Category Archives: Food

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

 

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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

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

What do you mean I can’t eat polenta?

Imagine my surprise, to find out that 80% or more of what I had been eating all of my life, I was allergic to…The doctor laughed at me after I got upset over being allergic to corn.  He said, “Most people cry when they find out they can’t have chocolate.  You were upset over polenta!”

Of course, as time went on, and I began to research corn a bit, I discovered that it isn’t just the allergy factor.  Corn, because of the way it’s been genetically modified poses a problem.  Corn is cheap to reproduce, and it’s in EVERYTHING!  Our cattle, chickens, hogs, and even our cats and dogs eat it… and in the form of corn syrup, it’s actually cheaper to use that sugar.

However…cheaper is not always better.  Perhaps the old saying, “You get what you pay for” is true.  Nutritionists claim that obesity, which is currently a rising epidemic in the U.S. has been affected by corn and all of its modifications.  By the way… it’s also affecting the quality of the meat; it’s become fattier.

According to Time Magazine, “From 1972 to 2002, the amount of sugar and syrup produced annually per American grew 21%, from 104 lbs. to 126 lbs., according to the Department of Agriculture. In that same time period, the percentage of syrup sweetener in that total grew from less than 1% to nearly 50%.”

Ouch!

Dr. Mercola would have to agree.  He says, “Pundit George Will has joined the ranks of those who have noticed that the U.S. government’s treatment of corn is wrecking the health of Americans…Rates of chronic diseases like cancer and Type 2 diabetes are much higher today than they were in 1900. Type 2 diabetes is a $100 billion a year consequence of, among other things, obesity related to a corn-based diet. Four of the top 10 causes of American deaths — coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer – have well-established links to diet as well.”

Of course, since I am allergic to corn, this should have no barring on me… Yet, it’s taken years for me to “try” and wean myself off of corn, and to be truthful, I still have not completely accomplished this, but I am working on it, and I have lowered my intake of corn products radically.  The greatest offender is corn tortillas. I live in Southern, California, and they’re hard to avoid. However, I do not eat any product that has high fructose corn syrup, especially with the absolute understanding that this ingredient is wrecking the health in America.

Think about it:  We are eating products that raise our insulin levels at every meal.  When I was eating “Italian,” even though “sugar” was not a common part of my everyday diet, so many things that I ate became sugar when broken down in my body.  For example:  pasta, bread, cereals, rice, polenta, potatoes, etc.  The carbs in some foods (mostly those that contain simple sugars and highly refined grains, such as white flour and white rice) are easily broken down and cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly.  The foods to avoid are mainly empty carbohydrates including all white flour breads, pasta, white rice, anything made with white sugar, corn syrup, or high fructose, processed foods like boxed or prepackaged foods, foods with no or low fiber, fruit juice with added sugar, condiments with added sugar, sugary cereals and regular soda. The two vegetables that have the highest glycemic index are potatoes and corn. Most foods that are packaged like frozen dinners and canned foods have fillers like corn starch, sugar and carbohydrate-based preservatives.

It’s interesting that for the past few years, health practitioners have been encouraging people to eat according to the Glycemic index, which measures the effect that carbohydrate consumption has on blood sugar levels.

After reviewing my eating habits for most of my life, it is no small wonder as to why I’ve developed some health issues, beginning with food allergies.  In an recent article on WebMD, it says, “A food allergy occurs when your immune system responds defensively to a specific food protein that is not harmful to the body…The first time you eat the offending food, your immune system responds by creating specific disease-fighting antibodies (called immunoglobulin E or IgE). When you eat the food again, the IgE antibodies spring into action, releasing large amounts of histamine in an effort to expel the “foreign invader” from your body. Histamine is a powerful chemical that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin or cardiovascular system.”

So, essentially, I compromised my immune system with the foods that I grew up eating, and it’s no wonder that I’m currently rethinking Italian!
“He who enjoys good health is rich, though he knows it not.” Italian Proverb –OH THE IRONY!

Sources:  http://www.ehow.com/about_4603110_foods-diabetic-should-avoid.html

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/04/04/corn-is-making-the-us-unhealthy.aspx

http://www.webmd.com/allergies/food-allergies

Spiked punch

As I previously mentioned, my father was an opera conductor.  I’ll never forget one of the after-party’s following the closing of  a production of Madame Butterfly.  There must have been 200 people crammed in our house.  Everyone was still dressed in either evening attire, tuxedoes or black evening gowns, and as always, there were literally tables of food scattered everywhere, an open bar in the living room and a table with a large bowl, filled with spiked punch, various cheeses, meats and assorted appetizers.  Naturally, my father and mother prepared the main course, which was usually lasagna or manicotti’s.  In short, the place was filled with stuffed food and stuffed people!

