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The Cook in Me: A Stroke of Luck! Mushroom Barley Soup & Beer Bread©

Updated on January 3, 2014

This article was originally published one year ago. Be sure to read the Epilogue to see how the author has recovered and the future prognosis.

Stroke Symptoms
Stroke Symptoms

The Symptoms

The New Year is here, and with it comes all sorts of surprises and unexpected events. Take last week for instance. After enjoying delightful times with my family and friends throughout the Christmas and New Year holidays, I received the shock of my life last Thursday. I guess I have to start with Wednesday morning, January 2nd, when I woke up with a migraine headache. I have a history of Ophthalmic Migraines1 so I really didn't think it was anything unusual. Thinking back on it later, I realized I didn't usually wake up with one; rather they happened at various times during the day. I've been having these migraines since I was 13 years old. At that time I saw my first neurologist because I was sure that I had a brain tumor. (I get my hypochondriac propensity from my Grandma on my Mother's side, and I've also always had a tendency to over-exaggerate.) When I was first diagnosed, it made sense. My Mother had migraine headaches. My youngest Sister has migraine headaches, and one of my Grandsons has migraine headaches. No big deal. It runs in my family, although my migraines have always been somewhat different than those of my other family members. And now that I think about it, they're different than any I've heard about from anyone else.

As a rule, my typical migraine starts with an "aura." Apparently 1 in 5 migraine sufferers experience the aura. An aura is a series of sensations that precede a migraine experience by anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. In my case, the aura causes vision distortions such as flashing lights, blind spots and what I describe as lightning or fireworks. This is generally limited to my left eye, although on occasion it has happened in both eyes. During this "aura" phase, which in my case usually lasts about 15-20 minutes, I also feel kind of mentally hazy and unfocused. As an example, I have a disturbed sense of speech. I have to concentrate very hard on what I'm saying because I don't always hear what I've said as what I wanted to say, and I have to hyper-focus on what others are saying to me.

Before the aura phase concludes, I begin experiencing throbbing pain in my upper right forehead. The pain is always concentrated in that area and doesn't spread to other parts of my head. Sometimes I will have sensitivity to light during the headache phase, but most times not. The headache is severe however, and the only thing that really helps it is lying down and trying to fall asleep. I am not always able to however because of the magnitude of the headache. If the headache is very severe, I will also experience some nausea. No medications I have ever taken make the headache subside, so my best treatment is just sleeping.

After I have had the headache for approximately one hour, it begins to abate, and on my left side beginning with my toes, I have a feeling of numbness and tingling—like my foot is asleep. This numbness and tingling feeling slowly moves all the way up my left side. It affects half my face, the left side of my lips, the left side of my nose and my left eye. By the time the numbness and tingling feeling are over (this process takes about an hour), all symptoms have vanished. The only remaining effects are that I feel like I've been run over by a truck and I am exhausted.

Sounds bizarre doesn't it? But I've been having these since junior high school. At first the doctors thought they were just hormone-related. But they couldn't find any correlation between the symptoms and hormonal changes most 13-year old girls experiencce. After many EEGs (Electroencephalograms) and visits to several specialists, it was diagnosed as an Opthalmic form of migraine headache. The headaches virtually vanished after both my children were born, and did not reoccur again until I was in law school in the early 1980s. At that time, I just attributed them to stress and I didn't think a whole lot about it. But when they became more persistent, I again saw my neurologist and by that time medical science had advanced and MRIs were becoming more common. Interestingly enough, I learned that in the intervening years between 1964 when I saw my first neurologist, and my return visits in the early 1980s, research revealed a correlation between migraine headaches and epilepsy, or so my neurologist told me. That made sense to me, as the symptomology I experienced appeared in some ways to mimic a mild seizure.

