April is Stress Awareness Month, and I’m kicking it off with a book recommendation that delivers a soothing antidote to stress – a nurturing, self-aware approach to self-care.
In a nod to the shorthand I learned in Good Enough…
TL;DR: Leanne Brown is a compassionate, funny, insightful, wonderful human. Her recipes are the bomb. This book literally changed some of my views about my life and work. Buy it now.
For those more inclined to the long form, read on.
Self-care has become so:
compartmentalized (Self-Care Sunday!)
commercialized (According to the Global Wellness Institute, the wellness economy is projected to reach nearly $7 trillion by 2025.)
and commodified (MLMs for ev.er.y.thing.)
that we’ve become desensitized, mindless consumers of the latest trends peddled by Instafluencers and celebpreneurs. Zombies with bath bombs and Yoni eggs. Somewhere along the way, we’ve come to believe that if we can’t post a magazine-worthy photo and hashtag it, we’re doing it wrong. Look at me, in full makeup and this $500 yoga outfit doing a precariously positioned tree pose by a Valencia-filtered waterfall! #SelfCareSunday
But then. Someone comes along who cuts through the noise with a message so simple and inspired and honest that we’re reminded what self-care is actually meant to be: the feeling of being present and fully engaged in the nourishment of your soul. Enter Leanne Brown and her charming treasure of a book Good Enough: Embracing the Joys of Imperfection and Practicing Self-Care in the Kitchen. Leanne’s writing combines the empathetic understanding of Oprah with the cheeky quirkiness of Julia Child. This is the book Brené Brown would write had she a background in food studies. In just under 300 pages, Good Enough is at once a portable life coach, a new best friend, and a cookbook of comforting dishes. In the introduction, Leanne sets her intention for the book, “…to be a gentle hug and whisper in your ear that you are stronger than you know, and you deserve love and care, wherever you are, whoever you are, and no matter what anyone else may have told you.”
And yet. The phrase good enough can feel loaded for many of us. Maybe it paints a disheartening picture of settling and mediocrity. Or perhaps, in question form, it weighs our own significance or worthiness. In Leanne’s casually conversational tone and self-deprecating style, it’s a gentle nudge toward letting go of expectations and embracing joy in the journey – in cooking and in life. Maybe instead of feeling disappointed that my cinnamon rolls don’t look like the cookbook photo, I can be proud because I made them with intention and love, and that means they are good enough to share. What if, at the end of difficult day when I know I’ll be dining solo, rather than the refrain of, “It’s only me, so I’ll just microwave some popcorn,” I choose to believe I’m good enough all by myself to make the effort for, put on my favorite playlist, pour a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and melt away the tension while meditatively stirring a simmering pot of risotto? Thanks to this book and its story about Harry’s grilled cheese, the phrase good enough is now loaded with new meaning.
For much of my life, though, it was a different story. Since I’m a Virgo and working on perfectionist tendencies remains a growth area, good enough was typically preceded by the word NOT. All caps. Full stop. Especially in the context of my coaching work, having convinced myself that I had to have it all together and look like I lived in a Nancy Meyers movie to be worthy. Given the realities of pandemic life amidst the past four years of caregiving for an elderly parent with dementia, I've rarely felt worthy of late, and these limiting beliefs bridled my confidence in sharing more personal stories and visual content and making bolder choices. Then came 2021.
Twenty twenty-one was savage. Brutal and unyielding from witnessing our beloved cat-son Huck tear his ACL in February right through Covid for Christmas, it was a painful year – literally and figuratively. My stress level and everything around me were spiraling wildly out of my control, impacting my physical health and my mental and emotional wellbeing. I’m a trained integrative life and wellness coach, and I was failing myself and flying toward a breaking point. Last year was the last straw.
