Interview with Ambra Torelli of Little Bites of Beauty
What is the story behind the creation of your blog?
That’s a great question! Being a native Italian, I have always been an avid foodie, and, as I grew up and started traveling, I merged that initial passion with all the amazing local specialties that all the different countries have to offer. Gastronomic tourism definitely became one of the most fun aspects of my nomadic lifestyle!
My interest in healthy food and the concept of “food as medicine” was born a bit later, with a documentary on sugar (that I recommend for everyone to watch) and the outbreak of a gluten and dairy intolerance that turned out to be the culprit of some autoimmune issues.
After I had changed my diet, I had to cook way more that I used to do before. I love eating healthy food, and I wasn’t to settle for boring allergy free meals. My goal was to recreate all the flavors and textures I used to love before this dietary change, but in a healthier way, avoiding all those potentially inflammatory ingredients (like sugar, gluten, and dairy).
And that’s where the idea for my blog was born! I wanted to share all the ‘discoveries” I was making on how different foods can help us heal from various health issues and, at the same time, I wanted to put out all that I knew on how people with allergies or particular dietary restriction can still enjoy amazing food!
Lately, what a started as an allergy food blog, become a more extensive website that covers other two subjects I love deeply: healthy and allergy free travel and lifestyle.
If I have tips on how to stay healthy on the road, visit some incredible resorts that cater to people with allergies, or discover some natural skin care products (…I am addicted to that stuff), you can rest assured you’ll find them on littlebitesofbeauty.com!!
How did you decide to eliminate gluten and grains from your diet?
Like I mentioned before, I did it for health reasons. Landing on an eating regimen that was appropriate for my body wasn’t exactly easy, and I had to go through a few dietary changes to find the kind of diet that could actually help me improve my health.
Being a former university researcher, I spent the last three years investigating and evaluating the subject from different angles, crossing the information with lots of empirical data. And, after I sifted through hundreds of pages of information on health and nutrition, I came out with one truth: taking a “one diet fits all” approach towards health is not respectful of the different needs of each individual person.
While a specific diet may work well for one individual, it may be disastrous for others, simply because we are not all built the same. One’s journey through health and optimal nutrition is often long, filled with trial and error and experimentation. It’s not a one-size-fits-all but an ever changing evolution, as each body reacts differently to each unique food, lifestyle change or time in one’s life.
Also, another thing I recommend to anybody who’s trying to use food as medicine to heal from certain conditions is this: there’s simply too much information out there to piece it together unless you’re a qualified professional. I like to consult with a functional medicine doctor who regularly checks on me and makes sure I do well with my current diet. We cut out foods from my diet and reintroduce others to find that precious equilibrium on which each person thrives.
Despite my best efforts, I will never be as qualified as she is to recommend what diet works best for other people needs, nor how certain nutrients will affect their entire system as a whole. All I can do is share my journey and my knowledge in cooking healthy, allergy free food, hoping that others benefit from my content.
That’s why I don’t take a stance on one specific diet: it’s already hard enough to live with food allergies. My aim is offer solutions to everyone, from those who need to eat paleo to those allergic to eggs, making their life and their journey to health a little bit easier.
What was the biggest challenge in making gluten-free, grain-free, and dairy-free Italian desserts?
I think that the biggest challenge is by far recreating the texture. The friability of ‘pastafrolla” (an Italian butter shortbread), the softness of a ‘bigné’ (a puff pastry stuffed with custard) or even the thin lightness of a “sflogliatina” (a glazed pyllo dough)… are very hard to recreate without the original ingredients.
Some of those goodies are gone forever. Forget about croissants for example. Butter and gluten are their most essential prerequisites. And if you like to say it how it is, you’ll agree with me that their allergy free version is hardly worth the calories.
The good news though is that some of them are totally replicable! Take my favorite “pastarfrolla” for example: it took me countless attempts to get it right, but I couldn’t be any prouder when I nailed the perfect recipe to make it with no gluten, dairy nor sugar. Even my parents (Italian food traditionalist) couldn’t believe it wasn’t the regular one!! When they tried the “Fig Crostata” that you can find in my EBook, they kept asking for an encore!!
What can North Americans learn from the Italian way of eating?
In short, I think that the Italian approach to food is that it must be simple, pure and fresh. I believe the Italian restaurants abroad give people just a partial idea of our food philosophy: it’s not about loading every plate with heavy carbs and cheese; it’s quite the opposite.
