ROSEMARY – The Next Big Thing

Tuscan Getaway Team - Friday, May 19, 2017


My farming adventures began five years ago on a hillside in Tuscany. The rundown property (big understatement) we had just purchased came with a hundred acres and 1000 olive trees. Even though the restoration of the centuries old buildings was years from being completed, harvesting waits for no one.  I immersed myself in the camaraderie of farming with family, friends and neighbours, as we threw down nets, climbed ladders, picked olives and relaxed under the majestic trees, soaking in the last of the sun with a bottle of vino at the end of blissful but exhausting days of olive picking. For me, this first experience of working the land was exciting, exhilarating, absolute heaven.

I was soon racking my wee brain for alternative crops to grow on our sunny Tuscan slopes. The long, hot summers are extremely dry and water, or lack of, is often a problem. Grape vines do well as a few others have discovered - just kidding - we sit among some of the world's best wineries.  Lavender on the other hand is not typically grown as a crop in this area, (think of Provence and its endless rows of this glorious plant), yet the climate is similar. Why not here? I said to myself. 

Spade in hand plus Luciano, my long-suffering farmer, and off we shuffled, planting 20 long rows of baby bushes down a south facing stony hillside. The lavender bushes flourished. I now have more lavender than I can handle. I dry the fragrant flowers and fill silk bags, which I tuck lovingly under pillows for our guests.

Lavender’s natural oils are found in the base of the stalks. They go through a small distillery at a local farm, and drop by drop we extract the oil, which is then bottled. One drop will gently relax the atmosphere in a room, or the tiniest trickle on a pillow will have you melt into the deepest sleep.

The rest of the plant and the flowers are infused over several months in our own organic olive oil to create the creamiest, most delicious lavender body oil.  I started selling the oils on-line and to our guests at Villa Reniella to great success, and, as a typical entrepreneur, I was ready for my next venture.

Rosmarinus Officinalis, or rosemary to the rest of us, peaked my interest when I noticed several bushes the size of mid-sized cars growing on the property. Hmmm, I thought, mind whirling. Now what is rosemary good for apart from a sprinkling on a leg of lamb and to flavour the most scrumptious roast potatoes?  It may be on everyone’s spice rack but I was astounded that this bush, which is part of the mint family, has been used for centuries for just about every ailment under the sun. It’s now having a massive resurgence.  Packed with iron, vitamin C and vitamin B6 these herbaceous woody leaves can be sprinkled over food, infused in water, or their oils rubbed over your body. There are some impressive benefits to our health. As a congestive stimulant rosemary is said to improve memory, help us focus and even increase intelligence. Stress and anxiety, which burdens us all at some point, are relieved with just a few whiffs of rosemary oil. Rosemary has been used as an anti-inflammatory for centuries and I have to say that I agree with our Roman and Egyptian cousins. Working the land is painfully hard on muscles and joints and I now pour rosemary oil into every hot bath. Within minutes I can feel the aches and pains dissolve away. 

I have been astounded though at its success as a stomach healer.  We have many guests who arrive in Tuscany bringing with them regular upset stomachs, bloating and the rest!  We infuse branches of rosemary in jugs of fresh water and suggest the ladies drink as much as possible. Within a couple of days, they have all gleefully announced that their stomachs are calmer. 

This list of benefits goes on, from constipation and relieving bad breath to pain relief and even the stimulation of red blood cells. And, there is one treatment that is getting a great deal of attention. Hair growth or lack of it, is a worry for us women as we become menopausal. For the lads, balding always seems a humongous issue. Mind you, I would rather have my man thinning on top than with a ‘rug’ - please guys don’t - just don’t!  The cosmetic companies have jumped on the rosemary bandwagon, and there is now a plethora of shampoos, gels and tonics all claiming to be a remedy for hair loss.  I have yet to catch my old man, Hans, secretly rubbing the rosemary-flavoured gravy destined for our roast lamb through his scalp, but you never know what goes on behind closed doors! Actually, I have noticed that his locks have been rather shiny and luscious lately.

There are many claims to the magical properties of rosemary, lavender and olive oil, and many are still being researched. On a personal level I feel healthier having them in my life and knowing that they are organic, freshly produced and not synthetic, which is the case of many essential oils on the market. I am proud to take part in producing these simple oils, and so thrilled I can share this bounty with everyone.  I am keeping a diary of comments from those who have tried the lavender and rosemary oil so if you do purchase some from our website please let me know how you feel!

Have a wonderful spring everyone,
~ Debbie

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

 

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.

 
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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.