"When the single cook goes to bed with a single cold, he/she is alas a single patient," writes reader and local single cook Ruth Hopkins. Food is a problem not only once or twice a day, but three times or more, Hopkins lamented.
Shivering and sweating is bad enough, but when there's no mate or mama to bring the bowl of chicken soup, the walk to the refrigerator feels like the Lewis and Clark expedition. Not only does the sick single cook need to keep a larder for such emergencies, but the foods must be those that keep you on your feet for as little time as possible.
Dr. Chariklia Segal, director of general internal medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center, who sees a lot of single patients, said that many of them are "too independent." She implores that they nevertheless have friends check up on them periodically, even if the sick single cook looks "grubby." When they leave her office after an appointment, Segal sends her patients to the store to stock up on aseptically packaged juices, which are convenient to store and easy to drink in bed.
Like many doctors, Segal doesn't recommend dairy products or raw foods for patients with colds or the flu. According to Segal, the enzymes on the fingerlike projections in the intestines don't function as effectively in a sick body and have a hard time absorbing dairy products. And raw foods are hard to absorb, too, says Segal. You want to eat foods that are easy to digest and that give you quick energy. Carbohydrates, which require fewer metabolic steps to digest than fats or protein, fit the bill.
Segal also said that it's important not to eat too much at once. Don't overload the stomach, Segal cautioned; when you're sick, it's better to eat smaller and more frequent meals.
And as anyone who has ever gone to the doctor knows, more important than eating during sickness is drinking plenty of fluids. You get dehydrated before you get starved, said Dr. Robert Shesser, vice chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at George Washington Medical Center. (Segal said that most Americans have "enough reserves" to keep them for awhile without eating.)
As for what to drink, Shesser said he usually recommends clear liquids such as apple, cranberry, orange or grapefruit juices, but that it's more important to get the fluids in, no matter what they are (aside from alcohol). He even tells Diet Coke lovers to drink the soft drink when they're sick, rather than forego liquids altogether. (As for food, Shesser said fresh fruits and vegetables are okay during the flu, so long as you feel like eating them, and you don't have an intestinal virus with diarrhea.)
Obviously, though, the range of palatable foods during illness is far from exotic or unique. And while the choices hedge on common sense, when it comes to solo suffering, the single cook's capacity for rational thought is somewhat limited. The following is meant as a back-to-reality reference -- before, during or after the delerium: Survival Shelf
Keep the following emergency foods (which are good to keep on hand whether you're sneezing or not) in your larder: crackers, rice, noodles, bouillon or broth, tea, honey, jam, english muffins, bread for toasting, potatoes, applesauce, instant hot cereals, orange, apple, cranberry or other fruit juices, aseptically packaged. In the freezer: turkey or chicken breasts, homemade soups. Quick Tips
*Top a toasted bagel or english muffin with honey and cinnamon or nutmeg. Do the same on top of a bowl of cream of rice or wheat. (Shesser said cream of rice is simple to digest, cream of wheat slightly harder.)
*Pop a potato in the oven. Ten minutes before it's finished, split it and break an egg into the middle. Cook until set.
*Crumble graham crackers on top of applesauce. Or spread strawberry jam on top of graham crackers.
*If you can handle it, give yourself a lift by turning the tortellini you were planning to serve alla crema into en brodo. Enliven other chicken broths by adding chopped turkey, chicken, rice, alphabets, noodles. Remember the smaller the pasta, the less time it'll take to cook.
*Boil new potatoes. Split and sprinkle with chives. If desired, serve with scrambled eggs.
*If you have leftover chicken, make a sick person's couscous. The instant couscous only takes 5 minutes; when it's finished, add chopped chicken. Psychological Warfare
*Set aside snacks or plan mini-meals in the morning, when your fever is down.
*Drink your tea out of an attractive mug, not the one your brother brought back from a Pocono motel gift shop.
