Oven roasted French fries

Back to my fried scallops dinner. My friend Jess taught me this healthy version of French fries. First, you simply slice up the potatoes (I used fingerling potatoes). Then, mix them in a bowl with olive oil. Spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 450 for 25-35 minutes till they’re the way you like them.

Buon appetito!

Sipping and savoring 

This is breakfast in Italy. While sipping our cappuccino and enjoying our pastry, we sit and watch the locals head off to work. They do not at all seem in a hurry.There is a sense of purpose in their strides and energy in the air as people walk or bicycle by our table, yet the tempo is relaxed. It is not quite the summer evening stroll, but neither is it a frenetic pace of a harried commute to work.

A friend bikes by our table on her way to work. She stops long enough for the double kiss greeting and a few words. She works a 10 minute leisurely ride from her home. Another friend, who lives just up the cobble-stoned street from our cafe, happens by on her Monday morning commute after a glorious weekend at the lake. Likewise, we exchange greetings and she is off on her 5 minute bike ride.

These 5-10 minute commutes sure beat the average commute of many of us! Marco and I used to have 90 minute commutes to work…one way. This meant 3 hours of commute time 5 days per week. Now, we each have a 20-minute commute and work 4 ten-hour days! So, even with our longer work days, we are home the same time as before with the added bonus of a free day at home!

I start each work week with a tea and scone breakfast at our local bakery. This allows me to ease into the week and enjoy a start to what might otherwise be the Monday blues. It isn’t as relaxed as my Italy vacation cappuccino at the outdoor cafe but it is nice. When Friday comes, and with it, my day off, I go to the same local bakery with a much slower pace sipping and savoring the pace of the day.

Buon rientro! (Welcome back!)

Lifestyle medicine

Lifestyle medicine is an evidence-based science that advocates habits to promote healthy living. Some say that Hippocrates is the father of lifestyle medicine when he stated “let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food” and “walking is man’s best medicine” (Hakim, “The Traditional Healer’s Handbook, 1988). Practitioners of this science advocate for behaviors that lead to a reduction in chronic disease and an increased quality of life. Some of the main areas of focus are smoking and alcohol, eating, stress reduction, sleep, healthy relationships and exercise (American College of Lifestyle Medicine, click here).

I incorporate all six areas in the list above in my counseling practice as an integral part of a health and wellness approach to psychotherapy. For those that read my blog faithfully, you will also notice that I repeat these themes throughout the posts and through many references to Dan Beuttner’s book, The Blue Zones:  9 Lessons for Living Longer. The “bella vita” I talk about from my experience learning about the positive contributions of the Italian lifestyle are those that I share in the context of what science is teaching us about how the food we eat, the sleep we get, the exercise we do, the mindful meditation, and our healthy relationships impact our health.

Today, Marco and I began our morning with a gentle ride along the an argine (levee) through farm country along the river Po. As we were traveling forth, taking in the fresh country air, I said “here is a prescription for anxiety.” Now, I know that anxiety is a complex problem that doesn’t go away with one bike ride in the country, but it can certainly help. And, what can help even more is if something like this bike ride is incorporated into everyday life.

I often teach my clients a technique that Herbert Benson termed, the “relaxation response.” It is a simple, 10 minute breathing exercise that soothes the body and calms the brain. Research shows that it also lowers blood pressure, reduces the heart rate, changes the brain chemistry, and contributes to healing from so many medical conditions. The deep breathing combines with a body scan and a mental focus on a word or phrase. It is a simple thing to do. To introduce the technique, I often lead clients in a 10 minute relaxation response during our session. All agree, it is an easy thing to do. The challenge is scheduling the 10 minutes each day!

