We tend to turn to the same foods to serve our sick kids as our own parents did.
When I got sick as a child, I didn't think I'd ever get better again. My body felt too hot, my throat hurt, my head ached, my chest was tight and I couldn't breathe through my nose. However, my parents knew that in time I'd heal. And until I recovered, they treated me with kindness and served me soothing foods.
My mother worked full time, and even if I was sick, she had to go to work. She probably felt guilty about leaving me, though she did her best to throw a blanket of care over me even if she was not the one tucking in the covers. Regardless of who took care of me, I was fed the same four categories of sick food:
- Vernors Ginger Ale: hot, cold or flat
- Rice Soup
- Buttery cinnamon toast
- Chinese food
We still stock Vernors ginger ale in our house when we can find it at the grocery store. My kids love to drink it up so I put a few cans aside for the time that one of the children or I need its medicinal qualities. Heated Vernors soothes a sore throat.
But it's my mother's rice soup recipe that I turn to when my kids aren't feeling well.
Rice soup, an old-fashioned remedy, was a bland "soup" made from rice, water, sugar, and a dot of cinnamon. It was administered for "loose stools" and as an interim food after my stomach had quit turning itself inside out. More a starchy liquid than solid, it lay where the sea laps the sandy shore. A transitional food that nourishes without straining a ragged belly.
Rice soup is really gruel. I first learned of gruel in Jane Austen's novel Emma. The father of the eponymous hero prefers gruel to solid adult food and wishes that everyone would eat it.
My mother probably used Uncle's Ben's Converted rice cooked with an extra cup of water and finished with sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon to dress it up. The sweetness made the rice soup worth eating. If I kept down the first bowl, butter would be added to the second one which made it really worth eating.
My Version of Rice Soup
I've transformed my mother's rice soup recipe into a tasty noodle soup that feeds my children's body and spirit. Kids are complicated. Sometimes mine say they're sick when what they need is something deeper like a soul massage. If my eldest just wants to stay in bed and stare at the wall, and asking her for symptoms is a dead end, I head to the kitchen and make her this adaptation of my mother's rice soup.
This recipe takes only a few minutes to prepare and in less than 15 minutes I can ladle the soup into a bowl. I keep ingredients in the pantry for the times when I have to move fast to meet my child's needs.
I start the soup by pouring a quart box of Trader Joe's low sodium chicken broth into a large saucepan. I add a few strips of seaweed to boost the broth's umami power, and organic carrot coins for texture and color. While that's cooking, I thinly slice a quarter of a sweet onion or three scallions for flavor and a burst of vitamin C. When the onions start to soften or the scallions turn a brighter green, I put in the buckwheat soba noodles. Soba noodles come packaged in portioned servings which makes it easy to add one or two portions to the pot.
The soup is ready to serve when the onions have lost their tight circular form. The carrots will still have a bit of bite to them and the noodles will have cooked through.
While the soup is simmering I tell my daughter that I have made her a treat and ask her to come downstairs. This soup reliably gets her out of bed and after a bowl or two she's telling me about a class project or a book she's reading.
My mother has been gone for a long time. I miss her terribly. Some days I just wish I could call her and ask for her advice. Mothering challenges me to the bone, and I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling that way. Using a form of my mother's recipe when my kids are sick makes me feel as if I'm leaning on her and her wisdom even though I can't talk with her on the phone.
Sick-kid Soup Recipe
1 quart of Chicken Stock
2 pices of seaweed *
1 or 2 organic carrots--depending on size
¼ sweet onion, or 3 trimmed scallions
1 or 2 portions of soba noodles *
Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan. Drop in the seaweed pieces. Cook on a low heat. Add in the carrot rounds. While the carrots are cooking thinly slice the onion or scallions. Add to the broth. When the onions soften, put in a portion or two of soba noodles. Simmer for 8 minutes.