Chicken Soup that Feeds the Soul and Heals the Body

‘Tis the season… for seasonal illness!  If you or a loved one has succumbed to the plague or something resembling it, do give this (slightly updated) version of the ultimate comfort food a try.  I’ve included directions to make it on the stove or in an instant pot, if you have one.  (Thanks mom and dad for the instant pot!)

Hearty Chicken Soup with Vegetables

1 organic chicken, 3-5 pounds
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 stalks organic celery, chopped
2-3 organic carrots, chopped
1 leek, white and light green parts, chopped
6-8 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
9 cups filtered water
1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt or Real Salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 strip kombu seaweed (about 3 square inches – see note below if you don’t know what kombu is)
1 juniper berry (optional)

1 zucchini, chopped
juice from 1 lemon
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup chopped fresh basil
Celery salt

  1. INSTANT POT: If using an instant pot, put the chicken, onion, celery, carrots, leek, mushrooms, water, salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, kombu, and juniper berry in the pot. Set to your machine’s “Soup” setting and press “Start.”  My machine takes about 15 minutes to get ready to cook and on this setting it pressure cooks for 25 minutes.  When it beeps to indicate it’s finished cooking, quick release the lid using your machine’s instructions, and continue with step 3 below.
  2. STOVE-TOP: If making on your stove-top, put the chicken, onion, celery, carrots, leek, mushrooms, water, salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, kombu, and juniper berry in a large stock pot and bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer for one and a half hours, or until the chicken is cooked through.
  3. Next, remove the chicken from the soup and place on a cutting board to cool. Add the zucchini, lemon juice, parsley, and basil to the soup.  If using the instant pot, just close the lid.  If you’re using the stove-top, keep the soup on the lowest simmer setting.
  4. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken, and reserve these for making bone broth. (See Cook’s Note below regarding broth.) Cut up the chicken into ½ inch pieces and put it back into the soup.  If you can, fish out the bay leaf, seaweed, and juniper berry and discard or compost them.  These ingredients are for flavoring but aren’t meant to be eaten with the soup.
  5. Season the soup with celery salt to taste, and enjoy!

Leftovers:  This makes a rather large batch of soup, so if you’re only cooking for one or two people, let the soup cool and partition into containers to freeze for a future rainy (or snowy) day.  The soup will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.  Only reheat the portion of soup you intend to eat, because multiple reheating will diminish the nutrient content of the soup.

Green Ginger Thai Variation:  After removing the chicken from the soup to cool, add the zucchini, 1 can full-fat coconut milk, 1 teaspoon green ginger paste, replace the lemon juice with lime, and replace the fresh parsley and basil with fresh cilantro.

Cook’s Note on Kombu:  Kombu is a type of seaweed.  If you’re wondering why you would want to put seaweed in your soup, you’re not alone – but the answer is this:  it’s because it has vital minerals and trace micronutrients to keep you healthy.  See this article on specific health benefits of kombu.  It doesn’t change the taste of things it’s cooked with, and it seems to aid the digestibility of a lot of foods like legumes, so I always throw some in when I’m cooking beans.  You can find kombu dried and in bags in the Asian section of nicer grocery or health stores or on Amazon or Thrive.

Cook’s Note on Broth:  I keep a container in my freezer for broth-making.  Whenever I peel an onion for a recipe, I reserve the skins and trimmings and tuck them in a resealable bag.  Chicken bones, skin, and giblets go in the bag, as do vegetable scraps like onion peelings, parsley stems, celery trimmings, mushroom trimmings, etc.   I’ll be posting on how to make a healing bone broth soon.

Cook’s Note on Shiitake Mushrooms:  Shiitake mushrooms are great for boosting immunity.  Though a lot of people throw away the stems because the texture is harder than the caps, the stems are good, too!  They just need a little more preparation.  To use them, cut the stems off the caps, and trim any woody pieces off the end of the stem.  Then shred the stems sort of like you would chicken meat.  (Oddly enough, when they’re shredded, they kind of look and taste like chicken.)  Here you can see the shredded stems along with the caps of the mushrooms.

Why “Upstream”?

A client asked me, “Why’d you name your practice Upstream Health and Healing?  It makes your program sound hard, like we’re swimming upstream.”

