Go [pastured] Pig or Go Home!! A small rant…

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This cutie lives on Ridge to Reef Farm in St. Croix!!

So this morning I have already found myself on my soapbox regarding bacon, eggs, grass-fed beef, et al. I get so frustrated when I see all those diets floating around…and there are so many supplements out there it truly boggles my mind. I know it is generally more expensive to eat organic produce, pastured eggs and chicken and pork, and grass-fed beef. Or at least in the short run. It is MUCH more expensive in the long run to eat all that processed food…expensive in the form of higher health care bills and the possible [probable] cost of a shorter life span and lower quality of life.

What if we all began demanding GMO-free foods? What if we all demanded grass-fed beef? And pastured chicken, pork and eggs?? What if, what if, what if…?? And more important than ‘what if’ is why don’t we already? How did we let something so important as food get out of our hands? This is what goes into our bodies. It is what our bodies use to grow and be nurtured and sustained. You know the expression: You are what you eat. I certainly don’t want to be some sort of chemically processed, sugar-laden, GMO filled being!!

Somehow it was decided that raw milk is no longer good for us, and in most states is it illegal to even buy it. How did we let that decision get taken away? If I want/choose to buy raw milk, I should be able to buy it. I can read about and determine the risk factors for myself. How did it come to be that someone else’s opinion about what is best for me overrides my own?

And how about fats? Yes, I said it: FATS. “Fats” is a BEAUTIFUL four-letter word that has been vilified over the years – especially saturated fats. Saturated fats are necessary in our diets (did you hear that:necessary!!), especially when they come from sources such as pastured pork and grass-fed beef. They are rich in many nutrients our bodies need. NEED…Did you know that the nutrients in vegetables are better absorbed when you add a little fat – such as butter – to them? Lard rendered from pastured pork is high in vitamin D. Just a couple of examples to blow your mind a little.

These subjects and others are topics to delve into further at another time. For now  I will finish by stating that I stand by my credo of eating in moderation. Anything can be bad for you if you go overboard…I don’t do ‘diets’…at least not in the typical sense. My ‘diet’: I eat as local as possible, I consume grass-fed/pastured  meats/eggs/poultry, and I move my body…generally via walking or Nia. I work to keep balance in my life spiritually, mentally and physically. Life is just too short to eat fake food…

April in Plano…Pineapple Margarita anyone??

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Pineapple-Jalapeño Margaritas…served in my favorite glasses. If I had a sombrero and a couple of these, I’d be sleeping, too!

April in Plano…not quite as nostalgic as April in Paris.

Or is it? The trees are budding, the birds are singing – flying about happily chirping to one another – and the weather is in that rare zone of not-too-cold yet not-too-hot. Sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee in the morning is actually enjoyable. And equally enjoyable is sitting outside at the end of the day as the sun slips lower into the sky, perhaps with a chilled glass of wine…or maybe even a delicious Pineapple Margarita. Yesterday, I found the most beautiful pineapples at the market – fresh, organic, and wonderfully sweet! It was the aroma that first alerted me to their presence. Following my nose I soon found the sizable display around the corner. Pineapple after pineapple, piled one upon the other…a treasure chest (or stand) just waiting for me to find ‘The Chosen One’. I will opt for the golden flesh of a perfectly ripe, juicy, sweet pineapple over 24K gold any day. Yes, I am that much of a food geek! I instantly knew what I would create with my treasure. My mind flashed back to last year at this time when I first bought my Vitamix. Pineapples were abundant then as well. Experimenting with the myriad ways I could use it, I discovered how well it purees even the toughest of fruits and vegetables. So I cut up my golden beauty and placed those glorious chunks into my Vitamix, added lime juice, tequila, Grand Marnier and ice…and with but a few pulses – voila! – my Pineapple Margarita was born!! A waiting margarita glass – with salted rim, of course – was soon filled, leaving just enough room for a fresh pineapple garnish. Mmmm…. Yesterday’s margarita was similar, only upon rummaging in my liquor cabinet I discovered a lack of the ‘cheap’ tequila I reserve for margaritas (how did I let that occur?)…so I pulled out the ‘good stuff’ – which happens to be a bottle of Manik Anejo 100% Agave. I proceeded to chop my pineapple and squeeze the limes and carefully [ahem] measure my tequila and Grand Marnier. My favorite margarita glass – you know, the one with the man sleeping under his sombrero at the base of the glass – was prepared and waiting for this special ‘nectar of the gods’ I was creating. A few passes in the Vitamix was all it took and my glass was soon full. I’d like to leave you with this image: it’s a warm spring day in Texas, a soft breeze gently kisses your skin and the sun’s rays warm you to your very soul…you are soaking up every bit of it, all the while luxuriously sipping on a fresh Pineapple Margarita. Yes, Virginia, there is a Heaven…

