Ten weeks ago, I made the decision to “lighten up.” It was before the holidays, and it just seemed a good idea to get out ahead of things. The goals were varied: I wanted to take some pressure off my knees, I wanted to be able to fit into my Isaia suit, and I had an image of myself that I had wanted to achieve 3 ½ years ago and didn’t. I don’t know really how it came about – I think I hit a wall and just wasn’t going to keep hitting it. My head was sore. So I started on the Italian Wine Guy Diet. 10 weeks later and 20 pounds lighter, I look back and wonder why I took so many years procrastinating over it. Yes, it was hard work, and no, it isn’t finished. But now I look at food and wine through a different lens. I feel like I have been given some years back.
So what is the Italian Wine Guy Diet? First, I started keeping a log of everything I ate and drank. Everything. There are systems that can calculate them into some form of measure. I use an online program that works with my laptop and Blackberry, so I can always know where I am at. The key is to be accountable and to look at your intake realistically. In my job I spend some time analyzing numbers, looking for patterns. I have the kind of mind that can spot a trend or a spike. If I can do it with millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of outlets, surely a few pounds in a few months is doable. And lately the analysis in this economic basin is an exercise in less is more. So why not embrace that aspect in personal terms, something that actually produces a result that actually gives one something to show for it, even if that something to show is less?
Foods I am eating more of? Black beans, peppers, garlic, spices, cauliflower, yogurt, whole grain tortillas. Chicken, not more of, but in place of other proteins like salmon and steak. Mussels, soups, salads, carrots, broccoli, spinach.
Foods I am eating less of – all of them – portion control – like the Italians or the French do.
Foods I am not eating very much of, if at all? Steaks, salmon, cheese, bread, pasta, ice cream, avocado, counter prepared meals in markets (who knows really how they make them?) and butter.
Eating out is not as big a challenge as one might think – finding the quality of food like I do when I forage for it myself is more of a problem. Where does their chicken come from? How much oil do they really use (usually too much), and did they slip a little butter in that recipe? Or cream? I have found out that cooks use fat, way too much, to flavor foods. Now I see cardamom and nutmeg and peppers as a substitute for the big flavors that less creative (or lazy) cook types haven’t yet embraced. Amazing what those spices and a tiny drop of oil on a cut-up head of oven-roasted cauliflower can do to make such terrific flavors. Or Greek-style, nonfat yogurt in a baked potato in place of cheese, butter and sour cream. Smoked paprika, a little Greek seasoning, some strategically placed Calabrese pepper sauce and voila, a meal that is so filling that it is hard to finish the whole thing.
So, Italian Wine Guy, and what about wine? Yes, let’s talk. Because my idea about wine has changed a little. I’ll give an example from last night. I had two bottles, samples, to try this weekend, one was an Aglianico blended with non-indigenous grapes from Basilicata, the other was a Negroamaro from Puglia. This is how my taste on the wine trail in Italy is going. The first wine was all wood and fruit and alcohol – it was like a 24-ounce porterhouse that had been cooked in butter. I rook one sip and recalled the glasses from the room. The Negroamaro, on the other hand, was also fruity, but like a date, not a pile of pineapple. The acid was bracing but balanced and wood, what wood? The Negroamaro was magical – the wine suited the time. And for me it was a more correct expression of an Italian wine, the kind that won the hearts of millions around the world. So it fits with my regimen and my philosophy. We’ll see how it plays when I try to preach this gospel at Vinitaly in April.
The reality of the past 10 weeks has been for me an exploration into a new future for this vessel that carries around my heart and my mind. It is leaner, but not any meaner. But it is measured, and it is looking at how we measure the quality of things in our world. My world, revolving around the carousel of Italian wine and culture, is looking for those things that blend harmoniously with my findings. I think the world, especially those of us who live in the developed areas where we don’t lack for food, water and shelter, have a responsibility to “lighten up” on what we take for our share to live on this beautiful planet.
Art by the Futurist from Calabria, Umberto Boccioni