Healthy Food

Date Recipes for an Easy(er) Labor

September 12, 2017
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If you’ll remember quite a few posts back, I quit my full-time job to pursue my dream of becoming a health & wellness entrepreneur. Today, my work no longer fits into a neat little box. One that I clock in, and clock out of, and that has one title. Instead, it’s messy, volatile, and all over the place. And I love it.

At the moment, I work for five different “jobs,” or rather, clients. One such client is called the Institute for Functional Medicine. It is my responsibility to read dozens of clinical studies on a particular topic, and summarize them into one succinct article.

I’ll admit, it’s one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had. It requires quite a lot of brain power, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Why? Because it makes me smarter. It forces me to read scientific studies, understand the language, and make decisions based on concrete information rather than internet regurgitation.

Recently, I came across a study that was of particular interest to me because of my current condition (pregnant).

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It was called “The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labour and delivery.”

Researchers at Jordan University of Science and Technology followed 114 pregnant women over the course of a year. During that time, they gave 69 women six dates per day for four weeks prior to their estimated delivery date. The 45 women in the control group consumed none. The results were nothing short of awesome, in my opinion. Here’s the gist:

  • The “date women” had significantly higher cervical dilation upon their labor day compared with the “non-date women.” 3.52 cm vs. 2.02 cm.
  • 96% of the “date women” experienced spontaneous labor, compared to 79% of “non-date women.”
  • 28% of “date women” needed hormones to progress labor (prostin/oxytocin), compared to 47% in “non-date women.”
  • The “date women” were in the first stage of labor for a mean of 510 minutes, vs. 906 minutes for the “non-date women.”

In conclusion, eating dates in the last 4 weeks before labor significantly reduced the need for induction or intervention in labor and produced a more favorable delivery outcome. 

Hell yes.

As someone who is planning on having a natural labor, I need all the help I can get for a “favorable” outcome. So I followed suit. At 36 weeks, I started diligently eating my 6 dates a day. And I must admit, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Six dates a day is a lot! Especially for a girl who normally watches her sugar intake. But guess what? I’m a chef. Why just eat dates when you can eat dates baked in, topped on, and rolled into other delicious ingredients? I called for reinforcements.

I just happen to have a friend who is a fellow personal chef and also in her third trimester of her first pregnancy – SMALL WORLD, right? So wonderful Whitney of a Shared Plate and I made a Date “Date.” (See what we did there?).

It involved a lot of taste testing, a little swearing when I accidentally dumped a tablespoon of nutmeg into the pumpkin batter (that stuff is STRONG), and four swollen ankles by the end of the day. But we were both very happy with the results. And hopefully our babies will agree come labor day.

Before I hand over the goods, I just want to say that I’m not naïve enough to think that dates alone are going to make labor easy or painless. The study I cited here tested a smaller sample size, and was also conducted in Jordan — a large exporter of the date fruit. I have found plenty of anecdotal evidence from other women who've found labor improvement through date eating, but there really is no guarantee, right? Sometimes, though, I think we all need something to feel like we have a bit of control over a very out-of-control condition. Heaven knows, this is the last time for a long time that we can feel we have control over anything.

Though pregnancy has been a wonderful experience for me, these last few weeks have been a true test of patience and letting go — knowing that I must have faith that it will all work out. I plan to write back again once Charley girl is born with knowledge and wisdom. But right now, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. So with that, I raise a date to you. Here's to being totally clueless, scared out of our minds, but also more excited than we ever have been to experience love like we never knew we could. Cheers!

Much Love,

HealthyStaceySignature


Labor Day Date Recipes

Per the study cited above, you should start your date obsession at 36 weeks of pregnancy, or rather 4 weeks before expected delivery date. Six dates a day? With these recipes? No problem.

Zucchini Date Bread

Why use raisins when you can use dates? Why use sugar when you can use dates? Any possible ingredient that could be subsituted with dates, we did. The result was a soft, hearty zucchini bread with a subtle sweetness. If you're feeling really indulgent, slather it with almond butter. Or heck. Just butter. Remember, fat is good for you and the baby.

