Creamy Pumpkin Soup with Sage

When I was a junior in college, I found myself in Paris over Thanksgiving. The French don’t really acknowledge Thanksgiving as a holiday; if it gets any recognition at all, it’s generally as a cross cultural curiosity, the way we might vaguely notice that Bastille Day is a thing that exists. But that November, my study abroad program decided to take pity on the gaggle of way faring, mildly homesick American college students they were hosting. They booked a restaurant in the Marais and held a Thanksgiving feast just for us.

The food was absolutely delicious, and while they had spent weeks carefully planning the menu to make sure it contained the staples of our strange little American holiday, it was still distinctly French in its character. I honestly have never seen an American cook turkey that beautifully. It was a far cry from our standard roasted bird, complete with a lovely, creamy sauce on top, but let me tell you, it was heavenly.


No one there was remotely able to fault the quality of the food. It was amazing. But there was one squabble I do remember which mostly occurred during the planning stages, and it always began with something like this: “What?? How can you have thanksgiving without pumpkin pie????”

Personally, I was just incredibly thankful that they were doing this for us at all, and I really wasn’t going to quibble too much about the menu. But some of my fellows apparently had far greater reverence for the sanctity of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and several were quite vocal about it. Meanwhile our program secretary (a lovely French woman who was kind enough to organize the event) was utterly flummoxed by the notion that you would ever want to put pumpkins in a pie. They’re a squash. Why…? And also, at a nice meal like this, how could you ever serve a dessert that didn’t contain chocolate?? It just didn’t make any semblance of sense.


The battle continued, American versus French, pumpkin versus chocolate, up to the day of. In the end, French sensibilities won out (they were doing the cooking, after all…) and the chocolate was delicious. But pumpkin was certainly not absent from the meal either. It was served up in a fashion that made far more sense to our fabulous French cooks: as an appetizer in the form of a savory, creamy soup.

That soup was delicious, and while I may be betraying my status as an American by saying this, it’s usually soup more than pie that I look forward to once pumpkin season rolls around. This soup is not the same as that lovely, velvety soup I enjoyed in that restaurant by the Seine; I honestly remember very little of its flavor at this point aside from the delicious creaminess and that it was served in a hollowed out bell pepper. But this recipe, my own, is also creamy and delicious, and full of lovely herbs that can almost take me back to the cool, crisp weather of a Parisian autumn, even when I’m still stuck with the 90+ temperatures of Los Angeles in October.

This recipe is surprisingly quick once you get going; the most time consuming part is peeling, seeding, and cutting up the pumpkin. It’s also very adaptable; if you don’t eat dairy, you can substitute another milk of your choosing. The bacon fat can easily be switched out for more olive oil (though I do enjoy the depth of flavor it provides) and vegetable stock can easily be used in place of chicken for a vegan/vegetarian option. It’s also grain free and an excellent option for those on a Whole30, GAPS, or Paleo (AIP or otherwise) type diet with appropriate substitutions.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup with Sage

Serves 6

  • 1 pie pumpkin
  • 6 cloves garlic
  •  1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  •  1 qt chicken broth (I used homemade bone broth, but store bought is fine)
  • 1/2 cup cream or nondairy milk of choice
  • 1-2 fresh sage leaves (if using dried, use significantly less; I infused the whole leaves and then removed them before pureeing, so powdered sage should be used sparingly to maintain a bit more subtlety)
  • Thyme (to taste)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil or other cooking oil
  • Bacon fat (optionalish)

1. Preheat oven to 375. Crack open your pumpkin and remove the seeds and stringy guts. (I like to reserve the seeds and roast them as a tasty snack. Waste not!) Peel and cut into 1- 1.5 inch chunks.

2. In a roasting pan, mix pumpkin, and whole, peeled garlic cloves and toss with olive oil, a sprinkling of thyme, salt, and pepper. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until pumpkin is tender.

3. In a large pot, melt bacon fat (or drizzle more olive oil). Sauté onion with a touch of ground pepper, until translucent. Add broth, cream, and sage leaves and bring to a simmer or just under. Allow to infuse until the pumpkin is ready.

4. Add the roasted pumpkin and garlic to the broth and remove the sage leaves and allow to cook for another minute or two. Purée the soup with an immersion blender or (carefully) in a countertop blender. Adjust seasoning to taste, and enjoy!

