For the Love of Food

ICYMI, this past Monday, October 24, was Food Day, an annual national celebration headed up by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. It was created a handful of years ago to encourage Americans to be more mindful about their eating habits and take ownership of their well-being, and to bring attention to policies—or lack thereof—regarding accessibility to healthy, affordable, and sustainable food.

To “observe” Food Day, one needs only to commit to making some sort of food-related change to his or her normal habits—anything from giving up soda to supporting farmers at the local farmers’ market to reading up on how Members of Congress voted on certain food policy issues. Some towns and college campuses put together big events to encourage their communities to join in on making these changes or identifying local food- and nutrition-related issues that need their attention. In doing so, they hope that these personal commitments and community-wide achievements last well beyond the one day once the momentum kicks in and everyone sees the positive results of what their efforts can make.

For me, food has played an enormous role in my life, starting from the time I was a child. Every Sunday, my Nonna Rosa would pick fresh herbs and vegetables from her backyard garden and, when I was old enough to stand on a chair and lean over the kitchen table, call me downstairs (we used to live above her in a two-family house) to help her prepare fresh, homemade pasta, hand-cranked through the heavy, metal pasta machine that had traveled with her on her journey from Italy to America. In that small kitchen, we cooked pounds of pasta al dente, served in an enormous bowl with the sauce—studded with heavy, hand-rolled polpette (meatballs)—that had been simmering in the big pot on the stove all day. Alongside the large bowl of pasta would sit a platter of sautéed spinach with fresh cloves of garlic or a dish of plump, stewed tomatoes with ceci (garbanzo beans), anchovies, fresh parsley, and basil. The aromas were enticing, even to the olfactory of five-year-old me!

Spending time learning and cooking with my Nonna Rosa remains one of my fondest memories of all time. Not only was there a sense of accomplishment associated with making our own food and feeding it to our family, but I became enamored and inspired by Nonna as she shared with me—in her broken English—stories about how she came to America, how she worked in a coat factory and saved up her own money, and how she was determined to be an independent woman in this new land, something unheard of for her generation.

Not too long ago, my dear friend and fellow Registered Dietitian (and foodie and blogger and New Yorker), Marsha, from SalutNutrition, interviewed me about the tastes and traditions of Italian cuisine. It was so fun, sitting with Marsha on a breezy, beautiful day in Central Park telling stories* about my family and my love of food. If you have about 15 minutes to spare, I invite you to watch and learn a little more about the food and culture of my family’s hometown in Italy:

Marsha launches a new YouTube episode each week on different foods and habits from across the globe. Click here to subscribe to her channel.

What are some of your favorite food memories? Are there any habits you have made, want to change, or looking to learn about? Please feel free to add your comments below and share this post with anyone you think who might love food as much as we do.

*VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: My mother had a chance to watch this video when it launched earlier in the week and yelled at me for forgetting to talk about the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” (an Italian Christmas Eve tradition). I clearly did not prepare well enough for this interview; otherwise, I would never have let this happen. Marsha denied my request to re-shoot the entire interview so that I could correct my error. Thankfully, I wrote a post about it a few years ago and you can read all about it here.

Fishing for compliments

For the second year in a row, I shared kitchen duties with my mom for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. My mom handled all the fish dishes (I’ve written about our Italian fish tradition previously here) and I was in charge of the rest, which included a variety of nutrient-dense, fancifully flavored, plant-based recipes. This year’s menu, like last year’s, combined old-world tradition with some new fusion fare:

  • Shrimp Cocktail (à la Costco)
  • Chard & White Bean Soup (I substituted sweet potatoes for new potatoes)
  • Wilted Greens Salad (I used plain, ol’ mesclun instead of mustard greens, but added Dijon to the dressing as a nod; I also threw in some chopped walnuts to add texture and offset the sweetness of the dressing)
  • Shrimp Scampi; Calamari en Brodo; Broiled Cod; and Linguine with King Crab legs (all recipes in Mom’s head)
  • Braised Kale and Carrot Stew (loosely inspired by this recipe)
  • Citrus Pound Cake w/Warm Citrus Salad (from the Dec ’14 issue of The Oprah Magazine)
  • Winter Warmer Cocktail (I don’t drink alcohol, but got everyone else nice and drunk on this)

I fare best when I eat vegetarian, but I don’t feel the need to make a show of it; I just like providing solidly healthful foods for people I love, especially when I know some of the day will include indulgences and sweets. Plus, it ensures that I’ll be getting my own fill of fruits and veggies…a true win-win.

