Beautiful shopping

I love the rhythms of the day in down-town Cremona. You can almost tell time by observing the daily activity. A weekday morning has a time when all the bars are busy making espresso for people heading into work. The city quiets down from 12:30 to 3:30 when many of the shops close for the lunch break. And, on warm summer evenings, the town comes alive again at about 10:00 when a stroll with friends and family, often with gelato in hand, takes place.

This shop owner, all dressed up and sweeping the side-walk in front of her store, is opening for the day. After sweeping, we watched her soap and scrub the walkway and then spray and shine her windows. We were siting, eating our brioche and sipping our cappuccino. Next store, another owner was performing the same morning ritual. Across the way, two other shop-keepers swept and cleaned and scrubbed and shined to prepare their shops for customers.

In addition to all of this work by each shop owner, the city has its own street and sidewalk sweeper machine that cleans regularly. The photo below shows the street where the little shop above is, so you can see how beautiful it is to shop here. The problem, however, is that every year that we come here, the shops have closed and new ones are trying to make a go. Just like in the States, shopping moved from the down-town centers to the malls in the outskirts of cities. There are also economic and political factors that affect whether there is a stimulating environment for an entrepreneur to open a little shop in these streets.

In recent years, the thing that succeeds in down-town Cremona is the eating places. Restaurants, bars, gelato stores are everywhere and they are full. This is also happening in downtown Salem. People are living and eating in these historic downtown centers. With the increased pressure from online shopping, malls are having a harder time in the States. A recent interest in shopping local, combined with the right entrepreneurial investments, might spur success once again, having beautiful local shops in our historic down-towns.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuale II in Milan pictured below is one of the oldest malls in the world and is right in the center, connecting the Piazza del Duomo and the piazza de La Scala. This was built between 1865 and 1877. Down-town malls like this and urban shopping predated the suburban malls and plazas. I hope that there is a pendulum swing of sorts and that our city and town centers continue to grow and beautify to become beautiful shopping destinations.

. . . “and they taste good!”

It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to find fresh porcini mushrooms in the States. If you do find them, you will be shocked at the price, and will pay somewhere over $50 a pound! Porcini are a delicacy in the mushroom family with a distinctive, delicate, and nutty flavor. So, you can imagine our delight when we arrive to visit Marco’s parents, and they are just back from the mountains where Enzo has been out successfully hunting porcini mushrooms.

Marco’s mother rushed to the freezer to show us the fruits of Enzo’s hunting labors. Below is a picture of a few of them. This summer they are having more fortune with the search compared to last year when Matteo and Enzo were left wanting. The best is to cook with the fresh plant. Barring that, the next option is the recently frozen fungi. Adelina also dries some and keeps in plastic bags to use later.

I asked Matteo what he likes about porcini hunting and he said, “it’s something that is interesting and I don’t do very often. . . and they taste good!” Below is a photo from three years ago when he discovered the largest one of the season. He knows how to distinguish between the true porcini and the poisonous ones that look similar, but could be deadly if eaten. After we leave Cremona to return to our Salem home, he continues on with nonni to the mountains where each day he and Enzo will head out on the hunt for the rare and tasty treats!


Ingredients:

  • porcini (about 20 ounces of fresh, 2 ounces of dried)
  • 2 tablespoons of EVOO 
  • 1 clove of garlic or QB (quanto basta, to taste), sliced thinly 
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley

Process:

  1. heat the olive oil in a pan, add the sliced garlic and porcini and sauté for about 5-10 minutes
  2. add the wine and simmer till it burns off (about 3-5 minutes)
  3. add the parsley and turn off the heat or lower until the pasta is ready
  4. cook the tagliatelle (click here for the recipe of home made tagliatelle) al dente in salted water and add to the pan, stirring well and adding some of the salted water from the pasta as needed 

Buon appetito!

Along fields of gold

The girasoli (sunflowers) in the photo are out of focus.  We are speeding by a field in the Czech Republic on our way back from Prague to Berlin at speeds of up to 125 miles per hour. We only know the speeds because they are periodically put up on the screen. Otherwise, the journey is smooth, quiet, and comfortable; it feels like riding on a cushion of air and not the metal on metal screeching and jostling that sometimes happens on trains.

What a wonderful way to see the countryside of Europe! I normally think that it’s better to fly, because, why not travel in under an hour rather than close to five hours, wasting all that time, when we could get there faster? The train ride from Berlin to Prague lasts about four and a half hours. In the Eurail system, these trains are called ICE for Intercity-Express, and connect major cities in Germany, and other countries, at speeds of up to 186 miles per hour.

