Food


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In all the years that I have been coming to Italy — even with living here, I simply haven’t been here in puntarelle season!

Puntarelle (they never seem to have a singular puntarella version though it is certainly a singular green) are strictly a spring vegetable. It is a succulent curlicue green, barely bitter, served with a simple garlicky, lemony, anchovy-laden dressing. I have had it before, maybe once, but not here. Not in Rome. Not like that. This trip, I experienced it at a little ristorante in the Campo dei Fiore. Just feet away from the older Roman women who populate the market, making sure that all the goods are table ready. The greens are usually displayed in water baths. Talk about farm to table.

I am a fan of greens, despite the fact I was one of those granddaughters of Italian immigrants who was embarrassed by the fact that granny was out in the yard plucking weeds from the lawn to cook for dinner. I have asked Italians before just what puntarelle is (are?). They say it’s like dandelion (not quite) or chicory, which I find almost inedibly bitter. When in Rome, I heard the people behind me wonder what is that? But they didn’t ask me. So I did not answer.

Did I already say how succulent that salad was? I have a feeling I better order it every chance I get — it probably has a life span of a minute thirty.

Oh – techno-victory. I transferred that image of the puntarelle from my iPhone to my iPad — with a gerry-rigged setup of connectors not exactly made for that function.

I think I’m beebling.

Here I am in a city I have not visited, in a country with customs so different than mine. Eating food that elicits so very often the phrase: “I’ve never eaten this before!”

Oops gotta go. Sights await.

More anon.

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I have to say from the outset – I have always felt proud of the fact that I am so good with change. My work has changed. My life has changed. My body, my apartments, my friends. But, I find myself baffled about something: why am I so averse to FOOD changes?

This surprises me. I suppose I find some comfort in the knowledge that I can be shaken out of complacency on the “change” front. That’s what acceptance of change is all about — going with the flow, as they say.

I have this wonderful t-shirt I bought at Snoqualmie Falls, outside of Seattle. It says “Advice from a Waterfall” – which in itself is a lovely thought. We can imagine a tree — like those in the Wizard of Oz – with its arms and full head of leaves – knotholes for squirrels and for talking — anthropomorphic. But, waterfalls?

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I am back at one of my favorite retreats. Well, I guess at this point, it is my Favorite, back East anyway. Forget the “one of” part. Kripalu. It is a yoga retreat in the Berkshires, a short drive from Lenox, Mass. It is a former monastery that has been turned into a school for Yogis and Aruyrvedic practitioners. It is also a place for visitors looking for wellness programs, or just a little R&R. You can practice yoga here three times a day, and do this wonderful moving form they call Yoga Dance. The yoga dance is very tribal, very primal, sweat-inducing, and LOTS of fun.

I arrived after a four-hour bus drive, sat next to a cool woman who commuted back and forth between her apartment outside of Boston and the Vermont woods where she lived with the boyfriend she met on You-Tube. When you leave the highly caffeinated world of Manhattan and land anywhere bucolic, it takes awhile to adapt to the deafening din of silence. Crickets in NYC mean no one has come to your nightclub. The smells, the views, the sounds of silence can be intimidating. I walked around, made myself at home in my spartan room (happy to see that the unknown roommate with whom I was to share the room had not arrived yet). A gentle yoga class, a delicious vegetarian dinner, some quiet time in the sun room until three 20-somethings came in to gab. Even then, I wasn’t in the mindset to be the librarian and “shhhhhush” them. I just went to my little room and fell asleep.
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Have you ever been in a restaurant with a group of friends, wondering what to order when someone suggests: let’s just order a bunch of different dishes and — SHARE.

Share. Even more than the conundrum of “no, you can’t order that, that’s what I am ordering!”. As if there is some rule against that. I mean, what’s the point of eating out if you can’t taste what your dining partner ordered. You know how it works, you’re digging into your plate when you ask your friend “you want to taste?” That’s code for “can *I* taste what you’re having?”
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Durng my West Coast voyage through some former childhood haunts, I found myself in Albany, Oregon, the town where I grew up. A city: both rural and not. Neither urban nor suburban. Not even exurb.

