It happens. I got a cold and it just kept going, forcing me to cough and hack and wake up in the morning wondering if I could even remember what it was like to get up without feeling like I was choking. This went on for months, sometimes fading back, but then coming slamming in every time there was a little stress…or, face it, even a lot of stress. Because that’s the recipe for a cold that lasts for months: a vicious little virus meeting up with me at a particularly rocky part of the road forward.
Did I let it get me down? Well, maybe some days. Other days, though, I picked myself up and scolded myself, arguing that I’m supposed to be a glass is half full sort of a person, which, really, is the only kind of person to be these days, when the glass is constantly under threat.
No, I was determined not to let it get me down, not even in the FIFTH month of the foul thing, not even when the ‘regular’ doctors prescribed antibiotics which did just about nothing except mess with my usually stellar digestion.
What did I do instead? I did what a more tuned-in doctor sympathetically suggested, of course (thank you, Dr. Deborah Gordon). I took vitamins. I tried to get more sleep. I treated myself a little more gently than usual. Tried to, anyway.
And I made, for myself, at Dr. Deborah’s request, an enormous vat of deeply golden, steaming, unctuous CHICKEN SOUP.
Here’s how. (With some missteps at the beginning.)
Of course the first step, and misstep in my case, is: buy your chicken. This is very important, the way you choose your chicken. Stressed as I was, and not really thinking the way I might have been had I felt calmer and more at home in a body that wasn’t spending all its off time hacking and sniffling, I probably wouldn’t have been fooled by the label ‘Simple Truth farm fresh Chicken’, which is the kind of name corporations give things when they WANT to fool you into thinking they, and their products, are your Friend. I hate that. I absolutely hate that they want me to think they are my Friend.
Let me tell you, that chicken was not made in a friendly way. Either to me or the chicken.
I roasted it, and immediately saw my error, cursing my stupidity as I watched water flow out of it and pool at the bottom of the roasting pan. This is the added evil of the nonorganic chicken. Of course the Original Sin of said nonorganic bird is how the poor little lorn thing was treated in the first place, while it was alive (if we can call it that). Add to that the disgusting habit factory farms have of pumping chicken corpses full of liquid to make them look plumper, more appealing to the poor harried, stupidly unthinking shopper.
It made crummy soup, too, that bird. Didn’t even start to touch the underlying misery from which the months long sniffles sprang.
I cursed myself. My own fault. How can you cure yourself by adding mightily to the misery of another being? Of course you can’t.
Now you vegetarians among you are thinking to yourselves (or saying, depending on how outraged and/or smug you are feeling), why don’t you just make some vegetable broth, for Goddess sake? But vegetable broth does not have the same magic powers as chicken soup. Vegetable broth is the earnest, scrubbed, healthful, athletic student whose skin always glowed and who always helped the teacher put away the equipment after gym class.
But a good chicken soup, deep and fulfilling, is like the older kid who babysat you when you were sick, and laughed at your jokes, letting you have sip of her beer, who listened to your childish prattle and shared just enough funny stories to make you feel good, and not like you weren’t adult enough to join in the conversation. The kind of person who made you feel better just being there.
I trust that’s clear? It was chicken soup I needed, NOT vegetable broth. I like vegetable broth. But this was serious. I’d been sick since September, and here it was March.
So then I got serious.
I made real chicken soup.
And yes, it made me feel better. It made me feel a lot better.
Here was how:
First I bought my chicken. This time I did not mess around, but picked out a good, plump, organic free range bird. The hell with the price. Whatever that chicken cost was a lot less than months of antibiotics and cough syrup made with codeine.
Then I roasted it. Yes, that’s right. This is not a mistake with your real, organic, well treated bird. You can eat all the meat at a separate meal. BUT…and this is an important BUT…you must SAVE THE BONES. And any uneaten scrap. And, of course, the neck and the heart and the giblets, too.
In fact, start with the neck and the heart and the giblets too. Add them to a pot with a scrubbed organic carrot, a scraped organic stalk of celery, a handful of washed unpeeled organic garlic cloves, a sprig or two of organic parsley, a washed organic onion cut in half. Do you like thyme? I do. If so, add a sprig or two of that.
Cover with water, bring to a boil, skim the scum (feed that to the dog), turn it down to a murmur and let it go till after your bird is roasted.
Eat your roasted bird (some day I’ll share my recipe for this; a brined bird is my favorite right now). As you have bones in front of you instead of meat, toss said bones into the pot.
If you’re going to eat leftover chicken for a few days, as I do in my house where the husband is a vegetarian, put the pot in the refrigerator. As you have cold chicken for breakfast or lunch (highly recommended), toss the bones into the pot.
When the carcass is stripped, put all the bones in the pot. Put it back on the stove. Bring it back to a boil, repeat skimming, simmer for an hour or so, however long you want until it smells golden and like it might do something for a cold. Yes. It should be smelling pretty darn good, if you are a chicken soup aficionado, by this time.
Strain it. Feed the veggies, the heart, the gizzard, and any meat left clinging to the neck, imbued with chicken goodness, to the dog. Just watching how happy the dog is made should help toward curing the endless cold. Throw the bones away, or compost them if possible.
Now you should be left with a pot of golden, deep smelling goodness. Thank the chicken. Thank the people who raised and killed the chicken.
Now set about making your soup.
You can do this a number of ways.
–boil the broth, add a touch of soy sauce and a hit of sesame oil, stir in an egg or two, top with chopped scallions, and breathe in the goodness of a real Eggdrop Soup
–add vegetables at will, chopped carrot and celery and mushroom, a bit more onion, finish off with a dollop of butter, and drink, in bed, from a wide mouthed pitcher
–add cooked noodles, or cooked rice, let them soak up some chicken goodness, and spoon at will.
Or you can do it my favorite way.
Onion and Garlic Chicken Soup that Cures
Take as many organic onions as you like. Slice thinly. Sweat in butter as long as you like, letting them get deep brown without burning.
Mince as much garlic as you think you need to frighten your cold back to wherever it came from.
Add them both to the simmering broth. Salt to taste.
Meld together until it smells the way you want it to smell in order to comfort you and make you sleep peacefully for the first time in weeks without having to dose your poor body with cough syrup.
Add it to a DEEP BOWL. This should be a pretty bowl, one that has always been a comfort in times of need. Add a little pepper from a pepper mill.
Sit there, inhaling the scent of the garlic and the onions and the chicken broth. The total should be far greater than the parts separately.
Spoon it up. Drink deep. Inhale the steam as you do (very important). Feel it soak into every one of your up-till-now sickly pores. Feel the health of it restoring you to balance and calm.
Sleep well. Get over that damn cold. And face the inevitable stresses of life with renewed joie de vivre.
Thank the chicken. (Thank Dr. Deborah.) And make a silent note to yourself never to buy anything labeled ‘Simple Truth’ ever again, never ever ever, in this life or in any lives you may have to come.
Postscript: Since writing this, I have made the acquaintance of the wonderful Conner Middelmann-Whitney, who wrote the anti-cancer diet cookbook Zest for Life. The book is terrific. Delicious recipes and Good For You without being smugly pious, as so many of these books are. If you’re looking for some great new ways to deal with ingredients like turmeric, mackerel, sardines, and veggies of all kinds, Conner’s book is for you. I read it straight through myself, and immediately tried her way of cooking spinach. AND IT WAS MUCH BETTER THAN MY OWN. Thanks, Conner.