We rode through wheat fields with Sting’s “Fields of God” running through my mind. We passed by little cities, towns, and villages. One small town nestled between rolling hills and cliffs, sitting on a stream, joining the river Elbe (Labe in Czech) is pictured in the photo below. We followed along the Elbe for part of the trip, imagining its journey from the Giant Mountains of the Czech Republic, twisting and turning through Bohemia and through Germany before it empties out into the North Sea, northwest of Hamburg.

We stopped in Dresden, a city once known for its beauty, architecture, and museums (click here for source). Called the “Florence of the Elbe”, Dresden was destroyed in World War II. I imagined the terrible death and destruction, the division of a country post-war, and a current country united and coping with new forces of division. I recalled the beauty of Prague, a city untouched by the devastation of bombing and thought about what might have been in Dresden.

In addition to the views as we sped through Europe, I had time to read my latest novel, “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, which, coincidentally takes place in France, during the Nazi occupation of WWII. I had time to practice meditation. I was able to stretch and walk around the train. We even ate a delicious lunch in the dining cart; Marco eating a roast duck, Matteo a spaghetti alla bolognese, and me, an omelet. All the meals were well-crafted.

I asked Matteo what he enjoyed about the train ride. His first response was that he liked seeing the country-side. All three of us agreed, the highlight of the train was the view from the window as beautiful Czech and German vistas passed by. His second response was that he loved the fact that in the train, the feeling of speed was heightened because he could see things “whizzing” by!

For all of us, this train ride is now imprinted in our memories as an enjoyable experience, one that we could not replicate in an airplane, a car, or any other forms of transportation. We will remember the views, the passing of relaxing time, our meal together, and many meaningful moments along fields of gold.

Pesto pasta

Summer is here, and with this season, it’s a perfect time for a nice fresh basil pesto! It takes minutes to make, and, if you have any left over, use it for other meals. Matteo is home for the summer, and he whips up a mozzarella, tomato, and pesto baguette sandwich while Marco and I are at work (he is going to make a mate very happy some day)! Marco and I make a little appetizer with some of the leftovers by simply placing a dollop of pesto on some mozzarella. The pesto and pasta is also be a nice cold salad on a summer picnic outing!

Ingredients:

  • about 2 cups fresh basil leaves, give or take
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Process:

  1. blend basil and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped
  2. add the salt and pine nuts, pulsing several times
  3. with the motor running, pour in the olive oil in a steady, thin stream
  4. transfer to a small bowl and fold in the grated Parmesan cheese
  5. once your pasta is cooked al dente, simply add the desired amount of pesto and mix well

Buon appetito!

Let food (and lifestyle) be your medicine

It’s often attributed to Hippocrates, the classical Greek physician, the quote, “let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.” Whether he said this or not, it is still true 2500 years later. The foods we eat affect our health. Listening to David Katz of The American College of Lifestyle Medicine this morning, he states that 80% of disease is preventable by focussing on eating mostly plants (click here). He goes on to highlight the large body of research literature that boils down to this: eat mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds, drink water when thirsty, get enough sleep, have an active life, and cultivate meaningful relationships.

I try to incorporate lifestyle medicine in my psychotherapy practice. I practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which teaches that how we think and what we do affects how we feel. In the “what we do” part of that therapy model is the lifestyle habits that we live, the foods we choose, the exercise we do, the day-to-day routines that we keep.

In recent years, I am enjoying a focus on anxiety and sleep. As you can imagine, the two of these are often interrelated. If we are anxious our sleep is often compromised, and, as we get less sleep, we may feel more restless or on edge. I work with my clients to discover the ways that changes in lifestyle may impact these two areas. How does the quantity of soda, caffeine, alcohol, cigarette smoking impact the mood and functioning? How can we add more plant-based foods into our diets? And how can an increase in activity tire the body so it is ready for sleep, and ease stress to promote relaxation?

Where I work,  at Lynn Community Health Center, we are partnering with the Greater Boston Food Bank to offer a mobile market. Up to 25 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables are provided free to all who take part. In New York City, some doctors are prescribing fruits and vegetables and not pills (click here) in an innovative program that is already seeing positive outcomes. Check out the True Health Initiative (here) to see the global consensus on lifestyle as medicine.  These are all efforts towards promoting the powerful yet simple wisdom of the wise Greek doctor (or whoever said it), that food is our medicine.