Hey everyone- it’s the holidays which means get-togethers with plenty of food and drink. For our purpose today let’s focus on food, and I don’t mean recipes (though I might include one just for the fun of it!). I want to talk about our relationship with food, or maybe my poor relationship with food.
Growing up on a cattle farm in Iowa, there was usually an abundance of meat and dairy, potatoes, bread and desserts. Not exactly the way to stay healthy, but it kept the men of the family (males deemed the most hard-working) fed and nourished to do all there was to do from dawn to dusk. And the guys certainly did work hard, there is no doubt. But it was also very patriarchal, and so what the men/boys wanted, they usually got. And that meant meat and potatoes.
My mom was a good cook and an even better baker. Her rhubarb-custard pie—well my mouth waters just thinking about it. And then there was this chocolate dessert thing she made with layers of crushed vanilla wafers on the bottom, then a layer of yummy chocolate, then a layer of vanilla ice cream (Schwan’s of course) which was sprinkled with more crushed vanilla wafers on top—you know the ones, they come in a yellow box. And that’s just for starters! There was peach pie in the hot summertime and homemade fresh bread and rolls in the winter. Then there was the steak. Because we had all the beef we ever needed right outside, beef was consumed almost daily. Everything from hamburgers to T-bones. We loved it and took for granted that it was good for us.
Then there were the lean times when we had cornmeal mush for supper and I would get sent to bed because I refused to eat it. I even missed out on dessert (canned cherries—a special treat) which hurt more than getting sent up to my/our room. Us three girls always shared a bedroom, half of which was papered with Hop-a-long Cassidy (honest-to-god truth) until we were older and then it was finally changed to pretty lilacs scattered across the wall. The point being—I had to stare at that damned wallpaper while my stomach growled wishing for something to eat. The main message being that I was BAD. FOOD was GOOD, and could be used for reward (the cherries) if you were a good little girl(or boy)—which apparently to my mother I was not. Shit. I just hated cornmeal mush, the consistency (gritty) as well as taste. I also won’t eat cottage cheese, but that didn’t seem to be a big deal. Go figure.
Mom had six children within 8 ½ years and was then told to have no more. Hysterectomies were very common back then, but I imagine Mom’s (hysterectomy) threw her body a real curve, having never lost the excess weight gain pregnancy brings. Women’s hormones can really mess with us before and after childbirth. Then to remove a uterus and ovaries after a battered birthing can only lead to chaos—which is exactly what our homelife was most of the time. Mom’s obesity only made her more unhappy.
What does this have to do with food? Reread that third paragraph, my friends. Most of us associate food with love, protection or nurturing. There wasn’t much affectionate love ever shown to us kids when we were at home. As adults, we do give hugs as greetings or goodbyes but that’s about it. When/where did we receive love? At the kitchen table!
And protection? There was no protection from abusive siblings or parents. Dad was very mild-mannered but always busy with chores or out in the field. A lot of stuff went on that never should have happened between six siblings and mom. WE THOUGHT IT WAS NORMAL TO HIT AND FIGHT AND KICK AND SCREAM AND BE BEATEN WITH A 1” SQUARE WOODEN YARDSTICK. WE THOUGHT IT WAS NORMAL TO BE SURROUNDED BY ANGER AND ANXIETY. Because then we all went to the kitchen, gathered around a table where we dug into meat, bread, potatoes and dessert after a brief prayer. We COMFORTED ourselves by eating, filling up a space inside of us that was never filled. And I’m not talking about stomachs.
The really sad part is that we learned that behavior—that was the way my poor mom comforted herself, filled her empty space inside that had so needed nurturing and protecting when she was small. Mom carried her despair inside, protecting herself from the outside world by putting food in her mouth, by becoming “known for” her baking skills. Mom was very talented, but she dealt with anxiety and depression her whole life. Being overweight complicated the matter, making her self-esteem even lower.
How many of you use food the same way my family does? We over-eat (especially at the holidays or parties) because we associate food with LOVE. And food can be a gift to others when used correctly. But if you’re like me, and dip your fingers into the chocolate batter before the brownies are baked--that’s not always a good idea. Do you eat in secret? I live alone, so only my cat knows how many times I open the door to the fridge to munch or graze. What about TV? Do you sit in front of the tube and put things in your mouth? AGAIN, we’re trying to fill up something inside of us that’s not getting filled.
When I’m stressed, I either walk back and forth to the fridge or I pick at my cuticles. How many of you eat when you’re stressed? LET ME SAY THIS….food can be comforting and nourishing, especially during times of loss. When we are actively grieving, it’s a good idea to be well fed. But later on—can we shut it off? Can we stop stuffing ourselves after the fact? (stuffing is never a good idea.)
