Back to the drawing board

I’m definitely on a journey, and one with a big learning curve.  Just when I think, “I’ve got this,” one of life’s “suddenly” moments happens, and I’m back to square one.

My relationship with food has been turbulent, at times difficult, and revolutionary.  Turbulent because of the health issues that sprang up over the years after eating a diet that was carb, meat and dairy-driven; difficult because of my heritage as an American Italian (food is so much a part of the culture), and revolutionary because of the change I had  to commit to once I realized that my eating habits were compromising my health.

Even with all the health challenges I’ve developed over the years, and the knowledge I’ve acquired, I still falter and fumble.  It’s astounding to me how taste-influenced I am, and how bound to tradition I am.  What am I talking about?  The holidays.

Thanksgiving was a serious blow-out. I don’t think there was one ounce of food inhaled (with the exception of lemon water) that I was not allergic to, or that should have been off-limits to me.  YET, I not only participated in the feast, I cooked much of the food.  It was traditional with a hint of Italian on the side.  I made (by request) about a dozen calzones.  Granted, I made them as healthy as I could, but still.  I even made half of them vegetarian (they were delicious)!

I suppose I shouldn’t be amazed after eating mounds of holiday food, calzones made with regular pizza dough, filled with mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and then deep fried that my blood pressure spiked, my gout flared up, and my joints ached.  I consumed a day of acid-driven foods.

Why did I do it? Why do we do it?

What is it about the holidays that makes this kind of crazy eating so alluring?

Perhaps it has more to do with people coming together socially than actually the food.  I mean, a kitchen is frequently the gathering spot for many a group of people, and the holiday season seems to amplify that reality.  Add being Italian into the mix and it’s practically a lost cause — a guaranteed food frenzy.  It’s a month and a half eating whirlwind that seems to give everything fattening, rich and grossly unhealthy top billing.  Stats show that on average, Americans gain about one to two pounds during the holiday season.

What can one do?

I truly believe that the holidays don’t have to be a weight-gaining nightmare. There are some things you can do to avoid widening your waistline.

For one, you need to make sure you don’t eat more than one helping of anything! Also, don’t skip meals before the event.  Skipping meals only sets you up to completely overeat, and don’t skip breakfast– it’s the most important meal of the day.   Avoid eating second and third helpings (most people totally bypass this rule).  keep your portions small, and eat desserts in moderation.  You know, tasting one or two delicacies vs. piling every assortment on a salad plate and then some!  Eat more salad than anything else.  You can’t go wrong with greens! Lastly, take a walk with family or friends after dinner.  Exercise is always a good idea.

Buon-Natale

 

What’s the deal with basil?

Basil has taken over the culinary world.  What on earth did we do before fresh basil was available?  I use it for everything!  Good old Ocimum basilicum (Genovese Basil)…the spicy, sweet, aromatic herb that is getting  top billing these days.

But, not all variations are Italian, and there are approximately 150 species of basil to choose from.  It’s actually in the “mint” family — go figure.  Even though basil is used across the globe, it’s origin goes back to Asia and India.  Here’s another little piece of trivia for you– in Italy today, basil is a symbol of amore (love), but in ancient Greece, it was a symbol of hatred.  My, how it’s evolved, right?

While basil is quite versatile (it’s great for sprucing up a flower garden), it’s undeniably perfection when it comes to using it in the kitchen.  I keep a plant in my window (make sure it has sun) in the kitchen, and take snips off whenever I can.  I’ve even been tempted to sleep with it under my pillow.  Heck, if the French can sleep with Lavender, why not basil?

vito-genovese-basil

Ocimum basilicum (Genovese Basil)

Basil leaves are only good for about 5 days in the refrigerator, so be certain you use it fairly soon after you purchase or pick it.  When rinsing basil, rinse lightly and place in a damp paper towel, and try not to bruise the tender leaves.  If bruised, the leaves will turn black.

