The best things in life

Marco found this photo from an Italian bar. This tongue-in-cheek window ad lists all the things you get when you come in:  an espresso, a glass of water, unlimited sugar, napkins, little spoons and little plates, the daily newspaper, chatting with psychological and moral support, bathroom, weather update, and info about where the bus stop is.  And all of this for only one Euro!

The simple ritual of heading into the local bar and saddling up the to counter for a caffé is one that you will witness and experience in Italy. It is a quick interaction, but look at all the possibilities in that short amount of time. . . the quick chat with a friend, news about the weather, the latest events, and all those extras that go with it. I’ve written other times in this blog about the power of some of the common rhythms and rituals I’ve grown to appreciate in Italy:  the Sunday lunch, the aperitivo at the local bar before a meal, the after meal nap. . .

National Public Radio’s (NPR’s) Shankar Vedantam, host of the podcast Hidden Brain, has an episode that explores the psychological effects of rituals. He points to research by Nicholas Hobson. “He’s a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto, [who], along with researchers Michael Norton, Francesca Gino and Michael Inzlicht, Hobson recently ran some experiments to measure the effect that rituals have on people.” (Social Science Research Explores Psychological Effects Of Rituals) What they found is that rituals increase trust and cooperation among people. 

Marco and I enjoy the simple ritual of the espresso together when we have the chance. Even at work, we each have a Nespresso machine in our offices, and, when our schedule allows, we phone on FaceTime and enjoy our break together. It is a great tasting espresso every time, and it comes with all of the extras. . . a quick break from work, a hello to my husband, a supportive word, and so much more. . . ours only for 75 cents!

 

 

 

 

Come on baby light my fire!

In describing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to clients, I often tell the story of a friend coming down the street in the other direction. Just when you’re ready to wave hello to the friend, she turns away and doesn’t see your wave. I ask people what they think of this situation and I get a variety of answers that explain why the friend turned away. The depressed person is often thinking something like s/he is bad or defective. The anxious person worries about some unknown possible catastrophe that this event symbolizes. The angry person immediately feels the heat rising up within his body and often explodes.

The work is to discover what goes through the mind when something like this takes place. What are the automatic thoughts that come up? So, if the automatic thought about the person turning away is “I am not lovable” or any form of negative self-labeling, the first step is to notice this. The second step is to look at the evidence that supports that thought. What are the facts that you would use in a court of law to prove that the friend turned away because you are un-loveable? Usually, when put this way, it’s hard to factually prove that this is what happened. Then, we look at the number of alternative possible interpretations for what happened:  my friend saw something else just as we were about to make eye contact, my friend was having a bad day and was lost in thought, my friend didn’t have his glasses on and can’t make out faces without them, etc. . . 

After these two steps and over the course of therapy, it is helpful to name the “cognitive distortion” or unhelpful thinking style that becomes an ongoing theme in the client’s life. Negative labeling of oneself, catastrophic thinking, “all or nothing” styles, and “jumping to conclusions” are all common distortions that negatively impact our lives. As we move deeper in the work we come to understand that our automatic thoughts based on these unhelpful thinking styles often come from deeply held core beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world.

All this talk about my therapy work came to mind when contemplating this delicious seafood linguine recipe. The lighting of the fire reminded of me of the burst of energy that comes with anger. Just as with the angry rush of heat through the body, the flash of fire is instantaneous. The lit whiskey speeds the burning off of the alcohol in the brandy leaving only a nice flavor of seafood infused with a sweet and savory sauce.

Up and down the coasts of Italy, you’ll find versions of this seafood pasta, frutti di Mare, literally “fruit of the sea”. It will likely always have the EVOO and garlic, some version of alcohol like white wine, and the salt and pepper and parsley. Then, you’ll find variations based on the local fresh caught “fruit”, some diced tomatoes, onions or shallots can be added, red pepper flakes, basil, and if desired, a bit of cream to make it a cream sauce. Feel free to experiment with the flavors that please you, but keep in mind that sometimes the simpler the better! 