My younger brother was a bit of a prankster, and was never very enthused with the yuppity party’s that my parents threw.  So, you can well imagine that mischief was always lurking around the corner.  On this particular night, he was bored as usual and my father was in a jovial mood.  The truth be known, one of my parents musician friends had definitely been dipping into the spiked punch one too many times.  Actually, he was probably hitting the open bar, and using the spiked punch as a chaser for the food.  In short, he was plowed.  So, my brother decided to practice his pitch (he was a left-handed baseball pitcher) using strawberries as the ball and the back of this guys bald head as the target.  Fire 1, fire 2, fire 3…he never knew what hit him.  It got worse.  Instead of my father scolding my brother, he was laughing and saying…”What in the heck are you doing?  He looks like a strawberry shortcake!”  So, my brother proceeded to go to the refrigerator, pull-out a can of whipped cream, and he walked over to this guy, hugged him and while they were having a chat, he sprayed the whip cream in his tuxedo pocket without this guy ever even knowing.  🙂 About five minutes later, the man put his hands in his pockets and yelled out,  “Good God!  What is this?”  I won’t begin to tell you how much my father, brother, sister and I laughed over this.  Since the man was so intoxicated, he never did put the pieces together, and we all had a good laugh looking at this human strawberry shortcake.

Back to the FOOD:

So, while this was a special event, once again, I was eating foods that were high in fat, carb-driven, loaded with dairy, and undoubtedly not gluten-free or sugar-free.  Since I didn’t normally gravitate toward the dessert table, I was under the impression that I was eating healthy.  I couldn’t have been more mislead.

Once again, I am more convinced than ever that my lifestyle growing up helped pave the way for some of the health issues that I’ve been dealing with off an on for the last 20 years.  It’s been a long road.  I’ve not always wanted to surrender what’s been familiar to me, but after changing my ways and eating organic, vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free, I’m feeling so much better.  It’s no wonder that I’m rethinking Italian!

Bonded by tradition

Part of the beauty of the Italian people is there sense of abandonment to life. When visiting Italy for the first time, I felt near-drunk on the exuberance of the people on the streets, in the cafés, or watching people chatter in the piazzas.  Like animated characters in a film, everyone seemed to have a story that was bigger than life.  Even more fascinating though, was my connection to the people and the lifestyle in Italy.  It felt like I was among family.

Italian’s have a deep connection to food.  It is one of the cornerstones of Italian culture.  No matter how frenzied life becomes, there is nothing more important than gathering together around a meal–even if only sharing an espresso, it is the connector for life. Every city and town has markets where people shop for fresh fruit, meat, vegetables and fish.  If one doesn’t find what they need with the food vendors, there are also supermarkets and small shops specializing in one type of food.  Italians find great pleasure in sitting at a table, whether at home, in a restaurante, or in a café and sharing a meal together.  Everything around you slows down to a glacial speed, while the food is being enjoyed.  It is a moment to savor life!

My parents were always on the go.  My mother, a concert violinist and music professor always had something going on.  My father was equally busy.  He was an opera conductor, music arranger and composer, and actually didn’t open his restaurant until I was in my late teens.  Life in our household was filled with two things:  Music and food.  Yet, in  the midst of so much busyness, they still found time to gather the troupes and enjoy cuisine together.

Holiday’s were out of control.  My parents had an over-sized music studio that housed not only a grand piano, a cello, several violins and a flute, but a pool table.  The pool table was a lot of fun, but it was functional as well.  About four days before Easter, my father would line up several huge pots in the kitchen and make bucket-loads of sauce.  The process began something like this:  Using large beef neck bones, he would brown the meat in about ¼ cup of olive oil, adding seasonings (marjoram, oregano, basil, rosemary and anise or fennel and salt and pepper) and about 5-6 fresh cloves of crushed garlic to the mix.  When the meat was browned, and covered with the seasonings, he would add several cans of Progresso (it had to be Progresso) canned tomatoes in puree and several cans of puree, about ¾ cup of red wine and ½ cup of fresh (finely-grated) romano cheese.  He would then fill the water to the brim and the cooking process began!  It was an all-day adventure.  I won’t even begin to tell discuss the mess he made.  Mamma mia!

Once the sauce was underway, he spent 2 solid days rolling out homemade ravioli that were the size of a clutch purse!  They were truly remarkable, and undeniably calorie-loaded. He would lay out bed linens on our pool table and literally layer ravioli on the table, filling it from side-to-side, and stacking at least 2-3 layers.  I think he made around 300 raviolis for family and friends.

Easter morning was always a scene, because my dad was the choir director at the Catholic cathedral and my mother played the organ.  We rose early, got dressed in our Sunday finest and went to mass. Admittedly, that was never the fun part of Easter Sunday for me.  It was the food aftermath, which began with an Easter egg hunt in the backyard with family and friends.  While my father was in the kitchen cooking the ravioli’s, and tending a roasting lamb, the kids (and my mom) were running amuck outside, gathering every piece of candy we could find.  Keep in mind that desserts were not normally a part of our diet, so Easter-egg hunts were epic adventures.

