5 Food Lessons A European Adventure Taught This Southern Gal
Hola or Bonjour, y’all! It’s been a little while After returning home, I dove straight into several big work projects including a wedding coordination and exciting event plans on top of jet lag and getting back into real life. Oh, and a quick Easter weekend trip to visit with my family. Phew!
The main reason we set out on this journey was for the wedding of my sister-in-law and now new brother-in-law in La Palma of the Canary Islands. They decided to elope and invite 7 of their closest family members to be a part of such a magical day!
La Palma was absolutely STUNNING. Amazing blue-water sea views, succulents + exotic plants all over the place (giant ones!), banana trees growing literally everywhere there wasn't a building, fruit trees and bushes, black sand beaches, and friendly locals welcoming you to their little piece of heaven.
France was equally wonderful in a different way. We began in Paris and if you’ve ever been, you know that everywhere you look down the street is like a postcard photo. The old historic buildings, fresh market produce and flowers out on the street, the sky-high flaky croissants and sweet treats on display in the windows, cobblestone streets, and the romantic vibe you just want to bottle-up and keep forever. Then, on our road trip through Lyon and then onto to Nice we passed through more beautiful old buildings, rolling hill countryside, to a final destination of aqua blue water in the coastal Provence area.
During my time away, I tasted plenty of delicious food and learned a ton about not only cooking, but the lifestyle, culture, and attitude around eating as a whole. I took away so much inspiration for recipes and cooking styles. It was amazing how different the cuisine was in La Palma and then France, but they had some important things in common that taught me five big lessons about food.
1 - Mama’s recipe is just as important.
During our time in La Palma, we stopped in one day to a bright little restaurant on a hilltop overlooking the sea and Santa Cruz with hammocks and a quaint outdoor seating area with flowers all around. The menu was filled with classics native to both La Palma and Spanish cuisine. It was tough for us to decide among all the choices but when the waitress was taking our order, she pointed out 2 recipes that were original recipes of her mother, who happened to be the chef, that had been passed down for generations. Of course that’s what we went with and they were incredible!
The same thing happened to us in France. We encountered several restaurants where the recipe began with someone’s mother and was handed down through the years to be served through present day. No matter how much butter or cream a family recipe had, they didn’t mess with it. They preserved the traditional taste and allowed others to experience the same love in that dish as their mother intended.
What I learned: I have to admit, I was feeling a little guilty at first when I realized that I frequently change-up the classic southern recipes from the way my mama makes it. Then the more I thought about it the more I realized that my tweaks are my own personal stamp on a family recipe. Just as cultures develop through time, my edits are like little historical time marks. When I do edit a recipe like the broccoli salad or peanut butter cookies that my mom makes, I always keep the original recipe as well. There’s a time to honor those original ingredients and instructions, but since my focus is on “healthifying” recipes to align with my lifestyle, most of the time I’m going to make my own edits.
2 - Own your delicious, classic recipes with pride.
It might be a cliché, but we had tons of croissants and cheese in France and fresh fish in La Palma. You know what, it seemed to me like the people of France are cool with being known for their massive consumption of bread, cheese, and wine (YAASS!). All of those things were delicious and they owned it. I can’t tell you why, and fellow southern folks out there please don’t take offense, but sometimes I roll my eyes when people say, “oh, you must have biscuits ALL the time in the south.” Part of me is thinking, “Well sure... but we can make and enjoy lots of other things and we DO actually eat our fresh fruits and vegetables here too, ya know”.
What I learned: Seeing the pride in the Parisians’ eyes of how great their baked goods were reminded me of the same pride I’ve seen in local southerners when someone says, “OMG this biscuit is LIFE CHANGING” or they try Pimento cheese, or buttery hominy grits at brunch for the first time. I may be a health nut, but since my trip I’ve found a renewed sense of pride for our local recipes, healthy or not.
3 - Bigger isn’t always better.
In America (and definitely in the South), we have this expectation that bigger is better. The first thing I noticed when we returned home was how GIGANTIC our coffee cups were. Granted, our classic black drip coffee is different that espresso, but I used to not only drink one but 2-3 cups of these enormous cups a day. Aside from coffee, if we can get more oz. of liquid in our drinks or a bigger portion at dinner, then we feel like we’ve scored our money’s worth or had a filling meal. Usually our indication of a successful meal is when we’ve stuffed ourselves so full that we literally can’t take one more bite. In Europe I finished most of the meals we ordered and only a few times had to ask for a takeaway bag for leftovers. I felt like exploring more after eating versus needing a nap like I usually do after a meal out.