Food as Medicine: Noodles with Garlic and Herbs

Germs.
They’re everywhere right now, and oh goodness are they hitting hard. Everywhere I turn I see someone struck down with some minor illness. I rarely get sick, and even I have succumbed to the wicked rhinovirus.

I also hate cold medicine, which never fails to present a minor dilemma at times such as these. I will take it if I’m absolutely dying, but it takes a lot to get me there. Thankfully, food is amazing. Some foods specifically can really pack a punch when it comes to warding off illness. Sometimes I find the right kinds of foods can actually stop a cold from getting too terrible.

Garlic is one of those, and it’s been a longtime favorite remedy of mine. Taken raw, it can do some amazing stuff as a decongestant and cough remedy. It also has antiviral properties, which means it treats the root cause AND the symptoms. Sounds like a good option to me.

The only real downside here is that the garlic has to be raw. Cooking destroys the compounds in garlic that work their lovely, medicinal magic. But raw garlic can definitely be biting. I love garlic, but even I don’t like it straight when it’s raw. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate that while still letting the garlic do its lovely work. I just made myself some of the recipe below, and great glorious gods of garlic, I can actually smell a again!

My general method is to mix the garlic with something fairly bland, and add a little fat to help tone down the burn. The garlic should still have some pungent zing (the slight burning sensation actually feels therapeutic to me) but it shouldn’t be unbearable. This can be as simple as mixing the garlic with butter and spreading it on toast, but this time I felt like getting a little fancier. I made this with leftover pasta, but you can easily use rice or bread or some other vehicle for your garlic.

The measurements in this recipe are thoroughly in exact, because honestly the point is for this to be so simple that even a sick person can make it. Feel free to leave things out or make substitutions as needed. The most important thing here is eating your garlic! 

P.S. This recipe is also just a delicious and simple way to make pasta, so you really don’t have to save it for when you have a cold.

Noodles with Garlic and Herbs

Ingredients

  • Leftover pasta (as much or as little as you feel like dealing with)
  • Raw garlic, crushed (1-2 cloves per serving)
  • Butter or olive oil (or both!) to taste
  • a pinch or so each of dried oregano and thyme (both have antiviral properties of their own)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the pasta, then mix in all of the above ingredients. Eat, and feel your congestion and coughing calm down as the garlic burns away the virus.

Dandruff Fighting Conditioner with Calendula and Shea

Dandruff has always been my Achilles heel when it comes to natural hair care. Before I made the switch I used a shampoo whose active ingredient was coal tar. That stuff worked wonders, but given that coal tar has a rating of 10 on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database (the worst rating possible) and is a known human carcinogen… Umm, let’s not put that stuff on my body, okay?

I’ve found a number of natural alternatives that work, but the hard part is finding something that works without having some other down side. Oil treatments, for instance, are amazing. But I have yet to find any sort of natural shampoo that can easily wash the excess oil out of my hair, and as a result I often end up wandering around with greasy hair for a few days. And while I’m sure my hair and scalp enjoy that, the rest of me is not a fan.

This conditioner has been my answer to that problem. I needed something intensely moisturizing for my scalp that could still be washed out of my hair without difficulty, and oh my but this stuff has delivered. And like my All in One Rosemary Mint Conditioner/Shampoo, it also has the power to clean your hair while it’s working it’s moisturizing magic. I call that a major win.

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This conditioner comes out thick, creamy, and nourishing

About Calendula Oil

Calendula is a bright yellow flower related to the common marigold. It is used in all sorts of herbal skin soothing treatments. Rosemary Gladstar says of it:

“[Calendula] is a powerful vulnerary, healing the body by promoting cell repair, and acts as an antiseptic, keeping infection from occurring in injuries. Calendula is most often used externally for bruises, burns sores, and skin ulcers.”

(Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, p. 318)

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Calendula oil, infusing on my window sill

Sounds pretty lovely to me! Now, in order to make those flowers into a conditioner, we’re going to need to infuse them in some oil first. I recommend making a largish batch, as it’s useful for many different things. Here are a couple of methods:

The Stove Top Method

  1. Fill a heat proof jar roughly halfway with dried calendula petals. The measurements do not need to be exact. Fill it up the rest of the way with olive oil or another light carrier oil.
  2. Place this jar in a small saucepan with a few inches of water to make a makeshift double boiler. Heat on low for at least an hour, ideally longer. Make sure to check periodically that the water hasn’t all evaporated.
  3. Once your oil is sufficiently infused, remove it from heat and strain into a container for storage and store in a dark place.