GlutenFreeDateZucchiniBread_HealthyStacey

Recipe courtesy of Katie at the Healthy Seasonal Recipes blog, with tweaks from Whitney and Stacey.

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • 1 cup pitted and quartered Medjool dates
  • 2 cups gluten-free flour
  • 1 cup sprouted spelt flour
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large pasture-raised eggs
  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pound zucchini, shredded (about 3 ½ cups)
  • ¾ cup rolled oats
  • Additional cup dates, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 2 1.5-quart loaf pans with coconut oil.
  2. Pour boiling water over the dates and let sit until softened, about 15 minutes.
  3. While you’re waiting, stir together gluten-free flour, spelt flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Transfer dates and their soaking liquid to a food processor and process until smooth.
  5. Add eggs, oil, honey and vanilla and process until smooth.
  6. Pour date mixture into a large bowl. Stir in zucchini. Add the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Add the oats and extra chopped dates and stir until just combined. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans.
  7. Bake until golden brown, puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 55 minutes to 1 hour.
  8. Allow loaves to cool in their pans at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

 

Pumpkin Crisp Date Bars | Gluten-Free, Vegan

I couldn't possibly make baked goods in September without satisfying my pumpkin obsession. And oh boy, did this do it. The filling is made by blending dates and pumpkin puree together, along with all the necessary fall spices. If you wanted to make this paleo, then I would recommend using a combination of ground nuts and shredded coconut to replace the oats. OR, you could just make the filling and eat it by the spoonful. No shame in that, my preggo friends.

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Recipe courtesy of Sarah McMinn from My Darling Vegan

Ingredients

(Pumpkin Date Filling)

  • 1 cup packed medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • zest of 1 large orange, about 2 teaspoons

(Oat Crumble)

  • 2½ cups gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup coconut oil

Directions

  1. Soak the pitted dates for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat an 8×8 baking sheet with coconut oil and set aside.
  3. For the oat crumble combine oats, almond meal, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Stir together. In a smaller bowl whisk combine coconut oil and maple syrup. Add the coconut oil/syrup mixture to the oats and stir to combine.
  4. Once your dates are done soaking, drain and place in a food processor along with the remaining pumpkin filling ingredients. Blend until smooth. Set aside.
  5. Pour half of the oat crumble on the bottom of the prepared baking sheet and press down. top with the pumpkin filling, smoothing even with a spatula. Finish by sprinkling the remaining oat crumble evenly over the top. Press down lightly.
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes until crumb is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing into 16 even pieces.

 

Raw Chocolate Date Brownies | Paleo, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Raw

Of all the date recipes made, this one might take the cake. I've never experienced something so decadently brownie-like, without actually being a brownie. It blows my mind that these are essentially made up of just 3 ingredients: dates, walnuts, and cacao. Bonus points for giving me the small kick of caffiene (from the cacao) I need every day without resorting to coffee. Whitney had the fantastic idea that on the next go-round of these (and there WILL BE another go-round), we should add hazelnuts to the mix. Done and done.

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Recipe courtesy of Katie from Chocolate Covered Katie, with tweaks from Whitney and Stacey

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups loosely packed pitted dates
  • 1 1/2 cups walnuts
  • 6 tbsp cacao or cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp water
  • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Combine the dates, walnuts, 6 tbsp cocoa, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, water, and salt in a food processor. Process until completely smooth, scraping down as needed – It may seem dry at first, but don’t add any extra water. 
  2. Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan, or line the pan with parchment or wax paper.
  3. Transfer dough to pan and press very firmly until dough is evenly distributed in the pan.
  4. Refrigerate brownies for at least 2 hours, to set. Leftovers can stay covered at room temperature for a day, or up to 2 weeks in the fridge, or 1-2 months in the freezer.