The table was prepared with absolute care. From one platter of food to the next, there was little space for much else.  The only real challenge was that our stomachs couldn’t possibly hold that much food, and within the first 10 minutes of eating, we were as stuffed as the raviolis that were prepared.

Holiday meals were not just about sharing food and wine together, but they were also the stage for sharing one family story after another.  If our sides didn’t ache from all of the food we devoured, guaranteed they nearly popped from laughter.

I am sure most Italian’s would relate to this scenario.  The connection with food, family life, and the abandonment to it is what makes life full.  It is not just about eating; it’s about tradition.  We don’t just have a relationship with the food, but an indissoluble bond.

New Beginnings

I need another blog like I need a hole in my head, however…  I am Italian and I want to talk about food–the two seem to go hand-in-hand!

I am an American Italian woman in my mid-fifties who loves to cook.  My father’s family are all from Italy.  Worse still, my father owned an Italian restaurant, which only added more calories into the mix.  That being said, you can well-imagine our meals at home when I was growing up.  It went something like this:

Breakfast:  Italian eggs (loose scrambled eggs, leftover homemade pasta sauce, crushed garlic, fresh basil, fresh oregano and fennel seed, grated provolone cheese, grated romano cheese, and salt and pepper), sour bread toast, milk or orange juice, fresh fruit.  Occasionally we would have cereal, but not that often.

Lunch:  Varied somewhere between pasta, pizza or Italian sub sandwiches, with a tall glass of milk (of course it was for our “bones”).

Dinner:  Don’t even get me started… Sirloin or Filet Minion (stuffed with prosciutto, crushed garlic, mushrooms, oregano, provolone cheese, and various seasonings, then rubbed with fresh garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper), pasta (the pasta was our potato), garlic bread, green salad, and fruit for dessert.  There were also the lasagna or homemade pizza and ravioli moments, and my father’s famous deep fried calzones covered with sauce, and fresh grated romano cheese.

I was very active growing up, in fact, I danced ballet for 22 years, played on a woman’s tennis league, swam almost daily during the summer months, and enjoyed snow skiing and hiking on a regular basis.  Whatever crazy calories I consumed at home, I burned off because of my active lifestyle.

Once I was married and began a family of my own, I carried on the cooking tradition with my own family.  My children’s friends always wanted to spend the night at our house, and it’s clear why:  There was always a huge pot of homemade sauce on the stove, cookies in the oven, and a fully loaded refrigerator and pantry.  In short, we ate well…very, very well.

By the time I hit my late thirties, I began to have some health issues.  Weight gain (gee, I wonder why), chronic rashes, that would go away for a season and then return with a greater vengeance. Finally in my mid-forties, I developed Wilson’s Thyroid Syndrome, which is a quirky thyroid disorder that affects the T-3, and  eventually controls your ability to burn food.  Hence, to my horror,  my weight began to accelerate.

I was never an over-eater per say, but my diet was meat and carb-driven.  In addition, I was never a big dessert lover.  In fact, growing up we only ate desserts during the holiday’s, at special events, or for someone’s birthday.  Yet, with the combination of thyroid issues, and the rashes (which turned out to be related to food allergies), I began to blow-up like a balloon.  I wasn’t eating sugar, but my diet was primarily carb-driven, which ultimately turns into sugar.

…and I thought we ate so healthy…

Over the years, this began to worsen, and finally when I was just turning 50, I sought out alternative medical help, because traditional medicine was providing no “real” solutions.  I was given new diets, diet drinks (loaded with sugar), hormones, prednisone for the rashes, but only continued in a yo-yo cycle of ill-health and weight gain.  My new doctor started with food allergy testing.  It was quite a blow to find out that I am allergic to: wheat, rye, corn, sugar cane, chocolate, coffee bean, all dairy (except goat’s milk), MSG.(that was no loss), beef and brewer’s yeast.  Naturally, my response to all of this was, “What the heck is left for me to eat?”

That question began a journey that I am still on. I have had to re-think and re-learn eating, and cooking while being open to change.  It’s not easy for a woman my age to do, especially with my heritage and my connection to gourmet Italian foods.

However… I am doing it, little-by-little, step by step, and I am learning how to prepare healthy, organic, vegetable-based foods, that taste AMAZING! Who says healthy has to taste bad?  Just because it’s vegan or vegetarian, doesn’t mean you should feel like mooing after sitting down to dinner.

So, here I am…writing another blog, talking about food and sharing my journey.  As an Italian food aficionada–who loves and embraces life, I invite you to join me!

“Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live!” Quest’ la vita il gioire ~ This is the life and the joy. ♥