The Slow Infused Method

This method takes longer, but is often preferred as some theorize that too much heat can destroy some of the healing goodies that we’re trying to extract. I have used both methods without a problem, so if you’re in a hurry go ahead and use the one above, but while this one takes longer it is also delightfully low tech and requires significantly less baby sitting if you’re willing to wait.

  1. As above, fill a jar halfway with calendula petals, then fill the rest of the way with olive oil (or oil of choice).
  2. Seal up the jar and store in a warm-ish place for four to six weeks, shaking the jar periodically.
  3. Once the infusion is complete, strain out the flowers and store.

If you don’t want to bother with all this infusing business, yes, you may simply use olive oil in this recipe instead. But if you’re looking to ditch the dandruff, I do recommend giving this a try as an extra boost of healing. You can also purchase pre-infused calendula oil if you prefer.

Now for the recipe itself.

Ingredients

  • 4g calendula infused olive oil
  • 2g shea butter
  • 6g emulsifying wax
  • 80g just-boiled water
  • 10g vegetable glycerine
  • 10 drops cedarwood essential oil
  • 5 drops lavender essential oil
  • broad spectrum preservative of choice (I used 2g of NataPres)

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To make:

  1. Heat calendula oil, shea butter, and emulsifying wax in a heatproof bowl set over a small pot containing a few inches of water. (Or use a double boiler if you have one.)
  2. Once the oils are melted, remove from heat and whisk in the essential oils, followed by the water and glycerine. The mixture should emulsify immediately. If using NataPres as your preservative, add that now. (If you’re using a different preservative you may need to add it at a different stage in the recipe. Make sure to follow the instructions for your specific preservative.)
  3. To help the mixture cool a bit faster, I like to stick the bowl in the fridge for a bit while I do some clean up, giving it an occasional whisk. It should thicken fairly quickly this way.
  4. Once cool, bottle, label, and enjoy!

To Use

You can, of course use this like any other conditioner, massaging  a bit into wet hair in the shower and then rinsing it out. However, since I’m looking to intensively moisturize my scalp as much as anything, I like to massage it into my hair and scalp when it’s dry and leave it for several hours or overnight. This has proven very effective, and it rinses out quite easily. Take that, oil treatments!

Green Tea and Lavender Face Mask

Summer is a time of year when I crave face masks. For most of the year I can’t be bothered with them; it’s not that they’re difficult to make, but carving out time to spend 10-20 minutes with mud on my face often feels like work.

But in the summer, when things are hot and sweaty and my skin has been clogged with lots and lots of sunscreen, spending twenty minutes with some nice, cooling, cleansing clay on my face sounds like one of the most heavenly things on the planet.

 

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Ah, green mud. Doesn’t it look lovely?

That’s how I felt this morning, so I whipped up this lovely mask full of soothing goodies for happy skin. It’s loosely based on my Lavender Honey Sunburn Treatment, with the added bonus of some kaolin clay and green tea. Lavender is incredibly healing, and green tea is packed with antioxidants that may help fight aging and repair damage from too much sun. Because who doesn’t enjoy painting their face to look like the Wicked Witch of the West and getting some happy skin to boot?

Green Tea and Lavender Face Mask

Ingredients

  • 1.5 tsp kaolin clay
  • 1/2 tsp aloe vera gel
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/8 tsp matcha powder
  • 1/2 tsp water
  • 1-3 drops lavender essential oil

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Gently spread it across your face and let sit for 10-15 minutes, then wipe clean with a damp washcloth. Follow with a light lotion to keep your skin from drying out.

The Un-Blanket, or How to Stay Cool Without AC

It has been stupidly hot around here lately. Maybe you’ve heard? Even for those of us without fires in our front yards, the heat has been rough. Monday broke a few records, and even after dark it was still 100+ and 5% humidity in some places.

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My poor azaleas got fried after two days of insane heat 😦

I don’t know about you, but that’s not my definition of fun. Fire is essentially a season here, so much so that it’s somewhat concerning when we have a summer where half the state doesn’t go up in flames. Why? Because the less things burn now, the more fuel there is for next time. The worst wildfires are almost always in places that haven’t burned for a long time.

