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Seasonal Pantry: Drinks to help ease sicknesses

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It begins oh so subtly, like a tap on the shoulder you almost don’t feel. Suddenly, there’s a catch in your throat that wasn’t there a few minutes ago. Then one sneeze leads to another, and another, and another. Next thing you know, you’re sweating, shivering, aching, and longing for a rendezvous with your pillow.

Welcome to virus season.

There are already several bugs circulating, some that seem like full blown flu, some that are clearly colds, and others that are rather amorphous. “Am I sick?” you may wonder, or, “Do I have supercharged allergies? Have I become lazy? Depressed? Fed up with the world? All or none of the above?”

At such times, a well-stocked pantry can be your best friend. If you have chicken stock in your freezer, you can make congee (rice porridge, typically savory) or soup with little effort. If you’re really sick, all you need to do is let the stock thaw, heat it, and add the juice of a lemon, a few shakes of hot sauce, and, if you’re up to it, a couple of cloves of garlic. Sip as much as you can until you fall asleep.

This year, like most years, virus season caught me by surprise. As I snuggled in bed, drifting in and out of a troubled sleep, I found myself wishing I’d started making fire cider several weeks earlier. It’s a powerful potion, one that many people swear by as both preventative and a cure, but it takes a few weeks to make. There are retail versions, too, though none are as good as homemade versions. Still, they can help you through until yours is ready.

Both of today’s recipes, for fire cider and for golden milk, are praised by the wellness community as beneficial to our health in myriad ways. I can’t take on all these claims in a single column, but I do know, from personal experience, that they taste delicious and seem to ease symptoms. The golden milk can also help you fall asleep, a welcome thing when your nose is stuffed up and your head is pounding.

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Most of these ingredients are readily available in any local market. The one that can be a bit tricky to find is fresh turmeric, but I’ve seen it at Oliver’s Markets, Pacific Markets, Andy’s Produce and every Asian market in the country. Some people confuse it with ginger because it is a similarly-shaped root. But it is darker and smaller, with deep orange flesh. It is also typically labeled so finding it shouldn’t be a problem.

Fire Cider

Makes about 1 quart

1 medium red onion, trimmed, peeled, and quartered

2 organic oranges, quartered

2 organic lemons, quartered

— About 4 ounces fresh horseradish, peeled

3-4 ounces fresh ginger

2-3 ounces fresh turmeric (see Note below)

3-4 garlic bulbs, cloves separated, lightly crushed, and peeled

5 serranos or other hot chiles of choice

1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary needles

3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves

1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed

1 quart organic apple cider vinegar, preferably local, plus more as needed

½ cup raw honey, preferably local, or maple syrup, plus more to taste

If you have a food processor, fit it with its grating blade and grate the onion and transfer it to a clean glass 2-quart jar.

Continue, grating and transferring, the oranges, lemons, horseradish, ginger, turmeric, and garlic.

Cut the serrranos or other chiles lengthwise from tip to stem end, but do not cut through the stem. Add them to the jar.

Remove the grating blade, put the metal blade in place, add the parsley, rosemary, thyme, and oregano and pulse 2 or 3 times, just enough to chop the herbs, not puree them. Add them to the jar, along with the peppercorns.

Fill the jar with apple cider vinegar, adding enough to completely cover the ingredients. If you have a glass weight, set it on top of the ingredients to keep them submerged.

Add a round of parchment paper on top of the jar and then seal it; without the parchment, the vinegar will corrode the metal lid.

With the lid secure, shake the jar several times.

Set it in a cool dark pantry and shake every day. After 4 weeks, carefully taste the cider and if it is quite full flavored, it is done. If it is not, let it sit for another 2 to 3 weeks.

To finish, line a strainer with 3 layers of cheesecloth and set it over a deep bowl. Pour the mixture into it. After the liquid has drained into the bowl, gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze it tightly to release remaining juices. Discard the solids.

Stir in honey or maple syrup, taste, and add more until you reach your preferred level of sweetness. Transfer to bottles, close with corks, and keep refrigerated. Use by spring.

Serving Suggestions:

Drink an ounce or so (a shot glass full) of the cider every morning.

When sick, drink an ounce or so every two hours.

Pour about an ounce or two into a teacup, fill with hot water, and enjoy.

Pour 2 ounces over ice, top off with sparkling water, and enjoy.

Use in place of plain vinegar in a simple vinaigrette.

Drizzle over soups, rice, or congee.

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It is crucial to include the peppercorns in this milk, as our bodies cannot absorb turmeric without it.

Golden Milk

Makes 1 to 2 servings, easily doubled

2 cups boxed unsweetened coconut milk beverage or 1 ¼ cups canned unsweetened coconut milk thinned with ¾ cup water

1 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric

½ teaspoon black peppercorns, lightly cracked

1 2-inch cinnamon stick

½ star anise, optional

— Coconut sugar, maple syrup, or honey, to taste

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and stir in the ginger, turmeric, peppercorns, cinnamon, and star anise, if using. Set over medium heat, bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and remove from the heat. Let steep 10 to 15 minutes.

To enjoy hot, pour into 1 or 2 mugs and add sweetener to taste.

To enjoy chilled, strain the milk into a clean container, add sweetener to taste, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Pour over ice and enjoy.

Variations: Use whole cow’s milk, goat milk, almond milk, or rice milk in place of coconut milk.

Use 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 2 teaspoons ground turmeric, and ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon in place of the fresh ingredients.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Salt & Pepper.” Email her at michele@micheleannjordan.com.

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