Thursday, February 16, 2012

a cup of comfort

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on February 15, 2012.
Lately, it’s been all stuffy noses, glassy eyes, coughs, earaches, and sore throats around this joint. The hot water bottle is in use night and day, and appetites come and go on a whim. My husband bought another dozen cloth hankies to add to our already rather large stash and we still manage to run out with alarming frequency. Somehow, though, despite all the germs swirling through the air, I’ve remained cold-free.

Last week, with a trip to New York City in my immediate future and a panicky fear of getting hit with the sniffles mid-flight, I decided preventative measures were in order. I certainly didn’t want to spend my few precious days in big-time civilization with my nose swelled to the size of an apple. So I fixed myself a quart of ginger lemon tea. I drank the first batch right up and promptly made another, this time doubling the recipe. I made it to NYC and back with nary a sniffle or sneeze, thank the tea, or my lucky stars, or both.

Though not particularly well-versed in the health merits of foods (I eat for flavor), I did know that fresh ginger, honey, and lemon boast a goodly amount of Vitamin C, as well as antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory agents. Furthermore, the convenience of a large jar of tea, always at the ready in the middle of the cold season, couldn’t be underestimated—all I needed to do was zap a cupful in the microwave and the restoring comfort was mine for the savoring.

The other night after the kids were tucked in bed, I poured two large mugfuls—I was on my third batch by now—and my husband and I sat down in front of the fire to toast our piggy-toes. I slurped my tea down straightaway, but my husband let his cool a bit first. He’s kind of a wimp that way.

“This is good,” he said, which was high praise coming from him, a non tea drinker. “It warms me up.”

He was right. The tea is warm, and not just from the temperature. The ginger gives it a zip that starts your beleaguered cells to tingling and sets you a-glow from the inside out. The lemon puckers the mouth a tad, and the honey mellows the tea just enough. The tea manages to both relax and energize.

Which is, I might point out, most pleasing in the dead of winter, cold or no cold.

Ginger Lemon Tea
Adapted from Recipes for a Postmodern Planet

Feel free to swap lime juice in place of some of the lemon, and agave syrup for the honey. If you’re suffering from a cough, a splash of whiskey is a profitable addition, or so I hear.

Fresh ginger can be found in the produce section of any grocery store.

a 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1-2 lemons, juiced
1/4 cup honey
pinch of salt
4 cups water

Pour the water into a saucepan. Add the ginger and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the lemon juice, honey, and salt, and simmer for five minutes. Strain and serve.

Variation: Fizzy Ginger Tea
Make a concentrate by using only 1-2 cups of water. Mix the chilled concentrate with 2-3 cups of club soda. Serve over ice.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

a quest for salad

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on February 1, 2012.

One evening, depleted after running a bunch of errands, I stopped by a new-ish restaurant. I was looking for something healthy and wholesome to fill my tank—not my standard starchy choice of bread and coffee—and was delighted to discover a whole case filled with portable and affordable salads. I chose the wheat berry salad—plump grains tossed with fruit and drizzled with an oil and vinegar dressing. It was so satisfying that on my return trips I’ve never even bothered to sample their other offerings.

Every time I’ve eaten the salad (and it’s probably only been three times, but it feels like all the time since I so rarely eat out), I think to myself, “Self, you have got to learn how to make this,” and then I spend a few minutes wondering if I should try to slip a wad of cash to one of the employees in exchange for the recipe. But bribery feels too complicated (not to mention unethical), and besides, the salad, loaded as it is with nuts and dried fruits, seems a bit extravagant, not like something I’d make at home just for any how.

But then, just a couple weeks ago, I bought the salad again, and this time I happened to glance down at the lid where, lo and behold, an ingredient list was printed, plain as day. The solution to my “problem” was so obvious that I may have, there in my van all by my salad-eating self, cackled with glee.

Back home, plastic lid in hand, I trolled the Internet and flipped through cookbooks, and soon I had a rough draft of a recipe. On the first try, the salad was tasty, but the wheat berries were too tough. For round two, I used soft winter wheat instead of hard spring and went out of my way to buy the ingredients that I had mistakenly thought I could do without—wild rice, green onions, dried cherries—and the salad improved dramatically. (Leaving the cherries out, in particular, was a rather foolish thing to do, especially when the word “cherry” had a prime spot in the salad’s title.)

My recipe isn’t exactly like the restaurant version, of course, but it’s pretty darn close. The salad is sweet and tangy, chewy from the fruit and grain, and with a bit of crunch from the nuts and apple. It’s filling, too, and now when I head into town for an evening of errands, I can carry my fortification with me.

Wheat Berry Salad
Inspired by A Bowl of Good’s Mary, Mary, Berry con Cherry Salad

1 cup soft winter wheat berries
1/4 cup wild rice
1 crisp apple, unpeeled, chopped fairly small
½ cup each, dried cranberries and chopped almonds
1/4 cup chopped green onion (or two tablespoons minced onion)
1/4 cup each, dried cherries and currants
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon each, canola oil and olive oil
½ clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 tablespoons orange juice

Put the wheat berries and wild rice in a pan with a quart of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour, or until the grains are tender. Drain.

Put the still-warm grains in a large bowl and add the apple, onion, dried fruits and nuts. The steam from the hot grains will help to soften the dried fruits.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Add more orange juice or vinegar as needed. If not eating immediately, store in the refrigerator. It will keep nicely for at least 3 days.