Earlier this year, I had the honor of interviewing Maya Angelou about her new cookbook, Great Food, All Day Long. To say I look up to the woman is about as accurate as saying Minnesota is ‘sort of’ cold in December—a major understatement. As I considered what to post this Thanksgiving week, nothing seemed more appropriate than sharing her insight. Angelou approaches conversations with strangers, even so-nervous-they-could-pee-on-the-floor journalists ;), food, cooking and daily life with incredible poignance, dignity and grace. With food, family gatherings and feasting upon us, we can all stand to take a few tips.
Joy, Patience and Hot Dogs: Cooking with Maya Angelou
By August McLaughlin (Originally published by EHow Food)
Photo: Steve Exum/Getty Images
It should come as no surprise that one of the most influential voices of contemporary literature brings poise, intention and palpable joy to her kitchen. Dr. Maya Angelou, the 82-year-old renaissance woman known for her dramatic prose, activism and passion for the arts, history, education and civil rights, has had a lifelong love affair with all things culinary.
“I’m a serious cook,” she said. “I love to plan the food. I enjoy the cooking of it. And I will plan the whole meal while I’m in my bathtub.”
Angelou’s food fervor met challenges when a medical exam revealed serious risks for hypertension and diabetes. She had to lose weight. Her first attempt at healthy eating involved replacing decadent ingredients with low-calorie alternatives.
“But I was starving!” she said. “So I decided to cook the way I always cook, just not eat as much. I gave myself my word that I would not have seconds. It’s the most wonderful thing, you know, when you give yourself your word in private — secretly. You feel like a ninny if you go back on it because you’ve been there all the while.”
She prepared and ate every recipe in her latest cookbook, “Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart,” and relished every bite. Meanwhile, her weight-related health concerns diminished.
Simply paging through her cookbook is enough to push your salivary glands into overdrive. Recipes such as chicken tetrazzini, barbecued spare ribs, pumpkin soup and “all day and all night” cornbread are interwoven with heart-warming stories and personal insight. In her typical way, Angelou draws you into not only her kitchen, but her life.
Rather than abide by diet rules, Angelou recommends listening to and fulfilling your cravings. If your taste buds are screaming for fried chicken and you sit down to a T-bone steak, you’re liable to eat the entire steak — and perhaps seconds.
“It’s because your taste buds haven’t been satisfied,” she said. “If you can get what you really want, cook it the way you want it cooked, five or six spoonfuls or forkfuls can hold you. Then you can say, ‘I’ll come back to this in two or three hours. But right now, that’s exactly what I want.'”
In her book, Angelou observes that people often keep eating long after they’re full. “I think they are searching in their plates not for a myth, but for a taste, which seems to elude them,” she writes.
For this reason, her recipes aren’t divided into meal-specific categories, but instead organized by themes like “A Brand-New Look at Old Leftovers” and “Waking up the Taste Buds.” The result? A cookbook geared toward fulfilling moment-to-moment cravings, rather than following the established mealtime norms. Have fried rice for breakfast, if you want, or her omelet with spinach for dinner. All bets are off.
One of Angelou’s most beloved culinary experiences involves a youth favorite: the “simple everyday” hot dog. However, she’s developed a version for a grown up palate. Angelou tops a grilled, Hebrew International hot dog with her homemade chili. “Then I get a cold, frozen beer stein out of the freezer and open a wonderful freezing bottle of Corona beer. It doesn’t get much better than that,” she said.
Patience, Angelou believes, is a significant ingredient lacking in Americans’ diets. “Our children, for the most part, have their major meals at counters and various places where they eat standing,” she said. “I encourage people to sit down. Have some patience with themselves.”
To this end, she suggests planning meals beforehand to avoid stressful rushing around while cooking. Sit down to enjoy meals in a peaceful, pleasing atmosphere. And don’t reserve your best dishes, silverware or food for guests.
“I serve myself with the best I have,” she said. “I make a pretty table. There are some white roses on my table right now. I’m looking at them. And I’m having a nice glass of pre-lunch, good white wine… Pretty soon my assistant and I will have a great, sort of a chef salad, served with English biscuits.”
Because that’s precisely what she craved.
To view the original article, visit: Joy, Patience and Hot Dogs: Cooking with Maya Angelou. (You’ll also get her recipe for Chili Guy, a scrumptious dish named after her son.)
Simple Ways to Eat More Mindfully
Most of us eat way too fast, while paying little attention to what we’re eating, how much or why. (“Where did my fries go?!” You know you’ve been there… ;)) Eating mindfully, with awareness of our bodies, emotions and food, promotes physical and emotional wellness. It also facilitates gratitude. Rather than focus on calories, TV, guilt or holiday stress this season, I invite you to slow it down, pay attention and say, with sincerity, “Thanks!”
- Set your fork down between bites.
- Eat sitting down at a table, no in front of your TV or worse, standing in front of your fridge.
- Before eating, take a moment to observe the smells, colors and overall presentation of the food.
- Cook! Preparing dishes automatically promotes mindfulness; you’re involved in the process and understand the effort required.
- Cut back on mealtime distractions, such as your cell phone, laptop, TV, radio, newspaper, etc.
- Create a pleasurable dining atmosphere. (As Dr. Angelou says, don’t reserve your best dinnerware for guests-only!)
- Shop at your local farmers market.
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen, Meals on Wheels or local shelter.
- Rather than view food in terms of calories or fat grams, consider what foods and nutrients do for your body…and the pleasure food brings.
- Eat with chopsticks. Unless you’re a pro, this slows you down. (Your relatives might shoot you funny looks as you pick turkey and stuffing up with chopsticks…Then again, doesn’t that make it more fun?? ;))
- Say a prayer of gratitude, religious or not, before meals.
So what do you say? Will you invite mindfulness to your next feast? How has Maya Angelou influenced you in your life? Your writing?