MRI image of my brain shortly after the stroke
MRI image of my brain shortly after the stroke
Cast your vote for Mushroom Barley Soup and Beer Bread

The Diagnosis

So, back to Wednesday morning when I woke up with the migraine. I had an appointment that morning with my surgeon (I had had some suspicious spots removed from my back—non-cancerous), and I decided that since my vision was somewhat obstructed from the "aura," I probably shouldn't be driving. So my son drove me. Silly me; I didn't even think to mention it to the surgeon as it was just a migraine. We came home, and I still had the headache and the distorted vision. I took migraine medication later that day in the event it might work for a change, but I didn't think much more about it and went to bed that night. When I woke up Thursday morning and still nothing had changed, I had my son take me to the Emergency Room at our closest hospital. Being the trooper that I am and not wanting to inconvenience anyone more than necessary, I sent my son home. It appeared there would be quite a wait despite the fact that I was considered a "priority" patient. Two hours later, when I was finally able to see a doctor, I described all the symptoms. I downplayed it, explaining that it was probably just a migraine as the symptoms were no different than any other migraine I'd ever had except that they lasted longer. I told him that I would feel better if they did an MRI just to make sure nothing else was going on upstairs. They immediately took blood and shipped me off for the MRI. Within five minutes the physician was back telling me that the MRI showed that I had a stroke.

Imagine my surprise! I wasn't upset, I didn't panic, and I wasn't afraid. I was just astounded that what I thought were perfectly typical migraine headache symptoms were in actuality stroke symptoms. I am 61 years old (soon to be 62), I am in the best physical shape I have been in since I can't remember when, I have no heart, vascular or arterial diseases, I exercise regularly, and I am vigilant about watching my diet. That means I hardly ever eat red meat, I do not eat fried foods, I am not a dessert or sweets eater, I do not particularly like chocolate, I do not consume foods high in fat, and I do not have high LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), the bad cholesterol. My HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or "good" cholesterol is where it's supposed to be. I have never smoked, I never used drugs other than prescription, and I rarely even have a glass of wine. In fact, all the blood work taken at the hospital was in the normal range, except my blood sugar readings which were low for someone with Type II Diabetes. That means my Diabetes is in excellent control. The MRI, MRA and CT scans showed no blockages, aneurisms, or hemorrhages. My carotid and other arteries in my brain and neck are clear of obstructions. There does not appear to be any preventable cause for what happened.

The moral of the story here, other than it's a heck of a way to start off a new year (even though it IS 2013—thank goodness I'm not superstitious), is that you just never know. Age doesn't matter, physical condition doesn't always matter. Please don't be like me and ignore the symptoms, even if you are a migraine sufferer. Even if you think whatever it is will go away, don't be a martyr. Take an aspirin, dial 911 and have it checked. Do NOT drive yourself to the hospital. Let the squad take you—you will get faster treatment once you arrive at the Emergency Room because emergency transports get first priority. I consider myself very lucky that the only lingering effect that I can tell is diminished vision in both eyes (25% vision loss in my left and 33% in my right). The Neurologist and Ophthalmologist both say it may come back, or it may not. The Occupational Therapist is very optimistic and says my eye can be retrained. I have no idea about these things, so I will just have to wait and see. If it does, it does; if it doesn't, it doesn't. Either way I'll live.

Fortunately I have no speech, hearing, motor or other physical effects of which i am aware. I can still read, write, rationalize (well, as well as I could before), and walk and talk without any difficulty. My kids still say I'm crazy but as far as I'm concerned, that is maintaining the status quo. I've always had a slightly skewed sense of humor so nothing there has changed. After all, you have to be able to laugh, especially at yourself, and the ability to do so keeps us healthy and young. My neurologist wants me to stay with my son's family so that thet can "monitor" my behavior in order to determine whether there are other effects of which I am unaware. Hopefully this will not be for a long period of time as I am anxious to get into my own home. As far as my plan for my future articles, I am going to be focusing more on healthy than I have to this point. Yes, I still love butter. My Grandmother buttered both sides of my Pancakes, Toast, French Toast and anything else that called for butter. But after this little episode, it's not worth it. I'll concentrate more on olive oil and foods rich in the good cholesterol. And as far as cooking goes, I read an article recently that stated that good substitutes in recipes that call for butter are applesauce or mashed ripe avocados. Supposedly it does not affect the taste, and it provides you with the HDL cholesterol that your body needs instead of LDL. I'll try it and let you know.

