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


Fall has come in so acoustically, and it is all around me now.  I can see it most in the morning, when the rest of the world is asleep.  The dogs stretch their long limbs, widen their jaws into yawns.  They don't want to walk on the dew.  They want to sleep on the hand-stitched Navajo blanket in the morning.  The coffee comes in bursts of steam.  I wipe my glasses off with my sleeve.  I stand in my underwear at the new kitchen sink, head dipped over the last of the summer's peach. I tear it with my hands.  I feel most strong when it's quiet.  When the shower is scalding hot.  When the window is down but the heat is on.  When I can wear jeans around the house.  When our two bodies interlace at night, when I see the tan-lines faded.  When the birthmarks start to show.  When my palms and cheeks are red.  When it's late and you can only hear the occasional siren in the deep, deep distance of our new hometown.  And soon a quick inhale and his long, familiar snore drowns everything else out. I let the change happen, because it's been good to me.  I did not trust it at first, the change of adulthood.  I looked back on how many lives I have lived, and how many more I have ahead and realized that, for each, the impetus was a desire for difference.  I am lucky to feel the autumnal metamorphosis this year, because it is usually so stagnant in California.  I am lucky to live in this two-bedroom house. I am lucky to discover all the new things I'm learning to love these last few years.  I am lucky, I am lucky, I am very, very lucky.

This is not what I thought three weeks ago, buried in the bed.  Covered up, hidden from my own insecurities.  Afraid of my failures, not able to see my triumphs.  My father called me and I hung up mid-sentence.  Nolan kissed my hand and asked if I wanted to get ice cream.  I cried until I shuddered.  I was tired of owing any small amount of success to someone else, attributing each failure to my own misunderstanding of life and how it worked.   I did not feel powerful.  I did not wake up early and take a minute, recollect my thoughts, drink black coffee that fogged my lenses.

I locked the door and didn't let anyone in.  I incubated myself for three days.  I reminded myself to be happy, because sometimes you have to, because no one else will.

I turned 23 the next week.

I moved into a new house four days later.

And at each moment I discovered something new.  When the bruises began to turn purple, when I was most tender.  When I limped away, licked my wounds.  I found myself glad for the change.  Glad to be alive, to have my head above the water when it came to my debts.  Glad I recognized what I owed Nolan, happy to let myself be vulnerable so I could tell myself how stupid I was.  Happy to wake up before the sun, because the sun sleeps in late these days, to brew coffee and write a note to Nolan. "There's coffee waiting for you.  Have a good day."  I write it on paper I got in Belgium, a souvenir of who I was, written over as someone new.  I changed, I evolved.

I remind myself that my clothes aren't in trash bags anymore.  I remind myself that I never loved that drug dealer.  I remind myself that my father was right, that I was young and stupid and didn't appreciate a goddamn thing when I was 17.  All of those things are different now. I remind myself that I have lifetimes ahead of me, and that this one is just passing.  I remind myself that when I'm arthritic and can't hold anyone's hand, to be comforted in knowing that I let myself be vulnerable or a day or two.  I remind myself all of these things, because fall isn't a time for dying, it's a time for remembering.  That peacefulness of daybreak is all we have right now, and I couldn't lay in bed once I realized what a mistake I'd made.

I made this fudge to have in the moments when I felt strong, when the ripped up stone fruit couldn't satiate me.  I made it to feel comforted by the pecans, to savor the tang of the buttermilk.  It didn't feel like home, but it felt like nostalgia.

Pecan Buttermilk Fudge 


from Bon Appétit


  • 1 cup pecans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  •  teaspoon kosher salt
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9x5” loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving a generous overhang on long sides; set aside.
  2. Toast pecans on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and slightly darkened in color, 8–10 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop.
  3. Heat sugar, buttermilk, butter, honey, and kosher salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until butter and sugar are melted, about 3 minutes.
  4. Fit saucepan with thermometer, bring mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until thermometer registers 238° (mixture will be pale golden and smell faintly of toffee), 6–8 minutes.
  5. Immediately pour mixture into a medium bowl and, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat until cool and thickened (it will be stiff and matte), 5–8 minutes.
  6. Fold in pecans. Scrape fudge into prepared pan; smooth top and sprinkle with sea salt.
  7. Let sit at least 1 hour before cutting into pieces.