*Drink your juice with a straw. It's more fun. No matter how sick you feel, if you're eating in bed, try to return a half-finished dinner plate to the kitchen -- or at least cover it with a napkin. By the time you wake up in the morning, the looks of it will make you feel sicker. (One single cook can testify to this one.) Delivery Services
*There's always won ton soup and white rice; see if your local Chinese restaurant will deliver. Orient Express, at 35th St. and Resevoir Rd., (338-8200) charges $1 for deliveries under $10. Hunan Gallery, 3308 Wisconsin Ave. NW. (362-6645), delivers after 5 p.m. only and has a $10 minimum (that's a lot of won ton soup.)
The following area supermarkets and companies will deliver groceries. Some will only deliver within a given radius of the metropolitan area and each has different delivery charges and minimums. Call them for information.
Broadbranch Grocery, 5608 Broadbranch Rd. NW. 966-5656.
Brookville Market, 7027 Brookville Rd., Chevy Chase, Md. 652-2793.
Clover Market, 5014 Connecticut Ave. NW. 363-1717.
Glover Park Market, 2411 37th St. NW. 333-4030.
Larimer's, 1727 Connecticut Ave. NW. 332-1766.
Neam's, 3217 P St. NW. 338-4694.
Nothing Fancy Produce, 3316 11th St. NW. 387-9653.
Top Banana, a supermarket delivery service that delivers to residents of upper Northwest, most of Montgomery County and all of Prince George's County. 888-1201.
Washington Grocery Service, a District supermarket delivery service. 797-7744.
Here are some variations on the chicken soup theme; recipes that friends of sick single cooks can make, and those that single cooks can make when well, freezing for later use. DUKE ZEIBERT'S CHICKEN IN A POT (2 servings)
FOR THE SOUP:
3 1/2-pound chicken
1 large onion
1/2 stalk celery
Few sprigs parsley
1 gallon water
Salt and white pepper to taste
2 egg whites
1 or 2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 cup sweet peas
1 cup thin egg noodles, cooked
Matzo balls for serving
In a large saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, onion, celery, parsley and water. Bring to a boil. Add egg whites and boil for about 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked, seasoning to taste and skimming fat.
Remove chicken, carrots, celery and onions from broth and set aside. Strain broth until clear and return to pot.
Add bouillon cubes to broth and cook for another hour, reducing until flavors are concentrated.
Slice carrots, celery and onion and divide between two deep soup bowls. Divide peas and noodles between bowls. Remove skin from chicken and most of the bones. Place one leg and one breast in each bowl and ladle over approximately 2 cups soup. Serve with matzo balls. Refrigerate or freeze extra broth. LEMONY CHICKEN SOUP (8 servings)
4-pound roasting chicken
1 gallon water
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, sliced
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1/2 cup lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Mint for sprinkling
Combine chicken, water, onions and carrots in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Skim off scum periodically. Lower heat, cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Add rice to soup and cook until tender.
Remove chicken from soup; skin and cut the meat into strips. Return meat to soup, add lemon juice and adjust seasoning. Serve with sprinkling of mint. COUNTRY-STYLE TURKEY SOUP (10 servings)
4 1/2 pounds turkey wings (about 4 medium-sized wings)
10 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups peeled and diced rutabaga, turnip or parsnip
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
1/4 cup pearl barley
4 to 5 carrots, sliced
1/2 cup elbow macaroni or alphabets
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt to taste
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups loose-pack frozen corn kernels
Combine the turkey wings, water, bouillon cube, onions, rutabaga, chopped celery, parsley and barley in a 5- to 6-quart soup pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover and simmer the mixture for 1 1/2 hours, or until the turkey wings are tender.
Remove the turkey wings and set them aside. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the meat and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Add the carrots, macaroni, marjoram, thyme, salt and pepper to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer and continue cooking, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir in the corn and reserved turkey meat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until the carrots are tender and the corn is cooked through. The soup may be refrigerated or frozen for later use.
Adapted from "Soup's On," by Nancy Baggett and Ruth Glick (Macmillan, $16.95)