Most of the names in this book were unfamiliar to me, but their food stories were still accessible. Laura Shapiro in What She Ate – Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories, does a thorough job narrating six different women with very different lives, connecting and contrasting those lives with one universal human experience: food. That shared focus makes these pithy biographies quite evocative. Food is enjoyed or tolerated in context, and that context is biographical insight.
First we meet Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of the poet William (I’ve heard of him). Her story is told mostly from her own writings, and yet looking at her meals adds depth. The contrast of her quiet contentment as she recounts making “a wee Rhubarb Tart… for William” and the later, plain statement, “Dined on blood puddings” belies her consistent claims that she spent all her days gratified. I did not recognize the names of Rosa Lewis, cook, and Barbara Pym, novelist. Brash, Cockney Rosa Lewis cooked for the king himself in pre-WWI England, when the most respected food was French and all the respected chefs were French men. Barbara Pym could not keep herself from observing and writing about the “mundane,” always featuring food. Both lived lives of periodic triumph and disappointment. Their stories touch on a broader picture of British food in particular: a bit odd, a bit under-appreciated, sometimes terrible, but still loved.
The chapter on Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress, is fascinating and disturbing: everybody eats, even Nazis. Especially bizarre is the juxtaposition of Braun’s life with that of Eleanor Roosevelt. Eva devoured sweets and champagne and gaily hosted Hitler’s associates, while Eleanor indifferently served shrimp and canned peas on toast at the White House formal table.
Eleanor Roosevelt is certainly the name in this book I was most familiar with. What I did not know was the notorious truth about food in the White House during FDR’s presidency: eat before you go. This has resulted in the oft-repeated maxim that Eleanor Roosevelt had no palette and couldn’t care less about what she put in her own mouth, let alone others’. But Shapiro suggests about Eleanor what she stated about Dorothy: our enjoyment of preparing and eating a meal is tied to our feelings about whom we prepare it for and share it with. For Eleanor, unfortunately, the White House and Franklin were not happy places or companions for eating. It is lovely to read that after FDR’s death, Eleanor continued to prosper on her own, eating and cooking enjoyable and enjoyed foods.
Last, we meet Helen Gurley Brown, a name perhaps I should have known: she made Cosmopolitan magazine what it is today. She had a well-documented, complicated relationship with food that echoes the other contradictions of her life. Again, focusing on that food presents her biography in a particularly memorable way.
This book is informative and thought-provoking. Food is just one part of a full life, but Shapiro makes it clear that it is one part that offers valuable perspective on the rest. We all eat, most cook, and women especially are encouraged to do both with a sizeable helping of mixed messages. Sprinkled through the featured lives is the idea that food is tied to a sense of belonging that becomes apparent when one writes a biography focusing on consumed meals. That angle easily highlights where the subject felt the happiest and most comfortable and where they did not. It is suggested in Shapiro’s pages that despite their various successes, some of these women were never quite comfortable. Others, perhaps, were too much so. But most were like most of us: living life’s ups and downs as well as possible, enjoying a meal or accepting sustenance as the opportunities presented themselves.
Top photo: Eleanor Roosevelt and tiered patriotic cake
Library of Congress
What She Ate – Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories
What could be a better way to ring in a new year than a sound investment plan? And if so, and with the abundance of advice choices available, what’s the best avenue to pursue to find the right person to help?
Enter Jeanie Knigin—celebrating her 40th year as a financial advisor, serving mostly women. A First Vice President, Financial Planning Specialist, and Senior Investment Management Specialist at Morgan Stanley, she boasts an impressive roster of clients, ranging from couples, divorced or widowed women, to Park Avenue grand dames. One thing is apparent upon meeting Jeanie: With 40 years of sometimes-turbulent markets under her belt, she has helped her clients survive countless market cycles, a track record few robo advisors can claim.
Joining the business when there were few women in it, Jeanie’s not afraid to counsel clients to stay in cash when it makes sense to do so, nor will she push them to invest if they are not comfortable doing it. (Full disclosure: when she and I met over drinks, and I shared my fear about losing assets during a vulnerable time, her response was, “Then you shouldn’t invest until you’re more comfortable.”) She’s about helping you define your goals and developing a path to achieving them. She doesn’t promise there won’t be bumps along the way—no reputable investment advisor would—but she’ll be there to hold your hand, take your call, and help you weather the storm should volatility rear its head.
