"When your body is sick, it is telling you something."
-- My grandmother
And so, days after returning from a long trip in the Caribbean, I came down with the flu. A similar thing happened twenty years ago, when I made my first move from the Caribbean to the United States. I contracted an ear infection on the airplane. It was my first winter and I was sick for weeks. It is now becoming Autumn and I've been sick for a month.
"Eat chicken soup." -- My mother
I have a lot of family. Like many big families ours is chaotic, superstitious, and full of relatives more than willing to offer their advice. I receive most of mine from the women, whose remedies for heartbreak, asthma, and even financial anxiety, are food related. However ludicrous they might seem, I follow my family's ancient or invented superstitions as if they were delivered in a house of worship, and as if I were a devoted member of their congregation. Whenever I am sick, the Lords command chicken soup.
Week one of my September flu was actually spent sampling the wide array of chicken soups available for delivery in my neighborhood. I enjoyed chicken and dumplings stew from a nearby Roti Shop and also the Sopa Cubana from my favorite local Cuban restaurant. The closest café makes a delicious chicken and kale soup that is no doubt full of local and organically sourced ingredients. But after a week of silly romance comedies and tips for the deliveryman, I felt impelled to set before the stove and make a soup of my own.
During my travels I enjoyed Sancochos, stews of protein and root vegetables that can be found in many parts of the Caribbean but that are especially delicious in Colombia, where I spent part of my trip. On the coast of Colombia I found Sancochos with fish and coconut milk, lime and ripe plantains. Not quite the chicken soup I was longing for but, inspired by those bowls, I decided to spend an afternoon preparing my own version. I've never inherited a chicken soup recipe, but I managed to track down all the ingredients that would send my senses back to the Caribbean and my body back to health.
The day I decided to cook there was not only a rainstorm but a tornado in my city! The humidity ripened my plantains and vaporized their broth so that I believe I was breathing in the stew's healing powers all day long. I felt better, just cooking. The spicy sticky sweet smells reminded me of my family and of the Caribbean, which I constantly long for. The ever changing color of the broth worked magic on my state of mind too, those red brown golden hues. The end product was certainly a sancocho for my (home)sick soul.