My pants fit a little more snugly these days, and my face is a bit more round than usual. Since I still walk to and from work regularly, and have actually been working out more, including extra cardio and the introduction of pilates into my routine (oh, holy hell), I can think of only one explanation – Pittsburgh. Perhaps more specifically? Bloomfield, my neighborhood. But greater Pittsburgh is certainly to blame as well.
Bloomfield has long been considered Pittsburgh’s “Little Italy,” and I live around the corner and across the park from Liberty Avenue, home to Alexander’s Bistro, Cafe Roma, The Pleasure Bar, D’Amico’s, Del’s…all independently owned Italian restaurants and while they vary in quality and spirit, there isn’t one among them I haven’t been to in the last couple of months. I’ve enjoyed calamari fried to a crispy golden goodness, then drenched in lemon juice, spicyantipasta plates with warm garlic bread on the side, homemade liguini coated with clams and white wine, and I shudder to think how many times I’ve slurped down bowls of my favorite dish – a combination of shrimp, scallops and mussels over a bed of homeade pasta with aglio olio.
This does not even include mention of the incredibly pizzerias nearby, although I actually haven’t indulged as much as one might respect, primarily because my sense of mealtime is so inflexible that I really can’t understand picking up a slice of something as a snack OR eating it on the street as a meal. No, the pizzerias, despite their tempting storefronts and incredible smells, aren’t my downfall, either – I probably would be fine if it weren’t for the many Italian groceries I walk past on my way home, tempting me constantly with loaves of steaming fresh Italian bread, platters of mozzarella and Parmesan, the displays of wine-cured sausages and liver pate, boxes of incredibly cheap but mind-bogglingly delicious homemade pasta (I will never, ever, ever buy boxes of processed pasta again. I mean, unless I move, of course), and the desserts – oh, the desserts – towering, delicate tiramisus, sturdy almond torte cakes, fresh-daily cannelonis – it’s all absolutely wonderful.
Of course, it’s absolutely the reason my clothes aren’t hanging just right. I have taken, too much, to stopping in at these shops, for bread or pasta or perhaps a pastry in the morning, and I’m much more likely to whip up a plate of antipasta for a quick meal than I am to sautee a chicken and vegetble stirfry. Even this wouldn’t be so terribly injurous if going out for Italian wasn’t quite so popular with my co-workers and friends, but for arguably the majority of my acquaintances, Italian food isn’t a special treat but a way of eating, a way of life. They were raised on the breads, pastas, polentas and salamis of my neighborhood and if anyone told them this wasn’t perhaps the most nutritious way of eating they would dismiss the claim with a wave of a fork while moaning over pepperocinos stuffed with sausage.
Lately I’ve found myself becoming a little bit like the teeny tiny older women who walk the streets of my neighborhood in sturdy shoes and durable black dresses, picking up their groceries on weekday mornings after mass, arguing over the price of spicy sausages or tri-colored tortellinis. The last time my brother was over, in between shifts at work, I looked at him and said “Do you want a sandwich? I have some nice bread, and some sopresseta.” He looked at me, and while is mouth said a polite “No thank you” his face said “What the hell?”
I love so much about this neighborhood – the way the church bells from Immaculate Conception call across the park every day at six in the morning, how the scents of sugar and dough and frosting from Paddy Cake bakery break up those of the garlic, onion and olive oil that already permeate the air at seven in the morning, the way my bus driver knows me now and offers me a hand as I totter in my tall boots up the stairs, the hand-written signs in the store windows encouraging me to pray for forty days to end abortion, the way the sun slants through the blinds in my living room, giving light to dancing dust motes in late afternoon, the way living in Bloomfield is only like living in Bloomfield, and nowhere else.
What I do not love is the feeling of my pants right against my stomach, and the thought that I may soon have to loosen my belt. I keep making up rules in my head, like pasta only once a week, bread only on Sundays, or (the truly horrible) returning to running, which burns an absurd number of calories and will probably allow me all the pasta I want. I don’t know which way I’m headed but I can tell you this – I am breaths away from looking you up and down and muttering “You are too skinny – you need to eat, eat. You want a sandwich? Some lasagna? I have some nice baked ziti in the freezer.” And for a blonde-haired, blue eyed, Scotch-Irish Presbyterian who can’t look at a potato without putting on a pound, this situation is not good.