Host: Welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast where we talk to wellness professionals from so many walks of life from around the world and get their insight into living healthier. I'm your host, Wes Malik. With so much information being passed around on different social sites and to you personally, I would recommend that in these times you always make sure that your information is coming from the correct areas. And there are no more trustworthy sites such as cdc.gov or who. int that's W-H-O dot I-N-T to answer any of your questions you may have about COVID-19 and the Coronavirus. Remember to follow your local government, your state, provincial, or your national government’s rules, laws, and regulations thoroughly. And if you're bored at home and got nothing to do, well you can listen to our other podcasts on lifelongwellness.org. Our guest today is Gourmand World Award-winning author and creator of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking. She's a celebrity chef, a healthy cooking expert, she's got her own book series and blog and her name are Maria Liberati. Maria, welcome to the Lifelong Wellness podcast. How are you today?
Maria: Great, thanks. And thanks for having me. It's so nice to be able to take this time and chat with you today.
Host: You're very welcome. The pleasure is all ours and we’re excited to talk to you about food and health and how these two things interrelate because there are a huge connection and the connection we want to make it a tasty one as well. Sometimes people think just eating healthy food or are living a healthy lifestyle is quite bland, but you're very well experienced and well versed with flavors, especially Italian because you're such a pro and that you've got your book out. So, let me ask you the first question and that is, how do you live a healthy life? What does wellness mean to you and your family?
Maria: Okay. Well, let’ see for me living a healthy life means taking time to really, you know, not just eating anything at all that's available to me. To just take a little more time and really make it important, I guess I could say make it something, making it an important task is eating is very important. It’s not really important just to satisfy our hunger but it’s important because it really nourishes our soul, our mind, our body. So, I keep healthy by trying to attempt to eat, you know, the best ingredients, things that I know are going to keep me healthy, happy. And I try to do that with my family, too, and my dog as well. So, I know that keeps him happy, it really does. Even sometimes people that I had like, people that work for me and I’m always after them. But I think it’s in an Italian thing, “What did you eat? Did you eat something?” and, you know, I’m bringing them food and I’m making sure because people don’t realize you perform better, even at work, you perform better when you have a good meal, something that’s really good for you and really nourishes you.
Host: Are those stereotypes really true of Italian families about the food and the “Did you eat?”, is that all real?
Maria: (laughing) Well, you know, it’s kind of I think as it goes down on the generations it might not, it might not keep up but it’s still alive in our family. (laughing) It really is. It’s kind of the first thing, you know, they ask you. I can remember the first time, well I did have members of my family that were in America they came from Italy, but the first time I went to Italy it was even more so because that way I met them all. The very first thing they ask you and they were, you know, they really overfeed you.
Maria: But they want to make sure that, you know because it’s also something that I learned. It’s also a way, sometimes people don’t know different like there are different ways to show your love. And a lot of Italians, you know, it’s like you’re showing your love by showing that you care about somebody by making sure that they eat and they eat well. And yes, it is the kind of, yes it is. It’s good and bad. (laughing) Sorry, but it is they are, yes. Yes.
Host: You have a cookbook called The Basic Art of Italian Cooking and you got a book series and a blog, celebrity chef and so many things. I want to ask you Italian food is very rich. When I think Italian food I'm thinking pasta and pizza and sauces. These are the images that flowed into my head and they’re delicious, but the images are kind of contradictory. Stay with me for a second.
Maria: Yes, yes.
Host: Let me try to explain my question. You think pasta and you think pizza, well that's going to make you fat and it's all, it's not gluten-free, I mean there are gluten-free options, but they're all carbs, right? And everyone's like, “Don't eat carbs. Don’t eat carbs”, but then you go to Italy and everyone eats bread and wine and you have pasta all the time and those people are very healthy. I noticed that in Italy there were, they were all very healthy people. They all walked, they dressed fabulously, very conscious about their dressing and they looked wonderful. How is that possible? You ate such rich foods so it's contradictory in my mind.
Host: Help me understand that.
Maria: Yes. I will and you know I get that all the time because I don’t know if I have that in my bio but I actually first started going to Italy, well to meet my relatives, but also I was modeling. So, I was modeling in Italy and I always get to ask the question, “So, how do you get from modeling to food”? I mean models aren’t supposed to eat.