 

Kitchen Sink Date Energy Balls & Bars | Paleo, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Raw

I personally love recipes that have very lax guidelines. So I created this gem for you so you can easily make your own date ball or bar. Think of it as a "choose your own adventure" recipe. No matter what nuts or seeds you choose, you'll get the added benefit of combining a protein (nuts/seeds) and a fat (coconut oil) with your dates. This will keep your blood sugar from spiking as you gobble them down.

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Original recipe from Healthy Stacey, intended to be customized to your tastes (and/or lack of having the exact ingredients on hand becasue…life)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of nuts (i.e. almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios)
  • 1 cup of seeds (i.e. pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc)
  • 1 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 cups of Medjool dates, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of your favorite spices mixed together (e.g. cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, etc)
  • Optional: superfood toppings to roll the balls in such as cacao nibs, goji berries, or more shredded coconut

Directions

  1. Process the nuts, seeds and coconut in the food processor
  2. Add in the dates, coconut oil, salt and seasonings, then pulverize again
  3. Roll mixture into balls or flatten into a pan
  4. Freeze for an hour
  5. Cut into squares if flattened into a pan
  6. Eat one, and put the rest in the fridge for daily snacks until your labor day!

 

Healthy Body

Healthy Stacey is having a baby + Spicy & Sweet Brittle Recipe

May 4, 2017
SpicyBrittleCrunchRecipe_Paleo_HealthyStacey

A lot has happened since my last post in December (embarrassing, I know). I’ve been writing up a storm for a few publications including The List, Mashed, and more, I’m really coming into my own as a personal chef, and oh yeah, I’M HAVING A BABY!

HealthyStaceyHavingaBaby

Yup. It’s official. All my efforts in fertility food have paid off. Well, that mixed with a few months of frustration, a few weeks of letting go and having fun (read: more wine, less paranoia), and finally, a big old positive on the pee stick. Baby Hutson is arriving in September and my husband and I could not be more excited.

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In the meantime, however, months have gone by of me learning tons of new recipes, techniques, and information that I’ve been dying to share with you. Just haven’t made the time to do it. 

Because I couldn’t settle on one topic to talk about, I thought I’d give you a sampling of my new-found knowledge (i.e. a brain dump) so that we can get this train moving again. You ready? Here goes.

The Book I’m Reading:

DeepNutritionBookCateShanahan

Deep Nutrition: Why your genes need traditional food, 2nd Edition. I read the first years ago and it opened my mind up to the world of Epigenetics (meaning, what you eat and how you live can alter your DNA — and your future children’s DNA — for the better). Dr. Shanahan has now updated the book with more information on vegetable oils, brain health, body symmetry, and diet, and I cannot get enough. This book is really hard to summarize in a nice, neat paragraph. So maybe it’s better served having its own post. But if I can convince you to do one thing differently this month to better your health, it would be to read this book. No, I’m not getting paid to say that. I just really want more people to know more about it because it’s THAT good.

The Foods I’m Eating:

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At the moment, I love all things cold, crunchy, and/or sweet. That includes (but is not limited to): Cado ice cream (yes, it’s avocado ice cream), frozen grapes, jicama, my homemade spicy brittle crunch (recipe below), and plantain bread with almond butter and cinnamon. I’ve also been really diligent about drinking bone broth as much as I can for all of the benefits it brings to me and Baby H. I’ve increased my carb intake, not only because it’s important for hormone balance, but because my body is begging for it. I’ve done that in the form of sweet potatoes, plantain bread and chips, sprouted quinoa, and the occasional piece of sourdough bread with a heaping spoonful of almond butter. Besides that, it’s really just me eating more of what I already know and love. Loads of veggies, lots of meat and fish (grass-fed, free-range, and wild-caught as much as I can), hormone-balancing meatballs (read: LIVER!), and tons of nuts and seeds (more cashews and almonds than one human should consume in a day). Which segways perfectly into my next update…

The Project I’m Working On:

