Thursday, July 31, 2014

Natural Moodlifters

Well, I've had some incredibly good days recently.  I spent my last weekend in Italy in Florence goofing off with my Florentine friends, drinking and experiencing general hilarity. I've wandered around Rome and celebrated with coworkers and had the most amusing conversations with my roomies.  So I've been on a natural high recently. That being said, I'm going back to the states shortly and for a little while at least, I'm going to be short of good mood. It's hard to leave a place I love so much again.  I'm going home and it will be great, but I need to remember that when I'm facing the sadness of departure.
So I did a little research on natural mood lifters so maybe my mood will be more upper and downer while thinking about leaving. I'll share for anyone who might need some natural happy.
  1. Eat often and eat light. Eating lightly and frequently means that you avoid the plummeting of your mood: aka the HANGRY state. Try to eat three to six small meals a day plus healthy snacks.
  2. Cut back refined carbohydrates like soda, candy, cookies, and white flour. They might give you an immediate rush of happy feelings but will ultimately make you crash, and crash quickly.
  3. Eat a small amount of lean protein with meals and snacks. Protein makes you feel alert and productive for hours. Being alert and productive general helps keep the sad vibes away
  4. Eat omega-3 fats.  These foods lift moods and can actually help deal with depression. Omega-3 fats can be found in oily fish like salmon, canola and olive oils, as well as flax seeds and walnuts.
  5. Add B-12 and folate (folic acid) to your diet. These nutrients help produce a neurotransmitter called serotonin which brings happiness with it. Try eating shellfish, fortified cereal, oatmeal, wheat germ, and vegetables because they are filled with these nutrients.
  6. Exercise. Whether you go running outside, go lifting at the gym, go walk the dog, play a sport, moving will boost your mood and energy level!
  7. Stick to a regular sleep schedule—even on the weekends.   This ones tricky for me, as I never accomplish it. But it's important to try and consistently get the sleep you need. 6 to 8 hours a day... and it's easier to do when you stick to a schedule. 
  8. Go outside. Breathe the fresh air. Get out of the air conditioning. Get out of the office, or your bedroom and go outside.  The fresh air and sunlight will do you worlds of good.
  9. Listen to music that you love. Sing along to your favorite music. Music can do a lot to make you forget your problems and concerns. Listen to anything that makes you feel good.
  10. Indulge your senses. Sights, smells, sounds, tastes and tactile sensations can help to change your mood. Light a scented candle, bake cake or cookies (goodness knows i bake cookies and cakes a lot), back eggplant parmigiana (also a wonderful smell to fill the air) or soak in a scented bubble bath while listening to soothing music. Fill your senses with wonder. Distract yourself with the good things in life.
  11. Do something that makes you happy. Take a break from work or stressful situations and do what you love to do. Read, cook some delicious food, watch something fun, go for a hike, play with the dog. That small break may very well help you be more productive when you come back to work. It'll help with concentration and efficiency. It's what I'm doing now instead of packing since packing was stressing me out.
  12. Play with a furry friend. Just petting your dog or cat can lower blood pressure and can bring calmness, happiness and well-being to your entire being. This is one of the many reasons that I miss my puppy who's in NJ. I'll have him to cuddle with when I'm back...
  13. Volunteer. There is nothing like the act of giving to those in need to make you feel appreciative of the life you lead. I've done it in the past and I would love to start up again when I'm back. 
  14. Fake it till you make it. Researchers have found that the simple act of smiling seems to make the happiness centers in the brain turn on. So keep smiling and in time your mood will match your facial expression. I find this incredibly true!! I always try to smile through the sad. Smiling usually reminds me of the good and the reasons why I should be smiling.
  15. Write in a journal (or a blog!!). I write about food because it's a great and productive distraction for me. I write fiction in notebooks, or complaints and rants.  I write because it's a way to give my brain space to be and say whatever it wants.  I find writing is a great way to distance emotion while giving voice to it. 
I found an article on sparkpeople years ago, that's very similar to this and it's advice that I've always found useful in the hardest moments I've gone through.  

