He made me cry the first day I got there. I had been on crowded planes with long layovers, crossed time changes and spent the night in some run down hostel with way too much luggage to be schlepping between all modes of public transportation that take you between small Italian towns. I was tired and emotional and I run shy-ish/self-conscious in meeting new people so when George was yelling at me over how stupid it was to be a vegetarian, I cried right there at the table.
After I graduated college, I made up my own internship of sorts to work at a Bed and Breakfast in Italy. It was run by a couple who used to own an Italian restaurant in my hometown. Lucy, the wife, had a full Italian mother but she lived most of her life in America. Lucy and George owned the place. She was a super friendly, petite, hard working, full of energy, warm and spunky woman. George was there for her. He was along for her golden years dream project and drug his feet and rolled his eyes often along the way. He was a retired surgeon; very smart and attracted to controversial conversations. He hated waste, he hated it before it was part of the green movement to hate waste, and although he scared me most of the time I lived there, I am a more careful consumer because of his staunch stance on the issue. A solid fellow, a great cook, he grew up in Argentina and must have told me three dozen times that his mother was in her late 90's and very healthy from a diet of mostly meat and potatoes.
For some perspective to the story, I was in my early 20's, fresh off a new definition of what "healthy" meant. I had transitioned from years of eating fat free and sugar free this and that and got really into cooking and produce and working on a farm and now believed my very vegetable centered life was the answer to all things health.
So, Hugh (my super cute then-boyfriend who came with me for a month and worked mostly as a gardener) and I show up for the first time to this completely new place with all new people, super exhausted and jet-lagged and nervous. They were just sitting down to a lunch to welcome us and it was platters of cured meats, grilled bistecca, oven roasted potatoes and arugula drenched in olive oil. It didn't take long for George to notice that I wasn't eating much and he asked me why, at which point I told him I was a vegetarian. Might as well be honest if I was going to be eating all of my meals with this guy for the next 6 months. He then proceeded to berate me - intensely, angrily, loudly - on why I'd made that choice, asked me to cite my research of why it was healthy, asked if I'd spoken to doctors, listed all the nutritional values of the meal he'd prepared and I'm pretty certain he was standing up and pacing by the time I couldn't hold it in anymore and the tears started coming. I had said nothing in response. Hugh was squeezing my leg but he was in no place to defend me because I'm not sure I honestly had answers to his questions. I came to learn this was par for his course, but couldn't help how personally I took it seeing it was the first time I met the guy. Poor first impressions on both ends I suppose. We had a few more chats about it, he eventually added a few meals to the rotation without meat and let me make the salads. I grew a soft spot for George over time, more clearly seeing how he still craved the authority and leadership he had as a doctor and now was in a circumstance he didn't exactly care for. I think they call that displaced anger. That memory was from a decade ago now, but it popped back in my mind amidst the reel of New Years diets having their spotlight season. Vegan, keto, whole 30, non-dairy, paleo... so many perspectives and so many people looking for the answer with a capital "A." I've come to think healthy can mean different things for different people and it's absolutely ok for those definitions to change over time.
If I kept in touch with George, I'd tell him I don't really have a name for how I eat and I'm super ok with that. It's mostly from scratch, heavy on the vegetables. I eat eggs, a small amount of animal protein when I need it or want it. I try to limit dairy because I have finicky skin and it's supposed to help overall inflammation and also because I actually like almond milks and coconut coffee creamers. I make most of our baked goods with almond flour or other whole grain flours but we eat classic pizza dough in between so I figure I've got to be breaking even. And yes! I do consult doctors, my blood work is near perfect. I'm loosing a ton of hair but hey, can't win them all. If I was at your lunch table today, I'd eat whatever you were making because I understand how as the host and cook, you just want people to enjoy what you worked hard to serve them. Sorry I didn't understand that then. I won't forget your hospitality, spicy as it was. Big hugs.
It's a new year, hooray, resolve to take good care of yourself. Eat more food from plants than packages and I think you'll be heading in the right direction. Long term changes over short-lived diets, and if cream fits into your January plan, these brussels are so easy and Hugh made you a sweet little video for a visual this week for a change of pace.
CREAMY BAKED BRUSSELS // Serves 4
These work as a warm side, smashed into toast or tossed with your favorite noodles with a splash of pasta water and a bit of fresh citrus juice to make an easy meal of it.
1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. dijon mustard
dollop of creme fraiche (optional)
1/2 tsp. sea salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
fresh parsley, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350' and grease a shallow, ovenproof baking dish. Steam the brussels for 4 minutes, drain and let them cool to the touch. While the brussels steam, mix together the cream, dijon, creme fraiche if using, salt and pepper.
Chop up the sprouts, use a food processor if you prefer but I'd rather not clean another appliance. Tip them into the prepared dish and pour the cream mixture over the top. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top and bake them for 15 minutes, turning the broiler on for an extra minute or two at the end to brown the top. Garnish with fresh parsley. Enjoy warm.