The lure of the chicken stock

In the grocery store aisle, the cartons call my name as I dream up thick, fragrant soups.

SIMMERING: Many cooks like to prepare homemade stock as a base for flavorful dishes.

This morning in the grocery store I had a desire to buy chicken stock. For me, chicken stock represents the level of competence I would like to achieve in the kitchen. It's something a real cook would have on hand to add flavor to a dish when she isn't ready to be brewing her own stock just yet. I pictured myself splashing some into a steaming pot, wiping my hands on a floral apron, and confiding to my guests, "It's not called for in the recipe, but I think you'll enjoy my little addition."

I can't explain the surge of possibility I feel in the presence of chicken stock. Beyond the 32 ounces of flavored liquid, the carton contains the promise of succulent holiday turkeys; thick, fragrant soups; and pecan pies cooling on racks. It holds comfort and warmth and everything I would like to have emanate from my kitchen.

My chicken stock fantasy is similar to the excitement I get from photo albums. Whenever I'm in a store and I see a photo album I like – and I pretty much like them all – I am mentally transported to a place where all my photos are arranged in beautiful, acid-free albums. Every page is labeled with a precise blend of wit and poignancy that would cause you to smile through your tears.

This sense of excitement is also related to the peace and contentment that washes over me when I'm eyeing the plastic storage bins at Target. Instantly, my clutter is gone and my closets become organized.

And it's similar to the quiet pride I feel when I imagine the colorful, imaginary blossoms surrounding my house whenever I drive by a gardening shop.

This weekend, my son received a composition notebook as a birthday party favor. He dedicated the notebook to his own ambitious project: listing all of the characters, planets, spaceships, and languages in the "Star Wars" movies. He's been poring over books and magazines ever since, scribbling away at his list. He's even talked me into screening Web pages for him to scour.

Now he carries the notebook wherever he goes: upstairs, downstairs, to a friend's house, and to school. Last night, at bedtime, he proudly showed me the list, which was well into triple digits.

I recognized the impulse behind his list because I supplied the trigger. I bought the composition books as party favors for his sister's birthday. I chose them because I remembered the thrill of a brand new notebook, the creak of the binding, and the promise of that first white page. I remember labeling it with my name, just as he did, as a stake against imposters' claims.

I've asked him questions to try to understand his thought process. Had he been considering the list idea for a while? Or was it after he got the notebook that he looked around for a worthy project? Was it more about making the list or having the list? His story was somewhat fluid, as you might expect from a 9-year-old boy. Somehow he paired the idea with the notebook and was off to the races.

Part of me realizes that if I succumbed to every photo album, gardening manual, or composition book that called my name, our laundry would never be folded – or washed. I'm no longer capable of putting the rest of my life aside to make my "Star Wars" list.

But another part of me is envious of my son's ability to do a cannonball into the deep end; to jump in for the sheer joy of the splash. I miss that moment of holding an object in my hands and following the flight of my imagination. I miss the confidence it takes to organize a galaxy.

That morning in the grocery store, the siren call of the chicken stock drew me closer. I picked up a carton and casually scanned the ingredients. The lone recipe on the back didn't appeal to me nor was it within my skill set. I recalled how the last carton of chicken stock I bought remained unopened and finally passed its expiration date. So I put it down and trudged over to the prepared foods.

Now that I think about it, though, maybe I'll buy that chicken stock tomorrow instead.

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