Sunday, 28 April 2019

Casa Mia in Barrie: Pasto Perfetto!

Driving home from visiting my mother, we passed Casa Mia on Dunlop St. W. and Ron suddenly remembered two things. He was hungry and that he'd had a gift card for Casa Mia sitting on his dresser since Christmas.

We returned as soon as we retrieved the gift card and went in not long after the restaurant opened at 4 o'clock. A table of four were the only other guests inside.

Mediterranean music complimented the old world decor of wood and plaster, tile, columns, frescoes and statuettes, while a pleasant and slightly garlicky aroma filled the air.  The hostess quickly seated us at a south facing window and very soon after, we were greeted by our server who must be one of the sweetest and most enthusiastic wait staff I have met anywhere.

Corinne, and I hope I have spelled your name correctly, is the brand ambassador every business dreams of. It was apparent that our good time was her number one objective, and not only because it was her job but because she genuinely believed in the fare she was serving, and truly wanted us to be happy.

Corrine was surprised to hear that we were first-timers. Casa Mia must have a lot of regular visitors! She explained all the specials and side options, then eagerly pointed out her own favourite dishes on the menu. She easily sold us on two of them, Greek Village Chicken and Linguine Pacifico. We are always on the hunt for a fantastic caesar salad and so ordered two of those to start, and a nice glass of white wine.

The salads were very nice. Light but tangy and flavourful, not like some of the watery bland affairs we have encountered elsewhere.

Two amazing platters soon followed. They were unlike any plates I have seen to date in Barrie - hearty, artful and uniquely presented.

Ron's Greek Village Chicken was described to us as a chicken parmigiana with the addition of  spinach. The sides of roasted potato and mixed veg sounded nice but not necessarily exciting. However, what he received was so much more than what was expected. At Casa Mia, they sauce and cheese all items on the plate, then bake it, which was a delicious surprise!

Mixed vegetables in most standard restaurants often means a small pile of unseasoned steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrot. Healthy but boring. Casa's was all that and more, roasted, sauced and cheesed, and Ron was actually giddy to find a beet in his veg selection!

My plate was so beautifully presented! Large tiger shrimps and calamari pieces were swirled into a tall mound of saucy pasta and surrounded by a crown of mussels in the shell.

The tomato sauce in our dishes, house made I'm told, was just lovely. Smooth, light and not at all acidic. I am not a big red sauce fan normally but Casa Mia's sauce was a delight.

Naturally, we had no room left for dessert but we treated ourselves to the next best thing, something we had not sampled in years - a specialty coffee from the bar! Ron ordered a B52 coffee and kept it slightly simpler with a Bailey's coffee. Our drinks were decadent and just what we needed to top off a perfect meal!

Saturday, 5 January 2019

They Say You Can Never Trust a Skinny Chef

Happy New Year! I have been rather absent from my Curious Nibbler persona lately but not for any particular reason. Life just gets busy - work, volunteer roles, family etc. but I still love my adventures in food. In fact, you will see that I have moved myself into the 21st century with the purchase of a (once dreaded) cell phone and found that Instagram is a fantastic medium.

Something else is new though. I am working on a project, one that aims to shatter the meme that says "never trust a skinny chef." That project is me. 

One year ago tomorrow, for whatever inexplicable reason, I awoke feeling like I deserved better. Coincidentally or otherwise, January 6 is the date of Epiphany on the Christian calendar, the day that the three Wise Men encountered that special baby. An epiphany can also be defined as a moment of sudden revelation that changes you in some way.

I woke up that morning feeling unhealthy and depressed. My joints hurt, my clothes were strangling me, mirrors and scales were my enemies and I was sick of it. I deserved to be happy and healthy and I decided that I was going to do something about it.

I am a veteran of Weight Watchers (in 2 different countries), T.O.P.S. and Herbalife, all of them multiple times. Lost hundreds of pounds over several decades. I should be below my birth weight by now. I have realized that in every one of those fun (not) exercises in deprivation I was doing it for anyone but me - my family, my friends, society at large, or the sweet lady manning the scale who clapped when I lost a pound.

This time had to be different. For years, I had avoided any attempts at losing the excess weight mostly because I feared another failure.

So I made a plan. First, I picked a reasonable number as my target weight, a number I had been at before, something attainable and maintainable, and keeping in mind that I am not twenty years old and that I have given birth to five big beautiful babies in my life.

I gave myself a year to get to that number. I also told no one. This was my little secret. Sometimes, when you announce that you want to lose weight, well-meaning people like to remind you that perhaps you "shouldn't be eating that" and put extra guilt/pressure on you. I was possibly twenty pounds lighter or more before people began to ask if I was losing weight.

