2010 has not been a healthy month for me: first an ear infection and now a stomach virus…and it’s only February. Perhaps I should adapt the blog to my condition and write about the foods that sustain me through the worst.
All of us have foods that we gravitate toward when sick. Many of these are obvious: saltines, toast, rice, bananas. However, some food preferences make very little sense to others. An old friend of mine swears by a glass of ice-cold pickle brine to combat her hangovers, which strikes me as much less appetizing than menudo, the time-honored Mexican remedy for the ailment.
When I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, the only thing I really wanted to eat were Thai basil rolls from the restaurant down the street and Greek yogurt, which I had to order online at the time and at great expense.
Outside of pregnancy, my own illnesses seem to fall into two distinct categories: respiratory and digestive. The former gets treated with lashings of hot lemon tea while the latter always calls for Campbell’s chicken soup with rice.
Now, I’m not seriously going to offer a recipe for Campbell’s chicken soup with rice, nor any other chicken soup recipe today (although I have a great one for the future). When I’m sick, I want the pure Warhol soup experience: the red labeled, condensed formula, sodium bomb.
Anything else is just madness.
The lemon tea recipe comes from my mother, and it’s a soothingly delicious beverage that I should really make more often. Unfortunately, it’s of little use to me today. But in case you are in need, here’s a short recipe for a deliciously comforting beverage to enjoy in sickness and in health.
Hot Lemon Tea
2 tbs. sugar or honey
Juice the lemons. Put the lemon juice, lemon rinds, sugar or honey, and water enough to cover in a small saucepan. Heat the lemon concoction over medium-high heat until it comes to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove the lemon rinds. Sip slowly while hot, taking care to make the odd reassuring slurping sounds. Good additions include strips of ginger (be sure to remove them along with the lemon rinds); rosemary; bourbon or rum.
NEXT MONTH’S ILLNESS: Gallstones!
I’ve been a bit lax about posting lately because I’ve been rather distracted. I’m waiting for something, you see. I’m waiting for a pop.
For the past two weeks, I’ve suffered from an ear infection that simply will not go away. Meds can’t seem to touch it. All I can do is wait.
At least I’m suffering from an infection of a really impressive body part. Observe:
All of this symmetry and detail is impressive, but it strikes me that there are many places where things could go wrong. Currently, the middle of my right ear is under water, or at least that’s what I like to imagine in there. I can barely hear, which makes teaching a bit of a challenge. It’s unfortunate that in the first week of classes, I came across to my students as a deaf old crone. But I persevere and wait for the pop that will return my hearing and my self.
It’s hard to function without all the senses; I suppose one can only really appreciate that fact when something goes out. Now that deafness has more or less settled in, I feel confused, unbalanced, and on edge. There is not much actual pain right now, just sort of tension — tension that seems equal parts mental and physical. And, as everyone who lives with me will attest, I am grumpy.
I think I’m entitled; these days all I get from my eardrum is the odd snap and the occasional crackle when what I really need is a nice, resounding pop. Something…definitive.
I feel a bit like a did in the waning days of my pregnancy, when Mimi was officially post-term and I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Then, as now, there was an official date when the situation would be forced to end by the medical establishment: in the case of the pregnancy, a date when labor would be induced; now, an appointment to have my eardrum punctured by a professional. And now, as then, I feel like that date cannot come soon enough.
Not being the most patient person in the world, the thought of DIY surgery has crossed my mind — fondue forks are good for all sorts of things — but I’m a mother and I have to set a good example. Still, one way or another, something is going to pop around here. Yes, indeed.
Stovetop Popcorn (adapted from a recipe at simplyrecipes.com and a good recipe for anyone with a persistent ear infection)
Yes, there are all sorts of marvelous machines that can pop up excellent popcorn, but I’m at a point where I need to take matters into my own hands. Call this passive-agressive popcorn popping. What else can I do?
2 tbs. grapeseed or canola oil
1 tbs. truffle infused grapeseed oil
1/3 cup good quality popping corn
1 tbs. butter
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika or cumin
Heat oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet with a lid. Put in three or four kernels of popcorn. When those kernels pop, add the remaining popcorn and take off of the heat for 30 seconds. Return to heat, cover, and shake the pan. You will soon begin to hear very satisfying popping sounds coming from inside the pan. Bank down your envy and continue shaking the pan over the heat until the popping subsides. Add the butter and salt and seasoning of choice. Shake some more while the butter melts. Pour popcorn into a large bowl. Popcorn tastes best eaten from a communal bowl kept in the middle of a floor or sofa, preferably while watching something like The Sound of Music, which is, ironically, the current favorite in our house.
