PICKED BY MY FAMILY…

Tuscan Getaway Team - Thursday, September 29, 2016

 

PICKED BY MY FAMILY...

 

             ...ENJOYED BY YOURS


My fascination with olive oil began five years ago when we bought an organic farm in Tuscany. Even though our rundown pile of buildings needed years of renovation, the olive harvest from our 800 trees waited for no one. As complete novices we rolled up our sleeves, threw down nets so large they could have caught a live tuna and climbed rickety ladders precariously balanced against olive branches full of ripe fruit. Some of our trees are just 10-year old babies, others are 800 years old and I am sure that every knurly, massive branch can tell a tale or two.

My family and many friends arrived with much enthusiasm as we naively tackled our first olive harvest. We picked, enjoyed wine soaked al-fresco lunches and napped in the autumn shade under these majestic trees. It was a fun and a beautiful way to spend time with good friends and family and now as each October appears on the calendar we look forward to surrounding ourselves with familiar and some new faces to share the experience and help pick our bounty.

We only produce about 900 litres of oil a year and we are thrilled that so many of you are coming back to us year after year to purchase it. Thank you! This year, we will be shipping our delicious and super healthy extra virgin olive directly from Tuscany to your homes in order to avoid the delays and breakages we experienced last year with Canada Post. We will do all we can to get the oil to you before the Christmas holidays as it makes for a superb gift and the oil is so fresh. It is tangy and slightly peppery and the colour is a magnificent, vivid green.

The olive harvest is romantic, but hard work, yet you can’t help but become interested in olive oil when you are part of the entire process. I am continuously learning more and more about this superfood. Yes, it is an ancient, very healthy food but the industry is also sadly ripe with corruption and scandal.

Here are the PROS and CONS of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

 

 


 

THE AMAZING, WONDERFUL PROS

Olive oil is the juice from the olive fruit. Extra Virgin Olive Oil from honest Italian (in my opinion the best is Tuscan) or other growers from a multitude of countries has a complex and fresh taste that tickles the back of the throat with a delicate peppery flavour. Fats make food taste better but it must be the right fats. The benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil are unrivalled. It will improve your health in many ways and control weight and increase your longevity. It is the cornerstone of the so-called Mediterranean Diet - lots of fresh local vegetables, legumes, fish and most importantly - olive oil. It must be genuine extra virgin oil which is unprocessed and so contains a range of healthy phytonutrients which lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Olive oil has been proven to be a natural way to reduce inflammation, diabetes and osteoporosis. Yes, you can cook with Extra Virgin Olive Oil to about 420F. Organic Extra Virgin Oil is superior to non-organic because the trees have not been sprayed with pesticides.

 

THE FRIGHTENING CONS OF OLIVE OIL

There is immense corruption in the olive oil business especially many of the household brands in your local supermarket. Sadly, this is very true – where there is money to be made, corruption will raise its murky head, and the Olive oil business in Italy alone is worth billions annually. I have blogged about this before, but please, please read Tom Muller’s book Extra Virginity or just google extracts of his message online. Also take a look at last January’s CBS 60 Minutes’ report on the Italian oil industry – a really eye opening piece on the scandal that is happening now in the olive oil business.

Shop wisely by looking for a harvest date on the bottle. Do not accept the loosey goosey ‘Best by Date’ - the oil often will go rancid long before it reaches this date.

Where does the olive oil come from? Double check it is not ‘packaged in’ for instance, Italy, while it is actually a blend of many oils from a variety of places. Or even worse, not olive oil at all but a dyed and flavoured sub-standard oil. Many of your best known olive oil brands are being investigated for selling fake Extra Virgin olive oil. These once trusted companies are being accused of passing off lower grade olive oil as Extra Virgin Oil.

SO WHAT DO YOU BUY?

On that scary note what do you do, what do you look for? Firstly, please do not give up on the wonders of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Try and buy directly from the producer. Visit your local Italian, Greek or Portuguese neighbourhoods and you will often find oil imported from small farms in these countries. Read the labels. Where is the oil actually from? – not where it has been packaged.

Is it cold pressed (a process that mechanically squeezes the olives at a temperature of below 27 degrees Celsius), which is how our oil is produced, or has the oil been extracted by chemical processes and heated, a process that eliminates most of the beneficial components of olive oil. Is there a harvest date? Honest oil producers will state when the olives were picked – you should avoid using olive oil that is over 24 months old.

Is the oil in a dark glass container? Oil does not like natural light and should never be stored in a plastic bottle – sorry. I have seen many olive oils on fancy websites and in the newly popular ‘olive oil shops’ and they have elaborate, descriptive labels with a variety of flavours. Be aware of oils infused with lemon, champagne or other flavours because these usually are covering up an unhealthy oil made from a highly processed vegetable oil.