Pecan Buttermilk Fudge

Where I Was From.

I believe in second chances and the inevitable twentieth. I believe the proverbial inch has always been the mile. I believe in exhausting those chances and believe in finding reasons to renew them. I don’t believe in falling in love, but I believe in sticking it all out until you can’t stick it out no more. You have to find a way to reinvent yourself and I have been reinvented over and over these last few months. I’ve been unemployed, a salesperson, and an administrative manager. I’ve been really shitty to myself, really shitty to others, and at times negligent of everything. Bills and housework, dogs and boyfriends. All my relationships kind of crumple when I don’t tend to them, they end up like flowers in the kitchen windowsill—swollen and hot, then brittle to the touch. But I’ve learned to brush the dust off my hands and work harder at the goals I have. And that is the Protestant work ethic. My reward will come from work, not by the grace of your God or mine, not by the outstretched hand of a friend or an acquaintance.

That work ethic has run deep and has presented itself in unlikely ways. It’s intravenous and liminal, static and electric. It’s down in my gut when I’m guilty of sitting on the couch too long and painstakingly obvious when I fall asleep with another To-Do list in the works. It will all make me a better person, every last drop of sweat. Every last missed opportunity. Every last night in and early mornings and missed vacation. It will all pay off, because you gain pride from the aceticism of owing someone else so much, too guilty to ever give yourself too much credit, buy yourself too many clothes, put a little back in your own bank account for that proverbial rainy day fund that disappears before that rain every dried up.

When everything is communal, you start to lay claims. And I thank whatever God that’s been bred into my consciousness that I can still hold onto that.   And I owe it to my roots, the kinds that haven’t taken hold. The kinds that are telephonic and casual, the kind I can pick up or ignore at will. The kind that still live in Pennsylvania, Indiana. North Carolina and West Virginia.   The kinds that inspired within me to be truthful of my intentions in this world and truthful to the person I’ve become.

My mother has arthritis at 43, deep in her clavicle. She said it came from working “hard jobs”. She’s been a janitor and a candy-maker, she worked in a deep-freeze at a Wal-Mart distribution center in eastern Kentucky once. She comes from a German stock; we’re all flat-boned and broad limbed. My dad never had to go to war, but he served our country just the same. My aunt has worked at the same factory for 15 years. My uncle drives trucks for a living and my sister makes coffee for truck drivers off an interstate near Maryland. They’re hard folk who eat hearty. They’re heavy folk who eat light in the summer until dusk and then they feed heavy. Meat and potatoes, biscuits and gravy. Dough fried in reserved bacon grease, informal dinners around the TV.

All this I recognized from my trip to North Carolina, all this I recognized in myself. And I can’t deny it any longer how my Midwestern values took root somewhere in my soul, and I can’t deny the satisfaction of having people like me exist in different circumstances that I could never see myself in. When everything is communal, I lay claims to my family and my pride in being from the salt of the earth.

And, in doing so, I have become so inspired by the every day. The roadside produce stands and the chainlink fence. The rope-tied dog that howls at the open moon and the crawdads you never knew could be eaten. The marriage of eating-this-because-we-have-a-coupon and eating-this-because-my-mother-made-it-this-way. Seeing beauty in that. Or how there are town-wide parades to celebrate the anniversary of my uncle who died in Afghanistan. Seeing beauty in the years of the hardworking middle-class that gave me my bone structure and reaping the benefits of those farmers and military men to move to California and willingly quit law school to find myself the hard way and know what it’s like to be really, truly poor for the first time ever and learning to cook because of necessity and not as a hobby.

The Protestant work ethic. The marriage of Southern tradition and Midwestern values. The sense of accomplishment at not losing my mind and finding a place in my family in June. It was all so holy to me. I didn’t know it was going to mean so much to me, but it was a pilgrimage, a Hajj, a Junrei of self-acceptance vis a vis familial acceptance. Where I was from, where I am going. Who I am. These are no longer existential cries of understanding, they are part of my here and now.

