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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On Pleasure in Complicated Times

One of the best parts of my day is in the early morning, walking my dog Scarlett, deep in the woods near my house. On the way back, we cross through a soccer field of trim-cut grass and inevitably, Scarlett must lick the dew off the grass and then lie down so that her belly is stretched across the wet expanse. Sometimes she does the traditional dog roll, but most days she’s just happy to feel the dampness on her underside. She is, I believe, a hedonist and I admire her for it. The life lesson for me is about pleasure. How can we focus on indulgence, though, when there is so much at stake in our worlds, from wars and environmental crises to economic uncertainties and everyday stress? When I think about how to balance these things, I think about the French Chef. I know a little about Julia Child from doing archival research, from meeting her at her alma mater Smith College, and from a dear friend, who regales us with an endless supply of stories from when she was one of Julia’s assistants. Julia was often unorthodox in her politics, supporting genetically modified foods and dismissing organic farming. At the same time, had she lived longer, she would probably have embraced the defense of local foods and the notion of sustainability. Laura Shapiro, who has written an award-winning biography of Julia, captured her spirit perfectly when she talked about “a fan who wrote to her to say that Bernard Berenson said there were two kinds of people, life-diminishing and life-enhancing, and that she was the most life-enhancing person in America.” Julia took pleasure in everything from a well made meal to a good conversation about Middle East politics. To me, the trick is in recognizing those moments when they come along and when you can make them happen. So, in the spirit of embracing life-enhancing experiences, I offer a short list of pleasurable things, all green in one way or another. Consider them as holiday gift ideas or ways to reward your inner hedonist while improving the planet.
  •   A good read is always good for the soul: Of course, there’s Laura Shapiro’s marvelous biography,  Julia Child.   If you prefer fiction, try Marina Lewycka’s Strawberry Fields, about the wild adventures of migrant strawberry pickers in the global glot of contemporary England. 
  • To me, chocolate is still one of the best luxuries around. It’s got health benefits (stick to the dark chocolate), it tastes great, and more and more companies are selling sustainably sourced versions.  I like to work from the source: My newest favorites use cacao from Bittersweet Origins.  The Vosges versions are available in most chocolate shops. Among their supreme indulgences– not for everyone, but if you’re up for adventure, is Mo’s Bacon Bar – oh my! I think Julia might have approved. 
  • And if chocolate is your life-enhancing food of choice consider a Chocolate Tour of Paris with chef and writer David Lebovitz and partner Mort Rosenblum in May 2009. 
  • Being a mostly practical girl, I’m not usually one to rave about clothes: except the shirts from Prana, a terrific outdoor and yoga clothing store, which make you feel swathed in soft, buttery goodness. 
  • And finally, back to Scarlett: living with animals is all about the pleasure they bring to our lives.   This holiday season she got an early gift of a natural dog toy from EcoPet Life. I thought she'd rather have a squirrel-shape, but apparently the salamander works as a perfect substitute.  Bon Appetit!


Blogger contrarytothought said...

Thank you for this article. I think I'll purchase the Julia Childs novel for my mother this Christmas! I believe she'd enjoy it.

11/14/2008 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger christi said...

Thank you for the wonderful suggestions! Is it really chocolate - - AND BACON?

11/14/2008 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Alice said...

Yes. And it's surprisingly good.

11/14/2008 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger Alice said...

Funny: I bought it for my mother too!

I think, of the books about Julia, this one is the most interesting and the most thoroughly researched. She's a good writer. The issue of the journal, Gastronomica, which has my piece on Julia at Smith, is also lovely, but for good reading, Shapiro is the one to buy.

11/14/2008 04:02:00 PM  

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