When My Lunacy Pays Off: Beef Soup for a Sick Child

I occasionally wonder why I do things like hoard beef bones in the freezer for months and then spend a few hours slowly simmering them with parsley and celery and carrot and onion peels. It would be really easy to just throw a cube of beef bouillon into whatever I’m cooking, right?

Except that I find those bouillon cubes so aggressively salty, it hurts me to eat them. I’m not being hyperbolic; it literally hurts my mouth to eat that stuff. (Though I admit, when I was little, I loved those little cubes, and they are sooooooo cuuuuute  that I still kind of like them in principle.)

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time making this beef stock, and it came out beautifully, and I got all organized and froze it into ice cube trays and then cracked all the beef cubes into plastic bags which I then stored in the freezer and I felt all smug but wondered, “What am I gonna do with all of this?” The last two cups of stock that I didn’t freeze, I used in a really good risotto. Would all of this just go into another risotto? It wouldn’t be the worst use, but would it really the best use of this kind of specialty food item?

Fortunately, my daughter came to my rescue. She came down with some kind of creeping crud over the weekend. Fever, sore throat. General malaise. And I thought, “What this child needs is beef broth with little bitty alphabet noodles in it.” I always have alphabet noodles around, but reserve them for very special uses — I only serve them when she’s feeling sick. When the child didn’t want to eat anything for lunch on Sunday, I said, “hey, what if I make you some beef soup with alphabets?” she croaked, “yes, please,” and it took me almost no effort. I put about eight icy beef cubes into a pot, put it on the stove, and melted them down in about two minutes; it quickly came to a boil. I added to it maybe a quarter of a teaspoon of Chinese mustard powder, an equal amount of salt, and three teaspoons of alphabet noodles. Then I walked away, letting it simmer, and took the child’s temperature and told her to wash up for lunch. In five minutes, the soup was ready.

Monday she stayed home from school. Walking home from the doctor’s office — she doesn’t have strep, we’re pleased to report — she asked, “Can I have beef soup for lunch again? With alphabets? and with the mustard?” Because God forbid I leave out the mustard…


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