First, you should know I really am not a lengthy talkative person. I process internally or unconsciously, provide the short verbal statement and leave at that. In actuality instead of the pages that follow, I would just write:

I realized what my desire for this holiday and struggle to achieve my trip to Italy symbolized for me and how it altered my personality, my self-perception and worth.

Short sweet blog.

Secondly, if you jump from A to Z you will have no need for my recall of steps B thru Y and can head half way down to some recipes. Here it is for the rest of you.

My plan to bike Italy began 6 years ago after catching a travel special on PBS one Friday night. Daydreaming about travel and researching it was a welcome respite from studying, working, and the emotions of the end of a long relationship. I was particularly drawn to bike the Apian Way. I felt as if I walked it before and need to return. Everything in Europe has more history than in the US, but the diversity of activities that passed through this road over the centuries drew me to the conclusion “I am biking the Apian Way when I graduate”. After much research, I learned most of the Way was gone or now interstate roads. I couldn’t see myself biking that. So I extended my daydreams to the rest of Italy.

I eventually mapped out biking from Naples to the Amalfi Coast. A friend who’d recently returned from a family wedding in Amalfi nearly lost his eyes from surprise when I said I was biking there. I had read the roads were a bit difficult, but after hearing his rendition, I realized I might need to modify my expectations. My fantasy travel was pieced together from bike excursions I’d read online or from various travel books.

Being also drawn to the nuraghi in Sardinia, I mapped out a course there as well. Archeology is my first love and the chance to use the library at the Field Museum brought my heart to a new level of palpitations. Nuraghi are cone shaped, stone built mounds, homes from prehistoric residents of Sardinia. Approximately 7000 of these homes litter the island in somewhat isolated areas. Viticulture (wine making) is evidenced even back then. I do like wine.

As graduation approached, it became clear I did not have the means to get to my destination. I was in bike-ready shape; leanest and meanest I’d ever been. Well, for a number of reasons I couldn’t embark on a trip. And, as I embarked on my life as an acupuncturist, I realized it wasn’t going to happen for a really long time. I put away the itinerary, the maps, and the books. I ceased the 2 hour daily gym workouts and used my bike only for commuting.

Soft, defeated, heartbroken and very sad I continued to live my day to day struggle with the fantasy still in the back of my brain.

[Enter my brother]

Ok, my brother is awesome – insanely talented, intelligent, observant and dry. All my friends understand my stance. He is and always will be my big brother. Thoughts and feelings may not be verbalized or expressed, but we’ve got that subtle sibling way of showing it even if it’s not acknowledged.

Jump to December, 2006 with me. I receive a somewhat cryptic email; it might be a joke because it is from my brother, which seems to say I’m going to Italy. I sit, I stare, and it sinks in. I call a friend, luckily she picks up so I can scream, “IMGOINGTOITALY!” She mimics the excitement but has no idea what she heard, “WHAT?” “IM GOING TO ITALY!” and we commence with a little squealing or some variation of what excited girls are supposed to do.

Next I call my brother to clarify what I’ve just exploded about and yes, we are going Italy. After a crazy busy business traveling year, he has accumulated frequent flyer miles equivalent to two international airfares. Sometimes I question that since he tends to give more than he is able, maybe he bought the tickets. I don’t know. So at this point, my brother surpassed awesome and I am feeling a bit guilty.

In the next week, two friends offer me holiday gifts with an Italy theme. It’s synchronicity because neither of them knew about the trip or my 6 year fantasy. I don’t need to pinch myself.

Other friends voiced concerns over food. As far as I am concerned, I will fear no gluten and will continue to limit sugar consumption. I don’t have intolerance to most foods, for preventative health I limit my gluten and refined sugar intake and avoid yeast 99% of the time. I bake and cook without these items because I can and I appreciate the challenge and exercise for my brain to create something alternatively edible. I am certain fish and vegetables abound as it is a Mediterranean area, but maybe I am being idealistic.

In the end, my brother has done all the planning and will be bankrolling the trip because I seem to still be in the fledgling stage of my practice. I am content with camping, biking and bussing, partially because I want this to be a cost effective trip. My brother wants a little more comfort than I do and is a little more realistic of the experiences to come. He has done more traveling than I. We will have a roof over our heads each night; we will have a car for some of the time; we will have reservations and tickets. I do hope he learned a modicum of the language because I didn’t get around to that. He laughs at my attempts to pronounce the most basic words.

