Traci Anello

The Power in Food


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A favorite pie and a slice of cheesecake are all part of the power in food

This Thanksgiving plans were all set. I was going to New Jersey to have dinner with my sister Kim, her family and some dear friends. We talk about the menu months prior and everything started to line up. I love cooking in her kitchen. It’s beautiful. The set up is perfect and the balcony filled with fresh herbs is right outside the door. I always head out there with my coffee and a pair of scissors. There’s fresh thyme, chives, sage, basil, rosemary and mint. It’s how I picture Alice Waters everyday gathering her fresh herbs for her salad or for her roasted vegetables.

Well, sometimes plans change and it can happen very quickly. For us, it happened in the blink of an eye. I got a phone call four days before Thanksgiving that my dad had fallen and was in the hospital. He cracked 9 ribs and was in a lot of pain. Thankfully he was stabilized and was resting. On the way to the hospital, my step mother got in a car accident. The second phone call I got about her accident was hard to hear. Thankfully she was unhurt, as was the other driver but her car was totaled. Immediately it was clear that the game plan for Thanksgiving was about to change. After talking with my sister, it was decided that I would stay back and drive to Massachusetts instead for the holiday meal. It was a no brainer actually. My dad needed to stay rested once he got home. So I made the call to my step mother and told her I would be down on Thursday to cook the meal. I was more than happy to do this. It meant they didn’t have to leave the house and they were going to get one hell of a dinner. This is where a quick change of plans can be a good thing. You never know in a given day how things are going to change. If you go with it and adapt to the current situation, it can become less stressful for everyone. Love is a wonderful driving force and it can create some beautiful moments out of an unfortunate set of circumstances.

I came up with a menu and the very next day went to our local butcher and asked about an eight pound turkey breast. They were sold out which was to be expected so it was off to the supermarket in town which I always try to avoid because I prefer to support local businesses. Fate had a different path for me. I went into the store and couldn’t find what I needed. An associate from the meat department approached me and asked if I needed help. I was a bit surprised because customer service in a corporate setting is a thing of the past. But this man was very happy to help and I was very happy to let him. I told him I was looking for a turkey breast about 8 pounds.   He said he was almost certain they were about to put an order in for some that would arrive the following morning and he checked. Sure enough, I was in the right place at the right time. I was able to order one with the understanding that I needed to be at the store early to assure it would be there. The associate was looking every where for a pen while I was thanking him several times. I wanted this meal to be the best for my family and it meant everything had to line up two days prior to Thanksgiving. He played a big part in making this happen. Where there’s a will there’s a way. So I took my favorite pen out of my checkbook and handed it to him. He wrote down my information and went to hand the pen back when I told him to put it in his pocket and hang on to it. I don’t know who was more appreciative. Was it me for getting this order in or him for getting a nice pen? It was a wonderful quick moment that ended in us both wishing each other a nice holiday. These are the important little victories in life and this was just the beginning.

The next morning, I was supposed to be at a local bakery to help the owner make her yearly mega pie order. By now it’s a tradition to do this with her and her amazing staff every year. But first I had to pick up my turkey breast and sure enough, it was ready. I was thrilled. I brought it home and placed it in my refrigerator and then off to Kennebunk to make what would be 145 pies that days. I was thinking of dessert for our meal on my way to the bakery. I decided I would make my dad’s favorite pumpkin cheesecake and his wife’s favorite mincemeat pie. That would make them both very happy and given the circumstances we were in, it was the exact thing to do. I love food and I especially love he power in food. So while I was in the middle of this pie marathon, I was trying to figure out when am I going to have the time to pull these desserts off the day before the big meal. Out of the kindness of this bakery owners heart, she said for me to just make the pie while I was there. Thank you!! So I did which meant it was a real time saver for me and I also got to roll out a beautiful homemade pie crust. Out of the 145 pies I made that day (146 including this one), the mincemeat was my favorite. The meaning behind this pie was of pure love. When you know what someone’s favorite dessert is and you make it, there’s a lot more than ingredients going into that pie. Love in Love out. The cheesecake I put together that night. I thought of my grandmother, Marietta Straguzzi, and the love she used to put into my dad’s meals. Maybe I was channeling her love and techniques. I like to think so because I never measured the ingredients. It was a little of this and a little of that just like she used to do.

Thursday morning I packed up my car and headed to Massachusetts. It was a perfect trip down and I stopped and grabbed a couple of coffees from my dad  and Ginna’s favorite coffee shop. I got to the house and hauled all of the good things I brought down with me. I took the pies out of the bag and showed Ginna her mincemeat pie. She was really happy. When my dad saw his cheesecake he was willing to dine on that first and eat turkey later. He’s  funny guy my dad. He loves to eat and loves his desserts.  It was nice to see him getting around. He was very sore but he stayed in the kitchen and we talked while I prepared the meal. I knew once he started to smell everything cooking, it would stimulate the healing process. That’s what food does. When it smells good, it looks good. When it looks good, you associate it tasting great before you even stick your fork in it. The healing starts. You’re happy and excited in anticipation of a great meal shared with family. We had turkey breast, two types of stuffing (I’m plantbased so no animal products on mine), roasted squash and carrots (all produce was organic too), mashed potatoes, roasted head of cauliflower, green beans, gravy, fresh rolls and the cranberry sauce. My dad, his wife, my brother Tony and I all sat around the table and laughed and ate a lot of food. It was the best time. It was very special to me and them.