Carbs can be a good thing, but are often full of fat, sugar and/or salt. Those foods trigger the “feel good” response in our brain that gives us feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Food addiction is a slippery slope, my darlings, so be careful and ask for help if you find yourself out of control. Recognize that childhood trauma and emotional or sexual abuse creates victims who cope the only way they know how—eating.
My confession regarding my poor relationship with food is now public. These are the coping skills I have developed to help me “fill” the void inside me:
Keep plenty of carrots and celery around for times when I can’t break the sofa/refrigerator cycle
Confess to a close friend or counselor about the number of trips I make to the refrigerator, or that I'm constantly thinking about FOOD. Pick up the phone and CALL someone, don’t text. Talking helps.
I do NOT deprive myself of foods I love, I simply share the food with others. When I bake a peach cobbler, I cut a couple of pieces for myself, and give the rest to neighbors.
On the way to the refrigerator, I THINK OUT LOUD about what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. Slows or stops me every time. It’s like holding myself accountable.
Keep a food diary—this is an incredible help, especially if you’re going to give it to a doctor!! You’d be amazed how much less food goes in your mouth when you have to keep track of it and then show it to someone.
Exercise. When I feel better about what I’m doing (staying healthy), I avoid the Fridge.
I do something creative with my hands—knitting, crocheting, painting, drawing, whatever. When I keep my hands busy (writing) I’m not walking over to the Fridge.
I’d like to conclude by saying food is a good thing. It nurtures our body and gives us strength. It also grounds us in times of upheaval. But when food is used to cover up our loneliness or our sadness, or when we yearn for a deeper connection with someone that is not there—that is not the time to put chips and salsa in front of us as we scroll for a movie. FOOD IS GOOD when used in reasonable amounts. If you’re not sure what reasonable amounts look like, ask a friend. Or do like I did, ask your counselor. There is nothing to be ashamed of, you and I simply need to devise (and use) a different coping skill.
And because I joked about it earlier, here is a favorite recipe:
Marilyn's Zucchini, Squash and Corn casserole
1 ½ lbs. yellow squash, cut into ¼ inch chunks
1 ½ lbs zucchini, cut into ¼ inch chunks
¼ cup butter, divided
2 diced onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups sweet corn kernals (I use Trader Joe’s frozen organic sweet corn)
1 ½ cups (6 oz.) freshly white Cheddar cheese
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
2 large eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 ½ breadcrumbs, divided
1 Cup Asiago cheese, divided
Step 1. Preheat oven to 350°. Bring first 2 ingredients and water to cover to a boil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and boil 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain; gently press between paper towels.
Step 2 . Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a skillet over medium-high heat; add onion, and sauté 10 minutes or until tender. Add garlic, and sauté 2 minutes.
Step 3. Stir together squash, onion mixture, corn, next 6 ingredients, and 1/2 cup each breadcrumbs and Asiago cheese just until blended. Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
Step 4. Melt remaining 2 Tbsp. butter. Stir in remaining 1 cup breadcrumbs and 1/2 cup Asiago cheese. Sprinkle over casserole.
Step 5. Bake at 350° for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown and set. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Enjoy! And love and light to all–
Gutsy Woman: Alice Neel
Meet Alice Neel (1900-1984) who was known as one of the 20th century’s most radical artists. She painted piercing portraits of family and friends, lovers and poets, strangers and artists. Her genre focused on social realism, depicting humanity forthrightly—not sparing the viewer. The death of her one-year-old daughter, Santillana, infused her paintings creating themes of motherhood, anxiety and loss. Alice recognized and painted “the human comedy,” calling herself a Communist Intellectual. A feminist icon, she did not receive much recognition until the 1960s. Throughout her career, Alice fought against racial oppression and social discrimination, as well as advocated for gay rights.
Born in Pennsylvania, Alice was the fourth child of five born to George Washington Neel (an accountant) and his wife, Alice Concross Hartley. She grew up in a lower middle-class family during a time when opportunities and expectations for women were extremely low. In fact, so ingrained was that type of thinking that Alice’s mother once said to her, “I don’t know what you expect to do in the world, you’re only a girl.” (Ugh!) And sadly, that kind of thinking lingered in our United States of America for many, many years. Fortunately for us, Alice had other ideas! From a very young age, she wanted to be an artist—which is amazing because she had so little exposure to art.
