Is vegetable a dirty word?  Sometimes I feel like it is.  I bring it up a lot with people (mostly my family) as in, “Are you going to serve any vegetables with that?”  I don’t mean to sound judge-y, but are you going to serve any vegetables with that?  I know that I need vegetables in my diet for many reasons: to feel full, to eat less meat and dairy, to feel regular (I went there!) and to maintain my weight.  I find most people don’t eat as much veggies as they should for 3 reasons:

1) vegetables are more expensive

2) vegetables are boring / I don’t know how to cook them

3) I don’t like salad

And all of these fall under the umbrella of “I don’t know why vegetables are important”.  We’ll get to that in a moment.

I’ve eaten my fair share of meals that are vegetable deficient.  Sandwiches come to mind, countless bowls of pasta with meatballs, even pizza.  I love all these foods, but they are seriously lacking in the vegetable department.

Did you know the FDA considers the tomato sauce on pizza a vegetable for school lunches?  I remember when I was in school that french fries were also considered a vegetable.  SCARY.  I just took a look on the FDA School Lunch website and some of my favorites horrors from these guidelines are below:

FDA says, “Select vegetables with more potassium often, such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, tomato products (paste, sauce, and juice), beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans.”

Marie says, “Potatoes are a starchy vegetable that should be eaten in moderation.  They are also delivery vehicles for some very fatty toppings (sour cream, butter, oil, cheese) that must be monitored closely if you want to maintain optimal weight.”

Please instead of potatoes, try some green veggies like kale or spinach.

FDA says, “Order a veggie pizza with toppings like mushrooms, green peppers, and onions, and ask for extra veggies.”

Marie says, “Ok yes order a veggie topped pizza, but please don’t expect that to equal a vegetable serving.  Having one slice of pizza with a green salad would be a better solution.”

I love pizza, and I don’t want to discourage people from eating it, but it’s really gotta be served with a salad otherwise it’s not a complete meal.

So why are vegetables so important?

The make you feel full, they provide fiber and countless vitamins and minerals.  Plus they are a non-animal derived food which makes them more sustainable to the environment.

I always do my best to buy organic vegetables because they taste better and if I’m gonna eat and serve veggies I want the best!  There are other good reasons below…

The definition of organic when talking about food is, “Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.” (Taken from www.organic.org).

But, sometimes there aren’t organic versions available in the grocery store or your budget won’t allow for it.  This is a handy guide you can use when shopping that outlines what’s called the “Dirty Dozen” – the list of the MOST contaminated fruits and vegetables (so you know to always buy those organic) and the “Clean Fifteen” highlighting the LEAST contaminated crops.  Take a look here! You can even download a wallet guide or an app for your phone here: (download a copy of the wallet guide)

So when I offered to bring some veggie crudite to a father’s day gathering last week there was a bit of shock and horror from my Grandmother (for more about Grandmother Nora, click here).   She really couldn’t understand why I had done it.  She made all this delicious food (pasta, meatballs and a pork roast) so why did we need vegetables?  She made a salad to go with it.  She was dumbfounded.  The truth is, I gotta crowd out the bad stuff with vegetables, I need to constantly be thinking about how to eat more vegetables otherwise I don’t eat them.  I want to eat meatballs, but it order to have balance I need the vegetables too.  Salad just won’t be enough.  So once she settled down and we were cleaning up the appetizers she yells to my father to pack up for the vegetables for me because “You’re daughter likes vegetables”.  She said it like it was a bad thing, like I liked pornography or CSI:NY.  Could you imagine if I’d become a vegan as I once toyed with? Yikes!

But I soldier on, bringing vegetables to a new level at home and away.  Someone shared this delicious recipe with me this week and it went over like gangbusters when I had a vegetarian friend over this week. Delicious Eggplant Roasted in the Oven.

Maybe I’ll bring that next time grandmother has me over!

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So, the best pizza in Brooklyn can be found at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst – if you ask me.  I was performing in a show with the Ryan Repertory Company all weekend and it’s conveniently located in the vicinity of L&B.  On Sunday, my family from Long Island made the trip out to Brooklyn for the show, but also for a slice of pizza.