So knowing that this is not just the beginning of an insanely hot time of year, but also a season where things literally catch fire, it seems to be a good time to talk about ways to escape the heat.

The general rule you’ll hear in the green living circles is “cool the person, not the room.” That’s all well and good to a point, but when it’s 100+ outside and nearly 90 inside, some of that energy sucking air conditioning sounds mighty appealing. Heat and I have never gotten along very well, so it’s perhaps lucky for Mother Earth that AC is simply not something I have access to. Less lucky for me, however.

Thankfully, I stumbled across this little trick, which I am hereby dubbing the “un-blanket.” It uses no electricity, is surprisingly effective, and the only materials you need are a towel and some water.

How to make an “un-blanket”

Before we start, it should be noted that this may not work in extremely humid heat. It might even make things worse, though I can’t say I’ve tested it. But if you’re in a hot, dry, literally on fire kind of heatwave, this might be your savior. If you’re worried about the humidity issue, see how you feel after taking a shower. If that cools you off, bingo! But if it’s humid enough that showers just make you feel more sticky and gross, you might want to stay away.

Step 1: Moisten your towel

It doesn’t need to be sopping wet, but decently damp across the whole surface and on both sides. There are several ways you can achieve this; I tend to give it a quick spritz with cold water in my shower, though it’s easy to go overboard this way. You can also fill a squirt bottle with water and squirt down the whole thing on both sides. This takes longer, but offers more precision.

Step 2: Drape the towel across yourself

Wearing as little clothing as possible, drape the towel across yourself, making sure it’s touching your skin. It should feel cooling very quickly. I usually do this lying on a flat surface (usually I do it at night, when the thermometer just won’t drop even after the sun goes down).

That’s it! You can keep it on you as long as you need to, and if it starts to dry out you can give it another quick spritz if you need more cooling power. More water tends to mean it cools you off more, so try to get a feel for how much water you like before you go overboard.

So, why does this work?

We have all likely felt at times that water has the capacity to cool things down. This relates to some simple principles of thermodynamics. For starters, scientifically speaking “cold” doesn’t actually exist. There is only heat or the absence of heat. Things can be exothermic (emitting heat) or endothermic (absorbing heat). When you touch an ice cube, it feels cold because you are emitting more heat than it is, and the ice is absorbing some of that heat from you.

The same principle applies here, except with the added benefit of evaporation. The water takes away heat from your body, and then evaporates into the air, cooling you more completely. This is the same idea behind sweating, and it’s also why this may not work in situations with high humidity. The water can still absorb the heat, but if the air is already too saturated for it to evaporate it will just… stay there. It may feel good for the first few minutes, but after a time you’ll end up covered with water that’s just as overheated as you are.

Is this a perfect cure all? No. For one thing, it really only works when you can afford to lie around and get nothing done. (Or are willing to get things done while wrapped in a damp towel.) But I will say this has been pretty much the only reason I’ve been able to sleep the last few nights, and it helps mitigate that horrible feeling of waking up to find you’re already sweating.

Ah, summer. Why do people think you’re so glamorous again?

 

Lavender Honey Sunburn Treatment

It’s that time of year again. You know, the one where I go outside and immediately burn to a crisp. It’s enough to make me almost believe the people who insist I’m a vampire, even in spite of my love of garlic.

But the one weird thing about being me is that a sunburn, while certainly painful, is also an opportunity. Because I am my own guinea pig, after all, and now I’m free to experiment. (Insert evil laugh here.)

Lavender Honey Sunburn Treatment

I’m rather fond of this experiment. I didn’t think of it until day 3 of the sunburn, but it still hurt like heck this morning and now… it doesn’t. So I imagine it should be similarly helpful if you think to use it sooner. My skin is delightfully soft and far happier than I would have expected after only one treatment, so much so that I might consider trying this more regularly just as a moisturizer.

It’s also delightfully simple, with only three ingredients, and as you will see all you have to do is mix it together. It’s so uncomplicated, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner.

