Chow Town

When life gives you lemons, eat soup

D’Bronx matzo ball soup and Jasper’s meatballs.
D’Bronx matzo ball soup and Jasper’s meatballs.

Life has a way of tethering us to the exact spot we’re supposed to be, whether we like it or not, and force-feed us lemons.

This past week I battled a nasty flu bug — not my intended plan. I was scheduled to be in El Salvador with a humanitarian organization, researching and conducting interviews.

Instead, I was hunkered in bed under a mountain of blankets, nursing a fever and sleeping off neck-to-toe body aches.

Once I wrapped my throbbing head around the fact that El Salvador — and the story about Unbound, a Kansas City nonprofit whose mission is to empower families and children living in poverty — would always be there, the clouds parted and beams of sunshine warmed my flagging spirit.

My expedition last week didn’t involve racking up frequent flyer miles or breaking bread with strangers in an exotic country.

Rather, I had the opportunity to explore food’s rich interconnectedness with culture, memory and traditions through newfound friends in my own backyard.

First, I met Angie Weatherford Fry, a lawyer, Troostwood resident and enthusiastic food lover. We follow each other on social media and she commented on my Instagram picture of meatballs that Jasper Mirabile Jr. delivered and the D’Bronx matzo ball soup that my friend, Salli Katz, brought to my doorstep.

Paying homage to the unproven — but acknowledged by many — healing powers of the two dishes, I titled the image: Take two balls and call me in the morning.

Angie wrote: #matzoballsoup aka @jewishpenicillin always does the trick.

I replied: Miss my late mother-in-law Cecille’s #matzoballsoup. She always had a freezer full, just in case.

And Angie: #matzoballsoup is such a beautiful and personal expression of love. It’s magic.

As a storyteller, authentic connections with people both emotionally and spiritually nourish me. There’s always something to discover, a unique story-behind-the-story, a nugget that expresses someone’s purpose, passion and intention along life’s journey.

Sensing some good stuff, I ask Angie if we could chat.

During our 45-minute conversation, four important facts emerge.

First, Angie grew up in Overland Park in what she describes as an egalitarian household.

“My dad grocery shopped, did most of the cooking and made my lunches,” Angie said. “My mom found her love of cooking after retiring in 2012.”

Second, she contemplated enrolling in culinary school versus law school.

“In the end, I decided I wanted to cook for the people I love, not to make a living,” she said.

Third, Angie met her soul mate, Aaron, on Jan. 25, 2011, at Mike’s Tavern. While that indescribable thing called chemistry unfolded, she sipped Boulevard Wheat, he Miller Lite. They both confessed to a love of food and she was thrilled to find her culinary doppelganger.

“His father was the primary cook in the house, too, and was even featured in the paper in the 1980s with his signature dishes,” she said. “Aaron grew up around the dinner table, just like me.”

Fourth, Angie considers food an integral part of her love language.

“I learned from an early age that preparing and eating food equals love,” she said. “It’s the purest way to show affection.”

Angie’s paternal grandmother, Doris Jean, always had her granddaughter’s favorite foods on hand when she paid a visit — apple pie, cinnamon bread, oatmeal-raisin cookies.

When Angie wasn’t feeling well, she could always count on bowls of Doris’s potato soup.

“Her food wasn’t fussy or particularly elevated, she was a great country cook,” she said. “It was special because she made it with me in mind.”

Following an evening of imbibing early in their courtship, Angie and Aaron returned to his apartment, ravenous.

“I went through the cabinets, looking for flour,” she said. “As I pulled butter and milk from the fridge, he asked what I was doing.”

Angie explained she was making a béchamel sauce for macaroni and cheese. In an instant, Aaron made a declaration to his future wife.

“He told me, ‘I think you’re a better cook than I am,’” she said. “I know he wanted to dazzle me with his culinary skills. Aaron is an incredible cook.”

The couple married in October 2013. Aaron, a Certified Sommelier, works at Vintegrity Fine Wines and Spirits and is studying for the Advanced Sommelier exam while Angie works as a Missouri State Public Defender.

The two share a robust appetite for cooking, experience pleasure from being in the kitchen together and fill their calendar with a steady diet of dinners over good wine and equally good conversation with friends.

Angie whips up from-scratch cherry pies and pans of mac-and-cheese for him. Aaron makes batches of soothing matzo ball soup when she’s sick.

“So you see,” she said, “food truly is a conduit to the soul.”

My second connection last week to food’s intrinsic medicinal qualities was Brian Aaron, executive chef at Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen.

Known for serving fresh, seasonal fare at the popular Crossroads restaurant, Aaron’s culinary point-of-view is simply eloquent.

“I’m not looking to change the world,” he said, “but I want to serve people food that comforts.”

Fudge-stuffed peanut butter cookies are a Tannin mainstay. Aaron developed the ooey-gooey sweet treat as a sentimental tribute to his friend, mentor and one-time employer, the late Kansas City chef John McClure.

“John inspired the peanut butter part of the recipe,” Aaron said. “Tannin serves about 100 orders of the cookie weekly, sometimes straight up, sometimes covered in caramel and chocolate sauce or maybe a la mode with a scoop of house-made ice cream.”

Aaron thinks the mere scent of the warm cookies wafting throughout the dining room signals a sense of well-being.

“Comfort food, whether it’s what we grew up with or dishes we discover along the way, helps keep us grounded,” he said. “And for the record, I could never, ever take the cookies off the menu because there would be a backlash.”

I ask Aaron what he eats when sick.