Maria: Right? Okay, so you know, people didn’t realize. First of all style, food and style in Italy are very equated to each other because you have a lot of…There’s a lot of things related to fashion and food, but back to your question about carbs and, you know, being rich food. Okay, first of all, Italians don’t, they don’t, first of all, the food that they eat is the real deal and it’s really of good quality. Like they usually will go out every day and get fresh stuff. So, the quality of the things that they eat is really up there. So, for instance, when you’re using olive oil, and I know this when I noticed people that come into my cooking classes or even some beginning chefs, they’ll think that they have to use, you know, like a bottle of olive oil to make a sauce and then 10 cloves of garlic and 3 or 4 onions and then a pound of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The Italians don’t do that. They use because the ingredients are real so, you know if you’re using a really good quality olive oil you’re getting a real flavor. So, maybe you’re just going to use a tablespoon of olive oil when you make a sauce. One or two cloves of garlic are really good for you so, you know, if you want to use 5 go ahead but Italians and this states back to Leonardo da Vinci who I studied profusely because his effect on the Mediterranean Diet is still showing. He did have a profound effect. He was actually a foodie. His theory was to balance flavors like he balanced the colors on the canvas.
Maria: So, everything is in balance. So, if you’re going to use, you know, olive oil or Parmigiano Reggiano, it’s just a little bit here, a little bit there and all the flavors come together and they work together. But again, if you, let’s say, go to the store and you’re getting this so-called parmesan cheese that’s mixed in with oil-filler, you’re not going to get the flavor of the real deal and you’re going to have to put a pound on it. And theoretically, it’s actually more expensive than just, you know, spending a little more if you can, buying the real stuff and just using a little bit. So, even pasta like when Italians do these, you know, they’ll do these like 4 or 5-course meals, but it’s just a little taste of everything, not like you’re having bowls of pasta. They just have a little bit of everything and when they say spaghetti and meatballs, here, well you’re in the US and I think in Canada, too, right? You know, they think spaghetti and meatballs altogether. Spaghetti is one, pasta is your one course. The meatballs are another course so they may just have one, you know, and a little bit of pasta. So, it has a lot to do with the portion size, with the number of ingredients that, you know, people use here, that people use, you know, in other parts of the world not in Italy. And also the exercise part, you’re absolutely right. You know, it’s so wonderful, I love being in Italy. I love it anytime I’m in Italy because I’m walking everywhere. You’re walking, right?
Host: Yes, exactly.
Maria: You’re walking, you’re meeting people or you’re going to the coffee bar and in-between you’re going to get your little, you know, your little bit of pasta here, a little fresh stuff in the produce market. So, walking has a lot to do with it, too, or bicycling and that’s really, people do that a lot. And I think when you’re touring Italy like Rome and a lot of the towns, it’s really conducive also to walking.
Host: It is.
Maria: You know, that’s the best way to Rome. So, walking has a lot to do with it also. And you probably know loads of steps, tons of really high. You know in Rome just steps and steps and steps, they go on and on and on. So, you know, if you want to enjoy a great slice of pizza in Rome or go to the coffee bar and get a great pastry, you know, you have to do these steps and all that which is great because then you’re using a peter calorie. But it’s not all about moderation, so you know, moderation, exercising.
Host: So, when it comes to cooking and your cooking so I’m assuming the ingredients, fresh, rich make it healthier. And good ingredients make it healthy. You know, I noticed that all my life. I'm in the pursuit of making a perfect pizza all the time, okay?
Host: And I'm always, you know, scouring the internet for the right amount of salt, the right kind of wheat. I have always been using just shredded mozzarella I get from Costco or Walmart or Target, right?
Host: And you just sprinkle it on okay, but I recently found out that real mozzarella and, you know, from Celani or some really, really good local brands from, you know, their local area wherever you may be. Mozzarella is so soft you don't need to shred it. You just pull it apart. It just pulls apart like Play-Doh.
Maria: Like Play-Doh, exactly.
Host: And you just put little pieces, little chunks and you pull it apart and you put it on your pizza and it melts in, it’s gorgeous and it tastes 100 times better than I, you know, that frozen free shredded stuff you get for like five dollars or something.
Maria: Exactly and you don’t need much.
Host: Yes. It comes in little small mozzarella balls and I noticed that. So, when you cook your Italian food, what is your favorite thing to cook?
