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Cooking Teacher

Beating the Heat, Italian Style

I thought, since I am in Sicily where the summers simmer, I would do some investigating into natural ways to beat the heat. As many of you know, Italians are not really into air conditioning; at least not like Americans. It’s an expensive proposition and uses tremendous precious resources. And yet, they are cheerful and sunny all summer long.

What’s the secret?

I can tell you that in most of the cities I have visited in Italy, you will find lots of shaded parks and fountains. The air in the shade is so much cooler and oxygen more plentiful around the plants, making breathing easier.

The air around a fountain is filled with delicate cool mist from the water flow and so people gravitate to those areas.

Many Italians shutter their windows early in the morning to keep their homes cool. The first time this was recommended to me, I had my doubts. Until I got back to the villa that night. I opened the door to a home that felt cool and comfortable.

Italians take their ‘riposta’ or rest at lunch time, through the heat of the day. It’s rare that you find a local eating pizza under an umbrella on the streets of Rome. Those sweaty people are usually tourists having lunch. Italians are inside their cool, dark homes, eating a light meal and resting until the worst of the heat has passed.

But if you’re not in Italy, how do you beat the heat as we move into the hottest days of the season? Here are my go-to ideas:

1. Hang a damp sheet over an open window to block the sun and create a cool breeze as the air passes through the damp cloth.

2. Eat hot soup or drink hot tea. Yes, you read correctly. We think cold is the way to feel cooler but in reality, if you consume hot liquids, your body will acclimate to the heat more efficiently. It works like this: if your internal temperature is close to the external temperature, your body will adapt to the heat more quickly than if you are drinking icy cold beverages.

3. Close the shades and blinds to keep the hot sun from beating down on the window and creating more internal heat (with or without air conditioning).

4. Keep a spray bottle in the fridge and spritz your face, chest, neck and arms to cool your body down. I like to mix 20% cucumber juice in my cold spritz water as an added refresher.

5. Even with air conditioning, use a floor or ceiling fan to keep air circulating. It helps drive the temperature down and allows you to keep the air conditioning at a higher temperature so you draw fewer resources.

6. Eating chilled fruit can really cool you off. A slice of cold watermelon, some frozen grapes or chilled cherries gives our bodies much-needed nutrients and sweet flavor but also helps keep our temperature down.

7. Shower often and briefly since we don’t want to waste this precious resource either, but a quick rinse a few times a day goes a long way to cooling you down.

8. Choose cotton bedding so your body stays cool and your skin can ‘breathe’ as you sleep.

9. Eat salads. The crisp greens are loaded with nutrients and moisture and their cool feel in your mouth helps you to manage the heat better.

10. Iced tea is nice; iced coffee is delightful. Soda is poison (but you knew that…). Milkshakes, water ice and ice cream will make you feel hotter. There’s only one way to stay hydrated. Drink water without ice. The good news is that if you are also eating lots of veggies, you’re loading up on moisture and will not require so much water to drink.

One last tip…eat a bit less…nothing makes you feel weighted down and over-heated than a heavy meal.