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How immune are you?

January 10, 2013

Multitudes are succumbing to the latest flu bug. So it feels a good time to talk some more about immunity, how a naturopath views it and what strategies can be helpful , Following on from an earlier blog extolling the virtues of chicken soup, here are some additional thoughts..

How is it that such large numbers get these bugs? Perceived wisdom looks at the ‘catching things theory’. We ‘catch’ a cold or flu from someone who has it, they sneeze on us or come in close contact, and before you know it, we go down with it. Perhaps this is true to a point, but what if this is the end of the story rather than the beginning. In other words, what happens before that contact or sneeze that can predispose us to being more susceptible?

Naturopaths look at the environment – considering it the biggest factor, the protector, with the internal environment the main defender of our health. We all know that environments in general can be healthy or not. So if our own environment is compromised, weakened, or depleted it will certainly impact our health.

Breaking that down if we’re

  • tired or run down
  • stressed
  • nutritionally in short supply (eating poorly)

our defences become overwhelmed and it makes sense that we’re more vulnerable. When we’re fatigued the body can’t repair itself properly, stress hormones interfere with immunity and of course bad eating habits deplete the nutrients important for good health.

In particular, our digestive environment is composed of lymph tissue and along with the good gut bacteria plays a huge role in protecting the immune system from being affected by the above.

What then can we do to help protect ourselves? In so many ways, it’s just common sense but common sense is always worth revisiting!

Some strategies to support the immune system

Eat wholesome, real foods as close to their natural state and as seasonally as possible

Plenty of vegetables esp. broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale, shitake mushroom, onions, leeks, squash, sweet potatoes

Fruit such as satsumas, apples, pears, pomegranates

Whole grains: quinoa, barley, wild rice, oats

Lean protein esp. oily fish, organic chicken

Herbs and spices: garlic, ginger, cinnamon, thyme, oregano, parsley, rosemary

Try making ‘Not Just Chicken Soup’

Guard good gut bacteria

Practice above 80% of the time. Eating fermented foods help, such as live yogurt, cultured vegetables (more about these in a future blog), miso, tempeh as well as lentils, beans and pulses.

Drink adequate amounts of hydrating fluids

Warm water with lemon, herb teas, chai tea, ginger mulled juice

Get enough rest

Relax before bed to insure good quality sleep: read, listen to music or relaxation tracks, have a bath with an essential oil like lavender, have an herbal sleep tea or even a few spoonfuls of oatmeal

Manage stress

Exercise, meditate, walk, dance, listen to music, have a massage

Warming, satisfying and great for taking the chill away, this alcohol free beverage goes a long way to helping us feel comforted

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Mulled pear and ginger 
1 litre of natural pear juice
2cm piece of ginger root, sliced
1 teaspoon (using muslin to hold loose spices will avoid need to strain later) or a teabag of mulling spices or a cinnamon stick
1/3 -1/2 litre pomegranate or cranberry juice (optional)
Slices orange or lemon (optional)

In a saucepan heat all ingredients over medium heat for a minimum of 15 minutes until flavours have infused. Serve in mugs or heat proof glasses. Top with a slice of orange or lemon.

Come into the kitchen; a time travelling, cultural, adaptable, adventure excursion

January 8, 2013

If this sounds vaguely familiar it is purely intentional. Think of your kitchen outside the blue box  (hint, a very popular long, long-standing UK TV series) and let your imagination roam. Stretching it a bit of course, but isn’t that what kitchens are about-places where any number can gather and manage to fit and like the fishes and loaves, always enough food to go round.

Kids would want to come in, eager to take control of the dials on the cooker, chop vegetables with the speed and agility they text messages and eat everything on their plates. They’d happily google recipes from around the world, resurrect the best from the past like an archeologist and load the dishwasher without being asked.

The kitchen table, a most versatile gathering ground.  A place to gather our thoughts, families and food.  Where we review, plan, dream, discuss, argue, cry and laugh, and of course eat. What was at your kitchen table this evening?

Here’s what was at mine…

My Kitchen Table Casserole (sounds better than kitchen sink!)

