LA BELLA VITA
FOOD AND LIFESTYLE BLOG
Eat Well, Laugh Often, Love Much and Live Every Moment Italian Style
As I walked into this new eatery, I was taken a back with its vintage yet cool and modern look; it’s something you would expect to see on trendy Queen West, not in Woodbridge. The unassuming look from the outside did not prepare me for what I was about to see… I was hooked; between the large sleek bar, black and white colour scheme to the statement wall of artists both past and past, it was all riveting to look at. I was greeted immediately by a beautiful young woman who introduced herself as Natasha, one of the owners; now I was even more intrigued.
This family run business opened in January and took nearly a year to build. The whole space is custom, taking inspiration from the owners and their various ages that range from 30 – 60 years. What makes this space unique is the car material upholstered booths and of course the incredible feature wall of inspirational celebrities. This custom wall was created using thin strips of wallpaper placed back together to recreate these beautiful images ranging from Sophia Loren to Elvis to Jim Morrison.
I had the pleasure to sit down with owners Natasha and Filomena to discuss the inspiration for this eatery and these two lovely ladies welcomed me in like family, sharing with me their vision for the future. Right now this trendy and casual joint is the perfect mix of old school Italian café with a modern twist. The inviting atmosphere is great to enjoy with friends or with the whole family. Relax at the bar with an espresso or sit in one of their comfy booths for a freshly cooked, homestyle meal. This sounds great; right? Well, according to Natasha, Revel has much more to offer in the near future. They plan to offer a late-night Italian-style tapas menu with live music or a DJ, bringing the place to life. They want to create a fun and unique vibe, different than anything else in Vaughan. As of now, they are open Monday to Friday from 7am – 6pm but stay patient because these exciting additions are happening soon and I can’t wait to check out this local laidback lounge when this launches.
Not to worry, I am getting to the food; and how could I not talk about these delicious offerings. Everything is prepared fresh daily and everything is made from scratch including their desserts and biscotti. In an area where competition can be stiff, these owners know what is needed to stand apart. After hearing all their delectable meals and daily specials, I knew that I needed to try their veal cutlet with vegetables, rapini and potatoes. This dish did not disappoint. Tender and moist veal that was perfectly seasoned in a fresh tomato sauce; you can’t ask for more than that. I finished the meal with an espresso that they served with an almond biscotto; a great way to end lunch is with a smooth espresso with a nice foam and a crunchy cookie to appease my sweet tooth.
Between the trendy laidback atmosphere and the friendliness of the staff, I will definitely be returning soon to revel in everything they have to offer.
Revel Lounge and Espresso Bar
7694 Islington Ave
Monday to Saturday 7am – 6pm
Since starting my blog, I have been lucky enough to meet so many new and diverse people, both directly and indirectly involved in the Italian Canadian community. One of these people is the multi-talented Italian Comedian and Musician Enrico Rennella. I was intrigued by this funny man and I knew that I had to get the scoop on what makes his comedy stand apart from other Italian comedians. We met at a local café and I quickly learned that although he is an entertainer, that what you see, really is what you get. From his eccentric hairstyle, green stylish leather jacket and effervescent personality he expressed with the patrons and waitresses, to his story-telling, Neapolitan accent, and sense of humour, it all draws you right into his world.
With a Parisian mother and Neapolitan Father, Enrico is the perfect mix of Italian charm and romantic flare that jumps off the stage between his comedy and music routine. The stars must have been aligned for this funny man who was born on April 1st; no joke. He was born in Paris and at the age of 1 moved to Napoli where he grew up in a family of 7 siblings. It is no wonder he wanted to perform; in such a large family you have to do what you can to stand out. He began to realize his comedic appeal at the age of 6, performing in front of his family and by his teens this young entertainer began performing throughout Napoli. With a lack of opportunity, Enrico decided to pursue another passion; food. He became a chef and in his 20’s moved back to Paris to open a Neapolitan restaurant called Café Italia. Even with a successful restaurant, that inner passion to perform never left and the game changer for him was watching his idol on TV, Neapolitan singer Gigi D’Alessio, perform at Radio City Music Hall in New York City in 2011. It was then and there that he decided to pursue his dream; “if he could do it, so could I.”
