Passed Down Recipes: Audrey Hepburn & Her Favorite Pasta

The difference between a lady and flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. That’s a quote from George Bernard Shaw’s book Pygmalion which was published in 1912. Fifty three years later that book would become the blockbuster movie, My Fair Lady, starring one of America’s most favorite actresses – Audrey Hepburn. This role as Eliza Doolittle, along with her portrayal of Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s are definitely two of Audrey’s most indelible performances, ones that made her a household name around the world.

Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, 1964

For a woman who lived in the public eye, for most of her life, I think there was a real irony in George’s “not how she behaves, but how she’s treated” statement that was fitting for his character but also fitting for the actress who played her. As a woman adored around the world, often referred to as beautiful, fragile, and delicate, there was much more to Audrey Hepburn than people gave her credit for. Thankfully, a new documentary just recently released on Netflix offers intimate insight into Audrey’s life that dispels myths not often discussed in the stratosphere surrounding her celebrity persona.  

In the fashion world Audrey was idealized for her waif-like figure, slim and youthful. She championed the pixie haircut and wearing pants and preferred a simplicity in dress that bordered art house cool. But her thinness was a result of childhood malnutrition, not a diet-riddled aesthetic that she curated throughout her life. Her personal style was a result of simplicity, comfort, and a humble nature not an innate desire to be the fashion maven she became. Her features was determined desireable by the beauty industry yet she never felt very beautiful herself – often remarking that she had insecurities over the size of her nose, her flat chest, her boyish hips, her dark hair all which felt especially apparent to her in the time of Hollywood when the ideal feminine physiques equaled hour-glass curves and blond bombshell hair. 

The documentary depicts,  through interviews with her family and friends, the other sides of Audrey that reveal tenderness balanced with tenacity, love entwined with loyalty, and a steadfast determination to make a difference using the skills she worked hard for and the favorability she gained as a result of her acting career. It shows that she deserves to be remembered for much more than her famous character’s association with a luxury jewelry brand, or for creating the iconic little black dress terminology or for being the innocent, fresh-faced ideal of romantic fantasies.

As a serious humanitarian, a creative artist and a woman trying to humbly navigate the world, Audrey was smart, sincere and authentic above all else. Like a postscript to the stunning 2003 memoir, Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit that her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer wrote almost 20 years ago, the documentary offers insight into Audrey’s personality and how she unsuspectingly became the icon that she did.  Sean’s book, all those years before, was my first glimpse into Audrey’s personal life. His story began just days after Audrey passed away at the age of 63, and is told from his own sesnsitive perspective of life with a woman who was both loved by him and by the world at the same time. 

To peek inside and read some snippets from the book, click here.

Like the documentary, Sean shares close details about his mom’s life… her thoughts, philosophies, perspectives… and tries to make sense, as an adult, of the two very different lives she lived between her public persona and her private one. If you get a chance to read the book or watch the documentary you’ll learn all the details of Audrey’s life… her hunger years, the fractured relationship with her father,  her desire to be a ballet dancer, the start of her acting career, her marriages, her emotional ups and downs, her personal triumphs and her public trials. My favorite part of Audrey’s story though does not include her movies, or her designer clothes or her glamorous Hollywood connections. My favorite part of Audrey’s life was her favorite part too –  her 18th century Swiss house…

Deemed by Audrey as the happiest place on Earth, she retreated to the small village of Tolochenaz to raise her two children and to rest in the quiet privacy that Switzerland offered. A sanctuary of a centuries old shuttered stone house with a big garden and lots of room for family and friends, the house was named La Paisible (meaning The Peaceful in French). True to its name, it is where Audrey felt most comfortable. Dogs (Jack Russels), flowers, and bright light tumbled out of every room. A highly cultivated and cared for garden dotted the landscape. Rooms stood ready to entertain and to inspire. And even though some photo journalists were invited in occasionally for publicity purposes, for the most part it was a private place where Audrey could revel in the thing that she cared for and craved most… love and affection.  

A photoshoot with her son Luca for Vogue UK in 1971, let fans peek inside Audrey’s bright and airy world at La Paisible. I love the painting of her house above the desk, which was painted by her second husband Andrea Dotti.