I decided to be kind and reasonable with myself. I would not do anything "nutty" or, in other words, no fad diets, weight loss groups or services, fasting, cleanses, pills, surgeries or meal plans. Just good and tasty food because I deserve that. If I want a few slices of pizza now and then, I will have them.

I hate gyms. I joined one once and only went a handful of times. What a waste of money. Gyms are just not for me and I know this so there is little point in me signing up at one. What do I like? Walking. I'm pretty good at it too - been doing it since I was ten months old, so I heard.

The beauty of walking is that almost all of us can do it. You need no special equipment, you can go any time you want and it costs nothing. Sometimes I add music, (another benefit to the once hated cell phone idea), and I am propelled along by some very cool 80s dance tracks! Other times, I leave the headphones at home and enjoy the sound of the birds or the wind in the trees.

You are wondering what I ate, right? I only ate food that I like. This is a key factor for anyone who wants to get healthy and lose any weight that is holding them back from living a full life - you will not succeed in the long term (or possibly short term) if you eat stuff that is "good for you" but tastes like crap.

Kale? Nope. Spring mix salads? Nope. I hate those things therefore I'm not going to eat them. You have to find foods that are good for you and that also taste good to you personally. They are out there.

Do you cook? You really need to put the effort in to learn how to prepare some really delicious meal items for yourself, again because you deserve this! I don't mean five star cheffy things, but simple yummy stuff that you can prep ahead and look forward to having when you come home tired and hungry. You might be surprised to learn that professional chefs are bad at this. Who wants to cook when they have cooked all day at work? Not meeeee.

I have been eating a mostly vegetarian diet for about six years now. That does not necessarily lead to an automatic healthy weight. It certainly didn't in my case. I know that I was not keeping track of my protein intake properly, and that carbohydrates were making up waaaaaay too much of my diet. I do much better with those things now.

Junk food was my crack cocaine. I ate a lot of chips, crackers and other salty/crunchy things. Every day. Those things were hard to give up but instead of thinking of their absence as a deprivation, I turned it around that they were an addiction that was killing me. I also turned to sunflower seeds and nuts instead, things that let me have my crunch and flavour treat but also add fiber and protein value to my diet.

I also gave up 90% of the bread that I ate. Carbs, carbs, carbs. Everybody talks about the evil of carbs but I don't know that they are terrible for everyone. I just know that I was eating far too much bread, and living on sandwiches to a great extent, so for me personally, walking away from bread made a big difference. Maybe once a week, I will have a veggie burger or pizza. Saying "never again" to a particular food item often leads to those old feelings of deprivation, craving and falling completely off the wagon.

So what do I really eat? Everybody has to find things that suit their personal taste, living situation, budget, medical status etc., so what I eat is not going to be what you eat. Breakfast for me can be fruit and cheese (my faves are grapes and smoked gouda), cereal and fruit (Fiber One with dried apricots), a high protein (30 g.) shake, or maybe a veggie omelette. Lunch could be a caesar salad with crab or shrimp, a homemade soup (butternut squash is my go-to), or one of my Indian style stews (crushed tomato, coconut milk, curry spices, assorted frozen veg and a soy based protein or chick peas).

I like to bake some fish ( Highliner Pan-Sear Selects are so good!) with veg drizzled in olive oil, create a filling lentil shepherd's pie or make an eggplant parmigiana for dinner. Nutritious and delicious things are a must. Why? Because (and keep telling yourself this) you deserve to be healthy and feel good, and also to enjoy your meals.

Above all, be good to yourself. Be patient and forgiving. Make small goals for yourself. Take small bites out of the apple, if you will forgive the food analogy, and look for losses of a pound here and there rather than looking at a big and overwhelming number. Aim for XXX pounds by Easter, for example, as a mini goal. Give yourself a tiny reward when you get there. New walking shoes, yoga pants or consider that FitBit you have been wanting.

I decided last year that I don't necessarily want to extend my life, but I want to live while I am alive, if that makes any sense. I want to dance with my daughter and hike with the boys, I want to wear the pretty clothes and give depression the boot, I want to have more energy to work and play, have more confidence, try new things and generally live well.

So (drum-roll please) I hit my goal ahead of schedule this past November 27th. To achieve my target, I lost the obscurely uneven sounding number of 57 pounds. I truly amazed myself. Never before I have I done something like this by myself and for myself.

What's next? Christmas put 3 pounds back on my frame but I'm not panicking (as I would have in the past) because I will soon rectify that. I am looking forward to the return of warm weather when I can really get walking again, without the fear of falling on my butt on an icy sidewalk. How I love my walks down to our beautiful  lake shore where I can soak away my cares in the cool waters of Kempenfelt Bay. I may even wear a two piece bathing suit this year. Wink.