March 20, 2018

Why Did Your Grandma Make Chicken Soup?

Why did your grandma make chicken soup? Well, she may not have. She may have bought it in a can, but I bet she served you some when you felt under the weather. It’s what grandmas do. Even moms do it. And the good news is, chicken soup really does help you recover from a cold.
Of course, these days grandma may make chicken soup when the grandkids come for a visit because she knows she’ll be needing some. Kids are collectors of viruses that they’re happy to share.

I think DJ recently fed me a poison peach. He had a bite on his fork. He held it out. I leaned in close to say, “Nummy nummy num” and pretend to eat it. With perfect timing as I pursed my lips, he shoved the bite in my mouth. Stupid kid germs! Now I have a really bad cold. I need chicken soup!

So what makes chicken soup good for you when you have a cold?

First, it contains the protein building block carnosine. Carnosine is produced naturally by the body and is important for proper function of the heart, brain, liver, and kidneys. Giving your body an extra boost of this dipeptide molecule may help reduce some stress on the body while it’s fighting a virus. Both homemade soup and store-bought soup contain carnosine.

Some research indicates that chicken soup may slow the gathering of white cells in the lungs in response to a virus. This may help reduce the coughing, sneezing, and stuffy nose symptoms that make a cold so miserable.

Homemade chicken soup can be nutrient rich from the chicken and vegetables you choose to include. Carrots add beta-carotene. Celery adds vitamin C. Onions add antioxidants. Button mushrooms add B vitamins, riboflavin, and niacin. Chicken adds protein. These nutrients support your immune system and give your cells fuel to rebuild.

Chicken soup is often fairly salty. The salt helps carry bacteria away from the mouth, throat, and tonsils much like a saltwater gargle.

Get plenty of fluids is the most common advice given to anyone recovering from a cold. If you have a fever, fluids are especially important to prevent dehydration. They also help flush the body. Consuming chicken soup automatically adds fluids to your daily intake.

The warmth of chicken soup soothes a sore throat. The steam helps cleanse the sinuses. The added touch of grandma’s soothing tones when she serves you warms your soul. Or so they say.

Chicken soup may have been a comforting, loving tradition long before we could scientifically prove it had healing properties. That didn’t make it any less effective. Somehow, we know that comforting, loving traditions have mysterious healing properties.

March 13, 2018

Time Is On Your Side

jellyThere’s no need for pressure in the kitchen; time is on your side. If you’re a fan of TV cooking shows, it may seem like cooking is a timed event. That may be true in reality TV, but it is not reality. In fact, taking your time in the kitchen can bring added benefits!

Of course, it makes sense that TV shows time challenges to build tension that will keep you watching through the breaks, but that might not seem so normal if we hadn’t gradually filled our days with more and more activity and more and more distractions to the point that hurrying has become a way of life. If we begin to think of cooking as a challenge to be conquered in a certain amount of time, we may end up with good-tasting food, but we’ll miss the joy of the process.
My grandmother worked, gardened, canned, and cooked. When she made tomato juice, it was no 30 minute process! In fact, it stretched over months. She planted tomato seeds, tended the garden, harvested the tomatoes, cooked them down, pressed them through a cheesecloth lined chinois using a wooden pestle into sterilized jars, then topped the jars and placed them in a pressure canner for about 25 minutes. Whatever time she spent was worth it! It was the most delicious tomato juice I’ve ever tasted and it only contained tomatoes and salt.

You don’t have to begin with seeds to make delicious food. I only relate the story to help put things in perspective. My grandmother thought nothing of spending an entire day in the kitchen canning tomato juice. There was no hurry to her process.

Viewing meal preparation as a hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with experience adds pressure and robs us of the chance to:


Taking time to scout for unique ingredients can lead you to ethnic grocery stores, pick-your-own farms, urban gardens, farmer’s markets or produce stands along the highway. Picking strawberries, choosing blue crabs, or tasting churros at an unfamiliar mercado can be a great way to explore your area and spend time together as a family.
blue crabs

If you’re trying to get out of the kitchen quickly, you’re unlikely to try something new. Experiments are, by nature, less predictable in time and result than dishes you’ve prepared many times. But eating the same thing over and over gets tiring. Why not make cherry upside down brownies? Why not slow roast a pork butt for the neighborhood barbecue? Why not cook the greens from the tops of radishes and beets? Why not try making croissants?


There are tons of lessons to be learned in the kitchen. If you’re hurrying through meal prep, you’ll have no time to teach those lessons. Not only will your kids miss out on learning, they’ll miss valuable memories of spending time with you while surrounded by warmth and the aroma of bread baking.


Kitchen prep time is great for dancing along to your favorite tunes or having a family sing-a-long. Think of it as multitasking in the best sense of the word.


