When I hit burnout a few years back, I started browsing travel websites and found the ultimate deal to head to Paris in the fall. The catch? I had to leave in 10 days. I booked it, traveled to Paris by myself, and spent 8 days living the American girl in Paris dream. I didn’t have a lot of time to book activities in advance but as a foodie I knew I had to do two things: find a French cooking class and learn how to make croissants. Little did I know that the French cooking class would change how I grocery shop and how I eat.
(the photos aren't the best since it was about 5 phones ago but you get the idea!) The cooking class started at the market. Well, it started in a market area where all of the shops were specialty. We picked up our bread from a boulangerie (bakery), walked down the street to the butcher and picked our main course, stopped by the fish market and snatched up scallops that were caught in Normandy that morning for an appetizer, and then stopped by the grocery store for herbs, vegetables and the other necessities. The grocery store was small and didn’t have 40,000 options to choose from—but it had everything we needed. The chef explained what many of us know: French people shop multiple times a week and sometimes daily. They want the freshest, best tasting ingredients for their meals. French meals are two or three hour rituals where every bite is enjoyed and the company is delightful. Dinnertime is enjoyable. Dinnertime is simple but memorable. They’re not buying in bulk and they buy the best ingredients when their budget allows.
The entire class, including the market trip, was about 5 hours. It was exactly the escape that I needed to help reset my nervous system from the rush of American life. The evening was fun and made an adventure around the food we cooked and enjoyed that night.
It was the opposite of fast food and it was a stark difference from what I was used to: making a list, buying the food for the entire week, make the food as quickly as possible after work, and then eat it on the couch in front of the TV. When I got home, I made a pledge: I want to recreate that night as often as possible. How can I slow down? How can I make meal time enjoyable? These all take patience and practice to build into our daily lives—and it’s not possible for most of us to do that for every meal. But, I started with trying to source the freshest ingredients. The best way to do that was to grow my own. Well, as someone living in a Chicago apartment there were a lot of problems with that. Weather is clearly an issue most of the year and without any land, I couldn’t plant my own garden in a yard. So, the easiest way to achieve my goal was to head to the farmer’s market on the weekends. Sometimes I could catch a midweek market. This helped tremendously but there were limitations because of seasonality. The markets here close in early fall and don’t return until May. I struggled to achieve my goals but I eventually found a solution: Rise Gardens. Having two Family Rise Gardens in my apartment is the closest I can get to shopping daily in a French market. Just this morning I was wondering what to have for breakfast and looked over to my Garden to see ripe tomatoes so I whipped up a veggie scramble before I sat down at my computer. I rarely think about fresh herbs or greens because they’re always there and ready (thanks to crop planning). Now, I grow about 75% of my fresh ingredients all year long. I source the rest of my vegetables from the farmer’s market or a local CSA box. Occasionally, I grab a few veggies from the grocery store but it happens pretty infrequently. But, most of all, having these Gardens in my apartment provides moments to be present, to slow down, to tend to living plants in small peaceful pockets, and it allows me to be more intentional about what I eat and what meal time looks like. It’s a slow food movement that brings joy and life back into my mealtime.