So, who influenced this funny man? Well, according to Enrico, no one. Although he enjoys the comedy of Fiorello, Enrico prides himself on being his authentic self on stage and not like anyone else; “I want to be like me”. That is why he integrates his second love, music, into his performances; “I use music to make my comedy better”. After years of incorporating other people’s songs, he decided to pursue another desire and he has started creating his own music. But with a successful comedy career, why branch off? Well, for Enrico that is simple; music is passion “you can say something in music that you can’t say when you speak”. Enrico is now working with a well-known Neapolitan producer and is in the process of recording his first solo album with an expected release date in June 2018.
Today Enrico resides in Toronto, performing throughout Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. Interested in checking out his comedy? I hope so, because his next Canadian performance is a charity show on March 16 at the City Playhouse Theatre in Thornhill. Partial proceeds from this event go to Shining Through Center in support of Smiles for Autism.
What’s next for this already accomplished performer? With a new album and the successful show, I’m Not Just an Italian, wrapping up, we are all excited to see what Enrico has in store for us. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak at his new show, The Italian Shades of Grey, opening in December 2018. This show will definitely be a change from his previous ones. His goal this time is to stretch the envelope and add some shock value to his comedy. A darker performance that is not to be missed! This big personality is also working on several other projects; so, don’t be surprised to see this multi-talented performer on the small screen too.
Enrico’s comedic charisma and passion for life is infectious. It is not often that you meet such a genuine person. So maybe the stars were aligned for me too; getting to interview such an amazing talent, fellow foodie and singer and having him share his story was such a pleasure and an inspiration to never give up on your dreams.
Tickets for any of Enrico Rennella’s shows can be purchased at:
On November 9th, I attended a Caritas School of Life charity event for addiction and mental health at Cavallino Wine Bar host by the 9-year-old Matthew Newman and his 12-year-old co-host Sofia Esposito. It was a packed event filled with attendees that showed nothing but love and support for this local cause. The event welcomed some inspirational speakers from the program and also the legendary Toronto Maple Leaf goalie, Mike Palmateer who was available for pictures and autographs in support of Caritas.
After the event, I had the opportunity to talk to Matthew about his involvement in this charity. His parents are strong believers in giving back and after discussing and researching several options, Matthew decided on a smaller more unknown organization that really needed attention. He was able to fully commit to his decision after meeting a 13-year-old boy by the name of Nick who suffered from a drug addiction and was in the process of successfully completing the program at Caritas. Meeting a young boy with such a serious addiction was an eye opener for Matthew who decided that he wanted to bring light to other youths that addiction can happen to anyone at any age. Matthew gets involved in Caritas through an annual CHIN Telethon, Gala and started his own event that is now in its second year. This year’s event raised a whopping $7,100 and he hopes to continue to grow this number to $10,000 next year. It was encouraging to see many young people in attendance, and I think that it is important to be open an honest with our children about addiction and mental health and take away the stigma associated with it. Matthew’s goal is to continue to spread awareness of Caritas through classroom reach-out initiatives and through a social media campaign that he will be launching.
Thank you, Matthew and Sofia, for your commitment and support in this important initiative that is, Caritas School of Life.