Today, I walked 8 miles through the forum and Coliseum and then all the way home. I took a nap and I
cooked a good protein filled meal (pesto pork and pesto tortellini). Soo here's to tomorrow being a good day too.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

200 posts, The Color Run and a Restaurant Review Rome: Pizzeria Luzzi

Well, it's been a couple of busy days.  Lots of work and lots of play and of course lots of food. But no time for writing until now.  200 blog posts!  Holy cow, I can't believe it.  I didn't think I'd be able to keep it up. It's been years that I've had this blog but only in the last year and a half have I actually been consistent.  And with consistency I've been getting more hits, and more people reading through, glancing through my posts.  Thanks so much for anyone who's been reading for a while and to anyone who's just taken a look!

Cherry granita
And now on to my havoc weekend.  Yesterday I ran my 2nd Color Run, this time right outside Rome in Ostia on the sea.  It was an amazing day with gorgeous sun and heat.  And for those of you who have never run a Color Run DO IT.  I don't love running all the time, but it's a great way to stay fit and the color run is a great motivation to keep going.  It's a FUN 5k because at the kilometer marks you get painted. It's so much fun to have color thrown at you while you walk or run with friends. It was definitely a great day.  The one in Ostia is particularly fun because it's on the water and turned into a day long event with granita and piadini and
then dinner out at a wonderful restaurant.
We got to the course around 2pm to sign in and get our packs. Then we walked for a while and the others
got Piadina, which is a grilled sandwich typical of Northern Italy on a large tortilla and it's delicious. I didn't get one because I'd already had lunch. We sat on a beach at a place called Hakuna Matata and got amazing cherry granitas. Cherry ice, super refreshing while sitting overlooking the water.
Then around 6 it was time to line up and run. So much fun.
The before shot
So much color...
The After Shot
The party and throwing color!
I am still removing paint from my hair and skin! 5 kilometers of fun (even though I wish there had been a

water stop half way down the race). And then a party! Live DJ, more color throwing and outright hilarity.
We had a couple of beers, danced, and had a lot of fun.
And then when the music stopped, around 8:30, we headed back into Rome for some delicious dinner and some hilarious glances from passersby, because we did not shower and get cleaned up before heading over to the restaurant. Four of us were completely covered in paint splatters.  We went to
Sunset over the fantastic party
And that's how we took the subway to the restaurant
a restaurant right near the Coliseum called Pizzeria Luzzi. I've been there 3 or 4 times this year and it has some amazing pizza and food in general.
And the waiters were great last night. They thought we were hilarious and didn't send us away even though we were quite the spectacle.  They joked with us and got us a table outside pretty quickly even though the place was packed. It's always packed tto the brim so be prepared to wait for a bit, but it's absolutely worth the wait. I would suggest sitting outside because there's a lovely breeze and inside, especially during the summer, can get quite stifling with the brick oven burning away. It makes for lovely pizza, but the heat is quite intense. I always prefer sitting outside, even in winter.  They have  outdoor seating with lovely heaters.
Once you're seated the service is quite quick and attentive. They pay attention but don't rush you out. There were a couple of mis-communications. For example, the waiter said there was no meat in the Suppli (a lovely Roman style fried rice ball) but there was. It wasn't a problem for me, but my vegetarian friend wound up not eating it.  It was delicious, crisp on the outside with lovely rice cooked in Bolognese sauce (hence the meat) and mozzarella.
The other mis-communication was about spicy olive oil. One waiter said they had it, another said no. In the end, there was no spicy oil, but there was ground peperoncino, ground red pepper flakes. Minor for sure, but quite entertaining for us.
Three of us ordered beer and three ordered the house white wine.  The beers were great and really refreshing after all the running and walking we'd done and so was the house wine.  The house wine is always fantastic and cheap as well, which is amazing.
The mushroom pizza (tried on a previous visit)
Our food took a little while to arrive, but we were chatting and rehashing the day so we barely noticed.  The pasta dishes came first for the two who ordered pasta.  Their timing is not perfect.  Inevitably some dishes will come out before the rest, but we didn't mind at all.
I tried the fettucine al porcini and it was quite tasty. It's really for mushroom lovers and has that lovely, yet potent taste of porcini. The bolognese was great as well, rich and delicious.
Then our pizzas came.  On the table we had a margarita (classic, delicious mozzarella), a diavola (with spicy
salami), a prosciutto e funghi (ham and mushroom)
My beautiful capricciosa
and a capricciosa (artichoke, hard boiled egg, mushroom, and prosciutto crudo).  Mine was the capricciosa and it was fantastic.  I doused it with a little ground peperoncino but it didn't need it. I just wanted a little spice in my life.
The pizza diavola
The pizza crust was incredible, light and thin and not burnt, with just enough delicious cheese. I really love the combination of the ingredients.  It's definitely one of my favorite pizzas.  Luzzi's definitely does it was with really fresh ingredients.
Everyone loved their pizzas and pasta. We cleared our plates!
And the best part was that our bill was so low. The 6 of us payed 11 euros each and that was enough for tip as well.  Luzzi's has amazing prices and the food is simply spectacular.  I highly recommend it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ice Cream vs. Gelato