The ‘starter’ of a new era…

I am attempting a sourdough bread starter yet again. Each time I learn something new…perhaps this time I will learn how to keep my starter alive and kicking! She still needs a name, but she is doing well after 4 days. I would have made it earlier, but organic grapes were not in season. Although my recipe states regular grapes can be used if washed well, I decided I wanted to go with organic. For the next 5 days she will sit undisturbed, hopefully developing into an aromatic, yeasty sourdough which I will soon use to bake all sorts of goodies: breads, waffles, pretzels…mmm, can’t wait!

So as I sit on the sidelines for the next several days as she matures, I will be contemplating her name and dreaming of the delectable feasts soon to come!

Saturday, July 2, 2011: Visiting our family in Ferentino

We arranged for the bus we used yesterday to take us to Ferentino. What a magical day!!! Our family greeted us with open arms, meeting us at the exit into town so the driver could follow them to their home near the top of the city. It was tight maneuvering in several spots, but our driver was adept at squeezing that bus through traffic and narrow openings. I am in awe!

We went first to one of the homes of our family, where we were met by several family members. We were able to communicate with one another…My husband and I speak very little Italian, but my nephews both have been taking lessons (one for 5 years), so they were a tremendous help!

We went to a restaurant owned by one of their friends. The restaurant is normally closed on Saturday at lunch, but they opened just for us. They had a large table set up for all of us, and greeted us with glasses of prosecco for a family toast. Then the feasting began!!! Local cheeses and meats started things off, followed by 2 pasta courses (the first: a dish made from my husband’s great-grandmother’s recipe), a meat course, dessert, and drinks. Amazing! Perhaps our best meal yet in Italy…actually, perhaps our best meal for our entire trip!!

We were taken on a tour of the town next. We visited the cemetery where many in the family are buried. Then we were taken on a tour of the town (a walled-in town older than Roma), visiting a few of the ancient gates leading into the walled town as well as one of the local churches. The views were stunning from atop the hill…I cannot begin to imagine how wonderful it is to wake up in a town as awe-inspiring as this every day…truly spectacular!

We headed back to the house after the tour to say our goodbyes for this visit. I cannot believe how quickly the time passed, but it was such a wonderful gift that they opened up their homes and hearts to all of us. I am so grateful for this time and hope they are able to come to visit us so we can extend a warm welcome to them in the USA…it was a happy yet sad trip back in the bus to Rome – if that makes any sense…

Friday, July 1, 2011: Tour of Roma

Highlights: Coliseum; Forum; lunch at Trastevere; top of hill for view; Pantheon; Piazza Navone; church; Trevi Fountain – threw in my coins; gelato; Palentine Hill; walked to Campo di Fiore for dinner/panini

Today we had a full-day tour of Roma. There are 13 of us here, and a mini-bus was arranged for those of us going on the tour around town. We began at the Coliseum, followed by the Forum, and the Pantheon after that. Our bus drove us around Roma, including a visit to the top of one of Rome’s 7 hills for the view and a stop for lunch at a non-touristy trattoria near Trastevere. After lunch we headed for Trevi Fountain (yes, I threw in my coins…no sense testing the gods for a return visit…), had gelato at a nearby gelateria, and ended the tour with a visit to Palentine Hill. Our guide was packed full of juicy tidbits and fun facts…

That evening some of us walked from the apartment to Campo di Fiori for Panini at a little shop in the square…well worth the walk. We stopped for wine and to people-watch along the way…lovely evening! Time for bed…early day tomorrow!

Thursday, June 30, 2011: Rome…our family arrives!

