In Praise of Minimalism: Vegetarian and Italian Food Traditions

I love the ethos of Italian cuisine. Variety may be the spice of life, but simplicity is its main ingredient. Whether that’s a warm cup of tea before bed or a small, quiet moment with someone you love, it doesn’t have to scintillate for it to be recognizably beautiful. Thus, the food of Italia. There are no surprises when you eat, and the ingredients don’t attempt to impress you. To begin with, there are never usually more than three or four ingredients at all, but each is reliably fresh, local, and expertly-prepared. As an ethical vegetarian and one already slightly inclined toward minimalist habits, I felt as if I was among birds of the same feather during my stay in Italy and that no more a harmonious marriage of food philosophies could be made than between that of Italy and my own.

The simplicity of vegetarianism is in its economy, but I even find the attendant humility of plant-foods to be an attractive aspect of the diet. It’s true that eating at a low trophic level can be an incredibly sustainable dietary choice in a world of increasingly limited resources and can constitute an affordable diet for those on a college budget. However, for me the real charm of vegetarianism is in the daily ways it connects me to myself and to those I care about. During moments of intermittent relief from the daily deluge that life normally brings, I love to prepare my own food. It’s a simple pleasure to be able to wash and chop my own vegetables and take the time to prepare a meal for either myself or those I love. Whether it’s warm bowls of veggie soup or spiced porridge on wintry days, or colorful fruit salads in spring, it does satisfy something besides just hunger. It’s a way to care about myself, my friends and family, and the planet that we inhabit.

There’s a similar flavor that is imparted to the food you eat in Italy, not just in the way it’s prepared, but in the way it’s eaten. Everything seems to move just a little slower in Italy, and that includes the meals. That can be frustrating for those of us used to a hit-and-run, grab-and-go lifestyle, but the evening repast in Italy is less about the food one eats and more about who has joined you for it. And hopefully you like who joins you; it wasn’t uncommon when I was in Italy for dinner to push three or four hours long, with the expectation that you were involved in lively conversation with your tablemates. Therefore, a simple meal becomes more. It’s a facilitator, a binding agent, and the unimposing complement to something already good: human companionship.

There is something quite beautiful about the unassuming—the things that don’t ask for attention or reward, so simple that they can only be honest, so obviously good that they can be the first to get overlooked precisely because of their simplicity. I discovered a few of these things in Italy—whether it was line-drying my clothes in the orchard behind the Casale San Giorgio of Barbarano Romano, hiking up the San Giuliano plateau on brisk yet golden mornings, or traipsing over hills bespangled with wildflowers in the hopes of finding ancient Etruscan tombs. Yet the best part about the simple things is that they are for everyone, and you certainly don’t have to go to Italy to find them. They are likely right beside you.

 

— Anna Lam

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Sweet Berry Chia Seed Pudding

At the end of last year, I decided to make a few lifestyle changes. I started training regularly (shout out to HIIT classes!), incorporated more activity throughout my day, and became stricter with my sleep schedule (still working on this one!) And the changes started to come! I’m more focused, happier, and fitter than I’ve been in a while.

A major part of this lifestyle change has been changing the way eat. I have a weakness for sour and gummy candies – Sour Patch Kids, Lemonheads, sour straws, you name it. In fact, the last guy I dated took me to a candy shop for our first date and let me GO HAM because I loved candy that much!

So dilemma: what does a girl eat eat when she is 1) a serial candy nosher  2) who wants to nourish her body and take care of herself  3) but can’t get rid of her sweet tooth?

The answer is you don’t. I still eat my candy, but I’ve found alternatives to incorporate in my diet. This Sweet Berry Chia Seed Pudding uses all natural sweetness to knock out those cravings! I usually prep it the night before (#studentlife) so that in the morning, I just need to toss in some fresh fruit and drizzle a bit of honey and I’m good to go. An added bonus is that it’s packed with fiber – 20 grams! – which makes it the perfect post-workout snack!

