The first time I traveled to Italy I was 19. I recall marveling at marble fountains, being seduced by sculpture and impressed by massive stone architectural creations while touring through Rome and Florence. But perhaps as memorable as Michelangelo’s larger than life David (http://bit.ly/nyY9rx), with which I fell in love, was the smooth and creamy gelato. Twice daily I would indulge in such intense flavors as nicciolo (hazlenut) and espresso, midday and late evening.
In fact, I would purchase a scoop regardless of the hour, whenever I had an excuse to pass through the famous square the gelateria occupied. I had purchased it fearing I’d never, ever, see gelato again. It was now or never, as gelato doesn’t travel well in luggage. This, by the way, was the early 1980’s.
During my recent trip, however, I was older and (somewhat) wiser. I had gelato only twice in 7 days. (Okay, I did share some bites of my husband’s on a third occasion, I admit, but does tasting just a bite on those tiny plastic spoons really count?). It was not because I was watching my weight (I was not), but because I trusted this time; I knew it wasn’t my last chance to get this fabulous Italian ice cream. Boston has great gelato, as does NYC, which I visit not infrequently. In fact, you can even purchase some good stuff from the supermarket these days—at least where I live (check out Whole Foods). Or, as I’ve done, you could make it at home with an ice cream maker.
But back then, I harbored many a diet thought. As a teen, I had dabbled in the Scarsdale Diet, and wasted my time at Weight Watchers (Now you understand my vengeful post! (http://bit.ly/gY2653)
My thoughts about food and eating and my body have changed enormously over these years. At the age of 19 and by the end of college, my BMI was out of range and it was not okay—I was sedentary and hardly fit—and I was rather disconnected from my body’s signals and needs. And I was not a large-size person from early childhood, genetically predetermined to exceed the BMI charts, justifying this above average size.
I’m older and wiser now at 48. On my return trip to Italy, I savored the rich and flavorful, slow cooked meals of the Piedmont, filled with mushrooms and truffle oil—but I didn’t fear it was my last supper; I lingered over multicourse meals, filled with flavors I adore. And I stopped when I had had enough—even though it was delicious.
I skipped desserts when they seemed unnecessary, but took advantage of the aforementioned gelato when I needed a snack. I sampled many a local Pecorino cheese in Tuscany and savored the hearty Tuscan Ribollita soup filled with beans, bread and vegetables. We enjoyed divine meals artfully prepared with local ingredients, served by Italians passionate about their culinary art.
Among the very best meals was at La Coccinella, located in the small town of Serravalle DiLonga in the Piedmont. Fabulously prepared fish, as you can see from this photo. But like the gelato of old, I will never forget the dessert lovingly prepared with local hazelnuts, a delight of textures and flavors I can never duplicate.
I write this not on behalf of the Italian tourism department—no one is advertising for your clicks here. Nor, to brag about my travels I feel fortunate to have taken, along with my husband who enjoys great tasting food as much as I. Rather, it is my hope that this will inspire you.
You may never care about great olive or truffle oils, perhaps. And traveling may be the furthest thing from a reality for you right now. But enjoying food can start at home, wherever you live. Sure, it may require some prep time (although good gelato, like fine chocolate, could easily be obtained and consumed). It requires you to start asking yourself “what do I feel like eating?”, when you are hungry, not just “what am I supposed to be eating?”, yearning later for the very items you’ve prohibited yourself from having. It necessitates giving yourself permission to eat now, and again later—even if what you choose to eat later is ice cream. Because when you know you have permission to eat it again, you can stop when you’ve had enough. You’ll begin to trust this is not your last chance.
And after doing this for some time, and really trusting your body, you’ll note something strange. Sometimes, there may be times when you’ve truly had enough gelato, and there’s nothing more desirable than a fresh, juicy piece of fruit. And that’s ok to eat too.