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How my Sicilian Mum, who grew up during WWII, instilled healthy eating in me

No matter what the circumstance, crisis or hardship, healthy eating in our home was never compromised. Thanks Mamma!

Creative pizzettes for a family meal by Elizabeth Celi
Will one pizzette be enough?! Mum and her bread angels may not think so!

I returned home to Queensland Australia from NYC and went straight into my 14-day self-quarantine. The covid19 situation that was ramping up in NYC with restaurants closing, was yet to start in Queensland.

That didn’t matter given I was house-bound either way. Happily so. I was after all, on 3 planes to get to NYC and another 3 to get home. I was taking no chances of spreading any silent traveler I may have been carrying.

I work from home most of my working week anyhow so it wasn’t a huge transition for me. Cooking was a way I gave myself a break from sitting at the computer but now that I was in-house 24/7, it ramped up to meditational-baking. For both myself and my husband, Rich.

Mum’s voice tickled our hearts

Rich was the only one of us that could go out to do the essential shopping. I was mindful that his immune system also needed to stay strong. Besides, Mum’s voice (rest her soul) was ringing in my ears to make sure we ate well. It was an overarching way she cared for us after poverty magnified her appreciation of food. Her voice became all the more vivid now we were to survive through a global pandemic.

My Mum, Josie, grew up in Sicily during the WWII. Food was scarce to feed her, her six siblings and parents. Bread was rationed. Grandma went without meals at times. As the second oldest, it was on Mum to help provide the food. So hard agricultural work out in the elements, digging up and bagging potatoes, finding spinach amid the weeds, helped to bring fruit and vegetables home.

Raised a devout Catholic she would always say when we set the table, “If there isn’t bread on the table, there are no angels present during your meal.” After two months of living with Mum in her later years, Rich reminds me of this often when we have a meal. It obviously touched his heart. So guess what I started making more of? Yep, home made bread.

Baking-meditation with Mum’s bread angels!

Given this was also a way for me to take some mental time-out from the online work I was doing, I helped my self-quarantine “cabin-fever” by introducing more creativity and imagination in my typical routine. As a retired psychologist, I drew on my many years of experience supporting clients with clinical anxiety and depression disorders. The various ways we brainstormed beneficial activities to balance their left and right brains.

That is, applying both our intellect AND creative imagination to any given task. Especially during stressful times. After all, I had way more time and space to consider how I could do all that at the moment, no excuses!! Now I was walking my talk and making the most out of a simple bread recipe I’d used many times before. Now far more motivated with creativity!

The basic bread recipe became small bread rolls that we could munch on over the day. This replaced any temptation to go for less desirable snack foods or less nutritious options. These bread rolls were satiating and with Dad’s favourite way to eat bread, we felt like we’re eating at a gourmet restaurant everyday. Or at least as long as the rolls lasted in between my baking-meditation moments!

Snack-Size home made bread rolls, no room to eat unhealthy snacks after one of these!

Dad’s spirit joined us too

What was Dad’s favourite that inspired? He would bring home warm bread, drizzle olive oil across it’s length, lay down thin slices of tomato, sprinkle fresh oregano (that grew in the garden close by the tomatoes), then a pinch of salt and wa-la! Gourmet roll that would be on any appetiser menu. It’s so melt-in-your mouth, you can’t help but feel satisfied.

Mum ensured the oil, oregano and tomatoes were ready to roll, Dad got the fresh bread and made good use of the ingredients Mum made handy for us. Team effort and team gratification! Did I mention the smell was out of this world? Oh wait, I’m in self-quarantine, that’s right. Doesn’t feel like it actually.

Pizzettes to share

I took the bread recipe another step. We use this recipe as pizza dough. We were low on particular toppings at the time I was inspired to do my baking-meditation. So I adapted the recipe again. Instead of a large tray of pizza, I experimented with little pizzettes! Is that a word? My photo shows what I mean!

With some bacon rashes we had to use up, I pan fried them and crisped them up. They adorned the remaining tomato sauce I pan fried with onions and garlic. Then with the toppings I had left over, before Rich could go out and top up for us, I made the most of the opportunity to do some Home-Food-Art!

Home-Food-Art: my baking-meditation gave me a great rest and movement from online work

Two blessings came out of this, three actually. Of course, another yummy meal and leftovers. The pizzettes were filling, we weren’t looking to snack or over-indulge in between and we got important vegetable nutrition. Plus, the pizzette was made with so much creative joy, how could Mum’s angels not be sharing the space with us!

Best of all though, I shared this photo with my social media community who connected with it’s warmth and yumminess. I was greeted with “Can I please have some?”. Of course! It felt so good to send virtual love and nutrition to my online friends. I know that’s not the same as eating the food itself, but given we’re virtually sharing so much more lately, I felt the angelic love in this food spread stronger and wider than ever before.

The angels of bread and baking-meditations!

One recipe, creatively made, enough for a family of four. Assuming one is enough!

Mum would be proud. I see her smiling face and glowing eyes when we put this bread on our table. I saw her love beam even more when I could share it online. I sense that HER angelic wings will spread even wider knowing I can share the bread further with this post.

While growing up, her WWII experience was always transformed into lovingly looking after our health and bellies. I’m so happy that my baking-meditations could extend the love she instilled in me even further, for the community I can now share with. Thank you Mamma!

Now at day 14 of my 14-day self-quarantine, I remain symptom free and so does Rich. There will always be bread and angels on our table Mamma.

Dr. Elizabeth Celi, Leadership Coach, Queensland Australia.

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