Respecting the Italian way of life.

Rob and I this summer spent 10 days in Italy. Ten glorious days. We started in Lucca, a charming town in Tuscany, then spent a full week in Bologna, the spiritual center of Italian food and the capital of its breadbasket, Emilia-Romagna. I simply can’t rave enough about Bologna, with its lovely architecture, its narrow cobbled streets and its food shops.

Oh, its food shops! The Quadrilatero, a maze of tiny streets lined with produce vendors, butchers and salumerias, fresh pasta shops, cheese emporia … you can’t even imagine. It was bliss. Even the neighborhood just outside the Centro Storico (the city center), where we stayed for the week, had lovely food shops that met our every daily need: the latteria with its dairy goods and other essentials, the pasticceria with homemade breads and pastries, the salumeria with meats and charcuterie, the produce stall with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. All right around the corner from our apartment.
We rented an apartment specifically so we could cook. Going into all those lovely shops and not purchasing yummy things to make would have broken my heart. I would say that we cooked a ton while we were in Bologna (we ate dinner at “home” every night), but we didn’t do more than boil water for pasta and slice tomatoes and mozzarella for caprese salads. We cooked—and ate—simply and well.

Weeks after we returned, Italy is still in my heart. I have no claim to it, but I miss it dearly. While they are fresh, I wanted to journal a few impressions of Italian food and culture, impressions that I intend to incorporate into my daily life here in the U.S.

Traveling outside the States is so richly informative, because it opens your eyes to how other people and cultures exist in the world. No country is perfect, certainly not ours. I observed so many practices and norms and ways of doing things in Italy that inspired me to live differently here.

Take food. Food in Italy is ridiculously inexpensive. Like half of what it costs here. A great bottle of wine was 10 euros. A 2-pack of yogurt was 1 euro. A liter of water was about 19 cents. I don’t know why that is. But it was noteworthy.

At the same time, food is very high quality. Fresh. Local. Yes, we were living for the week in Italy’s breadbasket; the peaches and apricots the apartment owner left for us on the kitchen table were from their own fruit farm outside the city. While we didn’t venture into a large grocery, everything we saw, even in the tiniest shops, was of the highest quality.

Perhaps because food is so high quality, Italians don’t overconsume it. There’s a respect for food—and the people who grow, prepare and sell it. Portion and package sizes are sensible; waste is minimal. For Italians, the hunger and deprivation of war are not-too-distant memories. Food is valued. Maribel, who taught the cooking class I loved in Bologna, spoke with great seriousness about not wasting the scraps of our homemade pasta, because the previous generation knew what starvation felt like. We owed it to them to not waste food.

Home life is designed for a small footprint. Refrigerators are half the size of what they are here. You shop for just a few days at a time. (Which isn’t at all an inconvenience, because the shops are literally down the block.) There’s practically no mass-produced, prepared, boxed-and-frozen food. Because ingredients are so fresh and dishes are so simple, it’s not a hassle to cook every day. And if you’re exhausted and can’t turn on the stove, there are fresh house-made salads, meats and cheeses in the market right beyond your doorstep. Or the neighborhood trattoria.

Everything gets recycled. In our apartment’s kitchen, there were separate, sturdy totes for paper, glass/metal and plastic. And a bin by the sink for food scraps. Each household is responsible for sorting and managing their trash and carrying it out to big bins on the street. With homes, streets and cars packed in so tightly, there’s no room for every home to leave a bulky trashcan on the sidewalk, and no room for trash trucks to trundle along once a week picking up bins one by one. Trash, like so much of life in Italy, is a communal effort, and it fosters a small footprint.

It was all so different … so small, so self-contained, so minimal … compared to life in the States. Americans think it’s our birthright to have endless choices in the grocery, to expect huge portion sizes when we dine out, to drive a XXXXL-sized vehicle, to live in a house that’s twice what we need, to buy as much cheaply made clothing as we want. And where does all this multiplicity of choice leave us? With food-induced health and environmental crises, sprawl, long commutes, disconnect from community, and a closet full of regrettable purchases. Heck, you can pay money to hire a company to haul away all that stuff you bought that you never needed (or wanted) in the first place. Bigger, bigger, bigger, more, more.

Immersing myself in Italian life, for just a brief week, made me feel sad about many aspects of American life. I’m not sure there’s a solution … or that most folks even see this as a problem. As for me, I’ll keep working toward the motto that Rob and I have set for ourselves:

Live analog. Live slow. Live small. Live local.

New food writing projects.

Since I spent so much of my professional journalism career working on a graphic design magazine—where the way the page looked, not just how it read, was super important—I’ve come to greatly appreciate the beautiful marriage of word and image.

