Monday, November 29, 2010

Food and Drug Interactions

A few days ago, I did a post on making soup for a neighbor who had just had surgery. If you are thinking about doing this too, good for you! However, before you begin shopping and cooking, you need to know that there are some drug and food combinations that do not go well together. So it is a good idea to find out if the recipients of your goodwill are coming home with diet restrictions because of the medications they have to take.

Here's an example. It is common for people to be on some type of blood thinning medication after surgery. These drugs prevent the formation of blood clots in the vascular system, thus reducing the likelihood of certain complications. When I had my hip resurfaced, my surgeon prescribed Lovenox for this purpose. The up side was that I could eat whatever I wanted; the down side was that I had to give myself a shot every day for a while.

However, most people on anti-coagulant therapy are given a different drug, one called warfarin (brand name, Coumadin). It has the advantage that it can be taken orally. The down side is that it can be more or less effective, depending on the amount of certain foods in the diet, so extra care must be taken.

I knew that my neighbor was on this drug, and I had a handout listing the dietary precautions. So when I made my choices, I avoided soup recipes that called for leafy greens or foods from the Brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower). The dietary guidelines for this drug are more involved than just these choices, so if you are preparing food for someone on this medication, be sure to ask for a complete list of the specifics.

When you check about drug/food issues, also ask if your friend or neighbor has food allergies. Then you've covered all the bases. Don't let any of these considerations discourage you. There are lots of good ingredients to work with, regardless. Combine them with good information, and you're well prepared to create something healthy and healing in your kitchen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chicken Soup and Giving Thanks

"If the only prayer we ever said was, 'Thank You,' that would be sufficient." -- Meister Eckhart, Christian theologian, scholar and mystic (c. 1260 - c. 1327)
Today is Thanksgiving, there is snow on the ground, and friends have invited me for dinner so I don't have to cook. But I like to cook and last weekend, since I didn't have to plan a holiday meal, I made batches of soup. One reason to make soup was simply because it's something I like to do when it is cold outside. There's something warming and satisfying about having a big pot of comfort food on the stove and pleasant aromas filling the house.

Another reason was that I wanted to do something for my neighbor and his wife. He had open heart surgery last week and came home over the weekend. His surgery was two years, to the day, after my hip resurfacing surgery. So many people did so many kind things for me after my operation that I promised myself to "pay it forward" whenever I could. I decided to make big batches of my Red Soup, Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup, and Chicken Vegetable soup (see recipe below) and take a container of each to my neighbors.

As I roasted chicken, chopped vegetables, sauteed, simmered and stirred, I thought about the wonderful people who did so much for me two years ago. They ran errands, called me daily to check in, brought me groceries and took me to the doctor. Thanksgiving Day was one week after I came home from the hospital. I was still using a walker and my operative leg was so swollen that I couldn't wear anything nicer than my baggiest pajama pants. But I had a lovely turkey dinner, with all the trimmings, brought to my table by tenants in my building who were cooking dinner for their family and wanted to share.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a friend who was making a second Thanksgiving dinner for her family brought me another lovely meal. She brought it straight from her kitchen, served up on real dishes and arranged on a tray. She wrapped it all in foil to keep it warm and drove it down to my house before the food could get cold. The presentation was so beautiful and the gesture so thoughtful, that I cried when I sat down to eat.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, even though I still needed a walker to get around, my surgeon gave me permission to drive. I was glad. I don't like being dependent on other people and hate to ask for help. I was happy to be able to drive and, as long as I was careful, do a few more things for myself.

But then it started to snow. At first, I didn't think much about it. It doesn't snow much or often in the lowlands of Seattle, and when it does, it usually melts away by the next day. However, that wasn't how it worked in December of 2008. A series of storms kept us in snow and icy conditions for about three weeks. Even if I could get my car out of the driveway, streets and parking lots were covered with ice and I wasn't sure it would be safe for me to get out of my car and attempt to walk anywhere. A fall could have been very serious, because I was on a blood thinner and still healing from surgery.

Again, friends and neighbors came to the rescue. One chained up her Subaru and sent out an email offering "snow taxi" services. Neighbors delivered groceries. My tenants shoveled the walks and kept them clear after each storm system. When I ran out of snow melt, a friend's husband managed to get to Home Depot just as a new supply came in. He brought me a bucketful before heading off to take care of his own properties.