Most importantly trust in yourself – buy the oil in small quantities until you can taste it. Swirl it around your mouth like a fine wine and judge it for yourself. And only buy extra virgin olive oil since refined olive oil lacks the all-important phytonutrients.

Lots of love
Debbie

 

Just Married

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, August 26, 2016


 

I am alone on my Tuscan hillside. It is quiet. Blissfully quiet. So unlike a week ago, when every nook and cranny of my property echoed from an abundance of chatter. There was a vibrant mix of screams of naughty laughter from 20-year olds mixed with emotional conversations from long lost friends and endless chatter as the next meal for this large mob was discussed.

 

There are times in your life when everything just comes together. The stars are aligned, the house is in order, and everything is right in your world. I JUST GOT MARRIED AGAIN!!!! Nope, I haven’t just hooked a 25 year old Argentinean body builder (oops, did I just share that fantasy?), no, nothing like that, but I have just renewed my vows to my hubby of 30 years, Hans. Our original wedding was held in the North of England in a picturesque village near where I was brought up. The setting was an ancient abbey surrounded by the most breathtaking English countryside. It was a beautiful, memorable wedding – very simple as we had little money. There were no bridesmaids nor a formal meal, but it was a great day surrounded by our large family and friends. Sadly both of our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, nephew and a few friends have passed over the last 30 years, as is the way of life I suppose, but thankfully many of our friends who were at that first wedding are still part of our lives today, and they have all just left my place in Italy.

 

All that remains of that mad, marvelous time is a mountain of laundry, an empty fridge, ravaged vegetable garden and a sad looking wine cellar. They also left me with a swollen heart. They came from around the world to celebrate & to drink copious amounts of plonk. Our precious sons, who were just a dream 30 years ago arrived from different parts of the world, Africa and North America. I packed 35 relatives and friends into Villa Reniella. People bunked up, beds were dragged across courtyards, local hotel rooms were taken and old friends put up in the village houses of new friends. Somehow everyone found a bed, if not a pillow and everyone was fed with meals which would have made any army garrison proud.


 

 


 

 

As the date approached for our 30-year reunion, we began to feel rather silly about a soppy service of how ‘in love’ we are, so we decided to be even sillier. We had a ‘happy hippy’ wedding – how mad is that? At our age! Everyone was told to come dressed as a hippy and the imaginations sored. There were embroidered waistcoats over psychedelic caftans, flowery dresses, beaded headbands and flowing wigs – and that was just the men! Brits love fancy dress parties (costume parties) and the Italians jumped in with both feet, most of which were bare. One Canadian took the invitation of ‘fancy dress party’ literally and came in black tie. But a quick drag through a bush, tie transferred to the forehead and a bit of backcombing and he looked like he’d stepped out of the movie Easy Rider! Some donned afros and waved the obligatory giant doobie – made of paper of course!

 

We held a Shaman ceremony with the beat of a drum, chanting, smudging and feathers – you have no idea how this is not Hans’ style, but he loved it. Well until the Shaman spits on you but that was fine, she was our good friend Esther and her husband Rupert who are the most extraordinary, spiritual yogis and healers.

 

We dined like kings under the stars and danced as free-spirited hippies to the iconic sounds of the 60’s and 70’s. The music was finally unplugged at 6am when the effects of the limoncello began to fade, and we started to feel our stiffening, not so young bones.

 

It’s good to be silly, it’s a blessing to be happy and it’s rather groovy to be married for 30 years.

 


 

 

 

 

 

A VERY EMOTIONAL DAY

Tuscan Getaway Team - Monday, June 27, 2016

 

 

Today is June 24 – well not when you’re reading this, but when I wrote it. It’s always been a very special day to me. Not because of someone named Jean Baptist but my hero, Josh. It is his birthday – my first born. A child’s birthday is always emotional for a parent – all those memories, but today was packed with a lifetime of intense feelings for me and not just me, but for most Brits. We woke this morning in Tuscany to the daily chorus of two fat roosters and numerous gossipy hens, plus the poetic chatter of what has become our resident builders. After 5 years of renovation, a handful seem to have forgotten to depart the premises. Since there is always 'stuff’ to do, they just turn up every day at the crack of dawn.

 

So anyway we were all ready to wake up our beloved boy, who now resides in Geneva, when all our electronic gizmos lit up the bed. I know, I know. You’re not supposed to lovingly say goodnight to your cell phone (I have 2), iPad and laptop instead of the bloke you’ve been married to for nearly 30 years, but sadly in my house we cannot break the habit. Lights were flashing from inside the duvet as the BBC news flashes were, well, flashing. Britain had voted to leave the EU. A terrible decision for so many, especially the young. We started our day as expats in Italy, with one son working in Europe... to S&%#T I never thought would happen, which I am sure was going on in every bedroom across Europe. The uncertainty begins. Of course as the selfish human beings we are – maybe just me – we immediately think how it will affect us. If the pound collapses, which it did, but so did oil, prices could make sending money over for our ludicrous, out of control renovation in the UK a little easier to our status in Italy.