It was at La Paisible in Switzerland, that she indulged her love of food and flowers and the joyful simplicity that came with growing both. Sean was quick to point out in his memoir that Audrey was an eater despite what everybody thought about her figure and the ways in which she went about maintaining it. She had cravings too just like everyone else but her philosophy on food always returned to balance and appreciating where it came from and how it was made. A craving for something sweet yielded a square of chocolate not a whole box. Meals were made with things she could cut and clip from the garden just outside her door. Grocery shopping was never a chore, always a joy. Her table was surrounded with laughter and fun and comfortingly familiar faces. 

Her son Luca in an interview in 2013, shared that his mom was a very practical person seeking above all a normal, grateful and gracious life. Acting was her job, but living was up to her to define. In making that distinction, she knew in her core the things she valued most in her life – family, nature, love, education, kindness, and respect for one’s own insticts and motivations. Growing a garden within a fingertip’s reach was Audrey’s way of creating beauty but also securing a viable food supply for her family, so that no one at La Paisible would ever have to know the hunger she felt as a child.

Picking cherries from the garden at La Paisible. Vogue UK, 1971

One of Audrey’s most favorite foods, which she ate on a weekly basis, was a simple garden-centric dish that can be thrown together in minutes with barely any technical instruction. In today’s post, we are making Audrey’s favorite pasta recipe, Spaghetti al Pomadoro…

It’s not a recipe that she invented herself, but it is one that she made every week for decades while living at La Paisible. Like Audrey’s loyalty to it, I’ve been toting this version of classic tomato sauce around in my own makeshift recipe book for the past 18 years.

Uncomplicated cooking at its best, this recipe calls for lots of basil, Audrey’s most favorite herb, and just a few other garden vegetable staples. Interestingly, the recipe also utilizes canned tomatoes, (or tinned as they are referred to in Europe!), which is an ideal choice when tomatoes are not in season. I like to make this recipe most in spring (with canned tomatoes) in anticipation of the vibrant season about to come and then again in high summer when homegrown tomatoes, just plucked from the vine come into the kitchen, fat and heavy and still warm from the sun. I like to imagine that this is how Audrey would go about preparing this sauce too – jockeying back and forth between using cans and her own homegrowns depending on the season. In either circumstance, the best way to experience the true beauty of this simple recipe is by acquiring ingredients that have been picked at peek flavor. If you can find them fresh at your local farmers market, or even better, pull them all from your own garden, then you’ll have a true Audrey Hepburn dining experience, just like the lady herself would have enjoyed. 

Audrey Hepburn’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

2 large cans of diced tomatoes

1 large bunch of fresh basil, separated in two equal bundles

3 – 5 tablespoons olive oil (also known a a long drizzle!)

1 box of spaghetti

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Salt & Pepper to taste

Peel and dice onion, carrots, garlic and celery. Put in a large pot. Add two large tins of Italian roma tomatoes and the basil. Add a long drizzle of olive oil and simmer on low for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and let sauce rest for 15 minutes. Serve over 1 box of pasta cooked al dente, with fresh parmesean and the other half of the basil cut in pieces with scissors.

I love this recipe for the way it was written. In casual, loosey goosey direction, like all good Italian food, it relies on cooking with your own instincts and offering just light suggesstions as outline for the finished end result. Sometimes I let the onion, carrot and celery mixture carmelize for few minutes in the olive oil before adding the tomatoes. Sometimes I bring the whole sauce to a boil before turning it down to simmer. Sometimes I add more garlic or a sprinkle of sugar or a dash of white wine or some oregano if the herbs are overflowing in the garden. Or sometimes I make it just as Audrey directed. Regardless, whenever I pull out this stained and spattered recipe from my makeshift book, I like to think of Audrey Hepburn, the glamorous interantional icon now turned regular, every day home cook, standing at the stove in her beloved kitchen in Switzerland, making this very same sauce in the very same way that we are making it now.

During her life, Audrey was never sensationalized as a good cook. Oftentimes, people assumed that she never ate or that she had little interest in food given her thin figure. As George Bernard Shaw wrote of his character… she was treated differently then she behaved. But her boys have set the record straight in their books and in their interviews and in the documentary just released. Audrey loved to cook and loved to eat. Most notebaly for and with her friends and family. And now, in the beautiful way of passed down recipes, she can cook for her fans too.

