Day 1 of the Low FODMAP Diet

I cleared out the kitchen cupboard this morning. Everything that I can’t eat (but my boyfriend can) has been moved to a higher shelf so that they are out of my direct eyeline when I am looking for ingredients.

Seeing how bare my section had become, I went to the supermarket. It took me an hour, assessing each item, reading the ingredients’ list. “Fucking cipolla” I cursed quietly but repeatedly. Many gluten-free, lactose-free, sugar-free, seemingly-ok foods had onion powder lurking at the bottom of the list of ingredients.

One of the biggest changes for me is having to now see food as alimentation. I’ve always eaten for pleasure. I enjoy the flavours, the textures and would eat as healthily and as variedly as possible.

For example, yesterday, I would have taken a fennel bulb, sliced it finely, added a glug of olive oil, maybe some lemon juice and a sprinkling of fleur de sel and would put it in a serving bowl so we should share it equally between the two of us.

Today, I took the fennel bulb and I weighed it. 170g. I consulted the booklet and then cut off a third (approximately the 50g that I’m allowed on the FODMAP diet) and put that on my plate.

bowl close up delicious fennel

I’m no longer looking at food thinking: ‘oooh, that’d be good, I could make it into….’ Instead, I’m double-checking the ingredients list and cursing.

Over lunch, I explained to the boy what this means for him.

Before we would only eat meat once or twice a week. Our diet was based around wholemeal flour – for pasta, as well as our sourdough bread or pizza dough – spelt grains, chickpeas, lentils and fresh, organic vegetables straight from the allotment. (Did you read about my orto?) All of these have now been moved to the top shelf (apart from the vegetables – fortunately I hadn’t planted anything on the red list) and I’m going back to basics.

Here’s what’s on the menu for the next couple of days: steak and potatoes and a boiled or steamed vegetable. Chicken curry and rice (skipping the onion, obviously.) Vegetable stir-fry with rice vermicelli or buckwheat noodles…

Just one last thing, even though this diet is restrictive, alternative-diet foodstuffs were much easier to find in the supermarket than I had feared. They cost considerably more but if this diet is only for a month or two, I can deal with that.

Starting a Low FODMAP Diet

I’ve been struggling with my gut over the last few months. What I thought was a relatively straightforward lactose intolerance seems, actually, to be more complicated.

Certain foods will trigger unsavoury reactions – sometimes immediately, other times within a half hour. There’s no simply identifiable pattern. Cheap bottled beers can provoke a sudden reaction, or a vodka and lemonade, and other times just a handful of humble Malteasers will render me horizontal.

After a tense couple of months of me keeping track of everything I ate and drank, my gut still wasn’t giving me a discernable answer. It’s somewhat hypocritical of me (as a person who writes about food, wine and cheese online) to say that I didn’t trust the suggestions that I would read on health / food / lifestyle webzines.

I went to see a specialist dietetian yesterday and after a very informative consultation, the conclusion was these three simple words “low FODMAP diet.”

I was sent away with a couple of hefty booklets, told to read them carefully, to follow them strictly and to make contact with the doctor again in a month’s time.

FODMAP is a simple abbreviation for the diverse and complex categories of food which the human body finds particularly hard to digest. The FODMAP diet is essentially an elimination diet. I need to completely cut out these food groups (namely, lactose, gluten, beans, pulsees and legumes, and certain fruits and vegetables) in order to reintroduce them one-by-one again gradually and sense my body’s reaction.

It’s going to be tough, especially when going out with friends socially, to stick to this diet. I was aware of the FODMAP diet even before the consultation but I had hoped that there might have been a simpler solution. I guess my gut knew that this was the next step…. but my brain didn’t want to accept it.

I’ll start the diet tomorrow with the plan to stick to it religiously for the next 4 weeks.

It means no more pizza, pasta, bread, (unless they are gluten free); onions and garlic are absolute no; chick peas, beans and pulses are also out. Strangely, sweet dessert wines, rum, honey and agave nectar are all out but maple syrup is ok. Rice, corn and potatoes are ok. Meat and fish also. One of the weirdest things is that I’m allowed just one quarter of avocado and half a grapefruit per day.

Tomorrow the diet gets underway in earnest. I’ll report back.