Maria: Well, I love to do, I have to say pasta, pizza and risotto I think are my favorite things. And they’re actually really healthy dishes and you can even make them healthy. You know, again as I said, people think that they have to eat these gigantic bowls of pasta and you don’t. It’s just a small dish and you can make them healthier by adding fresh vegetables to your pasta dish. You know, add fresh vegetables so you make the quantity more, the fresh vegetables fill you up more. You know, sautee some spinach with a little bit of garlic and olive oil. Spinach and mushrooms, add that to your pasta with your sauce, add some fresh things. The pizza I love but in Italy pizza is really, generally, it is really thin. And a lot of times, I don’t know if you experience this in the restaurant but you can order, for them, it’s a single-serve pizza and it fits in one big dish but it’s real thin and you’re absolutely right, the mozzarella it’s just like here and there. It’s not covering or choking on the mozzarella when you’re eating it like a pizza race does I know here and a little bit of a fresh basil leaf.
Maria: And sometimes they will put a sardine on it because sardine, anchovies are actually healthy for you. Or again with the pizza you can put lots of fresh veggies on top, too, make it healthy for you. Risotto is really healthy also. It’s rice and again you can add lots of vegetables to your risotto when you’re making it. So, those are 3 of my favorite things to do and my favorite dishes that I just love doing and eating as well.
Host: The food is so different. Italian food is so different in Italy and so different in the States. The pizza that was loaded with cheese, what’s the Quattro formaggi, and again just a little bit of basil and they’re huge on rocket salad.
Maria: Yes, yes.
Host: Everywhere you go. Every, you know, roadside cafe, they put rocket salad on everything. It’s delicious.
Maria: Yes. You know why because arugula but I know in English it is translated to rocket. The first time I went there I was like, “What is rocket salad?” (laughing)
Host: Exactly. I had to look it up. (laughing)
Maria: But they grow it there. They grew it all over and arugula or rocket salad is actually really, really good for you. Did you ever have the pizza that they do with that egg sprinkle on top, too?
Host: Yes, I did and I was like, “What is this doing on a pizza”, right?
Maria: Yes and it’s really, really good.
Host: It’s very good.
Maria: Yes. The other popular thing that is really healthy which I like to do is bruschetta.
Maria: Bruschetta, so you can do really anything with a slice of crusty dilled. It has to be a good quality dilled like Italian bread, right. Because then it’s crusty, it doesn’t get mushy and you can actually put like a little salad on top of it. You know, drizzle some olive oil, if you want to put a little piece of cheese or two. And in the summertime, it’s really like sort of dinner because in the summertime usually, well anytime actually they eat their dinner later at night. So, in the summertime, it’s really nice to eat al fresco outside. You know, a couple of pieces of bruschetta for dinner with a little bit of salad on it and that’s great, a great meal also.
Host: How do you make it? Because I’ve only had several types and the one that stands out is there was a lot of diced tomatoes, little cherry tomatoes diced, a little basil and it was drizzled with olive oil and it was about this big.
Host: Yes. So, how do you make yours?
Maria: Well, that is typical and anytime I say bruschetta, everybody says, “Oh, you know it’s tomato and basil” and that in America is, you know, that’s really popular here, too. But I do with it like loads of toppings as they do it in Italy but you can either, you can even just do with some sautéed garlic and olive oil. Another really popular one, it’s really popular in Tuscany because they’re big on beans, everything is beans, beans, beans.
Maria: Okay, so you get the cannellini beans and you mash them and then you just drizzle some olive oil and chop off some garlic real finely.
Maria: And then you put that on a slice of bread. But the trick with the bread, too, is you want to broil the slices under your broiler for just until it gets a little golden. You don’t want them too burnt on each side. You know, turn it over a little golden, a little crispier and then you put this mashed bean mixture on top and that’s really good also. As I said, you can do a salad if you want to do, like the arugula, maybe some like of diced, not diced, shaved provolone cheese on top of it and drizzle of olive oil that’s really good, too. But you can, I mean there’s almost any combination you can think of that you can do and in some places, they started serving this thing called bruschetta. Bruschetta means a gigantic pizza bread. So, it’s actually a slice of a really big loaf of Italian bread. It covers a plate but it still, you know, kind of person. It’s not really calorie-laden. And again, they actually serve that with your salad on it, you know, and you have that as a meal for dinner or lunch. You know, you can put salad on there and anything that you would do on a salad, you can put that on top of this and that’s really good also. But yeah, that’s one of my favorite, easy, really easy dishes to do.
