Hearty Barley Soup

This hearty barley soup is one of my favorites and as a bit of history behind it. I actually got the original recipe from a book called Last Dinner on the Titanic by Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley. So yes, this soup was supposedly served on April 14, 1912. The night the Titanic sunk.  Ironically, it’s delicious.  I’ve tweaked this recipe it a little to make it my own. Here is my version.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) pancetta
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 4 shallots
  • 1 ½ cup barley
  • 2 qts. beef stock
  • Cheese cloth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. peppercorns
  • 1 tsp. parsley stems
  • 2 tbsp. whiskey (Jameson)
  • 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar (a good one)
  • ½ cup heavy cream (optional)
  • (Food processor or blender or hand blender)

Prep:

Chop carrots, onions, garlic and shallots finely. Chop the parsley stems and place in cheese cloth. Add peppercorns and bay leaf into the cheese cloth, wrap and tie ends together. This is called a bouquet garni. Set aside. If using bouillon, heat 2 qts. of water and combine.

Directions:

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and butter. Add the pancetta and lightly brown. Next, add the chopped carrots, onions, garlic and shallots and stir occasionally until they begin to tenderize. Add the barley and stir consistently for about a minute. Add the two quarts of stock, and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until the barley is tender. Remove from heat and throw away the bouquet garni.

Using your blender, food processor, or hand blender, blend the soup to create a smooth and thick consistency. (If you have a hand blender, it makes the clean-up easier because you’ll be able to use one pot instead of two. If you use a food processor or blender, you will have to ladle, in small batches into the processor/blender and then pour the contents into a clean pot. This soup is worth the extra steps though!)

Add the two tbsp. of whiskey and red wine vinegar. I prefer Jameson for the whiskey and I recommend using a higher quality of red wine vinegar, such as Rao’s Homemade Organic Red Wine Vinegar (if you can find it in your local grocery store). The soup tastes great at this point and the healthier version would be to leave out the cream. I leave it up to your discretion.

Enjoy! Let me know what you think.

An Evening with Dr. David Agus

Recently I had the opportunity to hear doctor and author David B. Agus speak about his new book The End of Illness at the 92nd Street Y. He was interviewed by Connie Chung.  It was an evening full of brilliance, insight, and inspiration.

David B. Agus, MD is an oncologist and professor of medicine and engineering at USC, Keck School of Medicine and Viterbi School of Engineering.  He is also the head of USC’s Westside Cancer Center and the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine.  In 2009 he received GQ’s Rock Star of Science Award.  ….yeah, he’s a pretty cool guy. :-)  Being an oncologist, he has had to face cancer patients with the lamentable news of little or no treatment left and so, his book, The End of Illness, is about prevention and hope. In a perfect world, Dr. Agus would like the population to bypass illness in our older ages.  He would prefer us to take charge of our bodies and do what is right for our personal health.  Who wouldn’t agree with that?

Dr. Agus is creating a movement away from the typical treatment of cancer, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimers, etc., and is reevaluating how western society treats these diseases.  Being an oncologist (though The End of Illness is not just a book about cancer) Dr. Agus equates the current treatments of cancer with bacterial or viral infections.  When we get a sinus infection, for example, we take an antibiotic which targets bacteria and clears up the infection.  In the case of cancer, we’ve been targeting cancers through treatments, like antibiotics for an infection.  But, research has shown that typical cancer treatments are not “good for the goose, good for the gander” scenarios.  It’s wonderful that people can be cured by certain treatments but what works for you may not necessarily work for me.

How do we find out what specific treatment will work specifically for our bodies, you might ask?  Well, Dr. Agus has figured a way to test our genetics.  This will show us what diseases we may be predisposed to developing and what medications and dosages would be the best for our bodies.  I might only need a low dosage of a medication, or a combination of this and that, to help me fight a disease.  Your body may need something different with a higher dosage.  Many times medication will work to fight a disease but it may be harming another part of your body.  You will wind up becoming healthy after fighting an ailment or a disease from the medication you took, but you may have to deal with another medical issue because the medication you just took negatively affected another part of your body.

