Hi, I’m Jamie and I’m Italian.

I make a lot of jokes about my eyebrows and big nose.  Bushy brows and a fat schnoz are part of the Italian package. As well as a romance with the finer things of life like Pinot Grigio and savory pizza like this:

The kind of pizza with flavors that linger for hours after like a lover’s first kiss.

Us Italian’s are serious about our food. Cheeses, meats, bread, wine, slow drizzles of olive oil over everything and anything, it’s an art. Olive oil and herbs, required.

But here’s the kicker… on January 1, 2011 I made a life change.

I became a vegetarian.

This could be a problem. Especially if my grandpa up in heaven knew about it. He’d come down from the sky and shove a meatball in my mouth and that would be the end of it.

Being a ‘vegetarian Italian’ might sound as preposterous as ‘pot-smoking pastor.’ But I make it work. Like today when I debated what to eat for lunch. Grilled cheese? Peanut butter and jelly? Salad?

Then I thought about my grandpa in heaven…

I can’t see him but he’s up there somewhere, probably eating spaghetti and cannolis with Jesus.

I needed to eat Italian. I consulted Copper the dog. “Would baked ziti and meatballs be appropriate to eat on a warm Sunday afternoon, Copper?”

He licked his chops and stared at me with canned pumpkin on his chin.

I took it as a ‘yes.’

So I made a single serving of baked ziti and threw in a few of Trader Joe’s  ‘meatless meatballs’ and had myself an informal Italian meal.

TJ’s meatless meatballs are delicious, by the way. I swear.

I’m proud to be Italian. I had my first sip of wine when I was eight years old when grandpa let me have a taste of his Merlot at the supper table. Him and grandma loved to make my brothers and I home- made marinara sauce with sweet Italian sausage served over spaghetti. Food is about family and memories and love. It binds them.

Just because I am a vegetarian doesn’t mean that has to change. I’ll still have my (meatless) lasagna and penne pasta…with a biscotti for good measure. I’ll still think of grandpa up in heaven and imagine the chuckle in his belly if he were here and saw me eating ‘meatless meatballs.’   And I’ll always appreciate the foods of that beautiful country called ‘Italy’ as an artful expression of a culture where my roots lie… a culture I can learn from.

And of course, blame for my big nose and Chub-aka eyebrows.

Thank God for tweezers.

Now go eat a cannoli. And think of me Chubaka.