 

As I Skype my son singing happy birthday and field calls from numerous friends, family and business associates about Brexit, my electrician comes racing into the villa with a beaming smile as wide as the now widening English Channel. He had been hanging three of the most glorious, glass chandeliers under my long metal pergola. Now I know I am shallow, but I had to flee the best wishes my darling Skype call and panicked phone calls and hurtle outside – third massive emotion of the morning. The lights were magnificent; the oversized glass drops glittering in the morning sunshine. One day my children will hopefully get married under those lights plus this summer we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary and there will be legendary party under those glistening, shimmering chandeliers. It is going to be a difficult and tumulus few years as Britain moves forward on the emotional and sad departure from the EU. The unknown is always scary but I have to say, I do love my outside chandeliers!!

 

EVERY HOME TELLS A STORY

Tuscan Getaway Team - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

 


 

I am not a particularly spiritual person but I do believe that homes have a soul, a spirit. I also believe that we are just fleeting guests within the walls of our homes whether we live there for a couple of years or a lifetime. The front door that we enter and those walls that protect us are an integral part of the chapters of our lives. Everyone of us has a lifetime of memories, blissful, painful, heartbreaking, funny, fearful, happy and they are as much about what happens amongst our family, friends and work as they are about what we remember under our roofs. I bet you can remember the tile in the bathroom the first time you bathed your new baby or the chipped kitchen table around which just about every emotion took place. That favourite armchair in the living room, where you once rocked a heartbroken friend when she told you about her husband’s affair, those bunk beds smothered in ninja duvets that bore many secret whispers when you finally tucked in the kids for the night. Funnily enough, when I think of my childhood home in England, I strangely always envision the steamy kitchen and the ironing board. My mum always seemed to be ironing.

 

Today I left my home in Montreal, where I have raised my children, for the last time. Our house has sold faster than expected so I delayed my flight back to Italy to pack up the entire house. I am now sitting on a flight to Florence. Even though I am surrounded by hundreds of passengers, I feel isolated, quiet. Tears slowly role down my cheeks as I sip my 3rd glass of Prosecco. I am in a vacuum of emotions, racked with memories.

 

The movie on the screen in front of me blurs and my own movie begins. I see tables. Our long pine kitchen table surrounded by lemon yellow, Philippe Starck chairs. The fancy dining table that with the help of extra benches I could squeeze 20 around and of course the indestructible, lengthy, garden table packed with bodies of every age and plates piled with barbecued foods… these tables seem to tell the best tales. I see friends, lots and lots of them and so many children.

 

There was always so much laughter, so much food and of course so much wine. I see the Sunday lunches as we crammed around the kitchen table with pots and pans piled up around us, the mess so memorable… but no one really cared.

 

I see family dinners with homework books shoved to one end of the table while the four of us shared our day over the ‘oh mum not again’ shepherd’s pie… but no one really cared.

 

I see the many Christmas’s with family and friends from up and down the street. I see the famous Christmas Day fire that outdid the flames on my plum pudding… but no one really cared.

 

I see my brother’s hysteria as we sat around the coffee table in the ‘posh lounge’ as we opened our crazy and unique presents from our beautiful granny back in Lancashire – half eaten packets of biscuits, used lipsticks & crocheted bed jackets that gave us more pleasure than any fancy gifts. I see the two roasting tins sitting on the counter, one with a 14 lb dressed turkey in it, and the other filled with a 14 lb naked baby as we all revelled in the hilarity of the pair. I see the dinners that my old man attempted over so many evenings when I was so so exhausted after a day’s filming, that were, well ‘his’ cooking… but no one really cared.

 

I see the last minute dinner parties where we were all just too bushed to dress up, some of us in our PJs… but no one really cared.

 

I see the impromptu concerts on my staircase of countless friends’ children – ‘budding dancers and singers’ as we laughingly numbed the pain with countless bottles of wine. I hear the knocks on the door at 10pm as girlfriends – these overwhelmed mothers, clutched a bottle of vino saying they would kill a child if they did not walk away for a few minutes. Oh, those evenings draped over the big leather chairs as we moaned about procrastinating husbands and failed grades… no one really cared.

 

I see kids’ parties filled with childhood games that morphed into teenage parties with noisy sleepovers. I see the parties that the boys held when we were out, yes I know exactly what went on!

 

I see the kitchen table awash in some elaborate school project with paints and glues that always left their mark… no one cared.

 

I see those quiet moments sitting in the garden with my hubby, when we finally relaxed knowing our boys were safe and happy asleep upstairs – homework doubtfully finished. I see the solitude of myself at 5am, perched at the kitchen table with a house still sleeping as I tackle another page of a book I was writing.

