What Matters: Julia Turshen on Moving Through the World With More Hopefulness Than Hopelessness

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Debbie Millman has started a new project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an ongoing effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer 10 identical questions, and submit a decidedly nonprofessional photograph.

Up next: author Julia Turshen. Her latest cookbook, Simply Julia, is a national bestseller that has received praise from the likes of Jennifer Garner, Carla Hall and Antoni Porowski.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Falling asleep on the couch on a weekend afternoon with one of our dogs leaning against me, with both my wife and our other dog in view. Nothing feels more peaceful or safe as that moment when I just give in to a nap and am surrounded by all of that love.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I grew up in a magazine house (both of my parents worked as graphic designers, art directors and editors). Subsequently, one of my favorite childhood games was “photoshoot.” I would arrange objects, often food, on a small table and take Polaroid photos. It’s no surprise to me that making the photos for my cookbooks continues to be one of the most creative parts of my work and one of the parts I feel a deep sense of connection to.

What is your biggest regret?

I regret how much of my life I spent embedded in diet culture and how much I gave to it, both personally and professionally. I wish I had invested that time, energy and work in something else.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

I’d like to tell you a sweet story.

I once briefly dated a woman, and for the entirety of our time together, I knew it just wasn’t meant to be, but I wasn’t willing to admit that. And before I could, she beat me to it and told me it wasn’t working. We had this uncomfortable conversation at Balthazar, a very popular restaurant in downtown Manhattan that I had gone to regularly for many years. Our awkward talk came after we had placed our order, but before our food arrived. The last thing I wanted to do was sit through a meal with her. Even though a part of me desired a deeply dramatic exit, I politely asked our waiter if he could pack our food to go (I hate wasting food!) and bring us our check so we could settle the bill.

As I was meandering through Manhattan with my bag of food and my bruised ego, I called one of my closest friends, Ivan, and shared what had happened. He asked me where I was. I told him. He said: “I’ll meet you back at Balthazar.”

He dropped what he was doing and met me at the restaurant’s front door, and we sat down and had a wonderful, long, happy evening, and so many French fries. And I sent him home with my doggie bag from earlier in the evening.

That tremendous gesture of friendship—of him pivoting on the spot, of him reminding me that I am worthy company to keep, of him wanting her not to dim my relationship to one of my favorite spaces, of him helping me not feel so sorry for myself—it’s a gesture and a night I will just never forget. Which is all to say, the only thing that has helped me ever get over any heartbreak is time, but having supportive, loving, wonderful friends has helped make that time move quickly.

What makes you cry?

What doesn’t? I often look at our dogs and remember that they won’t always be here and I just get so instantly teary. That’s probably the thing that does it most often, and yes, I bring that completely on myself.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Probably not as long as it could. I tend to move past accomplishment very quickly and am usually started on the next thing. Lately I’ve been trying to, at the advice of a former therapist, let things stick a little longer and be more, in her words, “like Velcro.” That image helps me hold onto things like accomplishments and compliments. I try and let them land and hold them for a little while. I’m working on it.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I do, mostly because of the connection I feel to people like my wife and to animals like our dogs, and this sense that this isn’t our first rodeo. I am not sure what the afterlife looks like, but I think it has a lot to do with compost. I really believe that things that appear dead actually hold so much life and can nourish whatever grows from them.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I don’t think this qualifies as hate (strong word!), but I really wish I spent less time scrolling through things on my phone. Oh, also! It bugs me so much when people don’t close cabinet doors and drawers and … I do that all of the time and can’t stand that I do that!

What do you love most about yourself?

I have a sort of relentless optimism about most things, and while this sometimes leaves me feeling a bit disappointed or even naïve about a lot of stuff, I’m happy that I go through the world with more hopefulness than hopelessness.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

I have literally written multiple cookbooks as an attempt to answer this question. But off the top of my head, I would say my favorite food is classic Jewish chicken soup with crystal-clear broth and lots of carrots and a couple of parsnips and fluffy matzo balls—and my favorite meal would be two bowls of it followed by ice cream.