Home Remedies Aren’t Always Hokem

Jump to Lemon-Ginger Tea

As I’ve mentioned earlier this week, I’ve been battling a nasty head cold, complete with headaches.  This has rendered me into something of a robot the past few days, just carrying out duties without much soul: wake up, take some Tylenol and hope it works, feed the kids, change the kids, put on something that entertains them (with the volume on low) and pull out some coloring books, cover head with pillow and clutch a box of tissues and listen to kids to make sure they don’t kill each other and hate the sun and sounds and pretty much the whole world, feed kids lunch, wipe them down, put them to nap and fall asleep with them, wake up, take more Tylenol, kill another forest via tissues, get dinner going.  Then my husband would come home, and I’d generally hide in bed right after dinner.

Not really a pretty picture, but at least the headaches aren’t as bad as they were yesterday, so it looks like I might be near the tail end of this.

But my first thoughts as I’d gotten sick were not “Woe is me,” but rather “I hope the kids don’t get this horrible cold.”  Of course, as a parent, I just don’t want my kids getting sick.

But there are deeper considerations.

English: Yokosuka, Japan (Mar. 28, 2003) -- Lt...

A military pediatrician checking her patient's breathing - Image via Wikipedia (public domain)

First of all, it’s hard to care for a toddler (like Sunfilly) who can’t really express why she is miserable.  Instead, she will just scream and cry and be rather uncooperative with my inspection of her to determine what is wrong and help her be less miserable.  Secondly, the American Academy of Pediatrics has made recommendations against giving over-the-counter cold medicines to children under 6, and, generally, your pediatrician won’t prescribe any cold or cough medicine unless your child is pretty sick.  And, thirdly, a trip to the doctor with a sick kid in tow isn’t exactly cheap (at least, this is the case in the US, even if you have a good insurance plan–which we do).

Not to mention, sometimes germy kids share their germs with each other in that waiting room.  There’s nothing like bringing your kid in for a sinus infection, and then three days later she comes down with the flu or some other nastiness.

But this doesn’t mean that you just sit idly, let your child get sick, and think, “Hey, I’m just letting her build a great immune system.  Survival of the fittest baby!”

Well, you can still help her build her immune system, but there are things you can do to help her if she is sick, or at least to take preventative measures.  That’s right–what I’m talking about are home remedies.  It doesn’t mean tossing some bones, shaking a snakeskin rattle over your kid’s head and chanting in Sumerian.  Well…  I suppose you could still do that, if it floats your boat.

Eucalyptus tetragona, showing glaucous leaves ...

Eucalyptus is commonly used in cough suppressant lozenges and rubs - Image by HelloMojo via Wikipedia

But you’d be surprised how many home remedies–also known as “Old Wives’ Tales,” and don’t get me going on that  historical diatribe–turn out to be medically recognized, or even recommended.

Below are a few such medically-recognized home remedies (with supporting links).  Most of these are pretty useful for pregnant women as well, and certainly any otherwise healthy adult.  And here I’ll give the disclaimer that I am not a medical professional.  Please consult your doctor if you have any questions or doubts or if you are on any medicine or have some chronic issue.  Herbs can cause dangerous side-effects or trigger allergic reactions, so pay attention to how much you use.  And always employ common sense when you are sick, even if you’re using prescription medicine: if your symptoms get worse or don’t improve, you need to contact your doctor.  There could be something worse going on in your body.

The ingredients for chicken broth have just been put on the stove to cook.


Lemon-Ginger Tea

Cross-section of a relatively young ginger root

Ginger has many beneficial properties. - Image by Snarkmaster via Wikipedia

When I was pregnant with Sunfilly, I experienced a slew of illnesses you wouldn’t want to have while pregnant, like food poisoning and appendicitis.  I also had a nasty cold that was going around my law school at the time.  I couldn’t take any medication, since I was in my first trimester and thus very limited on what I could take.  What was doctor-approved was homemade ginger tea.  It felt amazing on my raw throat and helped clear my sinuses.  It was also very soothing for an upset stomach (a blend of sinus drainage and morning sickness).

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger root, chopped finely or grated
  • 2 or 3 fresh lemon slices
  • 1-2 teaspoons of honey
  • 1 cup of water

Directions

  1. Bring the water to a boil.
  2. Add the ginger and lemon.  Cover and boil for another 2-3 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to steep for another minute or so (depending on how strong you want it).
  4. Strain the tea and pour into a cup.  Add the honey.
  5. It may still be too hot, so check the temperature of the tea before drinking, especially if you are preparing the tea for a child.