To learn more about Caritas or to donate, please visit their website at http://caritas.ca
Caritas School of Life – A Therapeutic Haven for Addiction and Mental Health
Addiction and mental illness has always been a growing concern that carries a strong stigma of shame and indignity. I recently learned about a 9 year boy, by the name of Matthew Newman and his 12 year old friend Sofia Esposito, organizing a local charity event in Vaughan to raise money and bring awareness to Caritas School of Life. I didn’t know much of this community program, but the fact this this young boy had had been inspired to get involved inspired me to learn about what this school of life was all about. I had the opportunity to meet with Silvana Tibollo, the policy and outreach coordinator for the program, and I was overwhelmed by everything she had to say during our meeting. Caritas was established around 1980 by a Toronto Priest, Fr. Gianni Carparelli, who was approached by a distraught mother looking to get help for her drug addicted son. He began his mission by organizing support groups for concerned parents and researching different European methods to aid in this undertaking. He learned that much of Europe had adopted a “Therapeutic Community” approach and returned to his home in Italy to learn more about these programs. He began to model his program against these Therapeutic Community’s methodologies and today Caritas offers support groups, day programs and a 24 month in-patient program.
Caritas stands for “an unlimited loving kindness to all others” and has been a Canadian registered charity since 1994. Caritas takes a holistic approach to healing individuals in this highly structured “Therapeutic Community” with a long-term care program at its core. As I listened more and more to the benefits of Caritas, I was intrigues by the fact that they believe that addiction is not a medical condition and that it can be treated through an acquired way of life. They offer a voluntary program, and no one is held there against their will; you have to want to commit and want to be helped. They assist in finding the underlying issues that prompt the poor choices that lead to substance abuse by addressing the human life as a whole, through bio-medical, social, psychological and spiritual needs. This holistic and spiritual approach is awe inspiring and with an 82% success rate I understand why they do what they do. Their residential program currently has 30 beds filled with people constantly trying to be a part of this program daily, the unfortunate part of it all, considering their success rate, is the fact that Caritas only gets $350,000 in government funding when they need nearly 1.2 Million to run their programs. They rely heavily on donations and fundraising events such as the local event being hosted by these two inspiring young people Matthew and Sofia on November 9th at 7pm at Cavallino War Bar in Woodbridge. The thing that is even more moving is that Caritas puts back 92 cents on every dollar received back into their programs; no big budget spending on outside resources, just a core commitment to help their residents get clean, understand mental illness and be able to cope and live on the outside without relapsing.
If you want to learn more about Caritas please visit their website at http://caritas.ca/
To learn more about the European and now International Therapeutic Communities that Fr. Gianni Carparelli modeled Caritas after visit SanPatrignano at https://www.sanpatrignano.com/ and http://ecad.net/images/SanPatrignano/Dianova_Italy_-_who_we_are.pdf
Tickets are still available for this fabulous fundraising event. I hope to see you there!
Caritas School of Life Fundraiser
Thursday, November 9th, 2017
Cavaliino Wine Bar
8077 Islington Ave
Woodbridge, ON L4L 7X7
Doors open at 7PM
Tickets are $75 – Includes Food, Beverages, Raffles and Door Prizes
Get more info through Instagram @newmaninitiative
The Mediterranean Diet: How Italians Stay Thin and Healthy
A famous quote by Sofia Loren has her saying that “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. It’s no secret that Italians like their carbs; bread, pasta and pizza are regular food items on the table at meal times…so the question remains; how do Italians stay thin, healthy, and beautiful like the iconic Sofia Loren or Monica Bellucci.
I was born in Canada and grew up in a traditional Calabrese household. The cultural traditions that my parents grew up with were imparted on my brother and I and the notion of dieting never came into the picture. In fact, food always played a major role in our family; it was the thing that brought us together around the dinner table. I questioned our carb heavy, always eating diet and struggled with that “ideal” body image and what I should eat verses what I wanted to eat. As I grew up and developed more self confidence in myself I learned the importance of balance and portion control and this kept my weight in check and me “happy” …but something was still missing. Although, I grew up eating traditional, home cooked Italian meals, the way we live and eat in North America is very different than in Italy. So how do these beautiful Italian men and women stay so svelte and confident; it can’t be just in their genes or the air they breathe.
I travelled to Italy in my mid 20s and it was at this time that the Mediterranean diet all made sense to me. As I began to eat my way through Italy and immerse myself in the simple Italian life, the piece that I had been missing all became clear to me. I began my journey in Florence with the goal of living “la bella vita” and eating as the locals do.