This was a meal that wasn’t planned and would not have taken place at this holiday if not for the unfortunate events that took place with my dad. This was a total reset moment for me. This meal was so special and meant so much to each of us. There were a lot of hugs and love in that room. How can that not be healing?? It’s an important lesson that when an event happens that’s devastating and hard to embrace, you have to go with what’s important for everyone. You have to create a new set of circumstances that will bring a good feeling for each person including yourself. We did it in less than a day. It was the right thing to do. It created some very good memories. It brought back some important traditions. These would have all been lost that day if my dad hadn’t fallen. I’m not saying they wouldn’t have had a nice day otherwise because they most certainly could have. What I’m saying is, this situation created an opportunity for four people to reconnect and enjoy a nice meal together. The conversation was fun. The food was good. Love was abundant. It was a beautiful day that came to a close with a favorite pie and a slice of cheesecake.

I’m very thankful for my family. I’m also very thankful for the power in food.


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The Day I Didn’t Hate Chocolate

You read that right. Today is the day I realized I didn’t hate chocolate. Hard words to read coming from a pastry chef who loves to work with it.

For years I have spent creating decadent cakes, traditional cookies, rich pies and a host of other desserts using chocolate from all over the world. It was my every day thing to do. What did people like? How could I recreate this dessert or that pastry using a variety of chocolates? It was my life. It consumed my every menu. I went to bed thinking of how I can make something completely off the cuff to waking up and finishing what I started thinking about before bedtime.

Years ago I was a pastry instructor for a college level program. Up to that point I had been entering the chocolate show held in Portland, Maine for myself as well as some restaurants I worked at. I was very successful at this event. My first award was a three layer ganache cake that I had made while on a movie location in Georgia in August. Do you want to really test your strength in baking?? Do it in 100* weather with 100% humidity.  I had to create something that would hold up to that southern heat and everything that came with it and at the same time have incredible rich flavor. This cake was it. It was the perfect first entry and I won Best Cake. That was pretty cool. I went to win the next year and a stretch of 5+ years after that and before long, I had 12 total awards to my credit. So back to the program. While I was teaching, I decided this event would be the perfect event for my students to experience competition. After getting the approval of the director of culinary arts, I broke the news to the students. They were thrilled. There were several categories we could choose from so we picked a few. I also told them their presentation would be judged as well. We decided to enter the “Best Alternative Dessert” category. This was any dessert out of the ordinary like vegan or gluten free. Someone actually tried to cook a sole dish with chocolate. It was an epic fail too. The place smelled like the Charles River in Boston in the corner they were cooking this dish.  There are just some things that chocolate doesn’t marry. In this case, it was fish. We decided to make a vase of fruit flowers dipped in dark chocolate. The students carved beautiful patterns on the pears. We chose exotic fruits like the start fruit that would resemble a flower. We dipped them half in chocolate and using skewers (also dipped), they creatively displayed them in the pear vase. The students won that category. It was such a satisfying victory for them and the program. For me it was a nice feeling to upgrade the program to an award winning one as well. We were the first culinary school to enter and I’m happy to say the following year, another culinary school participated. That was very good competition for the students. Not to mention all of the amazing local businesses that entered. Portland is a very competitive market in the pastry field so this was a very healthy challenge. The following years we made biscotti, a cholate raspberry torte and a few other desserts. The program did well. I was approached by a team member of the event and was asked if I’d like to be a judge the following year. I was honored actually and agreed. Then I thought about how I wasn’t a fan of chocolate. I’d have to taste each and every entry. I was having second thoughts. It was the sweetness I didn’t like. Anything very sweet like candy or rich desserts just wasn’t my thing to eat. I loved making them but thankfully I wasn’t  obsessed with chocolate. I don’t curl up and watch marathons on Netflix with a quart of chocolate ice cream or Oreos. Now a loaf of fresh crusty bread and (at the time) a nice hunk of cheese and there’s my comfort zone. I think that comes with being Italian. I always hoped there was a bread competition but it just never happened. I would have loved critiquing that.  Anyway, I did agree to judge the following year and sure enough, I got the candy category. Can’t get an sweeter than that. There were 10 entries, all different from each other. At each table was a local celebrity, a culinary expert and some other invited guests. I actually loved this part because I’m a teacher at heart. As everyone tasted the entry, they all had some very interesting opinions and questions. My real role was judging the technical field. You can love or hate a piece of candy but if it comes down to three really good tasting candies, only one can be the winner and  the technical merit plays the deciding factor. That was my expertise. The competition was really tight for the candy category. These businesses that really go for the right to be named the best are giving it their all. These contests are not cheap to enter. You have to have a minimum of something like 600 pieces per entry. You enter a couple of desserts and that’s a lot of sweat, money and chocolate not to mention the labor that goes into preparing for one of the shows. There’s a lot on the line so when it comes down to those three great tasting candies, you better have your mind on the job. After entering this show so many times, I knew what each entrant put into it or at least had a very good idea. I’m a firm believer you should only judge events you’ve entered previously. You have to understand the effort that goes into it. This was  great event and I enjoyed every year I participated whether a judge or entry.