Lemons are certainly rich in Vitamin C and may help boost the immune system, but there is not enough scientific evidence to quantify the extent, if any, of medical benefits in lemons.  I have found, however, that lemon in tea does wonders for a sore throat, which is why I include it in my health tea.

Hopefully you won’t be this miserably sick.  But if you ever are, seek comfort in chicken soup and some soothing tea.  If nothing else, it will give you warm fuzzies that will lift your spirits.

Kenyan chai with peda.

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Yuletide Meanderings… and COOKIES!

Jump to Gingersnap Cookies Recipe

Tomorrow is Yule.

Usually I’m super-prepared for it.  By this time, I’ll usually have a Yule log decorated, lots of goodies made, a duck or goose or turkey brining (and another one or a ham thawing for the subsequent Christmas festivities), and one round of presents wrapped for the kids.  The house is usually decorated with greens and reds and candles everywhere and, if I could find them while living in the big city, boughs of holly and evergreens and pine cones.  And, because Yule is a time of renewal, I usually do a mega-cleaning of the house, moving counter-clockwise through the house; it seems to bring in positive energies and sweep out the bad ones.

This year, it seems to have snuck up on me.

Apparently it’s one of the side-effects of parenting.  Time seems to fly way too quickly.

Yule

A Yule feast - Image by Jupiter Firelyte via Flickr

Reflections on Yule

For those who may not be familiar with the holiday, Yule is one of many ways nature-oriented faiths celebrate the winter solstice.  It’s Germanic in origin, but neopagan adaptations of the holiday include some Scandinavian and Celtic practices.  Specifics on how they celebrate Yule varies depending on the pagan tradition the practitioners follow.

But pretty much all neopagans treat it as the rebirth of the sun.  It’s the shortest day of the year, and so every day afterwards is a little brighter.  And because our ancestors, lacking the technological amenities we take for granted, struggled through long, harsh winters, they put aside their hostilities and got together to share their food and wealth and celebrate the coming spring.  If you could make it to Yule, you had a good chance of making it to spring.  It’s a time of hope, of goodwill–just toss in baby Jesus and it sounds a lot like Christmas, huh?

It’s a reminder that even the deepest, darkest, scariest things in life are not permanent.  Eventually the sun will shine through and will shine brighter, no matter what personal problems in life you’re facing.

In my family, we acknowledge the science behind the winter solstice, but it doesn’t diminish the spirituality behind it.  You can revere nature and still understand how it works.  Perhaps it’s also because we love outdoorsy hobbies that we find peace in connecting with the seasons and cycles of the world around us, but I personally find something deeply inspirational in knowing that, in all the randomness and chaos of the universe, life flourished here on Earth, focused around our rather average (by astronomical standards) yellow star and the influence of it and our moon on the stability of the days and seasons.  The solstices and equinoxes, which give a sense of predictability to our world, are not standard for other planets in the universe.  It was a rare chance that life evolved on Earth, because we had all the right conditions (distance from a medium-sized star, a moon with a stabilizing effect on the Earth’s axis and rotation, the fact that the axis is positioned the way it is, and so on) and that alone is something to be grateful for.

No matter what your religious or spiritual views, I think that taking time to reflect on the importance of the sun in our lives, considering how easy it is to inundate oneself in work and stressful events and mind-numbing technology, is key to a healthier outlook on life.

manhattan solstice 3

Winter Solstice in Manhattan - Image by Dave Kliman via Flickr

If you’re interested, you can read a more thorough description of the history of Yule here (Wikipedia) and here (About.com).  The celebration of Yule has been getting more recognition in the media within the past few years.  Mainstream parenting magazines, like this partial article from Kiwi Magazine, and even some newspapers and the US and Canada, like the Montreal Gazette in this article, cover how some neopagan communities observe Yule today.  Also, there is a beautiful and captivating children’s book that explores the winter solstice from the perspectives of both ancient religions and modern science called The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson.  In my opinion, it does a great job of illustrating the way that ancient peoples viewed winter and how some of these cultural practices have been applied to modern-day Christmas traditions without being disparaging to any worldview.  It reflects the sentiments I have expressed above.

Before we had the kids, my husband and I would watch the sun set on Yule.  There is something inexplicably beautiful about it, knowing that it’s the shortest day of the year.  Last year, the night of Yule was also a lunar eclipse, and so our family festivities were particularly exciting.

This year, I’m hoping we can brave the cold weather and watch the sunset over a local lake.  It will be an otherwise simple Yule, with a few baked goodies and brightly-colored foods like sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce to honor the birth of the sun.