POP ON! Please…
Garlicky falafel from Aya Sofia in St. Louis
Everyone around here is sick with some kind of upper respiratory virus, what the Victorians used to call a “violent cold.” Indeed. I’m on day four; I think Jim is lagging behind me by a day or two. Misery. All parts of a cold are awful, but the worst part for me might be the olfactory deprivation. It’s worth bearing in mind that much of what we think of as taste is actually smell. Colds knock out the nose and, so it seems, the ability to taste anything that lacks a truly assertive smell. These days, I can barely tell the difference between chicken and pork. Texture is the only sure thing right now.
Bad timing too, since Jim’s parents offered to babysit for us last night so that we could go out to dinner. We still went, mind you. A little illness isn’t much of a deterrent, and after all, who would reject such a kind offer? However, instead of going to Niche, the acclaimed restaurant that we’d that planned to visit, we went to Aya Sofia, a Turkish restaurant that is one of our favorite places in the city. I was afraid that the food at Niche will be too subtle and refined for our deadened senses. Besides, we both really needed to eat some garlic.
Humans have been eating garlic for something like 6,000 years. It’s often been regarded as a powerful medicine. Recent students have validated its medicinal properties, citing its ability to reduce various forms of inflammation, including inflammation of the nasal passages. Some studies indicate that it might lessen the severity and duration of common colds. It could help reduce blood pressure and improve memory. Even Nyquil can’t make that claim.
Aya Sofia is an excellent Turkish restaurant and a perfect place to get a powerful wallop of allium. I could do without the belly dancer, who shows up on weekend nights at around 9:00, but other than that, it’s a fabulous place to eat. It’s boisterious without being noisy. The waitstaff is professional and the prices are well within the stratosphere. They also have a good wine list, featuring a number of excellent Spanish wines, my current favorites.
And, of course, the food is good. Other than the tapenade, which they used to serve as a sort of amuse bouche, my favorite thing to eat there is the Imam Bayildi. It’s one of those things that is easy enough to make at home — containing only olive oil, eggplant, onion, tomato sauce, and garlic, lots and lots of garlic.
Imam Bayildi was a good choice for my condition, riffing nicely, on my general sense of wooziness. The phrase translates to “the Imam fainted,” and the story behind that unusual title goes something like this. An Imam’s new bride wanted to impress her husband with her cooking skills so she invented a recipe for eggplant that contained quite a bit of garlic. It was so delicious that the Imam apparently fainted after eating it. A rather less generous version of the story has it that the bride used an excessive amount of olive oil, which, of course, made it a rather expensive meal, and the Imam was so overwhelmed by her poor judgement that he fainted. I prefer the garlic version.
Jim and I came home last night fairly reeking of garlic, but no one seemed to mind. I was happy that the delicious food penetrated my deadend olfactory system. Perhaps the garlic is beginning to work its magic and will start to heal our dreaded colds.
Imam Biyildi is really pretty easy to make at home. It’s also a good cure for anything that might be ailing you.
Imam Bayildi, Pearl Cous Cous, and Crunchy Green Beans, Aya Sofia
6 Asian eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 cup olive oil
10 cloves of garlic (yes, ten, trust me), very thinly sliced
1 Spanish onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
Spicy tomato sauce (recipe follows)
Place the eggplants on a rimmed cookie sheet and salt generously. Leave alone for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse the eggplants well and place them in a 9×12 baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil. Scatter the garlic and onion over top and bake for 10 minutes, covered with aluminium foil. Remove from oven, top with the tomato sauce. Cover the pan again and cook for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for about 10-15 minutes more. Serve with pita bread to soak up the juices.
Spicy Tomato Sauce
2 tbs. olive oil
5 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 28 ounce can of whole organic tomatoes with juices
2 tbs. cider vinegar
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper (or more, if you’d like)
1 tsp. dried mint, crumbled
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp. ground cumin
In a large sauce pan, saute the garlic in the olive oil over medium high heat until fragrant. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, breaking up tomatoes. Keep at room temperature until needed.