Apparently, since I left several decades ago, that little city in the Willamette Valley became known for its Victorian neighborhoods. “Let’s go look at the hundreds of homes” squealed my good friend. Whoopee.  JUST what I want to do: drive by a bunch of old houses in Albany. Which, attitude aside, is precisely what we did.

Soft Ice Cream Joint

That is how we ended up at the Hasty Freeze ice cream hut of my youth. Dad used to take us to this tiny little drive-in. “Get whatever you want” he would tell my brother and me. Which really meant “I’ll get you a 10-cent soft ice cream cone.”
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So, before heading to Oregon — and just a few days after my return from Italy, I was sitting in my NYC apartment – okay still sulking a little bit about American versus Italian food.  A sulk I should reconsider.  First, I’m in the States, so get over it, dammit!  But also – I realize, no have to admit – I also ate what I damn well pleased while there.  Giving lie to my statements that

I never gain weight when I go to Italy!

Except, when I got on the scale upon my return and found out that a week of Janet Eats – Italian style – netted an extra five pounds in avoirdupois.  Oh boy.  Not bummed, mind you.  It is temporary.  And, oh so fun.

I found a quick option to my quest to eat like a Roman – but also keep fit, like most Italians.  I have always said – and this truism is, well, true.

You will not gain weight in Italy, if you eat their food in the WAY they eat their food.  You don’t, for the most part, see them walking around eating food, eating lots of desserts, eating in between meals.  Their fornos are a selected treat.  Not, as I did when I lived there for three months, a place to visit every day.  I have been happy to be vacationing a lot lately.  But, it does make it more challenging to eat healthfully.

  1. Challenge:  Away from home.
  2. Challenge: The food that is available is different, sometimes COMPLETELY different from your everyday choices.  And
  3. Challenge: Who WANTS to eat with limits and care.  It’s vacation!

So, now I face the wonderful opportunity to renew my commitment to healthful eating.  Good choices.  Veggies when I want them.  Steamed with a little olive oil.  Not at all something you even want to eat while on vacation.

You know, you gotta live.  In a way that allows for some indulgences.  If you are challenged, as I am, to eat healthfully on a regular basis (and, even at that, my friends tell me I’m pretty damn good at that) – you need to not judge yourself.  Pick on yourself.  Feel badly about yourself.  Enjoy the food that you eat when you eat it.  If that means a temporary weight gain, then just “man up” and eat the way you know is both best – AND enjoyable – for you.

And, I think I’ll try that recipe I read about from another Word Press Blogger, Iowa Girl Eats:

Baked Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

While visiting the parts of the Oregon coast I used to travel as a child, I tried some old, familiar & nostalgic food items.  And, a new place: once trendy, now just plain quality, locavore foods cooked in a sophisticated kitchen.

For the meal: the latter.  A place called Tidal Raves in Depoe Bay, Oregon.  There was a bit of a wait, so my old college friend and I left a name, were told “20 minutes” and headed out to explore the town I knew so well as a youngster.

While walking to “town” – we saw a crowd facing the sea, rapt with attention.

It was a blowhole.  A wild, out of control gush of water through a slit in the rock.  A veritable geiser.  Dramatic!   We felt it before we saw it.  “Is it raining”  “No,” said my friend, “just misting a little bit.”  That was strange because there didn’t seem to be any rain clouds above and no drops behind.  Turns out it was the misty fallout from the geyser gushing from a crevice near the road by the Pacific Coast Highway.   Cool!!

But, this is Janet Eats, not Janet Watches Blowholes at Depoe Bay!
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In the verdant land of Oregon, not just the peace-love-tie-dyed people are on the green side.  Green in that sustainable way, I mean.

On the coast of Oregon, in the most plebeian of food establishments, you will find little signs indicating the provenance of the food you are purchasing.  Or, about to eat.

