I find myself at a loss for words. Sometimes, even when you think you know what you want to say, you just can’t find the words. A little over three weeks ago, my youngest sister, Karen, left this world and left a great big hole in my heart. That’s Karen in the middle, standing behind my sister Linda. I’m on the right side of the shot and my sister Theresa is on the left. What are we doing in this picture? We’re doing what we always do when we get together. Laughing. Being silly sisters and seeing who can make everyone laugh the hardest. We’re good at it, too! We were actually trying to get a group photo with my camera on a tripod and a timer. We thought we were looking a little too stiff, so we did this goofy shot to loosen up a bit. Once we saw it, though, we all laughed so hard it was a while before we regained our composure. I love this picture! I love my sisters and I love every moment I spend with them. It seems unbelievable to me that I will have no more moments in this life with Karen. That realization has ground me to a halt many times in the last few weeks. I snap back when I remember that I still have Linda and I still have Theresa. Not one of us had the faintest notion that our foursome could become a threesome so soon. All the more reason to cherish each and every moment together and keep making memories.
Because I moved to the South and all my sisters stayed Yankees, I didn’t see them very often. Facebook and messaging kept us in contact in ways that we could not have conceived of when we were growing up. In 2015, we took our first ever “Sisters Vacation”. Just the four of us. No kids, no husbands, just us. It was so much fun!! Laughing, talking, eating out, playing cards, sightseeing, more laughing, more talking…we decided to make it an annual event. What did we talk about? Our husbands, our kids, and everything under the sun. A lot of times, we talked about food. Linda and I probably have the most adventurous palates. Theresa was always kind of picky, especially as a child. To this day, she only eats vegetables because she knows they are good for her. No judgement, Tree! (We call her Tree, short for Theresa) Karen liked a lot of foods, but had a hard stop when it came to one thing. Brumotactillophobia. That’s when you can’t have food touching other food on your plate. I have only just learned this about Karen from talking with her three beautiful daughters (Chrissy, Michelle and Laura), so she either managed her dinner plates very well or did an awesome job of concealing her dislike of touchy-touchy foods. Way to go, sister! One thing I DID know about Karen when it came to food---she absolutely LOVED cooking for her family. When I decided to make this post about Karen and the foods she loved to prepare, I went straight to her daughters, my sisters and my niece, Jen. We had a day-long Facebook message thread talking about all of Karen’s favorite foods to eat and especially her favorites to make. It was such an uplifting topic and reminiscing about the many delicious dishes inspired the girls to consider organizing a “Feast Day” where they each make one of their Mom’s classics. This sounds like something that could become the same kind of tradition as our “Sisters Vacation”. I definitely felt Karen’s influence at work that day!
The dish we all chose to share today has been dubbed “Karen’s Cure What Ails You Chicken Stew”. It’s a delicious and hearty stew that is loaded with good-for-you veggies. She made it often in the winter months and especially if anyone in the family was feeling poorly. When I recently tried it for the first time, I loved it! The recipe I wrote has been approved for accuracy by her girls, with the one exception being that she most often prepared it in a low-to-no sodium version. My Mom, Dad and her husband all had salt restrictions in their diets, and that just shows me one more way that my sweet sister was always there to give whatever was needed. The hole in my heart will always be there, but I will continue to pour the memories of food and fun and family and laughter into it. I will continue to be open to signs that Karen is with us still, just in a different way. I will try not to take for granted the time I have with the people I love. I will continue to laugh and cook and allow joy into my life. I think Karen is nodding her head in agreement. I think she is excited that I am sharing her recipe. I think she is smiling and giving us that little giggle that we will always remember. Tee hee!
I love you, little sister!
KAREN’S CURE WHAT AILS YOU CHICKEN STEW
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken broth (homemade or packaged)
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut unto 1 inch chunks
3 ribs celery, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
5-6 mushrooms, sliced
1-2 cups cauliflower florets (fresh or frozen)
1-2 cups broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)
1-2 cups brussels sprouts, left whole if small, or cut in half (fresh or frozen)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, bring 2 quarts of chicken stock to a boil. Add the boneless, skinless chicken thighs and return stock to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer chicken until almost done, 25-30 minutes. Remove chicken from the pot and cool slightly. Add the remaining vegetables to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Bring all to a boil. Reduce heat, cover the pot loosely with a lid and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes, depending on size. Chop or shred the cooled chicken into large pieces and return to the pot with the vegetables. Taste for seasoning and serve.