Cheers to Audrey for staying true to her spirit and for privately being so much more than the public ever knew. Cheers to her boys, Sean and Luca, who bravely confronted all the misconceptions that surrounded her. And to this humble pasta recipe for always reminding us that life doesn’t have to be extravagant in order to be delicious.

Ms. Jeannie Goes to Hollywood!

Oh my goodness, dear readers, it has been weeks and weeks since the last blog post. What happened to Ms. Jeannie? Did she cook herself right into that big pot of homemade tomato sauce? Did she dig herself into a hole when she turned over her summer garden? Did she wrap herself up in a vintage book club package? No, no – not too worry. It’s just been a busy past few weeks but Ms. Jeannie is now back in the blogging saddle again.  Tally ho, she says! She has so missed you all.

Over this past holiday weekend Ms. Jeannie took a little trip to Los Angeles, where she attended the wedding of some very good friends. It had been a long, long time since Ms. Jeannie had been to California. Until this weekend, the city sat dreamy in her mind…

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She remembered the palm trees that lined the Pacific Coast Highway and the beach that stretched far and wide on each side of her Santa Monica hotel. She remembered a pale pink glow that settled over the city at sunset and the noise of traffic and congestion, but other than that – it was such a distant faraway experience that, on this trip, Ms. Jeannie felt like she was seeing the city for the first time.

View from her friends' apartment.
View from her friends’ apartment.

Ms. Jeannie’s friends live in Culver City, which is about 20 minutes from downtown.  Both of her friends are actors who are making a creative go of it in the film capitol of the world. So this trip was a real life look at L.A.  from the perspective of two brave hearts chasing a dream. Theirs is not the lifestyle of a flashy Beverly Hills home and shopping sprees on Rodeo Drive. They don’t drive fancy cars or wear expensive clothes – but what they have done is carved out a humble little niche of a lifestyle for themselves, packed full with lovely friends and authentic experiences.

At the beginning of the trip she and Mr. Jeannie spent a few days in their friend’s neighborhood, helping them get ready for their big wedding day.  These are some street views of their neighborhood…

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Surrounding her friends’ building are blocks and blocks of apartment buildings none taller than two or three stories. But every once in a while a little bungalow of a house pops in to break up the skyline. This one is barely visible – but Ms. Jeannie loved the little painted gate nestled in the flowering hedgerow….

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When Ms. Jeannie arrived at her friends’ apartment, this guy was patiently waiting to say hello…

Baxter!
Baxter!

Such a charmer! It only took a second to overcome his shyness – then he was all lolling tongue and wagging tail for the rest of the stay. At night he slept on the bed, sprawled out like a person, between Ms. Jeannie and Mr. Jeannie. So cute! If Ms. Jeannie could have fit him into her suitcase bound for home she certainly would have!

Those last pre-wedding days were a whirlwind of activity, with few extra minutes to spare. A LOT of time was spent in the car driving from point A to point B. Sometimes it took hours to drive a mere 15 miles. Ms. Jeannie took the time to celebrity watch in cars and trucks that crawled by amid all the congestion. Her and her friend actually made a little game of it. I spy Steven Spielberg! I spy Jennifer Aniston! Really they had no idea – but Ms. Jeannie discovered a lot of people look famous when you view them from the freeway:)

Aside from look-a-like celebrities, mostly they saw views they like this…

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Film production trucks on the move! Ms. Jeannie saw all types from makeup trailers to semis to catering trucks like this one. So many in fact, that by the time she left, she didn’t really even notice them anymore. Kind of like seeing castles in Ireland!

On Friday, Ms. Jeannie found herself with an unaccounted for hour – so she set out to explore downtown Culver City on foot, which actually turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

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The small little urban area is a great mix of interesting architecture, sidewalk cafes, shopping boutiques and film studios. And it was really clean and pedestrian friendly, unlike downtown L.A. which was much more gritty and wild. The historic Culver Hotel, now a luxury boutique hotel, is pictured below. The building dates to the early 1920’s and was once a semi-permanent hotel residence of Clark Gable.

