Belt Tightening 2012: Cleansing Ginger Chicken Soup

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2011 was an insanely busy year. As I sit on the other side of that monster reflecting back on all of the ups and downs, the huge life changes and the little events that seemed insignificant at the time but turned out to be bigger then I could have imagined, I am forced to sit down and give myself (and everyone in my life that dealt with me) a huge pat on the back. It is with a bit of disbelief and shock in my voice when I say I (and you – thanks!) survived.  I (we) survived one of the coldest winters in history that had me pulling out my hair, cursing everything about New York and packing my bags for warmer climates. I (we) survived quitting jobs, panic attacks about not having jobs, panic attacks about having too many jobs, and finally landing the perfect job. I (we) survived not only moving apartments which as any New Yorker knows is enough to want to throw yourself into the East River, but a cohabitation process that I can say to this day is still a ever evolving process of frustration (sometimes) and compromise (always). I (and hopefully NOT we) survived bed bugs. Hey, what can I say? They don’t teach this stuff in school. You kinda gotta fall flat on your face to figure it out and let me tell you – after last year, one whole side of my face is flat and studded with little pieces of gravel from the amount of times I did just that.
But the new year is here – 2012 – and you know, I have some big plans. See, you can make plans when you aren’t doggie-paddling to stay afloat. Would I call these plans resolutions per se? No. I would call these plans general guidelines for how I want to live my life and for the person I want show to the world. And while I am thinking about it, these “plans” are not so much pluralistic endeavours as one singular principle to live by, a mantra if you will – belt-tightening. Physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. Belt tightening is exactly what it sounds like – cutting out all of the fat in order to keep anything and everything nice and buckled up on the appropriate notch, preferably a little tighter than last year. It’s about staying active and eating right, spending money when I need to, socking it away for future use when I don’t and knowing when to splurge. It’s about keeping a close rein on my thoughts, especially negative ones that are neither needed nor wanted in the belt-tightening department, so that my mind is free to problem-solve effectively and perhaps even stop and smell the roses. And you might be thinking – why would you want to belt-tighten your emotions? Because really, I don’t need them. Not all of them. And kids, I am a cancer, so I have a lot of them all the time running through my brain/heart/psyche/etc. I can put aside anger and annoyance and sarcasm and in its place focus on constructive solutions to occurrences that illicit these emotions (or at least I am telling myself I can!).
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(The SO and I took an uber-cleansing road trip through California to ring in the new year)
But here’s the best part about belt tightening – just like notches on a belt, there’s room to go a little tighter or looser then what’s “normal” for you. So if there’s a special occasion and I happened upon a little Friday night Happy Hour, I can indulge and then get back to the program the next day. As much as I am about challenging myself to go beyond what I feel comfortable with, I am also about being gentle with myself and realizing that I can, ahem, fall on my face from time to time. Or at least stub my toe, but next time I will try not to break it!
And so it begins! Like almost everyone I know come January, after the endless holiday gatherings and celebratory dinners with friends and family, I need a cleanse. You might remember the last time I did a cleanse, and I didn’t feel that great afterwards. So when I saw this cleansing soup by two of my favorite contributors to Bon Appetit, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, I knew this would be the perfect mix – a cleansing, ginger and pepper-infused broth to root out all my bad-doing last year while being filing enough from the chicken to keep me going. The first day of this cleanse I just ate the broth and chicken but over the next few days, I added brown rice, broccoli, carrots and/or rice noodles to make it a more substantial meal. This is definitely the type of cleanse I could do over and over again. Enjoy and happy new year!
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Cleansing Ginger Chicken Soup

From Bon Appetit, January 2012

Active Time: 20 minutes, inactive time: 2 1/2 hours (for simmering); Makes 4 generous servings or 6 with “additions”. 

1 onion, sliced

2 celery stalks, chopped

8 ounces unpeeled scrubbed ginger, cut into 1/2″-thick slices

2 garlic cloves, crushed

10 whole black peppercorns

1 3-pound whole organic chicken, cut into 7 pieces (2 breasts, 2 legs with thighs attached, 2 wings, 1 back)

Kosher salt

Cilantro leaves (optional)

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large heavy pot. Add chicken, placing breasts on top. Add 6 quarts water (preferably filtered or spring water); bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover with lid slightly ajar. Reduce heat to low; simmer until chicken breasts are just cooked through, about 30 minutes. Transfer chicken breasts to a plate; let cool, then cover and chill. Continue to simmer soup, uncovered, until broth is fully flavored, about 2 ½ hours longer. Return breasts to soup to rewarm, about 5 minutes. Remove chicken from broth. When cool enough to handle, coarsely shred meat; discard skin and bones. Place a fine-mesh sieve over another large pot; strain broth, discarding solids in strainer (you should have about 8 cups broth). Season with salt. Rewarm soup. Divide chicken among bowls. Pour hot broth over, dividing equally. Garnish soup with cilantro leaves*, if desired.

*Additions:

– Brown rice

– Rice noodles

– Julianned carrots, daikon radish, thinly sliced onions or bean sprouts

– Baby spinach 

– Sliced jalapeno

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