Day 1: link here

Playing With Porridge Oats

Since my last blog post just short of three weeks ago, I’ve barely been home. I’ve been to Florence, London, Milan and today I’m packing my bag again for a whirlwind weekend to Piedmont. I don’t mean to show-off; I know I’m lucky to travel so much but when you’re in a place for a very short amount of time, you don’t get to see much and it becomes exhausting. (Especially when you’re hoping and praying that the snow doesn’t cause too many delays…)

Yesterday, finally, I’d caught up with most of my work and my sleep and so I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen, playing around.

First on my to-do list was setting aside some lemons to eat during the summer months. I made preserved lemons this time last year too, but tragically I found out the hard way that there’s too much humidity in the walls of this old house (and not to mention, there aren’t any foundations) to support any kind of shelf. My glass jar full of salt and lemons ended up shattering on the floor.

Last week, I picked up a new jar in the sales and am determined to learn from last year’s lesson. I’m going to keep these precious preserved lemons at the back of my kitchen cupboard.

IMG_20180306_150303775_HDR.jpg
Lemons, topped, almost quartered and sprinkled with sea salt and a little sugar.

Because we’re driving to Piedmont tomorrow and because I had a ton of porridge oats that I wanted to use up, I decided to make some food to take on the road with us. We English have a traditional tea-time snack called flapjack. It was one of my favourite treats from the bakery when I was a kid. There are two main types of flapjack: thick and often dry or thin, crispy and sticky. I always preferred the latter. 

Loosely speaking, a flapjack is made of oats, butter and golden syrup… sometimes currants. (There’s a good recipe here from BBC Good Food or here on Delia Online.) For my taste now, they’re overly sweet so I needed to adapt my childhood memories into something more palatable.

I made two versions because I wanted to test two different techniques: one heated with butter (but no golden syrup because it’s the equivalent of liquid gold here in Italy) and the other with banana. Whatever you want to call them – flapjacks, oat bars, cereal bars, granola bars, traybakes – they’re essentially the same thing and they’re super simple to make.

IMG_20180306_152238589_HDR.jpg
Oats, candied ginger, dark chocolate and orange peel.

For the first version, I put a handful of sultanas in a small saucepan along with squeeze of orange juice (I wanted to rehydrate them somewhat to avoid them becoming shrivelled and burnt.) I added a thumbnail of fresh orange and lemon peel, a spoonful of brown sugar and a generous stick of butter. I very gently simmered this mixture until everything had melted.

Then, because I will always try and economise on the washing-up, I stirred 130 grams of porridge oats into this liquid mixture and sprinkled a very light dusting of cinnamon.

As a result of the heat and the stirring, the oats puffed up really nicely before they got spooned into a lined baking dish (21cm diameter) and then flattened down.

IMG_20180306_171243857_HDR.jpg
Puffy oats with sultanas and citrus peel, easily filling the dish.

I had read on The Kitchn (here) that banana alone was enough to provide sweetness and bind the notoriously rebellious porridge oats together.

So, I mashed up a banana and in a mixing bowl, stirred in 130 grams of porridge oats and a sprinkling of candied ginger, dark chocolate and orange peel.

After I was satisfied that the banana was evenly spread throughout, I added the smallest drop of olive oil (just for luck!) and spooned this mixture into an identical baking dish.

Both were baked in the oven at 180°C (fan oven) for 16 minutes.


The result? The puffed up oats were the more aesthetically pleasing and it tastes good… but it crumbles too easily. Clearly a little golden syrup is needed.

The addition of a banana was a really good call. It really does bind the oats together well… despite it also lending a slightly greeny-brown colour…. you probably can’t detect that in the photo but you can see it in real life.

That said, I also like the difference in textures and flavours with the ginger and chocolate. It feels more sophisticated, if that makes sense?

What would I do if making this again? I’d repeat the flavours in the ginger and chocolate version but would find a way of heating up the oats (maybe in a little butter?) before adding the banana as my binding agent.

 

IMG_20180306_171247437_HDR.jpg
Because the oats hadn’t been pre-cooked, it remained far more compact than in the other version.

“Un Tempo Cruo” – late January in the Veneto

Yesterday was a beautiful, bright sunny day that had me thinking that spring might be just around the corner. It was one of those days when being outside in the sunshine was a million times better than being inside, stuck in front of a computer.