About the Ingredients

Lavender essential oil is incredible stuff. It has some amazing skin soothing and healing properties, and it’s especially good for burns. I keep a bottle of it in my kitchen for exactly that reason. Sunburns tend to be a bit more persistent than kitchen burns and I’ve had poor luck with it on its own, but mixed with the other two ingredients here the lavender oil works its magic pretty well. You could leave it out if you don’t have any on hand, but it may not work quite as well. Seriously, get some. It’s awesome.

Honey is antibacterial, and as such it has been used to treat wounds for centuries. It’s also a humectant, which means it has the power to  draw moisture into your skin. If you’re the sort who enjoys reading PubMed articles, here’s a study expounding on the wonderfully healing substance that is honey. It’s actually a pretty interesting read if you’re nerdy like me.

Aloe Vera is also an age old sunburn treatment. Science also backs up the folk wisdom here, showing that aloe can help speed healing of burns. It’s also a common ingredient in moisturizers and such, as it tends to be something our skin rather enjoys. If you can get it straight from the plant, great. Otherwise you can buy a bottle of it, but make sure it’s the pure stuff! The ingredients should be aloe vera gel and a preservative or two, nothing else. (It is highly perishable, so aloe gel with no preservative is a bit suspect as well.) If it’s bright green, that’s not what you want. Often I see bottles enthusiastically labeled “100% GEL!!!” which means, um, nothing. Double check the ingredients before you buy.

Lavender Honey Sunburn Treatment

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil

Mix all of the above together. This recipe should make enough for several treatments, depending on the size of your burn.

To use, gently dab this mixture on the burned area, coating it completely. Let it soak in as long as possible. Warning, it will be sticky! Once you decide you’ve gotten enough out of it (or in my case, once you decide you want to be able to use your arms again) rinse clean with cool or tepid water and pat dry with a towel or washcloth. Repeat as necessary, and store in the fridge between treatments.

As another helpful note, don’t be afraid of getting this in your hair, especially if your sunburn is near your hairline or on your scalp. (Ouch!) It will rinse out quite easily in the shower, and chances are your hair will quite enjoy it too.

Magical Cold Remedy Tea

Imagine if you will a sunlit hillside in rural Greece, lined with terraced farms and winding dirt roads. In the distance, the Mediterranean is visible and the wind carries traces of sea air as it sweeps through the area. On top of this hill is an Orthodox convent that has been a part of the landscape for centuries.

It was in the midst of this scene that a wayfaring college student was welcomed inside by the sisters. (Okay, I was in a large group of wayfaring college students who were there to study the classics, but isn’t it more romantic to envision that I arrived alone, having trekked through the mountains on foot?) As we sat in a circle, the sisters told us about their lives at the convent and offered us tea and Turkish delight. The sweet, jellied candy was traditional, they said; historically visitors really did have to trek across those mountains, and the sugar and calories provided vital nutrition after a long and harrowing journey.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
A courtyard of a Greek monastery. A wonderful place for tea, don’t you think?

But the tea… Oh the tea! Those lovely sisters have no idea how it changed my life, or that they might have been the ones who prompted my early forays into herbal medicine.  That tea was amazing. It managed to be both warming and cooling at the same time, and it was delicately spiced and lightly sweetened with honey. Several people asked one of the sisters what kind of tea it was (even her fellows were as curious as I was) and she replied each time that it was mint, with a touch of cinnamon and clove. The mint and honey were both grown/collected from their own farm. The clove and cinnamon were luxurious additions since they hardly grow in that area, but the resulting tea was heavenly.

Fast forward a year. In that time I have returned home from my adventures in Greece and already meandered my way back to the European continent, this time to Paris. I have also succeeded in getting sick. A lot. (I blame the Parisian metro. I love that metro system, but it also harbors many, many germs my American immune system had not yet learned to fight.) In the month of October, I came down with three separate colds, the last of which grew into full blown pneumonia AND conjunctivitis. (Fun times. Really.)

During this time, as I was lying in bed coughing my lungs out and unable to breathe through my nose, I thought of that wonderful tea back in Greece. I had half-heartedly attempted herbal cold remedies before, usually involving ginger, lemon, and honey, but none of them were successful enough for my liking. As I remembered that lovely Greek tea, it occurred to me to wonder what mint would be like in that mix. It would give the beverage more body, certainly, and mint had antiviral properties too, right? Sure, mixing the hot flavors of ginger with the cool ones of mint could be weird, but it worked with the cinnamon and clove… Continue reading