Sweet Berry Chia Seed Pudding

 

 

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of plain, full-fat Greek yogurt (10 g of protein): I prefer plain yogurt because it doesn’t contain added sugar. Opt for “full-fat” because “non-fat” has extra chemicals (read: sweeteners) that replace the fat. Also, full-fat yogurt keeps you fuller for longer!
  • ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/3 cup of chia seeds (10 g of protein)
  • Berries of choice: I like frozen blueberries and fresh strawberries, sliced into coins. Pro-tip: If you use fresh strawberries, don’t cut and use them until right before you eat. This helps preserve their antioxidants!
  • Honey
  • Salt
  • Optional add-ins: hemp seeds (I love using these for added protein!), nuts, goji berries
    • Note: If you do use these additional ingredients, add a bit more almond milk to your mixture.

 

Steps:

  • Mix the yogurt, almond milk, chia seeds, and any other add-ins in a container with a lid. Stir until the yogurt and seeds are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Add the frozen fruit on top of the mixture (they will thaw out while your mixture chills).
  • Keep your mixture in the fridge for 4-6 hours but preferably overnight.
  • Before enjoying, drizzle a bit of honey and sprinkle some salt.

 

It’s berry easy to make and serve! Your sweet tooth – and summer bod – will thank you!

— Amanda Cordero

The Art of Practicing Self-Care…Cheaply

I moved recently to Austin for the summer. While it’s been great (read: hipster coffee shops galore), this is also my first time living truly on my own. I’ve lived for eighteen years with my family, and when I went off to university, I had the wonderful experience of living in a tight-knit residential college. I’ve always been around people, and I love it.

Living in Austin has been my first experience of living alone. As an extrovert, this transition has been radical . . . and difficult. I’m also processing some recent emotional upheaval, so I’ve had to practice self-care frequently. Below are a few of the things I’ve been doing (on the cheap!) to take better of myself:

Taking time to lose myself in a book (preferably one from the library). At the beginning of the year, I made the commitment to read for a half hour every day. Even though I study literature in school, I’ve used this commitment to discover new books on my own. I’m currently reading Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams.

Aside from enriching my literary taste, I always leave my hour feeling satisfied that I’ve done something concrete to help myself. The small victories count! Other books I’ve read and loved this summer include Landline by Rainbow Rowell, Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve by Lenora Chu, and the entire Harry Potter saga.

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Moisturizing. Don’t roll your eyes at this. If you know me, you know that I love, love, LOVE having super soft skin. And I’m guessing that if you’re reading this beauty and lifestyle blog, you probably have a tub or bottle of lotion somewhere. Take the time to slather some on and notice yourself.

I’ve upped my moisturizing game by using sweet almond oil or coconut fig-scented lotion. Another pro tip is to place your moisturizer in the refrigerator for a few hours – perfect for a hot summer day!

Seeking light. This year, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of light, how it affects my mood, and how I can harness it for my benefit. For example, when I need to feel productive or happy, I’ll go to places with massive windows and just sit there – my local Starbucks and Austin’s Faulk Central Library are perfect. When I need to prepare my body for sleep, I’ll turn off all the lights but keep on my crystal salt lamp. It provides the soft ambience to settle my body in for the night. While light isn’t on everyone’s mood radar, pay attention to where and when you feel the happiest and seek those places and moments.

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Communing with nature. I’m lucky that Austin is a city that loves nature. When I really need to check out emotionally, I’ll run by Lady Bird Johnson Lake. Google “hiking trails near me” to discover your local hidden gems. And pro tip: I like going early in the morning A) to avoid the worst of Texas heat and B) to set some good vibes for the day.

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Reaching out to people. I’ve been more aware that much of this sad feeling stems from loneliness. A friend of mine recently told me that she is adamant about not having a “phone relationship” with people, so she’s been building a habit of meeting with people face-to-face. While that’s not always possible for me, I try to FaceTime or call loved ones as opposed to just sending them texts. More often than not, many of my friends feel the same way I do and are equally happy to talk. Reaching out to people has been a practice of recognizing that while reaching out can seem inconvenient for both parties, it’s a beautiful and necessary practice of community and happiness.

Building small habits. My mother will tell you that she wishes I flossed more. And because I love my mother and my gums, I’ve been building the habit of flossing every night. Building habits like these aren’t always fun, but I’ve been reminding myself that ultimately, I’m winning. Try going for walk a few times a week, incorporating more vegetables in your meals, or making it a point to shut off your phone for a few hours each week. Small habits like this build up in the long run!

Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or trendy – really, it all boils down to being aware of your emotions and taking proactive steps!

 

— Amanda Cordero