Chocolate is a funny thing to work with. There’s really great chocolates from India as well as Belgium. There are awful chocolates that have very little actual chocolate in them. It’s a wide open field. Once you find what you like, generally that’s what you stick with. It really depends on taste, texture and the ability to work with it. The temperature of the product has to be right and the atmosphere has to support it as well. Recipes are very specific about how to melt chocolate and cool it down. There a whole world of techniques out there and wonderful pastry chefs that have shared their wealth of knowledge on it. If I had to pick an expert to recommend, it would be Jacques Torres. He’s an absolute wealth of everything chocolate. He’s an artist for sure. His pieces are show stoppers and his ability to teach is beautiful. If you’re interested in learning, look him up and I’m sure you’ll agree he is a true master. He’s pretty funny too. I love watching his videos.

So why is today the day I stopped hating chocolate?? Well, I was headed out to do some laundry. The place I go is right next to a health food store. So I put my laundry in the machine and walked over to get something to drink. There’s this beautiful chocolate on the market called HU. It was started by a brother and sister. I’m a big supporter of family started businesses. I love the packaging and the fact it’s organic and vegan. I bought some recently and sent it to my daughter to try. She’s my best critic when it comes to any food. She honest and to the point. She loves this brand. Today as I was cashing out my drink, I saw a bar that had almond butter and quinoa in it. Who thinks of that??? Almond butter and quinoa together?? Is this another case of “You put your almond butter in my quinoa?” or “You put your quinoa in my chocolate?” Or did two people really just think this one through and decide to be gutsy? Either way, it got my attention. I bought the bar. I felt great supporting HU Kitchen (out of NYC) and I was about to eat a chocolate bar for the hell of it. It’s got puffed quinoa in it so how can it be bad for you?? I took the first square and let me tell you this. When I put it in my mouth, it was the best piece of chocolate I’ve ever had. The combination of an excellent dark chocolate with almond butter and puffed quinoa snapped me out of years of deprivation of chocolate. Who are these people?? Who are these creative chocolatiers?? And why weren’t they ever entered in the chocolate show years ago when I had to judge that category?? This was such an epiphany. I realized at that very moment that I didn’t hate chocolate anymore.  Thank you to HU Kitchen for creating such a masterful bar of pure love. This, my friends, is the power in food.


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Holiday meal for one…Go all out!

So here we go again. It’s November first and that means time to think about the holiday meals. Spicy pumpkin dishes, savory sides, homemade crusty rolls and dessert are just the menu items you’ve waited all year for.

Here’s the thing. It’s just you. Is it worth it to do all of that cooking just for one person? Absolutely it is! There are so many reasons why too. Let’s start with the fact that you deserve this amazing meal. You’ve waited all year. You’ve worked hard. You’ve spent many nights eating a quick dish after you’ve gotten home late or if you’re a chef like me, you grab what you can when you can on the run. I’m pretty sure nurses live like this too. The advantage to creating your own dishes is that you get to make it exactly the way you like it. Do you like spicy food? Then turn up the heat! Are you living a plantbased lifestyle like me? Then off to the farmers market for all of your favorite vegetables and don’t forget the local honey. It’s all about you. Now here’s the thing, you can also make a plate for a friend you know is also alone. Maybe an elderly neighbor or the person working at the convenient store so every one else can enjoy the day with family. So what if you make a lot of food! You make individual meals and freeze them for the next month. Every day is a holiday when you pull one out of the freezer.

Just because you live alone doesn’t mean you have to pass up on the things you love, especially food. Think about your grandmother’s pie she made every year. Relive those memories. Bring her back to the table with you. Put every bit of love into what you make for yourself because food is powerful. Reach into the heart vault and remember how you felt when that piece of pie was served to you as a kid. Bring that feeling back for yourself. You earned it. You shopped, prepped, prepared and cleaned up after yourself. You finally used those good chef knives you bought. You sautéed, cooked, baked and served yourself. How did that feel?? Great, didn’t it?? Living alone does not mean being alone or feeling alone. It means making a meal and enjoying every bite. Cook that whole turkey. Make that spicy tofu with roasted vegetables and quinoa. Sauté that beautiful kale and mash those comforting potatoes. Today is your day.