Barley and Wheat
Barley and Wheat

The Health Benefits of Barley and Wheat Germ

Today I'm focusing on two recipes that have health benefits. Because it's winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and I'm getting a good readership from many countries in the Northern Hemisphere (who would have thought?), I was planning to do comfort foods this month anyhow. That means foods like soups, stews, homemade breads, and all those other homey selections that warm our tummies and make us feel secure. I thought we'd start with my favorite Mushroom Soup recipe. It is not a cream based soup, but rather broth based. I've adjusted it somewhat from the recipe I first tried, i.e., Joan Nathan's ”Zingerman's Mushroom Barley Soup." If you aren't from the Midwest and don't know about Zingerman's, it's worth adding to your list of places to visit when you're on vacation in Michigan. If you don't believe me, check out its website at In fact, I'm surprised Tim Allen hasn't added it to his advertisements for Pure Michigan. Zingerman's is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, (home of the University of Michigan) and is the consummate deli. It's not really a deli but more of an international marketplace like New York's Zabar's. The owners have re-developed many Eastern European recipes, many having a Jewish heritage, from the Nineteenth Century and updated them. Zingerman's has homemade breads, soups, mile-high sandwiches, the best corned beef I've ever tasted, desserts made on site, pickles, deli selections. . . . You name it, they have it and then some. Their Bakehouse Breads are unbelievable; the Pecan Raisin Bread is out of this world. It has a half pound of pecans and raisins in each loaf. (You can order it on-line at or find a similar recipe by looking up Zingerman's Pecan Raisin Bread on Google.)

The Mushroom Barley Soup recipe I'm featuring today is of those updated Nineteenth Century Eastern European recipes. It is loaded with mushrooms, and accented by carrots, celery, parsley, barley and a wonderful broth. It is a vegetarian, Kosher recipe that can be served as a first course or a meal. You can use any blend of mushrooms you like, and it is hands down the best recipe for Mushroom Soup I have ever tried. There is no creamy broth so the mushrooms shine on their own, and after all, isn't that what you want from a Mushroom Soup? Additionally, plant foods rich in dietary fiber like mushrooms, help protect us against cancer, specifically colorectal cancer, as well as other chronic diseases, or so says the American Institute for Cancer Research. And because mushrooms are sometimes known as "the meat of the vegetable world, no protein is required to make this a filling main course. If you find you want a heartier soup however, you can add shredded or chopped beef roast to the broth shortly before serving. When I do that I'll use a Chuck Roast that I've made in the Crockpot for tenderness. It really doesn't need it, however. Pair it with a nice wine like Pinot Grigot, Pinot Noir or Chenin Blanc and a hearty bread, and you have a full meal.

The soup derives other health benefits from the barley that is in it. Sadly, this ancient whole grain is overlooked by today's culinary innovators, yet it is one of the grains with the greatest health benefits. Barley contains eight essential amino acids, and is diabetic friendly² According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating whole-grain barley can regulate blood sugars, i.e., reduce your blood's glucose response to a meal for up to 10 hours after consumption, compared to white or even whole-grain wheat. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2010;91(1):90-7. Epub 2009 Nov 4.

I've paired the soup today with a hearty Beer Bread that my Mother-in-Law, Alma introduced back in the 1970s. It is a flavorful bread that is wonderful fresh or when toasted on the second and following days. It is a simple recipe and when made in cylindrical cans makes round slices. Round slices always generate discussion and actually fit in a toaster better than some slices baked in loaf pans. Beer is supposedly the third most popular drink in the world behind tea and water. It is also thought to be the oldest known fermented beverage. This Beer Bread is actually healthier than White, French or Italian Breads. There are no eggs in it, and it derives fiber from the wheat germ that is added to the dough. For those of you unfamiliar with wheat germ, it is the most vitamin and mineral rich part of the wheat kernel. Sadly this kernel, which includes the wheat germ, is removed during the refining process of turning whole wheat grains into white flour. In the manufacturing process, it is removed completely because its healthy oils can spoil, or go rancid quickly. By removing it, food production companies are able to keep the wheat in storage much longer. (Good for the companies, bad for the consumer.) Because the oils and antioxidant content are an important reason why wheat germ is so healthy, the germ is exceptionally perishable when exposed to air. Therefore, always refrigerate it after you open it to keep it fresh.

