FOOD WISE: Feel better with soup this flu season

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Last Tuesday, I was tooling around town, doing my errands and minding my own business. Quite suddenly, late in the afternoon, I began to notice a little tickle in the back of my throat. A momentary thought flashed through my head… “Oh, no! I hope I’m not getting sick.” I quickly dismissed this as utter nonsense. After all, adorable hubby has been over his bout with the flu for a couple of weeks and I haven’t been around anyone else who was sick. Just the other day I was bragging about the sicky bug bullets I’d had the good fortune to dodge. Besides, I don’t have time to be sick. Valentine’s Day is coming up and I have meals to cook and deliver, children to take care of, a new house to get settled, newspaper articles to write, it’s almost tax time, blah, blah, blah, ad nausium.

See, this is what I get for my cockiness. By the time I got home, the symptoms were undeniable. Sore, scratchy throat. Achy joints and muscles. Vice grip like headache. Uncontrollably coughing my guts up trying to clear the mucus out of my lungs and, oh, the tummy troubles! How could this happen? I’ve been eating right, taking my vitamins, living the clean life.

I really hate being sick! I know no one likes it but I have a deep loathing for it. Maybe it’s because I take after my grandmother a bit and feel that once someone in the house has been sick, the entire house and all of its contents are contaminated and require a thorough scrubbing with hot water, bleach, vinegar, Dawn dish soap, Comet and any other decontaminate I can find. I just went through this when John was sick. Oh, well…better get to scrubbing. It could be that since I’m the mom, I never get to be truly sick. I still have stuff to do. Moms, can I get an amen? You know what I’m talking about. Or maybe it has to do with something my first voice teacher told me long ago, when I  was a young girl with hopes of a big music career. I was, as they say; the sh#*. Anyhoo, I frequently had strep throat in those days. One day, as I was struggling through another strep throat infected voice lesson, she stopped the lesson and said, “I know you dream of singing on the stage. That will never happen if you are sick all the time. Just decide not to be sick. Being sick is not glamorous. The audience doesn’t care if you are sick. They only care that you give them the show they paid for.” I was 11. Now, I know that sounds mean but it wasn’t at all. I took her advice. Even when I was sick no one else knew it. I put my big girl panties on and put a smile on my face. The show must go on and all that. I went on to a great career for many years as a professional opera singer. Weird, right? Yes, well that’s a story for another time.

What does all this have to do with food, you ask? Oh, my lovelies, surely you know me well enough by now to know that I can turn any conversation to food pretty easily. Here’s how it works. One of my very caring and wonderful girlfriends texted me to see if I was still alive. By this time, I am well into the part of the flu where you pray for death to come quickly. My pathetic response made her return my text with, “I’m praying for you (man, am I a goner) and eat some chicken soup.” As I mustered the last of my strength to raise my withered, dehydrated hand to type a witty comeback, I paused as my stomach practically spoke out loud. “Mmmm, chicken soup. You need chicken soup.” You must realize that I was quite high on NyQuil by this time.

Anyway, I remembered my great-grandmother always made me chicken noodle soup when I was sick. In fact, chicken noodle soup was her official prescription for anyone who was sick. Even my mother, who was not a cook, warmed up the ever popular can of Campbell’s for me. Chicken soup has been prescribed as a remedy for colds and flu since the 12th Century. Something about it must be working.

I’m a firm believer that when my body is craving something healthy like soup, it’s probably because that food contains some nutritional element that my body needs. For example, sometimes I literally crave fresh roasted beets and beef. I think my body is probably needing a little extra iron right then. Hippocrates said, “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” There is much wisdom in that statement. Good, wholesome, fresh food naturally contains the nutrients our bodies need for health and repairing itself on a cellular level.

So, I dragged myself over to the stove and made a pot of soup and I did feel better. After the second bowl, I felt even better. Oh, it’s no miracle cure. Even now, I’m sitting here writing this appropriately drugged, my hot toddy and my box of Kleenex at my side. But I definitely feel better, or at least, comforted with each bowl of hot, steamy soup. Is it the TLC factor? There is a reason we call this “comfort food.” The answer is, yes it is TLC, but it’s not just that.

It turns out, once again, our mothers and grandmothers knew what they were talking about. Scientific research has proven that there are solid medicinal properties contained in chicken noodle soup that affect the body’s immune system. For example, garlic and onions have a long chain polysaccharide (type of sugar molecule) that blocks cold and flu viruses. Chicken soup also contains many anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate, even if temporarily, sore throats and ease the aches associated with these viruses. Additionally, chicken soup, and many of its individual components, help inhibit the movement of neutrophils. Neutrophils are white blood cells that eat up bacteria and cellular debris and which are released in great numbers by viral infections like colds.

Neutrophil activity can stimulate the release of mucous, which may be the cause of the coughs and stuffy nose caused by upper respiratory infections such as colds. Chicken soup also improves the function of protective cilia, the tiny hairlike projections in the nose that prevent contagions from entering the body, and contains an amino acid that is similar to the active ingredient in many medications prescribed for bronchitis and upper respiratory infections. Plus the heat and steam of the hot soup is certainly helpful for opening up those sinus passages and soothing a sore throat. The extra fluid at a time when you are prone to dehydration doesn’t hurt either.

In case you are feeling under the weather too, I’ve included the recipe for the soup I made. The good thing about soup, and chicken noodle soup in particular, is that once you have the important ingredients, like chicken, onions, carrots, celery and garlic, you can add almost anything. I used what I happened to have in my kitchen. You might add mushrooms, turnips or peas. Maybe you’ll decide to use rice instead of noodles. That’s okay.

A good soup is not difficult, nor does it have to be terribly time consuming. But it does have to be made with care and, as Marie on “Everybody Loves Raymond” says, “love.”

Feel better, friends.

Chicken Noodle Soup

serves 8

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a press

6 carrots, peeled and rough chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken stock

2 large boneless chicken breasts, cooked and chopped

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

1 tablespoon herbs de Provence

6 small golden beets, roasted

8 oz. egg noodles

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, melt butter over medium high heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and sauté until translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute or so. Add carrot and continue cooking until softened. Deglaze the pan by adding the wine and swirling around the pot to dislodge any browned bits for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth plus 4-6 cups of water, the chicken, bay leaf, celery seed, herbs de Provence and another generous pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until all vegetables are cooked through, about 30 minutes. Add the egg noodles and cook for about 7-8 minutes, until the noodles are cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf before serving.