That’s a valid question.  Indeed, for many of us, our journey to greater health may, at times, feel like we’re swimming upstream, but that’s not what the name is referencing.  Rather: our health is like that of a stream.  If I walk out to my section of the stream and there’s slimy algae growing on the rocks, and the fish are dead or missing, and there’s bits of flotsam and jetsam lining the banks, and the whole thing just seems… nasty… well, there’s only so much I can do right here, where I am.  I can pick up the trash, tidy things up, but how do I address the algae?  If I re-stock the fish, will they survive?  Probably not.

(You know where this is going.)

To really fix things, you have to go upstream.  You need to hike in the woods a while, heading for the source of the problem.  Is there a confinement hog operation upstream, diverting its waste into my waterway?  If so, the fix is not just cleaning up my section of the stream.  It may mean nicely asking my neighbors to build a lagoon.  If they refuse, it may mean petitioning for stronger regulations on the hog farm.  Worst case scenario:  if my environment is toxic and I can’t find any way to fix it, I may need to move and find a cleaner stream.

This is all largely metaphoric, unless you have an actual hog farm upstream from you, in which case, you may actually want to move.

The point is:  we can mask symptoms with pills and potions, but unless we go looking with curiosity and open mind to see what’s truly causing our symptoms, and unless we set about treating the actual causes, not just the symptoms, we’re always going to be sitting by our section of the stream, griping about the moss or the fish (or the lack of fish).  And you can do this, if you wish.  Lots of people do.  Just hang out at an old-time cafe, and you’ll see and hear lots of this.

But you needn’t live like that.

As Robert Frost wrote in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,”

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

We all have miles to go on our journey toward greater health and well-being, and it’s often upstream and uphill, if we really want to fix things.  But the hike is lovely, and you needn’t go alone.  If you’d like a guide on your journey, a caring companion to help you along the way, please contact me and schedule a free consultation.

My hiking boots are already in the car.

Brain Gains: Boosting your gray matter, because it matters

Because we can’t see our brains, many of us take them for granted.  While we may fret about our abs or buy countless potions to firm and smooth our skin, many people assume that brain health isn’t really that important, or that it’s limited to concerns about Alzheimer’s.

SPOILER: It’s not.  Brain health matters.  A lot.  And small choices that we make every day make a world of difference in the function and health of our brains.

MYTH: Whether a person gets Alzheimer’s depends on whether the person carries the genetic markers for it.

Not true.

Think of it like this:  Having genes for something is like having a gun in your hand.  It’s unnerving, yes – you know it’s there, and you know the potential for harm.  But how you live your life determines whether the trigger is pulled.

That is, you can have “bad genes,” but having them doesn’t doom you.  In order for those genes to be turned on, you have to flip a number of switches.  Those switches are how you live: what you eat, the quality of your relationships, your physical movement (or lack thereof), your exposure to a clean (or toxic) environment, your sense of purpose or self-worth.

So, for today, let’s focus on five simple “switches” you can employ to help improve your brain (and overall) health.