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Pregnancy has caused me some serious insomnia over the last two months. At first, I was frustrated. And then, I decided to use it to my advantage. So, I did what I always do to relax me. I wrote. And what came out of my writing was the beginnings of a cookbook. A paleo-ish pregnancy cookbook to be exact. Full of information about the benefits of a full-fat, meat-on-the-bone, organ meat-full, and gluten-free diet during pregnancy (with room for mess-ups and why-nots). I have no intention of taking this to a “real publisher." Instead, I am writing it because I love cooking, I love writing, and I wanted one place to put all my “craving recipes.” I’ll keep you updated on how that goes. Who knows. Maybe I'll print them out and make them available to you fine people. But no pressure, either way, cool? Cool.

The Cookware I'm Using…And Why:

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I’ve made the switch to cast iron pans. It wasn’t easy. I’ve had them sitting in my cupboards for years, only pulling them out every once in a while, for special occasions. But after reading about the dangers of the chemical coating that could be coming off in my food while using a non-stick pan, I decided to lug the heavy stuff out for good. Non-stick pans are great, right? No stick, no mess, no scrubbing with a brush to clean up caked-on ground beef. Problem is, the non-stick pans apparently can’t stand the heat. When heated to high temperatures, they can emit polymer fumes that have been shown to kill pet birds (what??) and cause people to develop flu-like symptoms. Cast iron, on the other hand, is a much better alternative. Not only is it free-from chemicals or toxic fumes, it actually serves as a good source of…wait for it…iron. Genius, right? Who’d a thunk. Oh. As far as lifting them goes – my advice is don’t. Just leave them where they are and clean them off with a paper towel, then wipe them down with a little oil to keep them well-seasoned. Wouldn’t want you breaking an arm while scraping off turmeric scrambled eggs.

Alright folks. That's all she wrote for now. But don't worry, I'll be back. And it won't take nearly as long next time, K? Promise. 

Much Love,

HealthyStaceySignature

 

Spicy & Sweet Brittle Recipe (AKA My #1 Pregnancy Craving)

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This recipe, first written by a food blogger, Amanda Skrip, was shared with me by health & wellness chef, Alia Dalal, as we were cooking it for a client of ours. I took one bite and knew I had to have it for myself. Since then, I’ve made some additional tweaks, and the result is this masterpiece. It has been, hands down, my biggest craving. Pregnant or not, the ingredients (nori for protein, minerals, and more vitamin C than an orange; molasses for strong bones and healthy blood; pumpkin seeds for immune support, omega-3, and hormone balance) are highly nutritious. But somehow, put them all together, and they are to-die-for. I’m talking, dream-about-it-all-day-till-I-get-home-and-stuff-my-face-with-it delicious. You catch my drift?  

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds, sprouted
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, sprouted
  • 2 sheets nori (the seaweed paper your sushi is wrapped in)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 tablespoon coconut oil
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Tip: If you love ginger, grate a ginger root over your sticky mixture (or half your mixture if you don't want it ALL gingery) for an extra spicy – and anti-inflammatory – kick.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix all of your seeds in one bowl together.
  3. Put your two sheets of nori on top of each other. Now, using scissors cut them into small, thin 2-inch strips, and add them to the seed mixture (Tip: If you have herb-cutting scissors, they make this job SO much easier).
  4. Mix together maple syrup, molasses, cayenne, cinnamon, and sea salt in a bowl.
  5. Pour sticky, spicy mixture over seeds and stir to coat them.
  6. Now, pour mixture onto parchment-covered baking sheet, and use a spatula to spread it into an even layer.
  7. Put pan in oven for 18 minutes at first. Check to see if it’s burning at all. If not, leave in for another 3-5 minutes. At this point, the mixture needs to dry to form together so DON’T MESS WITH IT TOO MUCH.
  8. Let it cool for 30 minutes until it’s hardened.
  9. Break apart into big chunks and take a bit of the most delicious bark you’ve ever tasted.

