Just how Paleo can you be, should you be, when on holiday in regions of gastronomical divineness?
We’re back from a 5 day Paleo holiday in the Maremma, the gorgeous coastal region of Tuscany. It was fabulous. When I say we had ‘a Paleo holiday’, I’m playing with words. To a certain extent, we had a holiday from Paleo. We didn’t go overboard, but we certainly deviated from our normal way of eating. And this was more than ok.
Earlier this year, hunting around the online Paleo communities here in Italy, Fiorenzo found us a doctor who has his studio in the city of Grosseto. We made an appointment with him, and jumped onto booking.com to find a hotel which was mini-schnauzer friendly. By sheer coincidence, we booked the Granduca Hotel which is literally a 5 minute walk to the Grosseto hospital where Doc Luchi has his private office. Moreover, it’s surrounded by parks for Roxy’s morning walk, and has a supermarket 7 minutes away for big bags of mixed salad. We couldn’t have been happier.
It was great. The hotel served a standard sugar-dairy-and-grain breakfast: cornflakes and museli, milk, plain and berry flavoured yogurt. Sliced ham and cheese. Boiled eggs. White bread to be toasted. Little packets of dry breads. Jams, honey and nutella. Fruit, or fruit salad. Croissant, and cake.
A Paleo Holiday Means a Break from Routine
(R)evolutionary friends, a holiday is a holiday. It means a break from routine. It is precisely the getting out of your day-to-day habits that allows you see things with fresh eyes and to welcome new experiences. For me, with regards this Paleo holiday, breakfast was no exception. After almost a year of vegetables and protein sauteed in a pan, it was simply delightful to eat a croissant with nutella, or a piece of cake that was light and airy. It was so easy to eat a slice of ham without reading or caring about the added conservatives and chemicals. A couple of times I ate a small bowl of cornflakes with a dash of milk and some plain yoghurt, and you know what? Cornflakes still taste good! Of course, we also ate boiled eggs and stashed some away for lunch.
As the song says, Find the balance, strike the pose. We wanted to relax, but we didn’t want to have upset digestion the whole week. So for most midday meals, we had a picnic. We headed to the supermarket in the morning and bought a big bag of mixed salad, to which we added green olives, tuna and an egg. Good and wholesome. Simple, healthy and satisfying.
In the evening we headed out. We lucked out – as often you do when holidaying – and found a fantastic place the first evening. We skipped the first course, which in Italy is always pasta or rice, and jumped straight into the second. The meat in Tuscany is divine, and the mixed grill at Osteria Far Niente was amazing. (‘Far niente’ means ‘Does nothing’, and sort of summed up the place. Several things on the menu weren’t actually available. The owner coltivates a couldn’t-care-less presence, but scrape off the veneer and he’s a man who knows his stuff). The Paleo-portioned mixed grill tray was heaven. It was packed with exquisite angus, crisp and fatty ribs, tender fillet, cockerel, sausage, and sauteed chicken skewers. It was served with lovely oven-fried potatoes, and hot home-sliced potato crisps with a garlic mayo. We gobbled them all up. The owner, with regards to the wine, said, ‘Leave it to me’, and we did. It was an excellent Tuscan drop, red, velvety and smooth on the back palate, just how we like it. After dinner we went for a walk through the historical town centre and stopped at a gelateria. It didn’t match up to our home-made gelato made with coconut milk, but it was good not to have to wash the icecream machine and the blender. That’s a holiday.
Digestive Issues? Listen to Your Body
There were moments of bloated tummy. We welcomed the experience because it allowed us to recognise just how clearly our bodies are now communicating. It certainly happened after restaurant oxidised seed oils. Not after the croissant. It was also interesting for me to be away for a few days from the heavy cooked kale and bitter greens that we eat almost daily: my tummy relaxed, and I now know to go easier on those leaves. One day, poking around farms to find litres of extra-virgin olive oil, we found a crisp white cabbage. Fiorenzo sliced it finely in our hotel room that evening and we ate it for dinner with a stashed breakfast egg and the tuna. My tummy swelled uncomfortably after that cabbage, which just goes to show: our ‘Paleo foods’ are not always the go.
Massa Marittima: The Tree of Abundance
We ate the cabbage in the hotel room that night because for lunch we’d bypassed the salad-with-tuna-and-egg in favour of Tuscan delicacies. We were in Massa Marittima. We went there to see the Tree of Abundance, an amazing fresco which was discovered in 2013 and is still being (slowly) restored. The fruit of the tree are all erect-penis-and-balls. Down below on the ground women are fighting over a ripe example, and others are chasing away the crows to prevent the fruit on the tree being damaged. Fabulous.
Totally fascinating, the whole city. We stayed the day, exploring the church, the arch, the mines. We bought Tuscan ceramic bowls, and drank coffee to the sound of classical guitar, served by a Benigni-esque waiter in an evocative bar.
We made choices. Choices which I’ve lived to regret. We renounced the famous Cacio sheeps cheese, served fried, or fresh with pear – even though two years ago, pre-Paleo, the Pugliese equivalent in Bari was so good. We renounced the Panzanella, made with rustic bread soaked in the juices of tomatoes, peppers and olive oil. And we renounced that lovely tiny Tuscan pasta shaped like rice. But that day in Massa Marittima, I wandered into a gastronomia and the offerings were so good it would have been a sign of obsessiveness to not have thrown digestive caution to the wind. I came out with thick slices of porchetta, the salty and spiced roasted pork that is only found in Tuscany. A chunk of pecorino crudo, unpasteurised sheeps cheese, whose crust was embedded with straw. And a slab of someone’s mama’s crostata, fruit tart, whose butter-rich pastry melted in your mouth before hitting your tongue. We ate good. We felt rich and satisfied. We felt right about exploring the great offerings of the region.
As I said before, those choices of food renounced, I regret. Not on the digestive level. The Panzanella – in the context of the breakfast transgressions – would probably have been too much for me. Also the fried cheese – on top of the oxidised restaurant seed oils consumed in another meal, it would probably have taken me over the edge. Fiorenzo would have truly suffered – he knows his limits. But with regard to having not been able to fully explore and appreciate the exquisite culinary gems of that region – dishes which have been tried and tested and refined over generations… well, yeah, it’s a pity.
Nonetheless, we’re happy with how we managed it. Not too rigid, not too relaxed. We found a good balance between having a Paleo holiday, and a holiday from Paleo. We came home with 5 litres of extra virgin, 4 bottles of wine, an enormous pumpkin, and a constellation of little pimples on my chin. But the best thing we brought home was the can’t-wait desire to get back to our real food, our normal breakfast of sauteed vegetables and protein in a pan.
“… perhaps the most compelling reason to go off-roading with your food from time to time is: Because they are delicious.”
Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, It Starts With Food pg 226
On The Side
Here are some bake-ahead ideas that freeze beautifully and are great for outings, road trips and holidays:
- Paleo Bread – Great for Toasting – Make it, slice it, freeze it.
- Fresh Berry Muffins – Eat these within two days, or wrap and freeze them.
- Citrus and Coconut Poppy Seed Cake – This is our favourite to take away.
And don’t forget to brush up on your Paleo Ice Cream making skills!
- The Secret to Making Perfect Paleo Ice Cream – It’s real easy, just 3 healthy ingredients, but you’ve got to do it right.
How do you balance between having a Paleo holiday and a holiday from Paleo? How rigid or relaxed are you?
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