I went down to the local market and picked up a few fresh ingredients for the next couple of days. The produce is still decidedly winterly – artichokes, various green leaves, particularly the various delineations of cabbage and cauliflower, and a couple of lonely fennel bulbs. In terms of the fruit selection: you have a vast choice between clementines or oranges, oranges or clementines…

img_20180123_104326110_hdr520057825.jpg
Aubergines straight from Sardinia at the Mercato Orientale, in Genova.

Feeling that spring in my step, I made a simple, raw salad to go with lunch. With minimal effort required, straight into the serving bowl, I mixed fennel, tips of puntarelle, slices of clementine and pomegranate seeds (from the freezer.) I used just extra virgin olive oil and salt as the seasoning but squeezed some clementine juice over the top to give some acidity and sweetness. I more commonly use lemon juice but using clementines is something I’m going to do more often. Not only does this salad look bright and colourful, but it tastes great too.

img_20180124_115819930_hdr144112608.jpg
Fennel, puntarelle, clementine and pomegranate salad.

Unfortunately, today is back to being grey and unforgivingly cold. “Un tempo cruo ” in the local dialect. Personally, I’d never heard the weather being described as “raw” / crudo before but I understand the meaning. It’s a cold that gets into your bones.

In the kitchen today, I’m making a rustic vegetable soup, loosely adapted from the first of these recipes from Anna Jones in the Guardian. I started with the soffritto, only to realise that I’d forgotten to buy carrots at the market. I knew that, actually, but last night I’d dreamt that, in order to make this soffritto, I successfully found a carrot lurking at the back of the fridge. It turns out that there was actually no carrot and I’m now ever so slightly concerned about the lucidity of my dreams. I can’t be the only person who spends their valuable shut-eye imagining what they’re going to cook later in the day… am I…?

Anyway, once my half-hearted soffritto was ready, I added a potato (peeled and cubed) and some similarly sized pieces of the rind of aged Monte Veronese cheese (the equivalent of parmesan in my area.) Following more or less the method outlined in the recipe, I have added vegetable stock, tinned datterini tomatoes, borlotti beans, tips of the fennel that I didn’t use yesterday in the salad and some more of those puntarelle leafy greens, again. I’ll leave it aside for a little while and when I’m ready this evening, I’ll pop down to the bakery to pick up some bread which’ll be used for dunking. The dog is always happy to accompany me for a walk into the village.


My next challenge is to figure out what to take to a lunch on Sunday. I’ve been told to bring a dessert (does that sound familiar? no? click here.) As it happens I have a ton of milk to use up so I thought about a riz au lait. The problem is that I can’t find the trusty recipe that I used many years ago so I’m having to wing it. I’ve checked a couple of recipes online but I’m going to spend this afternoon giving them a test run. To keep the saucepan covered or not. That is the question…

Frittelle for Carnevale

After the month-long festivities to celebrate Santa Lucia, then Christmas, New Year’s Eve and finally la Befana (don’t know who La Befana is? click here and read my last blog post) you would probably expect me to say that things were starting to quieten down and for this frigid winter to be tightening its icy grip. If only! We’re now starting to revv up for Carnevale!


Find out more about the Carnevale di Venezia, which officially starts on Jan 27th this year and runs until Shrove Tuesday, on the official website here.

I also heartily recommend checking out the Venice Insider website which has painstakingly listed all of this year’s events and much of the history.


Anyway, this morning, coming back from a meeting to decide upon a new marble staircase for the house (yay!) I popped into my local bakery for a caffè-brioche and saw these on the counter….

frittelle di carnevale
Frittelle!

Frittelle, fritole or fritoe (depending on which accent or dialect you’re speaking with) are small, fried balls of dough. They’re about the size of a walnut but it’s quite easy to tell that these particular ones have been handmade because they are all different shapes and sizes. At my bakery, there was the choice of frittelle studded with raisins (uvette) or filled with pastry cream. In other parts, I’ve seen apple and pine nut frittelle as well as with lemon peel or chestnuts. Once they come out of the oven, they get generously sprinkled with sugar (just as you would with a doughnut) and are best eaten still slightly warm.

Like most things in Italy, there’s a certain time and place for everything and even these (otherwise pretty nondescript) treats are actually highly seasonal. The one and only season for frittelle, as you may have guessed, is during Carnevale.

If you want to try your hand at making them, the recipe on “I Love You More Than Food” looks solid but I admit that I haven’t tried it. Link here. Good luck!