Host: What a delicious conversation at 11 AM. I’m thinking about dinner already. (laughing) But then again we’re talking about provolone cheese and we’re talking about bread and in many podcasts, many health experts are like, “Hey, don’t go towards that”, but the way you’re saying and I’ll repeat what we said or what we talked about earlier was the portions. The portions need to be smaller and more adequate. And it’s not about dumping cheese all over or something. It’s the right amount of ingredients to getting the flavor and I think you talk about that in your book, right?
Maria: Yes. Yes, I do. I talk about that in all of my books, in all my blogs. I always talk about that the people need to, because people as I said they always say, “Oh, how do you stay in shape?” because they think because you’re eating Italian food, you know, you should be this person that’s overweight because it’s not possible. But it is and as you saw, you evidenced it, I mean you were at the center of where they’re eating Italian food. And those people there are really in shape and healthy and there’s not as much obesity there as there is, you know, in other parts of the world. And that’s because they take the food they know. And the other thing is they grow up with it so they know it. I think the other thing is that when you go over there, it’s like you’re tasting the real food for the first time and you’ve only been eating plastic Italian food if you know what I mean.
Host: Honestly, it’s exactly what you feel. It’s exactly.
Maria: It’s like, “Oh, my God! This is what real food tastes like”. So, your taste buds go crazy and you just want to keep eating it and eating it because it’s like…And the thing is, I remember the first time I went there and then came back here, all the places the Italian restaurants that I thought were great, I just didn’t like them anymore and I really, it’s really hard for me to go to eat at an Italian restaurant, I just…If I’m going to eat Italian, I’ll just make it myself. So, I mean, there are a few that I found in New York City and some in different cities in the country that I like but, you know, it’s really hard but that’s what it is. I think it’s you know, “Oh, my Gosh! This is the real deal”. You know, you’re eating the real stuff and it’s like your taste buds have just had an awakening. So, people do tend to overeat because it is just irresistible, it’s hard not to. But if you want to stay healthy and be able to enjoy good food it’s just, you know, keeping everything balanced, moderate. You know, eating moderately, balancing out those flavors and you can do it, yeah.
Host: Maria, you live in a cold part of the world, so do I. It gets pretty cold up here in the North and we face a lot of snow. What are the foods or the food groups that help us resist cold weather and helping cold weather?
Maria: Well and, you know, it’s also in Italy because where I was living and where my family is from, is in the mountains, Abruzzo. Of course, they have a Mediterranean climate there so it’s a little different than being in the North-eastern part of the United States. But, you know, even there, so what we always do, I kind of do the same thing when I’m here as when I was there in the mountains. So, lots of soups and, you know, warm dishes because, you know, you want to keep warm to fight off, you know. And to keep your immune system going really healthy, you want to eat warm when it’s colder. I mean, common sense only tells you so, you know, risotto is really nice. It kind of feels a little heavier than the risotto. I’m not crazy about it in the summertime, but I do love it in the winter. It’s a nice, warm dish. It’s warm to the palate. And pasta is, a lot of times in the winter, you know, it’s good as a warm dish. In the summer I do a lot of things with cold pasta. So, the warmer pasta dishes are really good in the winter and being soups are really good in the winter also. So, there’s a famous dish it’s called Pasta e Fagioli, which means pasta and beans and that’s really a good dish. There’s another lentil soup, it’s usually popular around the holidays. It’s supposed to bring you good luck for the New Year.
Maria: But that’s a really easy dish to do, you know, with lentils and…
Host: I’ve never had that. Is that a recipe in your book?
Maria: Yes, it is. I believe it’s in my book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking: Holidays & Special Occasions. It’s in there because it’s a popular dish especially in where my family comes from, Abruzzo, it’s a tradition that you have lentil soup for New Year’s eve because if you do it, it’s supposed to make you prosperous in the New Year. So, generally like, Christmas week, total New Year, and a little after you’re eating lentil soup because it’s always leftover. You know, Italians make big pots of everything, so you always have leftovers but it’s actually really good leftover. And it’s just knowing, you know, it’s lentils with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, like a few carrots. Some put potatoes in it, there’s no pasta in it and you can make your own croutons, you know you get leftover bread, dill bread, and you make it just as I said under the broiler you cut it into little cubes and you put it in the bottom of the bowl, make sure it’s nice and hard and then you ladle the soup over it.