PaleoSeedBrittle_HealthyStacey

Playing Hooky with Gingerbread Cookies and Jord Watches

December 13, 2016
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“But Mommy! I don’t want to go to school today. I want to stay home and bake cookies with you!”

This was my favorite thing to say to my mom when I was young. It’s a Daffy Duck line from Space Jam (Everybody get up it’s time to jam now – ah, so good). Anyways, it always seemed the perfect thing to say on a cold, blustery day, when all I wanted to do was cuddle up with mom – a Christmas movie in the background, hot cocoa on the stove, and me on a step stool with electric mixer in hand, beating up the batter for a batch of Mom’s extra fudgy brownies.

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Well, it may have taken 25 years, but last week, Mom and I did it. Actually played hooky. We shut the door on the bitterly cold weather, set work aside, put the fire on full blast, and baked cookies.

She brought soup. I bought molasses and maple syrup. We played “All I Want for Christmas” and talked tea parties and teddy bear’s picnics. And, together, we whipped up one slightly soft, slightly crispy, extra gingery batch of gingerbread cookies. Paleo, yes. But you would never know the difference.

It was lovely. And rare. At a time of the year when everything moves at break neck speed, time slowed. I know because I could see it right on my wrist. PaleoGingerbreadCookieIngredientsandJordWatch

There's something really luxurious about wearing an old-fashioned, wind-up, tick-tocking watch. This beauty was made by an artist-run, sustainably-driven company called Jord. Even my mom agreed that she'd never seen such a unique watch. Might have something to do with the fact that they're all made from natural woods like Koa, Bamboo, Maple, Walnut, and Sandalwood.

Point is, for whatever reason, this super cool watch company decided that my wrist was fit for one of their best-sellers, the Frankie.

When it arrived in the mail, I was totally in awe. Zebrawood band and a champagne face. Oooohh. Ahhhhh.

JordWatchUndertheTree

Luxury. The whole afternoon was full of it. Not in the champagne and high heels kind of way. But in the slow-moving, tea-sipping, eyes-closing as we bit into another gingerbread cookie kind of way.

Oh. And these cookies. I could write a love poem about them. I'll be the first to admit that Paleo cookies do not typically hold up to their all-purpose-flour counterparts. But these cookies are different. I swear. Soft, with just enough bite. Sweet, but not too sweet. And a little nutty.

The key is, I let somebody else do all of the recipe-testing. Time is luxury, right?

PaleoGingerbreadFrostingwithNutiva

My recipe creator and tester was Megan from the blog Detoxinista. So no, I cannot take credit for these gems. But I have no problem giving it all to her and sending you her way if you want to make a paleo cookie taste good. 

It's important that you don't skip the frosting. Delicious, yes, but also very important because it is FUN. Apparently, running coconut sugar through your Vitamix causes it to go up in smoke in one big sugar cloud. Is it weird that I wanted to stick my tongue out so I could catch a puff of it?

PowderedCoconutSugarPaleo

So please. I beg of you. Consider not just making them, but really taking an afternoon, a morning, whatever you can get so that you can enjoy the process and make your own sugar clouds. The cookies, the hookie, the time with your fam, the whole she-bang. It’s incredibly therapeutic at this time of the year.

Okay, okay. I can see the eye rolls from here coming from the busy moms who know I have no idea what stress is like until I have a house full of screaming kids to take care of while "luxuriously" lounging with my mom by the fire.

Hi guys. I give you full permission to put a KICK ME sign on my back next time you see me. But I do have something that might make you hate me less. I have a little gift for you all. Follow the link below and you’ll get $25 towards a Jord watch for your mom, dad, girlfriend, or little old you. Because we all deserve a little luxury, don’t you think?

GET $25 TOWARDS A JORD WATCH

Thank you to Jord Wood Watches for sponsoring this post. You are lovely.