I use basil in so many dishes — it really is invaluable.  For example, you can use it on top of pizza, in tomato sauce for pasta, and in fresh salads.  Insalata Caprese is a popular Italian salad, which consists of fresh mozzarella slices, sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh garlic and fresh basil doused with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper (incredible).  If you’re a chicken or lamb eater, it’s fabulous chopped and sprinkled over baked chicken or lamb.  However, one of the best ways to use basil is in Pesto sauce.  I frequently use it when I make Tuscan vegetable bean soup, and I use Pesto with pasta and on my gluten-free pizza with goat cheese, fresh tomatoes and Buffalo Mozzarella.  Try it mixed in with cut up golden potatoes, roasted — INCREDIBLE!  I also rinse and slice zucchini and rub pesto all over them and bake them at 375 until slightly browned — AMAZING!  If a recipe calls for dried basil, I almost always use fresh, but keep in mind that it’s stronger so you’ll probably want to cut the amount used in half.  It’s really a great thing to keep on hand, and it’s really healthy too (see below).  Pesto freezes wonderfully.  I frequently make a bigger batch, place the left-overs in ice trays, cover them and freeze them.  Then you can simply pop them out of the trays and use them at will!  Presto pesto!

Here’s a great recipe for Pesto! It’s ridiculously easy.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups packed fresh basil leaves, washed well
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted until golden, cooled
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Have ready a bowl of ice and cold water. In a saucepan of boiling salted water blanch basil for ONLY 2 seconds, a handful at a time.  With a slotted spoon, remove the basil and place it into the ice water.  Drain and pat dry.

While the basil is drying, toast the pine nuts in your oven until golden brown.  Cool.

In a food processor purée basil with all the ingredients until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Pesto may be made 2 days ahead and chilled, but make sure you put it in an air-tight container and refrigerate it.

Voila!

Pesto

Buon Appetito!

* Here’s some great info about the health factors of using basil from the WHOLE FOODS site:

Research studies on basil have shown unique health-protecting effects in two basic areas: basil’s flavonoids and volatile oils.

DNA Protection Plus Anti-Bacterial Properties

The unique array of active constituents called flavonoids found in basil provide protection at the cellular level. Orientin and vicenin are two water-soluble flavonoids that have been of particular interest in basil, and in studies on human white blood cells; these components of basil protect cell structures as well as chromosomes from radiation and oxygen-based damage.

In addition, basil has been shown to provide protection against unwanted bacterial growth. These anti-bacterial properties of basil are not associated with its unique flavonoids, but instead with its volatile oils, which contain estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene. Lab studies show the effectiveness of basil in restricting growth of numerous bacteria, including : Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O:157:H7, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Essential oil of basil, obtained from its leaves, has demonstrated the ability to inhibit several species of pathogenic bacteria that have become resistant to commonly used antibiotic drugs. In a study published in the July 2003 issue of the Journal of Microbiology Methods, essential oil of basil was even found to inhibit strains of bacteria from the genera Staphylococcus, Enterococcus and Pseudomonas, all of which are not only widespread, but now pose serious treatment difficulties because they have developed a high level of resistance to treatment with antibiotic drugs.(September 8, 2003)
Studies published in the February 2004 issue of Food Microbiology, have shown that washing produce in solution containing either basil or thyme essential oil at the very low concentration of just 1% resulted in dropping the number of Shigella, an infectious bacteria that triggers diarrhea and may cause significant intestinal damage, below the point at which it could be detected. While scientists use this research to try to develop natural food preservatives, it makes good sense to include basil and thyme in more of your recipes, particularly for foods that are not cooked such as salads. Adding fresh thyme and/or basil to your next vinaigrette will not only enhance the flavor of your fresh greens, but will help ensure that the fresh produce you consume is safe to eat. (March 25, 2004)

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

The eugenol component of basil’s volatile oils has been the subject of extensive study, since this substance can block the activity of an enzyme in the body called cyclooxygenase (COX). Many non-steriodal over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS), including aspirin and ibuprofen, as well as the commonly used medicine acetaminophen, work by inhibiting this same enzyme. (In the case of acetaminophen, this effect is somewhat controversial, and probably occurs to a much lesser degree than is the case with aspirin and ibuprofen). This enzyme-inhibiting effect of the eugenol in basil qualifies basil as an “anti-inflammatory” food that can provide important healing benefits along with symptomatic relief for individuals with inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel conditions.