Maria: And when you put in the broiler, here’s the trick, you want to, after it’s broiled, actually no, while it’s broiling you want to drizzle a little bit of olive oil, put some herbs and spices on it so the flavor comes out into the bread. Then you want to leave it in the broiler until it’s really crispy, crunchy, it’s not going to be soggy. You put those little cubes on the bottom of the bowl, you ladle the soup over it and it adds flavor to your soup also. So, it’s really, really good. So, that’s one of my favorite. It’s a really easy dish to do, it’s healthy, simple. You know, it’s really not that complicated. It has all ingredients that are really healthy for you also.
Host: Where can we find your books or your blogs series online?
Maria: Yes. So, people can go to marialiberati.com, they can go to thebasicartofitaliancooking.com and they’re available on Amazon and Kindle. And actually, most sellers are online as well but you can go and my blog is marialiberati.com you can find my blog there. And I have a new Roku channel, if anybody has Roku, there’s a Roku channel called The Basic Art of Italian Cooking that I’ve just…Yes, that has actually some footage and things from my times in Italy as well.
Host: Wow. That is fantastic, Maria. You talked about herbs and spices and I've been trying to find, I’ve been trying to get that Italian flavor in my cooking because I try. I’m not very good but, you know, I give it a shot, I get in the kitchen, and I kind of cook something up. I’ll try something new but the only things I've got are oregano and that's about it. I mean, I think I should be more aware of some Italian spices. What kind of herbs and spices should I be looking at or be aware of for my cooking?
Maria: That’s a good topic that I didn’t even think of because I just take that for granted.
Maria: So, here even in the US, you know, spices and herbs if you buy them fresh in the market they’re pretty expensive.
Maria: So people tend to kind of shy away from using it but I always tell people to grow their own, you know, kitchen garden. It’s so easy, it’s therapeutic, it’s relaxing, Okay, as far as herbs and you want to add them to lots of things because they are really healthy for you and they add even more health to whatever you’re doing. So, something that’s good to like is fresh parsley, if you want rose potatoes, a really popular dish is just you cut up potatoes, you can leave the skin on…
Maria: …and you just chop up parsley, just a little bit of sea salt and drizzle some olive oil and roast them in the oven and the parsley potatoes is really good.
Maria: Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs and spices. A lot of people don’t like it but I think what’s happening is they’re getting it dried and it’s old.
Maria: So, you know, if you can grow your own rosemary, rosemary on top of potatoes. If you do eat meat, I’m not really big on eating meat but I know it works well with chicken, and like fell, rosemary is really good for that. Basil is just wonderful. You can make a salad, put it on top of fresh tomatoes, it really bumps up the flavor for fresh tomatoes, just put the leaves in the salad, you know, tear up the leaves and put them in the salad. So, basil is great. Oregano, I just can’t eat pizza without oregano. That’s like one of my favorites. Oregano is great. And then of course you have mint which isn’t typically Italian but an interesting dish that they do is kind of like an old-time dish that I know from my grandparents and it’s really refreshing in the summertime. They do a frittata. Do you know what frittata is? It’s kind of like an Italian omelet with mint, with mint. We just chop off the mint leaves and you put it in the egg and it is just wonderful. I remember my grandfather doing it, we used to go to the beach in New Jersey in the summertime because when he was here, that’s the big thing the Italians go to the beach in the summer. So, we went there and he used to take these wonderful egg sandwiches that we would have, you know, for lunchtime and it was just a frittata made with a chopped-up mint. So, that’s a really great dish to try with mint as well. So, yeah herbs and spices are great.
Host: Mint is very huge from the part of the world that I’m from. India, you know, the Middle East, Pakistan they make chutneys out of mint, it’s sauces they just chop it up and it’s a little bit of oil, a little bit of tomato and you just chop it up and it’s spicy, they put little spices and you have it with anything, flatbread, samosa, you know, any kind of fried food. French fries, ever tried mint chutney on French fries? It’s a big deal in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan they love putting vinegar, mint, all into a little like a chutney, they put it on their French fries and they serve it like on roadside stands and stuff and it’s a big deal. So, I didn’t know about mint in European culture but, you know, my dad would always send me out, you know, in the yard because we always have it growing and it grows like a weed. It’s so easy to grow.
Maria: It does. Actually the whole side of my house I started…Actually, a relative of mine who came from Italy brought me a little bit and they started. This was 10 years ago. It’s just the whole side of my house which I don’t complain about because I can just go and I have my own stash now.
