Category Archives: Food

Why Do We Even Have Those Seven Fishes?

The Feast of the Seven Fishes. It wouldn’t be Italian Christmas Eve without them.

As far back as I can remember, Christmas Eve was my absolute favorite night of the year. The day was spent in feverish anticipation of the food, songs, presents, and other shenanigans to come. And one smell punctuates all those shenanigans: fishy fish fish.

When we walked up the brick stairs to my Nonna’s house, we were greeted by a giant plastic light-up Santa and, as we opened the front door, the wafting smell of seafood. Entering the kitchen, we were met by an already watery-eyed Nonna getting emotional whilst stirring a pot full of tentacles.

Over the years our table was graced with scallops, calamari, octopus, haddock, cod, shrimp, salmon, and sometimes, when times were good, crab legs. Of course, I didn’t touch any of it for 25 years, but once I finally decided to eat fish, it was damn good.

Nothing says class like mudslide shots and a middle finger. Just another X-mas with the Garofolis.
Nothing says class like mudslide shots and a middle finger. Just another X-mas with the Garofolis.

Recently, someone asked me why we have seven fishes on Christmas Eve and I realized that I actually had no idea. So in honor of the approaching holiday–one I’ll be spending with my Italian side of the family this year–I did a little digging.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a distinctly Italian-American tradition, although its origins are rumored to be from Southern Italy. According to all-knowing Wikipedia (which is a totally trusted source), Southern Italians, in their obsession with the Virgin Mary, would fast during a period they called The Vigil, which is basically the time spent waiting for Mary to huff and puff and blow that holy child out in a dirty manger.

What does all this have to do with fish? I’m getting there. Apparently all that omega-3 and cholesterol helped the Virgin Mary have a smooth delivery.

Okay, that’s a boldfaced lie. But here’s the likely answer. Catholics are the worst kinds of vegetarians. In order to fast during high holy days, we refrain from eating meat. But yeah, we totally go to town on that fish. It reminds me of this scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding:

So Southern Italians would maybe eat fish on Christmas Eve to honor the time the Virgin Mary spent destroying her vagina giving birth. Take a minute to let that sink in. If you’re anything like me, you are making all kinds of gross fish puns in your head right now.

Anywho, us Italian-Americans…we completely bastardized the tradition. Because just one fish isn’t enough for us gluttons, we decided to go with seven. No one knows why that number, but it seems appropriately too large for one meal. Which is apropos, since I keep seeing this being shared around the Internets:

italians_meme

So there you have it. That’s as close to an “answer” as I could find doing a couple lazy Google searches. If you want more serious journalisming, you’ll have to pay me. A lovely seafood meal would go a long way…

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Read Little House on the Prairie

That Laura Ingalls Wilder. She knew a thing or two about surviving tough times.

She slept in a covered wagon and ate dinner by campfire. She lived in a bungalow dug into the banks of a creek and swept the sod floor using twigs. She spent a long winter stranded on the prairie with no supplies, grinding wheat in a coffee mill to help feed her family.

And then there’s me. I’m desperately avoiding running to the fridge to gorge myself on leftovers.

When I find myself in times of trouble, I just can’t let it be. I think and overthink and think some more, and then, because it’s comfortable and it’s never let me down, I put food in my mouth hole and I feel momentarily better. That is…until I step on the scale in the morning.

The weight came on surprisingly quick. It didn’t take much to undo years of clean eating and daily walks. First, I was having fun trying all the new restaurants in San Jose and getting to know my coworkers. Then I was too busy to go to the gym. Then I was exhausted from my long commute and attempting the work/family hustle. Next thing I knew, the snacks were calling my name at 10pm. The number on the scale kept climbing. And as it did, my mood and self-confidence plummeted.

And now I’m here, 20 lbs later, reading Little House on the Prairie.

IMG_5893I’m usually pretty decent at self-motivation. Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve overcome a few obstacles in my past, and when I did, I thought of myself as Laura Ingalls Wilder: strong as a stout French horse and full of pluck. And that’s why, when my own motivational tools fail me, I pick up a dog-eared copy of the classic and remind myself what real grit looks like. It’s a pioneer family with the balls to go it alone, to make up their own rules, to battle the elements and the lawlessness and the wild.

