Naming, seeing, savoring chicken soup with rice

Invite friends over to escape the dreariness of winter

Photo: imgml/iStock

Words — and names — are powerful. My youngest daughter, Zélie, is learning words, sentences, and questions. Watching her young mind develop simply amazes me. At age 2 she is only at the beginning of life, and everything is new for her.

I marvel that Zélie’s process of learning new words begins with naming things. There is something deep within her that yearns to know, to name. She’s not just naming something, she’s naming it in relationship to herself and her family. “Da-da’s truck.” “Ma-ma’s van.” “Oh-oh’s car.” (She calls my son Christopher “Oh-oh.” I guess Christopher is too long and daunting of a word for a 2-year-old!) Of course, all of this learning and knowing and naming naturally draws boundaries, too, boundaries that accentuate our independence, our individual-ness. It didn’t take long for Zélie to learn “my daddy,” “my bowl,” “my toy.” My, which is perhaps a nicer way of saying, “Not yours!

Photo: Jeff Young

This process of learning is not only amazing, it’s so much fun, too. Zélie and I love to listen to Carole King’s “Alligators All Around” and “Chicken Soup with Rice,” songs perfect for singing along and learning to name things. And we get a kick out of reading together Maurice Sendak’s books by the same titles. In a way, these old songs and books link my childhood with Zélie’s, and they bring us both joy.

Recently I read The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life by Frederick Buechner (Zondervan, 

2017). In it I encountered a new — and, I admit, disturbing — way of looking at naming. He writes: 

To love somebody we must see that person’s face, and once in a while we do. Usually it is because something jolts us into seeing it. … The faces we lose track of most easily are the faces of those who are closest to us, the people we love the most whose faces we see so often that we can’t really see them anymore. … We name them as we name the fog, they become just words, we name them out of existence, and that’s it.

Frightening. “We name them out of existence, and that’s it.” We become blind to those we love most. We label and assume. Instead of feeling the thrill of learning, like Zélie, and experiencing everything as new, the people in our lives can become old hat. Have you ever experienced that? I have. Sometimes there is a danger that comes with familiarity, and those we are most familiar with are the ones who live under the same roof as we do. Our spouses. Our children. Our parents. Our siblings. I know I’m guilty of it, and I am so grateful for little Zélie who reminds me daily that everything really is still new — even the people I think I know so well.

The key, Buechner writes, comes from something that Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told us to “consider the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:28, RSVCE). By extension, Buechner sees for us in this “command” a call from God to consider all the aspects of our lives, to be aware, attentive. To see. God always meets us right where we are. But today we are often so busy, we can’t slow down enough to recognize God’s presence … nor the real presence of those in our own family. In order to truly see, we must slow down.

That’s what savoring Sundays is all about. Sundays are part of a natural rhythm where we slow down, pay attention, and really connect with God and with our loved ones.

One thing that can “jolt” us into seeing more clearly this winter (the natural “downtime” of the year) is to do something unexpected. Plan something different. Pull out the finest china on Sunday. Invite someone from church over for dinner, perhaps someone you don’t know very well. Or invite your priest over for dinner. Get the kids in the kitchen to help prepare the meal. Cook as a family. Come up with a theme for the day, such as “Chicken Soup with Rice Day.” Cook the soup, read the book, listen to the song … and sing along!

That’s what we did last Sunday. The winter months are perfect for chicken soup with rice. Zélie wanted me to share this soul-warming recipe with you. It features a tangy Mediterranean twist. I think you’ll like it. I know Zélie did. 

Photo: Jeff Young



For the broth

2 leftover roasted chicken carcasses

3 yellow onions, quartered

2 carrots, well-scrubbed and cut in 2-inch chunks

1 head of garlic, cut in half horizontally

leftover vegetable scraps (onion trimmings, garlic skins, parsley or cilantro stalks, celery leaves. I save all of this in re-sealable plastic bags and store in the freezer until I’m ready to make a broth.)

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (we prefer the Bragg brand)

filtered water

For the soup

2 large or 3 medium-sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts

salt and pepper to taste

zest and juice of 3 large lemons (use a vegetable peeler to “zest” the lemons)

2 sprigs fresh dill, plus 2 teaspoons chopped

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

10 cups chicken broth

1 cup long-grain rice

2 large eggs, plus an additional 2 large egg yolks


For the broth

In a large stainless steel stock pot, add the chicken carcasses and the apple cider vinegar, then cover with filtered water. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour. This gives the vinegar a chance to work on the chicken bones. The vinegar softens the bones and allows more of the nutrients to escape into the broth.

Place the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil over high heat. Allow it to come to a full rolling boil. Add the remaining ingredients and immediately reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pot. Simmer on low for at least 2 hours or longer.

When I’m not in a hurry, I let it simmer as long as 24 hours. Strain the broth well with a sieve before using.

For the soup

Cut each chicken breast in half lengthwise. Place in a mixing bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons of salt. Let the chicken rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Doing so helps to seal in the natural juices of the chicken.

Using cheesecloth or a muslin bag, make a spice bag. Add the lemon zest, dill sprigs, peppercorns, and garlic to the bag and tie closed with kitchen twine. Add broth, rice, and spice bag to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it reaches a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

Turn off heat, add chicken, cover, and let stand for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes remove the chicken from the saucepan and place on a large plate or platter. Use two forks to shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Discard the spice bag, and ladle 1 full cup of cooked rice into a blender. Add the lemon juice, the eggs, and the yolks to the blender and process until smooth, about 1 minute.

Gently slide the chicken and any accumulated juices back into saucepan, increase heat to high, and bring the soup back to a simmer. Once simmering, remove the pot from heat and stir in egg and lemon mixture until it is fully incorporated. Stir in the chopped dill and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add extra lemon juice to taste. Serve and enjoy!  

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