I will start off by saying that I mean no disrespect to The Mediterranean, and apologize in advance for my American-ized version of Mediterranean food. Mediterranean culture and cuisine make my soul burst with joy! So, I hope my food ideas come across as more of an ode than an insult. Here is my interpretation of The Mediterranean Diet in one day.
My blood contains not an ounce of Mediterranean (that I know of), and I have mostly German/English/Scottish roots. Raised in Pennsylvania, our food profile consists of lots of brown and white, monochromatic, lard-forward, fat-forward, butter-forward food. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a place for that kind of food in life. But in terms of getting and staying healthy, I think Mediterranean is the way to go. No matter what I read about nutrition these days, across the board, The Mediterranean Diet seems to be the healthiest. This way of eating is well-rounded, natural, do-able, and delicious. I am not a dieter, and probably never will be, but I do like to have some food parameters in place at all times.
As I write this post, my friend texts me an update from his doctor’s visit, and wouldn’t you know, his doctor recommends the Mediterranean Diet!
In 2011, after living in New York City for four years and deciding to depart, I planned a one-week trip to Italy as a way to detox from city-living. This trip was a nice way to transition between closing one chapter of my life and opening another (my eventual return to Philadelphia).
When I planned this trip (on a super tight budget), I knew that I didn’t want to visit any metropolitan areas of Italy. I wanted to go for the food. And I wanted to go to the farms. I wanted to learn the origins of Mediterranean food and discover the heart and love behind this way of life. In my search, I discovered exactly what I was looking for.
FOOD TOUR IN NORTHERN ITALY
Sapori e Saperi (translated in English to “flavors and knowledge”) is a brilliant food tour run by Heather (Erica) Jarman. When I took my trip back in 2011, Marzio Paganelli was (and still is) the local driver for the tour. He spoke very little English. But, when I was able to communicate with him, he kept referring to a woman named Erica. I finally asked him, “Who is Erica?” since I only knew of Heather, our tour guide. He explained that Italians can’t pronounce the ‘H’ or ‘th’ sounds in the English alphabet. So, he renamed her, giving her the Latin word for the heather plant, Erica. How beautiful?!
Heather and Marzio 🙂
The tour took place in this little piece of Northern Italy referred to as The Garfagnana (translated loosely to “where time stops running” or “where time stands still”). The Garfagnana is made up of many family farms residing between two mountain ranges, and it’s just breathtaking. The people are gentle and kind, and the food is delicious. They live simple lives of eating, working, spending time in nature, and being with family and friends.
The tour included hands-on cooking instruction, day trips to nearby towns and villages, and visits to the local farming families. Each family would then cook us a meal and serve it to us in their home with lots of vino and lively conversation. I highly recommend this tour to anyone interested in learning more about food and Italy. Erica/Heather is so knowledgable and has spent the last decade building strong relationships with the local vendors and farmers.
Here are some pics from my beautiful trip…
COMMITMENT TO EATING HEALTHIER
Ever since the 2020 holiday season, when I gained about 15 lbs., I have been striving to eat healthier. Here is how I did it: WHAT I EAT IN A DAY TO DETOX FROM THE HOLIDAYS. Since I started eating healthier, I have gone from 187 lbs. (at 5’9″) to 172 lbs. Yay! So, now that I am through with detoxing, I would like to begin to play a bit more with interesting food choices.
The Mediterranean Diet in general consists of lots of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds, beans, legumes, and fish. This way of eating avoids excessive poultry and red meat, as well as sugar and fat, obviously. To cook and eat the Mediterranean way, it’s best to use lots of extra virgin olive oil. EVOO is high in polyunsaturated fat (the good fat).
I typically eat toast with raw honey for breakfast, and it’s delicious! However, I have been trying to cut back on my sugar intake, so I’m switching it up a bit. If you struggle with sugar like I do, check out my article, 6 WAYS TO CURB YOUR SUGAR ADDICTION. I will also be eating a bit of bread for lunch this week, so I don’t want to have bread for breakfast as well. Enter our friend, Ms. Oatmeal.
STEEL CUT OATS WITH A TOUCH OF MAPLE SYRUP
Note: After this article was released, I discovered that McCann’s Traditional Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal is SOOO much better. It takes even longer to cook, about 30 minutes, but it’s so worth it. I am not sponsored, I just want to share with you. I’m literally excited when I wake up every morning, thinking about my oatmeal magic 🙂
I like steel cut oats much better than regular oatmeal. It has a richer flavor and the texture is unreal. It’s very chewy and strangely satisfying to gnosh. However, it’s still rather blah oatmeal, and I do like to add just a touch of sweetness. I did the math, and compared to my honey toast, maple syrup in moderation is a much better sugar alternative.
The raw honey I use for my toast has 16g of sugar in 1 tablespoon (yikes!), and I use at least that for one slice of toast every morning. However, maple syrup has 26g of sugar in 2 tablespoons, but I only use about 1 teaspoon of syrup in one serving of oats. There are 3 teaspoons in 1 tablespoon (6 teaspoons = 26g of sugar in maple syrup), so that leaves me with about 4g of sugar in 1 teaspoon of maple syrup. Are y’all still with me?! Just trust me, it’s better, although I’ll never let go of my honey toast! But it is good to switch it up sometimes.
This breakfast falls in line with The Mediterranean way of grain-forward foods and is a perfect option for breakfast. It takes about 15 minutes to cook on the stovetop, but it’s completely worth it!
As I said, I am eating bread for lunch this week (freshly baked wheat and nut bread from my local grocery store). This food construction might not sound very enticing, but trust me, if you buy fresh and local, high-quality ingredients, this is sooooooo good.