Some people like to go out for a meal and that’s okay too. I know single friends that spend a couple of days at the food kitchen and what better way to feel the love than through the community.   There are so many ways to spend the holidays and enjoy every bit of it. Call your local church or food pantry and ask if they would like your company helping to prepare and serve the meal. I will guarantee you that if you do this and you start to talk to the people there, you will leave with a beautiful feel good story. Everyone has a story and nothing is better than sharing a meal with someone and listening to their story.

As you know by now if you’ve been reading my blogs, I have two cats that I refer to as ‘The Boys”. Every holiday includes them so there’s never really a time I dine alone. Ofcourse I make every meal a big deal by describing what they’re having and when dinner is ready. Include your fur babies or birds or whatever friends you have. Tell them how important they are to you especially if it’s just you and them. They want to hear it too. That unconditional love they give you every day, pay it back. They deserve it.

My point is, you’re not alone. You’re just cooking for one. That’s okay. Make it the best meal. Play some music. Buy that special bottle of wine. Call a loved one while you’re cooking. Enjoy the day. Every day can be a holiday meal when you live by yourself. The best part about making that wish before you pull the wishbone is you’re pretty much guaranteed it’s going to come true. How can it not? You have both sides. How cool is that?? That my friends is the power in food.

 


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The Holiday Prep List

Today is October 31st. For me, it’s the official start to holiday season. This is the time I come up with new holiday recipes and I also pull my best out of the archive. I know what my family likes and I do my best to meet their expectations every year. It’s not hard to do because it’s really what you put into what you’re doing aside from ingredients that makes these offerings special. It’s the thought first and foremost.

My family is pretty simple. My dad loves spicy pumpkin cheesecake with a graham cracker crust. He also loves any cookie with anisette. His parents were from Sicily so food is important to this guy. He’s 89 this year so I believe between his DNA and his ability to seek good food have done him more good than a walk around the block. So the  first item on the prep list is pumpkin. Got it. Next is my daughter, Ronni. She has just moved out West for a wonderful new job. I’m very happy for her and at the same time I miss her every day. We have spent every holiday baking or cooking together. This is the first year we will be doing it 2000 miles apart. Fear not, it will get done. This is the part where I say it’s not the ingredients that make the end results, it’s the love you put into them. This is the year I’ll be sending baked goods and ingredients to her home. Ronni and I are both plantbased so it’s pretty easy to create new gifts for her. I’ve managed to take her favorites and transform them into plantbased approved with the same great flavor. It doesn’t matter how many miles separate you and your loved ones. It’s the passion to create for them that will make it all feel like home. If you have family you want to bake for, just plan on doing it a little earlier than normal so you can allow for the shipping time. I always send my packages early because it’s that element of surprise that I love to give people. Expect it when you least expect it from me.

My sister Kim’s family loves cookies. We have a chocolate chip cookie recipe we have been sharing for years. So much that now her 11 years old daughter, Alice, is making them. That’s really the best part of the story for me. My niece is carrying on the tradition. Last year we began a new one of making homemade cinnamon buns. Alice is ready to start making desserts that are more advanced now. She loves baking and I love helping her. THAT’S what the holidays are about. My sister always invites new friends over. I love Thanksgiving at her house. She embraces the true meaning of being thankful. We always have a lot of good food, music and conversation. Her prep list is the grand turkey and an abundance of vegetable dishes that are colorful, nutritious and something new for everyone. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to introduce plantbased dishes. That’s our secret. No one knows.  Also on that list are fresh herbs (most from her outdoor garden), beautiful flowers from the farmers market and the perfect wine to compliment the entire meal.

As I’m writing this, the leaves are falling from the trees and the cats (Bear and Chaos) are convinced they’re going to catch them. They sit in the window crouched down and ready. Speaking of the boys, they have their own little prep list. Every year they get turkey and gravy on Thanksgiving and beef and liver on Christmas. The holidays are stimulating with all of the decorations. It takes a lot of energy to knock the bulbs off the Christmas tree so a good meal is essential for them. Insert eye rolling emoji here. I love these two and they are just as much of the celebrating as anyone.

As you begin to think of what you want to make this year, here are a few ideas that will make holiday baking much easier and fun. Every year I use the same shortbread dough to make a variety of different cookies and bars. It’s an easy 4 ingredient recipe: Organic flour, butter (I use vegan), confectionery sugar and salt. This recipe takes flavors and other ingredients like chocolate and nuts like it owns them. For cookies  I make chocolate and raspberry linzors, stained glass cookies, holiday shapes and almond hearts with the shortbreads. other cookies I do are Mexican wedding cakes, my dad’s favorite anisette cookies, our famous family chocolate chip and my very own plantbased compost cookie. For bars using the shortbread I make chocolate walnut bars, Southern bourbon pecan squares , Citrus lemon bars and Maine blueberry bars. My next blog will have some of these recipes and any others just request them and I’ll send them over your way with one condition: You share it with someone else and you find a child to make them with. That’s all. Let’s keep this cool holiday baking thing moving forward.

Whatever you decide to make whether it’s for family, your local police station, the school, your co-workers or even yourself, remember the first ingredient is love. You use that one and everything else will come out just fine. This is the power in food.

