A well-meaning soup

The minute I open the windows now: birdsong. They’re in constant and urgent conversation, the birds, from dawn to dusk. Sometimes even after the sun has set. They’re catching up, their chirps like phonecalls bouncing from one branch to another, hey Martin how was Africa, didja have a good flight?

It’s been a long winter of quiet; it’s good to have them back.

We read a springtime book without meaning to. We started reading it to Chotto-ma at the end of winter, and as the pages turned, the season did too. It was timed like a perfectly improvised tune. Season and literature jammed, and we read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, ate chicken noodle soup, and willed the weather to get warmer – Chotto-ma’s introduction to unabridged English classics.

Getting a six-year old interested in a book written more than a hundred years ago requires stealthy planning – the language is heavier, the vocabulary unfamiliar, the pace slower, the pleasures quieter. Inspite of that, I wanted Chotto-ma to start with the unabridged version of a great book. Because if you read the abridged first, you often don’t get around to the original. But, I was also sure that I wanted her to enjoy it.

We had almost stopped reading aloud to Chotto-ma, because she was doing so much reading by herself. (The first novel she read on her own this year was ‘The Story of the Blue Planet‘ by Icelandic writer Andri Snaer Magnason, about two children who live on a planet with no adults.) Studies show, quite logically, that even when children become completely independent in their reading, a book read aloud to them by a parent continues to have a special place – there’s a sense of comfort and connection in shared stories – and that need not end when a child becomes a fluent reader; it’s a bond worth keeping as long as you can. We decided to split her books into two categories: she’d read the ones she picked out – like the Roald Dahl she’s reading now – and D and I would read to her the classics, and some poetry.

We chose The Secret Garden to start with. The language is not too challenging, and it’s a book filled with the beauty of nature, a couple of loud, ill-mannered children, and a happy ending. It also has plenty of overt racism, and that’s not a bad thing either – it gave us a chance to talk to Chotto-ma about prejudices and wrongs and rights. She loved the story, looked forward to it every evening, and enjoyed the drama as it unfolded. We also discussed the racist elements of the writing, of how India is portrayed and Indians described as inferior (Mary Lennox, the protagonist, is a little British girl who was born and raised in India till she moved to England to live with her uncle.) It opened up conversations about India’s history, the British Raj.

Our next read-out might be E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. But no matter which classic you choose, I’d highly recommend reading it to your child to begin with instead of handing them a beautiful hardbound copy. Guide them into an older time and an older language, till they find their feet and are comfortable enough to read one by themselves. 

Goodness, I’ll stop right there. I sound far wiser than I am. Ignore this unwanted advice by all means, but I beg you, DO NOT ignore the noodle soup that comes with it. It’s our any-weather soup. It’s a soup to read with, to listen to the birds with. It’s a well-meaning soup, much like this post.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ma would often make this soup when we were young. She’d throw in scraps of chicken and bits of vegetables left over from the week, and suddenly we’d have the most wonderful smell wafting out of the kitchen. Our Spring is cold and windy still, and I needed this. Like birdsong, it makes everything better.


The vegetables really depend on what you have at home, but these are what works really well. You also won’t find quantities for the vegetables in this recipe – since it’s meant to be made with whatever you have left over, feel free to put more of one, less of another.

4 chicken thighs, skin on
Cabbage, cut in big cubes
Mushrooms, cut in half if small, or quartered
Courgette, diced in thick circles, then halved so you have semi-circles
Carrots, diced diagonally
Cauliflower, cut in small florets
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
A few whole black peppercorns, crushed coarsely (the ready-powered version really doesn’t do it!) 
Spring onion, chopped fine, white part and green part separate
A bayleaf

In a deep pot, heat 8 cups of water. Add chicken, garlic, white part of spring onion, bayleaf, salt. Simmer on medium heat.
After about 15-18 minutes, start adding the vegetable in order of cooking time. In this case – cabbage, cauliflower and carrots together in first, and after about 6 minutes, mushrooms and courgette.
Add more water if needed, check salt. You want a nice, thin broth, full of flavour.
Once the mushrooms and courgette are in, don’t simmer for more than 1 minute, and take off the heat.
Take the chicken out. Get rid of the skin. Shred the meat in pieces and put it back in the soup.
Serve with pepper and the chopped green part of the spring onion.

COMMENT CAVEAT: Many of you have written to me saying that comments you leave here are often not published. So, a little note: if you don’t see your comments here in 24 hours, please know that they have not reached me at all! Blogger can play up, and I hate to think that words you’ve taken time and care to write down have vanished. So please, email me your comments if you find them missing, at peppercornsinmypocket@gmail.com, and I promise to post them them here, and write back.


10 thoughts on “A well-meaning soup

  1. Glad to be the first one here, so I can tell you how good that advice is, so keep it coming. I love these stories, and am glad chotto-ma is a few years ahead of my own little one so 1) you've been there done that and recorded it so well by the time Mia gets there 2) it reassures me there is more fun to be had, at age 4, 5, 6 and one every time I rue the passing of the toddler years. I will try the soup too, I still have the rhubarb one book-marked.

  2. I love the pictures of the flowers and your moroccan bowl 🙂

    Such a great way to start Pia! I loved your thoughts on how reading to children is always good and different. Your post made me dream of having children and doing the same with them. Haha! It made me want to meet chotto-ma and give her a squeeze <3

    Is heart warming to see you and your husband giving the right importance to art in your child's life. I will surely take some parenting tips from you!

  3. Beautiful pics!

    I totally agree with you about the reading aloud to children part. I so want to read books aloud to Bubboo – I haven't started yet. She is in her sixth month now, and I think I should start soon.

    I love the way you guys are slowly introducing Chotto Ma to books that are right for her, at different stages of her life and for her age. I so want to do that with Bubboo too. I didn't have anyone to introduce the right books to me when I was in love with reading as a child, and as a result, I ended up reading a lot of junk. I haven't read many classics yet. I would love to start reading them with Bubboo – introducing them to her slowly and getting introduced to them myself in the process. I would definitely need your suggestions on the kind of books I should introduce to her at different stages. I'll be following your book posts eagerly.

  4. You reminded me of something 🙂 Chotto-ma was four then, and I was telling my friend how four was the best age; so much fun, more conversation, more things to do together. And she went, “You said exactly the same thing last year.” So yeah, the best is always yet to come. (Though that comment could bite me in the teen years)

  5. Thank you, Denise.

    Yes, D and I read to each other too – there's something about the texture of a familiar voice. Sometimes the words become a blur, and even that is relaxing.

  6. How lovely that I made you dream a nice dream 🙂 Thank you for the love, Meera – Chotto-ma is a lover of hugs, so a squeeze is always welcome!

    And you remember the Moroccan bowl! They're heavier than any bowl I have, but I'm so glad we lugged them back :))

  7. Oh, Bubboo will have a beautiful introduction to books and storytelling, I'm sure, thanks to you. My mother is an avid reader, so I did what I saw her doing. I did read my fair share of Archie comics and Mills & Boon growing up though, much to her chagrin!

  8. Hehe, I am little fanatic about kitchen stuff and food. I always keep them noted. Thank god for pinterest! 😀

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