Soul food


Take a bite…

A burst of sweet summer sunshine

Explodes in my mouth and

Slides down my throat.

Another bite…

Warm, salty sea

Rolls over my tongue

Mingles with sweet sun.

I close my eyes.

Another bite…

Sweet summer days fill

My mouth,

My stomach,

My soul.

Margaret Brizzolari August 2016
This poem was inspired by my supper: sweet, ripe melon slices and parma ham, a match made in heaven!

What foods evoke strong emotions for you? Write about it and link to  the comments if you like.

Happy summer days, everyone.

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Spinach like an Italian Mamma

I love spring! The market suddenly blossoms with all manner of fresh, interesting vegetables and I browse the stalls with intense interest to see who has the biggest, brightest and crunchiest examples of my favourites. Piles of plump red and yellow peppers show off next to luscious purple brinjals. Nonnas and Mammas gently squeeze their flesh to gauge their freshness, exchanging opinions in the weak spring sunshine. No, these are not the best, they are rubbery and soft. Best to try the farmer’s stalls at the end of the piazza.

My weekly visit to the Friday market this week saw me returning home with 1,5 kilos of fresh young spinach. These are not the large Swiss chard leaves that we ate in South Africa when I was a child, They are small, young, dark green leaves with the most delicious taste. But if you want the best from your veges, you have to treat them right. Here’s what an Italian Mamma does with her spinach.

The leaves are bound to be dusty, even if they have been washed, so as soon as you get them home, give them a good wash under running water. Then dump them in a deep sink or bowl filled with fresh cold water. Take a large pot or deep pan and trim the roots and any unhealthy leaves from the spinach, dropping the leaves into the pot as you go. Look out for the initial leaves of the plant. They are long and narrow and must be thrown out as they will be starting to deteriorate. When the pot or pan is full, put it on the stove and start cooking the leaves. You can add a little salt to the leaves if you like. Do not add water as they cook in the water left on them. When the leaves are wilted, the spinach is done. It only takes a few minutes. Drain the leaves in a colander. Repeat the process untill all the leaves are cooked. Leave the spinach to cool.

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This is what it looks like.

When the spinach is cool, ask a big, hairy husband to squeeze the hell out of that spinach, forming small balls that you can put in the fridge (or do it yourself). The more water you squeeze out, the better the spinach keeps. It will keep in the fridge for between 3 and 5 days.

This is a common way for an Italian Mamma to store spinach. In fact, you can even buy balls of cooked spinach from the supermarkets here. It can now be chopped and served as a salad with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Delicious! Or if you like, it can be gently fried after chopping. Depressions are made in the spinach and eggs lightly poached in them. A delicious brunch with bacon and toast. A  perrenial favourite at Easter is the “Easter tart”. The filling is a delicious blend of spinach, ricotta cheese, parmesan, eggs and nutmeg wrapped in puff pastry – one of my favourites!

Hmmm… which one shall I make this week? And what’s your favourite spinach dish? Let me know in the comments.

In Search of Better Health

Hi there. I’ve been a little AWOL in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d let you know the reason why. My life has been turned upside down and time to think and write has been drastically cut. Nevertheless, I’m not too worried about that as I’m focused on this present journey. I need to see it to the end, or rather, to the next stage, where I hope to be able to manage my time better.

So what am I doing?  Well, after reading a very interesting book over Christmas ( It Starts With Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig), my husband and I decided to do a Whole30 diet month. At the moment, I’m married to the kitchen and feel like I’m spending all my spare time (and more) cooking, but I know it won’t always be like that.

What’s the Whole30 diet, you ask? In a nutshell, it’s a month of following a very strict diet of good protein, fats, vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit. Every meal (including breakfast) has the same basic make-up and snacking between meals is to be avoided if at all possible. Here comes the difficult part. You cut out all of the following foods: dairy, cereals (including rice), legumes, seed oils, sugars (of ALL kinds), soy products and all the bad things to be found in processed foods like MSG, nitrites and nitrates and sulfates. The book gives you a list of what to avoid and why it should be avoided. So you’re eating “whole” foods for 30 days.

At the end of the 30 days, you can slowly add back foods like dairy, cereal etc and you will be able to see exactly what effect they are having on your system. You can then decide if or how much you will eat those foods in the future. This allows you to end up with a personalised diet which should be right for you. The premise is that the foods you cut out may be having a bad effect on your digestive system, and consequently, on the rest of your body. According to the authors of the book, many people have seen dramatic health results from following the diet (lowered cholestrol, lowered fasting blood sugar and lowered blood pressure to name a few) and have consequently changed the way they eat permanently. Although people report losing weight on this diet, my main reason for doing it is to improve our general health and keep us healthy into the future. I like the way the book gives simple explanations of why certain food or additives should be avoided. It makes you feel that you’re making an informed choice.