JordWatchwithNutcracker

PALEO GINGERBREAD COOKIE RECIPE

Cookie Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot or tapioca starch
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 Tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  • Extra arrowroot or tapioca starch, for rolling & cutting
  • 1 batch of Coconut Sugar Icing, for decorating

Coconut Sugar Frosting Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon Nutiva red palm oil shortening
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (not liquified)
  • 1/4 cup “powdered” coconut sugar
  • 2 tablespoons arrowroot or tapioca starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

Cookie Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Pour almond meal, tapioca starch, ginger, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a bowl and stir to combine.
  4. In a seperate bowl, combine coconut oil, maple syrup, and molasses.
  5. Pour sticky mixture into the dry ingredient bowl and mix together until a dough is formed. It should be a bit sticky – make sure there is no powder left in the mixture.
  6. Place the dough in the freezer for at least 30 minutes to help it get more firm.
  7. If you want to keep it simple and just roll them into balls or stick them into a cutout cookie sheet (no shame in the lazy way if you ask me), then skipi to step 12.
  8. Put down a large piece of parchment paper and sprinkle it with tapioca starch.
  9. Split the dough into thirds to work in small batches (I always start with one batch before I put them all in because I may want to change their thickness/timing if the first batch didn't work out like I wanted)
  10. Use a rolling pin (or if you're like me and you don't have a rolling pin, use a large bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, ha)
  11. Dip your cookie cutters in a little starch, then press them into your dough.
  12. If you don't have a cookie cutter or choose not to use one, roll your dough into 1-inch balls and flatten them on the parchment-covered cookie sheet. Sprinkle them with a bit of coconut sugar for good measure.
  13. Stick in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Any longer than that for my oven made them a little too crispy for my tastes. They weren't exactly burnt, but they were just crossing the line.

Frosting Directions:

  1. Toss coconut sugar in your high speed blender until it's finely ground. It will literally puff up in a cloud and have a texture similar to powdered sugar.
  2. Then, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and use a rubber spatula to mix it and press it all together. Add a bit of water to smooth it out (just a little at a time).
  3. To decorate, scoop the frosting mixture into a platic bag and then cut the tip of the bottom of one side of the bag. If you're smart and prepared, you'll have a decorating tip. I, am neither of those things so I had to settle with a very unsteady stream of frosting pouring out onto my cookies. Thus, the very messy final product. But, hey, they still tasted amazing so I'm not mad about it.

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Watch Gift Ideas

Healthy Reviews

I went to Italy and threw my paleo diet out the window

November 10, 2016
HealthyStaceyEatsItaly

I’m a rule follower by nature. I never skipped class in high school OR college. When I go 7 miles over the speed limit, I feel like I’m really pushing my luck. And when I decided to be Paleo a couple years back, I followed all of the “don’t eat that, only eat this” rules.

But here’s the thing. I respect rule-breakers. The little goody two shoes inside of me wants to be one because I know that, mentally, it’s a hell of a lot more healthy than being a rule-follower.

So when my husband and I decided on Italy for our honeymoon, I decided right then and there that I would break all the rules the moment we hit Italian soil.

CookingVacations_HealthyStacey

It started innocently enough with a cheese and prosciutto plate. Then I found myself reaching for the bread basket before dinner (the horror!). But by the end, I found myself housing an ENTIRE pizza. But not just any pizza, thin, crispy, saucy, cheesy, air-pockety Neapolitan pizza in Naples.

In fact, I am sorry to inform you that if you had any desire to go to Italy yourself, that it is no longer there…because I ate it. 

I ate big blocks of cakey bread topped with white cheese, red cheese, orange cheese, liver bruschetta (aka Bruschetta di Fegato), mozzarella, pecorino and goat cheese. I ate pumpkin risotto, then hazelnut gelato (then chocolate gelato and later vanilla bean gelato). Whenever the moment presented itself, I had tiramisu – tiramisu gelato, tiramisu in cups, tiramisu in bowls, tiramisu in squares, and when they were out of tiramisu, I ate crème brûlée. I gushed when croissants were brought to us on a tray at our cozy little bed and breakfast, and stuffed my face with squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese. I squeeled, then drooled over pizza with ham, pizza with mushrooms and radicchio and pizza with anchovies. I "when Harry Met Sally-ed" at least twice. Once over eggplant lasagna, and the second time over lemon tart stuffed with freshly-made, sweet crunchy peanut brittle…in the same meal. 

