Musings + Essays

Openness to Joy.

By: Jen Shoop

I listened the other day to a podcast in which Gwyneth Paltrow interviews Stanley Tucci. It was an odd listening choice, to be sure, because I have conflicting feelings about both of those celebrities, and I know many of you do, too. But it was riveting to listen to two people who absolutely love food, and have built elements of their successful careers around its appreciation, wax poetic on the subject. At one point, Paltrow asks: “Could you ever be in love with someone who doesn’t love food?” Tucci says, “I could not.”

Are there interests, or orientations, or tenets of life, that are non-negotiables for you in a partner, too?

Love of food is an interesting one, because I think it’s not just about the food itself but perhaps about a relationship to pleasure. I say this as the wife of a man who is beyond passionate about food. Mr. Magpie prioritizes the experience of dining, and will go to lengths to properly plate and garnish each and every dish, cocktail, snack, morsel he prepares. Even his mise en place is meticulous — carefully measured and appealing to look at. He crosshatches his chicken breasts on the grill with precision; he orients his potatoes in the same direction on a pan; even ribeyes going into the fridge for a dry-brine are artfully arranged on the plate just so. “You eat with your eyes,” he’s told me in the past. And “eating,” for him, extends beyond the plate: he is sensitive to ambiance, too, when we are dining. We always laugh about an episode of “The Office” where Ed Helms says, “Last night I ordered a pizza by myself, and I ate it over the sink like a rat.” We sometimes throw this at one another on the rare occasion we are shoveling a snack down while standing in front of the fridge because we are on our way out the door, or too hungry to wait, or what have you. The subtext, though, is spot-on: food in our home is not just fuel, to be consumed mindlessly whenever encountered, but something to savor with care and thought and attention.

I think, too, there is a narrative of respect that overlays Mr. Magpie’s relationship with food: he ministers to his ingredients and his ingredients minister to him. He goes to great lengths to track down “the best” of everything — the best spices, the best olive oils, the best kitchen implements, the best seeds from which to grow his Nantes carrots — and, under his care, they shine. He is loathe to discard a good scrap of food for this reason, and will nearly shave off his fingers on the mandolin to avoid wasting the heel of a clove of garlic or the top of a white hailstone radish from his garden or — God forbid — the edge of a white truffle, shipped overnight from Urbani. (Hence the strawberry huller Santa left in my stocking this year.)

Once prepared, though, he lets the food call the shots. He defers. And so I absolutely love watching Mr. Magpie eat something he loves. His entire energy changes. He has said in the past that eating something delicious “feels good all over”: it is a whole-body thing, with every sense engaged. I had probably noticed this unreflectingly for years but I can remember the exact moment I realized how true this was for him: at Prune, in New York City, on my 34th birthday. He took a bite of something and then actually leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and sighed. It was as though every muscle in his body relaxed. Every stress and striation of the previous few (incredibly intense) months dissipated. The dining experience — the food, the bustling and joyous ambiance, the incredible wine pairing — transported him. And he invited that euphoria. He let it wash right over him.

Watching that moment was transformative for me, too. It left me more open to and curious about the experience of dining. I have always loved food, but I found myself attending more carefully to each bite, and to describing the textures and tastes in more detail. Because for me, a good measure of the pleasure of living is putting it into words. It is as though I need to slip the amorphousness of an experience into a well-fitting suit. And so it has been, more or less since that evening at Prune, an adventure into the wideness of taste and its intersections with language. Toothsome, jammy, piquant, unctuous, tangy, bright, silky, succulent, delicate, wafer-like, mineral, acidic: our nightly lexicon.

I think — moreso than Mr. Magpie — that I tie that pleasure of eating to the ritual of sharing it with people I love. Food for me is more about a shared experience. If I am on my own, I will throw together a salad or fry an egg or butter some farfalle. I still plate it nicely and sit down at the table and try to be conscious about what I’m doing, but it’s not as “all out” as if I were in the company of my man or my friends. If Mr. Magpie is on his own, he will still eat as though preparing food for an audience: porterhouse steak cooked sous vide and then seared to perfection in a butter bath in a skillet, cacio e pepe with the pasta rolled by hand, six briny oysters shucked at home and served with peppery, shallot-flecked mignonette. Regardless, though, I think that our slightly different appreciations of food work together because they share the same foundational orientation around pleasure. We look at dining as enjoyment. Not sustenance, and not hedonism either — as a path to earnest joy.

