Mountain Cedar and Chicken Noodle Soup

I was five when I told my first lie. We lived in Kentucky then.  In a little ranch house with not enough room.  My sister slept in the laundry room, her bed was by the washer.  The house had one big tree in the backyard, broken bricks in a corner of the lot.  The fence on the left was overrun by blackberry bramble.  My sister and I would see who could fit the most in our mouths, the juices running down our chins like well-fed wolves. In that house, I told my first lie.  I told my mother I was sick, that I couldn't get out of bed, that I couldn't move.  She said I looked pale and I held her hand while we watched a movie on the bottom bunk of a bed I shared with my brother.  My mother had long hair then, thick and that kind of black hair that turns blue in the right light.  She was 29 then and worked in a warehouse for produce and generic-brand food.  Her whole life was over by then, I think.  She was never really her own person by the time I came along.  But she sat on the bed with me and we watched movies.  I lied to her and we both took a nap together.

In that same house, that small little house in Kentucky, with the vinyl siding and it's creaky front door, a tornado hit and my 29-year-old mom drove home to protect us. She drove a green pickup truck.  She tied a sun-bleached red bandana on the mirror the day she got it.  It was a summer then, hot on the skin and the heat broke the sky. She put that same mattress we fell asleep on over our heads and we watched as a tree branch smacked the window pane, leaving a scratch that was still there when we left two months later.

I haven't stopped lying since I was five.  I do it every day.  I do it over small things, like if I put cream in my coffee.  I do it about big things, like when I tell people I love them.  I do it as a way to get attention, as a way to hold someone's hand.  I do it for pity and for protection.  I do it for fun.  I lie to my mother more than anyone else.  I tell her I forgive her for everything, for the missed birthdays and the time she hung up the phone on me when I called her from Italy, drunk and alone and only had ten minutes left on the pay phone, only a few cents left in my pocket.  I lie to her to make it easy, because I remember how she sat on the bed and held my hand and loved me even when I was lying to her.

Every time I was sick after that day, she'd stay home with me and watch a movie.  She'd take my temperature with her hand flat on my forehead and at night she'd have my dad carry me to my room.  We had tradition, we had rituals.  We had moments that I haven't been able to share with anyone else.  I lied to her over and over again for seventeen years now, but every time I call her and tell her I'm sick, she always remembers this day, too.

Last week, I called her and told her the mountain cedar was blowing.  I told her that my eyes itched and how I didn't want to go to work.  She told me about her chicken soup with big noodles and roasted chicken.  Carrots and celery and oil.  She told me who I used to eat it and ask for seconds and thirds.  She told me how she wished she could be here now, in my kitchen in Texas, making it for me.  I lied to her again and said, "Yeah, me too."

Instead, I did it myself, like so many things these days.  This soup is an apology, a memory, a souvenir from when we all played sick and tried to get out of school with the flu.  It's a revisionist tale of how life should have gone.  It's to my mother who was 25 and young when she had me.  It's to a little boy who still has family in Kentucky he's never met.  It's to the 1,500 miles in any direction to the closest people I love.  It's a warm soup, a comforting soup.  It's a soup you eat when the tornado heat breaks and you have three small children to stop crying.  It's the soup you reheat when the dollar has to stretch because you're saving up to move out of a house where your daughter sleeps in the laundry room.  It's a soup for a home, not for a house.

Chicken Noodle Soup and a Boule

Chicken Noodle Soup and a Boule

Chicken Noodle Soup


  • 2 large chicken breasts, defrosted
  • 3 sprigs rosemary, divided
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 head of garlic, minced
  • 96 oz chicken stock (as always, preferably homemade, but there is a lot of flavor in the soup for store-bought)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon chicken base (found in supermarkets)
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 16 oz egg noodles, cooked separately in another pot


  1. Preheat the oven to 450
  2. Rip two aluminum sheets off big enough to wrap your chicken in.  Place chicken breasts on respective foils and rub salt, pepper, and olive oil all over.  Add four lemon wedges per chicken breast and rosemary.  Wrap tightly.  Bake on sheet for 25 minutes or until cooked through.
  3. Set chicken aside to cool.
  4. Begin on the mirepoix.  In a large dutch oven, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat.  Before butter burns and when oil is almost smoking, add carrots, celery, and onion.  Cook down 10-15 minutes and stir occasionally, until vegetables are tender and onions are translucent
  5. Add garlic and remaining sprig of rosemary (diced finely).  Cook only for a minute to release some flavors and not burn, stirring constantly.
  6. Pour in chicken stock.  Allow to heat through and bring to a low boil for five minutes.  While waiting on that, tear the cooled chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks with your hands or a fork.
  7. Add the chicken base, pepper, and lemon pepper.  Stir thoroughly to ensure that the seasonings have incorporated into the soup
  8. Add the shredded chicken
  9. Cover and let simmer on low while you prepare the egg noodles in a separate pot (follow package instructions here, but add a little bit of chicken stock to the liquid for some added flavor)
  10. Drain noodles and add to soup.  Simmer to warm noodles up.
  11. Serve with Laura Calder's Miracle Boule and have for the rest of the week

Tax Day, Bread, and a Flood Confessional.