The pizza is divine because it’s unique.  Instead of sauce and then cheese layered on top of the dough, its the opposite (!), cheese THEN sauce.  The dough is completely covered with cheese (a plus) rather than it just being a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella and then the sauce just sits a top- floating and waiting to be slurped up.  Thanks to my parents roots in Brooklyn, I’ve been eating this pizza all my life.   Its basically the reason I moved to Brooklyn.  I’ve also introduced these slices to countless “Non L&Bers” over the course of my life- my husband being one of them.  There’s just nothing better than being in the car, and getting a little hungry and him saying, “You up for some L&B?”

Aside from delish pizza, L& B Spumoni Gardens also has spumoni, a sandwich counter and a sit down restaurant that isn’t half bad either.  I tend to enjoy the “Chicken Marie” dish for obvious reasons and the antipasto.  The place is typically crowded and since it has picnic tables outside for the masses to enjoy their slices it’s a “must do” on the first few spring weekends.  This weekend was definitely a rebirth for L&B as it was finally nice enough to sit outside and enjoy a slice and spumoni.

Ok, so what’s my problem with my grandmother, right?  I mean, “Marie how could you have a post about your grandmother?  Are you that insensitive?”

The answers are “I have to write about this because it’s the key to so much overweighted-ness” and “Yes”.  Grandmother Nora doesn’t have a computer, and probably won’t see this blog – but I’ve got to call her out on principle and to give the rest of us a fighting chance against Food Pushers (who often come in the form of well-meaning grandmothers).

In order for you to fully understand the magnitude of Grandmother Nora’s presence – yes she wants to be called “Grandmother” not “Grandma” – I have to clue you in to a bit of her character.  Well, she IS a character.  Larger than life, always outspoken and the life of the party.  Last time we were together at L&B she was accosting Tony Disco while he was there giving autographs.  “Tony, TONY, do you know my son BOBBY?”  Good grief!  My dad, Bob(by), was mortified and yet totally into it at the same time.  I guess after 60+ years of her accosting celebrities in his presence, he gave in eventually and decided to go for the ride.  Grandmother is also known for her biting commentary.  Ran always tells a story that even after he and I were living together, Grandmother still called him my “friend” as in, “You know Marie, you’re FRIEND didn’t come say hi to me.”  The poor guy was scared of her!  But after that comment, he never neglected to say hi to Grandmother again.  Oh and of course I can’t forget the time Grandmother came to see me in a production of the Vagina Monologues at Muhlenberg College.  She happened to attend the one performance that had a talk back afterward.  Seated in the front row, she exclaimed, “You forgot the ‘Oh my god, OH MY GOD'” in reference to the monologue about different types of orgasms.  I exclaimed “Oh my god” as I sank into my chair with embarrassment.  But then it soon turned to pride that my grandmother was hip enough to come see Vag Mons and open enough to make declarations at the talk back.  Bottom line, she embarrasses you but makes you laugh and of course, she means well.

Alright, cut back to L&B, all of us are sitting around the table eating a slice.  “Did you have enough?”  “Save a slice for Linda!” “What about Bobby?  What’s he gonna eat?”

We had 2 pizzas and more food coming.  Nobody starved, I can assure you.  When the eggplant parmigiana hit the table, Grandmother started in with me, “Marie don’t you want some?”  “Aren’t you gonna have some eggplant?”  “Have this eggplant?”  I kept saying, NO THANKS.  But it fell on deaf ears.  Naturally, Grandmother started in with someone else then.  First my uncle, then my dad – she was relentless.  She kept exclaiming, “Well we can’t just LEAVE IT??!!!??”   Why not?  Why can’t we just leave that 200 calorie portion of eggplant on the dish?  Who will know/care/report us to the Italian police?  I finally answered her, “Grandmother, we CAN leave it.  No one is going to starve.”  It was like I speaking a foreign language.  Oh well.

…The eggplant sat..UNTIL…finally Bob picked it up, put it on his plate, and dove in.

I felt compelled to say something, and let’s face it, talking to pretty much anyone about the food their eating is like walking in a mine field.

“Dad, you don’t have to eat that if you don’t want to.”

He ate.

I don’t have a quippy response to that.  All I can say is, for some reason, when you’re told over and over again that it’s NOT okay to leave a little food on your plate – you start to believe it.  And then you will just eat it even if you are full.  It’s like its on the plate friggin staring at you saying, “Why not eat me?”  instead of “Why eat me?”

Not sure if this is a triumph over food?  Sounds more like the eggplant had a triumph over the Ingrisanos.  Actually, I will count it as a triumph, becuase at least I wasn’t the one eating that damn eggplant.  Though it looked so good.

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