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Matzo

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In the U.S., I developed a passion for Matzo, the traditional Jewish bread. It looks and tastes like water crackers, but the size is much bigger! Here, you have one American package (my favorite brand and type), and a Dutch one (recently discovered)!

U.S.A

Netherlands

They are both “erg lekker” (meaning very delicious)!

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Food Terms 101

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Most of the time, food claims are undecipherable and cryptic. Who knows the difference between low fat and reduced fat? I mean the real distinction: the actual simple concept or definition, call it as you prefer it, behind these confusing and, sometimes, mystifying words.

Is it better a calorie free, a sugar free or a fat free product? Does one exist with all these 3 characteristics? And are they healthier than the regular ones? If in a day you don’t need to exceed more than 56-78 total grams of fat (obviously, already including less than 16 grams of saturated fats, less than two grams of trans fat, and less than 300 mg of cholesterol for a 2,000 calories diet), how do you split the fat during your day?…Moment of suspense…Don’t worry, I will not do this calculation!

This is a little “formulary” that can help resolve this complicated and disturbing problem! All data is referred to the serving size of the food product (just remember to add it up if you, for example, live in the U.S.).

The Free Ones

 

Sugar free: meaning less than 0,5 grams of sugar.

Calories free: meaning less than 5 calories.

Fat free: meaning less than 0,5 grams of fat.

Cholesterol free: meaning less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat.

Sodium free: less than 5 milligrams of sodium (with no sodium chloride).

 

The Low Ones

 

Low Fat: meaning less than 3 grams of fat.

Low in saturated fat: 1 gram of saturated fat or less (no more than 15% of the calories coming from saturated fat.

Low cholesterol: 20 milligrams (or less) of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat.

Very low sodium: 35 milligrams (or less) of sodium.

Low sodium: 140 milligrams (or less) of sodium.

 

The Reduced Ones!

 

Reduced fat: meaning at least 25% less fat than the regular product.

Reduced cholesterol: meaning at least 25% less cholesterol than the regular product and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat.

Reduced sodium: meaning at least 25% less sodium than the regular product.

 

The Exceptions!

 

Light: meaning at least one-third fewer calories than half the fat of the regular product, or no more than half the sodium of the regular product. (Are we really expected to do it?)

High fiber: 5 grams (or more) of fiber.

In other words: green light for the “x-free” products, yellow light for the “low ones”, and “almost red” light for the “reduced ones”. However, this works if you are only counting and focusing on the calories! But you also have to consider the nutritional value of the food you are about to eat and, sometimes, the “x-free, reduced and low versions” are not good enough for our health.

So, if you have to, count the calories, but always keep in mind the big picture and eat everything…just a little less than what you would normally do.

Enjoy!

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IN MILK WE TRUST

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Milk is the first food/beverage we all began with. Then, some went on sodas, others on water, high caffeine content drinks, juices, alcohol and other types of beverages. Our parents gave us milk when we needed it or when they did not understand why we had to scream so loudly and, supposedly, milk was the only answer to our problems. We all shared milk and cookies with classmates and friends during our play-dates, we drank it when we were sad, melancholic, sleepless, tired, without ideas, plans B and hopes. Milk was like a magic potion with the power of calming, relaxing us. A magic sponge that wiped our worries out and fixed everything.

Got insomnia? Drink a cup of hot milk! Got anxiety? Get a cup! Got sadness or loneliness? Again, get a cup! Got the flu or a cold? Get a cup! You only need to drink a cup of hot milk before going to sleep and…..tatatatata…..the magic is completed! For some reasons, probably unconsciously related to our childhood, milk clears out our mind, relaxes us and makes everything simpler. But, in order for the magic to be completed, you have to believe that you’ll succeed: believe in the power of milk.

Having said that, have you ever noticed how big has become the “milk section” in the grocery store? In the last years, food industries have introduced numerous and varied types of milk, from the classic milk powder to the Australian lime flavored milk. If you pay attention and look carefully through the shelves, you will be ale to find: whole milk, skimmed milk, 1%fat milk, 2% fat milk, organic milk, goat’s milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, oat milk, coconut milk, UHT (ultra heat treated) milk, flavored milk (chocolate, strawberries and vanilla are the most popular tastes), milk with Omega 3, milk with more calcium, grass milk, milk with fibers, lactose free milk, and probably much more products.