Which is, partly, why I love working with the creative team at 84.51° in Cincinnati on our projects for Kroger’s MyMagazine (the other reason I love working with them is the collaboration). I do the words and recipes; they do the images and design. And their work is flat-out gorgeous. Take a look at these recent projects, where I did the food writing and recipe development:

All About Lemons — two easy recipes featuring lemon, one sweet, one savory

Summery Vegetable Tarts — easy recipes using prepared pie crust and puff pastry

Is Instagram making us fat?

First, a caveat: I’m part of the system. Let’s call it the Social Food Media Juggernaut.

As a writer and content-maker focused on food & wellness, I write plenty of blog posts, share recipes through Pinterest and Instagram, even make those cute little recipe videos that show up in your Facebook feed. I’m part of the SFMJ.

Yet I’m often utterly dismayed by the SFMJ. The recipes and photos that cycle through my social feeds look delicious enough. But holy smokes! All you need to do to understand our nation’s obesity problem is to search ‘food’ on Pinterest.

Fried food. Stuffed food. Loaded food. Food that’s loaded and stuffed and thenfried. Unicorn food. Knockoffs of food from Red Lobster. Food made with bottled ranch dressing and boxed cake mix and canned soup and Just. So. Much. Cream cheese.

Maybe it’s just me. But, ugh.

Clearly, it is just me.

The word ‘recipe’ is the third most-searched word on Pinterest.

Per an article posted on Business.com in February, there were, at that moment, 168,375,343 posts on Instagram hashtagged #food. That was three months ago; think of how many more there are now.

Starbucks has 14 million followers on Instagram.

Posting pics of food — whether it’s a gorgeous recipe Instagram with perfect props and natural light or a blurry snap of that plate of wings you hoovered at the sports bar last night — has become an obsession.

Why? According to insight from psychologist Susan Albers on PsychologyToday.com, we love showing off how virtuous — or how naughty — we are via pictures of what we eat and drink. We post to impress with that super pricey meal at that very exclusive restaurant. Sometimes, we post to gross other people out.

Mostly, we post food photos because we want people to understand us. French philosopher and prototypical foodie Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

With all these yummy things constantly streaming in front of our eyes, don’t you wonder what it’s doing to us? Honestly, my Instagram feed makes my stomach growl. I spotted a video for perfect oven roasted potatoes on Facebook and made them twice in a week. I bought rainbow sprinkles.

Look more closely, and you’ll see overt cues that tempt us to eat more, to eat unhealthy food, to cook with cheap mass-produced packaged foods. Microwave Cake-In-A-Mug! How cute! That’s 200 calories for you. Cheese Fondue in a Bread Bowl! There’s about a decade’s worth of carbs and fat. Crock Pot Chicken and Mushrooms — great! Let’s use canned soup AND dried soup mix AND cream cheese!

Want some irony? Check out this screen shot of my recent Pinterest search:

What’s more, this pornographication of food makes us more conscious of how something looks than how it tastes, and may make us value food less. A headline in The Guardian back in February hints at this problem: “Instagram generation is fuelling UK waste mountain, study finds.” The story references research suggesting that Millennials, inspired by photos in their social feeds, are experimenting with exotic ingredients, impulse-shopping and creating Instagram-worthy dishes, only to throw out leftovers and items they’ll never use again.

It goes on: “A post-war increase in household food waste is due to changes in how we value choice, time and money in relation to food,” said food historian and broadcaster Dr. Polly Russell. “Gone are the days of eating the same food, on the same days of the week, week in, week out. Most people today, particularly younger generations, demand variety. However, with a menu which changes often, it is more challenging to control waste and plan ahead.”

Big Food is paying attention. Guess who capitalized on the whole “unicorn” food trend sparked on Instagram? Starbucks, that’s who. The 400-calorie drink created a “significant” bump during its five-day run in April, according to the company, which promises even more “unique” drinks to come. Oh, goodie. More 400-calorie drinks.

You bet: I watch those superquick recipe videos. I search ‘#foodporn’ on Insta.
But I’m ever more mindful of what I — as a writer, teacher and recipe developer — put out in the world, so that I’m not contributing to the overconsumption.

By the way, check out my recent recipe for Buttermilk Biscuit Muffins. ;-0

New Work: Cincinnati Visitor Guide 2017

So, the assignment was to write about 5 iconic dishes from across Greater Cincinnati. Not fancy food, necessarily. Not things we’re 100% known for, like goetta or chili or Graeter’s ice cream. But dishes that if you’re a newcomer to the city, and you’re hopping around to the city’s distinctive neighborhoods, that you’d most definitely not want to miss.

