Mindful eating


Last weekend I was on a silent retreat at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Western Massachusetts. At each meal the table has a simple note card reminding the guest of mindful eating; this involves taking a few breaths before eating, having gratitude for all that brought the food to this point, noticing the colors of the food, and savoring the smells. Then, the retreatant is reminded to taste the food, enjoy the silence of eating or the conversations with others, and taking time to be in the moment.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created his Mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR),  defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” A form of meditation, it s practiced in everyday life by simply paying attention to the moments we are in, noticing the present, being aware and bringing focus to one thing at one time. In the case of eating the food that nourishes our body, mindful eating calls us to notice our food and enjoy it.

You may recall that I once wrote about how incredulous Marco was when he found out that I was eating my lunch while driving in the car to a work meeting (click here). We live in a fast-paced world where we grab food on the go. The T.V. serves as an accompaniment to many a meal. Lunch is munched while we catch up on emails, Facebook, or the latest news.

Our family used to play a game to see who could be the last to finish eating. It was a fun way to try to have Matteo slow down a little. He alway won! It was one way to remind us all to enjoy the taste of our food and our time together at the dinner table. Now that Matteo’s a teenager we really need to bring back this game. . . I don’t think he’d “win” any longer!

Mindfulness is a natural fit with the bella vita Italian life, but it can also be brought to every experience in life. It is practiced when we talk a walk, while at work, in moments of stress, as we prepare for sleep, and especially when we take time for meditation. One of my favorite new apps for the phone is buddhify. The tag line is “modern mindfulness for wherever you are.” It includes over 80 different mindfulness exercises for just about every experience in our daily lives.

Enjoy your food with mindful eating! I leave you with a few photos from my Kripalu experience.

Buon appetito!



Pan roasted chicken legs Provençal 

Before I met Marco I thought roasting only happened in an oven. He and his mother taught me pan-roasting. It’s simple and the variety of combinations is limitless! The basics are these: pan, olive oil, meat or fish, spices, and a pan cover. If you recall, the chicken pizzaiola recipe is made this way (click here). Also, the chicken piccata with lemon, capers, and white wine also uses this principle (click here).

On a recent trip to Provence, we bought a bag of the classic Herbes de Provence, a mix that typically has savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and other herbs. The recipe here involves pan-roasting chicken legs in olive oil and seasoning with Herbes de Provence. It’s a simple dish that requires a little attention at the beginning of the roasting process, but then, is left to simmer on low heat while preparing side dishes!

Ingredients:

  • chicken legs
  • olive oil
  • Herbes de Provence
  • Salt

Process:

  1. heat the olive oil on medium-high heat until you see ripples
  2. add the chicken and cook the first side until nicely browned
  3. turn and sprinkle salt and the herbs
  4. once the other side is done, turn and sprinkle with salt and herbs
  5. once both sides are browned nicely, lower heat, cover, and simmer for up to 45 minutes or until done

Buon Appetito!

Risotto with porcini mushrooms and saffron

It’s that time of the year again, with the cool dry days of Fall, when we eat more risotto. It is a perfect dish to warm the body and soothe the soul. It is a simple dish to make, yet a couple of secrets will ensure a quality result. It is also a versatile dish so that there are innumerable combinations to make, changing out the stock from chicken to fish and even to beef.

I can’t believe that this is only the second blog post about risotto. The only other post was on the lobster risotto (see here) which clearly shows how the rice dish works with a seafood base. We have several favorites that involve mushrooms, vegetables, and even one with gorgonzola and walnuts. This time of the year a pumpkin risotto with nutmeg and grated parmesan would be delicious.

I usually have solid advice from Adelina when posting recipes, but, here, we are left on our own. For whatever reason, Adelina doesn’t cook risotto and feels that when she tries it doesn’t come out right. So, Marco and I have practiced, inquired from other Italian friends, read what we can, relied on his time working in one of the finest Italian restaurants in Cremona, and kept at it over the years to the point that we have something to offer you!