 


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Anti-inflammation journey update :)

I used to be the person who started something with all of the intension of making it work, over and over and over again. Something had to change.
Prior to a month ago, I was talking with a nurse about her new food choices. She decided to take white flour, sugar and processed foods out of her daily meals.A chef I know also decided to do the same thing. They are two different friends that work in two different places and just happen to be doing the same thing. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for just about ever. So I read a great article by JJ Virgin and Dr. Andrew Weil and decided it was time. My body wanted it. My body needed it.
Once I decided my body deserves this, I was going to do this. And I have.

I’m into week 5 and the way my body has responded has been astounding. I’m down a size in jeans, I’m sleeping better, my skin looks healthier, no joint pain and my mind seems much clearer. I tried so many crazy ways to lose the weight. Even Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig weren’t helping. The article I read by JJ Virgin said her clients who felt they were eating very healthy and in moderation had trouble losing weight.She suggested the 7 trouble foods that could be the culprit: Gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, peanuts, sugar and soy. She suggests for 21 days to take all of them out and then slowly add them back in one at a time. I thought it had to be the gluten. I’ve been working with gluten-free clients for years. My specialty is creating recipes for people who can not have gluten in any of their meals. It’s a very different lifestyle. From celiac disease to joint pain, skin rashes, tummy troubles and eczema to children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. I have seen the remarkable effects removing gluten can do. Why did I not think this applied to me? The answer was right there the entire time through the work that I have done for years. Within three days, I stopped a nagging cough I had for 5 weeks. Dairy?? I started sleeping through the night better. My skin was beginning to look healthier. My body is happy. My insides want to dance but right now it’s still working over time on repairing the damage I’ve caused over the years. It will dance soon.

I decided to take my favorite wine out while I was on this journey. That was a bit tougher than the gluten. After the first week, I really didn’t want one so something was working.

Now that I’m into week 5, I have decided that this is my new lifestyle. I love the way I’m enjoying my meals. I love what I’m learning. I especially love what I’m able to share. I’ve said before that one of my friend’s is a chef who has no adopted the same lifestyle. How lucky am I! We talk often about different ways to prepare vegetables, proteins and great delicious ways to add various types of beans. I’m very happy with how everything is going. One of my favorite things is to make a topping with artichokes, tomatoes, kalamato olives, onions, green peppers and jalapenos. It’s something I keep in the fridge and add to fish, chicken and salads. Today I added garbanzo beans and pinto beans, sea salt and a wonderful piece of sliced turkey.

Every morning starts with a great tasting shake: Organic raspberries, baby spinach, flax or hemp seeds, almond milk, RAW protein powder and spring water. I love it! Every morning it’s a great way to start my day! Mid morning is an organic gala apple with two tablespoons of almond butter with sea salt.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this has been a wonder journey! It’s one that I just started and one that I’m going to love to continue. I’m looking forward to my physical next month and full blood work. My body is happy. When your body is happy, it certainly tells you.

The best news right now is starting next month the farmers markets open up. I can’t wait. last year I was a regular customer buying veggies to juice. This year I will be that regular customer except it will be more than just juicing vegetables. This year I’m going to seek out new vegetables to try. I love my salads and I love creating new sides for fresh fish.

It’s a wonderful new beginning. I’m happy that you’ve taken the time to read my blog and I hope it inspires you to give this a try. Your body will love it.

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This was no coincidence…

Today completes day 7 in my food intolerance journey! I couldn’t be more excited for a few reasons. One, I actually completed something I started. Two, My body has been pampered for 7 straight days. I’m sure my major organs and my gut are celebrating their first vacation from horrible intruders. It’s amazing how I actually look at food now.

Today is my day off from the hospital so I knew I wanted to spend it researching more about inflammation, which I have dubbed the new buzz word. I decided a trip to the book store would be a treat. This is my reward for completing 7 full days. My daughter and I drive to Portland (about a 30 minute ride) so I thought it would be a good time to talk to her about what I have learned. She listened and was actually interested so I was pretty happy and relieved. There are so many things we could have talked about but I knew this was important. We have a very close relationship so if she had told me that she wasn’t exactly interested in this subject, I would have probably changed it. But…she was all ears! I found myself saying things like “I feel really good” and “I’m sleeping better than I ever have” and so on. it was saying affirmations. After our conversation, she was very interested in creating a plan that could work for her.I couldn’t ask for anything more. she already knows that gluten is a poison. When she was in college, she took gluten out for almost a month and realized she wasn’t getting her usual migraines. I was fixing her meals for her then and she was also shopping at Trader Joes which was very helpful. But as college went on, the gluten was reintroduced and the problems started all over again.So knowing that it has worked in the past is good reason enough to give this a try.