Like a Zip Burger. This family-friendly little joint in my neighborhood dishes up arguably Cincinnati’s finest burger: a super high-quality beef patty ground to order, cooked on a flat-top and served on a soft bakery bun.

Hard work, right? I know.

Check out my profile of 5 Hot Dishes in Cincinnati’s booming food scene, part of the 2017 Cincinnati USA Visitor Guide.

2016: A (writing) year in review.

Globally speaking, I’m beyond ready for 2016 to beat a hasty retreat. Seriously.

Professionally, though, I’m still marveling at what a great year it was. Seriously.

I was fortunate to collaborate with a number of longstanding and new clients, broadening and deepening my portfolio of writing about food and wellness. My work fell evenly into two camps: writing for publication and online marketing content. The subjects were inspiring, the teams fun to work with, the finished projects stuff I’m proud of. A few high points:

A visit to one of my top clients. After working together — closely, on lots and lots of projects — for two years, I traveled to connect in person with my colleagues at the Produce Marketing Association. We’ve worked together to promote dozens of global events for growers/suppliers/retailers in the fresh produce and floral industry. It was so neat to meet the PMA team face-to-face. And 2017 looks to hold even greater collaboration.

Giving life to local food coverage. Call me old-fashioned, but I still love reading the local newspaper over my morning coffee. And my recipe file is full of old clippings from newspapers’ food sections. So when editor Amy Wilson asked if I’d regularly contribute to the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s weekly food coverage, I jumped at the chance. I got to write about the pleasures of eating breakfast for dinner, shared delicious ways to enjoy summer tomatoes, and declared that making your own butter is just about the best thing ever. Coolest encounter of the year: Running into an Enquirer reader, toting my recipe for herb and spice cashews that she’d cut from the paper, as she was buying the nuts at Dean’s Mediterranean Market. Local food — and local media — for the win!

Tackling a new medium: recipe videos. You know those 1-minute recipe videos you see in your Facebook feed all the time? Turns out, those take about 2 hours to film and are a whole lot of fun to create. Working with Curiosity Advertising and their client, The Christ Hospital, we’re rolling out a series of quick recipe videos.

Supporting local food producers, farmers and retailers. Serving as editor of Edible Ohio Valley remains a passion and pleasure, as we get to tell the stories of people who are working hard to bring beautiful, healthful food to our tables here in Cincinnati. One of my favorite stories to write this year was a feature on farmers’ markets and their importance to our community, economy and our collective health.

Here’s hoping you had a productive and fulfilling 2016, and that 2017 will bring you more of the same!

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New work: Christ Hospital wellness site.

My food writing work hits the sweet spot when the subject intersects at healthy and local. So my new collaboration with The Christ Hospital and agency Curiosity Advertising is right in my kitchen, so to speak.

We’re working together to spotlight local food — producers, farmers’ markets, seasonal flavors — and encouraging the Christ Hospital community to cook and eat healthful foods. In addition to a new series of recipe videos — SUPER FUN! — I am writing online content around healthy cooking and eating. My subjects so far include a feature on local winter farmers’ markets, strategies for stocking your pantry to make home cooking easier, and ‘locavore’ New Years Eve party ideas. Take a look at some of the work:

New Work: recipe videos.

I’ve just launched a cool new collaboration with the creative team from Curiosity Advertising and their client, The Christ Hospital. We’re working to develop friendly, approachable stories and videos that encourage people in the Greater Cincinnati area to cook healthfully, love local food and pursue their wellness goals.

First up: a video demonstrating how to make an easy recipe for roasted fall vegetables. Click the image below to see the video!

easy-roasted-vegetables

 

New work: Cincinnati Enquirer food section.

Thanks to a dedicated new section editor, the Wednesday food section of the Cincinnati Enquirer has been resurrected. Restaurant reviewer and food writer Polly Campbell and editor Amy Wilson are breathing new — and more important, local — life into this key lifestyle section. I’m so excited to be contributing ongoing articles to the section; features so far have covered how to make homemade butter, salad dressing 101, and a roundup of what’s in season locally in spring. Check out some of my recent columns (front pagers, no less)!

Cincinnati Enquirer food section

New work: Cincinnati Visitors Guide.

The Spring/Summer 2016 edition of the Cincinnati USA Official Visitors Guide shines a much-deserved spotlight on the city’s remarkable (and growing!) dining scene. For this feature package, I interviewed 5 leaders in dining, brewing and drinking around town. And the section included short stories on various aspects of local food, from connecting the dots between farm and table to Cincinnati’s brewing heritage, which dates to the 1800s. Check it out!

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