A simple action as buying the milk has become a complex and stimulating mission. You start to wonder when all of this differentiation in products began and how we managed in the past. It’s logical that food companies create new products to gain more customers and try to offer as many milk (or milk related) products as possible. However, I guess that, sometimes people miss the milkman who delivered to their doorsteps the only one type of milk available in the market. But since we all have different preferences and tastes, this huge and varied offer has become the normality; different products to satisfy different people, different supplies to fulfill different demands.

Do you spend too much time at the grocery wondering what types of milk you need to buy for breakfast? Are you confused between 1% fat milk and skimmed milk? Curious to know what grass milk is? Here, you find a little explanation!

Whole milk: no constituents have been removed; it has high content of saturated fat (3.5%) and sugars.

1% and 2% fat milk: contain 1% or 2% of saturated fat.

Skimmed milk: low content in saturated fat (average 0,1%) and cholesterol. It has almost all the fat removed.

Organic milk: produced with cows fed organic feed (no hormones, no antibiotics). Again, here you will be able to find all the different products (whole, skimmed, 1% 2% low fat etc).

Goat’s milk: high content in saturated fat, it can be an alternative for “milk sensitive people”.

Soy milk: made from soybeans. Low in saturated fat and cholesterol. It does not contain lactose. This product is usually consumed by vegans and vegetarians.

Almond milk: made from almonds. It does not contain lactose and cholesterol. Generally flavors and sugars are added. However, it is also possible to buy the unsweetened one. Good for vegans and vegetarians. It can be plain or with different flavors.

Rice milk (or rice drink, depending on the country where you live in): made from brown rice. It does not contain lactose and cholesterol but it has a high content of carbohydrates. Used by vegans, lactose intolerant and soy allergic people. It can be flavored.

Oat milk (or grain milk): made from pre-soaked oats. It does not contain lactose and cholesterol. It has a low content of saturated fat and proteins, and a high content of carbohydrates. It is low in calcium but there are available (of course!) the added formula.

Coconut milk: made from coconut. It has an high content of saturated fat.

UHT milk: ultra-heat treated milk in order to maintain its characteristics for a longer period of time.

Grass milk: made from cows fed only with fresh grasses and forages. (I don’t know what to say on this!!)

Omega 3/ calcium/ fiber milks: all made with addition of these ingredients.

Flavored milk: high content of sugars, colorings and natural OR artificial flavorings. Popular among the young generations, served in the majority of the American schools’ cafeterias instead of regular milk.

These are the main types of milk, but everyday some food companies develop a new product in order to satisfy the always numerous (really?) customers’ requests. I don’t know why but to me, the less ingredients a food label has, the better the food is. When I buy a beverage/food like milk, I prefer the simpler formula with no additions. We all have become used to new and richer flavors, but maybe the “plainer” a food is, the healthier it is for us.

Less ingredients = less additions, less food processing, less standardization of the tastes and, especially, less new terminology to learn, less questions to ask (and then to whom?), and less artificial-chemical added components. We just need a little bit of  “good judgment” and the time to read the label!

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A small great certainty

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In these uncertain times, I have a small silly certainty. I know for sure that whenever I will go, I will find a place that is always the same, independently from where I am. It does not matter if you are in New York, Rome, Chamonix, Sydney, Amsterdam or in another city, this place will always have the same interior, and sometimes exterior, of the other places. With its green and yellow sign, it welcomes you in every big or small city.

In this place, you know that you will not get any surprise. You know that you will not be disappointed, or at least, you know that the “food standards” are, and  always will be, the same as the others. This place will always offer that same menu and drinks. Even if you do not speak the official language of the country, you will still be able to understand and order from the menu the same thing you ate in Rio De Janeiro, Rome, Venice or London.