Nutrients Essential for Cardiovascular Health

Want to enrich the taste and cardiovascular health benefits of your pasta sauce? Add a good helping of basil. Basil is a very good source of vitamin A (through its concentration of carotenoids such as beta-carotene). Called “pro-vitamin A,” since it can be converted into vitamin A, beta-carotene is a more powerful anti-oxidant than vitamin A and not only protects epithelial cells (the cells that form the lining of numerous body structures including the blood vessels) from free radical damage, but also helps prevent free radicals from oxidizing cholesterol in the blood stream. Only after it has been oxidized does cholesterol build up in blood vessel walls, initiating the development of atherosclerosis, whose end result can be a heart attack or stroke.

Free radical damage is a contributing factor in many other conditions as well, including asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The beta-carotene found in basil may help to lessen the progression of these conditions while protecting cells from further damage.

Basil is also a good source of magnesium, which promotes cardiovascular health by prompting muscles and blood vessels to relax, thus improving blood flow and lessening the risk of irregular heart rhythms or a spasming of the heart muscle or a blood vessel.

In addition to the health benefits and nutrients described above, basil also emerged from our food ranking system as a very good source of iron, and calcium, and a good source of potassium and vitamin C.

Read full article here:   http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85

Mambo Italiano!

It’s been awhile since I’ve visited this blog.  Life just gets ridiculously busy at times. Anyway, before I let this moment get away, I’d like to discuss polenta.

Italian’s have porridge too.  That’s right–it’s not just the English, and some like it hot; some like it cold, and some like it in the pot, but NEVER, NEVER nine days old.  Heck, good polenta doesn’t last a day in my house!  Haha!

Here’s a little trivia for you.  Polenta is not a modern food item, in fact it’s been around since Roman times, however it was a little different, especially since corn wasn’t even existent.  It was made from grain mush called puls or pulmentum…the Latin words for gruel or porridge.  The porridge was made from either farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt or chickpeas.  Truthfully… it was probably healthier.

I wish I didn’t love polenta so much.  When my allergist told me that I was allergic to corn, I literally sunk in my seat and almost cried.  He said, “are you okay?”  I said, “No!  Oh — my– God… Please don’t take my polenta away from me!”  I was quite serious, but he actually laughed.  In all his 50 years of medical practice he’d never once had a patient get sad over being told they shouldn’t eat corn.  He said, “You know, people are usually livid when I tell them chocolate must be eliminated from their diet, not corn.”  lol

I am happy to report that Polenta is indeed NATIVE to Italy!  It originated in Friuli, a region in northeastern Italy.  It’s so refreshing to know this. When I found out that pasta really wasn’t native to Italy, I nearly threw in the towel… the cooking towel that is (wink)!

…back to polenta…

During the 1700’s, polenta was very popular, and it was more commonly eaten among peasants, probably because it was plentiful and cheap to make.  It was literally a dietary stable during those times.

In it’s basic form, polenta is fairly healthy, however without the added cheese, butter and seasonings, polenta by itself is a little on the bland side.   It is cooked by simmering in a water-based liquid, but there are literally a score of variations, depending on the region.

According to Wikipedia, “Cooked polenta can be shaped into balls, patties, or sticks, and then fried in oil, baked, or grilled until golden brown; fried polenta is called crostini di polenta or polenta fritta. This type of polenta became particularly popular in southern Brazil following northern Italian immigration.”