I like to make gingersnaps for Yule and Christmas because the flavor tastes bright and cheerful (in fact, the tradition started sometime in high school when I baked gingersnaps and sugar cookies for my friends as Christmas gifts).  They are popular this time of year, and I suspect that the flavor is part of the reason (aside from the health benefits of ginger that likely prompted our forebears to cook with ginger during winter).

Gingersnap Cookies Recipe

Gingersnaps are fairly simple to make.  They require a lot of sifting, so if you don’t mind the dust (flour can get in the air and make you sneeze), it’s a great project for this time of year.

When following the recipe, I highly recommend having the egg already cracked and waiting in a cup or bowl, along with the sugar and molasses.  When you’re mixing the dough, you’ll have to pour them in gradually, and it saves some time to have them ready in advance.  You’ll also need at least two mixing bowls to carry this out.  As for sifting, if you don’t have a fancy sifter, a large strainer will serve the same purpose just fine.

Starkitten helps by mixing the cinnamon sugar.

Cinnamon Sugar Coating

To make the cinnamon sugar you’ll need for the coating, you need:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Simply mix the ingredients together very well.  If you’re baking with small children, mixing the cinnamon sugar is a simple task that they can accomplish while you work on the cookie dough.

The Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses

Directions

This is what it should look like if you use a beater to mix the dough. This was my first time trying it this way and, honestly, it's so much easier than mixing by hand--which had been a turn-off for me in the past.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 ˚F.
  2. Sift the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Stir the mixture to blend evenly.  Then sift and stir again, two more times.  (It’s best to sift from one mixing bowl into another.)
  3. Place the shortening into an empty mixing bowl and beat until creamy.
  4. Gradually beat in white sugar.  Then gradually beat in the egg and molasses.
  5. Sift 1/2 of the flour into the shortening mixture, and stir to blend it thoroughly.
  6. Sift in the remaining flour mixture and beat (or stir) until a soft dough forms.
  7. Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll into 1-inch balls.
  8. Roll each ball in cinnamon sugar and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
  9. Bake about 10 minutes,  The tops should be rounded and slightly cracked.
  10. When they first come out of the oven, they will tend to fall apart if you try to move them.  You’ll want to wait a minute or two before removing them from the cookie sheet.  Then place them on wire racks to cool completely.

Starkitten helps by coating the cookie dough balls with cinnamon sugar. This was her favorite task and she took great pride in making sure they were evenly coated.

Since Starkitten wanted to help me, I gave her the task of rolling the cookie balls in the cinnamon sugar.  It was a great experience for her, as it gave her a sense of accomplishment, knowing that those were her cookies, and overall a great bonding experience for both of us.

They don’t taste too sweet, which is great if you have members of your family who, like my husband, don’t care for sweets but still want a holiday treat.  They go great with a hot cup of tea or just a glass of milk.

This recipe made just over two dozen cookies.  And it wasn’t enough to sate my family’s cookie appetite.

The end product. As you can tell by the half-empty plate, they don't last long.

Mommysaurus

Comforting Chicken Soup Starts with a Good Broth

Jump to Homemade Chicken Broth

During cold La Niña episodes the normal patter...

La Niña phenomenon - by NOAA via Wikipedia

I learned that Ohio has been experiencing what is called an “Indian Summer” as a result of La Niña phenomenon, which has unusually occurred two years in a row.  An Indian summer usually occurs in autumn or early winter, when there has been some snow or frost, and then it’s followed by a period of unseasonably warm weather, followed by more cold weather.

In the South, we called that “normal weather.”

And the dramatic fluctuations in temperature, coupled with the wetness of “winter,” would typically lead to people getting sick (actually, the weather change itself doesn’t make people sick, but it can trigger their allergies and force them to stay indoors in drier air and around other germy sick people, and this makes it easier to get sick).

But here in Ohio, you can feel the temperature extremes more.  When it’s warm, it’s perfect weather for hiking and playing outside.  Then suddenly it’s cold and wet, and we get runny noses and have no desire to go outside, unless there is some of that strange, fluffy white stuff falling from the sky (which people call “snow”) to play in.

Because my kids are both under 6 (the age that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends is the minimum for taking over-the-counter cold medicine), it’s important to me to do everything possible to make sure they don’t get sick in the first place.

Common cold

The Rhinovirus, one of the viruses that causes the common cold, looks much like a snowflake. - Image by Robin S via Wikipedia

One of the best ways to combat the common cold and the flu is chicken soup.  This is one old wives’ tale that hasn’t been debunked.  In fact, doctors have found that it does in fact help to fight some respiratory illness.