If getting your financial life on track is among your New Year’s resolutions, you can contact Jeanie here.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
When my sister and I were children our mother gave us stock certificates as presents. Our father was career Navy so it was usually only 1 share of a particular company. One day when I was about 12-13 years old mother showed me how to read the stock tables and I realized I had accumulated $200+ which I thought was more money than existed in the world. I turned to her that day and announced this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I think the most appealing thing about this career choice is the ability to help people. I keep on my wall at work a quote from Bertha Von Suttner (first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize), “After the verb ‘to love,’ ‘to help is the most beautiful verb in the world.”
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
My undergraduate degree was in Economics and I then obtained an MBA in Finance and Investments. Along the way I have also obtained my CFP, CRPC (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor) and am currently working on my CDFA (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst).
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I don’t remember that either way.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
At one point I decided to go into management which was a mistake. I enjoy working with individual clients and helping them map out their financial futures.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I do not believe it has reached a tipping point.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I believe the biggest challenge we all face is internal which is why I keep quotes all over my walls both at work and at home. My favorite woman is Eleanor Roosevelt and I have a lot of quotes from her. My top three are:
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I try to be an active listener. This means focusing on what the other person is saying.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am proud of the help I have been to others.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Follow the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
First Ladies often wield power behind the throne. After Nancy Reagan’s death, stories abounded about the influence she had during her husband Ronald Reagan’s presidency. All the Way, Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award-winning drama about Lyndon Johnson’s fight to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, places another First Lady in the spotlight. Susan Rome, familiar to fans of The Wire as DA Ilene Nathan, will make her Arena Stage debut playing Lady Bird Johnson. The production, which will run from April 1 through May 18, will be directed by Kyle Donnelly.
We asked Susan, along with Shannon Dorsey and Adrienne Nelson, who will appear as Coretta Scott King and Lurleen Wallace, respectively, about playing historic figures during what was such a tumultuous time in America. Susan Rome’s answers are below. Answers by Shannon and Adrienne will appear soon.
You are likely not old enough to remember the Civil Rights battle in the 1960s. What research did you do that helped take you back to that historic time?
I was born during the Johnson presidency, a month before the election depicted in the play. I remember the day Johnson died…We had gone to DC for the day, to go to the Smithsonian. I was eight years old, sitting in the car with the radio on, when the news came on…
My parents were ardent Civil Rights and anti-war supporters, and I recall marching with them, being carried on my father’s shoulders. I don’t recall their opinion of LBJ, but do recall that they had a copy of the satirical play “MacBird!” on their bookshelf.
Susan, age five, at a Peace March in 1970
After being cast as Lady Bird last summer, I had some time in my schedule to go down to Austin to visit the LBJ Ranch – which has a wealth of information regarding the Civil Rights Act and LBJ’s relationship with Dr. King. I spent a day with archivists and researchers at the LBJ Museum and Library on the campus of UT. I love history and researching roles, and was fortunate to have great access to recordings, documents, photos and artifacts, as well as conversations with historians whose life’s work is all things LBJ. Also, I read Betty Boyd Caroli’s brand-new book, Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President. It is brilliantly researched and was an invaluable resource.
I watched videos, listened to countless recordings of Lady Bird’s voice (including the lovely audio description she did at the Johnson Memorial Grove near Boundary Channel), LBJ’s phone conversations, Lynda and Luci’s recollections of their mother, did a drive-by of the Johnson residence on 30th Place NW in DC…
I also read Katharine Graham’s Personal History and listened to audio recordings of her conversations with LBJ. Incredible woman.
What have you learned that surprised you the most?
Specifically regarding Lady Bird, much of what the public perception is centers around her “beautification” work. She didn’t like that term; thought it too cosmetic. She cared deeply about how our physical environment reflects our inner state of being, and wanted to transform the least picturesque areas of the country (inner cities and interstates) to reflect a pride of self and place.
What have you learned about your character that helped to inform your performance?