Surfing at Agate Beach

In Newport, Oregon there are several “restaurants” that feature locally caught fish.  And on the menu or in the glass case, you see things like LC Big Buoy – meaning Line Caught aboard the boat “Big Buoy”.   The fish is, of course, fabulously fresh and delicious.  But, you know you are the in presence of people who understand “sustainable” at a very real level.

I put “restaurants” in quotations, by the way, because some of them are really fish markets with some tables and a great cook in the back who understands how to coax the best flavors from the catch of the day.

I do enjoy “food as metaphor” — for this practice in a old fishing port in the central coast of Oregon, shows they respect the very stores they deplete everyday when they catch what the Pacific has to offer.

On a practical matter, that means I have had scrumptious simple grilled halibut sandwiches.  Clam chowder with huge chunks of local clams swimming in a sea of white cream.  And, I haven’t even moved to Dungeness crab and salmon.

It’s in season is not just a slogan here on the Oregon coast.  It’s Life.

Vacation is over. Home again and I have to admit: I have no idea what to eat!!

Janet Eats without a clue? How can this be? It is certainly more than just that “now the party is over” feeling.  It is more the realization that eating good, pure food in the U.S. is just so damn hard.  The idea of another serving of factory chicken from the NBC Commissary — well, it just makes me sick thinking about it.  The Italians really know how to make simple food.  Even with something as indulgent as a cornetto – you know the ingredients do not come from a chemistry lab.

Time to pull out my Food Rules again.

For lunch on una bella giornata – a beautiful day – I purchase a prosciutto sandwich on pizza bianca from my favorite forno in the Campo de’ Fiori.  What apparently makes it a specialty of Rome is the inclusion of fichi – figs.

Prosciutto & Fichi Panino

It was incredibly rich. And memorable. Just like the cittá for which it had been deemed a specialitá.

Funny. As I sat on the bench of the Palazzo Farnese to eat my ham and fig sandwich, a pigeon shat upon the British man next to me. It is probably time to go before it happens to me. Although, knowing the Italians, it is most likely a sign of good luck!

As promised: here’s the list of what I ate at this year’s fair. Every year is slightly different: I have some favorites. And, of course, have to try out new items. This year: the deep-fried bologna on a stick. Here goes.

  • honey ice cream with sunflower seeds (twice)
  • wine ice cream: ruby raspberry and apple cinnamon
  • deep-fried bologna on a stick
  • grilled corn on the cob, hold the butter
  • mini-donuts
  • Pronto Pup® (you may know it as a corn dog)
  • sarsaparilla
  • sausage sampler: swedish, tuscan, wild rice
  • vanilla milk shake
  • small taste of chocolate malted milkshake
  • what they called a “tornado potato”: spiral fries dipped in chocolate
  • Pig Lickers: bacon dipped in dark chocolate
  • sweet potato “tater tots”
  • 10 bottles of 20 oz. water
  • Korean chicken taco
  • key lime pie on a stick

You know, I think that’s it. If something else comes to mind, I’ll add it. Doesn’t look so bad. Hahahahaha. Certainly not up to the standards of the 2005 fair.

UPDATE:  I have to laugh.  Looking at my post from the 2010 Minnesota State Fair – I realized that the picture is very similar to the one below – from the 2009 OREGON State Fair: involving the same basic food item: Bacon.  Anyway — I experimented with posting a blog from a remote location, in this case – obviously – the MN Fairgrounds – and it seemed to work.

A little post from the fair. I’ve embraced the fun of knowing that part of the joy of weight loss is that a day of indulgence ain’t gonna hurt. I mean, what would a day at the fair be without Pig Lickers: crisp bacon dipped in dark chocolate. Spent an hour with a man who creates wooden bowls you can drink ale from. Ain’t life grand!!

Sorry, gotta run. Hear there are sweet potato “tater tots” over down the way.

When is a pigout not a binge? When you do it in the swine barn, of course!

I’m about to attend the MN State Fair where eating is not just a pasttime but a necessity. Or, as my fair companion puts it: I AM a professional.

Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not going to the great Minnesota Get-Together just to eat: there’s the crop art (pics made out of seeds and stems), the pigs and prize ducks, butter sculptures and two, count them TWO huge buildings dedicated to amazing Popeil products.