New Year’s Eve in Italy… and the importance of lentils!

Happy New Year’s Eve! Or “la notte di San Silvestro” in Italian.

Whether it’s out partying or staying in wrapped up in a blanket on the sofa, I hope you’re spending the last few hours of 2017 exactly as you want to spend them. I’m personally not much of a fan of New Year’s Eve. There seems to be so much hype about what really is just another day. Many moons ago, I would choose to take a shift working in a bar or restaurant on NYE. That way, I was at least in a festive ambiance but I wasn’t spending stupid amounts of money on a set meal and a bottle of over-priced Champagne.

More recently, I’ve preferred hosting friends for a dinner and drinks party and that’s exactly what we did this year – just a small dinner party for some local friends. To lighten the load, it was agreed that they would bring the appetisers, cheese course and the dessert, and that I’d cook the main course.

The traditional main course over the winter festivities in Italy is a type of sausage called cotechino. It’s a large pork sausage, originally hailing from Modena but even my local butchers make a pretty good version.

I’m not sure why, but I always feel a little uneasy about cooking classic Italian foods for Italians. I suppose I fear that whatever I serve couldn’t possibly live up to whatever their mamma or nonna used to make.

As a result, I resort to typical English or French dishes, with which I’m fairly confident there won’t already be ridiculously high expectations. For tonight, I’ve decided to cook Beef Wellington. If you’re not familiar with this antiquated-but-undeservedly-so English speciality, it’s essentially about a kilo of beef sirloin, wrapped in finely chopped mushrooms, wrapped again speck (I chose speck ham for the smokey flavour over the more traditional prosciutto crudo) and all of that wrapped in puff pastry! I’m going to be serving it with roast potatoes (requested by the boys) and two cold side salads – red cabbage and orange (inspired by BBC Good Food) and kisir (a Turkish salad mainly of bulghur wheat and tomatoes) – and a warm side: lentils!

When I was running through my proposed menu with the boy, “yes, but you must also cook lentils,” was his advice. Lentils are a bearer of good luck and prosperity, apparently.

 

It would appear that in Ancient Rome, there was a tradition to give a leather bag filled with lentils as a gift. You would attach this bag to your belt and apparently (but I mean this is rather a stretch of the imagination!) the lentils would transform into coins!

So there you have it, a bowl of lentils is going to be on my table this evening…. just in case! Happy New Year, one and all!

Waiting for Advent

The final days of November always feel strange to me. It’s this weird time of year when you’re in limbo. My American friends have already made me hungry for turkey but yet it’s still too early to really start the Christmas countdown: mince pies, festive music and twinkling lights.

I don’t recognise the Thanksgiving holiday but I may have indulged in a little Black Friday shopping anyway (*slinks away guiltily…*) I love London in the run up to Christmas; it’s my favourite time of year to see the city. The lights in the commercial heart (Oxford Street, New Bond Street, Regent Street) are far better than anything on the Champs-Elysees and Avenue Montaigne.

Here in Italy, I’m out in the countryside so Christmas lights are few and far between. That said, the 8th December is a bank holiday (la Festa della Madonna, apparently) and it’s on that precise date when they put up and decorate the Christmas trees.

When I was told about this tradition, I looked at the boy excitedly, eyes wide open like a kid on Christmas morning. “Oh no! You don’t have a tree amongst all that stuff, do you?” he asks worriedly….

— Short aside: Most of my stuff is still in boxes. A whole room at the back of our house has been given over to the contents of the removal truck from Paris! :/ As we’ll be moving into the new house in a few months and there’s simply not space nor need in his place for me to unpack, it was decided that they would be put out of the way for the time being. The boy has clearly but wisely decided to consider that area potentially contaminated with nuclear something or other and not to go anywhere near it! It’s for that reason that he is still blissfully unaware of the presence of two large Christmas boxes! —

I’m feeling particularly festive this year; full of good cheer and all that malarkey. It’s rather out of character.

We’re going to a panettone party tonight. Yes, it appears that’s a thing. It’s held in a local restaurant and we’ll testing all the best artisanal panettoni from the region.