 

I hear so much laughter and so much chatter. But I also hear the growing pains of two young boys, the highs and lows of a couple trying to survive the challenges of a growing business and a marriage. I hear my own mother’s voice as I scream at my kids and I hear the bedtime smiles as we say goodbye to each day. Looking back, it is just about the memories that took place within those walls… who cares about the bits that went wrong.

 

This is a movie I will never forget.  Like the generations before us, we were just guests in this house and now we leave it for another family, as we move onto our next chapter, our next home.

 

Debbie

 

​LA DOLCE VITA

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, March 18, 2016

 

 

La Dolce Debbie, the documentary series about my journey renovating an ancient property in Tuscany comes to an end this week. I have to say my heart is full. The response has been overwhelming. I’ve received thousands of emails from viewers who have shared their dreams, their joys and pain and their hopes for tomorrow. This documentary has hit a chord with so many of you. You have told me that you have laughed and cried in your own living rooms. You have watched with your husbands, children and some have even made Tuesday night at 8pm ‘girls' Tuscan night’ in your own homes.

 

This is my 5th television series. My TV career has very much been a journey through lifestyle programming. I began with a ‘how-to’ paint video which begat 200 episodes of a ‘DIY’ show, followed by 5 years of ‘reality’ and design. Next came a ‘challenge’ series and then the big mega, over the top ‘network’ design show. All were fun and thrilling to produce and host, but this little 3-hour documentary has been different. I actually began my career in television in England, working on docs. Truthfully, they were intensely boring, especially for a girl in her twenties. Talking heads chatting away about desperately serious subjects. They were always aired at strange hours until they eventually disappeared to be replaced by the infomercial. Happily, we are beginning to enjoy the new type of documentary – the docu/soap, especially since reality TV has become more and more staged and our senses have grown dulled.

 

At first I wasn’t enthused to make La Dolce Debbie. I was in my own world in Tuscany, knee deep in the renovation and the mud of my construction site. Did I really need a camera crew following me around? Then my thoughts changed. It was the magic and often the hilarity of the day-to-day events that I shared with friends that made me realize I should attempt to capture this sweet life. There I was camping inside the stonewalls of this ancient property. Half the roof was missing, I had no internal doors and a one-burner stove to both cook on and to keep me warm. What plumbing there was I shared with the numerous tradesmen working on the property. Now, I could have made an epic on just these guys and their array of wild personalities or the nightmare of working with the ‘Comune’ or city hall where I begged for permits weekly. The stories extended to the everyday life in my village. Here for example, is one of the many stories that I realized I just had to share…

 

One morning, I started my busy day with my usual long list or ‘to-dos.’ I headed for the post office and stood in line with what seemed like most of the village. No one cared that the queue was crawling at a snail’s pace – a geriatric snail. Alberto, one of my elderly builders, also waiting, chatted away to me in such a fast Italian that I couldn’t decipher a single word. As you know, my Italian is way below basic but he didn’t really care. He was telling me a fascinating tale about god-knows-what while he was waiting to buy a stamp, one stamp! As we crawled out of there hours later I somehow ended up in his little truck hurtling down a dirt road, through a gate and into his vineyard – everyone seems to have their own vineyard in Tuscany. After smiling appreciatively at his juicy grapes, I was invited into his home for coffee. His wife Silvia, resembled a succulent plum in her patterned apron that every ‘nonna’ seems to wear around the house. An hour later as I was trying to work up an excuse to leave, she proudly whipped up the most delicious lunch of countless dishes and of course several bottles of vino, actually quite superb homemade wine. I mean you can’t be rude so I tucked in. All meals must then be washed down with a wee digestivo followed by a quick nap on his white plastic chairs on the loggia (a kind of balcony.) Two hours later I was gently woken by Alberto. Wiping the drool from chin I climbed back into his truck to be dropped off with exhuberant hugs at my car still sitting outside the post office. By the time I returned to my construction site, the sun was setting and the builders were long gone. Another day in paradise, another ’to-do’ list barely touched.

 

I realized that these daily experiences that were so enchanting, so Tuscan, should be shared. So I agreed to a small crew following me around my little world in the heart of Tuscany. I was never really confident that the viewers at home would embrace my journey, but they have, with open arms. Not only did they watch, but I have been so touched by so many personal, emotional stories sent to me as they dream of their own next chapters. I have loved every minute of this epic renovation – and thank you for letting me into your homes so that we could all dream together.

 

Debbie Travis

 

 

HELLO AGAIN OPRAH

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, February 10, 2016

 

 

LA DOLCE DEBBIE airs on OWN Canada 16th Feb 2016 at 8.30 PM

 

I am convinced that life is just one big circle. I find it truly amazing how people and events constantly pop back into your life. In the last few weeks I have been having conversations with childhood friends who were at my wedding 30 years ago, and with whom I had lost touch over the decades. They are all now coming to celebrate our 30th anniversary with us this summer in Italy. So excited. Full circle!

