Healthy For The Holidays

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Cold Season Is Coming

As winter arrives, so do a seeming host of unpleasant and communicable afflictions. This year has already spawned some particularly nasty colds as well as virulent flu, and indoor allergies abound. Staying healthy through the holidays can be challenging, but happily we can look to both traditional and brand new remedies for prevention and relief. When sniffles and sneezes make you reach for over-the-counter cold remedies, think twice; some can actually make symptoms worse when we stop using them.

Instead, stick to tried and true home remedies; extra vitamin C can indeed shorten or ward off colds, while hot, brothy soup relieves chest congestion. A spoonful of honey and a splash of lemon juice in tea or hot water can ease a sore throat, as will gargling several times a day with warm water with a pinch of sea salt added. For a stuffy nose, try daily nasal irrigation, again with warm, salted water (1/4 teaspoon sea salt/cup distilled or filtered water) and a neti pot or even a small bulb syringe (a child-sized ear syringe works best).

An Uncommon Cure For A Hacking Cough

Best of all, recent research shows that dark chocolate’s theobromines can sooth persistent coughs better than opiates. Most commercial or prescriptive cough suppressants are based on some form of codeine or similar narcotics, which in Britain and the EU are not recommended for anyone under the age of 18. The good news is that rather than suppressing a hacking cough, dark chocolate can actually stop it at the source. We cough when our throats are irritated, and conditions such as post-nasal drip can trigger the vagus nerve almost constantly, resulting in persistent coughing that just won’t quit.

When dark chocolate coats the throat, the thick, sticky theobromines soothe the vagus nerve and the crazy-making coughing stops. (Milk chocolate or hot chocolate don’t work, only dark chocolate has the power.) This research is fairly recent, but already, chocolate-based cough drops can sometimes be found locally (I found them at Rite-Aid) and more theobromine-rich medications are under development. In the meantime, try letting some dark chocolate melt very slowly in your mouth, one small piece at a time. You may need to be persistent, and you may need to try several kinds of dark chocolate to find the one that works best for you, but know that your experiment is founded on solid and replicated research. Onward!

The Wholesome, Healing Power Of Alliums

When cold winter winds bring colds and sniffles in their wake, we can look to the onion family for relief. And here’s some good news for vegetarians; when researchers learned that Mom was right and chicken soup actually can help help cure a cold, the benefit turned out to be largely due to the combination of steam and onions. From onions and garlic to shallots and leeks, the allium family offers phytonutrient compounds that boost the immune system and help fight infection naturally. Since they also add savor and warmth to almost anything, why not plant some extra garlic? Though October may be a more common time, many folks prefer to garlic plant in December, so go for it!

A Lighter, Fresher Onion Soup

French onion soup is lush and rich, but can be almost cloyingly sweet. This garlic-based Italian version has a similarly silky quality but packs a far more powerful punch. It tastes and smells heavenly, and is as good as Mom’s chicken soup for chasing away a cold or flu. A last minute addition of oil infused with raw garlic and parsley makes this soup especially lively; if it tastes too vivid, wait a minute or two to let the heat mellow the spicy garlic flavor before serving.

Zesty Garlic Soup

2 quarts vegetable broth (or any)
1/4 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 whole heads garlic, cloves peeled and lightly crushed
1 cup chopped Italian parsley (with stems)
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 bunch spinach (about 8 ounces), coarsely chopped
1 thick slice crusty rosemary- or herb-bread, toasted and cubed
1/4 cup Asiago or Romano cheese, coarsely grated

In a soup pot, bring broth, hot pepper flakes, onion, salt, and all but 2 cloves of garlic to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover pan and simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, In a blender or food processor, puree remaining garlic with parsley and olive oil, set aside. Add spinach to soup and cook until barely limp (2-3 minutes). With an immersion blender, puree soup, then add olive oil mixture. Serve hot, garnished with toast and cheese. Serves 4.

Allium Soup Broth

To make a light, fresh tasting broth for your soup, combine the ends and loose skins and peels of the vegetables the recipe calls for in a pot with a pinch of salt and water to cover. Onions, garlic, leeks, celery, carrots, and potatoes are the classics; if you stick to these, your broth will be gently savory with a touch of sweetness. (Loose brown onion skins give the broth a lovely golden color as well.) Use cabbage and pepper family scraps with caution if at all, as they tend to be unpleasantly dominant. Simmer gently for 30-40 minutes; simmered broth stays clear but turns cloudy if allowed to boil.  Strain into a bowl and adjust seasoning to taste. Makes 1-2 quarts that last up to a week in the fridge or for several month if frozen.

Leek And Onion Soup

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1 large onion, chopped
2 large leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cups thinly sliced kale (any kind)
1 quart fresh vegetable broth (or any)
1/2 teaspoon shoyu or soy sauce

In a soup pot, heat oil, garlic, and lemon rind over medium high heat to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add onion, leeks, salt, paprika and celery and cook for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups water, cover pan and simmer over low heat until vegetables are soft (10 minutes). Add kale, cover pan and cook until barely tender (5-7 minutes). Add broth and bring to a simmer, then stir in shoyu and fresh lemon juice to taste and serve. Serves 4.

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