We get to the book store and head to the magazine section. I notice she is looking at outdoor magazines and canning and self sustainable living magazines. Ah ha! She was listening. I head over to the natural food and health section to see who else is chatting about inflammation. I pick up a couple and flip through them but nothing really catches me. Then I see a Dr. Andrew Weil magazine and the top says “The Anti-inflammatory Pyramid in-depth”. I looked over at my daughter and said,”Is this the new buzz word? Is this that word I’m going to see everywhere now? How weird is this?”.I pick up his magazine and flip through it and every article is about inflammation. This was exactly what I was looking for. This was no coincidence. There are hundreds of magazines to choose from and this one catches my eye. It’s wonderful too! It’s very in-depth. I include a picture copy of the magazine below so when you look for it, you’ll recognize it.

I’m convinced that I’ll be reading some of his books now. As a chef, I will also be creating new recipes to share. This is what I do. I find foods that people feel they no longer can enjoy and recreate them to their specific allergy so they can enjoy them. After all of these years, why wasn’t I ever doing this for myself? Why did I not feel I deserved to treat my body with the utmost respect? I’m ashamed. But I’m also happy that I have finally woken up to realize this is about me too. This is self-care. So why not take the gift I was given and share what I know with everyone.

I decided to share my first recipe with you. It’s full of flavor, gluten-free, dairy free, soy free, sugar-free and corn free. I use this mediterranean dressing on everything. It’s wonderful on chicken and fish or just over rice and lentils.

Mediterranean dressing

In a medium bowl, chop and combine:
1 Vine ripened tomato
1/2 Vidalia onion (or red onion)
1 can artichoke hearts
1 small green pepper
12 kalamata pitted olives cut in half

Combine and add:
1 tablespoons of the olive juice (for the salt)
Fresh cracked pepper to taste
1/4 cup of good olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional)

Mix in with the bowl of pure goodness. let sit overnight.
It’s wonderful!! Add fresh herbs if you want too. I chopped a few chives in there because I had them. I also cut up an avocado for the salad.
You can also spoon this over flatbread and add goat cheese (For those people who can tolerate goat cheese) and broil until the cheese melts.

This such a nice recipe. The colors are beautiful. In season, chop fresh parsley and maybe even a red and yellow pepper for more color.

So as my journey continues, I have two more weeks to go to complete the 21 days. As I said before though, I’m in no hurry to put any of these foods back into my body. They just don’t belong there. The fact that I saw Dr. Weil’s magazine was simply re-enforcement that I’m on the right track. It was no coincidence. Here’s to whole foods and positive cooking.

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When speechless is a good thing

The last couple of weeks I have been battling this annoying cough. The one you have to just wait out. So with some over the counter meds, hot green tea and gurgling here and there, I’m beginning to combat it. Then, two days ago, my voice vanished. I woke up and it was gone. Not sure where it went but it peaced out sometime during the night.

With every obstacle comes a lesson. I decided to limit my speech for the next few days. This ,my friends, is not an easy task for me. I’m Sicilian so when the mouth is moving so are the hands. When the mouth isn’t moving, the hands are lost. My body is confused. Then suddenly I realize something very important. I’m listening. I’ve stopped to listen. What a concept. Incredible things I’m hearing. It’s like stopping to smell the roses but better. It’s okay not to talk. It’s okay to hear how the other person views the world in whole sentences. When you can’t speak, you pay more attention after the initial shock wears off that’s it’s just not your turn.

For a while today we worked in silence. It wasn’t a bad thing at all. Silence was actually a pleasure. Until my co-worker decided to sing the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” completely off-key. My hands couldn’t take it. They had to say something. I put my hand straight up as if to say STOP. Please. The hands were content they had the opportunity to say something today.  We both laughed and realized silence can be fun.

The funny thing for me is when I’m in the kitchen, I generally have Jazz playing in the background. Other than that, I work in silence. I love to get into what I’m making. Creating dishes makes me happy. My hands are too busy to coordinate with the mouth. I love to cook. Some of my best work is done in silence. I used to work with a chef de cuisine. He permitted no talking in the kitchen. He was a master. You didn’t dare breathe. It was like watching a symphony of food being created in front of your very eyes. I loved to find any reason to walk through that kitchen just to see him work. With my hands in my pockets, I would make a brief stop and observe. I learned something everytime. His silent kitchen brought harmony throughout the night. It was incredible.

Wedding cakes are very similar for me. I have to be by myself and I permit no talking. It’s all about precision. Silence is the master. It puts me in a world of creativity. It all has to flow uninterrupted. From start to finish, it’s a private world of thoughts that are reserved solely for this cake. Silence is good. This was important lesson that I passed on to my culinary students.

The next time you have a cold, cough or you just can’t talk, it’s okay. Take some time to listen to what’s going on around you. Silence is a good thing. And if you’re anything like me, you might have to sit on your hands while someone is talking to you because without the mouth to execute a good sentence, your hands can really blow the message with the wrong gesture. Being Sicilian isn’t a bad thing but learning self-control with your hands is beneficial.

I’m thankful I had this opportunity to be quiet. Being speechless has been  a good thing today.


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Sometimes you just have to ask

“You can’t always get what you want. But you just might get what you need.” Rolling Stones

Never a more true phrase spoken. Thank you Mick Jaggar.