Gelateria alla Romana: Roma
It's extremely hot out right now. It's summer and it's time for ice cream... Or, in my case it's time for gelato.  I
have instant access to gelato while living in Rome, but I certainly won't find ice cream.  Gelato is iconic of Italy, like espresso and sunflowers.
Alright, gelato vs ice cream.  Gelato is technically ice cream right? Well, yes, gelato is the Italian word for ice cream but they are definitely not identical. There is a reason that gelato in Italy seems richer and denser than American ice cream.  There is a reason that the flavors are so memorable.
There are three main differences: fat content, air content and serving temperature.  These three little factors make all the difference in the world.
Gelateria del Teatro: Roma
In the United States, ice cream legally must have a minimum of 10% fat whereas gelato has only 5 to 7% fat ice cream uses a heavy base of cream and eggs while gelato utilizes more whole milk than cream and doesn't always rely on the use of eggs.  Since there's not as much fat in gelato, it doesn't have the same quantity of fat to coat the tongue the way ice cream does. As a result the flavors can come through more intensely.  A good ice cream can have deep, intense flavors as well, but the flavors do come across differently. This also means that gelato is actually healthier than American ice cream. At least, a little bit... which basically means that in my remaining weeks in Italy I'm going to be having double the gelato.  YUM.
American ice creams are churned fast and hard to whip extra air into the mixture. Premium brands can be 25% air which increases the volume of ice cream by 25%. Hmmm.  More air, more ice cream. American ice cream brands add in more air to increase the quantity of their products. Cheaper versions can have 50 to 90% air, which makes them light, thin and ensures that they melt quickly. It also explains why ice cream isn't always very flavorful. Bites of ice cream can be a half air! Gelato is churned at a slower speed than ice cream so it's denser because less air is introduced to the base. Many traditional gelatos are still whipped by hand or are whipped at a very low speed in a stand mixer.  That's why it seems more dense and flavorful. It is.
Gelati & Mozzarella: Roma
Lastly, the big factor, temperature. Temperature explains why gelato has that soft almost elastic texture. Ice
Gelateria dei Neri: Firenze
cream is best served around 10°F whereas gelato is served at a warmer temperature.  If gelato were frozen at the same temperature as ice cream, it would become quite dense. When served warmer it maintains its soft consistency and doesn't turn into soup. Therefore it retains its semi solid state until it melts in your mouth.  If ice cream were to be stored at the same temperature as gelato, it would actually become soup.  The high fat content would make the ice cream melt much too quickly.
At the end of the day, the differences between gelato and ice cream aren't that major especially when one takes into consideration individual variations on recipes.  It's all delicious and wonderful in the heat, just like soft serve and frozen yogurt.  So don't worry too much about the definitions, sit down and dig in. Because ice cream and gelato have at least one thing in common: they are irresistible.  One scoop is certainly not enough!