 


 

Several years ago I got ’the call’, and by ’the call’ I mean one afternoon a producer at The Oprah Winfrey Show rang me. They wanted me, yes me, to come to Chicago and be a guest on her show. I remember every minute of the thrill of that journey to the Harpo studios, the gorgeous hotel we stayed in, the dinner the night before with the producers and recording voice-overs in a booth, with Oprah doing the same in the adjoining one. But the very best of this entire experience has to be sitting next to her on those iconic ‘yellow' chairs. I was giddy and overwhelmed. My knees shook so much that she actually clutched both of them and told me not to be so nervous. By the time the cameras were rolling it was like sitting with a girlfriend chatting about paint colours, stencils and decorating for the whole hour, one of my most memorable hours. She held up some of my decorating books which shot up to the top ten on Amazon, which of course was fantastic but really it was about just having a good time. I was lucky to be invited back onto The Oprah Winfrey Show many times and now, all those years later, I am thrilled to be back on her very own network, OWN with my new documentary series La Dolce Debbie.

 

OWN is the ideal network for this series. The six-part documentary is not a renovation show; it’s about building dreams. It follows my dream of renovating an ancient ruin in Tuscany (after watching Under The Tuscan Sun countless times) and turning it into a beautiful haven where like minded women can come and share their dreams and their next chapters. I hope that this series inspires everyone watching into making their own wish list come true. It may not be today or even in 10 years, but keep on dreaming, working hard and stay passionate about everything you cherish and I promise, that next chapter will happen.

 

Talk about coming full circle - I began my television career on WTN, the Women’s Television Network which eventually became W, part of the Corus Network. The Painted House ran for 14 seasons and changed my life. It was also the first of its type, a decorating show! I cannot count the times that people told me that no one would be interested in a TV show about ‘doing up’ homes – on primetime! Well this little show was a hit and so much grew out of it, from the books, newspaper columns and products. So thank you Corus for all the support, it is wonderful to be back in your family.

 

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas

Debbie Travis - Wednesday, December 23, 2015


 

“The mystery of human existence lies in not just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

As I am saying goodbye to 2015, I would like to share what I have taken out of the turbulence and atrocities of this year. It is simplicity. The joys of a simple life. I have a busy life but it is the simple elements of the everyday that give me the greatest pleasure. The long Skype chat with my sister over mugs of coffee as if we were in the same room together, not on different continents. Or a quiet glass of wine under one of my ancient olive trees in Tuscany doing nothing just nothing. The simple life puts things in perspective, helps us see the opportunities and provides the inspiration for better days. It is the way you look at life. Yesterday I chatted with an elderly lady as I was heading out for some Christmas shopping on the jammed streets of London. We were both staring at an overhanging tree of the most delicate, pink, cherry blossom. Below the tree was a bed of daffodils in full bloom. Not so remarkable, except for the fact that in a few days it will be January. It is so warm here in the UK that nature seems to think it is spring. “Global warming” I loudly exclaimed. “That’s right dear ” she said “ I’m going to pick a load of those free daffs and save me some pennies!” Such proof of the ‘glass is half empty…’ There is always a sunny side or silver lining and it usually is simple. A memory came to me as clear as the glass towers of central London towering above me. This image of long ago brought back feelings of sadness and fear. I saw myself as a small five year-old girl crouched in a small, dank cupboard under the stairs of my school. It was only my second day at Rochdale Convent, a junior school run by nuns. Later on in that first year I would come to realize that some of them were kind, but many were unhappy and bitter and it took very little to enrage them. A chatty little girl was all it took to light the wick of their fury. It guaranteed an explosion of words and forthcoming punishments. Sister Renata, or Sister Squashed Tomato as I soon gleefully nicknamed her from her resemblance to this fruit. She seemed to have magical antenna that would constantly home in on me whether I was sitting at my battered wooded desk enlightening some lad next to me with another of my adventures or perched on a wall helplessly giggling with my gang of nobbly -kneed girlfriends. She had the instinct of an excited hound as she clipped me around the head and laid out the punishment of the day. At this moment, on only my second day of my early school years, I found myself in the broom cupboard under the gigantic Victorian staircase of this converted Victorian manor house. Once the tears dried up and my snotty face rubbed off on my purple school cardigan I remember distinctly taking in my surroundings. In reality it was a musty cupboard filled with dank mops and buckets and brooms. My thoughts were not about bitterness or revenge of this hateful nun, but on how romantic this ‘ den ’ lit by one hanging dusty light bulb could be. I remember thinking what a thrilling bedroom I could make out of it. It was so small I wouldn’t have to share it with any of my annoying sisters ... it would be all mine. I would paint it lavender and slide a mattress on the floor under the slanted ceiling. I would borrow my granny’s glass chandelier that was so sparkly it could be in a princess’s ballroom. I would ask my daddy to install a shelf where I would keep special things that no one else, especially my sisters, could touch. Even imprisoned in a cupboard under the stairs a little girl’s imagination can soar. Thinking back, perhaps this punishment was my introduction to the world of design? There is always a sunny side or silver lining and it usually is simple.

