Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Than French Cooking: Lessons in Love from Paul & Julia Child

I am listening to the audio book, My Life in France, by Julia Child (beautifully read by someone else).

Oui, oui, I am completely charmed by Julia's love of good food and the way she dove into all things French the same way - with great gulps of enthusiasm.

But there's another story, an undertone of joy, that is even more compelling to me right now. It is the story of a well-matched couple in love with each other and delighted by life itself. Paul and Julia were each other's biggest fans, allowing both to blossom into their best, happiest and truest selves.

Of late, Greg and I have been involved in counseling several couples where the man is, how shall I put this delicately? A selfish jerk. Where have all the good husbands gone?

I love that Julia herself goes completely against type. No one would accuse Paul of picking out a trophy wife as decoration for his arm and boost for his ego when he asked Julia to marry him. In fact, she looked more like a middle linebacker, standing well over six feet tall. And then there was that Voice, the sort cartoons and SNL characters are made of. What Julia lacked in movie star beauty, she seemed to make up for in fun, humor, kindness, and knowing her way around an omelet pan.

Reading between the lines, the secret ingredient to their lifelong attraction seemed to be, to me, that both Paul and Julia were blessed with abundant joy, curiosity, contentment and the kind of generosity that pours from mates who keep each other's emotional cups full. Theirs was a beautiful marriage of two brains on joy. A rare match indeed. But when it happens, there is magic.

In an era when many men could not imagine their wife working outside the home, Paul happily supported Julia's dreams (as she did his). When in Paris together because of Paul's job with the American Embassy there, she fell in love with France, its people and of course, its mouthwatering cuisine.She, being new to the French language, accidentally signed up for a year long course at the Cordon Bleu instead of what she thought was the six week housewife cooking course. She and Paul discussed the mistake and after considering it, Paul told her that he thought she should just go for it-- that following her passion would be wonderful for "her wellbeing." How's that for a dream conversation, ladies?

In 1967 on a PBS special Paul said: "How fortunate we are at this moment in our lives! Each doing what he most wants, in a marvelously adapted place, close to each other, superbly fed and housed, with excellent health, and few interruptions." I see in these two sentences that Paul lived his life gratefully aware of its blessings, especially the blessing of a good marriage. What fun he must have been for Julia to love.

I love this excerpt from a report: "Her new career crashed like a meteor into the center of their marriage. New roles sprang up and grabbed them -- she the star and he the support staff -- but they were determined to maintain what Julia called “that lovely intertwining of life, mind, and soul that a good marriage is.”

“We are a team,” she often said. “We do everything together ... Whenever she talked about her career, she said “we,” not “I,” and she meant it literally. Paul was an integral part of everything Julia did, career wise. He was also adept at making his own sunshine. "When he wasn’t needed, he disappeared happily into his own world, painting and photographing and gardening ... "

Every morning they liked to snuggle in bed together for a half hour after the alarm went off, and at the end of the day, Paul would read aloud from the New Yorker while Julia made dinner. “We are never not together,” Paul said once, contentedly.”
(Source: Laura Shapiro, "Just a Pinch of Prejudice" from Julia Child,, 2007.)

Such oneness! It has been so refreshing to read about a wonderful,happy, longterm marriage. How I wish that all couples could experience this kind of "normal" -- where mutual kindness, optimism and enthusiasm for each other create a gourmet feast out of the simple, everyday ingredients of daily life.

Lately, I've been looking at the food-mood connection, not just in matters of the brain but also matters of the heart.

For many years I neglected my kitchen for the task of raising my kids, surviving a difficult marriage and a blossoming writing and speaking career. Now that the kids are grown and I've remarried a man who considers my "wellbeing" as vitally important, I found extra brainspace available, and with room in my head for more than mere survival, I made my way back to the kitchen. I am realizing that the joy of cooking is one of life's greatest outlets for giving tangible love. Creating a delicious meal is an art, whether it is a simple fluffy scrambled egg in a pretty bowl, or a multi-course Babette's Feast.

I have two plaques in my kitchen that speak of love. One reads, "Love is like bread, it must be made fresh every day." Greg and I often tell couples to make love every day, in some special way. There may not always be sex, but there should always be sensuality. A touch, a kiss, a gaze, a hug, words of longing and appreciation.

The other plaque sums up what it takes to enjoy a perfect evening, when you are married to your best friend and lover: "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou."