Our bicycle ride in the outskirts of Cremona was much better than a 10 minute relaxation response in my Lynn office, but I’m convinced that they both produce the same effects on the body and overall health and wellbeing! What’s more, the experience of this bike ride can be brought to bear in a future meditation with the addition of visual meditation. A visual component is added to the meditation. So, as in the photo below, I will see the wide expanse of the sky, I will hear the clicking of the spray irrigation system, I will smell the ripe corn field of the humid summer day, I will feel the wind on my skin, and taste the country air on my lips. . . all in my mind’s eye.

Buona Salute!

Food + travel = local

Two of our favorite things are food and travel and it is especially fun when the two of these equal local enjoyment. We’re in Italy and just spent a week in the region Puglia which is the “heel of the boot”. We rented a villa with friends and enjoyed a restored trullo on a spacious plot of land with olive trees, pear trees, large bushes of rosemary, old stone farm walls, and a beautiful pool. A trullo is a house style unique to Puglia made of stone and designed in conical shapes to keep the inside cool from the outside hot temperature.

Here’s a photo of the trullo:

The fruit and vegetables in the photo above is in Gallipoli, on the Ionian Sea of Puglia. We stopped there after a day spent swimming and jumping off the rock ledges in the small sea-side town of Santa Maria al Bagno. The fruit was a nice finish to our grigliata (BBQ) and the zucchini was roasted, drizzled with olive oil from the local orchards and seasoned with sea salt.

Here’s the place we swam:

Our favorite place to eat out was in the nearby town of Ceglie Messápica. The owner is a character who, we learned, is best enjoyed by letting him serve you whatever he would like! (Reminded me a bit of an Italian version of the “soup nazi” from the show “Seinfeld”). Our first night there he began by offering some antipasti. So, plate after plate of small dishes arrived. . . muscles gratinée, fried sardines, melted cheese with walnuts, roasted octopus, fried asparagus, tuna tartar, fried dough with mint, and maybe one or two more that I forget. We were so full by the time these ended that we never made it to the pasta or the second course.

After a second time where we tried to order our own meals we decided for the third time that it was best to let him bring us whatever he wanted to serve that evening. He brought us the pasta below  which is another example of a local food. The name is paccheri and it is unique to the South. It comes from the ancient Greek words “all” and “hand”. The Greek influence in the Southern part of Italy is embodied in the food and culture. This particular pasta was home-made and served with a sauce featuring a fish called cernia which in English is grouper.

The food in the South of Italy is also known for being a bit spicier. The locals have home remedies in mind for those spicy peppers. . .

A new discovery for an after dinner digestivo pictured below. It is made from bay leaves. This drink was a nice change from lemoncello in that it was not as sweet yet had a grassy-herb flavor that was a nice ending to a wonderful meal.

Buon appetito!

Fried scallops and calamari

Something about a warm summer day makes me desire fried scallops. Even better, the fried sweetness of the scallops are complemented by the addition of some french fries and coleslaw! Last Sunday was one of these days and, rather than eat out, Marco made the deep-fried scallops and calamari pictured above. I took a classic coleslaw recipe from Betty Crocker and added my own twists. Then, my friend Jessica recently taught me a nice healthy version of french fries through roasting fingerling potatoes with olive oil and sea salt that I made to cap off my summer fantasy meal.

We generally don’t eat fried food and, at home, cook this way about once a year, but I have to say it was delicious! Marco simply placed the seafood in evaporated milk. Then, he coated them lightly with corn flour and fried in canola oil till a golden-brown (about 4-5 minutes). He finished them off with salt and they were ready to enjoy.

We are now vacationing for a week in our own Trullo Tranquillo (a villa) near the town of Ceglie Messapica, of the region Puglia, where we are enjoying a warm summer evening Italian-style in a piazzetta. As you may see in the restaurant sign, we ate some fritti. . . which means fried. . . So, like our warm summer fried scallop and calamari, we indulged again in the fried food. . . this time sardines, muscles, asparagus, some fried fritters that had the taste of mint.

I’ll share the coleslaw and fries in another post, but here is our meal from home all together:

Buon appetito!