It’s hard to believe that polenta is a low carbohydrate food, but it is rich in Vitamin C and A.  Research studies have shown that corn can support the growth of friendly bacteria in our large intestine and can also be transformed by these bacteria into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These supply energy for our intestinal cells, which lowers the risk of colon cancer.  See more at: http://www.naturalhealth365.com/tag/polenta-health-benefits#sthash.njlaMvCr.dpuf

Basic polenta is as easy as making white rice.  You simmer it in water or broth until all the water is absorbed and the polenta is smooth. After the polenta is done, you can choose to add some butter, olive oil, various Italian cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, etc.

Often times, I transfer the cooked polenta into a baking dish and add pasta sauce, parmesan and Romano cheese, oregano, fresh basil, marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste.  Place it into a 350 degree oven and bake for 30-40 minutes.  Sprinkle finely grated parmesan cheese over the top and serve.  It’s delightful!

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Thanks for stopping in.  Now, I’m racing to mambo…not to the pizzeria, but to my massage therapist!

Arrivederci!!!

Tomatoes are not Italian

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” – Lewis Grizzard

For an Italian, the tomato is nearly as important as the grape. In fact, I’m pretty sure they have equal billing.  While traveling through Italy, tomato’s are easy to come by.  Whether ordering a savory dish in one of the restaurante’s, or  wandering through an Italian marketplace, the tomato is pretty hard to avoid.

Without a doubt, there are a bazillion dishes where the tomato is one of the main ingredients, or in which it is used as the base for recipes. No doubt, between its color, flavor or versatility, the tomato is a main staple in Italy, and has been so for hundreds of years.

As much as us Italian’s would like to take credit for the tomato, we cannot.  Tomatoes made there way along side of potatoes, hot peppers (pepperocino) corn and the sweet potato during the voyages of Cristoforo Columbo, making their way into Spain at the beginning of the 1500’s; they originated with the Aztec’s.

The tomato plant was originally from Chile or Ecuador; where the climate is tropical, and tomatoes can produce year-round. Here in America, the production of the tomato is limited to annual growth, and in Italy, it’s much the same.

In an article written by Jackelin J. Jarvis, she says “The tomato comes form the plant family solanacee. Its cousin the eggplant, was in those times, the preferred fruit in the Arabic World. Today, with the exception of Italian (because the tomato is called pomodoro), the word “tomato” is similar in all other languages- seeing that is was derived from the Aztec word for the plant. The original plant that was imported into Europe was called xitomatl, but it actually referred to the ‘Tomatl.’ The Tomatl was another plant similar to the tomato, but smaller, and the fruits were a greenish-yellow color and today are called ‘Tomatillo.’ These tomatoes are still used in Central American cooking.(The Spanish call both tomate).”

Despite the historical origin of the tomato, somehow I would still like to believe that it has Italian roots.  Perhaps I am in a bit of food denial, but I’m sure it’s because of the relationship that Italian’s have with the tomato.  However, it is amusing to think that the tomato, which most of us think of as quintessentially Italian, evolved on a different continent in a different hemisphere. Even so, it’s very difficult to think of Italian cuisine without the use of the tomato, unless of course we are discussing tira misu or a bottle of Enzo Boglietti. The tomato has been a part of Italian culture for a very long time, and for that I am grateful!  Still, there is no doubt that Italian’s have a relationship with the tomato!

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Here’s another news-flash, Roma tomatoes, which are sometimes referred to as Italian tomatoes aren’t even grown in Italy!  Haha!  They are grown in the United States, Mexico, Great Britain and Australia!  Now, the San Marzano tomato is quite another thing.  According to Wikipedia, “The story goes that the first seed of hola the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They come from a small town of the same name near Naples, Italy, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Compared to the Roma tomatoes with which most people are familiar, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, more sweet and less acidic. Many people[who?] describe the taste as bittersweet, like high-quality chocolate. Because of their high quality and origins near Naples, San Marzano tomatoes have been designated as the only tomatoes that can be used for Vera PizzaNapoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza).[2]

Image(San Marzano Tomatoes)

So, the moral of the story is:  Hmmm… Well, there is no moral, I really just wanted to talk about tomatoes.  Amo dei pomodori!