I'll definitely be writing another blog about gelato soon!  I'm going to give you some hints and tricks on how to find the best gelato and avoid the tourist traps!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

26 Things to Grill This Summer

It's that time of year again.  Grilling time. Summer is meant for grilling with friends.  Currently, living in Italy
Grilling time!
means no grilling for me. I don't have a grill (I do have my trusty grill pan which kind of works) and it's not as popular here.
I love grilling with friends. It's the laughter, the camaraderie and then of course there's the food.  The char marks, the smoky flavor. I don't love smoke in my eyes, but everything else about barbecues and grilling is amazing.
As soon as I get back to the states I would love to have a bunch of barbecues with family and friends. And I would absolutely love to try grilling some new and fun recipes.  I don't want to do the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers. No as per usual I want to experiment.
Burgers and Hot dogs grilled on my grill pan
Last year I started my experimentation with Stuffed Burgers. Cheeseburgers inside out.  I'll have to repeat my favorites and post up the recipes too.  Jack Daniels burgers stuffed with spicy jack cheese (did I mention that I often make alcoholic burgers to grill?). Lime Tequila Burgers stuffed with swiss cheese (although I will be modifying these and making them with ground turkey instead because I think it'll match the lime and tequila better).
But there are so many things that I want to grill. Therefore I'm keeping a list, to see how many exciting things I can grill. I definitely won't be limiting myself to burgers alone!

THE LIST

  1. Stuffed Jack Daniels Burgers
  2. Stuffed Lime Tequila Turkey Burgers
  3. Grilled Romaine for a beautiful Caesar salad
  4. Portabello mushroom Steaks
  5. Grilled Asparagus with a balsamic reduction
  6. Chile Lime Shrimp Skewers
  7. Grilled Sweet Potatoes with garlic butter (instead of plain old white potatoes) 
  8. Grilled Lobster with Sriracha butter
  9. Grilled Whole Carrots
  10. Grilled Polenta with Grilled Italian Sausage and Grapes 
  11. Grilled Apples stuffed with Sausage and Sage (found this idea on Buzzfeed, and it looks AMAZING!)
  12. Bacon wrapped Eggplant bites
  13. Grilled Savory French Toast
  14. Grilled Avocado
  15. Grilled Blueberry Steak
  16. Mexican Grilled Cheese (Refried beans, cheddar, salsa, avocado)  
  17. Apricot Salsa Grilled Quesadillas
  18. Chicken and Red Pepper Skewers
  19. Beer Can Chicken
  20. Basil, Bacon and Peach Grilled Brie
  21. Grilled Peaches and Cream
  22. Grilled Apple Pie
  23. Grilled Blueberry Muffins with basil butter (or ice cream!)
  24. Strawberry S'mores
  25. Grilled limes for Tequilla shots
  26. Grilled Strawberries for Daiquiris 

Ok... So that's my list for now. I could keep going, but I'm going to resist at the moment.  I have the entirety of August and some of September to make all of my grilling dreams come true.  For now, I'll use my grill pan to see what I can make!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Adventures in the South of Italy Part III