 

   

 

I have simplified my life in living in Tuscany even though it’s just as hectic but in different ways. It is those quiet times that are priceless because when you embark on simple moments your mind opens up to endless ideas and solutions to our problems. These pictures are captions from this summer that are simplicity in its purest form : - a group of boys playing cards at a beach restaurant on the Italian coast while their parents enjoy a long lunch. Picking plums with my nieces early in the morning while everyone else sleeps in. Making pasta at one of our cooking classes at my Tuscan Getaway (the simple action of rolling pasta opens your mind like nothing else) and caught in a traffic jam on my Tuscan road by a shepherd and his sheep – the simple life really is about not just staying alive but finding something to live for.

 



Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and many simple and happy moments in 2016.

The ENTREPRENEUR - THE PERILS & THE PEARLS

Debbie Travis - Friday, November 27, 2015

 

  

I have been speaking in auditoriums filled with budding entrepreneurs for years – nowadays they seem to call them ’Start Ups.’ Wikipedia says “an entrepreneur perceives a new business opportunity and often exhibits biases in her perception and subsequent decision to exploit the opportunity.” Not quite sure what this means, but what I do know is this. First and foremost, I have always been an entrepreneur. I have never had the inclination to work for anyone else, but myself. This means basically that you have the entire responsibility for the success or failure of your venture. Last night I gave this subject of entrepreneurship a great deal of thought. I was sitting at my long kitchen table sticking labels on 400 lavender body oil bottles that had just arrived from my farm in Italy. Someone forgot to put the labels on properly, so guess who is up at midnight doing the tedious job? me , the entrepreneur. Then this evening, guess who gave a talk about the wonders of Extra Virgin olive oil to a group of lawyers at a fabulous new olive oil shop (Olives en Folie) owned by a good friend, a favour for her new venture.. yup . . me the entrepreneur. And any day now that same entrepreneur will be helping send out 800 bottles of my organic olive oil that I picked by hand, drove to the olive press and organized the Fedex across the pond. This is all at the same time as I have been shooting my documentary Dolce Debbie, help design my new furniture line at Sears, develop a wonderful DT Pinot Grigio for the LCBO and run my production company. That is what entrepreneurs do basically everything.

 

Last week I spoke to an excited group of young ‘entrepreneurs’ in Alberta about my '10 Commandments for Success.’ I looked out over the sea of hundreds of eager businesswomen as they stared back hoping to catch at least a nibble of wisdom to help them fulfill their own dreams. I wondered if they really knew what they were getting themselves into. They often ask if it gets easier. . it doesn’t. A born entrepreneur doesn’t sit back when the business takes off, they are always onto the next idea.  


Starting a new venture is the most exciting stage. The ideas are thrown around, the enthusiasm, the passion. All these ingredients are necessary. They are the fuel to get that venture off the ground. Then the work begins. As I sat into the wee hours putting on those super sticky labels while stripping off the top layer of skin from the tip of each finger, the question of why am I doing this never really crosses my mind. A true entrepreneur puts in the endless hours because they love and believe in what they do. I believed 20 years ago that every mum at home wanted to stencil their living room or grab a sponge and splatter their walls with paint. I never listened to the naysayers – I just bulldozed forward. I did well out of those thousands of painted walls. The number one question asked at my Girls Getaway in Tuscany is ‘why’. Why am I doing this? Why do I fill my new, gorgeous, Tuscan villa with strangers? Well, it's quite simple. I love it. I love it more now than painting someone’s walls or making television shows now. I am like Madonna – I have reinvented myself. I firmly do believe that if you have a passion for what you do (which may change over the years) you will be successful. You may not make millions but you will wake each day invigorated with new ideas and plans. You will fall asleep exhausted yet exhilarated because your day has been filled doing what you adore. You will cry from your mistakes and scream at the constant challenges. You will feel painfully guilty about the times you missed with your kids, the lunches not taken with girlfriends. These are the ‘ perils’ but the ‘ pearls’ are numerous, solid and shiny. You will feel just as thrilled from the sale of a single item as you are from that big corporate deal. Your passion will rub off on your children and your friends and it will inspire them to follow their own dreams and that in itself is the gift of success.


AND YES FOR EVERYONE WAITING FOR THE OLIVE OIL AND LAVENDER OIL THEY’VE ORDERED – IT IS COMING – I JUST NEED TO FINISH THE LABELS!!


  

 

PLUMP & JUICY

Debbie Travis - Thursday, October 08, 2015

 

 

The intense heat of our Tuscan summer has now cooled, the leaves begin to turn, the walnuts drop continuously from their branches, the fig trees continue to fruit and our pomegranates burst open, ripe with luscious seeds. It is autumn here in Tuscany in all its splendor.