Dr. Agus wrote an abundance of facts and simple steps to follow in your every-day life to decrease the risk for the western diseases that afflict our country.  One is to avoid bodily inflammation (which is the common source for all major illness) by making a few simple changes to your daily habits: wear comfortable shoes; get a flu shot; if you’re an older person, take an 82 mg aspirin or Lipitor (a statin – talk to your doctor first).  There’s much more, so you’ll have to read the book. :-)

Another point Dr. Agus stresses is to eat right!  Yay for nutritionists!  Having a healthy, whole, well-rounded diet is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Dr. Agus even quoted Michael Pollan’s Food Rules.  We should be eating whole foods that come from the earth; foods that our grandparents or great-grandparents would recognize as food, and if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.

With the changing U.S. health care system and food-related illnesses on the rampage, the best health care is prevention.  With Dr. Agus, we need to stay on this path and bring the full population into better awareness of what health and disease prevention truly is.  The End of Illness is a brilliant, in depth look into our future in medical practices that I strongly encourage everyone to read.

2011 In Review

The past few months have been chaotic.  From the first week in October until the holidays are over there is always a special occasion to celebrate.  You can say my holiday season actually begins on October 1.  Not to mention, as you know, I threw a few classes on top of everything.  Because of this, it’s been hard to find time to write, but now my classes are over, the holidays are over, January’s calendar is free and clear, and here I am!  This feels good.

I have been mulling over this post for a while.  2011 wasn’t the best of years but in a few ways, it was stellar, and I’d like to share the good, the bad and the ugly (as briefly as possible).

The year started with a family trip to Disney World.  One week of fun times, lots of laughter, good food, fun rides, music and fireworks.

Upon our return, in January 2011 my 93 year-young grandmother (the only grandparent I ever knew, who lived with me and my parents my whole life) suddenly got sick and was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.  Over the course of 5 months she rapidly deteriorated from a spitfire of a woman (I like to equate her with Betty White) to a person barely recognizable to me or anyone else.  In May, I watched as she took her last breath, in her own bed, with my mother and me by her side.  She died at exactly the same time her husband passed away, 24 years earlier. It gave me comfort to think that it was a sign from my grandfather that they were together once again.

I asked my grandmother to always watch over me and help to put me on the right path.  It was right about this time that I heard a loud calling to follow the path of nutrition.  The idea of being a nutritionist had been in my head for a while before all this came about, but this very sad, life-altering moment sparked something deep within me.  There was no doubt about it, nutrition was what I was put on this planet to study and then, give back to the world.  Seeing my grandmother so sickly made me realize the importance of proper nutrition.  Even though she had cancer, I would say she died mostly from starvation because she could not keep solid food inside.

I began researching Master’s programs in the New York City area and this fall I began with a few prerequisite courses since my undergrad had nothing to do with science.  (I’d like to add that I got an A in both classes!)  Yes, there were some really frustrating times when it came to completing homework, or studying for finals after working a 12+ hour day, but it was worth it.  And it was a fun challenge.  I truly enjoyed learning.  There is a much deeper appreciation when you have every bit of your education in your own hands.  Not to mention, in comparison with my undergrad, I’m older, much more mature, and incredibly serious about my future.  I want to help people live better, longer, fuller lives through eating properly and becoming more aware of the body.  To me, there’s nothing better than that.

In November, my best girl friend gave birth to a baby girl.  I was with her as much as I could throughout the pregnancy.  I wanted to learn what it was like (for far-future reference) and be there for her throughout the tougher times.  I was in the hospital room with her and her husband all day while she labored and after a long, hard and emotionally grueling day, their daughter was born.  I cried.  This was only the second time in my life I have cried tears of joy.  It was absolutely amazing to see the whole birthing process.  Of course there is nothing pretty about what goes on in Labor and Delivery, but the baby was the most beautiful outcome of all.  I am so happy I was able to share this momentous, life-altering occasion with two of my best friends.  I am forever changed.

Working full-time stinks, especially when I am not working in a field that I am particularly passionate about.  Not to mention, working with people that I am not particularly “passionate” about.  But it’s a job.  And since the recession began, I am lucky to have one.  I am completely hopeful that this job will soon pass, and I can move on to working in the nutrition field and with people who have similar interests and like minds.

This year I’ve witnessed a death and six months later, a birth.  In one year I have experienced life’s most important events.  Not to mention, I’ve been surrounded by tons of love and laughter.   For all of this, I’m a very lucky and very grateful girl.

Happy New Year everyone!  Here’s to a wonderfully fulfilling, progressive and victorious 2012!