Host: It smells great, you know, and it just comes back every year. It’s there, you know.
Maria: Exactly, it does. It’s wonderful, yes. Yes.
Host: So, that’s good to know that…I have stopped growing for many, many years they stopped growing. I think this year would be very good. I think especially at this time it would really be good to grow up herb garden.
Host: And grow some herbs and spices like…I think you’re, I think what you said about rosemary and, you know, parsley. I think that’s a great tip because those things grow very easily and having that fresh. I’m not too sure, does basil grow easily?
Maria: It does. You know, they’re kind of…They do. I think parsley probably might be the easiest to grow.
Host: It is. That’s for sure.
Maria: I know in this part of the country arugula, which we’re talking about, rocket, is really easy to grow and it just sprouts up, that climate and the temperature and all it’s great for that here.
Maria: And I think that’s probably an easy thing to grow almost anywhere so people can grow that, too. But the one thing I didn’t mention because you were talking about cooking like in different parts of the world, the thing that’s very interesting now is with, you know, the fusion of all the cultures living everywhere now, there’s this fusion type of cooking which I’ve been experimenting which is really interesting. So, you know, you love Italian cooking but you have Indian cooking in your background.
Maria: So try to…I was actually working with somebody because sometimes I consult with restaurants and things. Somebody that is opening an Asian restaurant is actually in the city of Philly wants to do some Italian-Asian fusion.
Maria: And there is a lot of like fusion things that you can do because, you know, pasta, the word has it that it was brought over from China.
Maria: Oh yes! It was brought over to Italy by Marco Polo.
Maria: So, it’s actually there and they’re really big into it, they call it really in English they call it noodles, they don’t call it pasta.
Maria: So, you know, there’s a lot of different ways of fusing the cultures. And these cultures have really healthy spices like I’ve been trying to experiment with a lot of the spices that are popular at least in my mind I think in Indian dishes like think cumin and turmeric.
Host: They can go in everything. You just dump that stuff in everything. (laughing)
Maria: Yes, exactly. So, when I sautée my vegetables now, like when I sautée spinach and garlic and olive oil…
Maria: I add in a little bit of turmeric, sometimes I try curry.
Maria: Yes. So, it has a really good, it has more of a bump of the healthiness of the dish and it’s a fusion thing that I think is happening more and more. So, yes, you can definitely, definitely try that as well. So, you know, fusing all that and it’s a lot of fun, too, to see how you can fuse the cultures.
Host: Cooking is a great idea to do if you are, you know, at home and your kids are at home. And learning and teaching is a great way to share a bond with your family and it's a fantastic way to spend the time because time is something we all have these days and plenty of, right? (laughing)
Maria: Yes, yes.
Host: How long are you going to watch your Instagram feed or Pinterest or Facebook. You have to get up and do something at some time. And cooking is I think a great way to connect with family. How do you do that?
Maria: Well, I just love cooking and, you know, eating with. You always hate to eat alone. I always feel like eating is such a social thing. So, I had mentioned this in an email to you. You know, I do have family members with me in this time of isolation but sometimes as my dog loves, she loves to eat with you. She does not like to, and I think dogs kind of pick up things. They kind of absorb what’s going on in the house that they live in. She loves to eat with us.
Maria: And I have to make her like similar dishes that are dog-friendly for us and she will eat with us. So, you know, I did a Facebook post about this and oh my gosh, it got more traffic than when I post a plain recipe. So, I have a salad that I developed for her because we eat…In our household, actually, the Italian household where my grandparents started, we would always have a salad because they always do. It’s usually at the end of the meal.
Maria: And they eat salad because they want to make sure their pasta keeps warm and their rice, risotto, is warm, it doesn’t get cold. So, you eat that first then your salad, So, we have our salad and my dog loves salads. So, I had to develop a special little doggie salad recipe for her. So, she knows when we’re getting our salad. You know, she’ll get the salad, too. I give her this, they’re a little bit fancy dishes, I have some extra dishes so she doesn’t have to eat from a dog dish and she’ll sit down and she eats with us and it’s just the most wonderful thing. She just loves it.
Host: Would you mind sharing? I know it’s on your Facebook. Would you mind sharing what you feed your dog? How do you make a salad or how do you make her food?
