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!"


  1. Becky thank you for this post. As I read through two thoughts came to mind. First, sounds like a Babette's Feast, which you do mention near the end of your post. The second, is you inspired my heart to go start creating wonderful meals again bringing back eating slowly a prepared meal made with love and creativity, rather than eating on the run.

    I have been rather sick over the last few days, and could not sleep tonight, your post bought joy to my brain!

    I read Dr. Henslin's book, Your Brain on Joy, a few weeks ago it brought hope and clarity to a few situations that have emerged in my life. I will be writing a book review, my goal is this weekend.

    Thanks again for bringing some joy in the wee hours of the mourning as I listen to the birds singing and wait for another hacking cough.

  2. Enjoyed, My wife and I are working on our relationship after 33 years of marriage. Would like to know about the anatomy of jealousy that I am experiencing late in our relationship. I am an ordained minister, who has been under high stress teaching last 3 years in a public school after trauma of being layed off from a church finiancial crisis likely more politics than finance. Wife and I both have childhood histories of abuse which doesn't help. Can jealousy be a symptom of Post Tramatic Stress. I have read most of Dr. Henslin's book and Dr. Amen's and am getting counseling and taking supplements for stuck thinking etc. Just what is the anatomy of jealousy, for I know it is destructive as I worked many years with men's ministry and prayer ministry.. Thanks God Bless! Ps I posted this before on other blogs on Dr. Henslins site, but don't think they were working properly.

  3. First, thank you both for taking time out to comment and also to read This is Your Brain on Joy. Robin, I hope you are enjoying sprinkling your life with the joy of cooking now and again in our fastfood culture!

    As to the question about "the anatomy of jealousy" ... a great question. Yes, I think both PTSD (were you abandoned or betrayed before?) and also "stuck thinking" issues are often at play in jealousy. However, sometimes jealousy is an appropriate emotional response to a real threat. In my previous marriage I "spiritualized away" what turned out to be a legitimate concern a friendship between my husband and another woman that eventually destroyed our marriage. But in this marriage where I am safe, I will still sometimes get "triggered" from past pain and there really is no logical reason for concern. thankfully my husband is understanding and comforting and reassuring; while I also take responsiblity for my own healing journey and do not punish him for my exhusband's wounding.

    You are on a good course of healing. A counselor who has experience in post traumatic stress (particularly one who uses EMDR therapy) could be very helpful. It's amazing how quickly EMDR can work to heal long pent up hurts. Yea for you being so proactive in your emotional recovery!

  4. One more comment: Dr. Henslin and I have just completed the manuscript for This is Your Brain in Love, which may be of additional help to couples who have been discouraged with traditional counseling that doesn't take brain health into consideration. It will debut in early 2010!

  5. Nice article Becky. Two things:
    1. Did you see the movie coming out about Julia Child and another Julia who cooks her way through JC's recipes? Looks very cute.

    2. Do you spend time at that spice shop in downtown Litteton? I want in for the first time yesterday and was overwhelmed. My children's pediatrician was in there shopping and she was running around showing me her favorites. I bought 4 blends.


  6. A good story

    GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

    Voila: This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

    From a hectic life in New York City to the peace and glories of the French countryside lead me to be the co-founder of Ten years later with the words of Pierre Androuet hammering on my brain:

    “Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.”

    I took pen and paper; many reams later with the midnight oil burning Tasting to Eternity was born and self published.

    I believe cheese and wine lovers should be told about this publication.