PS. You say “tomaahto, I say pomodoro!

*Recommended book on the history of the tomato in Italy:

Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy, by David Gentilcore

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La Famiglia: The food and feast continuum

I suppose there is no real definition of “normal” when it comes to family.  No two people do anything the same, so family dynamics are certainly no different.  However, if I were to bring the “Normal” label into my family adventures, I would dare say that I grew up far from normal.

First of all, both of my parents were highly educated, trained classical musician.  My father was drama-driven–by that I mean he had the combination plate of sensitive musician and being Italian.  Nothing was ever simple; nothing was ever laid back or calm, and most everything had the potential of being catastrophic, especially if the sauce cooked too long, or he had glitches while composing, working on music or working with other singers and musicians.  Of course, his drama was familiar to us kids, so we chuckled at it for the most part.

Being raised by classical musicians was certainly different.  Whenever my parents had string quartet rehearsals, opera rehearsals (which were often times weekly), or just the continual stream of piano and violin students that rolled into our home, it was not only loud, but a topic of conversation throughout the neighborhood.  There was a family of 12 that lived next door to us, and several of the 10 kids used to call my father “The crazy Russian.”  I am uncertain where the “Russian” thing came into play, but that was his nickname among the kids in the neighborhood. The best I can come up with is that my father always wore black turtlenecks (even in 100 degree weather), he had semi-long wavy black and graying hair, and sported a goatee.  Even though he taught high school orchestra for many years, he was not your typical business suit kinda guy.

With these kind of dynamics, being raised in an Italian household only added more color to the already fully-loaded palette, and as serious as my father was about his music, he was equally so regarding his food.

I suppose I should share that my mother was not Italian.  She was predominantly Welsh and French, but had to pretty much learn the “Italian way.”  I think that’s the case for most non-Italian’s marrying into an Italian family.  Sort of, “My way or the highway” theory.  She was an exceptional cook–a gourmet by every standard, in fact, some of her varied sauces for pasta were actually better than all of my Italian aunts put together.  She could cook rings around most.  Well, all except my father.  Truthfully, no one could top him.  I still don’t know if I’ve ever tasted anyone’s Italian food that comes close to my father’s creations.

Every single day was a new adventure in the kitchen with my dad.  The only time he didn’t have his hands in dough, grating cheese, stirring sauce,crushing piles of garlic (the house reeked), or squishing tomatoes with his bare hands, was because he was either at work, conducting, running rehearsing or out of town.

There is no way I can discuss my growing up years without mentioning Calzone’s. While my father’s are certainly off-the-charts, mine became legendary as well.

A calzone is basically a pizza folded in two. Like pizza, it has ancient origins and can be traced back to the beginnings of flat breads, which were already present in Ancient Egypt. In fact, flat bread covered with herbs were served at birthday celebrations for the Pharaoh.

While there are mentions of dishes similar to pizza through the history of the the Mediteranean cultures, the pizza that we know today, and what is referred to as “real pizza”, was created in Naples.

At the beginning, pizza was made with a type of bread dough, flattened with your hands and covered with cheese or lard and cooked in a very hot wood-burning oven.

Only in the 18th century, and more precisely in 1730, did someone think to add tomato as a topping, giving life to the pizza marinara. This is how the pizza we know today came into being. It was then exported to America with Neapolitan emigrants and from there to the rest of the world.

Like pizza, there are a variety of calzones circling around the globe.  Our calzones are not just about the dough, but the sauce, the cheese, and often we deep-fried them as compared to some who merely bake them like pizza.  In a nut-shell… they’re seriously calorie-laden, and totally unhealthy.

