The first sign of trouble was the bowl of chocolates on the dinner table.
The appetizer course hadn’t arrived yet. And even though I’d hit up the raw bar multiple times, that did little to absorb the dirty martini sloshing around somewhere beneath my black dress. So because I was hungry, and it was a celebration, and empire waists should be cherished, things proceeded to get a little out of hand.
I ate the chocolates. I drank the wine. And an hour later when I went to the bathroom, encountering the bride’s mother on the way, I saw a puffy fuchsia face, a neck covered in hives, and a body that was giving me the middle finger for eating all the things.
It’s not that often these days that I experience the type of unbridled binge that used to be a staple of my pre-wellness project days. When it does happen, it’s usually at a wedding. And as was the case a few weekends ago in Philly, the experience usually requires many bowls of greens and garlicky avgolemono soup to get my immune system back on track.
The strange allergic reaction to my hedonism that I experienced mid-way through dinner was only the beginning. When I got home last Sunday, my body unraveled even further into a pre-cold fugue state that lasted most of the week.
You know that horrible prelude when you feel tired, achy and off, but don’t yet have the tell-tale symptoms of sickness? I usually find this period to be the worst. Once the cold blossoms and expresses itself by turning one of your orifices into a faucet, then at least it’s appropriate to spend the rest of the afternoon watching Westworld in a bathtub. But in the lead-up all you can do is drink warm things, eat vegetables and hope for the best.
I was so foggy last week I might not have even remembered what I needed to do for myself if it hadn’t been for a conversation I had at the wedding dinner table before my wine glass and the communal chocolate bowl had been successfully emptied.
One of my college friends was talking about how his wife always makes the garlic soup from my cookbook whenever they’re feeling like they’re about to come down with something. Geoff and Jess are both doctors who work in a hospital, so presumably their immune systems resemble a Dothraki army and don’t need a lot of outside help. But I still found this endorsement to be particularly meaningful.
So when I found myself a few days later craving some comfort food and HBO, I decided to make a bowl of my mother’s special concoction—a variation on the Greek lemon soup avgolemono, which uses eggs in the broth to make it silky and rich. Her version adds even more immunity by using a whole head of garlic.
The trickiest part of avgolemono is tempering the eggs. And as a true sign of my mental and physical distress, even though I’ve made this soup dozens of times, I somehow managed to curdle it. Luckily, if this happens, the soup will still taste delicious. It will just look a little funky—like a stringy Greek egg drop soup, versus the anticipated yellow, cloudy base. In order to avoid this, just make sure that you whisk in the broth slowly and add enough to the eggs so they’re hot to the touch.
When I regained my faculties thanks to that first batch of soup, I made another. This time, I did not rush the egg tempering. I also added fennel to give the soup some veggies (you can garnish with the fronds!), and quinoa instead of rice.
I hope the rest of you are faring better this cold season. If not, there’s this avgolemono soup with fennel, quinoa and garlic to the rescue. I’m off this weekend to yet another wedding in New Orleans (endless wedding season never ends, folks!!). Though I plan on tasting my way around the city, at least I know my binging will be partially curbed by not being able to eat anything on the buffet table. Ah, gluten. You blessing in disguise.
If you have any great recommendations for things to eat and see in NOLA, I’m all ears!!
From one healthy, cold-fighting hedonist, to another,
Garlicky Avgolemono Soup with Fennel and Quinoa
In a medium Dutch oven, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. With the flat side of your knife, crush the head of garlic so the cloves separate from the base. Discard any loose skins. Add the cloves to the boiling water, and blanch for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or a fork, remove the garlic cloves and any wayward skins from the pot, and let them rest on a cutting board until cool enough to handle. Pick the skins off with your fingers—they will come off extremely easily.
Add the garlic cloves back to the pot, along with the chicken stock, quinoa, fennel, salt, and cayenne. Bring to a boil. Cover, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is cooked. Remove the pot from the heat.
In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs.
Temper the egg: slowly whisk 1⁄4 cup of the hot broth into the bowl, adding a very small amount at a time so as not to scramble the egg. Repeat with another 3/4 cup of broth. Once the egg mixture is warm and the broth is fully incorporated, stir the mixture into the soup and add the lemon juice, shredded chicken and fennel fronds. The egg yolk will give the soup a subtle, silky quality, while the lemon adds brightness to the rich, sweet garlic.
If your egg breaks, don’t freak out. It will still taste delicious, just will look a little funky – like Chinese egg drop soup.