Perhaps, it will not have the same exact taste or perhaps it will. Some people will need to close their eyes while eating their food. Others will only need to sit inside the fast food, while some will need to cover their ears in order to not hear foreign languages. And then, the “magic” takes place: you can be wherever you want. You can, for a minute or for the entire duration of your meal, be in Vienna, Sydney, Rome, Oslo, and Miami or in every place, city you want to be. 

This is the magic of Subway (and of the other numerous fast food franchising). Last year, Subway surpassed McDonald’s and became the largest restaurant chain in terms of units. 33,749 Subway against 32,737 McDonald’s.

It’s called globalization. At the beginning I hated it, I thought each country had to keep its identity without being influenced by the others. Then, I started to accept it. We all have different tastes and preferences, so it’s a good thing to have the possibility to choose whatever you want to eat, wherever you are.

Now, after several movings (or move outs?) and travels, I find Subway very reassuring. It’s not that I eat there (my brother sometimes does and I just steal his chips!), but the fact that this little fast food could be found everywhere, it’s so comforting to me. It’s a kind of certainty that nobody can take away from me.

In New York, I had three or four Subway at one, two blocks from my apartment. In Rome (Italy), one. In Chamonix (France), another one. And where I’m moving soon (Netherlands), there will be another one. All people have their certainties. Some are more important than others. Some are untouchable, others exchangeable. Some are fundamentals, others frivolous. I have mine too: some are essentials and others silly.

However, Subway has recently become one of the trivial certainties of my life. I know that I will find one wherever I’ll go. I know that when I’ll pass by, I’ll remember where I’ve been and where I’m now (or just close my eyes and dream to be somewhere else). I know that if I feel sad, homesick or just nostalgic, I’ll only need to walk in, relax and smile in front of the numerous similarities of the “world Subway”. I know that if I feel happy and see it, I’ll think about all the others Subway I passed by, and I’ll reflect on how many things, choices, changes, decisions I’ve made until now and then.

I know that this is a weird kind of certainty, but it works for me. Subway always reminds me at the best periods (and not because I ate there) of my life. In all the places where I was happy, have created something (like friendships), realized projects and little dreams, there was at least one Subway. Is this a coincidence? Maybe. But I do not believe in coincidences and I have this small, silly certainty that Subway is a part (ok, very little part) of “my world”.

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STORY OF A GLOOMY LOVE AFFAIR

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In this post, I would like to tell you a story, a sad one. It’s a story about a relationship: a passionate, compulsive, extreme one. A relationship that was exceptional, unique and a little bit obsessive. Occasionally, it had been irrational and ridiculous. Regularly, it had been outstanding, bright and exclusive. Certain days, I took it for granted, while others I was very devoted and loyal. Sometimes, I felt as if I could not live without it and, other times, I could not stand it anymore. A relationship that now has become even a little bit dangerous and unhealthy. What am I talking about? Don’t worry I haven’t become a stalker (or not yet!) Let me explain: I have a love affair with sushi, sashimi, tartare and with all variations of raw fish.

I still remember the first time I met it (ate it) and, as it happens in many real love stories, it was not love at first sight! However, I gave it another chance and started to like it, until when, I irrationally madly fell in love with it. It was like an epiphany. Then, it’s history and it’s still as if I had always eaten it, as if sushi was made for me, as if, instead of being Italian, I were Japanese.

As I said, this relationship became a little bit unhealthy when an unexpected problem came up. The name is Anisakis (Anisakiasis), a small parasite. Discovered in the 60s in the Netherlands, Japan and the Pacific coast of South America, these little worms have now spread all over the world and the seas.

Unfortunately, it is possible to find this parasite in raw fish if this is not prepared and conserved properly. Indeed, the only way to eliminate the Anisakis is to refrigerate the raw fish for at least 24 hours at -20° C. Another way of killing the parasite is to cook the raw fish at 60° C for at least 1 minute. If buyers, sellers, and consumers follow these standards the risk of contamination decrease drastically.

Fortunately, these worms are visible to human eyes: they look like thin, short (from 1 to 3 cm) white hair. Are you wandering if the sushi you ate at lunch had them? These are the symptoms you would have: nausea, abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. In the more serious cases, if the worms go through the intestine or colon, they might even cause a severe immune granulomatous reaction (originate a mass) that needs to be removed by surgery.

