My parents taught me so many things as I was growing up. Both of them helped me learn how to see—my father through his passion for art and love of travel; my mother through her incredible eye for design—architectural, interior, personal, film and fashion. Their other great mutual passion was dining—my father loved food and the whole social experience of sharing a meal. My mother enjoyed cooking and the theatrical experience of throwing a dinner party. I grew up with great emphasis placed on seeing and eating. I loved one, I resisted the other.
Nothing much has changed. I love to travel, see art, explore the world, writing and photographing what I see. I make my living helping, teaching and facilitating people’s enjoyment of what they see. On the other hand, I have always had a difficult relationship with food.
Seeing = Love
Although I only had two days in New York—days in which I had meetings and work as well as open-ended periods of free time—I was determined to visit at least two museums and the High Line. I cannot come to New York without going to the Met, so that was a given. And I decided to visit MOMA, because I hadn't been there in over a decade.
As a lifelong student of art history, who has had the great good fortune to visit some of the world’s greatest museums many times, a trip to the Met or MOMA is like going to a party with all of my favorite people and their guests. We reconnect and remember why we liked each other so much in the first place and I get to meet the fascinating people who they chose to bring.
Here are some of the old friends and new acquaintances I met this week:
When I posted my photo of the Egyptian on Social Media, countless people wrote back saying it was their favorite place in the Met. The huge glass windows opening onto Central Park seem to reunite the old and the new at the Temple of Dendur--its age-old mystery alluring to young and old alike. I love watching the excitement of young people seeing it for the first time, but mostly I love entering the quiet sandstone sanctuary and feeling its age-old power.
Many years ago I was asked to write a piece for an airline magazine about a travel destination. I chose Diego Velazquez' portrait of Juan de Pareja at the Met. I have visited this canvas so many times that looking into de Pareja's eyes is like greeting an old friend with whom words are no longer needed. It is said that when Velazquez' fellow painters saw this portrait of the artist's assistant they said, "This alone is truth." But while the technique and veracity of this portrait always amaze me, what I feel is that this alone is love.
I can't remember when I first saw Arques-la-Bataille by the Cincinnati Impressionist John Henry Twachtman, but I remember being stopped in my tracks and wishing I could step into it. Although the very first art history paper I wrote in high school was about an American Impressionism show at LACMA, I have not remained a fan of what I often regard as the sugary quality of American Impressionism. But this piece in its near abstraction and deep stillness. . .well, if I were to build myself a church, this would be its altar of peace.
I love it when I stumble across the work of an artist I never really "saw" before and get it on a different level. For me this time it was Charles Sheeler, whose multidisciplinary (photographic/industrial design-oriented) approach to painting--seeing the patterns in a place by paring away dimensionality, really struck a chord in me.
I felt that my father was often by my side or whispering in my ear nudging me to look more deeply at certain canvases, sharing a dialogue about the pieces we have always both loved. Art was our mutual passion--and during the 18 years of his marriage to my stepmother, when he had to sneak behind her back to spend meaningful time with me, art was our meeting place and our common ground. And then, after Coral's death, art brought us back together--when we spent three afternoons a week sitting on his bed talking about art. For me, my love of art is inseparable from my love of my father. As we walk through museums together, I am always grateful to him for teaching me to see through the eyes of love.
Eating = Fear
While the legacy of learning to see has enriched my life every step of the way, the same can’t be said for my relationship with food.
Growing up as the child of the authors of this cookbook we are celebrating meant that there was a lot of focus on food, on meals, on restaurants. For me, that wasn’t such a good thing.
Meals were often stressful. I was a finicky eater and often found myself ill after eating. As a result, I pushed the food I didn’t want to eat around the plate and avoided the foods that I was afraid would make me sick. During family meals this prompted many arguments ranging from the typical 1960s “people are starving in China so clean your plate” to analysis of my terrible posture to in-depth tutorials on correct table manners. By the time I was ten, the arguments had risen to such a fever pitch that almost any meal together was a nightmare for us all. So, when my mother told me that she and my dad were getting a divorce, I was sure that the reason was my table manners.
Even my treasured memories of our travels together are tinged with the aftertaste of so many unpleasant dining experiences—the worst one being on the glorious island of Mont St Michel off the northern coast of France. My mom and dad were so excited to be visiting a restaurant that they had been told made the best omelets in the world. I loathed omelets then, and still loathe them now. I don’t eat cheese, and I hate hard eggs. For days leading up to the visit, the arguments raged. My mom was firmly in the “when in Rome” camp: I should be made to eat the famous omelet because when else would I have the opportunity. My dad always said: "She’s just a kid. Leave her alone. So what if she doesn’t like something." I just felt caught in the middle and wrong. Because I could always understand my mother’s logic—I just couldn’t always apply it to me so easily.