A meal in one and tasty use of leftover roasted chicken, excess chick peas and any root vegetables you have on hand. Sounds like a lot of ingredients but the cooking is very little work and makes up for it. You don’t need to use all of the vegetables listed, they just make it so nice!

serves 4

leftover meat from a roasted chicken, torn into large bite sized pieces

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

1  medium carrot, sliced thickly on an angle

2 slices of butternut squash, coarsely chopped  (celeriac, swede, parsnip, sweet potato can also be used)

2 medium potatoes, skin left on and cut into 8 pieces

1 leek, sliced

peppers (red, yellow and or green ) a couple of thick slices of each, coarsely chopped

1 cup cooked or tinned chick peas

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 TBS tomato paste

8 oz vegetable or chicken stock

1 medium clove garlic

1″ piece ginger

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp coriander

3 cardamom pods crushed

pinch of cayenne or  smoked paprika

a few sliced olives (optional)

olive oil

2 TBS fresh parsley and coriander, chopped

In a large saucepan add olive oil and begin sauteing onion. After a couple of minutes add carrot, potatoes, leek, root vegetables, peppers, ginger, garlic and all spices. Cook  2 minutes until all vegetables are coated with spices and begin to dry. Add tomatoes, stock,  tomato paste and olives, stir well, bring to a boil, turn heat down and cover. Continue cooking at a low simmer for 15 minutes, add chicken and chick peas and cook for a further 10 minutes (all root vegetables should be tender). Serve garnished with parsley and coriander.

An Ode to Chicken Soup

January 7, 2013


It all started with my Grandmother’s chicken soup.  Today, looking back it seems that chicken soup is a recurring theme, actually more like a river of soup that flows along the map of my life. The earliest association, fifty plus years ago, is a scent. One that permeates, fills your nose, gets under the skin and remains in your whole being, forever; aroma of grandma’s cooking.

As soon as you entered the lobby of her apartment building, even before she opened the door, that familiar well-loved fragrance; Friday night’s traditional meal (hers and every other grandmother in the building) welcomed you. Once inside  Grandma’s house, you entered a magical land of cherished flavours and tastes that only she and no other could produce, ever safe in the knowledge that chicken soup cured everything,

Fast forward 25 years; Mom and Auntie’s mantras ‘chicken soup cures everything’ keeps the myth alive. Then one day, it really does happen.

The medical world seen through the eyes of an idealistic, naïve young hospital nurse is a promised land where high expectations soon turn to disappointment – medicine doesn’t have all the answers.

Seeing a patient recover when given chicken soup, after medical interventions were ineffective, was like two worlds colliding, an aha moment that changed everything. Familial wisdom came flooding back and from that moment food was never the same.

Until then food preparation was a necessary chore, though eating was always an unreserved pleasure. Cooking for friends progressed to parties which expanded to catering for events, cooking on yachts in the Caribbean and culminated in a full-time catering business for 10 years. Food as pleasure and vocation evolves.

Throughout, the focus has always been on health and the experience in the hospital became the starting point in a journey that continues, unabated to thrill, excite and open not just doors but new dimensions. The healing and medicinal properties that foods contain and how this can be translated to the plate and palate is the quest.

Along this road the signposts have pointed to different ways of achieving this. Relocation from the US to the UK and now back and forth between the two has brought its own contribution.  Advising people on the health benefits of food within the context of a Naturopathic private practise has broadened to include talks, workshops, courses and a children’s healthy eating program. Cooking professionally is re-emerging.

It’s also essential to incorporate this into the bigger picture – seasonality, locality and the environmental issues surrounding eating, preparing and sourcing food.

My version of chicken soup adapted from the original, handed down the generations incorporates principles of East and West to boost the nutritional benefits (and flavour). To my delight it has been confirmed by science-chicken soup really does enhance immunity.

Try this at the first sign of a cold or flu and particularly in the recovery phase.

 Not Just Chicken Soup  

1 small organic free range chicken, 2-3 chicken thighs, 4 whole wings or 4 drumsticks

2 carrots, chopped into large pieces

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 leek, sliced

2 medium organic potatoes, scrubbed and skin left on

6 shitake mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cabbage, shredded

4 stalks of freshly parsley, roughly chopped

1 stalk of fresh thyme

1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon sea salt

soy sauce (optional)


In a large pot, cover chicken generously with water, add all ingredients except garlic, parsley, cabbage . Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer, covered for 30-45 minutes or until chicken and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. Remove chicken from pot to a plate. At this point add the garlic, parsley and cabbage, stir and heat for 2 minutes. Serve soup in a bowl and add pieces of chicken removed from the bone. Add a splash of soy sauce if desired.

When getting over a cold or flu, add 2 TBS tomato paste or puree to the soup. It is high in potassium and helps with recovery.

