Kim Kunasek's Winning Essay: Mom's Ultimate Comfort Food, Pfannkuchensuppe

Earlier this week, we announced the winners of Just Like Mom's, Chow Bella's first Mother's Day essay contest. Today we present the winning essay by Kim Kunasek, about her mother, Emilie Charlotte Klaiber -- and Klaiber's recipe for "pancake soup."

My mother has always been a life force. As a cook and as a mother, she is creative, patient, resourceful, and loving, and her food tastes like that. Her cooking skills have helped her survive poverty, nurtured her family, comforted the bereaved, and helped a new mother (me, among many others) feel a little normal for a while when life is spinning out of control.

A poor German immigrant, my mother moved to the United States in 1959 with her new husband and her 8-year old daughter, my sister. With modest tools and budget and knowledge born of scarcity, she could make amazing meals from almost nothing. My mother never bought packaged chicken legs or breasts when I was growing up, instead quartering a whole chicken and using every spare part for something. The bones were roasted and stewed to make soup. The organs and gizzards had their part in the soup making or in gravies. Pre-packaged ground meat? Never. Gravy for any dish (more red wine and herbs than arrowroot and flour) was sublime, good enough to sip from a spoon.

To walk into my mom's house around meal prep time is still a joy. She is modest about her talent and has no idea how few people cook as thoughtfully and with as few shortcuts as she does. If you've known my mom for more than a few years, you've had her celery root soup, kohlrabi sliced thin and prepared in a light cream sauce made with the delicate bright green, tender parts of the stem and tiny leaves, creamed savoy cabbage (wirsching), pork shoulder in lentils with braised red cabbage (blaukraut), apple fritters served hot & dusted with cinnamon and sugar (apfelkücherl), Hungarian goulasch over egg noodles, stuffed cabbage (krautwickel), homemade spaetzle noodles, potato salad (always served at room temperature) made with paper cucumber slices, crumbled smoked bacon, and handfuls of fresh parsley, and of course, the best soup ever, pfannkuchensuppe, always garnished with a small handful of freshly chopped chives (still the ultimate comfort food for this first-generation American and, happily, for my 12-year-old daughter).

And now, when she invites our family to her home for a "really easy" dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, here's what we'll get: a finely ground (at home) blend of veal, pork, and beef perfectly seasoned with herbs and some breadcrumbs (that she made from the rock-hard heels of last month's baguettes), browned just a bit, then simmered in a homemade tomato sauce, or just served with egg noodles in brown gravy.

My father, her husband of 50 years, died about two years ago. She cooked like this for him, and she still cooks for herself just about every night. When I stop by unannounced in the late morning, I am comforted by the little table set for one, with a placemat, a cup and saucer, and a plate from breakfast. The rituals matter. When I call to check on her, she often shares with me what she's made for dinner, and even tells me when it was so delicious that she plans to bring me the leftovers. Of course, I never, ever refuse.

Get Kunasek's mom's recipe for "pancake soup" after the jump.

Pfannkuchensuppe (pancake soup) -- serves 4

This is a simple broth with thinly sliced, unsweetened crepe-style pancakes and fresh herbs. Homemade broth raises the bar on this super simple dish, but prepared broth or consommé will do.

For crepes 250 ml milk 2 eggs 125 g flour Pinch of salt

Broth 1 liter beef, chicken, or vegetable broth (my mom makes beef consommé from oxtails) White pepper Fresh parsley and/or chives (to your taste)

Whisk together the ingredients. Melt butter in a hot crepe pan or small skillet. The thinner the pancake, the better. Allow both sides to brown slightly but don't let it get crispy. Cool crepes slightly and slice into ribbon-like lengths. Place a small handful of crepes into each soup bowl, then add broth. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley or chives.

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