  1.  EAT WHOLE FOODS.  Not the grocery store, because it would be super awkward to walk up to the building and start gnawing on bricks and mortar.  I mean actual food.  Mostly plants.  Especially leaves.  A bowl of spinach.  Some blueberries.  A carrot.  A bunch of grapes.  A chicken thigh (from a bird that lived a good life).  A handful of walnuts.  Hint:  If you’re not sure if something is actual food, it’s probably not real food.  A useful guideline that Michael Pollan gives for determining whether something is real food is to ask yourself:  “Would my great grandmother recognize this as food?”  (If you’re holding a plastic tube of artificially-colored, sugar-added “yogurt” in your hand when you ask this question, the answer is “NO.”)  Sugar is a known culprit in diminished brain health, and for many people, gluten and dairy have negative consequences, even if they’re not technically gluten or dairy intolerant.  Reducing sugar intake is a no-brainer (har, har) for everyone; and if you struggle with any sort of brain issues (brain fog, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety), it’s worth experimenting with cutting out gluten and dairy to see what happens.  (It doesn’t mean you have to give them up forever – but it’s worth knowing if they cause problems for you.)
  2. MOVE YOUR BODY.  I don’t mean exercise, at least not in the way most people think of exercise.  While I understand that some people actually enjoy going to the gym (this blows my mind), I don’t.  I’d rather get my “exercise” doing real things – gardening, hiking in the woods, picking up a toddler 400 times a day (TWO TICKETS TO THE GUN SHOW, BABY!), and grinding coffee beans using a hand-crank grinder (seriously!  I love this part of my morning!).  If you work at a desk for 40+ hours a week, you may object, claiming this is not possible for you to do.  Some people try to make up for all the sitting by working out at a gym for an hour after work, but… let’s be honest.  That’s not what our bodies were designed for.  So, desk workers, try this:  A few times an hour, stand up.  Sit down.  Stand up.  Sit down.  That’s it.  If you like, stretch your arms over your head, lean them from side to side.  Incorporate some stretches, or don’t.  But don’t stay seated (or standing, idle) for hours at a time.  Your body will thank you.
  3. AVOID TOXINS.  This one is difficult because there are toxins pretty much everywhere.  Did you know that there are tens of thousands of chemicals in household cleaning products that have not been tested for safety?  Or that a company can put a new chemical in a product and on the market without performing ANY safety testing whatsoever?  The only way a product or chemical gets pulled from the market is after it has caused serious harm to lots of people.  Don’t be a guinea pig:  Instead, surround yourself with things that are known to be non-toxic.  For starters:  ditch the smelly, harsh cleaners, and stick to castile soap, vinegar, and baking soda for your cleaning needs.  Or engage in scrupulous label-reading to make sure that your product choices are healthy.  Don’t trust claims on labels that say products are “healthy” or “natural” or that it “helps save wildlife.”  (Dawn dish soap, I’m looking at YOU!)  If you’re not sure what certain ingredients are, there are organizations like the Environmental Working Group that do a lot of the work for you – just scan a label using their app, and it will tell you about the product.  With regard to food, opt for organic when possible, and mind the “Dirty Dozen” recommendations published annually by EWG.  And regarding yard care, learn to love dandelions and nix the chemicals, many of which are known to be neurotoxic.  (Dandelions, on the other hand, are good for you!)  When you come inside, always take your shoes off and leave them at the door.
  4. GET MORE SLEEP.  Lack of restful sleep is a known risk factor for all brain issues.  In short:  our brains have an off switch, and we need to remember to use it.  If you’re one of the many people who think you’re “just fine” on 4-6 hours of sleep, you’re delusional from lack of sleep.  There are a lot of little changes you can try incorporating to get more restful sleep.  Plan for an earlier bedtime.  Even if you wake early, the rest you get in the hours before midnight tends to be the deepest and most rejuvenating sleep.  And the hardest (but most effective) trick for better sleep:  turn the screens off.  Give yourself an 8 p.m. technology bedtime, and put all the devices (including the television) to bed – tuck them in as far from the bedroom as you can.  If you insist you need your phone next to the bed because it’s your alarm clock, quit making excuses and get a real alarm clock.  If possible, put your WiFi router on a timer so that it automatically turns off at 8 p.m. and back on at 8 a.m.  So what to do between 8 and bedtime?  Read a book (not an e-book), play a game, have a conversation, meditate, paint, call someone you love, make love, practice yoga, take a bath, pack a nice lunch for tomorrow, sip chamomile tea.  Do anything… so long as it doesn’t involve staring at a screen!
  5. BE GRATEFUL.  This one is easy, but also easy to forget.  Try making it a part of your morning or bedtime ritual.  Write “What are you grateful for?” on a sticky note and put it on the bathroom mirror.  Then, while you’re brushing your teeth, think of three things.  To make it more of a challenge, think of three things you’re grateful for that you hadn’t thought of before.  And to make this practice even more powerful, write down the things you’re grateful for, or even post them to a social networking profile to share with others.

The encouraging news is that even as you age, your brain function can actually improve if you do the things that help your brain and avoid the things that harm your brain.

Have you tried any changes to help nurture your gray matter?  If so, how’d it go?

My path to health, wellness, and a happy vagina

When I meet fellow health explorers – the people who don’t think it’s weird that I make my own skin care products, or brew kombucha, or abhor lawn chemicals – I often ask them, “So what made you this way? Were your parents hippies? Did you have some kind of transformative experience that led you down this veritable rabbit hole of health and wellness?”

(It’s not actually a hole – it’s a magical tunnel, a passageway to an alternate, technicolored reality.)

The answers I get vary. One friend was, in fact, raised by hippies, homeschooled in the middle of nowhere, denied all the usual perks of childhood – he enjoyed no soda, no candy, no tv, little or no technology. (He turned out great.) Another friend said that it was a game of adult hide-and-seek and his inability to run as fast as he thought he should be able to. Yet another, a conservative rancher in the midwest, said it had a lot to do with his quest to have sex with hippie chicks.

