We all know that beauty starts with good health. The first signs of disease or imbalance in the body often reveal themselves through our skin. And good health starts in the kitchen, so it’s safe to say, then, that beauty starts in the kitchen.
As a teenager, my mother and grandmother stressed the importance of cleansing my face, moisturizing, wearing a daily sunscreen and drinking plenty of water. I’m thankful for their instruction but, back in the 1980s little attention was paid the way our diet – the foods we eat, and don’t eat – affect our skin. I was lucky that my family cooked from scratch as much as possible. My grandmother always had a pot of homemade soup on the stove, but many of my friends weren’t so fortunate, eating TV dinners and fast food, and it showed in their skin. They frantically tried to hide the blemishes with heavy makeup, or worse, treatments and harsh chemicals that literally caused their skin to blister and slough off in large patches, leaving garish scars that are still visible years later and require even more makeup to conceal.
I’ve always been very sensitive to makeup and products applied to my skin. I began to wear only clean, non-toxic makeup when I was pregnant with my son, thirteen years ago. These days, as I approach my 40th birthday, I’ve cut back drastically on the makeup I wear altogether, in favor of a more “inside-out” approach to skin care. You can wear as much makeup as you want, but if you start with a bad canvas, nothing will look natural.
Which brings me to soup. Homemade bone broth was my French grandmother’s number one beauty secret, though I don’t believe she ever viewed it as a beauty treatment, but rather as a frugal and delicious first course, which just happened to have a plethora of beautifying side effects. She made it almost daily. It was a way of life passed down to her through generations of women. Her habit was to collect all the bones in her kitchen and, instead of tossing them in the trash, throw them straight into the stock pot on the back burner of her stove, which was lit almost perpetually. When one batch of broth was finished, she would clean the pot, fill it with fresh water and start again.
Bone broth is composed of many minerals, vitamins and essential nutrients needed to maintain healthy, flawless skin, hair and nails. The kind of skin that is impossible to get with creams and serums. The most notable of these is collagen. Collagen is the protein that quite literally holds our body together. It makes up our connective tissue and is the framework on which our skin is built. In fact, it makes up about 75% of the volume of our skin. Collagen is quite abundant when we are young (think of a baby’s chubby little cheeks), however, like a building, the framework deteriorates with age, and as we get older, our collagen breaks down faster than it can be replenished. Several recent scientific studies have proven what our grandmothers knew all along – that eating foods rich in collagen will help delay the breakdown, decreasing wrinkles and increasing the skin’s elasticity, keeping it healthier and more youthful as we age.
Collagen powders and capsules are widely available on the market, but there is speculation among experts as to their safety, as they are composed of animal by-products – the bones, skin, hooves and possibly nerve tissue – that could contain contaminates and diseases. I prefer to get my collagen from ingredients that I can see, select, clean and cook myself. The process of simmering the bones, sometimes for days on end, draws out the minerals and breaks down the collagen-rich connective tissue, increasing the bioavailability of these beauty essentials.
While I am not as religious about saving bones as my grandmother was, I do make a pot of rich, nourishing bone broth several times a month … and I am just as diligent about saving my chicken wing tips as I am about applying sunscreen daily. Here’s why. A chicken wing is made up of three portions: the meaty first section that resembles a small drumstick and is attached to the body; the less-meaty middle section, comprised of two parallel bones resembling our forearm; and the wing tip, the outer most section that does not contain any meat but is chock-full of collagen. Generally the wing tips are removed and discarded before cooking as they then to burn easily. When I roast a whole chicken or make wings for my kids, I use a knife or scissors to remove the wing tips at the first joint and stash them away in a little bag in the freezer. Then, every time I make a pot of broth, no matter if it’s beef broth or chicken broth, I add them to the mix. The difference in the collagen level of a broth made with wing tips and a broth made without is amazing, which you can see from how thickly the broth gels when refrigerated. I like to portion the broth out into small jam jars to store in the fridge. These little, individual servings are the perfect replacement for my afternoon coffee and provide a pick-me-up that is even better, without all the beauty-sapping caffeine, which is critical when I feel especially run-down or tired.
Bone broth is made with four essential ingredients. All of which can be tailored to your exact taste or to what you happen to have on hand.
Start with well-filtered water that doesn’t contain chlorine or chemicals. I use Artesian water from a local well to cook with as well as to drink.
Vinegar aids in the break down of tissue and bones, drawing out the minerals and nutrients into the water. I use organic apple cider vinegar in my broth, but any vinegar or even lemon juice will work. For 1 gallon of water, use 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
Use approximately 2 pounds (900g) of beef bones and 1 pound (450g) of chicken wing tips to each gallon of water. When choosing beef bones, look for a mix of long bones that have been split down the middle exposing the marrow, and knuckle bones that contain connective tissue. Organic is best, but not essential. The benefits of making homemade bone broth certainly outweigh those of NOT making it simply because organic bones are unavailable. The bones should still have a decent amount of meat on them, for flavour. Chicken feet can be used in place of the wing tips, but in this case, make sure you get a clean supply from a reputable farmer, and wash them well at home.
Use a classic mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery along with bay, parsley, other herbs, garlic, peppercorns and anything else you may have in the fridge. These are strained out and discarded at the end, but they provide a savoriness to the broth which I think is absolutely essential. If you are using the broth as a base for soup, fresh vegetables are added back in.
Bone Broth Beauty Elixir
If there is a fountain of youth, instead of water, it pours out bone broth. I truly think that this is one of the best kept secrets for aging gracefully. I prepare this in the crockpot so that it can simmer all day and all night long. The amounts of vegetables and herbs in the recipe are just a recommendation and can be adapted depending on what you have on hand.
1 gallon (3.75L) purified water
2 pounds (900g) mixed beef bones
1 tsp olive oil
1 pound (450g) chicken wing tips, rinsed (or 2 chicken feet)
1 large onion, peeled and halved
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
5 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
3 ribs of celery, cut into large pieces
1 – 2 bay leaves
a handful of fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary)
10 – 15 mixed peppercorns (white, black and green)
1 generous teaspoon of sea salt (more or less to taste)
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Line a small sheet pan with aluminum foil or a sheet of parchment paper.
Rinse the beef bones under cool, running water to remove any loose bone fragments. Pat dry with paper towels. Rub the beef bones with olive oil and place on the sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until brown and some of the fat has been rendered.
While the bones are roasting, pour the water into the crockpot and begin preheating it on high. Rinse the chicken wing tips (or feet) and add to the water in the pot. Add the vinegar, vegetables, herbs, pepper and salt to the crockpot. When the bones have been roasted, add them to the crockpot and cover tightly. Continue heating on high until the water boils. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 24 – 36 hours, checking to make sure the water does not fall below the level of the bones. (A little evaporation is expected and concentrates the flavours, but you certainly don’t want the pot to go dry. Add additional boiling water if you feel it’s needed.)
To strain the broth, place a large sieve over a stock pot or large, heat-safe bowl and slowly pour over the broth. Remove any large pieces of beef and reserve for soup (or feed to the dog). Press lightly on the contents of the sieve to extract the liquid. Discard the solids. Allow the broth to cool, pour into jars and refrigerate until ready to use.
Store in refrigerator in sealed jars for up to one week.
*A note on fat: Depending on the bones, there may be quite a bit of fat on the surface of your broth. Don’t worry about it or try to remove it when still hot. Pour the broth into jars and refrigerate. The fat will rise to the surface and solidify. The hardened fat is then very easy to lift off and remove just before using the broth.