It’s impossible to be fully present in the moment when you’re rushing around. If you slow down enough to smell each ingredient, notice its texture, carve it carefully, or roll it evenly, you’ll have a chance to savor each tactile delight.

I love being in the kitchen. I know it makes me feel better, and yet sometimes I fight cooking. I wait too long to start and get too hungry. I fail to inventory my pantry for ingredients, lack something essential, and refuse to substitute. I wait too long to cook some meat and it’s spoiled when I open it. While this doesn’t make me proud, I just have to let it go.

I know the value of being in the kitchen and I am usually mindful enough to enjoy the experience when I’m there. Lots of new recipes and delicious food have resulted from my less than perfect kitchen attendance. I’m going to let that be good enough. From this point, I plan to take my time and savor more and more joy during my kitchen time.

March 7, 2018

Well Preserved

When I was growing up, women who looked young for their age were referred to as well preserved. If we really are what we eat, we all should be well preserved. The average American diet is filled with preservatives.

I am a dedicated label reader, but sometimes I buy first and read later. Last week, I grabbed a package of corn tortillas thinking I’d make enchiladas. When I got home and looked at the package, I found methyl paraben (aka methylparaben) listed on the label. That didn’t sound appetizing. Why would I want to eat methyl paraben when I won’t even put it on my skin? They went in the trash.

Parabens are often used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to prevent the growth of fungus and bacteria. When parabens make their way into the tissue of humans, they may affect the endocrine system, and thereby hormones the body produces. This can in turn affect metabolism and other bodily functions. Some studies also show a correlation between the presence of methyl paraben and breast tumors.

Methyl paraben is only one common preservative. There are other parabens to watch for as well: propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. Believe it or not, the these tortillas also contained propyl paraben, lye, sodium propionate, and sorbic acid. Huh? Are these survivalist tortillas? How long do they really need to last?

Obviously, preservatives mean a longer shelf life in a warehouse, grocery store, or your pantry. That sounds like a good thing. It’s nice to be able to have some staples in the pantry without constantly having to discard them.

The question is whether this convenience is slowly affecting our health. At this point, there are no definitive answers. If you want to be proactive, you may want to limit the products you purchase that contain the following:

Common food preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). You can find them in meat, cereal, shortening, beer, or chewing gum. According to Scientific American, large doses of BHA & BHT have been shown to promote the growth of tumors in lab animals, and the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program concludes that BHA can be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Sodium Nitrate
Bacon, jerky, deli meat, and smoked salmon are often preserved with the salt, sodium nitrate. It reduces color changes and prevents botulism. High levels of exposure have been linked to an increased incidence of cancer in adults.

Sodium Benzoate
Used in acidic foods like carbonated beverages, fruit juice, pickles and salsa, sodium benzoate inhibits the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeast. Typically used in small amounts, it is relatively safe. That doesn’t mean it’s always well tolerated. If I consume a diet soda with sodium benzoate, I feel really bad. The feeling is similar to a sudden blood sugar drop and resulting hangover.

Sulfites are found in a wide range of food and beverages like wine, beer, pickles, olives, powdered sugar, fruit juice, cocktail mixes, and processed baked goods. About 1 in 100 people are sensitive to sulfites.

Sorbic Acid
Sorbic acid is an antimicrobial agent originally derived from the berries of the rowan tree used to prevent mold in cheeses, cake, yogurt, dried fruit, and salad dressing. It is FDA approved and generally recognized as safe.

Natamycin is a macrolide used as an antifungal in food and pharmaceuticals. It is in the same family as the antibiotics erythromycin, azithromycin, and clarithromycin. You’ll often see it on the label of cheese, cream cheese spreads, or pimento cheese. While considered safe to consume, it is not immune to intolerance. Macrolides cause a significant reaction in several members of my family.

Potassium Benzoate
Potassium benzoate can be found in carbonated soft drinks, cider, juices, jams, syrups and pickled foods. It is sometimes used in place of sodium benzoate to reduce the sodium content of a food. The US FDA generally recognizes it as safe and has approved it as a preservative and flavoring agent. Through trial and error, I have discovered that I can tolerate potassium benzoate without the adverse reaction I experience with sodium benzoate.

While the farm-to-table movement has brought us restaurant options serving fresh food, rest assured that your fast casual dining experience is filled with additives and preservatives. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily avoid your favorite restaurant chain, but it’s always good to make an informed choice rather than an uninformed choice.

What if I want to avoid preservatives?

Most of us don’t have time to go back to the canning and drying our ancestors did to preserve food. Freezing can still be a good option. Small shifts in habits may be sufficient for limiting the chemicals without adding too much time to your routine.

Here are a dozen examples of small changes that will make a difference over time:
Eat fresh fruit more often than dried fruit.

Instead of serving bread with dinner, substitute a baked potato or sweet potato.