Highlights: 1.To café for coffee/breakfast; 2. family arrives from the States; 3. hang out; 4. Laundromat (loved being able to communicate in Italian); 5. Speaking more Italian here; 6. Gelato; walk around a bit with family; apartment w/ terraces

Our family arrived safe and sound…the fun begins!! We mainly just relaxed today. We had a lot of laundry to take care of, and given the minimal situation we have to do laundry at our apartment we elected to take a couple of loads to a local Laundromat. We could not find a ‘do-it-yourself’ place, so we dropped our clothes off at a place that did it for us. Expensive? A little, but also convenient and a relief! The best part was being able to communicate with the owner, who only spoke Italian, and understanding her/her understanding us!!! Those Italian lessons paid off after all!!!

There are 13 of us here now, so we have rented two apartments. We are in the smaller apartment with my parents; everyone else is in the larger apartment about 15 minutes walk from here. That one overlooks the Coliseum, and there are 2 terraces there (one on the top of the building with 360 degree views). It is an incredible spot to enjoy the scenery, have a glass of wine and relax with the family.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011: Pisa (sort of); Rome!

Highlights: 1.left Firenze after breakfast for Roma 2. Side ‘trip’ to Pisa…only got to view the tower and got 39 euro parking ticket* 3.arrived at apartment in Roma…no good bed yet again!** 4. Dinner at place right around the corner – more touristy…so-so. 5. Family arrives tomorrow!!!

*Pisa: We arrived, hoping to go up into the tower to the top. There was a two-hour wait to go up, and we had to be in Roma to check into the apartment by 5, so no time for that…disappointing. Our lovely gentlemen in the parking lot neglected to tell us we had to pre-pay for parking and put the ticket in our windshield, so our 1 hour visit to Pisa resulted in a 39 euro parking expense. Nice…

**Roman holiday today – St. Paul’s Day – meaning no traffic in the city, so no problem getting to the apartment. The apartment is nice: two bedrooms, two baths (one with a narrow shower!). The water pressure is so-so, but we also have A/C – a must here in summer! And it works: another plus. The washing machine is small and located out on the balcony in cramped quarters. We only seem to be able to use the 4 hour wash cycle. No dryer here…and the clothes line is conveniently (cough, cough) located under the A/C where condensation can drip on the clothes in the right conditions. But really we are in a good location. Other downside: these European beds…what’s up with them? With all of this incredible architecture here they cannot figure out how to get comfort into a bed?? Really??? I miss my bed….

Tuesday, June 28, 2011: Firenze

This morning I enjoyed a quiet cup (ok…two cups) of cappuccino at a café across from our hotel. The woman there – the owner, I assume – was so friendly. I loved sitting there watching the people stroll by…some tourists, some locals. It was early enough that the city’s routine workers were starting their daily activities. Trash pick-up is obviously first thing Tuesday morning, shops received deliveries of food and other goods, and there were workers setting up scaffolding to work on restorations of the historical buildings. It was a nice slice of Florentine life, mixed in with a bit of tourist life…but mostly I enjoyed the solitude from my family.

My husband and I toured Il Duomo (only 2 minutes walk from our hotel) in the morning, walking the 154 steps up to the dome, and then continuing up the additional 300+ steps to the very top. Stunning views from here!! Rather than wait in the looooong line to enter the church, we elected to pay for the guided tour. It was a deal and saved so much time. Plus, we were able to see parts of the dome and church only open to those doing the tour. I highly recommend it.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat before meeting up with a guide (Marco Secci) to tour the Uffici museum, a 2 minute walk in the other direction from our hotel, then headed to see ‘David’ after that…amazing! Our guide was one of the best we have encountered. I made sure to get his business card so we can use him again when we go back to Florence. And yes, we do plan to return one day to see all the things we didn’t get a chance to visit.

Marco suggested yet another local place for dinner; also right around the corner from our hotel (I should mention we had a phenomenal hotel location!). After dinner we headed on a walk past Ponte Vecchio to one of the De Medici castles open for a late-night visit. My husband and I toured for a bit…amazing to see how grand some folks lived! It was a nice night and we enjoyed our walk back through town to the hotel. Florence is a beautiful city, well worth the visit. Hopefully we will have the opportunity to return.