Sunday, March 24, 2013

Paws 'n Claws

Chicken Noodle Soup with Homemade Egg Noodles

 A few months ago I was at the Asian market in Fort Smith when I saw something that sent me into a fit of giggles. They sell chicken feet by the five pound bag labeled “Chicken Paws”. Now, I’m no stranger to the Asian marketplace, been shopping there for a good 20 years, and I know a good many cultures use chicken feet in their cuisines; but NEVER had I seen them referred to as “paws”. Then again, I’ve read enough half-English translations on their food packaging nothing should surprise me. But why use chicken paws at all?

Well, tasting is believing. I’ve been butchering chickens pretty heavily for the last 12 years and I’ve always tossed the feet into the gut bucket for the dog or wildlife to pick out. It’s not that the feet gross me out – the scaly skin comes off easily enough during scalding and the nails can be easily clipped off so the feet are very clean when you’re done with them. But it’s always been another step, something else to do, so I’ve always tossed them aside. What a waste! Last time I butchered a rooster I tossed the feet in with the soup parts and what a soup it turned out to be. The feet are the difference between chicken FLAVORED broth and having to add some chicken granules to the soup to get a strong chicken flavor. Actually, it’s even better than that. It tastes almost like adding cream to the soup – it’s that rich.

But even more importantly, the feet have a very high concentration of gelatin. Gelatin is very, very good for us. As are most of the parts of an animal we tend to waste when we purchase meat by the slab or roll. From Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” cookbook:

“A lamentable outcome of our modern meat processing techniques and our hurry-up, throwaway lifestyle has been a decline in the use of meat, chicken and fish stocks. In days gone by, when the butcher sold meat on the bone rather than as individual filets and whole chickens rather than boneless breasts, our thrifty ancestors made use of every part of the animal by preparing stock, broth or bouillon from the bony portions.”
I’ve been intending to write this article for several months now, but just as I’d given up the idea for this year due to spring encroaching upon us, I awoke this morning with a sore throat and the beginnings of a sinus infection. I haven’t had a cold or respiratory infection in probably 10 years, but the last few months have been very stressful and I’ve let my body get out of balance. And then WHAM! We get one last winter storm that sends temps plummeting and the humidity to dangerous lows.

I have a theory on why people get respiratory illnesses and it has absolutely nothing to do with germs (other than allowing them to set up shop). It is a combination of ambient humidity and physical hydration.  I spent the first 14 years of my life with chronic respiratory infections and allergies. I grew up in the arid Texas Panhandle with butane and propane heating. From the time I left that climate and house until 12 years ago when we moved into another house with propane heat, I had only occasional colds and infections, and only during the winter when the central heat was cranked up. Two years into that, I discovered that keeping a large pot of water simmering on the kitchen stove during the coldest weather prevented any and all respiratory problems for two people for some ten years!

Sorry folks, but you just can’t beat those odds. If you’re a modern-day, allopathic pill-popper who scurries for the antibiotics at the first sign of a sniffle, your mind will probably snap shut faster than a Baptist in a Mosque at this idea. I had a young schoolteacher look down her nose at me one time and say “The reason I’m sick all the time is because I’m around sick kids all the time. It’s NOT humidity, they have germs!” Funny, she was sick all the time BEFORE she became a schoolteacher too….

Fact is, there was a time in our very recent human past when there was ALWAYS liquid simmering on the stove or over an open fire during the winter months. It was called a soup pot or cauldron and it’s where everything that didn’t get eaten right away ended up. From Edward Harris Heth’s “The Country Kitchen Cook Book”, first published in 1956:

“From Ruth Hummock I first learned of the dignity of the soup pot; she and it are inseparable all winter long. A pot is always on active duty at the rear of her stove, and into it go many unlikely things. Since her family is large and are sturdy eaters of meat, there are always big bones left from roasts or boiled dinners. Into the pot. Scraps of meat, a leftover potato or turnip, a spoonful of stewed tomatoes. Into the pot. A cupful of leftover sauerkraut, potato water, a chicken or duck carcass divested of every shred of flesh, a bowl of unwanted gravy, a neglected prune, a chunk of celery half chewed by one of the children (Ruth does cut off the tooth marks) – all go into the ever-simmering pot to make a surprisingly flavorful and varied broth.”
Many cultures have long recognized the health benefits of broths and stocks.  The Asian cuisines have always included fish heads in their fish stocks. Now we know that the thyroid glands in the fish heads may be responsible for the belief that fish head broths contribute to virility and energy in humans. And of course, in most ancient cultures chicken soup seemed to be a cure-all for everything from the flu to diphtheria to arthritis.

And could it be, just maybe, that in addition to the nourishment and physical hydration we receive from broths , stocks and soups, the very fact that the pot itself is giving off humidity in the background may be at least partially responsible for our immunity to winter colds and infections? I just had a big bowl of homegrown, homemade chicken noodle soup and I feel better already!