And now for the secrets that you’ve been waiting for: the type of rice and careful attention near the end of cooking. These two secrets will make sure you have a creamy yet al dente plate of risotto. We use Carnaroli rice as opposed to Arborio. They are both short grain rice that absorb the flavors well and give off the nice starches to make the creamy texture. Carnaroli is harder to find, but you will be happy with the creamy result that ensures an al dente grain of rice.

The second secret also has to do with the al dente texture. About 15 minutes from the time of adding the hot chicken stock to the rice, start sampling grains of rice to ensure that the rice is cooked but not over done. You want to stop the cooking when the rice has that firm texture without still being crunchy. It’s as though you can feel each grain of rice on the teeth (al dente) while still having an overall creamy consistency.

We hope you enjoy this warm Northern Italian dish and all of its wonderful variations. The classic that, perhaps, is the original risotto ever invented, is the risotto Milanese, which is simply made with saffron. The recipe here is a Milanese with porcini mushrooms.

Buon appetito!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of Arborio per person
  • 1/2 onion (white or yellow)
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • about 1 oz. of dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 pinches saffron
  • salt “QB”, quanto basta (to taste)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream (optional)

Process:

  1. bring chicken stock to a boil
  2. soak the mushrooms in lukewarm water for about 1 hour
  3. drain and rinse the mushrooms to remove dirt
  4. sauté onions in olive oil until translucent (6-8 minutes)
  5. add rice mixing frequently for 6-8 minutes
  6. add the mushrooms
  7. add wine and let it evaporate
  8. add chicken stock one ladle at a time and letting the liquid evaporate before adding the next one
  9. after 10 minutes of cooking time add saffron to a ladle of stock and poor into the rice
  10. continue cooking for about 10 more minutes
  11. start tasting the rice at about 15 minutes of cooking to avoid overcooking it (also see if it needs salt here)
  12. once ready (creamy, not too liquid and not to dry), turn off the heat and add the butter
  13. if you are suing cream, add a couple of Tbsp 2 minutes before rice is cooked

Save and savor

  
One of my favorite quotes is from E.B. White. He was an American writer who contributed to The New Yorker and is perhaps most famous for his children’s book, Charlotte’s Web. He said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world.” There is so much suffering in the world. There is also so much joy. The task is to do something to help soothe the suffering and to be sure and enjoy life.

This week Marco and I are on vacation in Spain, celebrating the birthdays of two friends. It is a week of savoring to be sure. A time to enjoy the rhythms of each day in the Spanish seaside town of Sitges, just South of Barcelona. For us it means lazy days of late pastry and cappuccino, seaside lunches of seafood or tapas, and late evening tapas and red wine. 

Here are some of the photos of the tapas:

Zucchini flowers stuffed with goat cheese:

 
Sautéed wild mushrooms:

 

Pepper cheese and onions and croquettes:

  

Assorted tapas:

  
Buen provecho!

Spaghetti alle vongole

 Usually, I advocate using fresh ingredients when cooking. This is an exception that we make when we want a delicious pasta, but we want something a little quicker than using the whole clams from the shell. (Check out this version from our recent trip to the Italian Riviera by clicking here). From start to finish you can have a yummy meal in 20 minutes. Serve with a green salad and it’s a pretty balanced meal with a vegetable, some protein, and grains.
Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 1 pound of spaghetti
  • 3 cloves of garlic sliced thinly
  • 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 16 ounces of frozen clams
  • parsley
  • salt and pepper

Process:

  1. heat olive oil in a pan with medium heat and add the sliced garlic, sauteing until lightly brown
  2. add the defrosted clams
  3. add the white wine and let the sauce simmer lightly for 10 minutes
  4. cook the spaghetti al dente in a pot of salted water
  5. just before the spaghetti is done, add parsley to the sauce
  6. when the spaghetti is al dente, strain into the sauce, stirring quickly, adding salted water from the pot as needed


Buon Appetito!