TOAST WITH LOCAL HUMMUS, FRESH VEGGIES, AND KALAMATA OLIVES
For this Mediterranean-style lunch, I use the following ingredients:
- Local hummus (when in doubt, always go local, for freshness, and to support your community)
- Organic English cucumber, sliced
- Pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
- Local goat cheese (this is also good with no cheese if you are going dairy free)
- Freshly baked whole grain bread, toasted
This is pretty much self-explanatory and all you need to do, once you’ve toasted the bread, is assemble. The key is to apply the layers in the right order to make sure everything stays in place! I start with spreading the hummus over the toast. Then, I finely chop the olives and spread over the hummus. I tried slicing the olives in half but it made the surface too lumpy and bumpy (like a bunch of olive speed bumps) and the cucumbers kept toppling off. Chopping the olives is better. Next, thin slices of cheese, followed by the cucumber slices. I eat with a fork and knife (because I’m fancy AF), and have this with a side of roasted brussels sprouts.
This meal has gorgeous Mediterranean flavors and ingredients, and is very veggie-forward and fresh.
SNACKS AND NON-MEDITERRANEAN CHEATS
Of course, this is definitely a light lunch, I am aware, although I feel super satisfied after. Still, later in the afternoon, before din-din, I will have a banana, an apple with peanut butter, a handful of nuts, or some other healthy snack. I might also have some dark chocolate for fun!
I also got some Vietnamese takeout last weekend and ordered my most indulgent, over-the-top, favorite beverage, a Thai iced tea. If you’ve never had one, prepare yourself for greatness. This drink is SO sweet and so bad for you, but it’s so delicious. In addition to tea, it has a triple-threat combination of sugar, evaporated milk, AND sweetened condensed milk. It also has lovely warming spices that play nicely against the sugar death content. Anyway, I love allowing myself this indulgence but don’t want to drink it all at once. My body will literally shut down in sugar shock if I do. So, I’ve been keeping it in the fridge and nursing it slowly every day. I just take a few hits when I want some sugar in the afternoon and don’t touch it for the rest of the day. It’s amazing!
I typically don’t eat a lot of fish, even though I don’t mind it. But incorporating fish into my diet is the Mediterranean way! It’s so true that eating pork, beef, and even poultry on a daily basis is so heavy, and really hard on the arteries, the veins, and the digestive tract. So, I am taking things gradually, and attempting to eat one or two fish dinners a week, in place of heavier proteins. I typically cook something major (pasta or meat dish) on Sunday evening, and that usually lasts for the next few days. Now, mid-week, I have been making a point to run to the store and pick up a few fresh fish filets to cook the same evening. This gets me through to the weekend and keeps me eating healthy all week long.
BAKED TILAPIA WITH LEMON AND GARLIC
This is sooooo easy to make and so delicious, nutritious, and light, yet filling. To make this baked tilapia, I adapted this original recipe, and used the following ingredients:
- 4 fresh tilapia filets
- 3-4 tablespoons of butter, melted
- juice and zest from 1/2 lemon (you can save the other lemon half to slice and squeeze over the cooked fish)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Mix the butter, garlic, lemon, and lemon zest together in a small bowl. Salt and pepper the filets first and put them on a baking sheet (I line the baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup). Cover them with the butter mixture (using a spoon or pastry brush) and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Fish should be opaque and fork-tender. Done!
SERVE WITH HEALTHY SIDE DISHES
ROASTED SWEET POTATOES
I chopped 1 sweet potato and put in a baking dish. Then, I coated with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, and a pinch of cinnamon. I baked in a 400 degree oven (the same oven as the fish) for about 30-40 minutes (taking them out and mixing occasionally so they don’t stick to the bottom of the baking dish).
Make the salad however you want! I like to use a mix of dark, leafy greens, as well as some crisp romaine hearts. I added some shredded carrots, sliced grape tomatoes, sliced yellow bell pepper, and toasted pine nuts. Yum! I use my favorite vinaigrette and this makes for a delicious salad, and so healthy!
Both of these sides went so well with the fish, I have to say.
Of course, at the end of the day, I must end with just a bit of naughty sugar. I must. I keep it simple and just have one or two small squares of dark chocolate. However, to keep in line with the Mediterranean tradition, my partner and I have recently started ordering baklava to have it shipped to us. Here in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, we don’t exactly have tons of authentic Mediterranean baklava options, and we want the real deal. We have yet to find one we like, but that won’t stop us from tying (EVERYONE makes baklava differently and no two ways are alike). We like ours with walnuts, honey, and cinnamon. If we don’t find one we like, I might consider trying to make my own. I’ll keep you posted!
It’s also really important for me to relax and enjoy myself when it comes to food. Sometimes I just want to eat junk. And sometimes, I just don’t feel like cooking. I balance everything out by sticking to a strict regimen during the week and then Friday and Saturday, I still try to eat healthy, but I go off the rails a bit and indulge in takeout and other treats.
In order to make lifestyle changes I can stick to, I need to feel like I’m not locked in some kind of food cage. I love when I’m eating healthy during the week, and I also can’t wait for the weekend to indulge. During the weekend, I usually get my fill by Saturday and on Sunday, I’m ready to get back to a week of healthy eating and cooking. This is just what works for me.
I have so much fun creating these food articles! Nutrition, cooking, and food are such passions of mine, and I like doing this stuff even if I’m not writing about it. Thank you for taking an interest in my journey and I wish you so much luck and joy on yours!
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Photo of heather plant by Joran Quinten on Unsplash
Photo of Thai iced tea by Aimee Mars Living
Photo of baklava by The International Kitchen
Photo in checklist obtained from here