When in Rome - Lessons on Living Well, Italian-Style

Lessons on Living Well.

Last month I spent 10 days in Italy visiting with family and reconnecting with my inner glutton. I went across the country (over)indulging in everything: pasta, sunshine, gelato, shopping, napping and, of course, wine. I Eat, Pray, Love'd the shit out of those ten days and, in addition to running the numbers on purchasing my own vineyard, I came away completely inspired by the Italian way of life.

It’s easy to find everything wonderful and amazing when you’re on vacation so I spent some time on the flight home really thinking about what it is that’s so appealing about living Italian-style. For one thing, life seems much simpler than our North American rat race gotta leave work early to get the kids to soccer and throw on a box of macaroni before Kumon way of life. But there’s more to it than pace and simplicity. It’s also the focus on family and quality over quantity in everything they do.

When it comes to Italian-style eating, this trip reminded me that fresh, good-quality ingredients always taste the best. When you've got these you can keep your pasta, pizza or sandwiches deliciously simple. And when you shop at a market, you can buy exactly what you need from a wide variety of local, in-season fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m no nutritionist, but I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

My second observation around food? Oven cooking in the summer is for chumps. Why heat up the house or barbecue burgers for the tenth straight night if you don't have to? Charcuterie platters are where it’s at. Simple and savoury with no cooking required. Just put some meat, cheese, vegetables, crackers, bread and jam together on a platter or cutting board and let everyone dig in. It’s fun, delicious AND a great way to use up odds and ends from the fridge and cupboard. If you’re feeding kids, just start simple. It doesn't have to be all 27-year old cheddar and spicy salami. Try including fresh fruit and a couple of chocolate squares or Sun Chips to keep them interested.

And in Italy you can't talk about food without talking about wine. Wine is Canada’s version of Tim Horton’s coffee, yet there are way more alcoholics per capita here than there are in Italy. Again, quality over quantity. I had the opportunity to visit two vineyards in Chianti, each with unique approach to winemaking. One was old-school traditional, the other incredibly modern. But they were similar in their passion not only for the product itself, but for the place wine has in their country’s culture where it playsa starring role in long, languorous meals with family and friends.

Italians also take great pride in their homes and gardens. Almost everywhere you look, gorgeous arrays of flowers, plants and fresh herbs are spilling out of window boxes, balcony planters, barrels and clay pots. This was one of my favourites:


A beautiful garden in Italy.


Gorgeous, right?

And those red flowers? Geraniums, who knew? Okay, probably everyone but me knew but still…. A quick Google search confirms that geraniums are hardy, easy to grow and can thrive pretty much anywhere. That is my kind of plant.

Italy's climate and soil may be more conducive to great growing (unlike Canada's where the ground is frozen for nine months and scorched for three) but that isn't going to stop me from making an effort in the gardening department, if only to distract from my peeling front door, weed infested cobblestones and filthy bay window.

Next up, riposo: the Italian version of the afternoon nap. What a way to live! Outside of the major cities, particularly in the south, many businesses shut down for two or three hours each afternoon. Do they nap, leave the premises, play video games? Who cares, all I know is they’re not working and I love it. We have a similar practice that's intermittently enforced in my house but God knows it doesn't last two or three hours. In fact, having even one hour every afternoon to nap, read, meditate or just generally shut down my brain would be glorious. My kids need that time too, and as long as they're quiet I’m not all that fussed about what they’re doing. Would I like them to practice fractions, read poetry or construct origami swans? Yes. Will they most likely play Angry Birds, flick boogers at the wall or dress up the cat? Absolutely. But I'm okay with it as long as everyone is in his or her own space using the time to rest, recharge or reset her mood.

There’s no question that family is the most important thing to Italians.  Families with ten children might be more of a stereotype than a reality these days but regardless of its size, many Italian families are very close (as in connected), and they see each other often. They gather for meals, events, births, deaths and for no reason at all. I can’t remember the last time my extended family got together outside of a major holiday or a birthday celebration for one of the kids. And why is that? We genuinely like each other and enjoy spending time together but we’re all so BUSY. It’s not just that we live an hour or more apart. It’s about the fact that everyone is running in multiple directions doing multiple things. Again, easy to say and do when you’re on holiday, but living Italian-style also seems to be about less planning, more living.

So maybe I’ll take the initiative and plan the next “just because” family event. I just hope no one’s waiting for me to be able to afford that vineyard. 2098 is a long time to wait.



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Picture of Jen Millard

Author: Jen Millard

Jen Millard is a proud wife and mother of two living in Markham, Ontario. After adopting both her girls at age four, Jen and her husband Daren became passionate advocates for older child adoption, foster care reform and LCBO gift cards. An avid traveller, Jen counts Hawaii, Edinburgh, Greece and Canada's east and west coasts among her favourite destinations. Jen is happiest when she's got her nose in a book, a glass of wine at her side and a nap on the horizon. Jen is at her unhappiest when she is talking to her husband about her credit card bill or contemplating working out. When she's not blogging, Jen is busy cleaning up after three badly-behaved pets and working as a part-time College instructor and Stella & Dot Stylist. Jen and her family spend their summers on Prince Edward Island.

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