Archive for April, 2010
Greetings friends and fellow food lovers. If my blog has been a little quiet lately, it’s because I’ve been in Italy on vacation for the last two weeks! Pretty rough, I know. Italy is a beautiful, special country and certainly a culture that cherishes its food. It’s been a few years since I’ve spent significant time in Europe (I lived in France for 8 months in 2006), and in the time since have made major changes to my diet, so I was curious (and maybe a little nervous) to see how I would do. After all, my daily diet with whole grains, vegetables, and a variety of high quality proteins is pretty different from the pizzas, pastas, and gelato of Tuscany. Especially because, since I’ve been pregnant, my stomach has been a little more sensitive than usual.
I’m happy to report that not only did I survive, but I was able to really enjoy a lot of the best dishes Italy had to offer. We started off in Tuscany,where red meat, pasta, pizza and gelato reign. Interestingly, wild boar is a major staple on menus. I saw it so frequently that I even asked a local if the wild boar was truly wild these days, vs. farm-raised (it is – which is cool bc wild game tends to have more nutrients than farm-raised meat). Anyways, I sampled that in a few pastas and a polenta dish, and it was quite tasty. My favorite food – pizza – didn’t disappoint, and we took elaborate means to identify and travel to some of the best pizzerias in Florence. The pizza there is practically paper thin, which really lets you taste how delicious the fresh tomato sauce and toppings are. And the gelato in Florence is unreal – I’m not embarassed at all to day that I ate it nearly every day. I didn’t feel too bad about it either, partly because the servings are a lot smaller than ice cream servings tend to be here, so it made a nice little afternoon snack without leaving me stuffed.
After Florence we also spent time in the Cinque Terre, which is a coastal region. The food there was totally different – less meat, more seafood, and more vegetables. That’s one of the neat things about Europe in general – the food is so regional that if you travel even a short distance, the food will totally change. This is due to hundreds of years of living off of what the local land has to offer, and though this has started to change, generally the food is still traditional. Though Florence was great, this type of food appeals to me (and my body) more, and my favorite dishes were here. The 2 BEST things I ate the entire trip were 1) seafood risotto made with mussels, shrimp, and clams in a tomato broth (to die for!) and 2) sauteed spinach. The spinach may sound cliche from a health coach, but seriously, it was the best spinach ever! I can only attribute its incredible flavor to high-quality spinach (this wasn’t the bagged baby stuff), really good olive oil (this was not low-fat spinach), and lots of garlic, because that’s all that was in it. It was amazing.
So vacation was good, my body didn’t crumble from all of the dairy and white flour, and I got to experience some new dishes that I’m going to try to re-create at home. I wouldn’t say I was totally unscathed. My digestion hit a few bumps in Tuscany (note to self, next time take some fiber supplements), and my sinuses started to fill up about half way through the trip. But generally I was in good shape.
It does make me wonder – why could I eat so many foods in Italy that, if consumed here at home, would certainly have made me feel more sick? I have some hypotheses..for example I know that food in Italy and France are generally of a higher quality. Because they’re made on smaller scale, more locally produced, and frankly because they’re pickier about their food in general (if you had the same food tradition for 400 years, you’d have some strong opinions, too), the food is less processed, uses fewer chemicals, and comes from higher quality ingredients on average. But I don’t think that explains everything. I’m also more active on vacation – probably walking 5-6 miles per day and generally moving more and sitting less. I think this makes a huge difference for digestion. I even notice it at home, feeling much better on days when i exercise or take a walk after eating. Finally, the complete lack of stress on vacation and ideal eating conditions can make food easier to assimilate. Eating while taking in an ocean view is a much different experience than cramming in food infront of a computer. All of these things add up, and I’m pretty certain provide at least some of the explanation. Now just need to figure out how to simulate that ocean view from my dining room
Few foods ignite stress these days like bread. Are you confused? If you are, it’s not too surprising (don’t feel bad – it’s not just you). Just think about all of the confliciting information and buzz words flying around out there that are associated with bread: whole wheat, whole grain, refined, lite, low-glycemic, low-carb, white, low-calorie, high-fiber, etc, etc. Who can keep track?
