As you saw in my last post, life on the vineyard is hard work. Six days a week, morning to night tending grapevines; pruning them, training them to supports and cultivating the fields with tractors and horses.
If there is one rule any farmer knows best, it’s this: hard work necessitates revitalizing breaks. Most breaks are built around meals. Breakfast must be filling, lunch must be light and fuss-free, dinner must be hearty and rejuvenating. Meals were a time to kick off your shoes, lean back in your chair, eat your fill, socialize, and generally recharge.
And boy did we eat! I lunched on mixed salads like fresh tomatoes with olives and tuna or lentils with tomatoes cucumbers and basil. Diners were packed full of vegetables and hearty grains like cooked carrots with chives, sautéed mushrooms with parsley, beets with lemon and steamed spinach served with rice, pasta or quinoa. For a special Sunday lunch we feasted upon an appetizer of eggplant purée on toast, a whole roasted chicken with lemon, accompanied with sides of zucchini gratin, ratatouille, noodle salad with green beans and tomatoes, and finished with a dessert of vanilla custard with strawberry compote and cherries.
The food and method of eating I experienced on the vineyard was, in my opinion, a model for healthy eating. Dishes were down to earth, literally – most produce came from Papou’s garden, neighbors’ gardens, or the local market. Meals were simple, with most recipes containing fewer than five ingredients and focusing on the flavor of the vegetables and herbs. Served collectively, there were always plenty of helping hands to set the table, cut the bread, bring out the different courses, and do the dishes.
Lunch and diner always began with a large serving of green salad, tossed in a simple oil and vinegar dressing with wheat germ for added flavor and protein. Crudités like radishes, fresh button mushrooms, olives, nuts and tapenades were sometimes served. The main course was always vegetables, usually steamed or cooked without butter, with added herbs from the garden at serving. A starch, like pasta, rice, quinoa, or potatoes was served, usually plain – you could choose to add olive oil, pasta sauce, vinegar, or cheese if you wished. Occasionally eggs, meat and fish were served – but always in small quantities and not with every meal. Following the main course was the cheese course, with a selection of hard and soft cheeses. Rustic bread from the local bakery was always served. The main course was followed by in season fruit and, occasionally, dark chocolate. For very special occasions a traditional dessert was served – like cherry clafoutis, vanilla yogurt cake (without frosting), strawberries with vanilla custard, or ice cream. To end each meal we sipped coffee and/or tea.
In addition to eating incredibly lean, fresh food, the lifestyle also fostered health. Everyone was active all day long in steady, continuous motion. Snacking was not tolerated; in fact, it never seemed to enter anyone’s mind. No one complained of being hungry – you simply waited until mealtime. Produce was fresh and local – veggies purchased at the local market or from the garden, fruit from the neighbor’s fruit farm, grains purchased in bulk from local farms or from organic farms online, and bread purchased daily from the local bakery.
The meal was truly a pause; no phones allowed, everyone sat together until everyone finished. While it is impossible for everyone to adopt this way of eating all the time, consider it as a model, something to adapt to your situation. Below are some simple ideas to help you eat healthier, based on my time spent at Mas de Libian.
1. Can’t have multi-course meals everyday? Take the time to make a special lunch or diner with friends on the weekends. Make it even easier by having every person bring a different course.
2. Eliminate meat from one meal a day; instead, recharge with a large salad, grains, and lightly cooked veggies.
3. To make healthy eating a cinch at every meal, make extra servings of vegetables and salads at the beginning of the week. Use these leftovers to keep healthy all week long.
4. Need a snack in the afternoon? No problem, have a piece of fruit.
5. Buy grains and other easy-to-store items in bulk so you always have them on hand. Plant herbs in a garden or in pots on the windowsill so they are always fresh.
6. Don’t deprive yourself – finish the day with a piece of dark chocolate, a few nuts, or even a small cookie. Tea and coffee can help mark the end of a meal.
Alexis ZK is an undergraduate at New York University studying French and Food Studies. After spending a summer working on farms all over the US, she spent a year studying, eating, and working in France. Now, she has returned to the farms, this time focusing on wine and value-added products. Follow her adventures here.