They ordered me the omelet. I hated it. I remember sitting really close to my dad in the booth and feeling his love and desire to protect me. But because from my earliest age, I could always sense my mother’s underlying terror at being in the world and knew somehow that all her control issues came from that, I felt disloyal to her in trying to elicit my dad’s protection and sympathy. The next day, as we drove across Bretagne, I threw up every hour on the hour. It had nothing to do with the omelet.
On top of all that, my mother was obsessed with weight. She thought that if you looked at potato you would instantly become obese. Bread was the other deadly sin. I don’t think a potato ever crossed our threshold, and by the time I was in junior high, she was making my school sandwiches on Pepperidge Farms Very Thin Bread—40 calories a slice! So thin that by the time lunchtime rolled around at school, whatever she had put within the two paper thin pieces of bread had seeped through totally and I was faced with ingesting a soggy wad of mush.
The net result is that I have a deep-seated love-hate relationship with food. I eat at Mach speed, with the hope that no one—least of all me—will notice how much I’ve consumed. The sooner it’s over, the sooner I can forget the whole experience. In the meantime, the calorie-counting chip implanted in my brain since childhood is creating complex algorithms that calculate potential net results on my hips—and imagining how terrible I will feel wearing my tight jeans the next day.
I’ve often wondered whether becoming gluten, lactose, and sugar free had far less to do with my actual food “issues” and much more to do with creating an eating platform that cuts down not on potential allergens but on my ingested self-hatred.
Needless to say, eating is rarely a pleasant experience for me.
And yet, I was blessed with the metabolism of a racehorse. I didn’t break 100 pounds until I was in 10th grade, and though I have gained weight during happier periods of my life (stress is the only real diet I’ve ever needed), I am always considered “undernourished’ by the AMA. So, even when I “cheat” on my stringent food rules, I only really feel it as an unhealthy spike in negative self-esteem.
So, knowing I was going to be eating my way across the country, trying all the things I never let touch my lips, I was afraid. And so, I began to pray. Not to be able to eat what I wanted, but to be able to heal some of the fear I have had about food my whole life. I prayed to find the love in every dining experience.
The result has been amazing. Not one upset stomach, remarkably little guilt and self loathing (although probably a few too many self-deprecating comments in these blogs and to my friends about my looming obesity issues), and most importantly, some of the best meals (and not just in terms of food) I have ever enjoyed.
Other than our dinner at Sardi’s, I shared three meals with friends on the New York leg of this journey. On Wednesday afternoon, I met textile designer Lori Weitzner in her studio for lunch. I warned her that I was gluten, dairy and sugar free—and it turned that she eats very similarly. She recommended a local place called Spoon, and we ordered in the daily special, which turned out to be a delicious blend of quinoa, root vegetables, cauliflower and chicken. We ate in her conference room, where I faced her design library. Just looking at it brought a smile to my heart. Lori’s passion is color, and she talks eloquently about tasting and smelling color, as much as seeing it. During our conversation, I found myself experiencing exactly what she was describing—tasting and smelling and enjoying every bite of my meal was enhanced by all the ways in which her work space reflects her love of beauty and color. It was a wonderful way to dine and to connect about our mutual passion for finding the authentic in what we do.
On Wednesday night, I met my dear friend Marc for dinner at Etcetera Etcetera--a Hell's Kitchen restaurant owned by one of his friends. I was determined to eat lightly, feeling rather traumatized by all I had ingested at Sardi's, but when I saw gluten-free gnocchi on the menu, that resolve went right out the window. I love gnocchi, but has been years since I've had it--and so, despite my fear that eating gluten-free gnocchi might be a bit like consuming lead shot, I went for it. Was i ever surprised! It was light and flavorful, with a perfect olive oil and garlic and vegetable sauce. Chef owner Daniele Kucera told me that he has worked hard to perfect his gluten-free dishes by avoiding the usual corn and rice flours. He has already created his own ravioli, and had made a first lasagna good enough to be introduced to the menu. I know where I'll be eating on my next trip to New York!
Marc and I were roommates my senior year of college, and he and I got to spend one of the most fun weekends of my life with my dad together in New Haven, when his alma mater, Yale, honored him with a Vincent Price film festival. It’s always fun for me to reconnect with people who actually knew my dad—and to hear their memories of his incredible life spirit. . .how much pure fun he had moving through the world!
Marc is in the midst of a major change in his life. After thirty successful years as an actor and playwright, some of the joy he had always found in his work had begun to seep away. Four years ago, he apprenticed with a landscape designer, and loved the work. He began reading books about and trying to find a way to write about this new world he was discovering. Then one day he realized that instead of finding a way to write about what he loved, he needed to do it. And so in January he enrolled in the two-year program at the New York Botanical Gardens, where he is loving what he is doing every day.