Thinking through all of this makes me wonder whether I could have fallen in love with someone who did not love food. I’m not sure. I have been with Mr. Magpie for so long (since 19!), and he was my first and only love, and so it is beyond the pale to imagine it otherwise. But I suspect it is more about openness to tiny peals of joy than it is about food itself. I love, for example, that Mr. Magpie “gets” why I like a bright bouquet of pens at my desk, and why I can sometimes fixate on a new word I’ve discovered that I find delightfully accurate (“chelonian”! “carillon!” “febrile!”), and that I can occasionally lose my mind over a pair of shoes. I have been in company where such declarations have elicited raised eyebrows that make me feel as though I need to get a life. (Which, possibly, I do.) But Mr. Magpie never scoffs at these diminutive pleasures. He scaffolds them, encourages them, even if he does not understand the precise sentiment. So perhaps I would say openness to les petits plaisirs would be non-negotiable. (Would everyone say the same, I wonder?)

What say you?


+More on happiness and joy.

+Things that I love that I shouldn’t. I have some new additions to this since I first wrote it almost four years ago — may need to run a revision soon.

+On highbrow/lowbrow literature.

+A woman contains multitudes

+Are you an adventurous eater?

+What would be your last meal?

+On a totally different track: are there places you feel closer to God?

+Another memory from Aspen, CO.

Shopping Break.

+This $39 Target cardigan is SO good. Major Doen vibes. I’m conflicted on which color to order!

+My tiered corduroy shirtdress I’ve been wearing all season long is now on sale for under $100 ($75 in select colors). I love (!) this thing. Super flattering (corduroy is not as bulky as you’d think!) and can be layered over a turtleneck or worn on its own. Surprisingly warm! I own in the figgy pudding color.

+I also noticed that my favorite straight-leg cords from this season (under $80) are re-stocked in great camel and forest green colors. I own in the burgundy color, but those appear to be nearly sold out. I’m tempted to buy the green!

+Our beloved carseats are $100 off in gray here! I’ve literally never seen these on sale before.

+Target has some seriously great stuff at the moment — I mentioned I ordered one of these monogrammed hand towels for our powder room in the powder blue (arrived so quickly, already here!) and am going to layer over these flat weave aqua towels.

+I just ordered these gorgeous and well-priced scalloped linen napkins in the red with pink trim. So cheerful! I love all the unusual color combinations they have!

+I’ve been writing all my holiday thank you notes on this gorgeous (reasonably priced) stationery.

+Oh my goodness! The classic striped and Liberty print pajamas are so cute and can be monogrammed! Select colors/patterns are on sale for 50% off!

+This $16 smocked dress for a little!!! I have a few of the tops from this brand and they are lovely!

+This toddler two-piece swimsuit reminds me of the styles/prints from Minnow Swim, but under $30!

+This fitness skort is so chic! I am contemplating taking tennis lessons this summer and this is right up my alley.

+Maisonette just marked a ton of its Busy Bees pieces down to 50% off — we love these Ginny dresses (mini has owned several colors/patterns over the years) and I always use sales like these to stock up on their Henry tees for micro. They are spend-y, but they launder SO well and last forever. Micro wore his size 2T ones for two years since they are cut generously but somehow not too boxy. The shoulder buttons add a little interest, and serve a functional purpose (easier to pull on), too.

+So into striped knits like these. The shape is Khaite!

+Can’t stop thinking about this fabulous jumpsuit. The color, silhouette, and neckline are beyond fabulous. $110!

+Pretty and sexy everyday top.

+These mint green Aligns are looking FRESH for the new year.

+Related to athletic-wear: I am not much of an athletic wear / athleisure person during the day but the last week has been topsy turvy between snow (and related cancellations), school starting, etc. I have had to be flexible with my exercise regimen and that has sometimes meant I don’t work out until the afternoon, which is bizarre. Historically, if I don’t run first thing, I won’t run at all. The day just gets away from me. I ended up NOT setting resolutions this year (you may recall I was on the fence) but one intention I have is to (borrowing from a Magpie reader): “intentionally move my body.” What this has meant so far this year is that I try to stick to a running-every-other-day regimen but if it can’t happen because of appointments, snow delays, snow in general (icy conditions), school drop off, etc., so be it. My Dad just gave us a fitness bike (!) and I now have the option to retreat to our basement and take in a 20 or 30 minute cycle, so this has been such a boon for me on the days I can’t squeeze in a run first thing. Anyway, all of this is a meandering preamble to the fact that because I have not been running in my usual structured 9-10 a.m. slot (though I hope to return to that schedule as much as possible), I have been wearing a lot of fitness gear this past week. I can’t tell you how often I reach for this exact Patagonia pullover in the oatmeal/cream color. I bought this probably 12 or 13 years ago (?) at the Patagonia in Georgetown and it’s still hanging tough and still my most-worn fleece. I kind of want a zip-up variation, and have been eyeing this, this, this (the checked trim!), and this.

+On a related note: this reversible faux fur / faux sherpa coat is so stylish. Love the collar.

+Such chic woven rattan frames — two for $70!

+This smocked plaid dress feels fresh for the new year.

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18 thoughts on “Openness to Joy.