So yeah, maybe they can help me with my 17-day diet.

Those who’ve read this blog from its early days know I’ve attempted the holiday diet before in the past and failed miserably. But with the help of Little House on the Prairie, I will persevere and at least try and make it through without tacking another 10 lbs onto my increasingly doughy frame.

Potential pitfall: some of the best parts of the Little House books are the descriptions of delish down-home Americana meals. Pies and turkeys and sage stuffing and warm bread with butter. Pickled preserves and tasty peaches and whipped cream and…

yeah, I just walked to the fridge.

Goddammit! Can anyone recommend a classic, feel-good motivational children’s book series about a skinny bitch who thinks of food as pure utility and survives on raw kale and coconut oil?

How to Rebel Against New Year’s Resolutions: Eat Like a Champion

I entered into this New Year just like everyone else: fresh with optimism, full of heady ideas about eating healthy and making some smart choices in my life.

That lasted all of one day.

Remember last year when I was all “I resolve to make things different!” and then I had the worst year of my life? This year, I’m taking the opposite approach. I’m just going to keep doing whatever it is I’ve been doing—and that includes stuffing my face as though I’ll never see another morsel of food again.

I devoured this in two sittings.
I devoured this in two sittings.

I’m not quite sure where this is coming from. Part of it may be in rebellion, since three-quarters of my office are on this detox/whole foods kick and they’ve lost a collective umpteen-thousand pounds. I’m happy for them, and they seem happy too, but I have no energy/desire to join them. I’d rather be enjoying my meatballs and hot dogs and pizza and cheese (even though I recently discovered I’m lactose intolerant. Seriously.)

Maybe it’s just that I’ve come upon a rather difficult time of the year, emotionally. Today marks the one-year anniversary of my cousin’s death. (Boy this post just took a sudden emo turn.) I’m not going to dwell on that here. But I don’t think the late-night trips to the fridge are happening in a vacuum. And that’s all I have to say about that.

I’ve been making half-hearted attempts to reel in the eating. I’ll pack myself a really healthy salad for lunch, and it will be delicious, and I will enjoy it. But 30 minutes later, I’m snacking on chicken puffs in the kitchen and contemplating whether to run out and grab something for second lunch.

Late nights are the worst, though. Once again, I’ll eat a decently healthy dinner with fair portions that leave me satisfied but not stuffed. But once 10pm rolls around, all bets are off. I’ve cracked into the leftovers like a burglar cracking a safe, waiting until Alex goes upstairs so I can shamelessly stuff my face with meats and cheeses and sauces and crackers and chocolate. Each time I think, “Okay, that’s enough. This is getting gross.” Then a minute later, I hop up off the couch and go grab “just one more thing” until I’m full to the point of discomfort and regret.

And yet…

There’s something freeing about not really giving a crap. I see everyone around me scrambling to be healthy and I’m all “see you on the other side!” Because I know come February, they’ll start sneaking their snacks, just one cheat here, another cheat there. And by March they’ll be in full-blown munchie mode and I’ll be all “Welcome to the club! Was it worth it?”

So for lunch today, I’m foregoing all pretenses and going to get myself a delicious tri-tip sandwich from Mundos. You really only live once. And I’m going to live my life enjoying all the delicious food this world has to offer.

…that is, until my pants stop fitting. Which may be sometime next week.

I Just Might Be a Real Californian Now

In a few months I will have lived in California for eight years. That’s only one year less than I lived in New York. Even though I’ve been here a while, I’ve always considered myself an East Coast person at heart. A transplant. A Masshole/New Yorker just kind of living among the free-spirited, easy-going Californians—something of an outsider.

But something happened this week that triggered a realization: over the last eight years, a slow, subtle transformation has been taking place. I’m becoming a real Californian—and I’m not sure I don’t like it.