With Marc’s encouragement, on my way out of the city, I stopped at the Botanical Gardens to see the orchid show.
My dad raised cymbidiums. He After his death, my friend Sarah Douglas took care of them for years--carrying on his legacy.. They are finicky—I’ve never learned the language of cymbidiums, and I could never make them rebloom. I’m more a phalenopsis and dendrobium gal. I have a whole area of my house dedicated to my orchids, and when I left I had at least five plants with new buds. I can’t wait to see what I come home to. . .
I’d never been to the Botanical Gardens—and it was so bitterly cold and windy that I still haven’t But the conservatory was a and I was grateful to be greeted by a warm blast of humid air and to feel my glasses fog up before diving into the tropical world of pure beauty. Who can resist the sensuous beauty of an orchid?
As I rounded a corner, I came across an autumnal-colored grouping of cymbidiums, and I burst out laughing at a sudden memory that arose. After my parents' divorce, my dad used to drive me back to the San Fernando Valley where I lived with my mom by going over Laurel Canyon. One day, he suddenly pulled over on the side of the busy road and pointed out a garden in front of someone's house.
"See those deep purple geraniums near the window?" He pointed to the area near what appeared to be a kitchen window. I nodded. "I want you to climb over the fence with these scissors," he said, motioning to a pair that had miraculously appeared in his hand, "get me a clipping and come right back."
Now this wasn't the first time my father had encouraged petty thievery--having made me climb over the wall of our old house to get him some persimmons. The thing was, we still owned that house--it was being rented out. I felt I stood on decent moral ground for that one. This house belonged to total strangers, and on top of that, it was broad daylight on one of the busiest streets in LA. But I knew better than to argue. I hopped out of the car, over the fence, got him his purple geranium--all the while rehearsing the reasonable excuses I could use for my crime. The only one I could think of was that my father had been addled by his love of geraniums--and that having Vincent Price stealing one of theirs was actually tantamount to a compliment. Fortunately I didn't have to use my excuse--and seeing my father's pure glee when he showed it to me the next time I visited--flourishing in his riotously colorful garden was worth any agony I had endured!
So, when I saw those unusual-colored cymbidiums, I knew what I would have had to do. And for the first time on this trip, I was grateful my father was no longer alive!
Old friends from Santa Fe who have recently moved to Connecticut had been following my blog, and invited me to lunch at So Good, a new vegan restaurant in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where Kirstin is the chef.
Now to be honest, vegan and I aren’t really a match made in heaven. I don’t eat soy or beans. Kale and I have never made friends. I can never remember the names of all those vegan food stuffs—sampan or taipei. . . But they all look like shoe treads to me and my fear of the flatulent results of eating them has made me avoid them like the plague. But my friends have had a difficult two years of major health issues on top of a cross-country move, and I wanted to go see them. As restauranteurs in Santa Fe, Donalee and Kirstin were always generous to me—even going so far as to keep a supply of shredded goat mozzarella on hand so I could have their delicious pizzas. I was determined to show up and eat what was put before me with joy and without fear.
Well, I ended up having one the most delicious damn sandwiches--vegan or no--I have ever eaten--vegan bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and aioli on absolute scrumptious gluten-free bread. I loved every bite, and I would go back today and have another one, if I could. But even more importantly, I got to spend a wonderful hour with my friend Kristin—who was alone on her ten-year anniversary because Donalee was at her brother-in-law’s funeral. I was so glad to be there to hear the story of how they had gotten together, and also to hear about Kirstin's process when she creates new recipes. The afore-mentioned bacon took her five days of "channeling" the recipe--her two daughters whispering to one another to leave their mom alone while she created. Her bacon, comprised of sprouted adzuki bean blended with buckwheat and combined with smoked paprika, coconut aminoes, a touch of maple syrup, herbs, spices and butter is unbelievably delicious. . . a testimony to something we agreed is the most important part of creativity. . .knowing that ideas do not come from us, but rather through us.
Changing My Mind = Priceless
We are all programmed to some degree by our pasts, and it is fair to say that--through bouts of anorexia in college, years of fearful food avoidance, and my rather ridiculous panoply of idiosyncratic eating habits--I have not been entirely successful in overcoming mine around food. Something has shifted on this trip: For years my relationship with food has been clouded by fear. But, for the first time, now when I sit down to a meal, I have begun to understand what my father felt--the joy of connecting with others, of discovering new tastes, of learning about someone's creativity, of sharing an experience. As I have begun to feel those same things, the fear is receding. . .as it always will in every area of life, when it is replaced by gratitude and love. What an amazing journey we are all on!