered and baptised my son. In those moments, my hope was restored and I felt a peace come over me. With hope restored, a welcomed calmness filled me. Thankfully, it replaced the six hours of unproductive worry about what would happen to him next and allowed me to focus on what we could do for our son.
 
During that late-night ambulance ride downtown to a world-renowned Children’s Medical Center, I somehow knew in my heart that  it was going to be ok. By the next day, two different doctors confirmed what I already knew. It would take some medicine and work on our part, but he would be fine. True to the literal meaning of his name, he is our gift from God.  This was my first very personal experience of Faith, Grace and Love.
 
Many years later and now living in a well-populated suburb with not a cornstalk in sight, I was puzzled when this same Aunt phoned to ask if she could take my boys frog hunting at a nearby bog. I secretly thought to myself, where in the heck had she come across a bog in this busy place, much less find one inhabited by frogs?  Without hesitation, I said YES. Not only because I wanted the two busy boys out of my hair so I could enjoy some much-needed peace, but because I secretly hoped that they too would learn the same valuable lesson that I had learned from my Aunt: God truly can be found in the details of everyday life.
Two Sisters. Summer of 1960. Rembrandt Studios. State Street, Sharon.

Two Sisters. Summer of 1960. Rembrandt Studios. State Street, Sharon.

Baptism. Summer of 1969. Richmond.

Baptism. Summer of 1969. Richmond.

Dandelions. Summer 2007. Lincoln Marsh.

Dandelions. Summer 2007. Lincoln Marsh.

 

My next recipe selection is one inspired in the tradition of women taking care of women. It reminds me of the meal that my Aunt brought to my husband and I after the birth of our first son. Funny, but I can recall in detail each of the three different meals she brought to our home upon the arrival each new bundle of boy. First son: Swiss Chicken Casserole. Second Son:  Stuffed Green Peppers with a crazy good side salad. Third son:  Crock Pot Turkey Breast with Mash Potatoes and Gravy. I know she probably doesn’t even remember these meals, but I do. They were special to me because I know my Aunt doesn’t like to cook. She would rather have someone cook for her, every day if she could. She did it just for me, from one mom to another.

 

Even though her hairdo had long since changed and the eye shadow was now updated with a more natural shade, the meals were always delivered with her same reassuring smile. A smile accompanied by her signature crazy, loud laugh. The same hardy laugh that always seemed to come out at the most inappropriate times, sometimes even causing evil stares from strangers. The same laugh my brother, sister and I would coax out of her after an uninvited round of tickling that she hated. Somehow you see, way back when, it was decided that she would be the “cream of chicken soup” who would, in her own humble way, make our family stronger, even more bound to one another.

 

I found this particular version of Swiss Chicken Casserole on Recipezaar.com. However, it probably has its origins from the red label of a Campbell’s Soup can or the back of a box of Stove Top stuffing. In any case, it is a great one-dish meal to take to a neighbor who needs it, or to have in the oven ready for when your son returns home hungry from basketball practice. It is quick and easy to prepare and fills your house with cozy aromas while it bakes. You can use the light version of the cream of chicken soup if you prefer, but make sure to include it as it is the ingredient that binds the whole dish together. If you have an international grocer nearby seek out the Emmenthaler variety of Swiss Cheese.   It really gives an extra boost of flavor to this simple dish.

  Swiss Chicken Casserole
 
Ingredients:

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

6 slices good Swiss cheese (I prefer the Emmenthaler variety)

1 10.75-ounce can condensed cream of chicken soup

¼ cup milk

1 8-ounce package Stove Top Chicken Stuffing Mix

½ cup melted margarine*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Lightly grease 9×13 inch pan.

Arrange chicken breasts in baking dish.   Season chicken with salt and pepper.   Lay one slice of cheese on each chicken breast.   Combine milk and soup and pour over chicken.   Sprinkle with entire package of stuffing.  Pour melted margarine on top of stuffing.  Cover with aluminum foil .  Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees or until juices of chicken run clear.  Serve with a side of bright green vegetables, if desired.

*Note:  I always use butter in this dish, especially when making for a sick friend or neighbor.  It just makes it more special!

 

© suebthefoodie.com, 2011.

Photos by Rembradt Studios, My Dad, and suebthefoodie

Recipe found on Recipezaar.com

  1. Well, I have to say this post brought tears to my eyes. Sue, you have a way with words and with food that is unbelievable! You and your family are so blessed. You are someone that everyone should know and I am glad I do! xoxo

  2. Oh my gosh. Where did you find these pictures?
    I feel so blessed to be part of your stories. I so remember that hill in the cornfields and the blue eye shadow. Continue this blog. You have a gift for writing. I can’t wait to see your first book.
    Love ya,
    Lynne

  3. Love how you relate your food to our family and put it in such wonderful prose. You touch my heart with every post. Love all the pictures. Mom

  4. WHAT A HEARWARMING STORY…WE ALL HAVE THESE LOCKED UP SOMEWHERE IN OUR EMOTIONAL CLOSETS…SOME WITH HAPPY ENDINGS..SOME NOT, BUT THEY ALL SERVE A PURPOSE AND HELP US GROW AS PEOPLE. YOUR RECOLLECTION BROUGHT BACK MANY MEMORIES AND REFLECTION.
    THE DISH SOUNDS WONDERFUL AND I AM ANXIOUS TO TRY IT. YOU ARE CERTAINLY IN OUR LIVES FOR A REASON….THANK YOU JAN

    • Thank you for checking me out and leaving a comment. So happy to know you and yours! I too believe you all are in my life for a reason. I love talking food, family and paint colors with your daughter. Hope you like the recipe as much as my family does.

  5. That’s exactly how I remember it all too! Adding my big sister sue saving me from falling in a crick or two because I just had to follow you! I hope you print these for me and put in a book. I do feel Lynne was meant for us! I hope we made up for the parents she lost, sometimes I forget what that must feel like for her. But I am so grateful god gave us her! And so proud of our mom for stepping up to every challenge god gives her! Mom is the wind beneath our wings! Now I’m going to have to make this meal. I’d rather clean up after you make it for me! We compliment eachothers talents. Mines not cooking or writing, I’m still searching for my god given talent ! Love ya sue!

  6. each story is just so touching…and I continue to be so impressed by your writing style. So awesome!

  7. WOW…you continue to astound me with your many talents. You have grown into an amazing woman who has an incredible way with words. I love your meals…but I think I most love your power to connect everyone. You are the pretty little yellow box that holds so much to nourish all of us. Love you bunches…aj

  8. Love you Sue. You need to write a book.

    • XO Laura. Working on it. : ). Thank you for being one of my “original” foodies. Always willing to try my new things and even lending your kitchen way back when needed.

  9. I loved it more the second time!

    • Chicken Soup good for the soul. Agreed, it is in our struggles that we gain our Strength. A lesson I continue to learn. It meant more to me too when I reread it yesterday. After I spoke to Mom about her mom’s birthday & as I prepare to head downtown for a routine, healthy well checkup for our son so many years later, I continue to know all is Grace. God is in the details of everyday life. Thank you for your comment. I always enjoy them. Xo

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