My entire last year was dedicated to giving you ideas how to Live a Little and every week I posted one idea how to live a little. An olive oil company called Olivari dedicated this year the “One Year of Little” to recognize and celebrate the “little things” in life that bring us joy. If I could name one thing in my life that brings our family joy each day, it’s food. I will be posting an easy bruschetta recipe made with olive oil, but couldn’t resist diving little deeper in the topic of enjoying life through food in a very small ways.
1. Make grocery shopping an experience, not a chore. And shop at local food and farmer’s markets if you can.
The food experience in Europe really starts with shopping for the ingredients and eating with your eyes already when you shop for food. It’s all about knowing your butcher by name, getting the cheese from the cheese shop, and buying bread fresh from the baker in the corner. My favorites are the food markets where you can under one roof find every kind of food directly from the farmers and local producers. My favorite food market is the Östermalm’s Saluhall in Stockholm, where you can also enjoy your lunch of amazing seafood right next to the fish market. Or when in Rome, shop at outdoor market (like literally, in Rome, Italy). When we were in Rome, we rented an apartment next to Campo de’ Fiori and started every morning by going to the marker place to buy our breakfast.
Even if you can’t shop for food like this everyday, take time to shop for your food, and don’t think of it just as a chore, but let it be one of those enjoyable little things in your everyday life. It might mean that you have to drive little farther away to shop in a store you like, or that you have to stop in several stores to get the ingredients you really want, or that you have to shop in a time of the day or week when the store is not as crowded to get a nicer experience. We only go to the grocery store once a week and always just keep a good pantry of basics. I said we – because we always the entire family of five shop for food together.
2. Stop thinking about saving time. Start thinking about savoring time.
The biggest difference between an American food experience and European food experience is the time. In Europe, we like to take our time to eat and in many countries it is impossible to even find a to-go-cup in a coffee shop! Food isn’t really about just getting your belly full, but gathering around a table to eat food is the time to connect with family or friends, savor the food, and enjoy the moment. For example in Sweden they enjoy fika, it’s like a coffee break, but it is so much more. You don’t even have to drink coffee to have fika, but it can be a break during your workday to enjoy a little cup of coffee and some sweet treat and stop your workday to chat with friends or co-workers. In fact this is considered so important in Scandinavian countries, that coffee breaks are mandatory by law. The eleven o’clock coffee break has similar type of importance in Sweden as the five o’clock tea in England.
The bottom line: you need to eat everyday, make food times your special moments each day.
3. Think easier recipes with less but better ingredients.
We often tend to think that fancy food is better, or that complicated recipes must be better. So not true! Learn to make food from only a few simple, good quality, ingredients and you will realize that good food doesn’t have anything to do with the number of ingredients you use. Italian food for example is very simple and a dinner could be this easy: cook pasta, grill fresh vegetables, drizzle olive oil and chop fresh basil on the top. My favorite Scandinavian summer food is fresh potatoes with fresh dill and pickled herring. In Germany it’s all about the perfectly fried Schnitzel. My favorite summer cake consists of 5 ingredients: sugar, flower, eggs, whipped cream and strawberries. The key to good food is good, fresh, carefully picked ingredients. You will enjoy the cooking part more too when you are not overwhelmed by complicated recipes with lots of ingredients.
4. Eating food is a social event.
While hobbies and evening activities in many families in the US and in Europe interrupt the family dinner time, we eat dinner as a family of five 7 days a week and also like inviting friends over for dinner. Food connects people, the discussions happen easier on the dinner table and your connection to your family (or friends) is easy to upkeep and make it flourish when you connect over food. In Italy it is common that even adult men still eat at mom’s place every night, and in Germany the festivals always are created around enjoying lots of food with lots of friends around the long picnic-type of tables. Even if you are not a master chef, or the food isn’t the best, it will always be better when enjoyed with family and friends.
5. Respect the food and enjoy leftovers.
Did I already lose you with my tips to spend more time shopping, making and eating food? It may sound like I spend enormous time for food each day, but it actually isn’t true. I just stop to enjoy food, but I still keep it easy.
I respect food, and rarely never throw food away. My grandmother would make a soup out of whatever vegetables she had, and I love making pizza from the last few slices of ham and cheese meant for lunch sandwiches and just add some pineapple to make it a “Hawaiian”. Yesterday’s potatoes turn into potato salad today. I always cook extra chicken that will turn into soup the next day or inside bell peppers to make easy stuffed bell peppers that take less than 15 minutes.
I never use the microwave oven to reheat the leftovers, but I reinvent and use the leftovers in a new way. There is a belief in Bali that electric heat makes food taste bad and most of the food is still cooked on fire, but as an European, I’m happy to use my electric stove, but think that microwaved food tastes bad. No matter how you do it, but respect food and give leftovers a try the next day – maybe it will give you a chance to spend less time in the kitchen but more time with “social eating”?
This way enjoying food also doesn’t have to be expensive, or cooking doesn’t have to take a lot of time of your day.
6. Create pretty food and set the table pretty – presentation is everything.
Like mentioned in the #1 – you also eat with your eyes. Create pretty food, and let the culinary experience be not just for your taste buds, but for your eyes also. Presentation is everything!
Use a tablecloth, add pretty napkins to the table, use the finer china and good wine glasses for everyday dinner. Add candles to the table or always have fresh flowers on your dinner table. These are all small things, and only take a few extra minutes of your time, and add so much to your dining experience at home. You can be serving “left-overs recreated” but feel like it’s a royal dinner when you just add a little extra effort setting the table pretty.