If you like raw fish, I know how you feel. Shock and astonishment do not fully describe our feelings. However, this does not mean that we have to stop eating raw fish, but only that we have to be more careful and aware of where we buy and eat it!

Purchase frozen fish, go only to the restaurants you trust and where it’s stated, on the menu, that all raw fish has been treated at -20° C for at least 24 hours. In Europe, there is a specific law, Reg. CE 853/2004, which defines the procedures to follow in handling, conserving and selling raw products. If you are interested in knowing the American regulation, this is the link of the FDA guideline.

The species more affected are: anchovies, sardines, herrings, mackerels, cods, plaices, haddocks, flukes, pacific salmons, squids, flounders and monkfishes. The Anisakis can be also found in fish undercooked, marinated, pickled, cold-smoked (where the temperature does not exceed 60° C), and braised. This parasite resists to acids (lemon and vinegar) and salt.

Read the labels, take a look at the menu and ask questions! We all have the right to know if the raw fish we consume had been properly prepared and stored.

However, even if I pay attention to all these preventing measures before eating my raw fish, this is a gloomy phase of my life. Naively, I thought I would have been stronger. I thought I would have resisted. I thought I would not have changed my mind and nobody would have influenced me. I thought it could be mine forever. Now, I know that this is the end of a love affair…a regrettably exceptional good and tasty one!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Hello readers, friends, family and acquaintances,

this is the first post of my blog. Today, it’s the day where everything began and something will begin, or better, will continue.  

I know this can sound a little bit corny or weird but let me explain. Today, June 22nd, it’s my birthday and I decided to begin this blog…guess what? Today!

Therefore, let’s celebrate this “holy” day and happy birthday to me!

Year zero starts from here.

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TUNA LOVERS? BUY THE RIGHT CAN!

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It all began last week with the arrival of the African heat wave that reached Italy. The temperature is rising every day and Rome is sticky, hot and humid. Romans are used to it and just call it the “primo caldo” (the first hot)! I’m sure it will be a very long summer in the city.

The main problem is that with this hot weather, you cannot enjoy pasta and pizza the same way as before. Suddenly, you have to forget about cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana, suppli’ and fried food. You just feel eating something cold and light such as salad, caprese (tomatoes and mozzarella), sushi, milkshakes or veggies juices, ice cream and granita.

So, we can forget about sushi (Rome is not known in the world for it!), milkshakes and juices (not very popular either, even though Italians are very big consumers of iced tea-I will write about it-), ice cream and granita are wonderful but they are not the healthiest choices we can make. And, believe it or not, even mozzarella is not too light!

We are left with salad. My favorite one is with lettuce, feta cheese and tomatoes but after a while, the taste has become annoying. I tried lettuce with chicken and tomatoes but the fact that you have to cook the chicken before putting it into the salad just killed me. It’s definitely too hot to cook!

Soy sprouts and hearts of palm? Too difficult to find! Canned tuna, corn and carrots? Love it! But the point now is choosing the right can of tuna at the grocery store.

Have you ever noticed how many brands of canned tuna there are on the shelves? I made a small research on the Greenpeace website and I discovered that they made a list of the best canned tuna producers according to the fishing methods used, species of tuna fish stocked, views of the establishment of marine reserve and labeling (in terms of clearness).

Ready to discover how much scored your favorite tuna brand? Below there is a list of the main rankings…I was very disappointed by mine!

ITALY:

On this website you can find all the complete info. According to Greenpeace the best one is As Do Mar and the second one is MareBlu. In the middle we have Rio Mare, Coop, Esselunga, Callipo. The least sustainable are San Cusumano, Consorcio, Carrefour, Auchan, Nostromo, Mare Aperto, Conad and Maruzzella. If you click on the can you are interested in, you will find the whole explanation of the score.

 UK:

On this website you can find all the complete info. The best two are Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. Then we have Waitrose, Co-operative, Tesco, and ASDA. The least sustainable are Morrisons, John West and Princes. If you click on the can you are interested in, you will find the whole explanation of the score.