  1. I am a self described book worm. I didn’t think anyone loved words as much as me until reading your blog. When I was a child, if someone used a new word, I would stop them, ask the words meaning, and make them use it in a sentence. I’m sure not everyone found it charming. I wanted to use all my new words which led to confusion among my playmates. I started translating my sentences in my head based on my audience. I do lament at the loss of words and language. I went to a writing seminar with Madeleine L’Engle in 1998. She told me that without the right word, you can’t have the thought. How we are limiting ourselves. I love reading your blogs for your beautiful words and prose. It’s a spot of loveliness in a weary world. I pray God’s richest blessings on your family.

    1. Wow – thank you so much for the lovely note and well wishes. I’m so glad to have this community of fellow language-lovers. What you (L’Engle) said rings so true for me: finding the right words helps me fully wrap my head around an experience. It’s almost as if the real world has a second life in language, and — for me at least — that second life can be even more profound for me to live with. I’m going to think on this a bit more because I feel as though I’m discovering something about myself in writing that. Thank you for the prompt!


  2. One of my non-negotiables when dating was being with someone who enjoyed traveling and would be willing to live away from his own home state. There is nothing wrong, of course, with living in the same place one’s whole life, but I didn’t want to be with someone who was flat out unwilling to imagine a life outside the familiar. More than just love of travel for its own sake, to me a love of travel represents an openness to the world and to new perspectives. My non-negotiable was certainly met – I’m from the East Coast, my husband is from the South, and we met in London!

    Another thing I love about my husband is his smile. He has a very genuine, open expression and smiles and laughs easily. It’s so attractive to me! I was recently reflecting that my friend’s husband always looks very stoic and serious, though he’s not unkind by any means. It made me remember again how much my husband’s demeanor and smile caught my attention when we started dating 🙂

    1. I love this! Yes! I feel like you and I share a similar outlook — it’s not so much love of food or (in your case) travel, per se, but some of the underlying values they suggest/draw out. Thanks for sharing this.

      Oh man, Jaime — I was JUST talking with Mr. Magpie about how underrated “an easy laugh” is. Like, it’s the best! I love people that laugh easily, often. It’s so encouraging, inviting, infectious (sorry if that word is currently triggering). Sounds like your husband is a great guy!


  3. Not quite where you were going with this post, but your description of the delight you & Mr. Magpie take in preparing, enjoying, and consuming food reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother recently (more on that in a second…).

    I’ve had lots of conversations, both heavy and casual, with girlfriends over the past few years on growing up in the peak diet culture atmosphere of the 90s/early 2000s. Often, my friends have mentioned their mothers, siblings, or families as a main highlight of some … not so great foundational associations around food, eating, and their bodies. Some of their mothers even continue this behavior to the day, with incredibly unhealthy habits themselves, comments on their daughters’ bodies, chastisement for eating certain things in front of them, etc. It’s caused me to reflect on my own childhood and my mother’s influence on my body and view of myself.

    To that end, I’m in the unusual (at least, in my friend circles) position of remembering my delicate middle school & teen years with a complete absence of food/body commentary from my mother (or father/siblings, for that matter). I never once remember the word “calories” being tied to food, errant comments from my mother about her own body (no “I look so fat/awful in this!” or “I shouldn’t eat this/I feel so guilty eating this/I’m so bad!”), etc. She went through phases of exercising (I have vivid memories of waking up on Saturday mornings to her huffing along to video tapes in our living room, ha) but it was never a topic of discussion or an overwhelming theme of her, or our, lives. We were encouraged to play outside, enjoy family meals together, celebrate life occasions with extended family over food, and none of it was tied to negative emotions. It was incredibly healthy, in hindsight, but in an entirely nonchalant way.

    I asked her recently if any of that was intentional. She seemed surprised that I even noticed/inquired about this. She responded that in her mother’s Italian immigrant family, growing up, food was always associated with gratitude and celebration – they had an acute awareness of being lucky to have *enough* food to celebrate together; to honor traditional holidays and meals with an abundance of sentimental, cultural food and tradition that brought them all together. Ample, flavorful food – cooked for hours together – was for enjoying with your cousins, your aunts, your great-grandmother – never a source of guilt or negativity.

    Your post about how much you & your husband relish the process of creating and enjoying food made me think how lucky your daughter (+ son) are to absorb and see such healthy behaviors modeled by their parents. You probably don’t even realize it, but you’re intrinsically linking food with pleasure, excitement, and bonding, which is so, SO healthy for young girls to see.

    Wow, did NOT mean to write a small thesis on this, but I couldn’t help reading through your post without thinking of this recent epiphany myself + ensuing conversation with my mom.

