Revisiting Rome: Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce

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Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce- Meatless Monday

It was our third day in Rome and we were exhausted. And hungry.

St. Peter's Basilica
The start of a very long walking day.

My mom is a notoriously picky eater. As the group leader, I was unofficially tasked with not only guiding us through the city, but finding affordable, non-touristy places to eat that would make my picky mom and equally picky sister, happy.

We got lucky this day.

Waiting for lunch in front of the Pantheon. Doesn’t she look happy?

My family begged me to take a lunch break at one of the cafes in front of the Pantheon. I looked at it skeptically.

“This is a tourist trap!” I declared.

Never underestimate the power of hunger and the promise of beautiful scenery to go with your meal.

My mom ordered eggplant parmesan. It was the only thing she ate with gusto the entire trip.

Although my family and I enjoy exploring restaurants, we prefer home-cooked meals. We rented an apartment in Rome and cooked most of our meals during the week with groceries we’d purchased from a local market.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world, but it made me happy to see my mom enjoy this meal with the Pantheon in the background. You really can’t beat that.

Five years later, I wanted to recreate that meal for Mother’s Day albeit without the ancient architecture circling us. I also decided to give it a healthy makeover.

When I surprised my mom with her lunch yesterday, she beamed and gave me a hug and a kiss.

Mission accomplished. 🙂

INGREDIENTS

Serving 4

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced across
  • 2-3 cups of panko (whole wheat if available)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tbsps grated parmigiano reggiano, separated
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 2 28oz cans no salt-added crushed tomatoes
  • 3 tbsps tomato paste
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried italian oregano
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • Handful of fresh basil

Optional side salad

  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, halved

Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce- Meatless Monday

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Prep 2 shallow bowls, one with beaten egg whites (you can add a little bit of water to thin this out) and the other with panko and 1 tbsp of grated parmigiano. Spray a large baking sheet with olive oil. Dip each slice of eggplant in egg white mixture, then panko, making sure to coat all sides with crumbs. Place on sheet evenly and then spray oil across the top. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, flipping over halfway through.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce- Meatless Monday

2. While the eggplant is baking, prepare the tomato sauce. Heat 1 tbsp of EVOO in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Cook garlic for 45 seconds-1 minute (please don’t burn the garlic! you just want to infuse the oil). Add the tomatoes, paste and seasonings, except for fresh basil. Lower heat to a simmer and cover with lid. Cook for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove lid and stir in half a handful of chopped fresh basil. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly, Cook for 2-3 minutes and remove from heat.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce- Meatless Monday Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce- Meatless Monday

3. Increase oven temp to 425ºF. In a glass baking dish, spoon tomato sauce across the bottom. Place the baked eggplant slices in a layer. Top with sliced mozzarella cheese and sprinkle 1 tbsp parmiggiano. Spoon more tomato sauce across the top. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese starts to brown.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce- Meatless Monday

4. Serve 3 slices of eggplant with a side salad of spinach and tomatoes. Sprinkle a little bit of EVOO  and chopped fresh basil over the top. Prego! Homemade healthy goodness.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce- Meatless Monday

This would go perfectly with a side of whole wheat spaghetti if you’re looking for something heartier.

What I love about making a big batch of tomato sauce (and wasn’t that recipe so easy?!), is that I can save the rest for another day. Why buy a jar of sauce when you can make your own without all of the added sugar and preservatives?

Baked Eggplant Parmesan with Homemade Tomato Sauce- Meatless Monday

We sat at our old kitchen table. There were no fancy table linens or 1,000 year old temples or old Italian men playing accordions nearby. It was just us, eating together at home. And I’ll never forget it.

How did you celebrate Mother’s Day?

What’s your favorite meatless Italian dish?

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! 🙂

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Introducing…Me: The Liebster Award

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I owe Annie of Strong Brees a HUGE hug for nominating me for the Liebster Award! Here it comes Annie:

<HUG>

Thank you times a million!

What I love most about these awards is the opportunity to get to know new bloggers who are doing some pretty awesome things on their sites and to spread the love. This also gives us a chance to pull back the curtain and share a bit of our origin story for those of you just tuning in.

It’s a great time all-around. So without further ado, let the share-fest begin!

First, let’s go over some of the rules:

  • You must link back to the person who nominated you.
  • You must answer the 10 Liebster questions given to you by the nominee before you.
  • You must pick 10 bloggers to be nominated for the award.
  • You must create 10 questions for your nominees.
  • You must go to their blogs and notify the nominees.

Got it? Good.