Homemade Chicken Broth

There are many recipes for chicken soup out there (here’s a simple one), but they all pretty much require pre-made chicken broth.  I personally believe that if you’re going to make homemade chicken soup, you should use homemade chicken broth.

For a few years now, I’ve been using a recipe I adapted from Tapas Deck by José Andrés (it was a gift from a dear friend who spent a year in Spain).  It’s an amazing recipe and is very easy to follow.  All I’ve ever added is ginger.

Also, I try to use organic chicken whenever possible (and living near the Amish in Ohio, I’ve found I can also buy Amish chickens at some local grocery stores, and their chickens taste fantastic and are pretty much organic as well)–it tastes richer, was raised humanely, and wasn’t fed antibiotics (which may actually impair your body’s ability to fight certain infections later) or other harmful chemicals, like arsenic, which young chickens contain more of (and I know from having worked in the poultry industry that commercial chickens are about 4 months old when butchered–and a home-grown 4-month-old chicken still looks like a baby chick!–because they are also pumped full of growth hormones and other chemicals).

The ingredients for chicken broth have just been put on the stove to cook.

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken, rinsed
  • 3 carrots, peeled
  • 2 onions, peeled and halved
  • 1 leek, well washed and outer leaves removed
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme (if you don’t have fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon of dry thyme will do the trick)
  • 10 sprigs fresh parsley (if you don’t have fresh parsley, 1/4 cup of dry parsley will do the same thing)
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger root
  • salt to taste (I recommend kosher salt for better flavor)

Directions

  1. Pour 4 quarts of water in a stockpot (or any very large pot) and add all the ingredients except the salt.
  2. Bring to a boil.  As the stock comes to a boil, foam will form on the surface.  Scoop this off immediately, so that your stock will end up as clear and clean as possible.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours.  You don’t want to overcook it, or the chicken will fall apart and you’ll have a lot of tiny bones to pick out of loose meat pieces.
  4. Add salt to taste and remove from the heat.
  5. Strain the stock.
  6. You can store it in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  I prefer to store whatever I don’t use immediately in the freezer, separating it into 4-cup increments.

You don’t have to worry about discarding the leftover chicken meat.  I like to debone the chicken and use the meat in tacos or in the subsequent soup I prepare, but you can do many other things with the boiled meat.

English: Chicken soup and toast Български: Пил...

Image by Biso via Wikipedia

Of Chai and Chewbacca

NOTE:  I meant for this post to go out on October 29.  My apologies for such tardiness.

Jump to Chai Masala recipe

Jump to Kenyan Chai recipe

It’s difficult not to think we are having winter in October.

In the South, winter brings temperatures where the lows are in the 30s and the highs are in the 50s. In the North, apparently it still qualifies as fall.

Strawberry yogurt, to be exact.

This is just one of a hundred daily parenting adventures I get to experience: Chewbacca doing the macarena in yogurt. Strawberry yogurt, to be exact.

But it’s been so chilly in the mornings that I can’t take the kids out, and it’s not sufficiently warm (to my standards) to play outside until about noon, which is lunchtime–followed by naptime. So the kids have spent a lot of time indoors lately, which makes them restless. And that results in episodes of Chewbacca doing the macarena in yogurt.

Adjusting to these new temperatures–especially after enduring record heat (in the triple digits for pretty much the entire summer)–has been a challenge. Needless to say, this has been a drastic temperature change.

And with temperature change comes the sniffles.

As the mother of two toddlers, I know that there isn’t much in the way of over-the-counter medicine available if they get sick.  So, I try to keep the sniffles from getting worse so that they don’t get so sick as to warrant a doctor’s visit to get some prescription expectorant.

Since we don’t have the thick fur of Wookiees to keep us warm (although if you met the men in my father’s side of the family, you may wonder if we had Wookiee ancestry), I have to fall back on traditional recipes and herbalism.  Among at-home remedies, I make lots of chicken soup, put some eucalyptus oil in a cool mist vaporizer, feed them fruits rich in vitamin C, and serve them hot beverages.

I particularly like serving them teas with ginger because ginger is so great for their health in general.  One of the teas we make in this household is a Kenyan version of chai.

It’s worth noting, for those who may be familiar with Indian foods and culture, that Kenyan cuisine (at least for the region my husband is from) is heavily influenced by Indian cuisine.  They are not identical (for instance, the way I learned to make pilau involves beef, which is typically off menu in Indian cooking), and so I find learning to prepare Kenyan food teaches me about several cultures.

