There are many reports on the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s one of the most recommended diets for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain types of cancer, as well as to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia especially vascular dementia. See link from Harvard Health newsletter, A Practical Guide to the Mediterranean Diet.
With it’s emphasize on plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes which are minimally processed, seasonally fresh and locally grown, olive oil as the principal source of fat, fish and poultry instead of red meat, cheese, yogurt and wine in low to moderate amounts, and fresh fruit for dessert, with limited sweets, it sounds like a healthy way to eat.
And then there’s the whole Mediterranean thing…because of course the traditional Mediterranean diet is based on foods available in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.…where the sun shines and life is la dolce vita. (less stress, less inflammation) But I live in Canada, where it’s cold half the year and hearty meals abound. Things like chili and chicken pot pie have been staples on my diet this winter but does my latest favorite dish, chicken and mushroom crepes, count as the French Rivera is on the Mediterranean?
Still the Mediterranean diet is something I aspire to, if only in the frozen food aisle.
So it was some anticipation that I read Debbie Travis’s latest book Joy – Life Lessons from a Tuscan Villa. (You knew there was going to be a book in here somewhere.)
I was only vaguely aware of Debbie Travis (a decorating guru and pioneer of painting techniques) and I don’t usually read lifestyle books, (she’s written eleven), but it had a pretty cover and gorgeous pictures of the 13th century villa she restored over five years and now rents out for relaxing retreats.
Here’s a link to the Villa Reniella, should you have some extra cash to spare. It was hard to figure out the pricing, as while googling I saw various listings in different currencies, but they were all expensive.
There was a time in my life when the idea of a week at such a place would have seemed wonderfully idyllic. Now I’d probably be bored. My retirement life is already pretty low stress. Yoga looking out over a row of Cypress trees is still yoga and I hate yoga.
And I have no desire to stay in a room which was previously a pigsty – wouldn’t it still reek of pigs? According to the book, the family stays in the original three story villa, but there are 12 individual well-appointed Porcilaia suites for rent, plus a renovated horse barn.
Only a rich celebrity would buy a run-down villa with livestock living on the ground floor and no running water – the village turned it off 30 times before they dug a well. The original building was surrounded by pigsties that were transformed into suites, each with its own private entrance and garden. Not to mention the 1200 olive trees which needed pruning and harvesting, an old non-productive vineyard and nightly battles with a herd of wild boor. She only mentions these in passing, and also introduces us to the previous owner (an elderly Tuscan man who surely must be laughing all the way to the bank), but I would have been more interested in reading about her experiences renovating the place than perusing a bunch of stylized photos of food I’m probably never going to make nor have any desire to eat. I don’t even like the taste of olive oil. (Edited to add – apparently there is a six episode series on youtube – La Dolce Debbie – for those who would prefer a documentary about the renovations. I have not watched it yet but here’s the link.) (April 21 – edited to add – I watched it and found it very enjoyable but it must have cost them a fortune – I highly recommend it if you’d prefer a visual tour!)
There’s a section on the villa’s extensive kitchen garden, which produces a multitude of herbs and vegetables with accompanying recipes. Kale, artichokes, beets, (no), leeks, peas, asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, radicchio (yes), zucchini (boring), fava beans, eggplant, celeriac (never tried them).
I found the book entertaining but also very light and fluffy – it’s certainly no Under the Tuscan Sun. I wonder though if the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet can be partially attributed to a different lifestyle, and the book does give us a peek into the Tuscan way of life with their emphasize on family and socializing, their coffee culture, aperitivos (pre-dinner drinks and nibbles) and the Passeggiata – a long promenade before dinner. Yes, I could see myself strolling around the village square with a glass of Prosecco in hand…a good way to get those steps in, if you don’t drink too much and stumble over the cobblestones. Plus, any country whose shuttered shops and businesses allow you to take a long afternoon nap has my vote. Perhaps they are just healthier because they get more sleep?
There were lots of recipes and pretty pictures of food, most of which I would probably not make because I’m not big on quinoa, chickpeas or legumes for my protein. The Limoncella recipe sounded interesting, as I always wanted to have a lemon tree, although not necessarily a whole grove. I like pasta and tomatoes occasionally, but she assures us the pasta (with fibre-rich grains, obesity is rare) and tomatoes taste different there, and their bruschetta is made with their own sun-ripened tomatoes. If anyone wants to lend me five thousand pounds, so I could find out, I believe this may require more research…..maybe in June during the Classic Car Rally? Now driving a vintage car around the scenic hills of Tuscany sounds like my kind of retreat.
PS. In the meantime Stanley Tucci’s – Season Two of Searching for Italy starts Sunday May 1 on CNN. I believe he is eating his way through Venice and Umbria.