    1. Hi! This is a fascinating and welcome additional avenue in which to take the conversation! I have many thoughts on this because I had a very unhealthy relationship with food during high school. I totally agree with your insights here, and I love the idea of food as a part of “gratitude and celebration.” Yes!!! I hadn’t fully thought how my own shift in thinking about food would play out for my daughter because it’s been so long since I (rehabilitated?) shifted my thinking about food, but you’ve made me optimistic about the orientation we have in our home. Thanks for sharing this!


  4. I don’t think I had a non-negotiable as my husband sidled up to me first as a dear friend and slowly, one extraordinary ordinary day, took my hand. Yet now I see the most remarkable thing about him is an enduring commitment to kindness. He is kind in every situation and just so steady. I tend to swerve between emotions and vent in long (oh my god, so long) form. But he is kind. His eyes are kind when he meets mine. His words are kind, even when prodding me towards the answer I don’t want to hear. When the kids are nuts, he is kind and steady, they never overwhelm him. His deep kindness has made my world a much better place to be.

    1. Your husband sounds lovely!! What a great partner to have in life! I felt calm just reading about him. I truly admire people that cultivate calm/quiet. I have a few friends like that who just feel so rock-solid to their core that it rubs off on everyone around them. God bless the steady Freddies. (I am not one of them!)


  5. Wow ok now I’m hungry! I have a friend like your husband- she does not eat, she dines. She eats everything, but does not eat anything she doesn’t adore. Dining with her is always such pleasant, a grounding experience. But on the other hand, I also have a soft spot for mildly chaotic, big extended family meals where everyone is packed around the table, conversations are flying, and everyone is constantly reaching over each other and passing each other things and the chaos somehow manages to feel perfectly harmonious.

    1. Hi Anna — Oh man, I love that image, too! I think there’s room for both and I’m sure Mr. Magpie would agree. Sometimes you are going to eat a pit stop lunch at Wendy’s on the road or some squished PBJs in a backpack or scrounge in your cabinet for leftovers to cobble together a half-assed lunch or whatever. It’s life! And it’s messy and unpredictable! xx

  6. Early on in my relationship with my partner, we were sitting at a bar and chatting over cocktails when I asked him, “How often do you experience joy?” He looked at me, perplexed by the question, and said, “Every day.” I didn’t realize until that moment that I’d grown accustomed to thinking of joy as something overwhelming, transcendent, and difficult to access, and had therefore stopped looking for it in the everyday. This relationship has reframed my perspective, teaching me to be aware of and savor joy in small moments throughout my day, rather than waiting for epic experiences. How lovely that you and your husband already shared this orientation toward everyday joy!

    1. I love this lesson. I think I only internalized it in the last few years, and it really does change your outlook. I even think it helps with accommodating the normal swing of emotions throughout a day — i.e., I think when I was younger if I had a few annoyances/bad run-ins, I’d feel like the day was “ruined” but now I realize you can have multiple different swings within the course of a day (even an hour) and no day is categorically bad or good, you know? I think it helps build emotional resilience. xx

  7. Also, I ordered the wicker frames and will receive them in a week or so- very excited! Great price for two! I have also been considering the minna mittens and am curious whether you own the cream- I am leaning towards that color but am worried they will show dirt/grime easily. May end up ordering the grey. Have you tried the coordinating hat?

    1. Hi! Yay — I super love those wicker frames. They are in my cart right now and I keep thinking how cute they’d look as a pair on my desk — one with a photo of me and my children, one with a photo of me and Mr. Magpie. I love those minna mittens as you know and have had them in cream forever. I do handwash them with wool shampoo a couple times a season and they have held up remarkably well with that treatment, though I will be honest that we are now going on year 8 or 9 of heavy use and they are beginning to look a little worse for the wear. So maybe gray is the most practical option after all. (But cream goes with EVERYTHING.). I haven’t tried the hat. LMK what you think if you do!!


  8. Food-related, I have two non-negotiables. First, it is important to me that my partner is aware that there is no “normal” when it comes to food. For example, in the US, we typically consider breakfast foods to include items like cereal, eggs, toast, etc. However, breakfast foods vary vastly around the world, and I myself am known to eat dinner fare for breakfast occasionally. Having personal preferences is one thing and thinking everyone else should have the same preferences because there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” is another thing altogether; I can’t stand the latter. Related, another non-negotiable is a partner who does not call food that they themselves do not care for but that others enjoy “gross.” As an example, I am a life-long vegetarian but cannot imagine saying to someone that has ordered meat that their meal is unappealing (even though I would not personally eat it myself). I find making those sorts of statements incredibly disrespectful. I value tolerance for others and their differences highly.

    1. Hi! I so agree with both of these points. My husband routinely eats leftover dinner for breakfast! Your second point I also agree strongly with though I am thinking now of how guilty I am of the inverse: insisting that people try things because they are “SO GOOD.” Maybe I need to tone that language down and just be cool with whatever people’s food preferences are! (But it is just so hard to resist when you are passionate about something tasting phenomenal!)


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