As I start my new journey, I think of what I want. I actually was able to imagine where I wanted to live and the type of place I was looking for. I just simply asked. The universe answers in mysterious ways. Within 48 hours, I found what I was looking for. I’m living by the water in a safe and happy place. That was pretty cool. So if it worked for my home, it must certainly be an effective way to achieve a good job. Not so easy. Or is it?

As I move along in my career, I decided that I wanted to step out of the kitchen and write about food. I didn’t want to write a typical cook book about making cookies and a weekend carrot cake. I want to write about food, the love of food. I want people to realize just how important it is in our everyday lives. There are people out there who are happy making a pork pie or Salisbury steak because they have to but then there are people who really love what they do. These people want you to receive the love they put into your food. Thought. Actual thought about what you might like and how to make it not only eye appealing, but taste amazing. A meal that you will be looking forward to having again before you even leave their house that night. That’s the type of food I want to write about.

I want to write about creating dishes for people who suffer from allergies. Teaching them how to think back to what they really miss and recreating that with them. It can be done. My ideas about how to approach teaching are very simple. Just find something you never thought you could have before and I’ll teach you not only how to have it again, but how to make it even better than before. The allergy scene is a growing one. I feel there a lot of options out there to try. My theory is: Why not make it yourself and put the love into it and share it. There so many options for so many allergies. I have a book that is ready to be published. It’s all types of cuisines adapted to the most common allergies. It’s an easy book that speaks to you as you read it. It’s like I’m standing right next to you in the kitchen. I want to travel and teach. I’m so close. I have a deal with the universe: You get me to this place and I won’t be a pain in your backside. I’d love to travel to different countries and learn their techniques. A lot of countries are gluten-free by default. It’s what they have available and how they use it. Maybe a show dedicated to people with allergies. That sounds more like my cup of green tea.

I know what I want and I think I know what I need. I may not get what I want but I know I will be provided with what I need. All I have to do is ask.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

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This is my favorite quote. It applies to so many things: food, art, people, situations, journeys and so on. I just finished putting this print up from the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine. It’s a beautiful picture painted by and signed by Dahlov Ipcar. I had the pleasure of meeting her at the museum. She is a beautiful person. She writes books about cats and paints pictures of animals. Apparently when I hung this painting up, my cat knew that. He walked over and took a quick look. Then he decided to see it in a different angle. Doesn’t matter what I thought. It was his moment and he was taking it all in. He, at that moment, was the beholder.

The beauty of art is everyone has their own vision of what it is and what it means. It doesn’t mean that one person is incorrect from another. It’s their interpretation. It’s an opinion. It’s not wrong…ever. Just like your idea of what you’re seeing is your vision. It’s never wrong. It’s what it is at the time you viewed whatever was in front of you.

Food is a lot like art. Actually, food is art. We all like different cuisines for different reasons. What we like is our opinion. A chef is an artist that uses his or her talents to create a dish that will instantly catch your eye whether it’s being set down on the table next to you or right in front of you. We eat with our eyes. But let’s take one step back. It starts long before you walk in the restaurant. Sometimes it starts with a recommendation from a friend or family member.The way it’s described (their opinion) will either turn you off or keep you listening. Most people describe the food, the atmosphere and just as important as the food, the service. So you decide to try this place based on their opinion. It’s always a good idea to look a recommendation up online. There are usually menus to look at and reviews to read. Hopefully the menu has pictures of the entrees and attractive descriptions. This is where is starts. So you get to the restaurant and the first thing you experience is the hostess. The meal actually begins here. If the service is very good, the meal will only be better. You get your menu and drink and the experience continues. You can’t help but look at what is placed on tables around you. If it smells great and looks just as good, you’re in for a treat. The person that recommended this place is a good friend. I’ll save the opposite reaction for a different blog. This one is about beauty.

From the time you order, to the time the order goes in, the chef is already at work. This is like painting 100 pictures in less than 2 hours. The chef has to combine terxtures and flavors that in thier opinion, will please your every sense. Once your dinner comes to your table, beauty will be in the eye of the beholder. Everyone is staring at your plate while you’re staring at theirs. It all looks good. Like a fine painting, you give the look of approval with a simple nod and a smile. Everyone has an opinion about their meals. It’s good. It’s not so good. It’s beautiful or what happened in there?? I’ll definitely be back or not so soon. It’s judge and jury when the plates hit the table. The canvas is quickly altered but the original painting is still in your mind every time you think of this place.

Based on that experience alone, your opinion about the entire experience will either guide the next person to or away from this restaurant. Much like art. If you go to the museum and really enjoy what you see, you’re more apt to recommend a particular place. It’s all in the presentation. It’s the same for music, movies, theater and even sporting events.

The beauty about this is that we all see things differently. If we respect the fact that each of our opinions are just that…ours, than we can share the beauty.