When I needed a gut break, I had no problem finding paleo-ish fair that still felt nearly as indulgent. That’s when I found seafood salad, branzino and red snapper with a side of grilled vegetables drizzled in balsamic vinegar. I got giddy over prosciutto paired with eggplant drenched in truffle. Then found a new love for rabbit salad. I enjoyed a simple braised beef with golden potatoes dish. And later became in awe over an onion slow roasted till it became "soup." All of my health nut needs were met by sea bass in a lemon sauce, sea bass in “crazy water” vegetable broth, grilled octopus with spicy oil with avocado and plantain chips, and even an organic grocery store in Naples with aisles of food products shouting “senza glutine” and “non-OGM” (hehe, it’s backwards).

Yes, I felt uncomfortably stuffed by the end of the trip. My pants didn't fit. My thighs felt like big sausages. And to top it off, I caught a cold while we were in Montalcino so I was all stuffed up and snotty. But I was still standing. I didn't die. In fact, I lived.

I’ve gained weight since I got back. No question about it. But I am surprised to report that I kind of like it. I have this extra cushion that wasn't there before. I'm trying to think of it like a badge of honor. This new butt? Oh. Got that in Italy. 😉

If you ever find yourself going to Italy, you'll ask every previous Italian traveler you know, where they went, where they ate and what they did. I know I did. Which is why I'm going to make it easy for you and include my trip itinerary below (well, most of it – I don't need to bore you with ALL the details). 

That said, at the end of the day, my favorite finds were the ones that we stumbled upon – not the ones we went looking for.

You have to make Italy your own. So please do. But if you feel the need to start somewhere, here is my Italy…

Healthy Stacey's Italy Itinerary

Florence

We stayed here: AC Firenze (a little too far off the beaten path for our liking; it took us about 15 minutes to walk into town; it was clean and well-kept, but seemed more for the business traveler than the honeymooner)

We ate here:

La Prosciutteria (wine and a snack before dinner ended up being one of our favorite spots in the whole trip; it's teeny tiny, but has so much good energy that you don't even notice it)

ProsciutteriaFlorence

My husband's cousin's home (where we ate homemade pumpkin risotto, grilled eggplant and every meat known to man cooked over a coal-burning fire at the best restaurant in Monsummano Terme, not open to the public, hehe)

WelcomeSignFlorence

Montalcino

We stayed here: Porta Castellana Bed and Breakfast (adorable, warm, inviting, all the mushy gushy adjectives you can think of!; the owner was sweet, giving us the perfect itinerary for our stay in the beautiful little moutain town of Montalcino)

PortaCostallenaBedandBreakfast_Montalcino

We ate here:

Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana (a historical cafe known for its famous guests includes Prince Charles of Wales, as well as Prime Ministers like Jean Chretienne of Canada, along with politicians, actors, and Italian and internationally renowned athletes – GREAT wine and waiters who know their wine like nobody's business)

CaffeFiaschetteriaMontalcino

Re Di Macchia (adorable, initmate restauraunt that was buzzing inside with locals and laughter, lots and lots of laughter; honestly, I don't quite remember what I had, but I know it was delicious)

HealthyStacey_CremeBrulee

We drank here:

Enoteca la Fortezza di Montalcino (a wine bar…in a castle! we tasted some of our favorite wines in montalcino here accompanied by a light appetizer of truffle eggplant bruschetta – absolute heaven)

EnotecaFortezzadiMontalcino

We wine-toured here:

