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“A big part of comprehending joie de vivre is understanding math enjoyment in day-today life is the true key to happiness. Finding happiness in small things means that ordinary days are filled with pleasures rather than obligations . . . for example, most of the people I know dread grocery shopping. Bur for someone who loves cooking, like myself, shopping and planning for ingredients should be an enjoyable experience. Therefore, I try to make food shopping as fun as possible by either driving a bit farther out of the way to a special shop or farm stand, or by combining it with another social engagement, or by taking along my boys as a family outing.” —Robert Arbor in his book Joie de Vivre: Simple French Style for Everyday Living
Depending upon how you go about living your everydays, the have-tos can either be humdrum or extraordinary. Needless to say, there is no doubt in my mind that many TSLL readers are already approach their everydays with the latter mindset, but for some, the grocery shopping still seems to be an impossible task to enjoy.
Understandably, everyone’s lifestyle (where we live, our responsibilities, who and how many we cook for or with, diet restrictions, etc.) is unique, but as someone who has seen my own approach and understanding to food, its preparation and thus its enjoyment continue to deepen and strengthen, evolve, I am confident that at least one if not most of the ideas shared today will improve how much you enjoy the once seen as mundane task of grocery shopping.
In other words, eat real food, in season as often as possible. This will reduce the amount of cooking time you will need, the number of ingredients you will need and improve the flavor of what you are eating. I want to start with this premise, even though it doesn’t initially seem to fit with what we’re talking about – grocery shopping – because when we approach shopping for food that tastes good and is in season, we become more appreciative of seeing certain foods at the market. When we know they won’t be there forever, or at least the most flavorful ones will not be, we are more likely to take advantage of them and enjoy the discoveries we make.
2. Stock and maintain a functional épicerie
One reason grocery shopping can seem frustrating, tedious or confusing is that often we don’t have the necessities to finish the dishes we wish to enjoy, or don’t know where to find them in the stores. With a well-stocked épicerie (aka pantry) full of the essentials that are not your fresh, need-to-eat-now, but rather items that will enable you to be flexible with whatever you find at the market or leftover in your refrigerator, you will not only begin to enjoy the regular task of grocery shopping, but save money and time. Why? Because you will already have the mustard, the aromatics, the chicken stock, the spices, etc. that you need to make that fresh chicken and seasonal vegetable dinner you had in mind pop to its fullest deliciousness – i.e. fewer items to buy, less time spent searching in the store.
3. Plan ahead when you can, but relax when you can’t
Many people, including myself, make sure to visit the grocery store or favorite markets on the weekends before the work week begins. With my capsule menu in mind, I make sure to pick up the necessary amount of protein, vegetables, fruit and other ingredients to restock my épicerie that have run low. However, there are also times during the week when fresh is best for Wednesday-Friday, and so I don’t beat myself up about stopping in for one or two items after work.
4. Visit the markets you enjoy
Once you’ve lived in the town you call home for a while, you know where you will find the best prices on the staples – butter, lemons, beans, etc.. But you also know where the best quality can be found of each item as well. This is powerful information and it should dictate how you navigate and plan your grocery shopping.
5. Shop when the crowds are small
Each market will be unique to its demographic, but I am someone who has learned to go early in the morning in order to find the best selection, and I try to avoid shopping at all costs on Sunday afternoon or evening. The crowds become quite hard to navigate and you spend more time waiting in line which takes away from the time you would rather be doing something else. Again, I am not saying grocery shopping is a favorite pastime nor should it be yours. Our goal is simply to make the experience that is a have-to more enjoyable, so make it swift, not drawn out.
6. Get to know the vendors
Whether at the farmer’s markets or at your local grocery store, often the specialty clerks – the fish monger, the cheese counter, the meat counter, etc. — are the same people most days. And if you are like me, and are regularly frequenting the cheese and fish counter, they begin to remember your face. While you don’t want to become too friendly (share your entire life story, for example), a warm smile, a good day and genuine repartee goes a long way to brightening the day for everyone involved in the conversation.
7. Bring some lively and/or conversation-starter shopping totes along
I have had more unexpected conversations with people regarding my canvas grocery bags, and while it is never my intention, I do so enjoy making random, small, but lovely conversations with people. For example, I have a Zabar’s tote that I picked up when I was in New York City during my last visit because I love the market (see the bag below), visited while I stayed in the Upper West Side and have always been curious about it since I saw it in You’ve Got Mail. While shopping here in Bend, a woman stopped me and asked if I was from New York, because she was, and while I am not, we talked a bit about the store and the neighborhood. Simple, but truly lovely.
In another instance, I was the one who began the conversation as a woman had a beautiful straw market tote, and I inquired as to where she found it. With a grand smile and the memories of locale it conjured in her mind, she said, Provence. As you can imagine, we had a nice conversation about a beautiful destination in our grand world.
8. Bring a list for mandatory items
In order to reduce the amount of times you will have to go back to the store (I am guilty of this one, as most recently this weekend, I had to return two different times – and I had a list!), put what you need on the list that is absolutely mandatory to make it through the week or prepare for your upcoming meal or dinner party. Whether you are actually close enough to the store to return if you do indeed forget or if you are too far away to make an extra trip, it will save you time and headache.
9. Put the list down for seasonal produce shopping
What makes grocery shopping more enjoyable is not knowing what you will find, and that is where letting go fo the list and simply letting your eyes dance about the farmer’s market is a chance to make such an occasion a truly wonderful experience. If you find produce that catches your eye, but you are not sure what to do with it, the gift of the market is that you can ask the vendor right there on the spot. Often they share some wonderful ideas.
~Here is a post about how to best navigate a Farmer’s Market No Matter Where You Live
10. Learn the power of 6 simple tips to add flavor to your meals
Often when we are unfamiliar with stepping into the kitchen, we may assume we need an abundance of ingredients to create delicious flavor. The truth is we do not. Thank goodness. 🙂 In fact, by beginning to understanding how these 6 simple flavor tips amplify the flavor in any meal, no matter the season, we can relax, buy less food, always have these items and skills on hand, and begin to feel more confident in the kitchen.
While there are many other ideas for how to avoid or reduce buying groceries all together, as someone who loves food and appreciates how much joy can be found in eating well – much of which was inspired for me by the French culture, it is not something I want to hand off to a delivery service, nor do I want to ignore the energy that is available to be savored at such markets not only from the farmers, workers and other customers, but also the joy of the savoring the beautiful produce waiting to be enjoyed. So, for example, if shopping in large chain stores makes you feel a bit like a consumer robot (maybe that is just me), then find smaller, more personalized or locally owned shops that not only make your experience more enjoyable but contribute to your local community and business owners as well.
Being thoughtful in our everyday lives includes how we shop for the food we eat, enjoy and share with others, and through my own experiences living in Bend, but also living in smaller towns with less access to more selection, as well as on my travels abroad, I have discovered that eating well and enjoying the process of finding and creating delicious food can be simple and truly enjoyable.
May your next food shopping excursion be fruitful and delicious!