Children’s Activities: Farm camp and a Farmer’s Market

October 22, 2012

Programs for healthy eating and lifestyle flourish here in the US, especially those for children. I had the privilege of working at an 8 week summer camp on an organic farm, partnering with a committed farming couple who taught about organic farming and healthy lifestyle to a diverse group of local children. We coordinated the sessions so children were able to learn about nature, farming and healthy eating. They were able to take part in gathering, preparing and tasting various foods and recipes.  For example, children gathered salad makings from the garden then chose, prepared and tasted their creations. Another time, under supervision they  gathered wild edible greens and children learned to make ‘pissenlit’ – dandelion salad with bacon and eggs from chickens on the farm. An outing to the beach where they learned how to gather clams was followed by a session on edible sea foods and clam chowder making. See the ‘How To Eat a Rainbow ‘  blog for more recipes.

The local farmers market was an opportunity to coordinate my ‘Eat a Rainbow Every Day’ project with Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Healthy Food Healthy Families program which educated and provided families with children access to local, seasonal foods through a creative program. On the day, children learned the benefits of eating different coloured fruits and vegetables through a series of experiencial activities.

Naturopathy; a self help technique for headaches and more

October 22, 2012
Self help technique

Points to hold

This is one of my favorite self-help techniques that may be useful for headaches, neck and shoulder tension, feeling out of sorts and is a traditionally used kinesiology practise for determining food intolerances when used by a trained kinesiologist.With palms of both hands toward the face, place the fingers of one hand (except for thumb), with the little finger at the outer corner of either eye (touching skin not eye) lay fingers in a straight line between the eye and ear.With other hand, place 2nd and third fingers behind oppsite ear lobe. Gently hold these points for 5-10 seconds then switch sides. You may feel a sense of relaxation, headache, neck/shoulder tension may diminish, coordination, energy and clarity of mind may improve.

This is especially useful if you’ve eaten a food that may not suit. It is however only a temporary ‘fix’ so will need repeating or better still-avoid culprit food!

The Challenges to Healthy Eating

October 22, 2012

Food choices are overwhelming and temptation is everywhere. Even the most health conscious among us can be side-tracked by social events, busy schedules, work commitments and a culture that revolves around fast food. Though plentiful, vegetables make their appearance in salads and are less frequently cooked and served with main courses both at resturants and at home. The cost of organic, clean food, free of additives can be prohibitive to some despite the best of intentions.

As energy and feelings of wellbeing falter, weight creeps on and signs of vibrant health waver, it becomes important to look for ways to  manage this.

Here are some ways I found to be helpful:

  • Be prepared try not to get caught out in order to  avoid drops in blood sugar which trigger cravings for high sugar and fatty fast foods. Bring foods with you that are low glycemic, slow release and appealing (to you). What works for me are chick pea flour pancake wraps ( oat cakes, hummous, seeds, nuts, cut up vegetables and pieces of chicken or turkey.
  • Eat a sustaining breakfast with some protein– it will keep you going much longer and help resist the temptation for sweets. This works so well that a popular cereal brand is using it on TV advertisements!
  • Try to have  regular mealtimes whenever possible. Everyone is unique and what works for one may not for another. Try different ways-grazing, 3 meals and 2-3 small snacks, no snacks, big breakfasts, small breakfasts, etc. -there are many possibilities.
  • Choose your indulgences with awareness.Sometimes just thinking about it presents one with different options.

Butternut Squash Hummous

October 22, 2012

Hummous and vegetables

This has a milder and slightly sweeter taste than traditional hummous. The butternut squash is roasted and gives the hummous a golden colour. It can be made with homemade (recipe to follow) or store-bought  hummous to which roasted squash is added.

1 small butternut squash, washed and pierced
Bake squash for about 40 min until tender. Cool and remove 1/2 of the flesh to a bowl and mash.

To make homemade hummous:
soak 1 mugful dried chick peas that have been well rinsed in a bowl full of water overnight. Rinse and cook chick peas in a pot covered with fresh water to which a small chopped onion and bay leaf have been added. Cook for 30-40 minutes until chick peas are firm tender. Drain stock and reserve, cool chick peas.
In the bowl of a food processor or blender add:
cooked chick peas
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 TBS lemon juice
2 TBS tahini (sesame paste)
1 tsp cumin
a little of reserved chick pea stock
Process or blend until mixed and as smooth as desired
Taste and add more lemon or tahini and season with salt or a little tamari. Mix in mashed butternut squash and adjust seasonings.  If using store-bought hummous, mix in butternut squash. Serve in a bowl with cut up raw vegetables like carrot sticks, sliced cucumber, pepper strips and crispbreads or pitta triangles.

Use remainder of squash instead of potato or rice with a main course or add it to soup.