American-born Renée Elliott (pictured here with husband Brian and their children, Jess, 10, Nicholas, 7, and Cassie, 4) is Founder Director of the UK’s largest chain of fully-certified organic supermarkets, Planet Organic. Passionate about eating and living well, Renée didn’t start her business to make money; she wanted to do something she loved for the rest of her life. “Food was so important as a child. Mom was always cooking, baking, feeding people. Dad kept a large vegetable garden, which I loved helping out on, and when I went off to college I couldn’t understand why the tomatoes didn’t taste like they did at home!” At her Tuscan farmhouse, Renée spends her time developing recipes, cooking, baking, cake decorating, gardening, farming, walking, reading and meditating. “There is nothing as simple as baking a loaf of bread or a cake. It gives me such satisfaction. And there is no point in creating anything without putting your heart into it” she explains. Here, she talks us through a typical day…
“The house is a small old Tuscan farmhouse that we have extended a little, modernised and made eco. It sits on a hill, surrounded by seven acres of land… including an olive grove of 130 trees, a small vineyard, an orchard (apple, apricot, cherry, fig, pear, plum, almond and walnut) and a vegetable garden.
My favourite view in the world is from our kitchen door. It looks across hills covered with blue-green olive trees and streaked with vines, that roll up to Monte Amiata, the small mountain near our home where the kids go skiing in the winter. The town of Seggiano eases down a hilltop in the distance and the cloudless sky seems endless. I love it here because it’s a values-led life. It’s all about family and food. Life is slow and innocent, and the rhythms are focused on the seasons and traditions. There is no rat race. No commercialism. It’s a wonderful experience for the children, and they are mastering a second language, which is a gift.
I start each day with a steaming cup of organic coffee and cream, gazing at paradise with my husband Brian while the three kids sort-of get ready for school, trying not to disturb us, but pestering a little bit for me to come inside and start their French toast for breakfast. Once breakfast is cooked, the snacks are prepared and the kids are ready, it’s lots of kisses and then Brian takes them the short drive up another mountain to their tiny Italian school in Monticello. I throw on my sneakers and head out for my morning power walk with our dog Gumbo, an Italian hunting bird dog that was abandoned because he’s afraid of gunshots. While he chases butterfly shadows on the dirt road, I puzzle over the day’s work ahead – dreaming up a healthy baked goods recipe for Planet Organic, perhaps, or thinking of new angles for training – and the meals we’ll share through the day.
Back at home and all cleaned up, I’ll start some bread to rise – wholemeal spelt and porridge oats – and then settle down to work. My desk is an antique black marble pasta table placed strategically next to the kitchen as I am often jumping up to test a recipe or do some food prep. After lunch with Brian, I’ll meditate and then work until 4:00 when I leave to pick the kids up from school.
Once we’re all home for the evening, I’m in full swing making supper – maybe roasted artichoke frittata with the late season artichokes that are coming up from Sicily – with salad and freshly-baked bread. Then it’s down time, time with the kids doing stretching, games, reading and snuggling until bedtime. After some time with my husband, I’m usually back in the kitchen to soak something for the next day like oatmeal for proper porridge and beans for autumn soup before heading off to bed.”
Renée’s tips for buying organic….
- If you can’t buy everything organically, buy what you eat the most of – whether that’s apples or pasta or biscuits.
- Eat organic dairy and meat (it’s more expensive, but you could spend the same amount of money and eat a little less).
- Many organic vegetables are well-priced, so buy simple ingredients and cook easy meals that only take half an hour. If you need inspiration, check out Me, You & the Kids Too.
- For a treat, buy organic chocolate – conventional chocolate is the most highly-sprayed food crop in the world.