Maryland was a great learning adventure for me. My godmother, Marianne, who was the midwife who caught me when I was born, and my mother's long time friend, became a doctor later in life after being persecuted and exonerated for practicing midwifery in California. Her clinic was based out of her home and I became her office manager. I knew virtually nothing about doctors. My family grew up without conventional medicine-no routine doctor visits, no immunizations, and only rarely did we take any kind of antibiotics. Marianne is not a typical doctor as she uses a holistic approach to medicine-focusing on diet and herbal supplements rather than pharmaceutical drugs. She also spends almost 2 hours with new patients getting to know them and their eating habits, something that no other doctor I have ever encountered has done. Her clinic is located in her home out in the country on 18 acres of land. It is a beautiful spot on top of a hill with many flower beds, herb gardens, berry bushes and raised bed vegetable gardens. Friendly dogs greet you at your car and by the time the patient walks up the pink gravel path lined with trees, they usually felt relaxed and peaceful.
My job at the office was to file paperwork, answer phones, schedule appointments, hold babies and entertain children while their mother's saw the doctor. It was during this time that I became familiar with Dr. Weston A. Price and the ideas in Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions book. This book transformed my understanding of health and nutrition and my godmother implemented many of the fundamentals outlined in the Nourishing Traditions book into our eating habits. She ordered raw milk, cream and yogurt from a farm in Pennsylvania, as well as ordered pasture raised poultry, pork and beef. She began making her own fermented drinks and sauerkraut in addition to herbal teas and medicinal tinctures. We had a great time playing in the kitchen and the gardens. We hosted delicious dinner parties, and cooked amazing food.
I learned a ton about cooking and food while living with Marianne. She was born in Amsterdam to displaced German Jews who had just endured the complete rupturing of their families and lives. Her dad had been in hiding in the Dutch countryside for several years and, like the rest of Europe during that time, food shortages were acute. His sense of taste was dramatically depleted by a diet of potatoes. There was a painting on the wall of their house called Lou's potatoes, since he wouldn't eat them, they were the only potatoes to grace the kitchen. Her mother survived the camps after working in the resistance in Holland, being fluent in several languages and full of fire despite her diminutive stature. Her parents met in Amsterdam after the liberation and Marianne's birth was a rebirth of their lives. Her father who was a psychologist in Germany before the war, eventually found a job with the Meninger Clinic in Topeka, KS, a place that didn't even have real bread, according to her German-born mother.
Her European background meant that salad dressings were whipped up from scratch, something I had never learned, and bread came from the European bakery. Meals started with a plethora of fresh vegetables and herbs with citrus as a seasoning. Cheeses that I was convinced were beyond consumption were spread over black rye toast, accompanied by a soft boiled egg presented in an exquisite egg cup with a tiny spoon and espresso served in a demi tasse rimmed in gold on a matching saucer. Olives, pickles and cabbage were a constant presence in the house as well as good dark chocolate.
Marianne's first husband, Navnit, was from India and he kept a strict vegetarian diet. They had owned a Mediterranean restaurant in California in the 70's. Along with bits and pieces of Western European culinary traditions I was also exposed to a wide range of Indian spices, cooking techniques and recipes in addition to working with phyllo, the amazing tastes of sheep's milk feta and the power of parsley as a seasoning. One Thanksgiving I remember that we had a hodge podge of guests for dinner from many cultures and rather than make the traditional dishes we had samosas with mint cilantro chutney, stewed spice stuffed eggplants in tomatoes and onions and bean tostadas with a rainbow of toppings beautifully arranged on a plate.