Lady Bird is often perceived and portrayed as being completely subservient to and bullied by her husband. I have learned that she was a pragmatist and almost completely without pretense. She was very self-aware and yet shy. She was a bright, well-educated business-woman, yet with a Southern gentility. She was a survivor; her mother died when she was five years old, and her father was quite absent. She understood Lyndon, and was able to support him in his aspirations and through his moments of crippling self-doubt. She knew exactly how to handle Lyndon, giving him her version of the “Johnson Treatment”! She was a First Lady much more in the mold of Eleanor Roosevelt (whom she admired greatly) than in the style of Mamie Eisenhower.
Susan in Lady Bird’s shower
Having stood in her bathroom (I was even invited to stand in her shower!), sat in her husband’s chair, and been surrounded by her clothes, I feel that I can access the superficial things that lend verisimilitude to my “Lady Bird.”
I want to get the details right. She was a great and good lady.
What comments or opinions did you hear from relatives and friends when you told them about this play and the woman you would play?
People have been delighted for me in terms of the professional opportunity (my first role at Arena Stage), and other than being referred to as the “Brown Wren of Texas” by one friend, I have heard not a disparaging word!
How does LBJ’s portrayal in this play compare to the one we saw in the film, Selma? Do you feel seeing the Civil Rights battle from different points of view helps or hinders how succeeding generations interpret history?
I did not see Selma, but I understand that his portrayal was not entirely accurate. One of the things I asked about when I was down in Austin was LBJ’s passion for Civil Rights. Was it out of political expediency (did he want to be “on the right side of history”) or sincere belief in racial equality? What I learned was that, as a young teacher in a Mexican school in Cotulla, Texas, he was profoundly impacted by the role that extreme poverty plays in denying opportunity to minorities in this country, and that he was viscerally in favor of Civil Rights.
Lady Bird’s closet
The role that J. Edgar Hoover had in all of the political machinations cannot be over-stated. He had so much dirt on everybody that LBJ had to manage him with kid gloves.
It is essential to view history with a clear sense of context. In this way we can understand various points of view, and can appreciate those who had the courage of their convictions.
We are in the midst of a presidential campaign. What characteristics attributed to LBJ might the current crop of candidates seek to emulate? What should they avoid?
LBJ was a consummate politician; he had a profound understanding and respect for the democratic process. He was a master manipulator.
I am not a psychologist, but if LBJ were in the political arena today, he may not have the career he had. His episodes of generosity and pragmatism contrasted with his bullying, offensive behavior and his crippling self-doubt might have landed him on a psychiatrist’s couch with a psychotropic cocktail on his bed-side table. He was a brilliant political operative with a folksy, authentic flare.
Susan in Austin, Texas
In terms of this current crop, on the Republican side, the art of discourse is officially dead. It seems that many of our current candidates view the American people as idiotic lemmings (no offense to lemmings). LBJ had a very early-mid 20th century view of women — retrogressive and objectifying, to say the least. The current group should avoid that. Definitely. Absolutely.
Why is it important that this play be staged in D.C. now?
This is precisely what is so exciting for me. To tell this story, now, in this place? Civil rights, equal protection under the law…It is staggering to believe, that on the heels of eight years under our first African-American Commander-in-Chief, an administration with barely a blemish, that we are, as a country, so mired in racial fear and hatred. It is shameful and causes me a lot of sadness. Here we are, 50 years after the events of this play, and it seems that we are even more polarized in some ways. That race is such a huge issue today is indicative of how far we still have to go in terms of mutual understanding and removal of fear of “otherness.” This story, in an election year, in Washington? Required viewing…
Witnessing the beginnings of the fight for Civil Rights, might audience goers be energized to continue that fight? Or disappointed that more has not been accomplished?
My son said to me two years ago, on MLK Day (he was eight), “Mom, don’t wait for change; BE the change.” We can never give up, we can never be silent. We must each do what we can. I hope that the audience leaves the theater energized and optimistic, and a little bit less comfortable about how things are.
What has the opportunity to be in this play meant to you? Will you come away changed in any way?
I am almost always deeply impacted by the work I do. Telling this story, now, with this brilliant creative team…I am honored to be a part of this play (which is more than that — it is a theatrical event, really!). I am sure that it will energize me to do all I can to get the VOTE out in November.
Adrienne Nelson talks about playing Lurleen Wallace and Muriel Humphrey.
Shannon Dorsey talks about playing Coretta Scott King.
To purchase tickets for All the Way, go to the website for Arena Stage.