I've always been so independent. Throughout my life, I have been the one to deliver meals, shovel walks and run errands, not the other way around. The experience of having to ask for and accept help left me both humbled and grateful. It also taught me a lesson. I know how good it feels to give to others. Allowing other people to give to me allows them have those good feelings, too. It isn't fair of me to hog all the joy by always doing the giving. Being a gracious receiver is just as important as being a generous giver.

And so as I am about to head out the door to receive a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, I offer you the gift of a classic chicken vegetable soup. It is the soup I make for myself when I'm sick and the one I make for friends when they need a lift. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chicken Vegetable Soup
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
4-6 carrots, sliced into 1/2" rounds
2 small (about 6" long) zucchini, split lengthwise and cut into 1/2" slices
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup diced, cooked chicken
3-4 cups chicken broth
2-3 tsp. dried organo
1 tsp. thyme, fresh or dried
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a stock pot over medium heat.
Add onion, garlic, celery and saute about 5 minutes.
Add carrots and saute another 5 minutes.
Add zucchini and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and bring the soup up to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
Taste broth about halfway through cooking time to check seasonings. Add more herbs, salt or pepper to taste.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


After a couple of years away, I've started singing again with the Olio Glee Club (formerly known as the Prelude Glee Club). This is the perfect choir for me: no audition was required; the music is challenging but not impossible for me to sing; and our practice space is close to home.

I'm a fan of the TV show, Glee, but watching and listening to other people sing, even though they are WAY better at it than I am, is just not as satisfying as taking a deep breath and going for it myself. I think we lost something important when we stopped making our own music and just let ourselves be entertained by professionals. Radio, TV, concerts, sound systems and iPods are great, but if they are the only ways we get music, we miss out on the benefits of participating.

Consider, for example, the health benefits. Singing is all about using breath to create sound. To do that well, we have to empty our lungs and take in the deepest breath possible - over and over. I figure that I take in more oxygen in a two hour practice session with the glee club than I do in two days of ordinary, sitting-in-front-of-the-computer, shallow breathing. This deep breathing boosts metabolism, improves heart and lung function, relieves tension and gives me a wonderful sense of well being.

Singing in a choir has another benefit - it creates a community. We are a small group working together to achieve something: learning a piece of music, blending our voices to create harmony, preparing for a performance. It gives us a shared sense of accomplishment. It is fun. It gives us something to look forward to. It is an antidote for loneliness.

This month we will be practicing Christmas carols to get ready for the 24th Annual Great Figgy Pudding Street Corner Caroling Competition, which will be held downtown Seattle on "Figgy Friday," December 3rd. This competition raises funds to benefit the Pike Place Senior Center and Downtown Food Bank. We will be one of over 40 singing groups taking to the street corners that night to entertain and help our neighbors.

Here's a video from a group called "The Beaconettes" (our neighbors to the east on Beacon Hill) singing in a past Figgy Pudding competition. They've altered the lyrics of a well-known carol to acknowledge yet another great Seattle tradition: the naked bicyclists who show up each year at the Fremont Solstice Parade.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sweet Potato Fries

I love sweet potatoes. I'm always surprised when people tell me they don't. When I ask them why, I often find out that they have bad memories of holiday dinners involving sweet potato dishes made with lots of sugar and marshmallows.
And I say, "No wonder!"
Sweet potatoes are, as the name says, SWEET. There's no need to add sugar to them. (Unless, of course, you like that queasy feeling that goes with a sudden spike in your blood sugar.)

If you are one of those people who feels a twinge of nausea at the thought of sweet potatoes, I invite you to give them one more try. Only this time without any sugar, or spices, or butter or marshmallows.

This time, the only ingredients will be:

Sweet potatoes
Kosher or sea salt
Olive oil

Prep is really easy:

Pre-heat your oven to 375F
Peel the sweet potatoes
Cut them into strips like french fries
Put the sweet potato "fries" into a bowl
Drizzle olive oil over them
Sprinkle salt over them
Stir to coat the fries

Now spread your fries in a single layer in a baking dish or on a cookie sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes. Keep an eye on them in the last 10 minutes to be sure they are not burning. Bake until they are cooked through and just beginning to brown. Take them out of the oven, let them cool a bit and -- enjoy!