In the words of the Childs, "Bon Appetit!"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Mother's Legacy: Tangible Love

(Photo is of my mother, Ruthie Arnold, and one of her grandchildren, Tori, ordering off the menu at American Girl tea room in Chicago, on an Us Girls Only afternoon out.)
In honor of Mother's Day, I'm departing from brain talk to veer into heart talk.....

Years ago, I wrote a book with my mom called Help! I’m Turning Into My Mother.

Little did I know that the older I would get the more like her I would come to be, particularly in her knack for hostessing, cooking and comforting.

I have so many memories of watching my mom serving coffee, thick slices of homemade cake (in the days before she went on a healthy eating plan), and conversation to some hurting soul at our kitchen table.

I watched the weekly ritual of my mother, dressed in her high heels, Sunday dress and apron, popping a roast in the oven -- big enough to serve surprise company after church.

I would sometimes accompany her as she carried a casserole to someone who just had a baby, or lost a loved one, and marvel at the natural ease at which she knew exactly what to say or do to cheer or comfort.

So, when heard Meryl Streep read this poem by Julia Kasdorf in the Garrison Keillor Movie “Prairie Home Companion” -- it reminded me so much of my mom’s legacy to me that I sent her a copy for Mother’s Day.

What I Learned From My Mother

by Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love the living,

to have plenty of vases on hand in case you have to rush to the hospital with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants still stuck to the buds.

I learned to save jars large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole grieving household,to cube home-canned pears and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins and flick out the seeds with a knife point.

I learned to attend viewing even if I didn't know the deceased, to press the moist hands of the living, to look in their eyes and offer sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.

I learned that whatever we say means nothing, what anyone will remember is that we came.

I learned to believe I had the power to ease awful pains materially like an angel.

Like a doctor, I learned to create from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once you know how to do this, you can never refuse.

To every house you enter, you must offer healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself, the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.


My husband Greg and I paused the other day, in between our busy lives of caring for each other, our family and a broad circle of friends and had to laugh. This month alone we’ve cared for a new widow, a writer close to suicide, and several friends who needed their hands held and hurts tended and a hot meal to fortify their soul…. not to mention our Big Fat Blended Family!

And every time I serve up a helping of tangible love I think, “Yep, I’m turning into my mother.” And smile.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's Easy Being Green

Lately it seems like everything is going the way of green. Spring has finally turned my beloved state of Colorado that long awaited blush of green. Here's a snaphot of my backyard coming to life again with green. Green Energy and Building is all the rage with my environmentally friendly architecture sons.

And now I have discovered that I love to drink green.

Let me back up.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book where a woman encouraged those of us at mid-life to consider "enjoying" a green drink to help make our bodies more alkaline (the best state for immunity vs. acidic which causes all sorts of problems). She said it was also great for those with acid reflux issues, and the nutrients helped to increase energy and lift mood.

So I looked into a bit more and found that green drinks (mixed with concentrated green food powder such as Kyo-Green) also support:

Balanced energy all day long.
Greater stamina.
Weight loss.
Reduced food cravings.
Healthy radiant skin.
Mental clarity.
Healthy cholesterol levels.
Improved liver function.
Healthy blood sugar.
Immune system support.
Improved digestion.
Detoxing effects.
Colon cleansing.

So, I wanted to try it, but I was as reluctant as the Dr. Suess character who refused Sam I Am's Green Eggs and Ham. Green is not a color I am accustomed to drinking and green powder mixed in smoothies just looked too much like something that the demon possessed girl from "The Exorcist "may have thrown up.

However, I hit upon a green drink winner. Love it, love it! And I would even drink it in a box, and I would drink it with a fox.

It's my own recipe for Green Lemonade. Zero Calories if you use stevia. Tons of energy happening in my middle-aged body. I can honestly say I've noticed a big improvement in lots of the areas listed above.
So, I want to share my summertime Green Drink with you. May you & your brain enjoy!

Becky's Green Lemonade Brain Drink

In a glass, put:

1 t. powdered green drink mix (Kyo-Green is what I use)

1 lemon or lime, freshly squeezed for juice

maple syrup or stevia to taste

water and ice

(I also add a T. of L-carnatine in the citrus liquid flavor form put out by Now Products. It is

soooooooo tasty and adds a burst of energy to start your day.)

Mix well and pour over ice and enjoy! It is "surprisingly delicious!"