I appreciate honesty. Also, the wish to bed hippie chicks seems like a laudable goal for a rancher.

For me, my health journey began in starts and fits. I wasn’t raised by hippies. Nay, I was raised by parents who’d never heard of the idea that sugar might not be the best thing to eat. (In their defense, it was a time when all the health gurus were busy excoriating fat, not sugar.) I was not what you’d call a healthy child. I had strange food tastes, including a sugar addiction, an obsession with butter (which remains to this day) and a peculiar interest in eating dessicated instant coffee granules. I was sick many times a year, catching every cold that went around, suffering through weeks-long sinus infections, and enduring all kinds of stomach upset.

So what happened, then?

First, as I was embarking on my legal career, working too many hours, drinking too much, not sleeping enough, and generally living a non-virtuous life, I had a wake-up call. My boyfriend at the time was 26, three years younger than me, and he was battling stomach cancer. And I thought: Life is short. Sometimes, it’s REALLY short. Why am I living my life in such a way that I hate waking up in the morning?

The next morning, I woke up, went to work, and wrote my letter of resignation. I gave it to my secretary, who hugged me and cried – tears of joy, delight that I was going to get out while I was still alive, still (relatively) healthy and happy.

I got a second wake-up call a year or so later, when I found myself beset with terrible pain – in my vagina, of all places. I went to the doctor, and she ran a slew of tests, all of which came back negative. I was fine – other than the awful pain. So she examined me again, and then announced gravely that she had to go do some research. She left for a very long time, and I sat in the examination room, worrying. When she finally returned, she held a large stack of paper, computer printouts. She announced in a serious tone: “You have lichen sclerosis.”

I thought lichen was a type of moss. Surely, there was no moss growing in my vagina. So I asked her what that was, and she explained that it’s a flesh eating disorder and that if I didn’t treat it, I would end up with no labia whatsoever.

FLESH EATING WHAT???????

The doctor gave me the stack of printouts, so I could take them home and read all about my new friend, the vulva-eater, and she also prescribed a steroid cream that was supposedly going to save my labia from extinction. I left, feeling not at all at ease.

I tried the cream, and the pain it caused was worse than the original pain.

So I quit the cream. And I made another appointment with a different doctor who examined me, and, quickly dropping the sheet, gave me a sympathetic look.

“You don’t have lichen sclerosis.”

PHEW!!!

He went on. “This is going to sound weird…” (Trust me, doc, after someone tells you that your vulva is being eaten to extinction, nothing sounds that weird.) “…but your vagina is just really irritated. It’s angry. Stop shaving, stop using any bubble baths or scented soaps, and change your laundry detergent.” He explained that recent regulatory changes had banned a particular chemical from laundry soaps, and that the new formulations were causing a lot of similar irritation in other women.

That all made great sense. It also didn’t seem weird, in the least.

So, I went home and followed his prescription, started reading labels, started seeking out non-toxic care products with only gentle, safe ingredients. Within a day or two, all the pain was gone. It never returned. I shredded the lichen sclerosis literature and used it as bedding in the chicken coop.

The memory of that experience, though, has stayed with me, and just the thought of the pain I experienced has made me never, ever want to have scented or chemical-laden personal care or cleaning products around me. I cringe at the acrid floral stench of Tide laundry detergent. I unplug any “air fresheners” I encounter. I buy goat milk soap from a hippie homeschooling family. I make my own laundry soap. I make herb-infused oils and from them craft decadent lotions and balms. I use vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils to clean my home. I even make my own toothpaste.

My skin is happy, my house is clean, and perhaps most importantly, my vagina exists in a state of perpetual bliss.

Moreover, living this way hasn’t been a hardship in any way – it has only made my life richer and better. And so I wonder – why do so many people use so many toxic products? And perhaps more importantly, why do so many people consume things that contain artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives, and all that crap? For many people, I think it’s that they haven’t made the connection between eating those crap-filled foods (or using those crap-filled products) and feeling like crap. So I guess, here I am, encouraging you to recognize this, if you haven’t already done so.

Just try it for a month: cut out the crap, and replace it with healthier options. Shop at the farmers’ market. Eat fresh, local food, and see how you feel. You don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of new products. But as you run out of things, be mindful, read labels, and seek out healthier versions.  Lots of small, gradual changes add up to big transformation.

So, cheers, friends! To health and wellness and happy vaginas.

Have you had a health transformation? If so, do share!