After my pseudo-failed epidural injection, a kind of desperation took over where I was willing to try anything—even alternative methods I previously dismissed as hippie hocus pocus. So I reached out to some of my West Coast friends who’ve been talking up essential oils and was immediately bombarded by positive testimonials and a kind of “welcome to the club” orientation. A coworker friend brought me a couple samples and I applied them immediately. I was dazzled. They aren’t a cure, and the pain is still there, but I could see the benefits. My headaches are gone. My sinus pressure is relieved. I’m more alert. My desire to snack (out of boredom or just plain sadness) is suppressed. And the pain is muted, dulled.

Suddenly I found myself talking up essential oils to my other friends and family and I stopped in my tracks. Good God, when did it happen? When did I become THAT GIRL FROM CALIFORNIA? The one who does yoga and eats organic kale chips and quinoa and goes on hikes and says that things are rad?

salad
This arugula, quinoa, and almond salad was not just healthy, but delicious.

I think it started the minute I got here and realized how beautiful this part of the world is. I wanted to explore, to hike the trails that lead to the beaches, to taste the wine that’s practically grown in my backyard. I found myself researching “clean eating” and drastically changed my eating habits within the first couple years of living here. But I just saw that as making healthier choices as I got older, not adopting the California lifestyle.

Next, I found that my drinking habits were changing. My California friends did not drink as heavily and as socially as my East Coast friends and family. When we get together, we’re more likely to drink tea and coffee than beer and cocktails. We play board games, run 5k races (well, not me, but I would if I could), visit Star Wars exhibits at the Tech Museum, or just chill at each other’s houses and watch our kids play. I think I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve been to the bars together. Again, I thought this was just a product of growing up—and part of it is—but another part has a distinctly West Coast flavor. I can’t picture my New York friends hanging out and drinking tea on a Saturday night. Just not gonna happen.

beach
My idea of a perfect day.

When my insomnia started rearing its head during grad school, I bought lavender-scented spray and meditation CDs. I took melatonin (more natural) instead of hardcore sleeping pills. I settled in for a bath and a good book.

And now that I’ve exhausted all that Western medicine has to offer, I’m sitting here with my essential oils and looking up Feldenkrais classes and acupuncture specialists in the area.

Guys…I think the transformation is nearly complete. I’m a real Californian now. I’m….gulp…almost…actually….happy.

Hanging Onto My Italian Heritage

Once a week I make pasta for my family. It’s a tradition that goes back to my childhood. Every Sunday, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and I would all gather at Nonna’s house for macaroni. I’ve been eating pasta once a week for pretty much…ever since.

pasta
Every good Italian has a handful of these wooden spoons.

I don’t have time these days for the full authentic sauce and homemade meatballs every week, but I try to mix it up. Sometimes it’s simply penne with frozen turkey meatballs, other times it’s bowtie pasta with leeks and pancetta, other (rare) times it’s the real-deal pasta carbonara.  Whether it’s ghetto bottled sauce with packaged chicken sausage or the more gourmet preparation, I always look forward to pasta nights.

Problem is, my family seems to be losing interest.

First it started when Alex decided he wasn’t really into the turkey meatballs (even though Lucas and I enjoyed them both for their taste and their simplicity). Then all of a sudden Lucas started pushing his macaroni around his plate, picking out only the meat bits. One day I packed pasta for lunch for Lucas, as I typically do when we have leftovers. Pre-school sent him home with the thermos—full. They said he wouldn’t touch it.

Lately, when I tell Alex I’m making pasta for dinner, I can hear him sigh in resignation. In a last-ditch effort to peak his interest, I went all out this week and cooked rigatoni with a bolognese sauce made from ground grass-fed angus beef and lamb. As Alex and Lucas tucked in, I looked on anxiously, hopefully…

The apathy was palpable. They just don’t care about pasta anymore.

Guys…I need to have pasta in my life. I can’t NOT have it. I finally worked up the courage to ask my husband, “Do you just not…like it?” And with great trepidation (because he knows how I feel about Italian food), he answered that he liked it, but just felt I made it too much.

Not going to lie. This hurts in my green, white, and red-striped bleeding heart. I’ve tried hard to hang onto my Italian heritage, but when you live 3,000 miles away from your Italian relatives, and the best slice of pizza in your community comes from a Round Table chain, well, it’s easy to find it slipping away.