Getting both pizza and calzones out of my diet has not been easy, and I cannot honestly say that I will never have another slice of pizza.  To exclude everything familiar from your life is not realistic, but I do believe in living a very balanced and controlled lifestyle.  That being said, “If” I choose to make pizza or calzones, which is rare, I use or make a gluten-free dough.  Instead of a meat and heavy cheese-filling, I use veggies and a small amount of organic goats cheese (if any).  Instead of deep-frying calzones, I bake them.  Using everything organic and fresh for the inside.  Believe it or not, making these kind of adjustments really do make a difference.

The truth is, you cannot live isolated from everything, but if you value your health and make a quality decision to eat healthy about 90% of the time, saving the small 10% for those moments you might want to have something like pizza or calzones, then you are still better off.

Because I have so many food allergies, wheat sensitivity, and gout, both calzones and pizza should be avoided.

Sometimes, it’s a bitch.  Food is alluring and just tastes so darn good, and especially good Italian food… You know?

Mamma Mia!

What the heck’s wrong with pizza?

I’d like to devote this blog entry to pizza.  I have traveled all over the globe, and while there is nothing like pizza in NYC, Chicago or the mother land (Italia), I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that my fathers pizza is literally out of this world.  With all the places I’ve traveled, I have still never come across anything that remotely touches my dads pizza.  In addition, I’m a pretty good cook myself, and I can’t touch it either.  It’s truly legendary.

Of course, he makes his own dough, which is a step up from anything you’ll ever get in a restaurant that offers pizza.  In addition, the sauce is also homemade, and he only uses fresh ingredients.  However…

Pizza is not really something that works well for me.  Let’s just start with the dough.  It’s wheat-based, and I am allergic to wheat.  Gluten-free dough is much, much better, but very few places carry that kind of dough.  The cheese is probably the worst offender, and for so many reasons.  Despite my absolute love for cheese and wine, cheese is one of the most unhealthy things we can eat, and for a variety of reasons.

It’s not rocket science anymore… Most everyone is well-aware that human beings don’t actually need dairy, in fact the entire way cheese is processed and the way milk is homogenized is problematic.  I recently read a statistic that France and Ireland have the highest rate of breast cancer anywhere… Both of these country’s diets are cheese and meat-driven, and I cannot help but wonder if there’s a correlation.

When most cheese is made, however, the lactose in milk is converted into lactic acid by bacteria. The resultant acid begins the curdling process that eventually results in cheese, and little – if any – lactose remains at the end. Sometimes even trace amounts of lactose can trigger sensitive individuals, but cheese is usually fairly safe. A good general rule is the longer a cheese is aged, the less lactose it’ll have. Another thing to remember: the less lactose a cheese has, the less carbohydrates.

HOWEVER…

Complications arise because of the acidity in cheese.  Medical Microbiologist and author, Dr. Robert O. Young says, “That is why I have stated, “acid is pain and pain is acid.” You cannot have one without the other. This is the beginning of latent tissue acidosis leading to irritation, inflammation and degeneration of the cells, tissues and organs. After a rich animal protein or dairy product meal, the urine pH becomes alkaline. The ingestion of meat and cheese causes a reaction in acidic fashion in the organism by the production of sulfuric, phosporhoric, nitric, uric, lactic, acetylaldehyde and ethanol acids, respectively, but also through the formation and excretion of base in the urine. Therefore eating meat and cheese causes a double loss of bases leading to tissue acidosis and eventual disease, especially inflammation and degenerative diseases.”