Maria: Well, you have to remember not all dogs as you know, but all like the same thing. And you also have to make sure that the things are healthy for them but I know that the vegetables I’m going to tell you now are healthy for dogs. So, she loves fresh cucumbers and she loves fresh celery but I noticed she’s like a 20 lbs. little terrier mix. So, she doesn’t, you know, she doesn’t have gigantic teeth so she doesn’t eat them whole but she loves them chopped. So, the recipe I developed for her, what I do is I chopped, I get a little, a couple of slices of fresh cucumber and I chop them up and about a quarter of a stick of fresh celery, I chop it up. Maybe she loves fresh spinach so I might get a leaf of fresh spinach, chop it up. Let me just think out loud, about a tablespoon of canned pumpkin, because I can’t get fresh now.
Maria: And this is the secret ingredient, though. My mom makes the best meatballs. I don’t eat meat but my mom and my family members do. So, here’s the secret ingredient. I give her a quarter of my mom’s meatball.
Maria: And like about a tablespoon of sauce and it’s just a tomato sauce because you have to remember dogs can’t have onions. They can have garlic but, you know, if you put garlic in your sauce you can’t give them the garlic.
Maria: It’s okay to give them the sauce but they can’t eat the raw garlic.
Host: Got it.
Maria: So, a tablespoon of sauce, put it over that and when we’re eating our salad, you know, also Sweetie, her name is Sweetie, it’s time for salad. And she’ll come out and she’ll come with us and she eats that. And sometimes I sit on the floor because she’s on the floor and I give her a little dish and, you know, we kind of eat together.
Maria: And it’s just the most wonderful thing. And, you know, dogs express love. It’s like they’re all about love and you can just see how much they just love that experience. So, you know, I think that people don’t take advantage of their dogs. They’re really meant to be companion animals but that’s a good salad. If you don’t have meatballs or sauce, they love peanut butter. So, sometimes and if I don’t have meatballs what I’ll do is I just get about a quarter teaspoon of peanut butter. It’s just the scent or the flavor of it. You don’t want to give them too much because it can really add on pounds. So, instead of the meatballs and the sauce what I do is I just add a little, a couple of dollops of peanut butter and just mix that well.
Maria: And again, she just loves it. Yes, and the cucumbers and celery are really good for their teeth.
Host: Does it keep them healthy as well?
Maria: Yes, yes. The other thing you can add is chopped fresh carrot. You know, chop the carrot up. Now, some dogs I know eat carrots whole. They love fresh carrots. She likes them whole but she, I mean she likes them fresh but she won’t eat a whole carrot. She likes it chopped up. So, sometimes I even added chopped-up carrots to that. And it’s so much fun. As I said, she’ll just have the salad course with us and you could just see that she just loves it. So, yes I do that. Trying cook together, you know, find activities that you can do together. Like I have nieces that we can’t see, they’re not far away but because of this, I can’t see them so we’ll do things together on Skype. You know, maybe discuss recipes and cook together on Skype. So, we do that, just like little simple things also. You know, make sauces and things like that together. But it’s all about, I mean it’s really, you can really connect. Food is really a connector and it’s really a social thing. So, try to use it and it’s relaxing, can be a therapy. Cooking is actually used as a therapy now.
Host: Really? You know, some people think cooking is just another chore. It’s very, you know, “Oh, my God. I got to make something for everybody” and you have that kind of feeling. How can we move beyond that? How can we make it into something which is more relaxing for us?
Maria: Yes. I think the reason is that cooking is really should be a creative outlet. So, people won’t get all caught up,” Oh, my gosh. I have to follow the ingredients in the recipe” and, you know, “Am I doing this perfect? Am I doing that perfectly?” I think what you need to do is find a recipe that you really want to cook, that you want to cook yourself, and that you want to try, you know, to be creative as if you’re doing a work of art. You know, “What do I like to cook? What is something fun to cook?”, not something that, “Oh, my gosh. I have to cook for the family” because, you know, they want this, they want that. Try something on your own that might be something you just want to cook and you just want to try and feel good about it, you know, no matter how simple it is. And I think that’s the way, I know…I think about that all the time how way back people, you know, people still do today. Luckily it’s moving in another direction but, you know, people always choose to say, “Oh, it’s such a chore”, it’s like work. People would think it’s work.
