Some of the happiest moments of my life were spent in the Mediterranean. The first time I fell for the laid back culture was while sailing around the coast of Turkey. My beautiful mother and darling stepfather were married on the Ruins of Cleopatra’s Chapel in a sleepy little town we sailed into called Knideos. The locals embraced us and put together a magnificent wedding party which they joined us in. We ate, we danced and sang into the wee hours. Instant friends and happy memories.
I loved the Mediterranean vibe so much much I took a job cooking for a family on a little Island called Skiathos in the Sporade Islands in Greece. Daily walks to the markets to purchase fresh produce, long lunches, afternoon siestas, who wouldn’t love the Mediterranean way of life. I was certainly hooked.
I fell in love with my husband on the Island of Panarea just off the coast of Sicily. I also had one of the most memorable meals. We rushed to make it on the a 4 hour ferry trip out to this magical Island only to discover there was no food sold onboard and we had not had breakfast. If anyone knows me I don’t do well without food. In our very basic Italian and using sign language we asked if there was anything to eat and as I looked like I was about to faint one of the gorgeous crew disappeared and came back with tomatoes fresh off the vine with a drizzle of olive oil and day old bread. It was heavenly. When they saw the happiness it brought me it then became a mission to feed me. Next arrived some oregano and chilli to enhance the flavour and tiny little cups of freshly brewed coffee. I am not sure if it was because I was falling in love but it was one of the most sensational meals I have ever tasted.
The people of Italy, Greece, Spain, Turkey and their neighbours are onto something. They not only have the most delicious food in the world, they have some of the lowest obesity rates, lower suicide rates and have longer life spans than people in other developed countries. Evidence shows that following a traditional Mediterranean lifestyle is good for you in more ways than one and if you google ways to help prevent Alzheimer’s, a Mediterranean diet comes up top of the list.
I have been following a Mediterranean way of eating for a while now and yes it does include red wine but I knew in order to truly embrace it there was more than just diet. While I would love to live in Italy or Spain (and maybe one day I will) I had to instead bring the ways of the people to mine. Here’s my glorious Mediterranean week.
Day 1. Be Connected
It’s not just what Mediterraneans eat, it’s how they eat it. The people of these countries tend to sit down for meals with others to catch up and socialise. I am incredibly guilty of having dinner in front of the t.v so now it was time to truly embrace being present and enjoying happy and stimulating conversation with my family and friends around the dinner table. No mobiles allowed! We always have Sunday dinner at my mother and step fathers so it was great way to start my week with an Easter family dinner. Les cooked a delicious Mediterranean feast.
Day 2. Be active
Mediterraneans are part of the coveted ‘Blue Zone’ people, who are the healthiest and have the longest life spans in the world. The crazy part is that many of them never having a specific exercise routine.
So how do they do it?. They walk to the store instead of driving. They cook from scratch and burn calories while they are making the meal. People in Greece and Italy are more likely to climb steep hills and steps as part of their daily routine. They also work in their gardens, exercising as they grow their own organic food.
When I cook for my mother I am lucky to be able to pick what is fresh from Les – my stepfathers garden. Gorgeous spinach, the freshest of basil, red ripe tomatoes. Picking them is such a joy and cooking them even more. I need to work more on the walking front but do always manage to get a quick daily one in with my dog August.
Day 3. The food!
According to the OECD, only one in 10 Italian adults are thought to be overweight. This is very low when you consider that the average obesity rate in the Western world is one in six.
The original Mediterranean food pyramid is very similar to the ones recommended by global food organisations. It encourages limited sugar, replaces butter with olive oil and uses herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour food. The Mediterranean Diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes with lots of fish and a little bit of chicken. Red wine is consumed regularly but in moderate amounts. So for me the food was easy to follow apart from limiting wine. Note to oneself, one glass of wine a night not one bottle! I also do not follow the pasta part of their diet from our friends the Italians, as much as I love good bowl of spaghetti. Once a week is fine but not everyday or go with a gluten free option as much as possible.
Day 4. Community Living
In Mediterranean countries communal care of young children and the elderly is a big part of their life. Studies show that older people who live in a community are 40 per cent less likely to suffer from depression than those who feel isolated in nursing homes – another sign of the benefits of staying in close touch with your loved ones.
I am incredibly lucky to have been able to keep my mother at home thanks to Les who is truly a saint. While it is not always an option for some, sadly many people are put in care because it is the easiest option. While we have some tough days we have many joyful ones. The days I look after my darling mother are some of the happiest, you just have to have patience, love and understanding.