I was in an accident 11 years ago, that opened the door for arthritis to blast the areas of my body that were traumatized from the collision.  It’s been quite a battle, and when my doctor who was doing all of the food allergy testing then told me that I have “Gout,” I was floored.  “Gout?” I said… “That’s for the seriously old.”  He asked for more blood-work… and I tentatively obliged.  As he suspected, my acid levels were off the charts.  This was the beginning of my indoctrination into the world of pH balance, and eating according to our design, which is more alkaline.  Acid causes disease and it causes pain.  When I asked the doctor what I could do for gout he said, “Yeah, become a vegan.”  I was aghast!  For an Italian, with the kind of eating tradition I was used to, I couldn’t even wrap my  brain around that concept.  All I could think of was the few vegans that I had encountered over the years, who were hippies with grown out arm-pit hair, unshaved legs, etc.  You get the idea… everything was a-natural… Believe me.  This was NOT something I wanted to remotely embrace.  In a nutshell, I was pissed.

One can begin to understand why eating vats of sauce, cannoli’s, pasta, pizza and slabs of roast were all not what this new doctor would order.  Indeed, it was out with the roast and in with kale, but it didn’t happen overnight.  Believe me, I bucked this for YEARS!  I was more upset about giving up things like polenta, semolina pasta and rib eye steaks than chocolate or ice cream.

Bottom line—these foods on an occasion are not the thing that’s going to make us sick, but continuous consumption of acid-driven, carb-bent, animal protein will become a health issue at some point.  I began to research and read everything I could get my hand on about arthritis and gout (which is another form of arthritis). All disease is formed because of an over-acidification in the body…In other words, disease comes about when a person’s pH is not alkaline balanced, but acidic.  Even more interesting, especially when considering my diet while growing up, gout is called the “rich mans disease,” and it is caused from too much protein in the diet.  Animal-based protein, which when broken down in the body produces ACID in the blood.

Perhaps the saying, “You are what you eat” is true.  There is no doubt in my mind that my “Italian” protein-driven, carb-based diet laid the groundwork for issues as I got older.  By the way… pasta, polenta and bread all break down in the body as sugar, and sugar is acidic.

When choosing between pizza, tradition and familiarity, or learning a new way to eat, I eventually did choose the later, and WOW…what a difference it’s made!

But, more on that later…

Source:  Great article to read!

http://articlesofhealth.blogspot.com/2011/09/why-eating-meat-and-cheese-leads-to.html

Vats of sauce, tiramisu, cannoli and pizzele’s: My food continuum

I don’t quite remember when my relationship with tomatoes began, but my earliest memories were around 4 or 5, watching my Italian aunt cook bucket-loads of sauce.  My aunt was the dearest soul on the planet–clearly a favorite aunt.  She was silly (every kid loved her), incredibly fun, generous, lively, and a great cook.  She never really seemed like an adult to me.  Perhaps it was the fact that she stood only 4′ 11″ tall.  However, as short as she was, she was near as wide.  If oompa loompa’s had been written about back then, I am sure that I would have assumed her to share their DNA.  What I didn’t know until I was in my late 40’s, is that my aunt had horrible food allergies.  In addition to obesity and food allergies, she also had a lot of rashes, which were also as a result of her food allergies.  Sadly, she never did deal with any of these issues.  It then was no surprise that she ended up with diabetes and lived in a continual down-hill health spiral until her death.

I frequently spent the night at her and my uncle’s house.  You name it, she had it, not only was her pantry filled to overflowing, they had a lot of money, no children (I was like her kid), and she didn’t seem to know the word, “No.” Oh yea, it was my favorite place to be!

The truth is, I learned how to cook Italian gravy (pasta sauce) and Italian desserts from my aunt.  While my father was an even better cook than her, she had that motherly patience to walk me through the process in the kitchen. Year after year, month after month I would hang out with my aunt and learn traditional Italian cooking–Chicago style.