Wheat germ is good for you for many reasons. It is packed with a variety of nutrients including B vitamins such as folate, thiamin, and vitamin B6. B vitamins are essential for maintaining good cardiovascular health and to balance the chemicals in your brain that control your mood. It also has lots of fiber which is necessary for balanced blood sugar, cholesterol control, detoxification and intestinal health. A French study in 1992 found that eating about a quarter of a cup of raw wheat germ per day for 14 weeks lowered LDL, or "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides.³ Wheat Germ is also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids. These acids can lower inflammation, lower cholesterol, and support a healthy nervous system, which in turn lowers anxiety levels and improves mood (it's a natural anti-depressant). Wheat germ also contains a plethora of minerals including zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese and selenium. Our bodies require these minerals to mend itself and carry on the chemical reactions that maintain our health. The Vitamin E in wheat germ protects our cell membranes and brain cells which help stop plaque build-up in our arteries and atherosclerosis. While most of us get more than enough wheat in our diet, the germ in the wheat has been removed and therefore we are usually not getting the best part of the grain. As you can see, wheat germ is a teriffic food. It usually takes the form of a coarse powder or flake. In order to enrich your diet with wheat germ, you can easily include it in oatmeal, casseroles, protein shakes, breads, pancakes, or muffins, and sprinkle it over your yogurt or cereal. A caution to some individuals however: while wheat germ is in most cases a wonderfully healthy food, those who have wheat and gluten allergies or who have Celiac's Disease should stay away from it and other wheat and gluten products.⁴

Now that you're armed with all the reasons that the ingredients in today's soup and bread recipes are so good for you, why not start the new year off on the right foot and make a healthy dinner this week for your family or guests? I'm sure you will find yourself returning to them over and over. And just as an aside, I'd be interested in knowing if any of you experience the type of Opthalmic Migraine Hadaches that I do. I've never known anyone else who did. If so, please post a Comment in the Comments Sectiion. I will respond to all Comments! I wish all of you a Healthy, Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve 2013
New Year's Eve 2013


It was one year ago today that I had the stroke, a day that will probably forever be imprinted in my mind. My entire life could have changed that day, but fortunately it did not. At the time of the stroke, I lost 33% of the vision in my right eye and 25% in my left. I could not drive. I could not live alone. I had a constant headache. I lived in fear that I was going to experience a more severe, permanently disabling episode. As of today, however, that fear has not been realized. While I still have not recovered 100% of my vision; I have recovered approximately 90% of the vision impairment. Both my neurologist and opthamologist are hopeful that even more of my sight will return over the coming year. I live happily in my own condominium on one of the 300 canals that run through my city and I am able, once again, to drive.

There are only two other lingering effects of which I am aware, and most people probably would not even recognize either of them. I get dizzy when I completely stoop over to retrieve something from a bottom cabinet and when I get on a ladder. The simple solution is not to get on a ladder and to hold onto something when I bend over. My family tells me that I am also more scattered than I used to be. I have always had a very active mind and as a result, I have so many thoughts racing in my brain that I get ahead of myself and others to whom I am speaking and jump from subject to subject causing confusion to the listener. Additionally, somewhere along the line that gate that is supposed to filter the path from my brain to my both got broken. As a result, sometimes thoughts just come shooting out of my mouth before my brain has had a chance to filter them or organize them in a cohesive fashion. Because I have always considered myself to be extremely ditzy, (I will be the first to admit that fact) most people would not recognize it as a result of the stroke. I have also been told that I speak very fast. I think I do that because I don't know how much time I have left and I try to get all .my thoughts out before I drop over for good.

I am so fortunate that I am still alive, healthy, able to enjoy my life here in Florida, my family, and my dear friends. What is life without our family and friends? I live every day as if it was my last. In doing that I find that I laugh more than I ever have, I am less likely to hide my feelings, I am not shy about expressing exactly how I feel about my family members and friends, and I do not take life seriously. I take each day for what it is--a gift--and maximize every minute of it. I enjoy people, whether I know them or not. I view my life not as a struggle any more, but as a playground where I can maximize every experience and experience every possible opportunity. I live by the philosophy that worrying is a wasted effort. Things almost always take care of themselves and solutions to problems pop up when least expected. My entire focus on life, especially my life in relation to others, changed on January 2 of last year, and as a result, I am happier than I have been in many, many years. Please don't wait for a stroke or other wake-up call to take inventory of your own life. Change what needs to be changed now, before it is too late.