If you haven’t come across this diet or read anything about it, you’re probably wondering what it’s like and how we are managing to cut out so many foods. Surprisingly, we’re managing very well, thank you! We’re on day 12 now and although we miss some things, we haven’t really felt hungry at all. It’s definitely not a diet that leaves you feeling lean and mean and craving food all day. During the first week or so I had a low level headache that just didn’t want to budge. I presume it was due to my body going through a detox process, but that has passed and I feel generally ok. I have yet to feel the surge of energy and clear mindedness that many people report, but I’m hoping that will arrive soon. My husband is Italian, so the thought of doing without pasta, pizza and risotto for a month had him quaking at the knees, but now he says he has hardly missed them (ok, he really missed his Friday pizza last week, but he held strong!).

The interesting thing about this journey is that you learn so much about yourself and your relationship with your food. We’ve realised that most of our between meals snacking is psychologically motivated and not prompted by hunger. “I could have told you that,” you say. But there’s a great difference between being told something and realising something yourself! And I’ve realised that we are stronger than we think we are.
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What’s amazed me perhaps most of all is the way that I’ve been able to embrace cooking for the first time in years. I knew that if we were to succeed, I would have to make meals that were specially tasty to convince my husband to continue with this for a month. I’ve been browsing the paleo cooks’ sites and also bringing my own creativity to the pot. Who knew that a fragrant vegetable curry and fried eggs would make a good breakfast? Or that you can add spicy meatballs to vegetable soup to get some protein? Today’s surprise was a meatloaf made in the slow cooker. It was spicy with cayenne peppers and a natural spice mix and cooked in a delicious tomato gravy made from tomato pulp, salt, pepper , parsley and dried chives. I just mixed the gravy together in a cup and threw it over the meatloaf. The magic cooking process did the rest! We’re saving the recipes we really like and keeping them for the future!

Have you tried this diet or any other diet with success? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. If you are doing a Whole30, what are your secrets to success? What are your thoughts on diets and dieting in general? I’ll update later on as to how it’s going for me. Suffice to say that no sugar has passed these lips for 12 days. Amazing! And if you have any questions, fire away. I’ll answer if I can.

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Pass the Pasta

I’m going to let you into a little secret:

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That’s a good thing because I live in the perfect place for a pasta lover! Yesterday I googled  to find out how many different types of Italian pasta there are. Wait for it…according to one Italian site, there are one hundred and twenty-nine. That’s right! I could eat a different pasta every third day or so for an entire year!

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What makes pasta so good to eat? Well, it’s so versatile. You can make a pasta sauce (“sugo” is the Italian name for it) out of almost anything, and using a different type of pasta makes for a different eating experience. And then there’s the freshly grated parmesan Italians sprinkle on top. Heavenly! If you make pasta at home, do yourself a favour and try to get fresh parmesan cheese. The sawdust they sell in little packets at the supermarket just doesn’t do it justice.

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Some of my favourite sughi (pasta sauces) are made from leftovers. Got left over stew? Add a little butter or even some of the pasta cooking water and enjoy with a little parmesan on top. Crumble left over roast and gravy for a delicious alternative. Almost anything that can be blitzed into a creamy sauce will make a good sugo. One of my favourites is a traditional Italian yellow and red pepper stew. It’s full of onion, tomato and pepper flavour and we eat it as a vegetable served with roast or steak. The leftovers get blitzed with the addition of a few anchovies and that sauce makes a scrumptious sugo for pasta. The best thing is that you can freeze the sauce and you have instant pasta sauce for another day. I tried a similar treatment (minus the anchovies) for a green bean stew with a chilli pepper kick and it was amazing! Today’s lunch was “Burridda” a traditional Ligurian fish stew. It was delicious, and the leftovers made three tubs of sauce for the freezer. Yummy!

I may be wrong, but I think that the general Italian mamma’s pasta has far less sauce than an American or even British version. Italians adhere to the principle that “less is more” when it comes to pasta and pasta sauce. The sauce should coat the pasta and you shouldn’t be left with heaps of sauce in the bottom of the serving dish. The cheese should add to the flavour experience but not overpower it.

Do you enjoy pasta? What’s your favourite type? Would you like some pasta recipes on the blog in the future?

Morning Song, a celebration of life

Almond Croissant

Morning song

My strawberry bag and I

Wander by

Green grass and flowers

And blue sky.

 

Blackbird notes

breezily float.

Cold cobbles clatter while

Children chatter.

 

Morning fragrance

From Baker’s oven

Carries me home

Into the kitchen.

 

I open my strawberry bag

tumble my morning treasure

Onto your plate.

 

I can’t wait

To see your pleasure,

Share your delight,

Drink in your morning coffee smile.