Here’s my Q&A courtesy of Annie:

1.  What inspired you to begin blogging?
There’s no one simple answer here, but the tipping point for me was back in 2009. I’d reached a point where I was really frustrated with my weight and overall appearance. I started to change my eating and exercise habits, researching (I’m obsessed with research!) nutrition and different workout routines, experimenting and ultimately found a pattern that worked. By 2012, I’d hit a lot of my goals but I still felt like I had so many questions about health and nutrition that I wanted to figure out. Why do some diets work for some people but don’t for others? How can we change our environment to be more accepting of different body types instead of emulating an unrealistic beauty standard? What can I do to help people overcome issues with ED and unhappiness?  At the suggestion of several of my friends I decided to start writing. I spent a week in London during the Olympics in 2012, and was so inspired that I spent the entire flight home writing out what would become Food4ThoughtNYC. I never looked back after that.
2.  What is your favorite piece of workout apparel?
me and Underarmour gearI’m obsessed with anything by UnderArmour, especially their leggings. They offer the perfect amount of flexibility and compression without feeling bulky or too tight. Plus, they look awesome! I’ve also learned over time that nothing beats a cotton top. I used to love all of those high-tech sweat-wicking materials but quickly realized that they smell pretty awful mid-workout. Invest your money in the shorts or pants and stick to inexpensive and comfortable tops- just a tip!
3.  What is one type of workout you have not yet tried but are curious about?
There’s two- Zumba and Crossfit. Talk about polar opposites! I’m a powerlifter and usually prefer workouts that are a bit more slow-paced with heavy weights. This year I’ve created some new goals around increasing my endurance which means I need to start embracing workouts that are fast-paced with a cardio component. One of my best friends is obsessed with Crossfit and I can’t go a day without coming across a blog post talking about whatever WOD they crushed. I want to drink the Koolaid too! And Zumba just looks like crazy fun. I can shimmy with the best of them, so why not make it a workout?
4.  What did you eat for breakfast (be honest, no judgement here!)?
Ah, you caught me! I just had a giant cup of coffee, but I’m working hard to minimize the extras I throw in. So, only a few teaspoons of sugar, sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon, a few drops of half-and-half, and a bit of coconut oil. That’s right, I put coconut oil in my coffee! I’ve read that it’s great for your digestive health and while the science behind the benefits of all things coconut is still a bit murky, I personally find this little addition pretty great for me. I like experimenting! And I also had a slice of whole wheat toast. I’ve got a green smoothie on tap once I finish writing this post.
5.  Name one thing you do, wear, or own that gives you the most confidence?
Great question. I’m gonna go with writing. It’s a funny answer for me because writing also gives me a lot of anxiety. I worry if what I’m sharing will resonate or fall flat or if my grammar is completely screwed up. Sometimes I run away from it altogether, and I’ve taken some long breaks from my blog as a result. But I find the ebb and flow of my writing journey the past two years to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. There are times when I’m literally bursting at the seams to sit down and get my thoughts down either on paper or on my site. It’s been cathartic, especially when I wrote about my issues with disordered eating or racial identity. And as much as it terrifies to put that out there for the world to read and potentially criticize, I always feel like I’ve triumphed in some way. It’s a roundabout way towards feeling confident, but nevertheless it’s been the most effective.
6.  If you could go for a walk/run anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Impossible to answer! I’m a travel nut and my bucket list is way too long. I was in Moab last summer and while there I experienced some of the most serene moments in my life. Sitting there and staring out at these massive rock formations and the valleys between just made me feel so small and so huge at the same time. me and moabThose are the emotions I like to go for whenever I visit somewhere new. I suppose the next place I’d like to feel that would probably be the antithesis of Moab, so a forest comes to mind. I’d love to see the Sequoias in California or some of the old-world forests in Europe. My second choice would be somewhere mountainous. Clearly, nature wins for me!
7.  If time and money were no issue what would you do for a day?
Only one day?? Take a long walk in the early morning to a new neighborhood in NYC. Have breakfast (calories don’t count in this dream right?) and coffee at a slow pace. Visit a museum or go to the park for a few hours to read. Go home and experiment with a new recipe. Watch a movie. Call up a friend and go to a beer garden or outdoor restaurant to enjoy a meal, a few drinks, and a conversation, again at an unhurried pace. Eat dessert. Go home and play with my dog. Then go to bed. Nothing fancy or crazy. And completely unplugged from the digital world. I spend nearly every waking hour online for myself or for work and as much as I enjoy it, there are days when you just need to detox. This would be one of those days.
8.  Cardio or weights?  Why?
WEIGHTS. All the way. I’m a powerlifter, so yeah, weights.
Maribel- 195x2 Deadlift 5-17-13
Every time I tried losing weight in the past I’d go the cardio route only to quit pretty soon after. I don’t blame the exercise so much as a lack of understanding on my part of what really worked for me. When I started lifting with my personal trainer a year ago, something clicked. It’s a difficult challenge, but it was something I actually enjoyed doing, which was very different from every time I’ve hit the pavement attempting to run a couple of miles. This is why I make it my mission to tell everyone to ignore whatever workout trend is currently making the rounds and to quit believing that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to fitness. Some of my friends are avid runners who get the high and love the feeling they get from hitting the pavement each day. Others swim, hike, dance, do yoga, spin, kickbox- or lift like I do. And even still, I’m not locked into one thing. This afternoon I’m going swimming and I’ve got a yoga session in store for tomorrow. I choose weights, but that’s not my only choice.
9.  Do you drink coffee? If so, how do you like it?
Ah, scroll up to read my answer to #4, lol. Yes. Coffee and I are old old friends. I even wrote about it here.
10.  What accomplishment are you most proud of?
In no specific order: hitting my 230lb deadlift before my 30th birthday last December when I originally aimed for 225lbs; being featured in Latina magazine this year as a top blogger; conquering my fear of bikes by learning to ride last year; getting healthy and fit for me and not for anyone else which was a MAJOR life lesson; traveling through 4 continents and living abroad more than once; nailing an internship with a startup whose mission I actually believe in that inspires me everyday; letting go of some of the pain from my past by embracing gratitude, forgiveness, and meditation as part of my daily practice; starting this crazy blog that led me to meet some truly incredible people out there who are proudly sharing their stories and constantly inspiring me with their honesty, passion, strength, and creativity. Thank you for all that you do!
I’m honestly gobsmacked by the amount of support and encouragement I’ve been lucky to receive from people I’ll probably never meet in real life, but who come here and find something that strikes a chord with them. I do this for me, to leave my mark in the universe in my own way. But really, I do this for you too.
I’ve said it from the beginning: my intention here is to start a conversation. I want to connect and learn from you to see how even the smallest exchange can create waves of change in our corners of the world. A million thank yous to each and every single one of you who’ve laid eyes on my page and the sites of all the bloggers out there that are working just as hard to create something truly unique.
The world needs more unique. 🙂
Alright, now the fun doesn’t stop here. It’s time to nominate what I consider to be truly incredible blogs that I’ve recently discovered and to continue paying it forward (my motto!).
And here are my questions (keeping some of Annie’s because they were great!)
1.  What inspired you to begin blogging?
2.  How do you feel about social media and being “connected”?
3.  What is one type of workout you have not yet tried but are curious about?
4.  What is your favorite healthy recipe?
5.  Name one thing you do, wear, or own that gives you the most confidence.
6.  If you could go for a walk/run anywhere in the world, where would it be?
7.  What song, movie or book inspires you?
8.  Do you practice meditation or have an interest in trying it out?
9.  Why do you write?
10.  What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Congrats to all of the nominees. Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Happy Easter!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! 🙂