Ingredients:

  • EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves sliced
  • 6 large shrimp cut up
  • 4 squid bodies cut up
  • 4 squid tentacles cut up
  • 6 scallops cut into pieces
  • Whiskey and brandy
  • Salt and white pepper
  • Parsley 

Process:

  1. while heating the salted water and boiling the pasta, heat the olive oil and gently sauté the garlic, about a minute
  2. add the seafood
  3. add the alcohol and carefully light (if you don’t want to try the lighting of the fire, just use the brandy and gently simmer until the alcohol burns off)
  4. simmer till liquid is evaporated
  5. salt, pepper, and parsley
  6. when the pasta is al dente, add to the sauce with 1/4 cup of the starchy water and stir quickly on medium heat till you have the right consistency 

Buon appetito!

 

Mindfully delicious

Mindfulness is the latest buzz-word in psychology, in whole health, and even in corporate America. It is current, but, in reality, its foundation is thousands of years old in the Vipassana tradition of meditation. Basically, it is about awareness; paying attention to life as it is experienced in each moment. It is also about training the brain to better notice thoughts, feelings, and body sensations as they occur.

This year, one of my career goals is to learn more about mindfulness and increasingly bring it into my practice of psychotherapy. I am using as my main tool, a book called “Mindfulness Integrated CBT Principles and Practice” by Bruno Cayoun. In this context, I also began a daily meditation practice so that I am experiencing the very thing that I am prescribing to my patients. The book itself is written for therapists, and it details the theory and practice of an approach to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that integrates daily mindfulness meditation with evidence based CBT practices.

My own journey with this is long and involved, beginning back in 1980’s in my undergraduate psychology courses, studying CBT and studying Alan Watts, who wrote about the merging of eastern philosophy and practice with western psychology. In my 20’s I was a type A personality and a raging extrovert on the Myers Briggs assessment. I was literally unable to sit still alone. I began some meditation practice then, knowing I wanted to cultivate the introvert in me. I sought spiritual guidance from a spiritual director. In my 30’s I met a grounded Italian and began the regular practice of yoga. As a CBT therapist, I knew that the yoga principles of breathing, focus, and sustained attention were informing my therapy style, but not in a disciplined way. In recent years, I’ve attended many workshops on Mindfulness and the practice of therapy. Finally, this year I decided to delve into a structured method of integrating the mindfulness with the CBT.

I’m seeing that clients who take the time to train their brains through mindfulness mediation experience a reduction in symptoms across a wide array of diagnoses. It is hard to work with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in therapy if we are not first aware of what is going on in our bodies. The first way that we know an emotion is in the awareness of the sensations. So, when we notice the tightness in the chest or the sweaty palms or the subtle tingling, we are noticing the precursors to anxiety. Mindfulness teaches the brain to notice the thoughts and sensations and move back to a chosen focus of attention. All of this facilitates an ability to deal with life from a place of non-reactivity or what is also called equanimity.

The food pictured here is from a local “fast food” vegetarian restaurant called Life Alive (click here). Mindfulness meditation can move on to become a daily practice of paying attention to all aspects of our day. Being present in the moments of life and not reactive to our past memories or future worries. Our meals are one important way to pay attention and enjoy some stimulation to the senses. The Italian lifestyle and mindfulness teaches us to slow down, notice the colors tastes and textures of food and enjoy the moment to moment sensations. 

Buon appetito!

Fusion cuisine

Marco and I love fusion cuisine. We love going to restaurants that combine the flavors and ingredients from more than one region or culture. We go to a restaurant in Boston that combines Peruvian and Italian cuisine. We love a restaurant in Baltimore that is a latin sushi fusion. And, as you see in this blog, we live our lives blending the Italian and American.

We recently discovered a cookbook that merges Middle-Eastern flavors and inspirations with Italian and other influences born at a little restaurant in London. The cookbook is “Ottolenghi The Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Smi Tamimi. I love what they write in their introduction.  “This carefree but realistic approach to cooking and eating is what we try to convey with our food:  the idea that cooking can be enjoyable, simple, and fulfilling, yet look and taste amazing; that it mustn’t be a chore or a bar, with lots of complicated ingredients to source and painstakingly prepare, but can be accessible, straightforward, and frank.” (Ottolenghi, Tamimi 2007)

Food and life are so much richer when we celebrate the diversity of cultures. I work in a multi-cultural setting where, just on my team, we are from all over the world: Iraq, Dominican Republic, Spain, South Korea, Albania, Russia, and New England. It is fun to share the differences and celebrate the common humanity that unites. Surely food is enhanced as it travels the world and fuses with local fare, so much more our social fabric.

To get the recipe, click here.

Buon appetito!