It’s about loving ourselves through the food we eat; it’s about respecting what the earth has to offer without forcing the cycle of the seasons; it’s about appreciating what nature gives us without altering its genetic code; it’s about valuing the locality and freshness of the food. In one line: it’s about treating each simple ingredient with the reverence it deserves.
With this approach in mind, even a simple sun ripened tomato, some aromatic basil leaves and a drizzle of fruity olive oil become a masterpiece!
What recipe are you most proud of?
Savory dishes are the easiest to recreate in an allergy free way without any noticable difference. But I really do like the challenge of measuring my skills with baking as that’s the hard part!! I am very proud of the “Chocolate Matha Cake” that’s in my Ebook… That didn’t even last an hour after I finished photographing it!!
But I also find myself craving my Gluten Free Ginger Scones all the time, as well on of the latest recipes I developed this summer: my AIP Lemon Rosemary Cookies, that are absolutely grain free and suitable for those who are following the Auto Immune Paleo diet.
Do you have any food styling or photography tips?
“Be patient” would be my first tip, as photographing a recipe takes a long time! 😉
Other than that, here are some other suggestions that I think could be useful:
- Shoot in the morning, in between 9 and 10 or later in the afternoon after 5.
- Never shoot in the sun.
- Focus on the presentation: make your dish look inviting and keep an eye on the frame composition as well trying to include other foods or objects that are related to the main subjects but don’t prevaricate over it.
- Simple backgrounds, better if in a plain black or white color, are the best as the make the dish stand out more.
- Shoot your food as soon as it’s ready; one can definitely tell from the photo when ‘crispy’ became ‘soggy’.
- Always try to create a nice contrast between the color of the food you are shooting and the utensils that hold it.
How do you maintain your lifestyle when traveling?
That’s a skill I mastered with time… Particularly during the periods I am on the AIP, traveling becomes pretty challenging, as you can’t really eat out. For this reason, I always try to stay in hotels that have a kitchenette or in Air BnB apartments.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I have always loved art so I like to do things that can fulfill that passion: I like to create jewels for myself with shells I collected during my travels; I like to paint, and then, of course, I love to travel and explore new places together with my husband.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Since I have a lot of experience in the fields of living with food allergies and healthy traveling, that’s what I want to focus on!
Developing recipes that can fit the different dietary needs a lot of people have gives me joy and purpose because I know how hard it is to live with food allergies.
I love to use my website to share what I learned, from food replacements to cooking techniques that can make your life and your relationship with food a little bit easier and a bit more fun.
In particular, one thing I would like to do is to create a sequel to my EBook “Italian Healthy Desserts Made Simple” (that’s catered toward people who are following a gluten, dairy and sugar free diet), and come up with a product targeted towards those who are on the AIP. I can picture it in my head already… so I hope I can put it to life soon!
Saffron Tapioca Pearls
- My favorite risotto… turned into an awesome dessert!
- Ingredients: (makes 8)
- 250 ml Water
- 100 gr Tapioca Pearls (about 3/4 cup)
- 150 ml Coconut Milk
- 1 Banana + 1 Medjool Date
- Green Stevia, to taste
- 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract + 1 tsp Saffron
- Zest of 1/2 Lemon
- 3 Figs + 10 Strawberries
- 2 tbsp Hazelnuts, crushed
REPLACEMENTS: If you can’t ﬁnd saffron, replace it with 1/2 tsp of cardamom and add some more vanilla extract. Alternatively you can blend a stick of vanilla in the coconut mixture.
- Fill a medium-sized pot halfway with water and bring it to a boil. When it starts bubbling, pour in the tapioca pearls.
- Simmer over medium heat and stir often. The pearls will start releasing starch in to the water – this is ﬁne. Turn heat to low and continue to simmer and stir for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the tapioca is completely translucent.
- In the meantime, blend banana, coconut milk and date. Strain the tapioca pearls in a colander and rinse them with cold water to remove the excessive starch. Transfer the pearls back into the pot over low heat and add in the coconut mixture, vanilla, lemon zest, a bit of stevia and the saffron powder.
- Simmer for 5 more minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Pour the pudding in to glass bowls, top it with pieced of strawberries and ﬁgs, some crushed hazelnuts and enjoy!!
DID YOU KNOW? Saffron is a very common spice in the North of Italy where I am from. It’s the main ingredient of the delicious Risotto alla Milanese… and it gives everything an amazing ﬂavor!!