My father has often been called a Renaissance man. And it's true. In addition to having a 65-year career as an actor in theatre, film, television and radio, he was passionate and genuinely knowledgeable about the visual arts, cooking, wine, gardening, literature, opera, classical music, and poetry. As an art historian, he wrote books, newspaper columns, and lectured on art--as well as founding two museums and serving on countless more museum boards. He also authored three cookbooks, and was the spokesman for a variety of culinary organizations, including the California Wine Association, the American Dairy Association, and the American Food and Wine Association. He notably said, "A man who limits his interests limits his life." And, "If you are always curious, you will never be bored." This was his philosophy and this is truly how he lived.
It took me years to realize that Renaissance Man might also be a polite euphemism for "workaholic multitasker". It took me even longer to realize that both my mother and father were full-blown, 24-hour-a-day, seven day-a-week workaholics. And it has taken me the longest to realize that workaholism has been one of their legacies to me.
Which is why, I have come to see, we all--my father, my mother, my brother, and I--loved loved love a road trip!
A road trip is the perfect antidote to workaholism. Driving and exploring, seeing the world up close and personal, having unexpected adventures, doing the kinds of things you never make time for at home--this is the hallmark of a great road trip. It feels active and purposeful--but also just plain fun. The Prices were nothing if not great road trippers.
Whenever an excuse presented itself--often my father's work on behalf of Sears Roebuck (let's drive to Chicago!) or the necessity to visit a reservation for his work on the Indian Arts and Crafts Board of the Department of the Interior--we loaded ourselves, the dogs, and lots of food into our brown milk truck of an RV called a Clark Cortez, and we headed out on the road. These were the best times of my childhood!
On the road we each had our designated roles: My father was the driver and planner of all great adventures. I was the navigator, neck rubber, and his enthusiastic cohort. My mother was the chronicler of our journey--the photographer. So, off we went--all over the country. We ate at diners, drive ins and dives and found some higher-brow culinary treasures as well. Of course, we stopped at every museum or antique store. And if there was a horse to ride, I did.
Those road trips brought out the best in all of us, because they released my parents from their daunting schedules and endless obligations long enough to remind them and teach me what is important in life. Those road trips were all about joy!
Of all the things I learned from my parents--and they were great teachers, who opened my eyes to art; my palate to cuisine from around the world; my mind to learning and literature; my heart to spiritual exploration, friendship, and love--the most important thing they taught me was how to live a joy-filled life. And joy, along with gratitude, I have come to realize, is an essential spiritual practice. When we feel joy, we cannot help but feel connected to something larger than us, something that takes us out of our daily cares and worries, and helps us to believe in a greater power and purpose.
My father exuded more joy than anyone I have known. Everything and everyone interested him. He was omnivorous, infinitely curious, excited to explore any idea, embark on any adventure, pursue any passion. He adored people—and found everyone’s story equally fascinating.
When I think of my dad, I think of fun—a childhood Saturday spent eating our way across L.A. trying to find the best taquito, banging ourselves black and blue on roller coasters, collecting moonstones on the beach, making Saturday morning pancakes, and the incredible adventure of exploring the world when we traveled. And how he loved to laugh! During a visit to a museum filled with painting after painting from the Munich School--chiaroscuro goose girls in dreadful dirndls--we got such a case of the giggles that we had to flee the building to regain our composure. It’s a fitting tribute to his ability to find the funny in anything that his most lasting legacy may turn out to be that gloriously malevolent laugh at the end of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.
The older I get, the more remarkable his joy seems to me. Even at the end of his life, struggling with illness—a visit from a friend, an interesting TV documentary, a new bloom in his garden—could rekindle his joy in living.
And so, when my daily worries bog me down, my memory of his joy reminds me what is possible--to live a meaningful life of exploration, service, passion, fun, and adventure. In a way, his joy has been my life’s mantra. Which is why I can think of no better way to kick off the 50th anniversary celebration of my parents' famous cookbook with a road trip.
Like our childhood road trips, this one was prompted by some work obligations--a day spent at the Atlanta campus of the amazing Savannah College of Art and Design speaking to and working with the students in the Interior Design department, and a weekend at Monster Mania in Philadelphia became my "excuses" to hit the road and visit many of the restaurants that my parents wrote about in their cookbook. But mostly, I realized, I needed to take a break from my own workaholism and to rekindle the joy I always feel when I am on the road.
To me, A Treasury of Great Recipes is the embodiment of my parents' life philosophy. They were collectors of experience--of seeing art, meeting people, trying new foods, learning about new cultures, exploring design--and then incorporating the things they loved into the way they lived.
The cookbook came about because they loved what they saw so much out in the world that they brought it home to share with their friends: Recipes given to them by a chef at a restaurant they loved, a set of plates brought home to remind them of a foreign country, stories of their incredible adventures, and of course the art. But mostly what they brought home was a repository of joy from which everyone who knew them could partake. Travel always re-whetted their immense appetite for life. And I am so grateful to have the opportunity this month to do the same for my own--and hopefully yours.
If I hope to do anything by releasing the 50th anniversary edition of their cookbook, it is to remind us all--myself included--to make time for joy.
I hope you will follow me on my adventures on the road this month, and write in to share some of your own that have been inspired by my parents and their wonderful cookbook.
OK. Time to stop writing and hit the road. You'll hear more from me in Texas!