I have not missed doing the school bus run at all. Not one little bit. When I emailed my friend Amy to say that I’ve been sleeping in until 7:30 she thought I was goofing on her, but I wasn’t. Doing the bus run means you have to be up by 5:30 – 6:00 if you oversleep. So staying in bed until half past seven seems luxurious. Of course not having to do the bus run is akin to that proverbial double-edged sword. No bus run means no kids are at home. So a couple of weeks ago we went to see Russell. For no reason. Just to say hi and hang out before he went to calculus. It was fabulous to see him and made me feel very, very short.
Maybe this transition to being an empty nester is easier for me since both our kids chose to go to colleges near to where we live. Not so close they could live at home, but close enough for us to see them, take them out to lunch, and then be back in time to let the dog out. Simon’s Rock is just over the Berkshire mountains and UNH is a short train ride along the Connecticut River. I’m sure I’d be handling this shift in parenting and family differently if they were going to college somewhere in California or Canada. Lucky for me they aren’t.
As our offspring have settled into their semesters, Shawn and I are figuring out how to settle into our new family size of two plus the dog. Much has stayed the same – work, chores, taking care of the dog. Other things have shifted, the afore mentioned bus run, bedtimes and meals. Bedtime now has a glorious fluidity. If we’re tired at 8:30 we can go to bed. Or
we I can stay up until 3am binge watching episodes of Outlander. It helps that we’re both self-employed and can write our own schedules, which though it usually means working seven days a week we can choose what time on those seven days we work. Meals, or more specifically dinner, are one of the biggest changes, which I wrote about in my last blog post.
It’s not just us. I’ve chatted with other empty nesters and they too find themselves having meals that aren’t really what I’d classify as proper meals. Gooey, stinky, oozy cheese smeared on bread with a glass of wine. Avocados sprinkled with Worcestershire sauce. Plates heaping with vegetables, just vegetables (try feeding that to most teenagers). Or a bowl of cereal if you had a big lunch. Those are some of the dinners we’ve been having. Plus the timing can be whenever we want it to be – 6, 7, 8 or even 9. While I never managed my Mother’s record of having dinner on the table by 6 every night for 20+ years (you rocked the dinner scene Mom!), I certainly tried never to make my kids wait until 9 before feeding them. It just wasn’t humane after a long day at school followed by sports and homework. With kids out of the equation an early dinner has changed. Sure there are days when we decide to nibble on something at 6-ish, but basically we eat when we’re hungry or when someone gets around to scrounging something up. Of late that something has included many pots of soup.
Soup works in so many ways because it is endlessly flexible. Immensely adaptable. Satisfying to eat and easy to make. So get ready because I am going to
bombard you with be sharing some of my favorite soup recipes as we slip into fall. There are already a few of my favorites on this blog like Laurie Colwin’s Black Bean Soup, my friend Marisa’s Ceci e Pasta or my go-to super-easy carrot soup. This go round will be my matzo ball soup à la Allison. Just so we can get the obvious out of the way – I am not Jewish. I did not grow up eating matzo ball soup. This is a shiksa’s version of classic Jewish soul food, using a recipe from my half Jewish-half Italian friend. I even use –gasp– boxed matzo ball mix, so sue me. Enough said.
As Allison explained to me the key to matzo ball soup is all about how your mother made it. If you had a mother who made her matzo balls light as clouds that is what you look for in the “perfect” matzo ball soup. On the other hand if your mom made them like lead shot puts then you will probably think only a heavy, sit-in-your-stomach matzo ball will fill the bill, or in this case, soup bowl. Having grown up in an Episcopalian, matzo ball-less house I had no preconceived notions of how they should or shouldn’t be. I fell in love with those not-so-heavy and not-so-light matzo balls my friend fed me thirty odd years ago.
If you want to see some hilarious reactions to people eating Jewish foods for the first time check out this BuzzFeed video. I cracked up when one tester referred to matzo ball soup as “the gateway drug to Jewish food.” You have been warned.
Not Your Jewish Grandmother’s Matzo Ball Soup
1 box matzo ball mix (I use Manischewitz)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons seltzer
2-5 Carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and diced
3-6 quarts chicken or vegetable broth* (I use home made chicken stock and add water to it, but you can use canned in a pinch)
Handful of chopped parsley (optional)
Couple of handfuls of chopped or torn cooked chicken (again optional)
Allison is in the in between matzo ball camp. Not super fluffy, but not heavy either. Her answer is to add some seltzer to the mix. It lightens things up, but doesn’t make them fall apart. These middle of the road matzo balls are what my kids have grown up on. So if you’re feeding a whole family, or don’t want leftovers half all the ingredients. Otherwise here’s what you do-
Mix the eggs, oil and seltzer together then whisk in both packages of matzo. Stir until everything is moistened and place the bowl in the fridge for 15-45 minutes, depending on how long it takes you to make the soup part.
While the matzo mix is merging I add the chopped up carrots and onions into the broth and simmer everything until they are al dente, about 10-15 minutes. How much broth I hear you asking because you gave a pretty broad range of amounts. Well that depends. I like to cook my matzo balls right in the broth, which means they soak up a lot of broth. So I either start with what seems to be way too much broth, or I add a quart or two of water to my chicken broth, or I enjoy my broth-soaked matzo with a tiny bit of broth and a whole lot of matzo and veggies, sort of like dumplings. I can’t make those decisions for you. You have to decide what kind of matzo ball soup person you are. For even more options the package says to cook the matzo in a pot of salted water. It’s an option, but I don’t really see the point of dirtying up another pot and I’ve never tried it that way. All I can advise you to do is know thy self. Or experiment. There really are no bad answers.
Once you’ve got what seems to be the right amount of broth for you, and your veggies are partially cooked then it’s time to make the matzo balls. Wet your hands with water, scoop out some of the matzo ball mix and roll into a ball. How big? Again, that is a personal preference. I like mine the size of small oranges when done, so I start with matzo balls the size of giant golf balls. Some people like humongous matzo balls the size of a grapefruit. Again, you get to decide. Once you’ve found the right size for you, make them and plop them into the pot to simmer with the lid on. Fifteen minutes then I gently flip them over to simmer on their other side. If you’re going to add chicken to the mix throw it in at the turning point to warm up.
To serve ladle out as many mazto balls as will make you happy (or as many as will fit in your bowl), along with some broth and veggies and chicken if you’re having any. Sprinkle with chopped parsley if you’d like. It’s all pretty free form, and if you’re an empty nester than there are just the two of you and you can do whatever the heck you want to do.
*When I’ve known vegetarians are coming over I’ve made this with vegetable stock and it is delicious too. Obviously leave out the chicken if you’re making a vegetarian version, but don’t try to sub in tofu or tempeh. I think just straight veggies, matzo balls and broth will be fine. If you’d like, you could boost the amount of vegetables you use and add a stick or two of celery.