So. Some things have changed since I blogged last. Awhile ago, a friend posted a link to Derek Siver’s blog entry titled “Everything Is My Fault.” I consider Derek to be one of the more enlightened humans walking this planet today, so I wasn’t surprised when I got a chuckle over the opening line:  “I cut two chapters out of my book because they were too nasty.” 

Yep, that’s the main reason I haven’t blogged in so long – I couldn’t tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth AND BE NICE ABOUT IT AT THE SAME TIME! I still can’t. Especially when half the county I’m living in now has heard only half-truths and omissions. But I refuse to sink so low as to air that dirty laundry any more than it’s already been aired. Most people are not complete idiots when it comes to hearing both sides in a divorce.  Those that take a side usually HAVE to because they are family or they’re taking pity on an old friend. And there’s not much you can do about anyone who’s stupid enough to take sides randomly. I know I won’t ever do that again!

Anyway, my husband of 15 years and I have split up. He is a wonderful, kind, caring person and I wish him all the best. I am now living with a new partner on a 7 acre homestead in NE Oklahoma. We have gardens, chickens, etc., and not much has changed lifestyle-wise. It is too early to announce any future plans, but I’m very happy here and feel that I made the right decision.  There is nothing else I can say about this situation that is ANYONE else’s business.

I’ve certainly learned a lot about people the last few months though. Things I probably already knew but had forgotten.  I have been reminded most especially that there is a BIG difference between compassion and pity. Compassion and sorrow (feeling sorry for someone) are emotions one feels through empathy. We recognize that something bad has happened to a good person (or even to a not-so-good person!) through no fault of their own. Their spouse or child died, they were in a horrible car wreck, laid off work,  etc. – terrible things that we recognize could happen to any of us at any time for no reason whatsoever.

Pity is another thing altogether. Pity is what you feel for someone who grovels at the feet of the world, refusing to recognize that ANYTHING comes about by their own design, whether for good or bad. Not only are they unable to recognize their own grace and goodness, but whenever something bad happens to them, it’s always someone else’s fault. They are the kind of people that you cross the street to avoid rather than hear them tell one more time about how miserable their lives are and about how they did nothing whatsoever to deserve whatever ill has befallen them. Of course you can feel compassion for them, but it will do them no good whatsoever. I believe we often do more harm than good by helping people wallow in their pity.

And then there’s religion. I’m probably going to offend some of my readers but maybe it’s time for that.  In all the years I’ve been involved in social networking (groups, blogs, etc.) I’ve mostly kept my religious opinions to myself. Most of my online activity has always centered around homesteading and really, there’s no need to bring religion or politics into that as so many always insist on doing.

But over the last year, I’ve been reminded of my true feelings about religion and especially regarding the Christian faith in general. By and large, most people on this planet are at least halfway decent folks. But once you throw religion into that, I think you get a large pool of people with some of the darkest souls I’ve ever met. They are not all that way. My in-laws are some of the most wonderful Christians I have ever known, even though they have tunnel vision just a bit regarding their own beliefs. But almost always, they are kind, caring, decent, good people. You do not hear them talk unkindly about anyone or gossip, EVER. On the other side of that equation, I have relatives of my own that do a very good job of assuring I will NEVER return to organized religion. And some of the people I’ve met recently in this state are just downright scary! Or crazy. Who knew ANY state was more fundamentalist than Texas?!

You do not need religion to embrace your own spirituality. In so many cases, I believe ORGANIZED religion exists for people who do not like to think for themselves. Organizations are about people, not God. I’m more convinced than ever before that churches exist so people can congregate together for acceptance and approval from each other while denigrating everyone outside their little sandbox. Or litterbox, as the case may be...

And of course, I’m really tired of the stones being thrown. For months I’ve been watching and listening to a woman call another an adulteress and a whore. Her friends and congregation cheer her on in the most unchristian of ways. They go on and on about how “karma” will catch up to the woman, and with the man she’s seeing. However, I happen to know that this particular woman started living with her most recent husband when he was still married to another. Wonder if she’s admitted that to the crowd with torches and pitchforks? And if karma is some universal truth, doesn’t it mean that when something bad happens to her, she probably deserves it too? Just sayin’.

In any case, a lot of very painful things have happened in the last year but I believe life is too damned long to be unhappy. In the end, we can’t save people, we can’t fix people and we can’t live our lives for them. Most of the time, selfishness ends up being the only path that makes sense. And anyone who thinks their own motives aren’t purely selfish is probably in denial.

Thanks to all who have been supportive of me and my life-changing decisions this last year. Now, I think it’s time for another bowl of Chicken Paw Soup!


whit said...

A very honest and brave post, as well as informative. I can't imagine that NE Oklahoma would produce a greater number of (or more highly automated group of) unthinking, stone-flailing Christians than Paradise, Tx. I am drinking coffee this morning and mourning my lost opportunity to have a really terrific, like-minded neighbor. Of course, I wish you luck in Oklahoma and admire your courage to discuss your recent life-changing decisions. Next time you're in Texas, I'd love to make your acquaintance.

Diane said...

Thanks Whitney! Where were you for the last 12 years?! LOL I'll let you know next time I'm in town. - Diane