Wintertime with two young'uns is an endless round of illness. We had already weathered several colds and coughs before our older son, Will came down with scarlet fever for the first time last month. Like the croup, it's one of those old-fashioned-sounding sicknesses that I was surprised (and dismayed) to learn still exist.
Everything I knew about scarlet fever came from some of my favorite books from childhood--it's the reason the The Velveteen Rabbit is so callously tossed on the burn pile after years of devoted service (but he also becomes Real so all's well that ends well.)
It's also what Laura Ingalls Wilder attributes her sister Mary's blindness to in By the Shores of Silver Lake in the The Little House on the Prairie Series even though it's not what actually caused Mary to go blind - she had some sort of stroke, according to Pioneer Girl, Laura's completely fascinating, heavily annotated autobiography that was published for the first time in 2015.
Scarlet fever is also the disease that Beth March catches from a poor family she helps to nurse in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women - a story line Alcott apparently modeled closely on the life of her sister, Lizzie, who died from complications of the illness at the age of 23.
But our pediatrician was not alarmed, nor did she advise burning our son's loveys, thank God! That would have been BAD...
It turns out that the uber dramatic-sounding scarlet fever is really just strep throat with a rash. Our doc explained that of the roughly 20 or so strains of strep, there are four or five that release a toxin that causes a rash - they're known as group A strep (as opposed to the group B strep that women get tested for in the last few weeks of pregnancy. But the doc swabs an entirely different spot for that test - remember, mamas?)
Although it's usually a pretty mild illness nowadays, if you don't treat it, scarlet fever can come back to bite you later in life in the form of rheumatic fever, kidney disease, pneumonia and a few other gnarly problems one would rather avoid. So our pediatrician prescribed a 10-day course of disgustingly sweet, bubblegum-flavored amoxicillin to ensure that Will won't suffer any ill effects from the fever. And we had to battle him three times a day to choke it down.
So you can imagine our surprise to spot the telltale, sandpapery, red rash all over his trunk again a few nights ago. Another trip to the pediatrician ensued, and after a quick throat swab, she diagnosed him with "scarlatina" - the mild version of scarlet fever.
Will started on another 10-day course of antibiotics (I requested pills this time - a huge improvement over the nasty liquid) and missed the last two days of school before the week-long winter "break." So much for productivity...
Our friend Phoebe introduced us to it this fall and it is comfort incarnate. I made a pot of this the other night after Will's second diagnosis when we were all feeling sick and tired and it was just the thing. Perked us right up.
The broth is particularly addictive - you start with a good chicken stock that is flavored with lemon and thickened with egg. The meatballs are spiked with herbs -- mint, parsley and dill as well as finely minced onion. It makes them super fresh and flavorful. And you add lots of orzo cause this is comfort food. The acidity of the lemon brightens the hearty broth and makes the whole mess of flavors shine. Mwah! So good!
A good stock makes a big difference so if you can make your own, do. Any time you roast a chicken (or buy a roasted chicken) just put that carcass in a pot of water and let it simmer for a couple hours. I also add some of my vegetable scraps - things like onion and carrot peels, parsley and dill stems - to give it more flavor. Then I strain the solids out and let the stock reduce a bit so that what's left is nice and flavorful. Once it's cooled down, I freeze it in mason jars, yogurt containers or ziploc bags so that I always have stock on hand when I need it.
Important note: do NOT just dump the bowl of eggs into the pot of soup. In order to avoid scrambling the eggs, you first pour one cup of the hot stock into the egg to temper it and then you can add it to the pot and let it simmer a little longer.
This is Greek comfort food at its finest. I hope you like it. Stay warm and stay well.
Greek Lemon Soup with Chicken Meatballs & Orzo adapted from Cooks Illustrated
* 8 cups chicken stock
* 1 lb ground chicken or turkey
* 1 small onion, grated or finely minced
* 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
* 3 Tbsps chopped, fresh dill
* 3 Tbsps chopped, fresh mint
* 1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley
* 4 eggs
* 1 cup orzo
* 3 carrots, peeled and chopped (optional but they're good!)
* 3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice
* Sea salt
* Freshly ground pepper
1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium-large pot. Meanwhile, make the meatballs: put the ground meat, onion, breadcrumbs, chopped herbs, 1 of the eggs, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in a bowl and knead (I use my hands) until well-mixed. Shape into one-inch meatballs.
2. Add the meatballs, orzo and carrots to the stock and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through and the carrots and orzo are tender.
3. Whisk the lemon juice and eggs together in a bowl. Whisking constantly, gradually add one cup of the hot stock to the bowl then gradually add the egg and stock mixture back to the pot, whisking all the while. Simmer gently on low heat until slightly thickened for another 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
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- 8 Soups That'll Warm Up Your Winter
- Tzatziki - Greece's Ubiquitous Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce
- Preserved Lemons For Fabulous Flavor