Bake and keep some savory cheese muffins in the freezer to serve instead of rolls.

Use left-over or frozen vegetables, rice, left-over chicken, beef, or pork and your own herbs and spices to create casseroles or one pot meals rather than buying packaged versions or starters.

Remove boxed cereal from your breakfasts. Instead, eat raw nuts for some crunch in the morning. Storing them in the freezer will keep them fresh and increase the crunch. Don’t worry, they won’t break your teeth. Just pull them out of the freezer and chomp away!

Cook oatmeal from a large container rather than using flavored single servings. Store the cooked oatmeal divided into single microwaveable servings in the refrigerator and add your own toppings when you serve it. Sometimes, I like it with just butter, salt, and a splash of milk. Sometimes, I add some coconut crystals and fresh blackberries.

Consider making and freezing your own muffins, pancakes or waffles as convenient breakfast food.

Stir together various combinations of vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and herbs for salad dressing rather than buying bottled dressing. My grandmother kept a cruet full of salad dressing on her kitchen counter. Her combination was pretty routine, but there are all sorts of infused oils and vinegars that can make salad dressing preparation a fun adventure!

Save the pot likker when you cook greens or beans. Use it in place of boxed chicken stock.

Make and/or freeze your own soups. Pomi tomatoes make a great soup base with no chemical preservatives. Pot likker can also be used if you don’t have time to make stock.

Create your own pasta sauce. Pomi tomatoes can be used for red sauce. A combination of milk, butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and some shredded Parmesan cheese can make a delicious white sauce. You can also use sour cream, yogurt, or pesto as a base for pasta sauce. You don’t have to simmer any of these for hours to have a flavorful sauce.

Drink water or unsweet tea rather than soft drinks or sports drinks. Use fresh fruit to flavor water instead of flavor packets. There are lots of cute glass water bottles with fruit infusers built in.

Even as urban gardens flourish, it seems unlikely that we’ll return to home canning any time soon. I can’t think of a single modern house that comes with a root cellar. And I can’t imagine that many of us will give up the convenience of every single food that contains a preservative.

Given that, minimizing exposure with small changes seem most realistic. And even then, we could end up well preserved!

February 26, 2018

Forget Mindfulness!

Mindfulness pshaw. Forget Mindfulness! What I need is a little MindLESSness!

Don’t get me wrong, my life is filled with mindful practices and I believe they’re important. I practice yoga 3 or 4 times a week. I may squeeze in a guided meditation. And, I’m immersed in a Daring Way class where I’m learning to practice empathy that includes mindfulness. There’s nothing WRONG with mindfulness. In fact, sitting in the moment and being present has led me to recognize that I am worn out!

I need to turn my mind off temporarily. I don’t want to consider anything. I don’t want to answer a text, send an email, or read any research. I don’t want to cook a meal, test a recipe, or review any video. I don’t want to pay a bill, wash a dish, or plan anything! And I know I don’t have the emotional energy to listen with empathy to someone who is making my life more difficult. I just don’t have it in me.
I want to lie in the sun, feel it’s warmth and ENJOY it rather than feeling like I need to dig up tulip bulbs from my yard while the soil is soft. I want to float in the pool and feel nothing but the softness of the water as it supports me. I want to savor my coffee in the morning and eat chocolate at leisure with some wine at night. I want to laugh at everything silly, jump in a pile of warm laundry, take a nap at 10am, find a new show to binge watch, or read a page turner.

Feeling carefree may not be achievable, but it’s a good goal.

It takes a lot for me to feel overloaded, but if there’s never any relief — no full day off, no carefree moments, not enough laughter, no one to depend on to pick up the ball when I drop it, I can get to a point where I’m constantly poised for the straw that may break me. It’s easy to say, set better boundaries so you don’t get overtaxed, but difficult to practice if you’re a caregiver, sole provider and parent, sole proprietor, or just financially strapped.

For me, it’s better to recognize and accept that I may not be up to any greater challenge than lying on the couch than to numb my feelings with food or alcohol, to lash out in anger, or to turn in a half-assed performance at work.

Is it difficult for me to admit this? YES!!!! I am driven to achieve, solve problems, and fix things.
It’s really hard to admit I may not be up to the task. While I know this is temporary, it feels huge and frightening!

It’s worth remembering that down time often provides powerful insight. It’s easy to think of doing nothing as time wasted, but that’s selling it short. Putting my mind in neutral allows it to travel paths it would otherwise miss.

I just talked to a friend on the phone who asked what I was writing. When I told him, he said, obviously taken aback, “That’s what you’re writing!?” I could tell he thought the decision was risky. But I know I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who feels this way, and maybe, just maybe, you need to know that because you need some mindlessness too.

So, if you’re in my boat, let’s just let it float with the current. We’ll be able to get back to shore when we need to. I’m certain of it.