The first time I brought Nolan to my parents' converted farmhouse there was a summer flood.  A "flash flood".  A panicked flood, punctuated by my father's cries for more wood to divert the deluge, myself knee-deep in mud.  It was going to happen, we knew.  We saw the signs, the cloud formations and the way that a storm lays sticky on your forearm hair.  It was going to happen and the cable went out, so there was no distracting us from the inevitable.  We sat in our lawn chairs, propped on the pool deck, and waited for the first growls of a summer downpour. And when it did come, as it always did, the one loan tree, a half-formed walnut tree, was the first to tell us.  The hollow green fruits blew off in groups, committing suicide and cracking their skulls as they came down on the chicken coop's roof.  It warned us to get inside, to seek shelter, to not be as foolish as her children were. And so we took heed and waited.  Waited with the door open, the windows and blinds open, our eyes open for any leaks.

And then it broke.  The annual flood.  A jealous god, a baptismal rain to heal the souls of our Appalachian youth.  It didn't work too well, though, because in the candlelight of the blackout, Nolan and I had pure and quiet sex to the sound of the rain on the window.

The storm was a homecoming, a way to know you've arrived and the reason you want to leave.  The two-by-fours didn't always work, the basement would get flooded, the linoleum of the kitchen floors would be slick and you would fall.  The family dog, Jack, would howl to the thunder gods, begging for an end.  He hasn't been around long enough to know that they hardly ever listened (or maybe they did and I should have howled to get their attention).  But it was all over soon, it was all over in an hour's time and it was a two-day affair to clean up the mess.

The chicken wire broke and the hens got out.  The gravel settled at the bottom of the pool, along with some screws and a bees nest.  A broken branch was wedged in the tire swing on that old walnut tree.  All footprints in the dirt were erased.  The remnants of the storm overpowered the effigies of our presence there, in that old farmhouse.  It was reparable, of course it was reparable, but it was hard work to keep up the memories, the images.  It was a two-day affair to clean up the mess.

It was a two-day affair to clean up the mess, but instead we baked bread.  We baked it by hand, we kneaded it between shifts of picking up the yard.  We left it next to a space heater we had going to help dry up the floor better.  It was a basic bread, crusty and yeasty.  It hit all the senses.  We dunked it in microwaved chili my mom had made and subsequently frozen the week before.

I don't forget much, and I won't forget that.

I won't forget the instant sensation of family and warmth the bread provided.  It was a inescapable reality of life that the flood would come again and again.  It would never stop, and you just had to adapt.  You just had to knead the bread in intervals to have something to look forward to when your back ached and your eyes grew tired, because that was inevitable too.

And so are taxes.

This is my first year filing them by myself, having always had the help of my father (an expert, using the flood to his advantage).  But it was a growing experience, something I and to face.  But it gripped me with fear, the thought of having to make decisions, file this form, fill in that box.  There was no buffer of culpability, no way to blame someone else.  I was unemployed for six months, a student prior to that.  I had no money to give; I got none in return.

After signing up for the free web service, going through the wizard and trying to find some way to meander through it without breaking down and calling my dad to just do it for me, I took a break.  A hunger-induced break.  It's facing realities like taxes, like floods where memories can be lost, like uncertainties that make you the most hungry, when you crave your momma the most.  But she was 3,000 miles away and it was just taxes, but I still made bread anyway.

And for every period it needed to rise, I took a break, cleaned a dish, took another break, set the table.  I ended up making two loaves (when I realized the first one had to set for the requisite 12 hours first).  Both came out perfect.  Both reminded me of home and were given out to Nolan as I told him about my day, how much my refund was, and we reminisced over that old farmhouse one more time.


Laura Calder's Miracle Boule (x)


Laura Calder is the host of The Cooking Channel's French Food at Home and a lovely chef (who has a new cookbook out!).  I came across this recipe a few months ago and have used it ever since I got my cocotte.  What a lovely, easy bread that takes less time than you'd think (it's not called a miracle for nothin'!).  You can find her recipe above, as I made no changes to her original recipe to share.


Cheddar-Jalapeño Yeasted Corn Bread


I adore this recipe and I am kind of proud that I did most of it without any reference.  I think that's the mark of growth (for me at least)--setting a vision and then actualizing it on your own know-how.  My idea behind this recipe was to make a more versatile cornbread that could be used as more than just a side.  Using cornmeal against a flour ratio and yeast, I discovered a moist, rich, and spicy (if using jalapeños) bread that was great for sandwiches, as a side, or even a grilled cheese!  Here is the recipe (makes two loaves):


  • 2 sachets of 1/4 oz. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 3/4 cup milk (I actually used some leftover heavy whipping cream for an added level of moisture and light sweetness)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8-12 jalapeños chips, diced


  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.  When dissolved, add milk, sugar, butter, egg, cornmeal, and about 1 1/2 cups flour (to start).  Beat with hand mixer until smooth.  As you start to see a wet dough come together, stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough.
  2. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes until smooth and the gluten activates, making it elastic and spongy.  Place into a greased bowl to allow to rise (turn dough over once to allow top to get a little grease on it as well).  Cover with a towel and allow to double, about 45 minutes.
  3. Before punching down, add cheese and jalapeños and gently fold into dough.  Divide into two loaves and put into greased loaf pans (or cast-iron ones, which I preferred).  Cover and let double again, about 30 minutes.  Preheat over as it rises to 350 degrees.
  4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, let cool briefly before serving warm.