The British Empire in 1919.

The British Empire in 1919. (Image via Wikipedia)

In case you needed an explanation of how Kenyans got to cooking Indian food, I’ll give a brief history lesson:   Indians were brought to the various British colonies in Africa in the 1860s as indentured laborers.  While treated horribly by the British and hated by Africans, many eventually worked their way out of servitude and became very prosperous.  This led to much friction between ethnic groups, to say the least (not to gloss over history–but examples include Idi Amin‘s expulsion of Asians from Uganda, apartheid in South Africa, and the treatment of Indian laborers in the British colonies that changed the life of Mohandas Gandhi).  Despite all this, Indian-Africans were able to contribute much in terms of culture, business and industry, and cuisine to the new continent they called home.   And many of the contributions were downright awesome.

But back to the topic.

Tea that grows on my inlaws' tea plantation. They are small shareholders in one of the many growers' co-ops in Kenya.

Kenyan chai is similar to, but still different from, traditional Indian chai.  Indian chai, to begin with, is usually made with Darjeeling tea or some other black tea grown in India.  Kenyan tea is mostly grown in the Rift Valley province.  It has a unique flavor because of the volcanic soil and, because of the country’s equatorial location, tea growers can produce tea year-round, making it the third-largest tea exporter in the world.

And because it was a British colony, tea is now the drink of choice in Kenya.  (This little tidbit has made it easy for my husband to hit it off with Britons and anyone from any of the former Commonwealth states.  If at a social gathering, he simply complains at the lack of “real tea” around such people, and then they make insta-friends, laughing at us Americans and our coffee addictions.)

There are countless ways to prepare chai.  It’s generally black tea, milk, sugar, and spices (usually pre-mixed into masalas–which could be likened to dry rub salsa in Indian food).  The spices one chooses depends on taste and intent (there are recipes for Love Chai and Health Chai, just to name a few).

The spices I put in my chai masala are tailored to my husband’s tastes and are chosen for the medicinal qualities the spices possess.  (DISCLAIMER:  I am not claiming to have any special medical knowledge; what I mention is based on studies in herbalism and alternative medicine.  Consult your doctor before taking any herbal supplements or alternative medicine.)

Chai Masala

You will first need a clean, empty jar into which you will pour the finished product.  I have a terrible habit of saving all my glass spice jars for making various spice blends for this purpose.  If you don’t have any old spice jars, many grocery stores sell empty jars that would be just as suitable.

Ingredients

I find that using a funnel to pour my masala into little spice jars makes life infinitely less messy.

  • 3 tsp cardamom†
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram†
  • 1-1/2 tsp nutmeg†
  • 2 tsp ginger†*
  • 2 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp cinnamon†
  • 1/2 tsp allspice

*Note:  You can omit the ginger and instead add freshly grated ginger directly to the tea.  Or if you love ginger as much as my family does, you can do both.

† These spices are said to have immune-boosting qualities.

Directions

  1. Thoroughly mix all the spices together in a bowl.
  2. Pour the mixture into a clean, empty spice shaker.

That’s it!  You can double the mixture if you have a larger container and plan to use it up pretty quickly, as the spices may lose some of their freshness over time.

Three types of Cardamom

Three kinds of cardamom. Cardamom and ginger are actually in the same family. In many masalas, redundancy is often the key to great flavor. - Image by FotoosVanRobin


Making Kenyan Chai

To make chai, you will need tea.  You can use loose tea (that is how many Kenyans make it) or tea bags.  If you use loose tea, the conversions would be 1 teaspoon of loose tea to 1 tea bag.  You would then need to strain the tea before serving.

In reality, you can use any black tea when making chai.  We try to use Kenyan tea whenever we can.  My husband’s preferred brands are Ketepa (which also markets under the Safari brand) and Kericho Gold (which only buys from organic growers); either of these can be purchased online through various merchants, but it can sometimes be rather costly.  Darjeeling teas and English breakfast teas are more affordable and easier to find in your average grocery store and will do just as well.

Ingredients

  • 4 tea bags
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp chai masala

Directions

  1. Pour water and milk into medium saucepan.
  2. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
  3. Add tea bags, masala, and sugar.
  4. Heat for 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat.  Remove tea bags.  Serve.

Makes approximately 3 cups of tea.

Kenyan chai goes great with toast, peda, or pumpkin bread.

Kenyan chai with peda. It goes quickly in our house.

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