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Thankful Thursdays: It Works on Friday Too

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So, I’m a day late.  But guess what? Expressing gratitude works on Friday just as much as it does on Thursday. Hell, it works any day of the week. You’ll still get those happiness points if you stop to say thanks for all the little moments that make life truly special.

That said, let’s move on to the nitty gritty. Here’s what I’m thankful for:

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The Value of Honesty

That last point about honesty has become a major turning point in some of the relationships that are taking shape in my life. It seems a bit unnecessary to point out the importance of honesty because I think it’s safe to say that’s a quality we expect from all the people we embrace as friends or partners.

But how often are you truly open about what you’re feeling, especially when it turns out that feeling isn’t on the happier end of the spectrum?

The vulnerability and fear that comes with sharing some of those more difficult emotions have often led me to keep others at bay. For all of my self-awareness, I am more likely to stay tight-lipped about the things that make me upset, simply because it’s easier than fully confronting the issue head on.

This is changing. I’m beginning to see that closing myself off in this way has caused me more harm than good over the years. The really awesome part here is that I’ve managed to speak my mind in ways that are both healing and constructive, which has yielded some amazing changes in my personal relationships.

I have no clue what the future holds. None of us do. But for now, I can say with a bit of certainty, that the future can be a much brighter place if you make it a point to stay (constructively!) honest not only with yourself, but with those around you.

Been Around the World

Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.

-Gustave Flaubert

I spent a good chunk of last week catching up on old episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations I never got around to watching when the show was still on air. There’s something about the combination of Bourdain’s sarcastic wit, smart commentary, beautiful cinematography, and mouth-watering meals that makes my heart sing, each and every time I watch that show.

My wanderlust was stirred. Badly. I’m usually spending this part of the year planning my next big trip to somewhere new. This is the first year in as long as I can remember that I do not have a trip on my agenda.

Sadness does not even cover it.

But in the middle of watching Bourdain sip his caipirinha on Ipanema beach in Rio, I realized that I’ve been a lucky duck when it comes to travel. I’ve spent the last 13 years exploring whenever I could with whatever resources I had because there is SO much of this world that I want to see.

No matter how far down in the dumps I go, or how difficult this part of my journey seems to be, I can always turn to these travel experiences as a reminder of just how fortunate I’ve been to see such incredible sights.

So in an effort to keep the gratitude going and keep my spirits lifted, I decided to go back and take a look at some of these glorious moments. Then I thought I’d share them here too. There’s nothing like a photo to help transport you away from the here and now. Enjoy!

What are you thankful for this week?

Feel free to share your thoughts below!

As always, keep paying it forward. Stay healthy! 🙂

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