And in celebration of that knowledge, I cooked. I cooked with love, with honor and tradition. With understanding that these would be hearty ingredients, that the cast iron was necessary and not accessory. That the fatty dairy would have been pure, like how my grandmother Ruth would have made it straight from the cow (how maybe I would have, too, if my grandfather hadn’t sold the farm in the 70’s). I made this meal to honor every composite of myself. And it’s simple: meat, potatoes, and pie.

Steak and Buttermilk-Herbed Potatoes

This is a casual meal, thrown together without discretion for any kind of culinary know-how.  Love it for what it is, for where it came from.

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        For the Steak:

  • 2 rib steaks, 6-10 oz
  • Olive oil
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Garam masala
  • Paprika
  • Garlic salt
  • 2 TB Butter, softened

For the potatoes

  • 6-8 small to medium russet potatoes, sliced as thin as you can (do this before beginning cooking the meat.  If need be, place in cold water to keep)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 4 TB butter, melted
  • 1 TS salt
  • 1 1/2 - 2 TB Herbs de provence
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Directions for Steak:

  1. Completely thaw steak until malleable and soft, completely sandwich between paper towels and pat dry
  2. Brush with olive oil and rub in softened butter (the butter will give flavor, the olive oil will help to sear) and set aside, making sure to not wipe off the butter and oil.
  3. Use two separate plates for the rub.  On the first, pour the spices.  I would say I used 1 1/2 TS - 1 TB per spice (be cognizant of the flavors, for obvious reasons.  I used less salt, but knew the steak--and my tastebuds--could hold up to a more seasoned and spicy meat with garam masala and cayenne pepper).  Combine with a fork.
  4. Place oiled and buttered meats into spice plate and rub completely around.  Place on reserved plate.
  5. Heat skillet (definitely prefer cast-iron here, but make sure you have some ventilation for it).  Use additional oil and butter until the pan starts to smoke a little to enhance the sear of the meat.
  6. Put meat on skillet and let it sizzle.  As a general rule, do not touch meat until it voluntarily allows itself to be pulled from the metal.  Let it sear and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Check readiness.  Flip for additional 3-5 minutes, depending on how done you like your meat.
  7. Reserve steak grease for use. Wrap in aluminum foil and let sit while you prepare the potatoes.

Directions for potatoes:

  1. Place potatoes in bowl (dry them off as much as possible so the herbs and butter can stick).
  2. Melt butter in small saucepan or microwave, pour over potatoes along with buttermilk
  3. Add salt, garlic, and herbs
  4. In the same skillet you cooked the steaks, add additional oil or butter and heat back up.  Does not have to smoke-to-sear here.
  5. Pour potatoes in and stir constantly until all edges are crisp and inside is softened.  Some will be burnt and blackened, some will be soft and baked.
  6. Allow to cool for a minute.  Plate with steak.  (Additionally, enjoy these with a little cheese while still hot, if desired).
  7. Enjoy!

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Buttermilk-lemon Pie

And finally, for you, I have a buttermilk-lemon pie that truly invoked my newfound love of the South.  So pretty, so simple.  So versatile.  And did I mention pretty?


  • A good quality store-bought pie crust (okay, okay, I cheated here a little)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 TB raw organic sugar (not super-fine, but you want crystals) or brown sugar
  • 1 TS instant espresso


  1. Prepare 9-inch pie crust per your own recipe or the package directions
  2. Mix all ingredients (save the organic sugar and espresso) until well-combined.  It will be pale yellow and delicious.  ((I mixed all of mine in a Pyrex liquid measuring cup for ease)
  3. Pour into prepared pie shell
  4. In a small bowl, mix organic sugar or brown sugar and espresso with a until well combined.  With a spoon, gently shake and pour sugar until covering pie.  Use more if not enough (I eyeballed)
  5. Bake for 45-50 minutes until cracking and caramelized on top.
  6. Allow to cool in fridge for about 30 minutes for best consistency for slicing and taste.

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