The next morning we were up early and checked out of the hotel by around 8:30/9.
gorgeous views
To Amalfi we went.
I ate a banana before boarding the bus and held myself together for 2 hours of that winding road to the city of Amalfi. For some reason our morning ride was obnoxiously long. It should have been about an 1 ½ but it would up being about 2 hours for some reason.
Rounding a bend
Even so, I got some great pictures and focused on the excellent scenery from my window seat. When you’re going towards Positano or Amalfi sit on the right hand side of the bus (not behind the driver) for gorgeous views. Do not sit on the right hand side if you get nervous with heights, or winding roads.
When we finally got to Amalfi, the first thing we did was grab sandwiches from a little coffee shop on the shoreline. We weren't expecting much since it was quite close to the boat rentals and other touristic activities but we were pleasantly surprised. We ordered a couple of sandwiches and they were made right in front of us with fresh ingredients.  I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the shop because it was on the small side. The workers were personable and smiling which was uplifting for my sleepy, kind of nauseous self. Also the price was not bad. For sandwiches and waters, we spent 4 or 5 euros each. 
my yummy caprese sandwich 
Endira and I enjoying our sunny boat ride
We took our sandwiches to go and ate them on a bench overlooking the water.  My caprese sandwich was wonderful with tomatoes and mozzarella.  It was seasoned beautifully with a little, salt and pepper, olive oil, and fresh basil too so I really enjoyed it.
Then we got onto a boat and took a ride towards the Emerald Grotto, similar to its more famous cousin in Capri, The Blue Grotto. These grottos are naturally occurring caves in the side of a cliff that naturally filter
Leaving Amalfi in our wake 
light and appear to glow various colors (according to the make-up of the cave and water).  I’ve wanted to go the Emerald Grotto for years now, so we decided to take an hour long boat ride from Amalfi (there was also the option of going from Positano, but it was a half day trip and more expensive so since we only had a half day to explore we decided to take the shorter journey from Amalfi). It was €10 a person for the round trip boat ride and another €5 to go into the grotto which is considerably cheaper than getting into the Blue Grotto in Capri.
The boat ride was fantastic with wonderful sea breezes and gorgeous views of towns sketched right into the cliffs.  Sometimes I seriously wonder about the sanity of Italian architects. Some of the towns in Italy, especially in Campania, are quite precariously situated on the edge of volcanoes or handing onto the edge of cliffs. 
Cities built quite precariously on the cliffs... Impressive
Our boat ride was breezy and relaxing and we were dropped off right at the mouth of the grotto. 
We lined up and got into a giant paddle boat with our crazy Italian guide who kept shouting “Looky, looky” and pointing at things. Between him and the awesomely fabulous older Spanish lady who started singing half in Neapolitan, half in Spanish (Tu vu’fa l’americano in reaction to our boat guide asking every single person if they were American), we had quite the hilarious boat ride.
Look at that glowing water!
Not the clearest picture: But that's the underwater
Nativity scene!
I really enjoyed the glowing blue green water and the underwater presepe or nativity scene (only in Campania would they think of submerging a nativity scene).  It was pretty cool, but the glowing area was relatively small.  If you’ve not gone to the Blue Grotto, I highly recommend it. It’s more expensive but so gorgeous and far more impressive than the Emerald Grotto. 
After that, the boat picked us up again and brought us back to Amalfi where we automatically decided to escape the heat by planting ourselves on the beach and jumping into the water (again in turns since we didn’t want to leave our belongings unsupervised). The water was beautiful and just the right temperature to cool off after all the blazing sun.  And the beach itself wasn’t quite as painfully rocky as Positano (that being said, I don’t think it was as picturesque either).
After a while we decided to wander around and find the path up to Ravello.  We were completely unsuccessful  but we had fun traipsing up narrow staircases that would suddenly open up to sudden views of colorful town and stunning coastline. It was a lot of fun but if you want to make it up to Ravello I suggest that you take the bus up and then walk down back to Amalfi, just because it’s very easy to get lost. 
the many versions of limoncello
We wandered around center for a bit and saw the main church and piazzas.  We even spotted another limoncello shop where I wandered around. They had so many different versions of limoncello made with lemons or lemons with cream. There were also bottles of liquor that were made with other fruits and flavors. Some were made with orange and there were even versions made with pistacchio which looked amazing. 
Then we got back on the bus to Sorrento. We decided to dine there to make sure that we were able to get the Circovesuviana to Naples and then the 8pm train back to Rome. We both had work early the next morning so we didn’t want to risk getting stuck in Naples. 
Our bus ride back to Sorrento was almost an hour shorter than our morning ride so if we had known that our bus driver was going to fly through the curving paths we would have stayed a little longer. As it stands, we were able to relax and eat an early meal in Sorrento.
A video of the crazy winding hills and our bus ride
juicy cheeseburger
We stopped at a little restaurant a couple of blocks from the station called Bar del Carmine. We sat outside in the sun and enjoyed the breeze while observing the passersby. It was a small restaurant with friendly staff and decent service.  Endira played the American and ordered a cheeseburger and French fries with a beer.  I took and bite and was pleasantly surprised with how tasty it was.  The meat was juicy and cooked to perfection on a wonderful bun with bacon and cheese. I don’t know what kind of cheese it was, but it was quite good. 
my beautiful caprese
beer and pear cider
I decided to stick with my caprese (it seemed like the safest choice after our day of bus rides.  It was a huge sandwich and quite good. It wasn’t as flavorful as my morning sandwich but it was still quite tasty and filling.  I also got a pear cider because I was so surprised to see it on the menu. I had to get it even though it was a tad expensive for a small bottle because I love pear cider and haven’t had it in months.
Our sunlit table with delicious food 
Then to finish our experience down south we FINALLY got limoncello to toast our adventures.  It was served with delicious little cookies coated in powdered sugar but soft to the bite.  I quite enjoyed them and our limoncello. It made a great finale to a wonderful weekend and fun food journey. 
wonderful ending to a wonderful meal
Next thing you know, we were running to the train and then back to Naples (where we managed to get special 25th anniversary magnum ice cream bars at the train station) and finally we were back in Rome. Home sweet home…