By the end of my journey, I came to realize that to Italians, food is more than just what they eat, but also when and how much of it they eat. I have decided to break this all down in several categories.
Fast, processed food is almost non-existent in Italy and can only be found in more touristy areas. You won’t find frozen prepared foods or prepackaged meals. Everything used for cooking is with fresh, organic, whole ingredients. The food eaten in Italy, is real food, meant to be enjoyed and savoured. Although I did not grow up eating fast food or processed food very often, as I entered high school, university and starting working, these quick foods became more prevalent in my diet. We live in a fast-paced society and convenience is everything; but in Italy, this is not the case. Food is not viewed as fuel but as a pleasure. Packaged, canned and processed foods are packed with salt, sugar, fillers, and preservatives…. all things that cause you to gain weight. Instead of packaged seasonings they use fresh herbs and spices, instead of butter they use olive oil, instead of canned fruits and vegetables they eat only produce that is in season. Italians keep it simple and fresh.
Fruits and Vegetables
While I was in Italy, I couldn’t believe how flavorful and juicy the food was. Everything just tasted better and fresher. As I mentioned, Italians only eat what is in season and by doing this there are many more health benefits. When fruits and vegetables are picked after being naturally ripened on the vine or tree they are packed with more flavour and nutritional value such as higher anti-oxidants, vitamins, folates, and carotenes. Produce that has been stored for long periods of time, harvested early or out of season all have a reduction in Phyto-nutrient content. Also, since Italians either cultivate their own produce or buy their produce from local markets, they can be sure that they are organically grown without the use of dangerous pesticides and other contaminants. Eating seasonally and organic is just natural in Italy.
What You Eat vs. How You Eat
One big cultural difference in Italy compared to Canada and the United States is the notion of a “siesta”. I had always heard of the Italian Siesta; when Italians closed their shops between 1pm -4pm to head home, cook lunch, eat and relax a little before heading back to work refreshed. I honestly thought this was more of a myth or something that was only carried out by the older generation….I was wrong. Although some shops and restaurants stay open the whole day (mostly in touristy areas) many more actually do close their doors. This was crazy to me…I am the type of person to usually work right through my lunch and eat at my desk and if I do get away it was usually to grab a quick coffee. However, as the days and weeks passed, I learned the importance of slowing down and enjoying my food, my life and the company I was with. What I also learned is that lunch is the heaviest meal of the day and not dinner. Italians will usually consume pasta for lunch but rarely for dinner. These extra carbs give them the fuel they need for the rest of the day. For dinner, they consume a much lighter meal of fish, poultry, beans, dairy, vegetables and occasionally red meat. Most dishes are prepared with an olive oil or tomato based sauce without the use of heavy cream sauces; this also aids in keeping meal lighter and easier to digest.
As Italians, enjoy their biggest meal at lunch, breakfast for them is small and just enough to get them through the morning. During my stay in Florence, I stayed at a local B&B and was pleasantly surprised to see that the morning spread consisted of some fresh fruits, cornetti (Italian croissants), mini toast crackers, Nutella and sometimes hard-boiled eggs, cheese and prosciutto. Where was the omelets, pancakes, or waffles? Italians keep it simple for breakfast, and although this selection of foods isn’t exactly the healthiest, it is the quantity that is eaten that is important. The average Italian will consume an espresso or cappuccino with a cornetto for breakfast. There is no such thing as a Grande cappuccino and in fact the average size is about 5-6 oz not 12 or 16 oz. Also, the average cornetto is about half the size of what we are used to seeing in North American. Breakfast is meant to give them a quickly pick me up in the morning…that’s it.