I didn’t open a travel book until just now – three weeks before the adventure will commence. I didn’t want to jinx it; I didn’t want to feel the guilt of dependency on someone else and their money. The reality is I am going and I have to deal with all of that or I won’t even be present the coming events. I have composed and translated online a few sentences that I know I will use. I will be faced daily with my avoidance when I hear Italian spoken and I smile and silently with raised eyebrows ask my brother what is being said. Opening the travel book brought back a flood of tears of gratitude, my sense of adventure, imagination, and a new soundtrack for now or maybe my life – the hokey live-the-impossible-dream. My brother did that.

Now if you’re going to miss me, here are a few or more Italian recipes to throw together.

Caprese ala Vegan

2 large heirloom tomatoes, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

a whole lot of fresh basil, julienned

1 cup of cooked quinoa

1 block or 1 ½ blocks of Mozzarella Almond Cheese

Olive Oil

A pinch or 2 of rock salt


I just toss all this together gently, drizzle on some olive oil, and maybe add a squeeze of lemon or a little lemon zest. I let it sit refrigerated a couple hours at least so the garlic and basil infuse every little bit of cheese and quinoa.

In this little recipe, the quinoa just adds a bit of protein and a little more dimension. It can be omitted. You can always make this more traditional with slices of tomato and slices of Almond Mozzarella, olive oil and julienned basil littered atop.

Decadence on Bread

This is particularly decadent because of the bread. Red Hen Bakery in Chicago makes a Ring Bread or King Bread. I’ve never clarified, I just ask for the bread and they hand it to me. It is ring-shaped, crusty with lots of yeasty goodness, and roasted garlic swirled throughout. This is another caprese variation:

Cut ring bread open

Slather 2 of the following on either half:

basil pesto – ground almonds, garlic, olive oil, basil and parmesan (if you can have it)

thyme, tarragon or marjoram pesto – same ingredients above

olive tapenade – olives (black or green – its lovely to have a pitter around), garlic, oil

Drizzle on olive oil.

Layer slices of tomato and mozzarella. I go all out with the real cheese.

Place the top bread slice on and cut carefully through into individual portions. I generally need to place toothpicks (decorate with a peperoncini, salami cube, cheese cube or basil leaf) through to keep slices intact.

Gluten-free Baked Lasagna

When I make this for myself, I make the more time consuming version. I apply the ingredients to each cooked lasagna noodle, roll it up and align them in a baking dish. I make less, I eat less, my body is happy and I don’t chide myself for eating too much.

1 box Rice or Artichoke lasagna noodles

1 jar Tomato sauce

1 16 oz container Ricotta*

4 ish cups steamed carrots, broccoli or rapini, and greens (spinach, chard, or arugula)

fresh herbs (basil, oregano, or marjoram)

4 -5 cloves garlic, minced

½ – 1 lb grated cheese

I blend the steamed veggies, herbs and garlic in a food processor.

Layer noodles uncooked with sauce, ricotta or ricotta substitute, processor-ed veggies, and meat** if you want it. Top with sauce and grated cheese and bake until bubbly and done.

To make the roll-up baked version, cook noodles until almost done (bendable but not al dente), rinse with cold water. I usually end up mixing all ingredients together into a chunky paste and apply to each noodle. I know it sounds unappetizing but it works. I roll them up and place orderly into baking dish. Once it is filled, I pour on tomato sauce and grated cheese and baked until bubbly done.

Bake uncooked noodle version at 350 degrees for 45 – 60 minutes

Baked cooked roll-up version at 350 degrees for 30 – 45 minutes

*If allergic to cow’s milk, use goat yogurt in lesser quantity mixed with egg

If vegan, use tofu. I usually mix tofu with bread crumbs (gluten free), some herbs and maybe some lemon zest

**If I have extra baked turkey or some cooked ground turkey on hand, I will add ½ to 1 lb

Gluten-Free Spumoni Brownie

It’s not ice cream, though you can make that if you’d like. This is quicker – a cherry pistachio brownie.

1/3 cup quinoa flour

¼ cup each : tapioca flour, rice flour, flax meal

5 Tbs cocoa powder (you can use carob)

1 Tbs arrowroot

2 tsp baking soda

¼ cup agave

3 Tbs shortening (butter)

½ cup milk alternative (soy, almond, rice…)

2 tsp vanilla

Frozen pitted cherries have less sugar but for nostalgia you can use maraschino cherries


Incorporate agave, vanilla, milk alternative, and shortening. Combine flours, cocoa or carob and arrowroot and baking soda.

Combine wet and dry until thoroughly incorporated. Fold in cherries. Pour into greased baking pan, top with pistachios.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean-ish

Top with (soy) whipped cream, an extra cherry and more pistachio

This entry was posted in Foods:desserts, Foods:gluten-free, Foods:pasta, Foods:salad, Italian. Bookmark the permalink.

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