 

Our land is dotted with 800 olive trees, some as old at 700 years, some wee babies, which are full with plump black and green olives. They are elegant and serene as they wait their turn to be picked. They remind me of groups of people chatting quietly away during these last warm days of the year. The young ones are small yet robust, like a playground full of pre-schoolers, the ancient ones regal and seemingly in charge, lording over the masses. They whisper in a rhythmic sway under light winds as their leaves twist skywards showing off their silvery underskirts. It's a beautiful sight.

 

In two weeks our olive tree orchards will be filled with the sound of our own chatter and laughter as friends, family and guests throw down the nets and begin the task of climbing, picking, combing and shaking the olives out of the trees. We will pick, enjoy fresco lunches in the olive groves and dinners tucked around roaring fires at Villa Reniella. We will press, bottle and label and then we will ship our golden elixir to all our customers’ doorsteps by mid – December.

 


 

I am very passionate about the world of olive oil. The reason is simple. Olive oil is a superfood and an important part of life in Mediterranean countries. It is one of the oldest and healthiest foods, but it can also be one of the deadliest. With the rapid rise of the popularity of olive oil around the world there has been an immense increase in fraud. Where there is money to be made there will always be exploitation . Much of the commercial olive oil on your supermarket shelves is not what it seems. Take two minutes to just Google about the corruption of the world of olive oil or read extracts from Tom Mueller’s best selling book Extra Virginity. It will really shock you. Olive oil can be doctored with other cheaper oils, even with the lowest grade oil called Lampante or lamp oil which is unfit for human consumption. Several years ago in Spain, olive oil was contaminated with a chemical used in the manufacture of plastics – it caused 24,000 people to become sick and over 1000 died. Many of our supermarket brands uses low grade oil, flavored and dyed. Many olive oils whose label proudly pronounce it as Italian or Tuscan are actually lower grade olives from around the world that are packaged and labeled in Italy. There are too many scandals to mention but please take a look at the facts – they are out there for us all to read.

 

Here is what you should look for in a good olive oil:

Extra Virgin: This means it is the first pressing of the olive fruit. Anything other than this is a lower grade.

 

Cold pressed: This means that the olives have been pressed between metal plates or stones to squeeze out the oil, a fairly natural process. If it has not been cold pressed then the oil has been extracted by a chemical process.

 

Organic: It is important to only use organic oil. If the trees are sprayed with pesticides then much of this ends up inside the bottle of olive oil.


Harvest Date: Olive oil like most vegetable oils goes rancid after a few months. Many will have the expiry date on the label, but it is much better to have the harvest date than you really know when the olives were picked.

 

The bottle: Never buy olive oil in a clear container. Light affects the oil dramatically and it is said that the oil can become carcinogenic.


The price: Be realistic about what you pay for Extra Virgin olive oil. You can pretty much guarantee that you get what you pay for. Beware of the word ‘pure’. In the food industry, it means anything but. Again, Google this – you will be shocked.

 

So how do you make sure you are getting a good, healthy fabulous fresh olive oil?

The best way is to order your oil from a farm you trust in Italy, Greece, Turkey, or even California. You should be paying between 30 and 70 dollars a liter. We produce one bottle on average from each tree and it can take us a couple of hours to pick that tree. Alternatively, find an olive oil consortium who take orders in the early fall, pick, press and ship to your door.

 

This is what we do at Villa Reniella, our farm in Tuscany. This year we will produce about 700 liters. When it is sold, there is no more. We go the extra mile and Fedex the bottles to our office in Canada, then on to the customers home. You only have to pay for shipping within Canada and this ensures that you have our wonderful Extra Virgin, organic olive oil for the holidays. It makes for a unique hostess gift or Christmas present.

 

If you would like to order this year’s olive oil please go to my website www.tuscangetaway.com and visit the SHOP.

 

We must appreciate and respect good quality olive oil in the same way as we treat wine.

 

Debbie Travis

 

DEBBIE TRAVIS’ TUSCAN OLIVE OIL, PICKED BY MY FAMILY, ENJOYED BY YOURS.

 

MY TUSCAN RENO IS FINISHED

Debbie Travis - Friday, September 04, 2015

 

The names of the workers on the massive construction site board on the perimeter of my Tuscan property have long since faded. The crane has gone, the orange security fence has come down, and the plumbing and electrics are finished. The gravel is down outside and the furniture is in. Air-con is on, bedside flowers picked, pillows fluffed. And now we wait.

 

I have a lump the size of a pear in my throat. My team stands in our Cyprus tree lined driveway. The air is still, the excitement palatable. After three and a half years of construction madness my place in Tuscany is finished, completely finished. It has to be, because any minute now 20 women will arrive from across my valley in two white vans driven by my old man and our best friend. Everything is perfect.