At least for another couple of weeks! 

Missed the other parts of this series?
Part I here
Part II here

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Recipe: Veal Burgers


For 4th of July this year, since I currently live in Italy, I decided to be a little non-traditional for my "barbeque".  There are a couple of reasons for this: the main one being that since Italy does not celebrate 4th of July it seemed silly to try to replicate a traditional American 4th of July when I was missing some key ingredients. Mainly fireworks! Without fireworks, the 4th seems like a normal barbecue.
Also in Italy I can't find some of the traditional ingredients at the supermarket.  I would have loved to have corn on the cob, but here in Rome (at least by my house) there is no corn to be seen.  There's also no barbecue sauce either.
So I decided to veer even further and decided that traditional burgers weren't necessary. However, I did want some kind of burger to venerate the day, even though I was celebrating on my own.  I had originally wanted to make turkey burgers (again, but my Spinach Turkey Burgers are to die for...) but while running around the supermarket, I couldn't find ground turkey.  I did, however, find ground veal. So I decided to be somewhere between Italian and American about my 4th of July. I did something the Italians would never do, I decided to make burgers with my ground veal and in the end they were delicious and extremely simple to make.  I even topped them with asiago cheese which really added to the amazing taste. From there I kept it simple and served with a side salad and some hot dogs (just for tradition's sake).

Veal Burgers 
Ingredients
1/2 kilo ground veal (about a pound)
1 egg
1/2 large shallot (or a whole small one)
1/4-1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tbs Paprika
Asiago cheese (or any cheese of your preference)

Dice your onions into small pieces.  I didn't cut mine super finely because I wanted more crunch in my burger. I love the contrast of textures, so remember the thicker you cut your
I love that you can see some of the onion!
onion, the more crunch you will have in your burger.
In a large bowl, mix the ground veal, egg, bread crumbs, onion and paprika with your hands. Blend well because you want a little onion in each bite.  If you aren't thorough you run the risk of getting a large mouthful of onion in one bite, and none in the next!
When well blended, form into patties. I always make my burgers on the larger (i.e. thicker) side because they shrink slightly as they cook. This time I slightly exaggerated, and it became difficult to cook the burgers through because the veal doesn't shrink as drastically as beef burgers do.
I decided to try and get grill marks on my burgers and used an indoor grill pan for the attempt.  For the record, I don't love indoor grill pans because they get quite messy and don't grill things as evenly as an outdoor barbeque thanks to hotspots from the flame below.  That being said, for the 4th of July I needed to at least attempt to get those chargrilled marks so I slightly oiled my grill for easier cleanup and got started.
I didn't get grill marks but I did get delicious
burgers. I cooked the burgers over a medium flame and kept an eye on them as they grilled. Since I made my burger so thick I had to flip them twice to ensure they cooked all the way through without burning.  If you are making a normal sized burger you should only need a couple of minutes on each side, just until they've gotten golden on each side.  Mine took longer than that.  -.-
When they were just about done, I decided to add asiago cheese on top to melt, but you can add any cheese of your choosing. Since I was already going for the non traditional asiago was a great twist but traditional cheddar would've worked just as well.
Then I had my burger on a sesame seed bun that I grilled for a minute on the grill pan.  I ate my burger with fresh tomato, lettuce, mustard and some mayo.  It really hit the spot and was delicious. And I have leftovers, so I ate one of Saturday night and will probably have another for lunch or dinner today!

It was quite the mouthful and scrumptious