By and large, I don’t really do maternal guilt. Well, at least not much. Not for me, the hand- wringing, the constant self second – guessing and personal recriminations. Maternal guilt is the first step on the path to martyrdom, a plague that stalks all parents. If succumbed to it causes you to lose your sense of self, to sacrifice the things that bring you joy, to estrange you from your lover. Eventually you find yourself competing among your peers in the joyless competition sport of whose life sucks the most. Every parent eventually learns that martyrdom doesn’t lead to heaven, it leads to purgatory.
But of course everyone has their weak spots. The breaking point for me nearly always comes after three nights of take away in any 5 given business days. Take away in this context has a broad definition. It can have the standard meaning (things with chips, pizza, take away Chinese) but must also include processed foods in containers from the supermarket (pre-marinated satays, Chicken Kievs etc). Weeks like this happen in families where all available adult/s have commitments other than parenting. You know, just those small commitments like paying the bills, study, paying the bills, maintaining hobbies and interests and paying the bills.
We’ve been having plenty of weeks like this lately. I’ve been absent from home a lot, driving across half the state for meetings and then returning home dazed to meet my regular commitments for a few days before packing my bag and leaving again. It’s not just that there’s no time to cook, more difficult is finding the creative energy to decide what to cook. Thinking of what to feed your family night after night is relentless and exhausting at the best of times, when you’re under other pressures it’s nearly impossible. Your brain aches like your bones do, the world is ringing in your ears, and simple decisions become overwhelming. You can’t think, let alone cook, and before you know it it’s fish and chips. Again.
And that, for me, is when the maternal guilt kicks in. I do not want to find my children dead in front of the TV, killed by the excess consumption of trans fats and cheap carbs. I want us back around the table where we should be, eating the food I prepared with love, food that is healthy and tasty and good. And there is a particular dish that is the panacea to my maternal guilt. It is quick and simple, healthy and tasty. Its easily adaptable to the ingredients at hand and best of all, I make it so often that I don’t have to think about it at all. This marvellous dish is, of course, chicken noodle soup.
Chicken noodle soup
- 1 litre Chicken Stock
- 2 finely sliced chicken breasts
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced galangal or ginger
- Zest of 1 lime or 2 Kaffir lime leaves
- Juice of 1 lime
- 3 whole coriander roots
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- Half an iceberg lettuce, roughly shredded
- Handful of snow peas, trimmed
- Handful Asian greens (any sort)
- Fresh Coriander
- Dried chili flakes
- Egg noodles, prepared to package instructions
Place the stock in a medium saucepan. The pre-made stock is fine – this isn’t a fancy dish, it’s just a quick healthy weeknight fix. You might like to add a couple of extra cups of water to make the broth go further. Add the garlic, galangal or ginger, lime and coriander roots. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. This is a good time to slice your chicken and prepare your veggies. Add the fish sauce and sugar and bring back up to a good boil. Throw in the chicken and drop the heat back to medium. Let the chicken poach gently until just cooked before adding the vegetables and simmer for a further few minutes. Divide the noodles between deep bowls and serve the soup, garnishing with the coriander and chili flakes to taste. Season with salt to taste.