I made a vow on New Year’s Eve that this year would be different. That I wouldn’t lose myself or my mind in external turmoil. That I would be gentler with myself, more forgiving of my imperfect life, and prioritize my own self-care over anything else. What? I know. Who’s this woman who dares to take care of herself first? Me. My maternal grandmother took her own life at the age of 41. In a recently discovered stack of her letters, I read of her unhappiness, people-pleasing, and secret-keeping to maintain a façade of outward peace. The internal incongruity and instability became, it would seem, untenable. I felt her helplessness and confinement palpably. The familiarity of futility. Untenable starts to look like insurmountable starts to feel like inescapable. External circumstances can become all-encompassing. When one feels unfulfilled, unseen, unheard, and unimportant long enough, the outcome can be as tragic as my grandmother’s. But, when you can look within and say, “I’m good enough. I matter.” and seek support and experience joy, and prioritize yourself and your needs, the result can be magical. Good Enough comes with its own love potion recipe after all – a recipe for Self-Love Potion.
My first read of 2022, Good Enough was the hug Leanne intended and so much more. There is a broadly resonant prescience and power at work here. A cookbook, its cover informs. Yes. And. Cooking is an intentional act. It requires presence and focus. It can be meditative and grounding. Leanne expounds on the authentic experience of gratitude vs. the performative act of being grateful. She shares an approach to overcoming overwhelm. With relatable humor, she confides how efforts to entertain and connect with others can trigger social anxiety and riffs on the cycle of guilt and shame with a story about leftovers. There’s also a moment in Good Enough where Leanne writes about cooking for self-worth, and I was reminded how much joy and appreciation I feel when preparing food and creating and sharing food rituals with loved ones. I was taken back to 2020, when, homebound and focusing on getting through an unprecedented pause in my husband’s music career and enjoying the company of others, we cooked together every night. We had virtual dinner parties, baked bread and desserts for the first time, and nourished ourselves in every way through food. Self-care in the kitchen, indeed. I had also been feeling the call to incorporate my passion for all things food more into my coaching work, content, and personal life, and this book provided another gentle nudge in that direction. More coming soon. Big takeaway: self-care also builds courage.
What’s more, Good Enough is also great fun. I knew Leanne would be my new kitchen BFF when I read her recipe I Spell Love Q-U-E-S-O. Same, Leanne. Same. There’s British Beer Cheese and Oops! I Made Them Again Chocolate Chip Cookies (I did say she’s a cheeky one) and Sunday Morning Pancakes with Coffee Syrup and Brunch Gnocchi. I'm also thrilled to have a few new tricks up my oven mitt to dress up a humble cheese or egg sandwich. So. Much. Better. Than. Microwave. Popcorn. She also broadens the concept of Happy Hour and offers ideas to make it our own and writes about how having a baby is like the movie Speed. I don’t know that any other cookbook has made me both tear up and laugh out loud, but here we are.
My mad love for Good Enough found me reaching out to her book publicist to request some hi-res images and to ask if Leanne would be willing to do an interview for my blog. A longshot, but emboldened by a renewed “I'm good enough” mindset, imagine my delight when she accepted! Our scheduled 30-minute interview stretched to an hour-long conversation as we discussed everything from the symbolism of the pink carrots that are visually present throughout the book (and recently tattooed on her arm!), to her perspective, as someone born and raised in Canada who earned a Master’s in Food Studies from NYU, on differences in the U.S. food system and food culture. As delightful in person as she is on the page, here are a few highlights from our chat.
Leanne has long nurtured a love of showing people how to cook, even more so than the act of making any particular dish. She shared, “What has always sparked joy for me was to have a friend over and have them enjoy a meal and then say, ‘It’s so not that hard to make! Let me show you – it’s just these three things.’ There’s something about that that was so life-affirming for me. There’s something about connecting and empowering others…”
That commitment to empowering others fueled Leanne’s last cookbook as well, the IACP award-winning Good and Cheap. A key difference Leanne noted between the U.S. and Canada is the absence, for myriad reasons, of something like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in Canada. Good and Cheap provides nutritious and delicious recipes and itemizes associated food costs for individuals whose food budget is dictated by the $4/day average SNAP or “food stamps” allotment. The gorgeous full-color, free PDF of the cookbook has been downloaded more than 15,000,000 times. Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they don an apron.
I also learned that among Leanne’s future plans is a mindful cooking class series that leverages concepts from meditation and yoga to transform the oft-rushed process of meal preparation into an act of meditative creation. Sign. Me. Up. Readers can connect with Leanne on Instagram for all her latest news, scrumptious recipe tutorials, the pink carrot story, and more inspiring content.