Food: More Than Just Something to Eat

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Wagon Wheel Pasta inside a Rigatoni: How to Maximize Sauce in Every Bite!

This weekend it really struck me what a blessing it is to be a  (somewhat) normal eater. We all know food is more than just fuel, or something to eat. And I am not talking about food as medicine, or food as as (emotional) pain reliever, but rather how complex our relationship to food is merely because of our history with food and eating. I am talking culture, your upbringing, the food you were raised eating. Usually, I learn about a patient’s history with dieting, or body image concerns, or how their parents wanted them to lose weight, and how it affected their eating, etc. It is sad that in our culture what we eat mostly has evolved into what affect it is going to have on our bodies. Yes, we need to care about that (if we want to have energy, feel good, increase our chances of living a long and healthy life). But what about the pure joy of eating, especially based on our (early, hopefully happy) memories of food?

This weekend I was treated to a wonderful birthday trip to Boston, and it was such an interesting experience, especially when it came to food, that I felt the need to share. The first night we stayed in the theater district, and had tickets to see the Blue Man Group (awesome!). We had a short time to find a place to grab a quick dinner, and most of the nice restaurants had long waits. So we took a short off-the-beaten-path side street and found a funky tiny cozy half-empty bar/bistro and grabbed a seat. I got crab cakes which were giant and yummy, my husband got a fish platter (we were in Boston, you gotta get fish!). It was fast and wonderful.

The next two nights were spent in the North end of Boston, which is the Italian section, Boston’s “Little Italy”. My husband had rented an apartment right in the center of it all, right off of Hanover Street (the famous main drag of Little Italy). It felt like we lived there! The second surprise I received was a ticket to a walking “food tour” called “Off the Eaten Path” which was a 3 hour tour of restaurants, hidden bakeries, wine cellar, sweet shop, coffee shop and tiny grocery shops where locals get their meats and cheeses. The tour guide was wonderful and our groups was small (10 people).See Boston Food Tour for more information.

Being Italian, and growing up with some great Italian food, I felt right at home. So many things brought back so many memories. Memories of my grandmother and her sauce, helping my mom grate the Parmesan cheese (nothing but the real stuff, and to this day, I still only use the best). Those giant platters of cookies at weddings, the salami and other meats, the smell of strong coffee, REAL Italian bread. I remember the giant cans of olive oil and the constant aroma of garlic. And of course there was the wine! Even the smell of the gas stove where we stayed brought back memories of both of my grandmother’s who spoke Italian and hated electric stoves because you could not control the heat. They cooked with gas (unless we were on the “farm” on the weekend, where our families gathered just to cook and eat and run around while the older people would play cards and laugh). At the farm they cooked over fire.

Anyway, on this tour, the first stop was for pizza at a place that brought back a giant pizza oven from Naples, Italy which cooked at super high heat and produced the best pizza around. After visiting Italy this past spring, I can tell you the pizza was the same. Very thin crust with spare but wonderful toppings of prosciutto on one and fresh mozzarella and basil on the other. After pizza, we stopped in to a restaurant that perfected pasta to hold the most sauce in every bite (see picture above), then off to the wine cellar (100 years old, in a dark basement, with a tasting of red and rose). We heard about how wine was made and after that I really wished I could always afford the good stuff. Next came a visit to a tiny hidden bakery, down an alley way, then down stairs where they made bread from yeast that was smuggled in from Italy over 300 years ago. After our bread tasting we stopped at a home made chocolate shop, and 2 tiny shops which again brought me back just because of the smells and aromas. Finally, we stopped at a local coffee shop for expresso, cannoli and the only home made gelato in Boston. Here are some pictures:

We walked and talked and sampled, and I was so thankful for my culture, and the way I was brought up when it comes to food and eating.

The next day we spent lots of time walking around the Boston Farmer’s Market. If you have never gone, and you live in the area, you need to go. As you walk among the tents and farmers, you hear so many languages spoken, witness funny interactions and bargaining for fruits and vegetables, as well as fish, and feel like you are in some movie, or in a different country. I love it! To me, that is what food and eating are about. Culture. If you love cooking, you know what I mean. In America we have some good food (all I can think of is cheeseburgers right now, but there is also New England Clam Chowder). There is so much to learn from other cultures about cooking and food and spices and eating that it seems most of us just never think about. This weekend, wandering through the North End, as well as the Farmer’s Market, I was reminded of the beauty and wonderfulness of all of it. Here are some pictures of the market:

All in all, it was a great weekend filled with lots of great meals, lots of walking, lots of laughter, but most of all, an important reminder: don’t go through life forgetting to embrace your culture. When is the last time you had your favorite dish growing up? Is there something your family used to make that is from your culture that you have not had in a long time? Is it because you think it may be unhealthy, or make you gain weight? After this (BIG) birthday, it motivated me even more to “live life to the fullest” Joie de vivre!!! as the French might say……

now off to make my puttanesca sauce!

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