“Hot, broth-based soups, cups of warm milk with honey from my aunt and uncle, who are beekeepers, and classic BombPops,” he said.

As a youngster, Aaron carved out a place for himself in the family kitchen by creating custom omelets on the weekend.

“I would chop piles of vegetables and whisk eggs and then make eggs to order.”

Aaron hosts an annual late-night Passover Seder for the Crossroads Social Club, an after-hours dinner series attended by some of the city’s most recognizable night owls, including chefs, musicians, bartenders, artists and industry pros such as Aaron Fry, along with Angie.

In addition to other traditional dishes, Aaron’s matzo ball soup is a star menu item.

“But matzo ball soup is perfect anytime, for any reason,” he assured me.

Especially when life gives you lemons?

“Most definitely,” he said. “That’s when you need to eat soup.”

Taking a cue from Salli Katz, Angie and Aaron Fry and Brian Aaron, I decide soup is the comfort to offer my aunt and uncle in Lee’s Summit. Back home from Milwaukee after attending the funeral of their middle son, who died unexpectedly on Memorial Day, they could use some TLC.

Sunday afternoon I venture to D’Bronx on Metcalf to purchase three quarts of chicken noodle soup, a year-round fixture on the menu.

Standing online ahead of me are the Schifman brothers, Joe of Kansas City and Harvey of Overland Park. They order a corned beef sandwich to split and two cups of chicken soup.

“We come here every week for this,” Joe said. “The soup reminds us of our mother.”

My week came full circle. Although my passport wasn’t stamped and I didn’t have notes for the El Salvador piece, I was enriched by people’s stories and strengthened by soup’s impossibly good karma.

Indeed, when life gives you lemons, eat soup.

Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen Executive Chef Brian Aaron’s soup recipe is adapted from the Manischewitz matzo meal box and also from his friend Brent Winer’s mother, Susie. For years, Aaron has done two Seder dinners, one at his house and one at the Winer’s. Susie always prepares a side dish of baked matzo balls and Aaron adopted her method.

“It takes a little more time, but is still made with all the love needed to make ‘Jewish penicillin,’” Aaron said.

Baked Matzo Ball Soup

Makes 8 servings

For the Matzo Balls:

1/2 cup of Manischewitz Matzo Meal

2 eggs, separated

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

2 tablespoons of water

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon of salt

1 gallon of chicken broth

For the Soup:

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 stalks of celery, sliced

To prepare the matzo balls: In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and vegetable oil until pale yellow. Add the matzo meal, water and thyme and blend together.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are doubled in size and form stiff peaks and slowly fold them into the batter just until incorporated being careful to not overmix. This will help to make the matzo balls light and fluffy. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

In a large stockpot, bring one gallon of chicken broth to a boil. (I love using broth instead of water so that the matzo balls soak up that flavor.) To form the matzo balls, dip hands in water so that won’t become sticky and roll the matzo balls to around 1-inch in diameter. Drop the matzo balls carefully into the boiling broth. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and let simmer for at least 30-40 minutes. When the matzo balls are cooked, transfer them to a deep roasting pan. Add some of the chicken broth into the pan until it the matzo balls are halfway covered. Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, basting regularly so as to create a glaze.

For the soup: Add the carrots and celery to the remaining broth and cook until soft — about the same time as it will take to bake the matzo balls.

To serve, place the baked matzo balls in soup bowls and ladle the soup over.

Source: Brian Aaron

Matzo Ball Soup

Makes 8 servings

Whenever Angie Fry is under the weather, husband Aaron whips up his matzo ball soup as an elixir. “The matzo balls are light and the parsley he incorporates adds an element of freshness,” she said. “This dish definitely cures what ails you.”

For the Matzo Balls:

4 eggs, slightly beaten

3 tablespoons schmaltz, melted (other fats would work, as well)

1 cup of matzo meal

2 teaspoon of kosher salt

2 tablespoons of chopped parsley

6 tablespoons of chicken soup (water would work, as well)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Lightly form small balls (1-inch, or so) out of the chilled matzo mixture. Do not over-handle the mixture, as it will cause the matzo balls to cook up harder/denser. Bring 16 cups of salted water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.

Drop the matzo mixture balls into the simmering water. Cover pot and simmer 20-35 min. Do not lift lid until ready. The longer they cook, the softer they will be. When ready, place in chicken soup to serve.

Israeli Couscous

1 cup Israeli couscous, or other small pasta (orzo works, as well) Prepare Israeli couscous or pasta according to the instructions on the package. Drain. Add to the finished chicken soup before serving.

Chicken Soup

10 pieces of skin-on, bone-in chicken

2 tablespoon of flavorless oil (grape seed or canola)

3 yellow onions, quartered, skin on

5 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally

Small bunch of parsley, whole – including stems

Small bunch of thyme, whole – including stems

5 – 10 whole peppercorns

Kosher salt, to taste

Liberally salt and pepper chicken. Heat oil in large Dutch oven. Lightly brown chicken, skin-side down. Drain excess oil and add 10 cups water. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer.

Simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from pot and place on a plate until ready to add to the soup at the end. Remove any bones from the chicken and place them back into the soup pot.

Continue simmering soup and bones another 30 minutes, or so. Strain soup through a fine sieve to serve. If desired, simmer strained soup and add chopped carrots and celery for serving. Shred chicken into bite size pieces. Combine soup, matzo balls, pasta and chicken. Place in bowls to serve. Top with finely chopped parsley to serve.

Source: Aaron Fry

Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.