I have to admit, after my cat got up and went on to do his cat things, I went over to the print and layed on the floor and looked at it. I thought maybe I’d see something a little different. He might have been on to something. His angle gave me a different perspective. I didn’t quite get what he was looking at but who am I to judge. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


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The start of an amazing journey

I think I’m about to embark on a pretty interesting journey.

In the last few months, I have begun to clean up some pretty bad decision-making. One by one each debt has been getting paid. A lesson attached to each and every mistake. Trust was always a big thing for me. I grew up with a Sicilian dad and a hand shake, a good firm hand shake, was a good reason to trust someone and a deal. Well, enter the 2000’s. Those days were long over but I hadn’t caught up to that yet. So I made a business deal and chose a contractor for my house that I thought I knew and sealed them both with a hand shake. My first clue was at the closing for my business when the bank looked at the actual deal and asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. I had put my home up for collateral. My partner put up nothing. But I had a new home and about to embark on a new business. I could do this. When the bank asked me one last time, I should have gotten the clue. I didn’t. Long story short, I lost the business 5 years later and my home. So some would think this is horrible. I’ve lost it all. Or did I? Physically, yes.

These were very expensive lessons to learn from a monetary value. They hurt from a personal view. My heart and soul went into both the business and the house. It was everyday. The business was 24/7. Up early, run the bakery, drive deliveries to Massachusetts at night and start all over again at 4am. What was I thinking? I could do this. No actually, I couldn’t. It all spiraled out of control. I got really sick one summer. I had an xray and a spot was discovered on my lung. Within a week I was being biopsied for Hodgkin Lymphoma. What was going on?? It all happened so fast. I couldn’t breath. The coughing was obnoxious. The last thing I remember in the OR was being asked if I like to play golf. I was out in seconds. The sugeon came in and said the biopsy was fine and I was sent home to rest for a couple of days. Rest? Were they crazy? Not at all. My daughter made me stay home and rest for two days. It was then I realized, this isn’t going to work. It’s not worth it. I watched what I was putting my daughter through and it just wasn’t worth it. But then I thought once I felt better I can still make this work. All the while ignoring my gut feelings and all the messages around me. My daughter swears I got sick just so I could rest a couple of days.

Finally the Winter of 2010, I decided it was enough. I closed the doors. The truth is, I felt great when I locked that door. I lost everything in it though. It was a tough one to walk away from but it’s then that I realized how important my life was and how materials really didn’t matter. It wasn’t a loss. I truly did the best I could. It was a wonderful place. People traveled all over to eat there. In the end, it was an increase in the lease that helped to seal the fate of the business. Not a total loss though. It was a gain of friendships, contacts (which would prove to be vital a few years later), knowledge, growth and most important, spiritual growth. Even though the debt was massive, I wasn’t going to let it get any worse. It took until this Fall but the business is all paid off. The house is about to come to an end as well. With a closing any day now, that too will be put behind me.

What was important was making the step to close the doors, both of them. Now materials really didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to determine my self-worth by what I owned. I’m a daughter,a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a co-worker and most important a mother. I feel I have been successful at all of these. Not because of what I own but because of the love I have for each and every one of them. Suddenly, my self-worth was becoming how I valued who I was. I was learning about Self.

Now the journey begins. I have a new place to live which I love. Through encouragement from my friends, I would imagine what I wanted for a house. It had to be safe, healthy, cute and by the water. I accomplished all of those. I absolutely love my home. Now my focus is on work, full-time work. I love what I do at Hospice. I was talking with a co-worker today and I told her that calling this a job just doesn’t seem right.It’s so much more than that. She said, “It’s not a job. It’s a calling.”. She’s right. It’s the most amazing place I have ever been. That’s part-time. So now I have to focus on the fulltime. It will to be something I love. It’s all about the journey.

I have been writing this blog as well as a few magazine articles. That’s the best side work I do. I love to write. I’m honored to be published in a few magazines already. It’s great work and you can share what you do with complete strangers. The important thing is you’re helping someone.

Now life is taking an interesting turn. My newest playtime hobby is painting. I decided to take a class and it was wonderful! I have been listening to more jazz and thankfully I have a friend that has similar tastes and he has been educating me on different types of music. I can’t get enough. All of this knowledge. Learning about things I love. Next on the list:Travel. I really want to travel. I want to learn about different cultures and recreate these dishes for people with food allergies. If I can do this, they too can experience other cultures without the fear of what they are eating. My goal is to someday have a show where I can recreate these dishes for everyone to enjoy regardless of your allergy. I have 6 cooking shows under mt beslt right now so I know that’s what I want to do. That day is coming very soon.

As a chef I often say sautéed onions, celery and carrots are the trinity of food. Travel, food and music are the trinity of life. My new journey is about making good decisions for myself. It’s about experiencing the trinity. It’s about learning, loving and experiencing all of the amazing things life has to offer.It’s about always trusting that firm hand shake but following up with a legal contract. It’s about listening to my gut always and having faith it’s all going to turn out exactly the way it’s supposed to.

This is the start of a fantastic journey.

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