You know that I like to talk a lot about growing up in Italy and the differences I notice between that life and how we live here in North America. While things are great, I do notice that the longer I’m here, the more I forget the traditions and the lifestyle I left behind. When my family back home says, “You don’t remember that?” I get sad. I don’t want to forget about those times, so I really work at remembering details of my childhood and reliving situations that remind me of home.
Growing up, my family was not rich, but we weren’t poor either. I remember my dad picking my sister and me up from school riding a Vespa and we wore hand-me-downs from other family members. Since my sister and I were only one year apart, we did a lot together. My brother on the other hand came 7 years later (oops!), so his memories of who did what and with whom are a little different. I have to tell you that all of these memories mean so much to me and I love to sit with my family when I go back home and relive them.
We did a lot of fun things as a family; things you can’t put a price on. I remember in the springtime going into the fields and picking dandelions or wild asparagus (we don’t have those here). Once we picked enough, we’d go back home and sit at the kitchen table to clean up the greens. Then my mom would cook them (She was, and is, a good cook, and I’ve learned a lot from her.) If we picked too much, she would put the extra greens into a smaller package and freeze them so we could enjoy them during the winter.
During other times of the year, my dad, sister and I would head for the woods and forage for mushrooms and chestnuts. Umm. As fun as that was, my favorite adventure was looking for snails (My dad loves them and so do I). We just couldn’t go snail foraging anytime; we had to wait for a nice rainy day. When the weather was just right and rainy enough, we would go out to the fields and woods. There we’d find hundreds of snails crawling up the leaves and through the grass!
Ok, so you are probably saying to yourself, “What does she want me to do with this stuff she’s talking about? Go foraging for mushrooms or chestnuts or head downriver to look for snails? Who eats snails anyways? Who eats dandelions beside goats and cows?”
Well, what I’m trying to get to (although I’m taking the long way to get there) is that I was brought up eating only the freshest things. My mom never had canned fruit in her pantry and she never had frozen vegetables unless she freshly canned or froze them herself. Guess what? I never knew what a frozen dinner even was, let alone tasted one. I guess I was lucky enough to eat only the freshest, simplest food ever. Seventeen years later, that’s really still how I try to eat. I’ve decided to stick with what I know best and what I like best.
I’m not embarrassed to tell you that there are a lot of convenient, ready-to-eat foods at the supermarket that I never use. I’m not judging anyone who does, but I’m old school when it comes to food and how to prepare it. I just stick with what I know best.
I know it’s hard to pass up convenience and frozen foods up if you grew up eating them. That’s the norm for you. Growing up though, we didn’t have pop (and if we did, it was orange and we considered it a treat!). We also didn’t have chips and processed foods. So, because of how we did things when I was a kid, it’s now easy for me to prepare fresh meals with the freshest ingredients as an adult.
No matter what you’re used to, don’t let that stop you from making some changes that will benefit you, your family and your health. Fruits and vegetables that you pick or get from a farmer’s market or grocer who carries fresh fruit retain more of their nutrients than frozen or canned ones. They’re also likely to contain less sodium. (There is one exception and that is if the produce was frozen or canned immediately after being harvested, like my mom did when we brought home asparagus.)
When you go shopping, think simple, seasonal and fresh. You’ll be creating new memories and ways of doing things. Really,you can’t go wrong with a fresh mindset!
When you’re preparing fresh veggies, lightly steam or microwave them (no boiling) so that they retain more of their water-soluble vitamins.
Cut back or eliminate butter, oil or other high fat, high-calorie ingredients that you might have added to them before.