Italian pantryThere are little things in my kitchen that are definitively Italian. I’ve only got the best olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. I have a pepper mill. My pantry is full of peperoncinis and olives. I have a wine rack that needs weekly refilling. But if you open up my fridge, you’d hardly know an Italian gal is in charge of its contents. Tortillas, lentils, beans, albondigas (all thanks to my mother-in-law sending home tons of leftovers). Maybe sometimes there’s a handful of fresh parsley and basil. More often it’s cilantro.

My boys have Mexican taste buds. And my poor Italian tummy, while appreciative of the deliciousness of Mexican cuisine, just craves those macaroni Sundays the way a crack addict craves the rock.

How do I reconcile this? How do I keep my little family happy at dinnertime without sacrificing my weekly pasta? Do I change up the recipes? Do I (gulp) just make it every other week? Or do I tell them to suck it up and eat the damn pasta?

You know what my Italian heritage tells me to do? It tells me to Mangia! Mangia! and just fuggetaboutit.

My Mom Blessed Me With Her Cooking Gene for Just One Dish

When I was a little girl, I was an extremely picky eater. My poor Italian mom had to make bland baked chicken and rice pilaf for dinner practically every night. (Except Sundays. Sunday was always macaroni day—no ifs, ands, or buts.) By the time I headed off to college in New York, I was so sick of chicken and rice—and thus, mom’s cooking—that I actually enjoyed the prison-like freshman meal plan food for the first month or so. Then I came home for Thanksgiving and was transformed.

Oh my God. My mom is an amazing cook.

Once I threw aside my finicky food behaviors in favor of a more mature eat all the things approach, I realized that my mom is an actual goddess in the kitchen. Everything she touches is gold. I know a lot of people say their mom is the best cook, but keep in mind: fuck you. (Hat tip to Rob Delaney.) Still, of all the delicious things she has conjured up, one dish stands out for its genius in simplicity. Behold: the crab artichoke dip.

crab artichoke dip

When my mom first whipped together this party favorite, clouds parted and angels sang their praises. A single beam of light came down from the heavens and God himself was like, “Hey, can you share this recipe with Mary?” My mom obliged because she’s got 50 million other knock-em-dead dishes, and she figured Mary could use a few tips.

Admittedly, I am not the cook my mother is. I didn’t really start trying until I was 27 years old and had moved out of New York, where I used my oven to store the purses that wouldn’t fit in my closet. Now that I’m working full-time and commuting and bringing up a child, I find myself throwing together the bland baked chicken and rice pilaf because 1. it’s really simple and I can walk away from the stove to get other stuff done and 2. my kid will actually eat it. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe this is the definition of irony.

Despite my shortcomings in the kitchen, I can make a mean crab dip. If you invite me to your house for a party, I’m bringing it. (Though I’m not sharing this recipe with you folks because this is the only thing I bring to the table. I will only let leak this one fact: there are but six ingredients. Six ingredients, and without fail, my party platter always comes home clean.)

Next time you have a party, invite me over and request the crab dip. For one, you’ll thank me, you really will. But for another, it will make me feel like, even for just a brief moment, I might actually have a shot at being the amazing cook my mom is. If she suffered through 18 years of bland chicken and rice and could produce something like THIS, then there’s hope for me yet.

If You Could Commit Any Crime, What Would It Be?

Yesterday, me and my Adventurous Lunch crew at work (and by Adventurous Lunch, we mean eating Subway sandwiches in the upstairs conference room) were talking about a terrible, awful movie called The Purge. I’ve never seen it, but apparently, the entire premise of the movie is that the government allows people to commit any crime without punishment for one day. Besides the obvious ridiculousness of this plot line (for example, WHY would any government EVER DO THAT?), it got me thinking about the type of crimes I might commit if I were given a free pass.

Would I rob a bank? I mean, I’d love some extra cash, but the logistics of that are too complicated. I’d need an Ocean’s Eleven crew, guns, gadgets, etc. I’d have to be willing to hurt people to get the money. Nah. Not my scene.