What I learned: when ordering out, I don’t look for the dish that gives the most variety or assortment of side items, but the dish that sounds the most interesting and delicious by itself. When making meals at home for John & I or guests, I don’t stress about have 3-4 things on the menu, but 1 or 2 really well-made dishes.
4 - Your life is worth taking the time to sit-down and enjoy a meal like a real human being.
Everywhere we went on our Euro adventure, we noticed the difference of people taking the time to sit and enjoy a meal together. Not a quick 10-minute scarf-down and go, either. From the fellow travelers and tourists, working folks, parents & children, and even the servers on break, we noticed that everyone takes the time to enjoy their meals. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even a coffee & pastry break. What an idea! We could actually take the time to enjoy food and our company like human beings? Ha! Why is this such a difference? I’ve always, always, always been a proponent of sitting down and eating meals, even breakfast in the morning. People are so shocked to learn that John & I sit down most every morning and have our eggs together. It’s quiet, and a sweet moment for us to connect before a busy workday. If you’re shoving in food while getting ready in the morning, eating over your keyboard during lunch, in the car, or while watching Netflix at night, then you’ve missed an opportunity to experience one of life’s greatest gifts, enjoying food! I’m guilty of every single one of those and still catch myself trying to push down food while prioritizing something else. This trip taught me that it’s not only what we eat, but how we eat it. What good is the beautiful acai bowl you make, or order, if you don’t even remember eating it?
What I learned: I will never feel guilty for taking the time to sit down and eat a meal. It doesn’t always work out that I can take a full hour for every meal of every day, but I will always TRY to sit down and mindfully appreciate the food that I eat and continue encouraging others to as well.
5 - Sweet treats don’t need to be justified with a “cheat day” or cause guilty feelings.
With every single espresso drink we were served in Europe, we were given a little biscotti or cookie, or chocolate. We thought, “what have we done to deserve this?” and “this is more like a little dessert, we can’t enjoy this right away, can we?” WHYY was this our thinking instead of, “YAY look, a complimentary little treat!” Why do we have to use words like “cheat” and “guilty” when we eat something sweet? If you don’t really want that piece of chocolate or dessert, just leave it alone if you have to proclaim to everyone later that it’s your “cheat day” or how guilty you feel about it. No one cares... seriously. Just enjoy it and embrace the fact that you deservingly enjoyed a sweet treat. You don’t have to tell us you ran three miles or are going to a spin class later. You don’t even have to have workout plans, just enjoy it and smile and be grateful you get to have such wonderful things. If you know you’ll hate yourself for it, do your future self a favor and just leave it alone. I think you’re given a little cookie or sweet with your coffee in Europe because 1.) It’s delicious 2.) They go well together and 3.) You deserve it! It’s a nice surprise that you not only get a coffee but a sweet treat as well. It’s a nice touch and if there’s one thing my mama taught me it’s to say “thank you” for anything your given in a kind, genuine way. So I didn’t ask the servers why I was given a biscotti or chocolate with my espresso, nor did I ask them to take it away because I hadn’t worked out in a solid 2 weeks. I said, “thank you!” and enjoyed the HECK out of every bite.
What I learned: In the same mindset of practicing self-love and self-compassion, believing that we are worthy and enough, why don’t we allow ourselves to truly enjoy things more, without the guilt? In this case I’m specifically referring to sweet treat. When I’m given a complimentary biscotti or asked if the restaurant can bring their house-made bread rolls before dinner, sometimes I’ll say no. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t worked out hard enough or “earned” it. Realizing that I’m a fairly active person (no, not a triathlete or competitive cross-fitter), I’ve started allowing myself to enjoy the sweet treat surprises more. I’m not saying we should have stacks of cake slices or half a dozen cookies every day, but when we’re offered a something that really excites us, why not mindfully appreciate and enjoy it, leaving out the feelings of guilt? That’s my plan!
Overall, my trip was nothing short of dreamy and spectacular. Everyone was safe, stayed healthy, and really enjoyed themselves. I learned so much about food and how to appreciate our own cuisine culture and re-shift my attitude towards eating and creating delicious meals in the future!
Have you been to Europe? Did any of these same lessons strike a chord with you, too? Comment below and let me know!