But, no doubt about it, this annual festa of food on a stick is a gourmand’s delight. Yes, gourmand. I mean: honey ice cream with sunflower seeds. Walleye fillets. Pig lickers: crispy bacon dipped in dark chocolate, served cold of course.

Still to come: the complete list and even photographic evidence.

At the Fair

Battered Bacon on a Stick!

It struck me this week when I went on a fairly uncharacteristic (well – these days anyway) binge.  The circumstances did not seem to particularly encourage the binge.  I wasn’t really hungry, but binges are rarely about the food.  Salty versus sweet:  this probably has some deep-down meaning I don’t care to ponder.  Bottom line:  binging serves a purpose.  It is up to each one of us to determine that purpose.

What did I eat?  Okay – in the interests of full candor here – and what good is a blog that is less than candid?

  • Chicken salad sandwich on a white roll
  • Wheat roll and butter
  • Butternut Squash Soup

I could have stopped there.  I was on jury duty that day.  I had a long lunch break and figured, what the hell, I’m not in the mood for still yet another green salad with chicken breast so have a sandwich.  I made a fairly indulgent (for me) choice although I did opt for “half a sandwich, a cup of soup.”  I could have picked simple protein, lightly dressed – or with mustard.  I could have had a clear soup – instead of creamed.  But, that is not what I wanted — and it was not what I ordered, and ate.  Eating the roll — with butter — after eating the sandwich should have made me suspicious.  But, I ignored the warning signs.

That is, I could have kept on,  if this were about food.  Something in jury duty struck an anxious chord with me.  The judge’s questions about ‘have you ever or anyone you know been convicted?” for one.  Was I supposed to divulge the youthful indiscretion of getting busted for pot possession?  I sweated that out for a year and the judge tossed it out…said I didn’t need to tell anyone about it – it was as if I had not been arrested, booked, fingerprinted and mug shotted.  (all of which I was).  I figured that gave me a pass.

That someone close to me was convicted – was another thing.  Candor unnecessary because it is not my story, but theirs.  But, it clearly stirred up some stuff!

The binge.  Oh yeah: the binge.  After the lunch that let me beyond sated, I headed back to the courthouse.  Passed a bakery and thought, what the hell.  No, let’s be honest: I was foraging for binge food.  And, pie came to mind.  Childhood comfort food if e’er there were one.  So, I stopped at Billy’s Bakery, counted my shekels and saw I had enough to get

  • a piece of peach pie

The pie was okay.  But, just okay.  I am pretty sure the peaches were not fresh – and the pie was cold – and I didn’t feel like bringing anyone else into my shameful little overindulgence and get it heated up.   I ate it.  And, enjoyed it.  Very little.

After court, when I revealed the other’s conviction, I entered the streets of the city – in search of more F-O-O-D.  I had entered the gateway to the binge.  I bought

  • a raspberry shortbread bar (I should’ve gotten the lemon bar the night before – and maybe this binge would never have started.  Who knows at this point.  Though, c’mon!!!  YOU SHOULD KNOW!!).
  • a lemon raspberry cookie.  Then
  • a dark snickers bar
  • And a Häagen-Dazs® ice-cream bar.

You know in writing it doesn’t look so bad.  But, it felt bad.  And, I felt badly about it.   So, here is the point of this candid anecdote.  Life presented me with an opportunity, not to pick on myself, not to beat up on me, not to even feel badly about the day, because it was past and passed.  This was my chance to look at what was underlying the binge.  And, learn from it.

When we go into that zone where all we think about is food, overeating food, what we would eat if we could – and would.  Then, how icky we feel afterwards.  ALL of that distracts us from what is really bothering us.  So, I didn’t think once that day of the anxiety over the conviction revelation.  Or, what the power that incident still clearly held over me emotionally.  All I thought about was E.A.T.I.N.G.!!!

To my credit – and we all have this power, I did look at that behavior the next day – and analyzed it for what it was.  That allowed me to leave the binge behind.  And, be all the wiser for looking at what caused it in the first place.

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