Would I kill someone for revenge? Nope. Even if it were technically legal, I am not a monster.

Would I steal a car? Shoplift? Create a ponzi scheme? Nope, nope, nope.

So what would I do? I would barge into people’s homes just after they got back from their trip to Whole Foods and I would take all their artisan breads, cage-free eggs, and gently-massaged kale.

Yup, you heard that right. I would steal your organic produce, bitches.

Wendy kicks down door, startles young child playing with his blocks and demands of his terrified mother and father: “Give me all your cheese!”

For many of my friends who have engaged in these types of fantasy what-would-you-do-if-you-could-have-anything conversations, I’m sure there will be lots of head shaking. For example, when I was asked what kind of super power I would have if I were a super hero, I replied that I’d like to be able to speak and understand every language. I think we can all agree that’s pretty lame, but I stand by my choice.

So why would I steal food from people? Why wouldn’t I just go to Whole Foods and raid their grocery store? Have you been to Whole Foods? First, I would have to withstand judgy looks from faux hippies as I loaded specialty olives into plastic—THAT’S RIGHT, I SAID PLASTIC—containers. Then I’d get completely sidetracked by the essential oils aisle. Finally, I’d steal waaaaaaay too much, and since I’m on a diet-thingy, I need some form of checks and balances. Plus, I’d love to see the look on people’s faces when I burst into their homes demanding the contents of their fridge.

Whole Foods
I would take all of this. All of it.

So what would you do if you could commit any crime? Perhaps after reading this blog, you’d steal my identity, change the password to my Word Press account, and deactivate The Olive Gal website. It’s a tempting thought, I’m sure.

Attempt Number 5,637 at Losing Those Last Five Pounds

those last five pounds
Is this girl happy about her weight? Upset? So much conflicting body language. At least her underwear is cute.

Ugh. Weight loss. Could there be a less appealing topic? I’m avoiding sweets, I’m eating healthy, I’m exercising, blah blah blabbity blah.

I’ve had five pounds to lose for the better part of a year and I’ve only made marginal, half-assed attempts at doing so. Mostly because it was no big deal. Who cares if I have an extra five pounds on me? I’m gonna put a baby in there soon anyway, so may as well enjoy myself!

Yeah, well, the baby thing ain’t happening, so perhaps the weight loss thing needs to now.

I know being five pounds lighter is not going to fill the baby-sized hole in my heart. But it doesn’t hurt to start feeling better about yourself—even if it’s in the most superficial way possible. My hope is that feeling a little more fabulous in my clothes will boost my self-esteem a smidge. And then doing a little bit more activity will bring on the happy hormones. And then all of a sudden perhaps, maybe, the cloud will begin to lift a little.

There have been some bright spots in an otherwise dark time. My son is being adorable. My husband is being his awesome, supportive self. But I still feel myself slipping out of conversations and drifting off into a place of self-pity and remorse. It’s going to take some time. It’s going to be a bit until I’m fully present. I don’t really feel like talking or thinking about this stuff anymore. So I’m relishing in those bright spots and waiting for time to pass. In the meantime, I could use a nice distraction.

And if anything can distract you from unhappiness, it’s adding a whole other thing to be unhappy about to your life. (At least, a whole other thing that has nothing to do with grief—except perhaps the loss of gorging yourself on your favorite foods. Goodbye, night cheese! Sniff, sniff.)

So byebye, five pounds. Byebye, baby dreams. And byebye, night cheese. I’ll miss you guys. I won’t, however, miss not fitting in my jeans.

Sorry West Coast: East Coast Food Kicks Your Butt

After seven years of living in California and visiting gorgeous places like Napa, Sonoma, San Francisco, San Diego, Yosemite, Paso Robles, and of course, Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey, I have just one thing to say:

All your food sucks.

Yes, California likes to brag about its locally-grown ingredients, its organic, sustainable, gluten-free options, its vegetarianism, its veganism, its healthy, fresh approach to food. That all sounds delicious to me. But then I sit down at a restaurant—whether a fancy establishment or a hole-in-the-wall local favorite—and each and every time I walk away thinking…meh. That was a little above average, at best.

child eating seaweed salad
Nope.