Altesino (here, my husband and I learned everything about Super Tuscans and Brunellos on our private tour; there was a gorgeous view of the vineyards and of Montalcino in the distance)

AltesinoWinery copy AltesinoWinery

Pienza

We ate here (and wish we didn’t): La Taverna Di Moranda (weird vibe in a dark empty stone-walled room with an angry owner; the only reason we came was because the highly recommended Osteria La Porta was totally packed with no room for even two more guests; we ordered one app so as not to be rude and then we hightailed it outta there)

We made up for it here: Dopolavoro La Foce (bright and friendly with seasonal farm-to-table fare; it has its own vegetable garden across the road so you know it's fresh. A path connects the vegetable garden to the famous La Foce gardens; I had something called "onion soup" that was literally an onion that had been roasted until its insides became soupy – yum!)

OnionSoupinMontalcino

Rome

We stayed here: Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora (beautiful, great location, complete with a rooftop breakfast with a beautiful view of the city)

We ate here:

La Rosetta (came to me highly recommended by my dear well-travelled friend, Marta; this beauty was the first all-fish restauraunt in Rome; all locally-sourced, made to order; grilled octopus with avocado and plantain chips? yes, please! It's pretty much a Paleo restauraunt in Rome…kind of)

Octopus_LaRosettainRome

Sarafini alla Pace (my husband believes this to be the best pizza we had in Italy, while my vote is still in Naples, but I don't disagree that it was pretty frickin amazing; right in the heart of everything, great people watching if you sit outside)

Sarafini_alla_Pace_Pizza_Rome

Sapori D'Ischia (this place was literally a two minute walk from our hotel, but was such a gem; owned and operated by a very sweet family of three – the mother is the chef, the daughter is the server, and the husband is the piano player – meaning he takes periodic breaks to play a little diddy on the huge grand piano that takes up more space than the tables in this tiny and intimate eatery)

Amalfi/Positano

We stayed here: Grand Hotel Il Saraceno (it is literally a castle built into the side of the mountain; there are no words for how beautiful this city was, but I will embarrasingly admit that the view from our room actually brought me to tears – I am not exxaggerating, and no, this has never happened to me before, and may never happen again)

AmalfiCoast_GrandSaraceno_View2

AmalfiCoast_GrandSaraceno_ChampagneToast

AmalfiCoast_GrandSaracenoView1

IlGrandSaraceno_AmalfiCoast

AmalfiCoast_PoolView_GrandSaraceno

We ate here:

Ristorante Mashreq (the restauraunt in our hotel; honestly, the food didn't blow me away, but I didn't care because we had no desire to leave our beautiful castle with tear-jerking views)

Covo Dei Saraceni (Amaaaazing gelato on the dock of the bay in Positano)

GelatoinPositano

We cooked here: 

Cooking Vacations (I'm tempted to say the highlight of my trip – but there are so many it's hard to say; here is where I got to check a bullet off my bucket list – a private cooking lesson with an Italian chef in Positano; he taught us how to salt an eggplant to get out the bitterness, how a simple vegetable broth is all you need to cook a sea bass, and the best indicator of a perfectly cooked garlic – "when it's turned blonde – like me!" he says).

PumpkinRisotto_CookingVacations

CasaMeleChefRafaelo

CookingVacations_SeaBassinCrazyWater

Naples

We stayed here: Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo

We ate here: 

Pizzaria Trianon (this is where I ate an entire pizza ALL BY MYSELF and I would do it again if I could because…damn; we stumbled upon this place as an alternative to L'antica Pizzeria de Michele – the shop that was put on the map after Elizabeth Gilbert gushed about it in "Eat Pray Love"; we took one look at the line that wrapped around the block and decided to find our own "best pizza in Naples, and therefore, the world"; we were spot on with Trianon; they not only hand-made the pizzas in front of you, they were more than happy to ham it up for the camera)

PizzaDoughMaking_Trianon

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PiazzaTrianon_NeopilitanPizza

TrianonPizza_Naples