Dolci / Sweets
I am first to admit that I have a sweet tooth and it’s no secret that Italians love their sweets also. With all their Gelateri and Pasticcieri, you would think that Italy is quite an unhealthy country, however, the major difference between their sweets and those found in North America is the sugar content and size. The sweets they eat or nowhere near the super sugary treats that we indulge in here, such as double stuffed oreos or packaged cakes stuffed with fudge and pre-made frosting overload with sugar. Italians prefer pastry like desserts, such as cream filled cakes or fruit desserts. Their gelato is also very different than our North American ice-cream. Not only are their portion sizes smaller but gelato has less fat than ice cream. It is made with more milk than cream and uses less eggs yolks if any compared to ice-cream that that has a fat content of at least 10 percent.
Drinks and Alcohol
Italians indulge in a variety of beverages including sodas, coffee and alcohol. Again, one of the big differences is size and quantity of how much they consume. Sodas and juices are served no larger than 8 ounces compared to our 12 – 20 ounce cans and bottles. Cappuccino is commonly consumed in the morning is about half the size of what we are used to in North America. It is also an unwritten rule that you don’t drink cappuccinos after 11am so any coffee you have the rest of the day would be espresso either black or with a little sugar only; Grande coffee with cream, sugar and syrups are non-existent. In Italy, you will notice that there is no such thing as coffee creamer. When it come to alcohol, Italians consume much less than North Americans and drink more wine than beer, which has a much lower calorie content. Although, Italy is known for their wines, Italians don’t drink just to drink. The big cultural difference is that they are much more conservative with their alcohol and will usually drink to actually enjoy the alcohol they are consuming versus drinking with the intention to get drunk and indulging in beer after beer or shot after shot. In fact, beyond a glass of wine a night, Italians mostly consume water with their meals.
Exercise and Stress
I have always been an active person, and going to the gym was just normal. As I roamed the streets of Italy, I rarely saw gyms or people working out…so why does everyone look fit. The simple fact is that the average person walks or bikes everywhere. They are constantly active, even if it’s not in the conventional sense at the gym. Their fitness has more to do with their eating habits and cultural lifestyle. It is a common fact that Italians lead a less stressful life than we do in North America; stress leads to weight gain. Even their work schedules allow for a less stressful day as Italians have the ability to enjoy a leisurely lunch at home or with friends. They work to live not live to work.
In review, it’s clear to see how Italy is rated healthiest country in the world according to a 2017 report by Bloomberg Global Health Index. Their Mediterranean diet is rich in fresh vegetables, olive oil, pasta, and fish. They stay active by biking and walking everywhere, they follow portion control, stay away from packaged foods and they don’t over indulge in high fat and sugary sweets and sodas. Balance and a more leisurely cultural lifestyle is key to their health success. So, I think it’s clear that Sofia Loren didn’t actually mean that she primary only eats pasta but rather that she eats within moderation as part of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle she grew up with. Now we know her real secret.
I recently attended the Vaughan Pizza Festival and after indulging in my share of pizza options, I was ready to wash it all down with something refreshing. As I roamed the fairgrounds for something to quench my thirst, I was drawn to a picture of a familiar Church, could that possibly be the Santa Maria della Pace in Rome? I decided to take a closer look and was pleasantly surprised to find a selection of drinks on display. The glass bottles were presented in a bright array of colours and they immediately caught my attention. What was this fun looking drink that appeared to be Italian? As I explored the booth, I was approached by a friendly young woman who was eager to answer all my questions. Bike Beverages is a premium Italian soft drink, she explained, that was established and made in Italy. The soda hit the market in 2013 and Bike Beverages Canada is the exclusive importer of this drink. The soda comes in 7 flavours (Pompelmo Fragola, Limonata, Gassosa, Spumotto, Aranciata, Tonica Lemongrass, Spuma Bionda) and after reading the description of each type, I opted for a familiar flavour I had only ever tried while in Tuscany; the Spuma Bionda. This lightly carbonated drink has notes of rhubarb, orange peel, and vanilla, giving it a unique and refreshing taste. I loved this flavour! It brought me back to Florence where I enjoyed this traditional beverage in a local bar. The simple memory kept me smiling the rest of the day. I’m not a fan of pop that is highly carbonated and full of sugar, so what I love about these sodas is that they are made from raw materials with no added preservatives and dyes. These drinks are definitely made in the Italian style; simple, pure, and full of flavour. The other fabulous thing about these sodas are how well they pair so well with with wine or proscecco, creating a not-too-sweet spritzer, or mixing them with another spirit for an exceptional cocktail. I look forward to trying them all!