What kind of foods do you eat and traditions do you follow for the holidays? Do you like to cook or share the cooking responsibilities with anyone in your family during special occasions? Feel free to post your comments below. I look forward to reading them!

Take the cannoli

Even though we only live across the river, it’s rare the bf and I get many visits from our friends and family in New Jersey, so you can imagine how excited we got when my cousins came into the city a couple of weekends ago to spend the whole day with us.

What I love most when we have visitors (aside from eating with them) is getting to view our neighborhoods through their eyes. Rushing through the streets of Manhattan, as a resident is wont to do, I often miss out on the little details like sidewalk vendors and graffiti art on buildings. It’s only when I’m walking with an “outsider” that I manage to stop and take in these nuances.

Our tour was very haphazard; we zigged and zagged according to the traffic lights’ changing patterns. We started at our place in the East Village, then meandered over to SoHo, then pitched a hard left and shot our way toward the East River Promenade and South Street Seaport, which, while the effects of 2012’s Superstorm Sandy were visible, still thrives with everything from an outdoor trapeze school at Pier 16 to a food market where vendors’ wares are housed in individual shipping containers.

I’m outside!

After our leisurely stroll through the south end of Manhattan, we realized how hungry we were getting, so we high-tailed it back up the busy streets of Chinatown toward Little Italy and decided to be super tourists by plopping down to dinner at the ever-famous, ever-infamous Umberto’s Clam House, now relocated down Mulberry Street a bit from its original Broome Street location.

While I took in the sights, sounds, and smells of our venture outdoors, I noticed something else: I was moving slowly and loving it. I sat on a bench for nearly ten minutes and stared at the Brooklyn Bridge. I watched people dressed in colorful leotards hurl themselves in mid-air on trapeze bars and then land softly on the net below them. I took pictures of things and nothings. I often joke that I don’t go outside (unless I’m on a beach) because I’m very busy and important, allowing pressing tasks or other priorities keep me indoors, but being out and about was a true gift that I would very much like to continue giving myself.


Far out! Farfalle!

Welcome, class, to today’s Fresh Pick: FARFALLE

Farfalle [fahr-FAH-lay], named after the Italian word for and made in the shape of butterflies, are also known as “bowtie” pasta.

Dating back to the 1500s, farfalle originated in Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy. The farfalle are formed from a square of pasta with two sides trimmed in a ruffled edge, and the center pinched together to make the butterfly or bowtie shape. Different colors/flavors are often available, such as plain, tomato & spinach. A larger variation of farfalle is known as “farfallone.” Served hot, they are good with simple olive oil, butter, tomato and cheese-based sauces. Served cold, they are perfect for pasta salads.

For some great recipes, click here or here or try this simple salad:

1 pound farfalle pasta, cooked, drained, and cooled
1 bottle savory salad dressing (like Italian, balsamic, or Caesar)

Dump pasta in a big bowl, dump salad dressing on top, toss and serve.

Spaghetti westerner

Saluti, amici!

Sono eccitato che sto andando per un meraviglioso viaggio a Roma per visitare mio cugino. Tornerò in una settimana e avrà alcune fantastiche foto da condividere.

Godetevi la settimana!

Comfort food

I didn’t do a single thing all weekend except sleep on the sofa and watch endless hours of mindless television. It used to be that I’d brood about this for a week: how could I possibly have let an entire weekend go by without doing anything productive?

Shame on me! Sure, it was kind of hot and unbearable out today, but I should have at least gotten up and gone for a walk with the bf or something. Alas, I’m letting it go. I’m allowed to just chill…especially when my body is telling me I need to.

And so are you! So, rest up, breathe, don’t think about tomorrow, and cook up a big bowl of baked rigatoni.

Today’s recipe:
1/2 lb cooked rigatoni (or penne or ziti)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 c milk
1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese (or any sharp, Italian cheese)
1 c mascarpone cheese (or any soft cheese)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter over low heat; whisk in flour until well blended. Add milk and raise heat to medium, regularly whisking to avoid burning, about 4 minutes. Add cheeses and stir until smooth. Remove from heat. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Pour over rigatoni and stir until well blended.

Spoon pasta mixture equally into 4 small, ovenproof bowls. Place under broiler until cheese browns and bubbles, about 4 minutes.