The truth is that bread can be good for you, and it can also be junk. It’s worth putting a little effort into your bread selection so that you know it’s a healthy choices, vs a detriment to your health. But you don’t have to have a phd in bread science. Here are five simple tips to use when picking your daily bread:
1) The darker, denser, and chewier the bread the better. If the bread contains whole grains it will have nutrients and fiber, both of which are are excellent for you. If the bread is dark, dense, and chewy, it’s more likely to bc composed of whole grains. Likewise, if something has a light-as-air consistency it’s not whole grain, even if it says so on the label. More likely it has a sprinkling of whole wheat flour and possibly some color additives to make it look wholesome. (I’m not making that up – food manufacturers use caramel coloring to mimic the look of whole wheat).
2) Buy bread with only 3-5 ingredients, all of which you recognize as legitimate food items. Food manufacturers put a lot of questionable stuff into bread these days so make it last 4 weeks on the shelf, make every loaf the same, and have it look a certain way. Many of those additives have negatives side effects - avoid them – your bread will taste better without anyways.
3) Buy at a local bakery. There are so many in Cleveland! Zoss, Stone Oven, On the Rise, Harvest Bread Company, and many more. Go in and ask them which of their breads are made from 100% whole grains. They might even let you sample. Chains like Panera are ok and probably better than the Wonder Breads of the world, but many of their recipes still contain additives, dough conditioners, and other less than savory ingredients.
4) Check the ingredients label for “refined” or “enriched” flour. Refined and enriched flours are nutritionally void, and are not whole grain. Bread only has to contain 50% whole grain to be labeled whole grain, and there’s no minimum to have the label “contains whole grains”, so check the ingredients to make sure you’re not a victim of sneaky marketing.
5) Don’t just rely on bread for your carbs/whole grains. There are so many other delicious and nutritious sources of grains – wheat berrries, rice, quinoa, millet, and amaranth are just a few example. They’re simple to make – all you have to do is boil water, and minimally processed so they have 100% of their nutrition in tact.
What about white bread? It can be tasty, especially in pizza form (in my opinion), but there are no real health reasons to eat it. More realistically it’s detrimental to your health, especially if it makes up a large percentage of your diet. You’re foregoing nutrients that should be in your food (hence that “empty calorie” term), and it can also wreak havoc on your blood sugar stability, which ultimately can develop into type II diabetes and other health problems. (White bread will raise your blood sugar faster than sugar, believe it or not). I’m not saying never eat it, but it shouldn’t be a large percentage of your diet.
So this is a kind of random post, and it has nothing to do with food. But I had such a cool experience this afternoon I just had to share. Jacob and I live in one of the best neighborhoods in Cleveland to take a walk - in Cleveland Heights near the Cedar-Fairmount intersection. On pleasant evenings like we had tonight one of my favorite things to do is walk around and look at the incredible homes nearby. Not one looks the same, and if we wander down Fairmount or over to Ambler Heights the mansions are truly incredible (Tudor mansions, one of a kind stone work, hundred-year old original carvings, etc). Now I’m not a big history buff, and I don’t necessarily know what I’m looking at, but I do love to look and simply appreciate the craftmanship of it all.
Well, while out on a walk this evening we noticed that one of our favorite houses is up for sale by owner. The owner happened to be in the yard doing some yardwork and we struck up a little conversation with the owner. After talking for a couple of minutes he generously offered to give us a tour of the home. Now I thought this was pretty cool, but I didn’t even know what I was in for. This house was obviously old and grande and historic, but what we saw and heard during the tour was a little piece of Cleveland history! The house was built in 1911 by Kermode Gill, whose family owned the construction company that built Hanna building, the Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square, the Federal Reserve Bank and the Terminal Tower. It was designed by Frank Meade, who has been referred to as “Cleveland’s dean of architects”. And it was so well preserved and in its original state of grandeur, with original workwork, marble, moldings, furnishings, and accoutrements, that it was just sort of nuts. At 8,000 square feet and 8 bedrooms, 8 baths, and 8 fireplaces it was a lot to take in.
Part of what was so neat were all of the original appliances in the home – radio, stove, and telephone among them. The owner told us how the house was recently featured here: http://www.ohioauthority.com/articles/home-and-style/living-history . If you scroll down to the end of the article there are links to both original pictures of the house, and probably 40 pictures showing many of the impressive details.
The current owner is only the second family to inhabit the house, which is certainly one of the reasons it’s so well preserved. He even has the original plans from Frank Meade. The house is literally a museum of Cleveland’s history, and he plans to leave much of that history to the next owner. While it won’t be us, some lucky family will have an incredibly unique home that once belonged to Cleveland’s elite.