 


 

The sun shimmers in the midday heat, the sky is cloudless, the chickens are clucking on cue - all is as I have imagined so many times. As the vans come into sight my gang of helpers - my oldest, dearest friend who has created these retreats with me, our life coach, housekeepers, yoga instructor, pool guy, massage therapist, and the chefs -move towards the ancient olive tree in the centre of the driveway. The doors open and the women spill out.

 

 

I have imagined their reactions for years and they don’t disappoint. “Wow,” “Oh gosh,” “Oh my,” “I can’t believe I am here,” “I am Jenny from New Brunswick, I’m sorry but I can’t stop crying!” There is an abundance of hugs and some screaming whoops from the American ladies like a typical surprise makeover reaction. All are gob-smacked and tearful. Why? Well, I delivered on a promise. I would bring them to a little corner of paradise where they would have a very special week. They will embark on this journey with a group of strangers and they will leave with many new friends. They are moved because as women, they know the week will be good… more than good. It will be life changing, emotional, breathtaking, and one they will never forget.

 

As glasses of chilled prosecco are thrust into their hands, luggage is forgotten as they follow us onto the Lemon Terrace. There is a lot to take in - the infinity pool, green & gold glass tile, glistens below and an iron pergola covered in roses with a table made from 700 year-old beams is laden with prosciutto, slithers of pecorino cheese, and plump olives. The chatter reaches a deafening level and the tears have dried - for now - and the fun begins.

 

One by one I have the privilege of escorting each woman to her suite - her sanctuary for the next week. These are the first guests to see the rooms and it is a heady moment for me. I’ve had a couple of other female guests. Two weeks earlier my friend Marilyn Denis came to visit. I’d been asking her for years to come to Italy and see me, and finally she arrived. The work wasn’t quite finished but her room was perfect and the pleasure I felt when she tearfully hugged me was quite overwhelming. I feel the same now as I lead each lady by the hand and swing open the shuttered French doors. As they take in the room, I take in their reactions. I have to admit I knew they would be pleased, but I never quite expected the emotions.

 


 

I have worried, researched, imagined and created every inch of these spaces, from the slabs of Moroccan stone on the floors that gave me sleepless nights after wiring money to an unknown quarry in the Atlas Mountains (they arrived right on time In the port of Livorno, Italy (then of course a nightmare to get out of Italian customs) to the 14 iron beds that I designed and then redesigned because the scale did not work - at great cost. Even the colour of the hand-plastered walls took me several tries. I ran through miles of hallways at the largest furniture trades shows in Paris and Milan. I was there searching for the latest taps, sofas, ceramic tiles and everything in between. I met with an iconic European designer to persuade her to let me buy her brand new parasol shade umbrellas before they were actually on the market. I tested countless sheets and towels before I invested in hundreds of sets. I brought gorgeous plates from the UK that all arrived smashed. I ordered 30 metal outside chairs with a stunning band of lemon yellow and 50% of them arrived fuschia pink, but after 2 hours of screaming on a cell phone I decided I loved the mix of the two colours . I hired twin painters who slept most of the day hidden under a large olive tree who had to be replaced immediately. I found a plumber who I may have to marry one day as he is the only person in the world who can possibly understand a plumbing system more complex than the control room of NASA. I fell in love with my foreman who orchestrated the daily build and whom I have yet to share more than a stilted sentence with because of our language challenges. I had headboards made from the most beautiful print that arrived upside down and of course all had to be re-made. But the best has to be a large metal chest that I wanted ‘aged’ with paint, but when I went to pick it up at ironmongers, the ‘rust’ effect looked like the walls of a rather nasty prison cell. I bought an entire ancient stone floor from a monastery in Sicily that I adore & often chat to lovingly. I found lighting that is magnificent because it hides my flaws and illuminates the very best of the room. I designed a kitchen counter top that arrived so long (my fault) that it resembled an airport runway in the centre of my kitchen and had to be removed by hot sweaty builders seconds after installing. And the list goes on and on, but as these wonderful ladies teared up again and embraced their rooms I was ecstatic, relieved and very proud of myself, my old man, and the enormous group of people who have brought this property to its magnificent fruition.

 

Over the week with the first group of ladies I often sat back and reveled in the talk and laughter around every meal held in the gorgeous setting around my property. I nodded to myself happily as I watched the ladies relax around the pool or watched them sip wine quietly in their own private gardens. Many of these women are contemplating their next chapters when they embark on this journey to Villa Reniella. Now that my renovation is over, I begin mine.

 

If you would like to see Debbie’s entire adventure from the ‘dream’ of finding a property in Italy to the renovation of a 100 acre stunning estate in Southern Tuscany, stay tuned for the upcoming documentary series “La Dolce Debbie” available soon on a TV channel near you.

 

DREAM IT, DO IT, LIVE IT

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Debbie’s newsletter is a peek into her life between London, Tuscany and Toronto – running her television company, Tuscan Retreats and living life to the fullest.