Thank you to each and every one of you who reads my articles thereby giving me the motivation and support to continue to share some of my life with you. I wish all of you only the very best in this new year.

©2013, 2014 by Kathy Striggow

This article may not be reproduced or reprinted in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.


2You can find the actual recipe for Joan Nathan's Zingerman's Ann Arbor Mushroom Barley Soup at


4Pina LoGiudice ND, LAc and Peter Bongiorno ND, LAcThu 11/03/2011 Directors of Inner Source Health


Mushroom Barley Soup
Mushroom Barley Soup

Mushroom Barley Soup


3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

2 Medium Onions, chopped

3 Ribs Celery with leaves, diced

2 Carrots, peeled and sliced

4 Cloves Garlic, chopped

1-1/2 to 2 Pounds Fresh Mushrooms, sliced (Cremini, Button, Chanterelle, King Oyster, Portobello, or a variety of your choice)

3/4 cup Fresh Parsley, snipped

2 Tablespoons Flour

3 quarts Beef Stock, Broth or Water

1-1/2 cups Whole Barley

2 teaspoons Salt


1. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil.

2. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, and 3 Tablespoons of the parsley until soft, about 10 minutes.

3. Reduce the heat and add the flour, stirring every constantly for about 5 minutes or until thick.

4. Heat the stock or water in a large soup pot.

5. When the stock is steaming, add a cup of mushroom mixture at a time to the pot, stirring continually.

6. Turn the heat to high and bring to the boiling point.

7. Add the barley, stirring well to incorporate.

8. Add salt to taste. Cover and reduce heat.

9. Simmer covered, stirring often, until the barley is tender and the soup is thickened, about one hour.

10. Add the remaining snipped parsley and mix thoroughly.

11, Adjust the seasonings.

12. Serve with a slice of Beer Bread and a smile!

Beer Bread with Wheat Germ
Beer Bread with Wheat Germ

Alma's Beer Bread

Yield: 1 regular size loaf or 2 cylindrical loaves

Active Prep Time: 25 minutes

Inactive Prep Time: 2 hours 15 minutes


1 cup Beer

2-1/4 tsp. (1 package) Yeast

3-3/4 cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour or Bread Flour

3 Tbsp. Brown Sugar

1 tsp. Salt

2 Tbsp. Butter or Margarine, melted OR Canola Oil

1/2 cup Wheat Germ


1. Warm beer to lukewarm, 110° and 115° F.

2. Place the beer in the bowl of a stand mixer (or you can make this by hand) and sprinkle the yeast over the top.

3. Wait 3 to 5 minutes for the yeast to start bubbling.

4. Add half the flour, sugar, and salt and with a bread hook if you are using a stand mixer, beat until smooth.

5. Add the melted butter, margarine or Canola oil with the rest of the flour and wheat germ.

6. Knead 5-10 minutes, depending on whether you like a course or smooth texture.

7. Shape the dough into a ball and place the ball in a bowl coated with 1 Tbsp. Olive or Canola oil. Turn the ball once to coat all sides.

8. Cover lightly with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 60-90 minutes.

9. Punch down & shape into a loaf or a two cylinders.

10. Spray the pan(s) with non-stick cooking spray.

11. Place the dough into the greased loaf or cylinder pan(s). (Sometimes I like mine to be in round loaves so I have 1 pound coffee cans or 48 oz. juice cans that I save just for bread baking.)

12. Cover again with a loose towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

13. Preheat oven to either 350° F or 375° F depending on the type of pan(s) you are using--375° F for metal, 350° F for glass.

14. Bake at 375° F for 30-40 minutes or until top is golden. For glass pan(s), bake at 350°F. for 25-35 minutes or until top is golden.

15. Remove from oven to cooling rack.

16. Wait for approximately 10 minutes before removing from the pan(s) to cooling rack.

17. Slice while still warm or when cooled and enjoy!

©2012 A Stroke of Luck! Mushroom Barley Soup and Alma's Beer Bread by Kathy Striggow


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