AUSTRALIA PACIFIC:

On this website you can find all the complete info. The best are Fish 4 Ever, Safcol, Aldi Portview Pole & Line, Coles Pole & Line, John West Pole & Line. Then we have a very long list of those companies who must improve. If you click on the can you are interested in, you will find the whole explanation of the score.

U.S.A:

I was not able to find the list. However, I found this paragraph in a research regarding the sustainability in canned tuna (click here):

“Until conventional canned tuna companies
like Chicken of the Sea 

agree to offer a
better and more environmentally responsible canned tuna product on the US market, Greenpeace encourages consumers to
consider other options.

For better skipjack “chunk light” products:
consider purchasing Whole Foods’ 365
pole-and-line skipjack or Safeway’s Safeway Select FAD-free skipjack.

For better albacore “solid white” products:
consider purchasing high-quality boutique
brands such as Wild Planet pole-and-line
albacore and other similar domestic labels.”

Now, whenever you are, buy the right canned tuna for your salad or sandwich! It’s a small action to show canned tuna producers that consumers prefer and choose a brand over another also for these reasons. Just remember: it all starts with us!

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EGGS’ DICTIONARY

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In Italy there is a famous saying: “Country you go, custom you find” that in English could be translated as: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. It means that every country has its own culture, tradition, food and, of course, food labeling!

I don’t know if you feel the same, but reading a label has become increasingly difficult, unless you have a dictionary with you! When I first moved to the U.S., I was surprised by all the terms that were used to differentiate a product from another.

The first things I did entering into a grocery store were pulling out a sweater (to protect me from the air-conditioning and from the cold showcases) and my glasses to read the food labels! Doing grocery was a “hard” job due to the cold and to my poor knowledge of the “food terms”. Then, if you add that I’m curious by nature and in a general American grocery there are products and brands totally unknown in Europe, you will understand why it took me hours before buying something to eat or drink.

The more difficult items to buy were meat and eggs. I was completely lost between free-range chickens, free-cage ones, naturally raised, pasture raised and so on. The same thing happened when I moved back to Italy where, instead of terms to indicate the type of eggs, they use a numeric code. However, luckily for me, here, I do not have to use a sweater since the air-conditioning is not too appreciated.

This is a comparison between the American and Italian eggs’ labels.

U.S.A.

Cage Free Eggs: chickens are not kept in cages, have continuous access to food and water. However, most of the time, they do not have access to the outdoors.

Free Range Eggs: chickens are not kept in cages and have access to the outdoors. However, there is no regulation about the amount of time and quality of outdoor access. No restrictions on the chickens’ food. This system of production is more expensive due to the higher production costs and lower volume per farm.

Certified Humane: chickens are out of cages inside barns and warehouses. They may not have access to the outdoors and the producers must follow definite and precise standards. http://www.certifiedhumane.com

Organic Eggs: chickens are kept free of cages with outdoor access. Their food must be organic and vegetarian. Growth hormones and antibiotics are prohibited. Producers must follow the USDA organic standards.

Animal Welfare Approvedsmall eggs’ producers with up to 500 chickens that can spend unlimited time outside on pesticide free-pasture. Chickens do not have their beaks cut.

These are misleading terms:  natural, naturally raised, no hormones, no antibiotics do not mean nothing since these words are not regulated!

Take some time to look at these slides, I’m sure they will surprise and shock you! http://www.humanemyth.org/cagefree.htm

This is a great website with a lot of information regarding eggs and the terminology (look the “Eggcyclopedia”). http://www.incredibleegg.org/

So, what type of eggs you have to buy? Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved and Organic! Try to remember these terms on your next trip to the grocery store!

ITALY & E.U. 

In the E.U. the label consists of a code of 11 (or less) letters and numbers. This code indicates the country of production, the method of production (cage, free cage, free range cage, organic) and the specific area and farm of production. Obviously, the methods of production are the same of the U.S., only the labeling method is different!

This is an example of an Italian label:

This is a U.K. label:

It is a MUST spending a little bit of our time reading and understanding the label in order to insure a more correct, “painless” or more ethical method of production. Therefore, if you want to eat eggs in the E.U. be sure to buy the “0” or a least the  “1” types.