Maria: I know there’s a cleaning up factor, too, which is work. (laughing) But maybe you can delegate, you know, maybe try to do an activity and delegate, you know, everybody takes a chore and kind of break it up and make it a fun activity. And we used to do these when I was growing up and we had this gigantic Italian family, you know, cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, everybody cooks together in the kitchen on a Sunday. And, you know, everybody will be delegated to different tasks and, you know, it was just a lot of fun. That was our way of getting together on the weekends and we used to have these big meals and everybody was together and we’ll cook together and eat together and share the meal. And it was just hours spent at the table in front of all these foods, you know, that we all prepared. And it was just a lot of fun. People really need to use their food as a connector. It’s definitely a good connector and it’s a fun way to connect also.
Host: Different ethnicities lay different types of emphasis on food and the, you know, the background that I belong to and I think that you belong to as well. They place a lot of importance on cooking at home. And I learned cooking from my dad. He taught me very late in life, though. (laughing) But he knew I was going to be on my own very soon so he was like, “Alright, son. This is how you make this and this is how you make that” and it was quite a bonding experience and I learned quite a bit and those are skills that I value till today and I wanted to transfer them to my kids but I found the best way to do that is to have them pique their own interest.
Host: For example, my daughter from out of…Well, she read about churros and we had great churros in our trip to Montréal one summer and she loved them and just recently because kids are out of school for the last two weeks or so, she was like, “You know what, I’m going to make churros”. And I was like, “Go for it” and she did a great job. We have our son do the same thing, we have our kids involved just making cookies, little simple things and if you get the family involved, it's a good skill to have for their future. And it does give you a connection within the family members as well that, hey, I can make this and you can make that. I can’t make churros. I don't know-how.
Host: But I make a mean cherry pie so we can hear and talk about stuff like that.
Maria: Exactly and the thing is what I love what you said. So she said, “Wow! I want to make churros” and you were encouraging her to do it. So, the trick is, too, you know, you don’t want to make it prove your kids like it’s your, “Okay, well now I want you to learn how to do this and you got to learn”. You know, with kids they have to learn how to do it on there like they have to want to do it, you can’t talk them into it. And it’ll come through because now really a lot of kids that I even talk to at my events, they’re all into, you know, they’re all into making their own pasta which is that Italian sauce, you know. And I’m just amazed that they know these things. So, sooner or later you can be sure that their friends are going to get into that and when they do, the trick is to start encouraging them to really do it and they will get more into it. And, you know, if they get interested in their background, their culture, whatever culture, ethnicity you may be from is a wonderful way to teach them about their background and their culture and their family history through food. But yes, the trick is they have to be, you know, they have to have an interest or teach them about other cultures because we do that, too, sometimes. We try to celebrate some holidays that may not be in our ethnic or culture or whatever, but we love doing that. We love doing that. One of my aunts used to love celebrating the Jewish holiday, Shabbat and Yom Kippur and we don’t eat that in our family at all but, you know, she would invite us over during those holidays because she loves to make the different things from holidays, yes. So, you know, you can also learn about other cultures and other ethnicities and get an appreciation of that through food as well like your daughter who was cooking churros. So, you know, it’s a great way to learn about that as well, yes.
Host: There’s no better time than now to do these things. This is the best time right now.
Maria: Yes, yes. And I think somebody up there is giving us all this extra time to say, “Hey! You need to stop and really connect”. I mean, just think we don’t because a lot of times I’m like, “I wish I had more time. I could do this”. Well, now everybody has the time so there’s really no excuse. You know, now is a great time to do it. Exactly, yes.
Host: The world needed a break from us and we needed a break from the world. So, it’s a good step back. (laughing)
Maria: Definitely. Definitely, yes.
Host: Maria, thank you so much. Once again, we can find your books and your blog and all your wonderful Italian recipes on marialiberati.com and you are on Facebook. I don't know if you're on Instagram or LinkedIn or…
Maria: Yes, I’m on LinkedIn. It’s just that they look for Maria Liberati. I’m on Instagram, I’m on Twitter, on Facebook definitely. Yes, on Facebook it’s Chef Maria Liberati and they can also look up The Basic Art of Italian Cooking. It’s my book series, yes.
Host: The Basic Art of Italian Cooking. Thank you so much for a delicious conversation, really hungry now. (laughing)
Maria: Me, too. Yes. (laughing)
Host: Have a great rest of the day and we wish you and your family healthy and, you know, through these times.
Maria: Yes. You too, as well. Thank you.