EVERYTHING IS FINE!
That's what we'll tell you even when all hell is breaking loose around us.
I received the following text message from my sister, Sue, last Tuesday:
Most people would find this a straightforward, alarming missive. But they are not Willards and don’t grasp the text’s full horrifying implications. They were not raised by parents whose child-rearing philosophy emphasized how lucky their kids were to be middle-class rather than desperately poor the way they were. Their kids were guided to embrace ingenuity, stubborn self-reliance, and a great sense of humor as ways to handle life’s travails. Willards are helpers and problem solvers with a bulging basket of resources, encompassing such divergent subjects as picking wall paint colors, putting on a dinner party, knowing excellent social-service programs, and familiarity with criminal lawyers. They give counsel rather than seek it. And they certainly do not give in to colds and flus, and frightening depressions.
If we weren’t Irish, we would have “Keep Calm and Carry On” tattooed on a highly visible body part.
Everything is fine! ~ The Willard family’s actual family motto.
Note that Sue’s text reveals that she had been terribly sick for a week before she let me know. Very Willard of her but now that she was telling me it meant things could be really bad. I ran to the market, scooped up all the veal bones I could find, unearthed a frozen chicken carcass from a winter’s roast, and spent the day making a pot of saffron consommé. In the morning I drove 80 miles an hour down I-95 to her house.
“You know how sick I am?” Sue said as a greeting. “I don’t feel guilty you’re here.”
I heated up the consommé for dinner and she described its effect as gently heating her lungs, the saffron a bloom of warmth. Afterwards we watched a silly movie and retired very early. She woke up late the next morning feeling much better but not well enough to accomplish our usual exhaustive run all over the city because we’re constitutionally unable to sit still (another Willard trait). Instead, she sat at her table and indulged in the rare job of cleaning out her bags. Exhausted from that, Sue sipped another bowl of consommé and went back to bed. I straightened her house, then drove to the market to buy the ingredients for a Japanese soup recipe she wanted to try. If she didn’t quite jump out of bed after her nap, she had gained enough energy for us to cook the soup together.
That night we spackled on a mask supposedly composed of Dead Sea salt and kelp that promised to wipe at least 20 years from our faces. While that miracle occurred, another silly movie came on. The night deepened to the late hour of 9:30. Twenty years did not wash off with the Dead Sea and kelp mask, and we took ourselves back to bed.
My brother arrived the next morning with a bag of bagels and wearing a tee-shirt with a good version of the family’s motto emblazoned on it (see above). The bagels were the first solid food our sister had had in over a week. We decided to take this as a sign that she was all better and didn’t contradict her when she said she was going to start going back to work on Monday. She’s a Willard. We would have done the same.
“You got to get on the road,” Sue said to me after our brother left.
Dismissed, I left her after a long hug and with two jars of consommé in her refrigerator.
The curative powers of this consommé depends on the long brewing of flavorful bones and vegetables, and the infusion of a large pinch of saffron, a spice with a medicinal history used as long ago as the reign of early Persian and Egyptian rulers. Saffron is expensive, though, and some people may not like its prominent taste, but the spice strengthens the already nutritional nature of the consommé. Having said this, do not let the lack of saffron deter you from brewing up a batch. My recommendation is to double the following recipe, separate it into several serving-size containers, and freeze them. When the high season for colds and flu—and most probably COVID—kicks into gear, simply defrost one of the containers, heat, and serve it to the under-the-weather patient. Or indulge yourself because it is, indeed, a very tranquil meal whether you are sick or not. It also makes a festive first course if you’re putting on a swell spread. Either way, I swear to you it’s worth the very little bit of work involved.
An important note: Do not be put off by the length of this recipe. The most arduous part is the several requirements to strain the liquid and the slightly weird step to add egg whites and crushed shells. These steps are necessary to clarify the liquid to a clear state, as opposed to making broths which retain fat and makes them cloudy. Cold consommé gels to the point where you can unmold it for a jiggly amber delight. I know several people who cut the gel into small chilled serving pieces and pop them into their mouth to ease scratchy throats.
5 pounds veal bones (including a knuckle), cracked 2 pounds chicken parts (backs, wings, or necks) or one whole carcass 1 pound stewing veal, cut into 2-inch cubes 3 quarts water 1 large carrot, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces 1 rib celery with tops, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces 1 medium leek, trimmed, cleaned, and cut into 1-inch pieces 1 onion, peeled and halved 6 sprigs of parsley 2 teaspoons kosher salt freshly ground pepper to taste
Put the bones, chicken, and veal into a large 8-quart stock pot. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse bones and meat under cold water to remove all the scum. Rinse and wipe the inside of the stock pot.
Return meat and bones to the stock pot and add the 3 quarts of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming often. Add the remaining ingredients. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, partially covered with a lid, for about 3 hours. Skim occasionally.
Strain the stock through a double layer of cheesecloth in a large bowl.
Refrigerate to the point that any remaining fat has risen to the top and formed a layer. Carefully remove the fat layer to reveal the gel below.
The stock keeps, refrigerated and covered, for 3 or 4 days, or it can be frozen for up to 6 months. Skim any fat remaining from the surface before using.
2 tablespoons grated onion 6 cups white stock, chilled and thoroughly degreased 2 large egg whites 2 egg shells, crushed 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads or 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place the grated onion in a fine sieve over a small bowl and press down on it with the back of a spoon to extract the juices. Measure and set aside 1 teaspoon of the onion juice. Discard the rest.
In a 3-quart saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. When the stock is boiling, stir in the egg whites and egg shells, reduce the heat, and simmer gently, without stirring, for about 20 minutes. The eggs will further clarify the liquid. Strain the stock through a large sieve lined with several thicknesses of rinsed cheesecloth into a slightly smaller stock pot. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and stir in the reserved onion juice.
If you are using saffron threads, crush them between your fingers and place in a small dish. Add about 1/4 cup of the hot stock, stir gently to dissolve the saffron, and then pour the mixture into the simmering stock. If you are using ground saffron, whisk directly into the simmering stock.
Simmer for 3 to 5 minutes more to let the flavor develop. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 6 servings.
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I thought so, too, and thought it would overpower the consomme. But it didn't at all and I think what happens is it slowly dissolves and mellows out in heating it. And, boy, did it clear my sister's lungs up! Glad to hear you may have a sane half of a family rather than a whole slightly insane family!
I felt better just reading this recipe. Am I going to make it someday? Probably not, I'm too lazy for that. The peculiar way the Willards communicate and behave is great, much more careful than my brother and I. I have some news to tell, I'll write to you soon <3