On Monday over lunch at the new Bush Street Out the Door in San Francisco, my friend Faith Wheeler, a Bay Area restaurant publicist, let me in on one of her life secrets. We were discussing Thanksgiving plans and most people typically unload on how they dread family gatherings during the holidays. Not Faith. She grinned nice and big and giddily said:
Thanksgiving is always special for me. Very special. In my spare time, I study neuroscience. Studies show that our brains cannot handle anxiety and gratitude at the same time. It physiologically can’t do it. When I feel anxious, I think of things I’m grateful for and all the anxiety seems to just melt away. That’s why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Having gratitude for all the good things in life is important to living.
For the past several days, I’ve been practicing what Faith preached and you know what? It works. In preparation for Thanksgiving and the holiday season ahead, here’s my short list of things I’m grateful for: (this is not in any particular order)
2. Marrying a man who’s willing to support and champion my kitchen experiments and culinary explorations.
3. Being able to prepare 2009 Thanksgiving dinner for Rory (my husband’s) aunt who’s 89 and bed ridden and under hospice care. Last year I made a pumpkin soup with kaffir lime and coconut for Auntie Helen, thinking that it was the last Thanksgiving. She’s going strong so this year, it’s Vietnamese bo kho (beef stew with star anise, tomato and carrots, see Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, page 151).
4. Enjoying good health. I had my annual physical today and the doctor said that things were just normal, that I wasn’t at high risk for breast cancer so I really do not need a mammogram. (Women in your 40s: Do tell your doctor if you want one! With the new guidelines, mammograms are not standard procedure until you’re 50.)
5. Sharing my unbridled enthusiasm for cooking and culture with friends all over the globe via Viet World Kitchen, Asian Dumpling Tips, twitter, and Facebook. Who would have thought so many people love to geek out on seemingly obscure information just like me? Hurray!
6. Having a fulfilling professional career and life in food. Writing books, polishing articles, teaching classes and conversing about food are what I dreamed of since I was a kid.
7. Living where there’s potable water, electricity, economic stability, and the rule of law. Things are not perfect in the U.S. but having things you can rely on is pretty darn good.
8. Receiving unexpected gifts from friends, colleagues, and strangers. Palm sugar, fish sauce, hot sauce, chiles and cookbooks in addition to bits of culinary insight and life advice. Thanks, everyone.
I’ll stop at 8 as that’s a lucky number. You get the picture. What are you grateful for?