Unlike my parents, my aunt was a queen at making famous Italian desserts like: Tiramisu, cannoli’s and pizzelle’s, and she made them frequently.  Tiramisu, also known as “Tuscan Trifle,” the dessert was initially created in Siena, in the northwestern Italian province of Tuscany. The occasion was a visit by Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici III, in whose honor the concoction was dubbed zuppa del duca (the “duke’s soup”). The former duke brought the dessert back with him to Florence. In the 19th Century, zuppa del duca became popular among the English intellectuals and artists who lived there Consequently, it is also known as zuppa Inglese. They took the dessert to England, where its popularity grew. Zuppa del duca eventually made its way to Treviso, just northwest of Venice, in the northeastern province of Veneto. Treviso is best know for its canals, frescoes and Tiramisu.  Of course, it gradually made its way to the United States via Italian immigrants.  Traditionally, Tiramisu is a pudding-like dessert, usually consisting of sponge cake (ladyfingers) dipped in a liqueur, then layered with grated chocolate and decadently rich custard.  Originally, the custard was somewhat loose, but it has changed over the years.  In fact, there are numerable variations on a theme.

I honestly did not have a favorite of these desserts, but the pizzele is probably the least rich and least fattening, since it doesn’t have any custard or creme filling.

Cannoli are actually a traditional Sicilian dessert, originating in Palermo.  My family is not Sicilian, but  hails from Campobasso, which is located in the Molise region of the Italy.  At one time Compobasso was a part of two mountainous regions (Abruzzi and Molise) that were joined as an administrative district under the name Abruzzi e Molise but now separated, extend from high in the Apennines to the Adriatic coast.  However, cannoli’s have become a very popular Italian dessert.  These little deep-fried shells, filled with a mixture of eggs, sugar, ricotta cheese and chocolate were a temptation to all who tasted them.

Pizzele’s (Italian wafers) were a common mainstay in my aunts cookie jar.  The name comes from the Italian word, “Pizze,” which means round and flat.  In some parts of Italy, especially among the upper class, the irons would be made with the family crest on them, and would be passed down to each generation.  While I don’t have an iron with our family crest on it, I did get my grandmother’s iron, and made these on special occasions and holiday’s for my own children, family and friends.

Pizzele
So…whenever I stayed with my aunt and uncle, my aunt and I primarily hung-out in the kitchen making vats of tomato sauce for a wide array of Italian pasta dishes and baking rich Italian desserts.  Julia Child wrote about “The Joy of Cooking,” but my aunt was Julia Child x 100!
Keep in mind, I was (as I am now) allergic to wheat, corn, dairy, etc. According to my allergist, you never really grow out of chronic food allergies.  So, once again, the foods I consumed were setting the stage for weight gain, rashes, immune system issues, and hormone imbalance.  “If only” I Knew then what I know now…things would have been played out MUCH differently.
I recently came across an article online called, “Are Your Food Allergies Making You Fat?  It described so many of the things that I’ve gone through to a T.  Dr. Mark Hyman reveals that food allergies and inflammation cause obesity.  Food allergies cause digestive disorders and inflammation.  It’s a vicious cycle. He suggests the following three steps:
  1. Try an elimination diet for 3 weeks. Cut out the most common food allergens, including gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, yeast, and peanuts. Some people are sensitive to soy, so you can also cut that out.
  2. Eat a whole-foods, plant-based, high-fiber diet. This is essential to feed the good bugs in your gut and to provide the nutrients you need to functional optimally.
  3. Take probiotics daily to boost the healthy bacteria in your gut. Look for those that contain 10 billion CFU of bifidobacteria species and lactobacillus species. Choose from reputable brands.
Essentially, this is precisely what I did when I first found out that I had chronic food allergies.  I eliminated the foods not just for 3 weeks, but for a full year.  Because I went through allergy testing, I knew what I was allergic to, so there was no guessing game.
Hence, my Italian diet was a culprit for ill-health.  It’s not hard to know that desserts like:  Tiramisu, cannoli’s and/or pizzele’s are not healthy, but pasta?  Tomato sauce? Steak?  Cheese?  Bread?  The list seemed endless.
Tiramisu
Of course, the big question in my mind was, “What in heck do I replace all of this good-tasting food with?  What was left?  My journey had only began… Now 10 years later, I am still on the road to redemption.

“One should eat to live, not live to eat.” – Moliere

Cannoli