Create one of my favorite aperitivo spritzers using Bike’s delicious soda:
3 Parts Prosecco
2 Parts Spuma Bionda
1 Part Aperol
Garnish with an Orange Slice
Check what Bike Beverages has have to offer at www.drinkitalian.ca
Grilled Chicken with Creamy Polenta and a Balsamic Drizzle
In summer, I love any and everything on the grill and what better than a juicy, overnight marinated chicken served over a creamy polenta. To break up the richness of this dish, a drizzle of high quality Balsamic Vinegar of Modena makes this chicken entree shine. A quality balsamic vinegar is thick, syrup-like and naturally sweet and tart. Regular balsamic vinegar should not be used for this dish. If you do not have access to a BBQ use a cast iron grill pan. I love using my cast iron pan, especially through the winter months. It gives such a similar flavor to the BBQ.
YIELD: 4 SERVINGS PREP TIME: 10 MIN
COOK TIME: 1 HOUR
4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 Teaspoon of dried oregano
1 Teaspoon of dried rosemary
1 Teaspoon of dried thyme
2 Tablespoons of Dijon Mustard
1 Teaspoon of Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon of Onion Powder
¼ Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
5 Cups of Chicken Stock or Water
1 Cup of Cornmeal / Polenta
2 Tablespoons butter
½ Cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Veal Marsala is a popular and well known Italian dish. It is thought to have been developed in the town of Marsala in Western Sicily where this fortified wine is made. This traditional veal dish is made using thinly sliced veal, a Marsala reduction, and sautéed mushrooms. This is a classic and richly flavored comfort dish.
YIELD: 4 SERVINGS PREP TIME: 10 MIN
COOK TIME: 30 MINUTES
8 Veal Cutlets (scaloppini) approx. 3 ounces each
Salt and Pepper
½ Cup Flour
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Medium Onion Finely Chopped
4 Garlic Cloves Finely Chopped
1 Cup Cremini Mushrooms Sliced
2/3 Cup Marsala Wine
1 Cup Low Sodium Chicken Stock
1 Sprig of Rosemary Leaves
I grew up with homemade chicken fingers. My Nonna regularly makes them for us and they are a staple dish for large family gatherings or picnics. These are always a family favorite; juicy, flavorful and crunchy. These treats are tasty right out of the pan or eaten cold the next day.
YIELD: 4 – 6 PEOPLE PREP TIME: 15 MIN
COOK TIME: 30 MINUTES
1/3 Cup Flour
2 Eggs Beaten
1 ¼ Cups Bread Crumbs
2/3 Cup Grated Parmigiano Cheese
¼ tsp Garlic Powder
1.5 tsp Dried Basil
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1 tsp Dried Thyme
4 (6 – 8 ounces) Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
½ Cup Chicken Stock
Salt and Pepper
½ Cup Olive Oil
Pasta Aglio e Olio con Pancetta
This traditional garlic and oil pasta sauce originated in Naples, but is seen all throughout Italy. This dish is something I grew up with and ate at least once a week. What makes this pasta so delicious is a good quality olive oil, caramelized sweet garlic and salty pancetta. This simple dish is the perfect quick meal that is a sure crowd pleaser.
YIELD: MAKES ENOUGH FOR 1 POUND OF PASTA PREP TIME: 5 MIN
COOK TIME: 30 MINUTES
½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
4 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
¼ lb Pancetta Finely Minced (optional)
1 Cup Salty Pasta Water
¼ Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley (optional)
Salt and Pepper
1 Pound Pasta