Chicken noodle soup had to be the easiest thing to make in the world, but for some reason, my brother and I couldn't figure it out. We were staying with old Aunt Nell for the summer. The only problem was that Aunt Nell, who was actually our great-great aunt, was ninety-one years old and live in a musty cabin up in the mountains where it was the temperature of winter without the pleasure of snow.
As the older sister, I took responsibility to rummage through the pantry, Aunt Nell's feeble coughs carrying down the short hallway into the kitchen. Rain pattered on the window, a summary of the weather in this town.
"There's nothing but canned peas in here!" I said.
"How about chicken, for chicken noodle soup, you know. There's some in the fridge," Max held the fridge door open long enough for it to get chilly in here. I slammed it shut in front of him.
"What does Mom put in the soup?" I glared at him with my hand planted to the fridge door. Max shrugged. "Come on, Maxi boy, think. You eat half the pot when she makes it."
Max closed his eyes and screwed his face up. He leaned back against the tiny counter and mumbled to himself. The clock ticked above the square table. Forty-two seconds clicked by until Max opened his eyes with a dopey grin on his face.
"Chicken, noodles, chicken broth...."
"Seriously?" I scoffed.
"Shh, let me think! Carrots, onion, salt...."
"Good enough! Let's get to it." I dug around in the pantry until I grabbed all the ingredients, Max doing the same in the fridge.
"Jessie, dear!" Aunt Nell's voice was creaky as it slid down the hall. "Tissues please!"
I rushed to get her some tissues and tuck her patchwork blanket around her before hurrying back to the kitchen.
Was I supposed to add the seasonings before the chicken?
"Add salt!" I said to Max. "Cut the carrots!"
Meanwhile, the pantry was empty of chicken broth. Time to break out the cookbook, since there was no internet. To make chicken broth, you needed chicken bones or chicken bouillon. We didn't have any bones so bouillon it was... back to the pantry. Some dry cubes were sealed in a dusty jar, so I grabbed that and filled up a heavy pot with water. The last four cubes of bouillon plopped into the water.
"Ouch!" The knife clattered on the counter and Max sucked his finger.
"Dummy!" I rushed over to him and yanked his hand out of his mouth. Blood beaded on a small cut. "Go get a bandaid. I'll do this, since you're obviously incapable...."
The knife was as dull as a spoon. It slipped along the carrots, the skin still tough and occasionally green or brown with dirt. Are you supposed to rinse carrots? Like spinach? Or peel them like potatoes? It didn't matter anymore as I attempted to cut them, resorting to a butter knife to smash down on it until it was chopped into somewhat bite-sized pieces.
Whisk boiling water.
Next to the stove was a wobbly wooden rack of spices. Garlic powder and thyme and oregano and chicken rub and dill... I added any leafy-looking spice. Hopefully that would do. When I opened each glass jar, the strong scent of cardboard rushed up my nose.
"Jessie, dear?" Aunt Nell called again. I glanced at the pot. It was at a rolling boil... but carrots took a long time to cook. My stomached growled, low and gnawing at itself. Max and I hadn't eaten since this morning. I ran to Aunt Nell's room. Her little leather nose was bright pink, crumpled tissues piled next to her.
"Would you read to me for a bit?" she asked.
"I'm trying to..." I started, but she gave me such sad eyes that I plopped myself down in the splintered wooden chair next to the bed and grabbed the book from the nightstand. The words flew from my mouth so quickly, even I could barely understand them.
"Slow down, dear!" Aunt Nell said.
I slowed down a fraction of a second. Two minutes later, I snapped the book shut. "That's the end of the chapter!" I raced from the room and into the kitchen.
The soup steamed as it hit the burner, flowing over the pot like a volcano. In the midst of trying to pull the pot off the stove, my hands singed at the handles. Where were the hot pads? Where was Max?
Remove pot from heat.
Turn down temperature.
Return pot to heat.
The onion! I had totally forgotten! I rushed to peel it, which took a good five minutes. Forgetting about the dull knives, I tried to cut it. At this point, irritation racked my body so I dropped the whole onion in the water and hoped for it to cook.
"Jessie, dear!" Aunt Nell called. I sighed and went to her room. "Could you make me some tea?"
"Yes, Aunt Nell," I said, and proceeded to do as she asked. Why wasn't she asking Max for any of this. "Max, make Aunt Nell some tea," I said to him. He laid on his bed, nose nearly touching the pages of a book.
"Come read to me, Jessie!" Aunt Nell called. "Is supper almost ready?"
The sigh was louder that I intended. Aunt Nell knit her brow.
A chapter later, I jogged to the kitchen to test that the onion was cooked.
"Noodles, Max!" I called. He trudged into the kitchen nursing his hand, as if he'd lost a finger. What a baby. "Noodles! Now, please!"
A second later, I had a box of spaghetti noodles next to me.
"There's got to be something better," I said.
"There's not," Max said before I had a chance to go look myself.
"Here - " He emptied the box of noodles into a bowl, then smashed them up into little bits. He smiled, tight-lipped and sarcastic. "Problem solved."
"I wouldn't exactly call demolishing noodles a solution, but okay."
Noodles in water.
Wait ten minutes.
Voila. It was done. I poured three bowls, carrying one to Aunt Nell. Her mouth was slightly open in a growly snore. I set the steaming bowl down and pulled the blankets over her, making sure to avoid touching the tissues.
"Dinner, Max," I said on my way to the kitchen.
We sat down at the table and brought the soup to our mouths. I spat mine out immediately.
"What is this?" Max said.
"Shut up!" I responded, then grabbed the salt and slammed it down. "Problem solved."
In truth, with the salt, the soup wasn't half bad.