Bland. Homogenized. Inauthentic. I’ve tried Korean, Thai, Japanese (sushi and yakitori), Italian (don’t get me STARTED on how bad the Italian food is out here…and now I’m weeping), seafood, Greek, all-American, German, Indian. They all blend together in rather unmemorable experiences, disappointment in the options, and long sighs at having spent precious, precious date night time and money on restaurants that I wouldn’t frequent again if I had better options.

Now, I am spoiled when it comes to food. First, my Nonna and my mother were/are two of the very best cooks in the world. Nothing, NOTHING beat my Nonna’s manicotti, and my mom can make a Thanksgiving stuffing that you would take home and make out with a little, if you could. I also spent nine glorious years in New York City, a restaurant mecca with literally thousands of incredible options at my doorstep. I still get upset when I think about certain places that I wish with all my heart I could just pop over to on a Saturday night. I mourn them, truly. Taisho, I’m looking at you.

But even far less prestigious locations on the East Coast have far better food options than some of the fancier areas here in California. I’m from Worcester, Massachusetts. Look it up. It ain’t pretty. But there are about two dozen restaurants there that can kick all of the restaurants’ in Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove butts. Their dishes are flavorful, they offer interesting combinations, and avocado is not an ingredient on a pizza anywhere, anywhere on any menu anywhere.

Every time I go home to visit, I have two things and two things only on my agenda: see as many family members as I can, and eat as many delicious foods as I can. I even make a point of ordering take-out from our local Chinese food place because EVEN THE CHINESE TAKE-OUT IS BETTER ON THE EAST COAST. Someone please find me a good Chinese food place in California, for the love of God. They are all terrible.

There are two things that California gets right, and it has every right to lord them over the East Coast. They are wine and Mexican food. That Tex-Mex-sour-cream-and-grated-cheddar-cheese excuse for Mexican food they serve on the East Coast is abominable. Come to California and have a real taco. Better yet, come to dinner at my mother-in-law’s house. You will never eat at Cantina East Coast Wannabe Mexicana again.

Also, my $6 bottle of grocery store Pinot Noir is way better than some of the $30 bottles you get at fancy East Coast restaurants. So there’s that.

But I miss the East Coast food in a way that makes my insides ache. Yes, your winters are terrible. Yes, you have so many damn trees that you feel a little claustrophobic. Yes, your rotaries and street lights are confusing. But your food. Your food is a damn masterpiece. Every time I sit down to a disappointing meal here in California, just know I’m thinking of you, East Coast food. I’m thinking of you.

I’m Taking Diet Pills and Don’t You Judge Me

Alright, so it turns out I need a little assistance in the motivation/weight-loss department. (Also in the happiness department, but one thing at a time, Olive Gal. One thing at a time.) I don’t know whatever possessed me to click on one of those Facebook sponsored posts on my news feed the other day, but I did, and I turned up this terribly written obvious piece of marketing that tried to play itself off like it was an article in Cosmopolitan. Long story short, it still did its job, which was to sell me on these miracle diet pills that help you burn fat and say no to that third helping of manicotti.

Now wait a minute, step off the brakes. Yes, you probably just rolled your eyes so hard you did a backflip (thank you, husband, for contributing that awesome metaphor). I know it’s easy to judge people who do stupid things. But try not to this time because I saw it on Dr. Oz, so that must mean it works.

garcinia cambogia

I was lured in because the pill says it helps with the holy trifecta of problematic areas for me: energy, serotonin levels, and appetite. You already know I can’t get off my ass. And any good Italian will tell you: a gaze into our stomachs is like staring down into the black abyss of the lower depths of the ocean. Food is too good.

So I caved. But before anyone judges me, I did look into this stuff and am not ingesting legal speed or any other type of carcinogen. The pill is basically the extract of an Indian fruit rind and that’s IT. I’ve only taken it for less than a day, so I can’t tell you if it works. I CAN tell you that it makes me pee like a grandpa with a swollen prostate.

Y’all ever hear of Garcinia Cambogia? Am I poisoning my body or throwing $30 down the toilet on placebos?