chicken tortilla soup

I ran twice this weekend—a rarity these days—and drove home with my heart feeling so full. The sunshine, the post-endorphin buzz, the crunch of my iced coffee all reminded me that I am embarrassingly blessed. I walked through the front door to discover my son sleeping in his crib, my husband washing dishes. I had time to shower. To shave my legs, even.

chicken tortilla soup

A colleague calls these stolen moments. Parenthood has the power to transform ordinary workouts and mundane tasks into something glorious—it’s like how on a backpacking trip anything you eat tastes amazing. Tator tots and ketchup transmuted into caviar.

chicken tortilla soup

If life with a baby teaches you anything, it’s to appreciate the small stuff. Ten little fingers and ten little toes—but also ten minutes alone to yourself sitting on the back porch with a stiff drink. Because sometimes, like last night, things don’t go according to plan. Instead of finding my son asleep in his crib, I found my 6-foot-3-inch husband curled inside my son’s crib, groggy and at the end of his wits, our son still awake.

baby "help" in the kitchen

There is a refrain strangers like to tell you if they spy a baby on your hip. They repeat it on the train, or at the gas station, or in the supermarket, or as you order a sandwich at the deli. Everyone loves to remind you with a nostalgic sigh and pat to your baby’s head: “They grow up so fast.”

In the desperately sleep-deprived early days of infancy when whole seasons could seem to fit inside those long fitful nights, I found myself thinking, Yeah-yeah-yeah, at this adage. Memory softens hard edges (that’s how siblings happen). But one day my son and I drifted into our local Sur La Table to ogle expensive kitchenware that I wouldn’t be using for many months to come.

“How old is he?” asked a woman who worked there, taking a break from the merchandise to gaze into Noah’s wide blue eyes. He must have been three months old at the time.

“Oh, they grow up so fast, don’t they? My son is 19,” she started to say, “He just joined the Marines…” Her voice trailed off as she blinked back tears. He had left for boot camp that month.

And I knew right then that she must be right. They grow up so fast, and then they’re gone. In the five months since that day, even in the two months since I took these photos and intended to write this post—I can see that she’s right. I’m doing my best to savor every headache, heartache, and Eskimo kiss because my son is indeed growing at a record pace.

corn tortillas

cilantro

But in the thick of it, in the throes of new motherhood and fatherhood, parents need a lot of help.

My desk job is closely intertwined with philanthropy. I’m lucky to spend most of my days in some tangential way helping others pay forward their college education. I’m also lucky in that it’s a place where kind coworkers cooked meals for me and genuinely want to hold my baby and carpool with me to daycare.

The soup you see here is one of those meals. It’s a recipe that’s meant to be paid forward, so I’ve since cooked it for two pairs of new parents. The broth is piquant enough to sharpen fuzzy senses and the fried tortillas can crunch awake even the sleepiest new dad or mom. Most importantly, very little assembly is required for a richly satisfying meal.

So for any new parents reading this, if someone asks you if they can cook dinner for you, don’t say yes. Say, “Yes, does Thursday work for you?” Here’s the recipe.

baby and soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Recipe courtesy of Anneke Cole

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 corn tortillas, coarsely chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 medium onion, chopped

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

3 bay leaves

6 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 cooked chicken breast halves, cubed or shredded

garnish:

shredded Monterey Jack cheese

cubed avocado

sour cream

corn tortillas, sliced and fried crisp

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add tortillas, garlic, cilantro, and onion. Saute 2-3 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Return to a boil and immediately reduce heat. Add salt and cayenne. Simmer 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and stir in chicken; reheat.

Garnish with cheese, avocado, sour cream, and tortilla strips.

Distracted mom tips from Anneke: I’ve occasionally let the soup boil too long, and this can result in the tortilla strips totally falling apart. Have no fear, because it fortunately does not impact flavor. What I now do is set aside a few tortillas, cut them in thin strips, and fry them crisp. I add those with some fresh cilantro toward the end. I now do that whether or not I let the soup boil too long! For the chicken breasts, I usually poach a pack of chicken breasts, but you can use a leftover rotisserie chicken just as well. (Note from Katie: roasting chicken thighs in the oven works well too!)