Olivia Holborn | Mount Doom Chicken Soup
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Mount Doom Chicken Soup

Mount Doom Chicken Soup

These days lovers of Tolkien can easily extend their Middle-earth yearnings to the kitchen. Need a great Elevenses bread recipe? Google it! Not sure what kind of cake Bilbo would have served for afternoon tea? Head over to Middle-earth recipes and scroll through such offerings as Daddy Twofoot’s Eggplant Parm and Mrs. Maggot’s Cottage Pie. Yum!

I don’t want to brag, but long before Lord of the Rings movie marathons with Hobbit-themed feasts was a thing, I invented a Middle-earth recipe. I call it Mount Doom Chicken Soup for short, but the long name gives a better sense of the flavor profiles—Mount Doom Dehydrated Frozen Chicken with Random Spices, Bagged Innards, and Melted Hood Fan Grease Soup.

That day, I’d stayed home to watch over my foster father, a necessary reversal of roles because he’d recently survived open heart surgery. With selflessness rarely seen in young teens, I decided to make chicken soup from scratch for the first time and without permission. If broth could cure a bad cold, what would it do for a broken heart? I tossed a frozen chicken carcass into a pot topped up with water and random spices, then set the pot on the stove top with the element turned to high, with no intention of keeping watch.

On my way to join my sleeping foster father on the second-floor balcony, I made a detour to the family room bookshelf. A few days earlier, alongside a row of Reader’s Digest magazines and Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, I’d discovered The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Having zipped through the first two books, I picked up the dog-eared copy of The Return of the King. I took the thick book with its promise of second breakfasts and heroic adventures, along with a pitcher of lemonade, out to the balcony, closing the sliding glass door that led to the kitchen behind me.

Within minutes of settling onto a chair to read, Tolkien made the real world of acne, math class, and orphanhood disappear. I brandished a magic sword, dressed as an Orc to fool my enemies, and felt the soul-crushing allure of a ring.

Meanwhile, the water in the pot came to a boil and the chicken with its bag of innards thawed. As the spices and chicken broth mingled, the kitchen may briefly have smelled delightful, like Christmas in August. But then the scent of sage, thyme, and cinnamon were replaced by the stink of red-hot stainless steel, blackened chicken bones, and sizzling hood fan grease.

My cooking would have made Sauron the Necromancer salivate.

I would like to say I got up after hours of reading to check on my soup, not to pee. I would also like to say that I put down The Return of the King as I slide open the door and stepped into the thick gloom. In truth, I was so engrossed in Middle-earth, it took the Cracks of Doom, aka a wall of real flames, to break my concentration.

I probably dropped the book and screamed, but my memory of events is fuzzy. Who called the fire department—Samwise Gamgee or me? Did a firefighter rescue us from the balcony or was the hero a passenger-tolerant eagle? Unfortunately, those answers are lost to history.

What did stick with me from that day was Middle-earth wisdom. For instance, when facing demons, it’s best to have good companions by your side. Also, great adventure requires great courage, not physical greatness. And, when you survive Mount Doom only to discover your home was ravaged in your absence, don’t panic. Instead, wash the ashes from your toe hairs, call in a wizard favor, and rebuild.

As for my Mount Doom Chicken Soup recipe, feel free to serve it as the final course at your next Lord of the Rings movie marathon. If the unexpected feast/sideshow doesn’t impress your fellow Ringers, nothing will.

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