Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Book Thief and Tortilla Soup

It was a weeknight in January. Sloppy, bone-chilling, icy rain poured over my car as I dropped off my daughter and headed out to the stores to run some errands.

Those done, I realized I was starving, there was no time to drive home for food, and I didn't fancy sitting in a restaurant by myself looking at the walls as I ate slop. A book would solve the problem - I dashed into Barnes and Noble and grabbed the first interesting book I saw.

It was The Book Thief.

With my new book in my hot little hands, I drove to Chick Fil A and order a bowl of their chicken tortilla soup. Icy drops beat against the windows as I began to read and eat my soup, which was delicious, but more on that below.

Just last night, a month later, I finished The Book Thief. I read it slowly, wanting to taste each sentence the way I savored that soup: indulge in the spice, the warmth, and the sadness of the story. However, Thief is not all angst and terror - I've written a post on the greatest books I'll never read again because they are so sad, and Thief doesn't fit that category. 

Because it shines with humanity and the tiny joys people find even in the worst circumstances. The concepts took my breath away, especially the idea of painting over the pages of Mein Kampf and rewriting the book with the thoughts of a Jewish refugee hiding in a cellar. Those pages are reproduced in the book, and you see the words of Mein Kampf trying to bleed through - painted over with new creation, never to be forgotten.

But I'm getting away from the real point of the story. Liesel, the main character, is so real and human I'm afraid to watch the film now. She's become a living persona - tough, athletic, determined to learn to read from the books she steals. Max, the Jewish refugee in the cellar is alive too. So is Papa, Liesel's adoptive father, with his cigarettes and accordion - he is real too, as is his wife - that 'wardobe' of a woman.

And Rudy, her neighbor and friend, who spends their years together trying to get a kiss. Their story is tender and breathless - but real, too. Rudy and Liesel are real German kids, trying to process what the hell is going on around them as the world descends into chaos - not in a poetic, lyrical way, but in a tough kid, bloody your nose, 'I'm going to call myself Jesse Owens' kind of way. 

I really loved them.

The book is set in a German village, told from the point of view of Death. It's another amazing concept and perfectly detailed. Death must collect the souls as bombs are dropped, people starve in concentration camps, and soldiers are blown up. It's the perfect voice for the story - calm, passionless, but quite as tender as Liesel and Rudy's friendship.

Did I mention the writing is incredible and a constant surprise? Because it is. Zusak is a true wordsmith.

When I reached the end of the book last night, I knew I'd read Thief again. It's too glorious not to - unlike the other amazing, heart-chilling books in my post (I'm looking at you, The Road) there is a constant warmth which made me hope for... I'm not quite sure. That people would read this and just think about it? That Liesel would finally allow Rudy to have that kiss?

It went perfectly with the icy hands on the windows, but The Book Thief would be wonderful in the sun as well, when spring finally does relent.

Now for the soup. 

The chicken tortilla soup at Chick Fil A is amazing - spicy, warm, and as I ate it with some of those little crunchy tortilla strips on top, I thought Death had collected me instead of Leisel's brother. In fact, it was so good I had to make it myself. More snow was about to roll into New Jersey, so I made a double batch and froze half.
Image courtesy of Flickr; labeled for noncommercial reuse

Yeah, that's NOT the way to go. The beans in the second half redoubled their fury during the freeze, to the point my husband cried for mercy, even after using Beano. We renamed it and it became part of our venacular: "Hey, hon, want some more Fart Soup?"

But the first go-round was fine, and Beano did the trick of making us less musical. 

I combined several recipes to create the soup; one was from The Pioneer Woman and one from the Less Than Perfect Life of Bliss blog. Here is the result:

"Tastes Like Chick-Fil-a's" Chicken Tortilla Soup

Olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4-oz can diced green chilies
1 taco seasoning packet (use hot or mild depending on your preference, or create your own)
(4) 14 oz cans chicken broth
(1) 15 oz can black beans
(3) 15 oz cans navy beans
(1) 15 oz can corn
4-5 chicken breasts
1 cup heavy cream (I used half and half and it was fine.)
corn tortillas, sliced into thin strips
BEANO - trust me on this.

Preheat oven to 375. Place chicken on heavy pyrex and drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with taco mix (You can make your own from AllRecipes.com or The Pioneer Woman and make it as spicy as you like.) Turn chicken over and repeat; bake 20 - 25 minutes or until chicken is done. 

(I made extra and turned it into chicken salad the next day - this whole section is from The Pioneer Woman.)

Allow chicken to cool slightly and shred.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot, add the onions, and cook until translucent.  Next, add the green chilies, more taco seasoning to taste, all the canned items, and the chicken.  Bring to a boil, then allow to simmer for several minutes until heated through.  Lastly, add the cream and heat for 5-10 more minutes.  

While it's cooking, create the tortilla strip crunchies for the top: Slice them up (I used kitchen scissors and cut up those babies.) Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan - a castiron pan is perfect. Stir in the strips and allow to brown on both sides - keep shaking the pan and turning them over.

When they are brown, remove onto paper towels. Anthony on Spaghettisauceandmeatballs.com suggests putting a few towels on a paper grocery bag to drain fat from fried or sauteed foods, and it works perfectly. 

Once the soup is done, top it with sour cream, grated cheese, avocado, and those tortilla strips, or any combination thereof. I'm a purist - I just want my strips and naught else.

But do NOT, whatever you do, freeze the leftovers or you will regret it.

No comments: