When I make and eat this stew, which I have several times already in the past few months, I feel like I am aligning with everything I want to when it comes to food in my life right now. I am eating something wholesome, bursting with flavor, absolutely nourishing, not to mention satisfying and when I am through eating, I feel good, not heavy and not deprived.
Over the last few months I have changed my relationship with food. This is probably a process that will be ongoing for the rest of my life, but I hope not. I hope to be the woman in the vision I had a few months ago. Sitting at a large table, outside, under a pergola. We are surrounded by hills of farmland and trees. The sun is warm on my skin and I see it glistening over everything. There is a beautiful breeze blowing and the air smells so clean with a hint of wood fire smoke lingering. There is laughter in the air and the murmuring of a large group of people. The table is crowded with family and friends and it is laden with delicious dishes – homegrown fruits and vegetables, succulent seafood, cheeses, olives, cold cuts, fresh baked bread, wine, various kinds of salads and a gorgeous dish of pasta, glistening with the freshest tomatoes and olive oil, the scent wafting in the air. I make a plate for Alba and then a plate for myself and I eat it all, enjoying each bite, savoring each moment.
In my body I feel light as a feather, nothing heavy weighing me down, physically, mentally or emotionally. In that moment I am happy, so happy I could just dance with glee. I feel free and vibrant, utterly alive and primal and full of the love that is in my life.
Over the past several months upon returning home after an extended trip to Italy, I have come to really embrace Italian eating habits and some of the Italian way of life. Before this last trip, I spent the last 3 years battling Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid condition that is currently under control. I was overwhelmingly tired, putting on weight quickly, developing some skin conditions and I was reacting to various foods. In my quest for optimum health, I turned towards the Paleo diet since it is touted as an anti-inflammatory diet that is especially good for autoimmune conditions.
I truly believed this way of eating would help me lose the weight I put on, clear up my rosacea and eczema, give me the energy of someone in their early 20’s and allow me to get super fit and buff again. The idea of Primal/Paleo appealed to me because I never did well as a vegetarian (in hindsight, I think being a low-fat veggie for over 10 years led to some of my health issues) and I liked the idea of sticking to certain foods and not having to count calories. All the books, blogs and articles led me to believe as long as I stayed away from the “bad foods” and ate of the “good foods” I would be at my optimal health. It was a done deal I had this thing beat. I was on my way!
In addition to starting a new regimen of supplements prescribed to me by my naturopath and which actually helped IMMENSLY, I also spent a lot of time eliminating foods from my diet – eggs, dairy, beans, corn, soy, refined sugar, in rotation trying to find the magic bullet to feel as wonderful as all the books, articles and blogs I read told me I would feel. Then when it didn’t, I would beat myself up and try to figure out what I was doing wrong.
I concentrated my efforts in the kitchen on making gut healthy foods – lots of ferments like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and yogurt. I made my own condiments and never ate sugar. I also quit coffee and tea. I took probiotics. I made my own bone broth and ate it often. I ate copious amounts of butter and coconut oil; lard and duck fat made regular appearances on my plate. I ate organ meat, fish eggs and fermented cod liver oil. I soaked my nuts before eating them. I drank raw milk.
But even with all of this, my rosacea continued to flare, my eczema didn’t go away, I gained a little more weight (maybe a pound or so a year in total, but it still added up). I still got tired often and my environmental allergies were so bad, I couldn’t take a sweater out of the closet and wear it without washing it first or my eyes would be so watery and I would become so congested I needed to take over the counter allergy medicine just to survive the day – and then I would beat myself up over that because I am the kind of person that doesn’t ever take things like that, and the cycle would start all over again.
On a recent trip to Sardinia in Italy, I was sitting down at an ocean front restaurant trying to figure out what to eat for lunch. I had just been to an Erboristeria (Herbalist) looking for something to relieve my dust allergy that was making me miserable. The herbalist there gave me a black currant tincture. He also told me to stay away from shellfish and when my gluten allergy came up, he suggested I might want to stay away from dairy as well, because those two allergies can sometimes be linked.
I almost had a melt-down at the table reading the menu. There was all this beautiful food on it that I couldn’t eat – all the pastas, the pizza and the bread. But then there was all the amazing cheeses and of course, being on the sea, tons and tons of shellfish. Since I was trying to be grain free and stick to my paleo diet, I was pretty much living on meat – prosciutto, mortadella and salami in all their various forms, as well as some delicious Sardinian sheep cheese. There was some fruit and yogurt involved in my meals as well, but if I was going to try cutting out dairy again, that was going to leave me with a very boring diet. It was just too much. I was asking too much.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream in frustration. I wanted mussels in marinara.
I remember looking across the table at Roberto and saying: “I feel like a self-flagellating nun in the land of decadence and debauchery”. He ordered the mussels and a glass of wine, he made me eat the mussles. I felt better.
After that moment I realized I was the one who was making myself miserable. Yes, I have a gluten allergy, but that’s it. Why was I depriving myself of all grains, beans, sugar, etc. ? I realized that for years now, I had been waking up every morning thinking that I was “unhealthy” and wondering if I really would ever be healthy again. I was identifying too much with my condition and letting it become a part of me. From that moment I knew I had to be the one to take control of this situation. So I started eating gluten free pasta and bread everyday and enjoyed several gluten free pizzas. I even had my first Coke in 20 years (in Italy they are still made with cane sugar). It was cathartic.
When I came home I was determined to lose the weight I had put on over the years, between the Hashimoto’s and my diet. I found a wonderful book Flat Belly Diet! Gluten-Free Cookbook: 150 Delicious Fat-Blasting Recipes! and despite its cheesy name decided to work my way through it. It was tough, because I don’t really believe in diets and calorie counting. But I had also started to believe that I would never lose this weight again. Being in Italy, I talked with someone who had lost 40 pounds. How did she do it? She went on a diet. Was she worried that the weight was an underlying problem to a bigger health issue? No, she just ate too much and needed to rein it in. What a simple perspective! So I decided to try this book, the recipes looked delicious and I was excited about getting some new dishes into my repertoire. Within a month of eating this way I lost 10 pounds. After 2 months, I didn’t stick to the diet, but used techniques and the portions I had learned from the book to keep my eating in balance and have since lost another 5 pounds. Something that even the strictest version of the Paleo diet couldn’t do for me. After 3 months of eating this way, there has not been a return of Hashimoto’s flare ups, which was another concern I had and so I really feel like this is successful for me.
I came to learn that being a food lover doesn’t mean I always have to indulge, nor do I have to prove that all you have to do is eat high quality food in any amount and all will be well. I believe that food quality is still the most important thing, but I learned that I can’t stuff myself everyday and expect to remain at the weight I want. I can still enjoy amazing food, just smaller portions and make sure my meals are really balanced.
That is where this chowder comes in. Although everyone in my family, my husband, my father in law and even Alba, loved the recipes from the book, I felt the need to let my cooking creativity flow again and one day I made this chowder from leftovers and pantry staples. It was touted one of the best recipes I ever made and we have had it often since that first time.
It is full of delicious flavors, lots of wonderful vegetables and absolutely satisfying. I like to enjoy a steaming bowl of this with a nice slice of gluten free bread smeared with butter.
2 TBS olive oil
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 russet potato, diced
salt and pepper
1TBS turmeric powder
1 cup veggie broth (if not using homemade, I like Pacific Foods Organic Vegetable Broth
1 can organic tomato sauce
½ cup white wine
4 whole tomatoes diced (or 2 cans)
1 can filtered water
1 lb of seafood (fish, clams, shrimp)
2 TBS capers
1TBS lemon juice
METHOD: In a large soup pot heat the olive oil, then add the vegetables, salt and pepper. Once veggies are getting soft, about 5 minutes, add the turmeric and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the veggie broth, tomato sauce, wine, diced tomatoes and wine. Cover pot and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes and other veggies are tender.
Add seafood and continue to cook until cooked through – less time for shellfish and a bit longer for fish. I like to use halibut or cod for this, and I usually let it simmer in the broth for about 7-8 minutes. If you are doing a mixture of fish and shellfish, cook the fish for about 5 minutes and then add the shellfish.
Once all the seafood is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the capers and lemon juice.
Serves 6 dinner sized portions