How to Make Chicken Stock in Four Days

Prologue (Sunday): go berry picking. Freeze multiple bags. Realize you are running out of room in your freezer and that there’s a chicken carcass waiting for you to learn to love and trust again after your first batch of stock came out poorly. Plan to make stock the following weekend.

Day 1 (Monday): Car-related ridiculousness of your own making occurs; scrap plans to leave house for the day. Get out the stock pot (no, not THAT one, amateur; the HUGE one) and throw in all the leftover frozen chicken and veggies you can find. Add herbs de Provence, salt, pepper, and a lot of garlic. Leave out bay leaves because they make you sad. Redeem your foolishness with regard to the car by putting beef stew with a tomato sauce and Mexican seasoning base in the crock pot.

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Simmer (not boil!) on low for eight hours. Realize somewhere around hour six that the broth is WAY too sweet and that you have over-carroted the broth. Skim out loads of carrots; replace with more celery, onion, and garlic.

Decide after dinner that broth is still a mite too sweet so pour in the spicy tomato crock pot broth from the beef stew, in a move you consider to be both genius and also probably a really awful idea. Simmer for a bit longer, and then strain out the large vegetables and bones with a colander. Reorganize refrigerator to accommodate giant stock pot.

Day 2 (Tuesday): Wake to find that husband has reorganized the stock into three separate containers to mitigate the risk of the refrigerator popping open. Skim fat off three container’s worth of chicken stock; replace in fridge and repeat throughout the day. Realize ain’t nobody got time to can tonight; re-refrigerate. It’s fridge-stable for a few days, certainly.

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Day 3 (Wednesday): Realize that what happened Tuesday goes likewise for Wednesday and Google tells you that you can refrigerate for three days without worry. Tom has already used one of the containers to cook two of the week’s meals. 

Day 4 (Thursday): Prepare jars, lids, and pressure canner–NOT a regular water canner. You cannot process low-acid food in a water bath. No. You can’t. Why do you hate science?

Strain your stock. Try it twice on your own before realizing that you need a second pair of hands to hold the clean cheesecloth steady. Attempt it once again after Second Hands Tom realizes he needs to hold on tighter. Heat broth; ladle into clean jars. Try a small mug of it–it is the perfect color, saltiness, with just the mildest little hint of spice at the finish. Become very impressed with yourself.

Tear kitchen apart trying to find pressure canner manual. See if Presto has PDF copies on their site. They do! Download a corrupted file. Try again. Get proper file with correct procedure. 

Begin to boil; put pressure cap in place. Hint generally that Tom should come in to do the valve checking because even though you’re sure you’re following directions the insurance payout for his life is much higher than for yours. Reflect that Tom is still young with cute kids and a solid job and he could probably replace you pretty easily. Refill wine glass.

Boil according to the Ball book at ten pounds of pressure for juuuust over 20 minutes (just to be sure). Later, once everything has cooled and you’ve recovered from the shock of removing the pressure cap too soon (Tom SAID it was okay to remove it but he lied was incorrect), remove your jars.

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Marvel at the eight jars. Realize it’s almost midnight. 

Go the hell to bed.

Parachutes

July, 2012:

Everyone huddles under the tents. It’s intermittently rainy; typical English picnic weather. The entertainer hired for the preschool’s end-of-year party brings out his props, including a large parachute, stitched in garish primary-colored panels. Maggie will have nothing to do with it. She won’t acknowledge the group; she runs in the opposite direction from the crowd, visibly distressed. We don’t force her. Her wishes are clear. With the rain, there’s really nowhere to go–nowhere to which she can escape. We leave early, confused and aching.

July, 2013:

The high anxiety of these gatherings has lessened over the last year. Knowing more than we did, knowing more about how Maggie ticks, makes it possible for us to understand why certain situations are so difficult. We never forced her to stay somewhere that she was unhappy, but now with that understanding it makes it easier for us to see the sources of her anxiety. The flapping parachute, the screaming kids, the entertainer shouting instructions…it’s too much. 

Today was the end-of-year party. The weather was glorious, Moira is mobile enough to enjoy the school playground, and with such perfect weather we knew there would be plenty of chances for her to find a comfortable spot to be alone without getting washed away in a Yorkshire downpour.

Same entertainer; this time he brought juggling implements. Maybe he did last year, but I know I wasn’t paying attention. They caught Maggie’s eye, and then he gathered the children around for games…with the parachute.

She stood. She inched closer. She examined. The entertainer told everyone to grab a handle and whip the fabric high.

I held my breath, and then, unable to hold back, said “Maggie, there’s an open handle there.” 

Maggie drew up her shoulders, straightened her spine…and stepped forward to take the handle.

The entertainer counted off to three. She counted along. He called for the boys to run under. She waited and gleefully helped trap her mates under the parachute. He called for the girls to do the same.

Maggie ran into the scrum, giggling and shouting, and she danced.

She danced. In the middle of a mass of thrashing, squealing preschoolers under an ugly nylon net, she danced.

I found Tom and pointed to what I was seeing. He saw it too. And then I had to leave, because the lump in my throat had moved into my eyes and the threatened watershed could no longer be denied, and I cried in the bathroom alcove with the miniature toilets because I had just seen one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen in my life: a four-year-old girl deciding to step forward and be wrapped up in a parachute under a flaming July sun.

And then she danced.