All this premature festivity is getting to me. The problem, though, is that December is looking decidedly busy; I’m in France for five days and then back in the UK on the 18th until at least after the holidays. If I put up the tree on the 8th, it will essentially be uniquely for the dog’s benefit. I’m sure she will enjoy tearing it to pieces in my absence! I’m wondering if it would be acceptable to put up the tree a few days before…. I wonder…

The Olive Harvest

You would have thought that after two months of vendemmia (grape harvest) that the work would be coming to an end by now. It’s far from true!

Towards the end of October, in this area of the Veneto, all the local farmers stand on the side of the road, peering up into an olive tree. Yep, it’s olive oil season!


Hallowe’en is not a particularly big thing in Italy. You see orange and black decorations in the seasonal section of the big supermarkets and if you’re lucky you’ll come across a witch’s hat or a large pumpkin, but that’s about it.

Last night, we went to a friend’s house for a low-key dinner. I did some ghoulish make-up and the host put a pumpkin’s face on the cake but nobody dressed up.

Today, the 1st November is a bank/public holiday in Italy. It’s Ognisanti / All Saints’ Day. In reality, it just means that the shops have reduced opening hours and some restaurants will be shuttered up for the day, but for us, it’s business as usual.

Alessandro and his family have around 30 olive trees acting as borders to their vineyards. An olive tree is “un olivo” in Italian, or “una olivara” in my local dialect. “Una oliva” – feminine – is an olive. Anyway, for us, it’s a very small, sideline operation – some years, we don’t even bother picking the olives; this year, the crop is more abundant so it’s all hands on deck!

 


So how do you pick olives, you might be wondering?

Necessary precautions to stop the olives from rolling down the hill…

You wrap a large net around the trunk of the olive tree, much like how a Frenchman traditionally tucks his napkin around his neck. If you’re on a slope (when aren’t you?) secure the netting to make sure that the olives won’t roll off down the hill.

One person then climbs up the tree and lops off some branches while the other people stay on the ground and brush off the olives from each fallen branch using a wide tooth comb.

I’ve seen and heard of other people using an electric tool which shakes the tree and causes the olives to fall off of their own accord. I suggest that it might be less labour-intensive but Alessandro raises and eyebrow and simply shrugs, “we’d need a bigger net.”

Spot Alessandro!

The olives fall into the netting and when the tree has been more or less relieved of its crop, we jiggle the netting until all the olives are in one selected corner. From there, they’ll be put into plastic boxes (which, when full, weighs about 12-13 kg) and brought home.

A decent yield.

On average, this year, we’re getting 2 boxes of olives from each tree. It’s not much for such painstakingly tedious work but it’s pleasant being outside in the sunshine and knowing that you’ll be tasting the fruits of this labour shortly enough.

As I’m writing this, the brothers are outside gradually feeding the olives into a machine which removes any left-over leaves and cleans off some of the dust. Tomorrow morning, we take the olives down to the frantoia to be pressed and made into oil.

A Perfect Autumnal Plum Pie

pie

Mother Nature has changed direction. After the balmy summer nights of July and August, September has arrived. The crisp, damp mornings. Even though now it is accompanied by the sound of tractors heading off to the vineyards and the smell of wine fermenting in the town’s cooperative, it still vividly reminds me of pulling up my knee-length red socks and going off to school.

Right now, it’s only a subtle shift. We’re not even halfway through September yet but already you can spot a change in hue. The piercing sunshine of the summer months has been painted over with a wide brushstroke of grey. Even last night, on the way home from the pizzeria (did you read about my recent kitchen woes?) the fog phenomenon found in northern Italy, la nebbia, made its first appearance of the season. It’s remarkably early.  Continue reading “A Perfect Autumnal Plum Pie”

The Second Sunday in September

scott-umstattd-89611

The second Sunday in September will go down as the day in which both the oven and the dishwasher broke down.

Of course, an oven never fails when you’re not trying to use it. I had made a plum pie (see here) and was halfway through cooking the roast chicken and potatoes when it conked out.

We knew we were living on borrowed time because we’ve already bade farewell to the kettle, the toaster, the DVD player and a second kettle… but I really did believe that the larger appliances would make it through another six months before we move into the new house.

I’m now waiting for the electrician to come over and assess the extent of the damage. Now if there’s any universal truth which always – and I mean, always – proves correct it’s that electricians, plumbers and delivery guys don’t show up on time. Our guy was supposed to come yesterday… he didn’t… if he comes today, well, let’s hope so but I’m not holding my breath.