A Lovable Feast
Sitting at the big farmhouse table that doubles as a prep station in her Topanga Canyon kitchen, Mariel Hemingway laughs as she insists she’s the least interesting celebrity she knows. “It’s true,” she says smiling. “I’m really pretty boring.” As if to prove her point, she offers up a batch of her signature “Blisscuits”—made with almond and coconut fl ours—watches her very small Yorkie, Bindi, curl up on a very large dog bed, and settles in a comfy chair with a mug of freshly brewed jasmine tea. Yet, as she candidly recounts her past and her hardwon journey to her current tranquil state, you begin to sense that this statuesque woman isn’t quite as mundane as she claims.
After all, she’s an Oscar-nominated actress, a model, an author, and a mother of two grown daughters. And then there’s the whole Hemingway legacy—the pressures of fame and brilliance coupled with addiction, depression, and suicide—that she has spent most of her adult life diligently keeping at bay. But there was a time, in her 20s, when she considered herself ugly and fat, which led to starving, bingeing, and other disordered eating. “Instead of being addicted to drugs or alcohol, I chose food,” she says, facing a big picture window overlooking orange and tangerine trees and pots of rosemary and mint. “I chose exercise and ‘clean-eating,’ but it wasn’t balanced. Food ruled my life and I never ate for joy or pleasure.”
Hemingway is open about her battles with food, hoping it will help others in their own struggles. “I want to spread the idea that eating should be a ritual of self-care, not self-denial.” Her books—Mariel’s Kitchen: Simple Ingredients for a Delicious and Satisfying Life (Harper One, 2009) and Healthy Living From the Inside Out (Harper One, 2007)— public appearances, and her posts on Twitter reflect that desire.
Growing up in southern Idaho, eating was a ritual of self-indulgence for the Hemingways. Serving up big, elaborate meals was one of the few ways her troubled family expressed love and gave comfort. Her mother, Byra, was a homemaker and a Cordon Bleu-trained cook (Julia Child was her maid of honor) and her father, Jack (son of writer Ernest Hemingway), was a writer and conservationist who was also an avid fisherman and hunter. The family routinely dined on grilled trout in the summer, wild game like pheasant coq au vin in the spring and fall months, and in between, homemade pastas, sweetbreads, and Cuban dishes like Picadillo, a spicy ground beef.
The food was rich and elegant but the household tensions were palpable and made worse by her parents’ habit of downing “a bottle or two of Château Margaux.” Hemingway has described her parents’ marriage as “loveless”: her mother was cold and withholding and her father often escaped familial commitments by disappearing on his beloved fishing trips. As the youngest, born late in her parents’ marriage (they even called her a “mistake”), she was the peacemaker, the perfect child who giggled at everyone’s jokes, apologized for her existence, and, at the age of 11, began caring for her mother, who battled cancer until her death in 1988. (Her father died in 2000.)