After high school graduation, Alice took a civil service exam in order to become employed—it was most important she help support her family. While working, she took art classes in Philadelphia at night. Three years later, Alice enrolled in the Philadelphia School of Design for women (today known as Moore College of Art and Design). It was there she embraced the Ashcan School of Realism (rejecting Impressionism)—an artistic movement that portrayed scenes of daily life most often found in city’s poorer neighborhoods.
Alice developed a free approach to color and form throughout her sixty-year career. She played with the lines of her subjects which magically brought forth the internal emotional lives onto canvas. Often she chose family members or close friends as models before branching out, turning to cabaret singers, artists, students, psychologists and even anonymous strangers. Alice painted them all alive and raw, exposing a broad and powerful spectrum of 20th century New York City.
By 1925, she had met and married Cuban painter Carlos Enriquez—considered by many one of the best and most original of the Cuban artists of the 20th Century. Living together in Havana, Alice was surrounded by Cuba’s avant-garde (young and progressive thinking artists, writers, and musicians). It was there she developed the groundwork of her life-long commitment to equality and political consciousness.
Her daughter, Santilla, was born in Havana in 1926. The following year, Alice returned to the U.S. with her family to live in New York City. Tragedy struck one month before Santilla’s first birthday when the child contracted diphtheria. Alice was devastated by the trauma setting in motion her painting theme of loss, anxiety and motherhood. Two years later, she gave birth to her second daughter, Isabetta.
Carlos left on a trip to Paris in. the spring of 1930, taking with him Isabetta—as they were to be looking for housing there. But Carlos didn’t go to Paris, he returned to Cuba. As weeks turned into months, Alice began mourning the loss of her husband and second daughter. Shattered emotionally, she attempted suicide. Hospitalized, she continued to paint and heal.
Alice began painting nudes. But she depicted nude women from a much different eye than had previously been portrayed by men. Instead of vulnerable and passive, Alice’s contrary brush revealed raw truth with her resonant colors and expressive lines, showing women to be strong and powerful. Her paintings of course attracted much negative criticism because she portrayed women’s role in a non-traditional manner.
In the 1960s, when she became a feminist icon, Alice’s paintings began to gain more recognition. By the mid 70s, she was a known celebrity and began receiving awards, even one from President Jimmy Carter. Her life and works are featured in the documentary Alice Neel, and her paintings are in museums around the world. Not bad for a woman who was told “don’t know what you expect to do in the world, you’re only a girl.”
Book review: The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition
By Julia Cameron
Friends, I’ve had this book in my library for nearly twenty years. It was first published in 1992, and now comes this Anniversary Edition. Whether or not you are an artist, this book is IMPORTANT and needs to be on your own bookshelf. It will help you grow creatively as well as spiritually. It nurtures you as you follow its path. One of my favorite quotes in the book is from Shakti Gawain, “We will discover the nature of our particular genius when we stop trying to conform to our own or other peoples’ models, learn to be ourselves, and allow our natural channel to open.” Isn’t that what we’ve been talking about here? Alice Neel broke out of what the culture back then expected of her, and she soared. Gutsy women do the same. They stop “performing” the way society dictates and become freer, stronger, and soar.
Here’s what the pro’s say about The Artist’s Way :
“Julia Cameron invented the way people renovate the creative soul.” –The New York Times “With its gentle affirmations, inspirational quotes, fill-in-the-blank lists and tasks — write yourself a thank-you letter, describe yourself at 80, for example — The Artist’s Way proposes an egalitarian view of creativity: Everyone’s got it.”—The New York Times “Morning Pages have become a household name, a shorthand for unlocking your creative potential”—Vogue Since its first publication, The Artist’s Way phenomena has inspired the genius of Elizabeth Gilbert and millions of readers to embark on a creative journey and find a deeper connection to process and purpose. Julia Cameron’s novel approach guides readers in uncovering problems areas and pressure points that may be restricting their creative flow and offers techniques to free up any areas where they might be stuck, opening up opportunities for self-growth and self-discovery. The program begins with Cameron’s most vital tools for creative recovery – The Morning Pages, a daily writing ritual of three pages of stream-of-conscious, and The Artist Date, a dedicated block of time to nurture your inner artist. From there, she shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help readers thoroughly explore each chapter. She also offers guidance on starting a “Creative Cluster” of fellow artists who will support you in your creative endeavors. A revolutionary program for personal renewal, The Artist’s Way will help get you back on track, rediscover your passions, and take the steps you need to change your life.
Purchase one as a gift to yourself. It’s a classic! You will never regret it, I promise.
Love and light -