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As Ms. Jeannie approached the downtown area, she kept seeing these signs posted on every block…

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This meant that a film was in the making somewhere in the area. How exciting! Ms. Jeannie walked until she came upon this scene just behind the Culver Hotel…

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The action occurred around the truck and two of the guys standing right in front of the driver’s door. Camera crews were set up to the left of the picture (just out of frame) and the production crew and various trucks and trailers were spread within a three block radius. Streets were blocked off, so Ms. Jeannie couldn’t get too close – but she did manage to zoom in a little bit more in hopes of seeing some famous faces…

The guy in the white shirt and black and white hat was one of the principal actors...
The guy in the white shirt and black and white hat was one of the principal actors….

Hmmm…Mr. Jeannie thought this guy might be Don Cheedle

Don Cheadle
Don Cheadle

but it is hard to tell with both hat and sunglasses on! This photo below is a second shot of the group standing to the left of the main action. Mostly they look like production guys – except the one in black sport coat and v-neck tshirt – he might be one of the actors.

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Either way, it was fun to see a movie being filmed while Ms. Jeannie was out and about. Other fun things she saw on her walk were…

Selznick Studios – the production studio of George Selznick – which appeared in the opening credits of Gone With the Wind. Now it is known as Culver Studios – a series of sound stages and production units that are available for both film and television productions.  Here is how Selznick Studio looked in the opening credits of Gone with the Wind, which was filmed in the 1930’s…

And here is how it looks now…

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It was a little bit tricky to get a good shot because from one vantage point you were standing in the middle of the busy road and the other vantage point was blocked off for the film in progress. Wrapped around the left side of the block were the entrance gates to the sound stages and a little house with columns. All the columns reminded Ms. Jeannie of  life in Georgia:)

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Ms. Jeannie’s friends were married on Saturday in Malibu, at the Malibou Lake Mountain Club, previously a 1930’s hunting/fishing lodge tucked into the hills. They exchanged vows outside in the garden, which boasted a collection of beautiful wild rose bushes…

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This is the lawn where they were married…

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And the view of the lake that the guests looked out onto…

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And a picture of the happy couple:)

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The reception was held inside the Club. Ms. Jeannie was part of the coordinating committee so there wasn’t any time to grab photos of dinner and dancing – but it was a pretty affair.  The table bouquets were especially lovely. They were exact replicas of the wedding party bouquets…

Sunflowers, kale, ferns, purple dahlias, a purple bean pod looking plant, shiny green leaves and deep red calla lilies made up each table arrangement. The addition of red and yellow striated tulips were added to the bridal bouquet .
Sunflowers, kale, ferns, purple dahlias, a purple bean pod looking plant, shiny green leaves and deep red calla lilies made up each table arrangement. The addition of red and yellow striated tulips were added to the bridal bouquet .

Sunday, the last day of the trip, was a little free day for Ms. Jeannie and Mr. Jeannie. They started out with breakfast in bed at the hotel…

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And then meandered their way down the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Monica…

Down the mountain they went! The topography was gorgeous!
Down the mountain they went! The topography was gorgeous!

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To the ocean…

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Surfers!
Surfers!

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They spent some time on the beach,

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and had lunch at the pier.

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Even though it had been over 20 years since Ms. Jeannie was last in Santa Monica – surprisingly a lot of it still looked the same!

For the entire four day trip, Ms. Jeannie chased the elusive Hollywood sign so that she could take a picture for this post.  Sometimes she was too far away to really see it, sometimes she was way too close and sometimes there were buildings sitting right in front blocking the view. Who knew it would be so tricky! On Sunday they drove up into the Hollywood Hills hoping to catch a glimpse. Instead, another discovery was made. Those hills are really hilly! And curvy and narrow – sort of like the San Francisco hills – so it was a bit tricky to navigate. Now Ms. Jeannie appreciates pinterest all the more for photos like this…

Photo via pinterest.
Photo via pinterest.

Every day the weather was gorgeous. 75 degrees, sunny, slightly breezy.  But, to Ms. Jeannie, the real weather magic happened in the early mornings when it was a cool 55 degrees. A marine layer sits over the Malibu hills like rain clouds in the early morning and makes everything look spooky and dramatic just as the sun is coming up.  Driving to the airport on Monday was like something out of a gothic novel. It was moody and elegant all at once.

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As the sun starts to rise in the sky, the marine layer slowly burns off, so that by about 10:00 am it is like the dark part of the morning never even happened.

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Perhaps that is a little bit of movie magic on Mother Nature’s part!

Even though this was such a quick trip and laden with wedding frenzies, Ms. Jeannie felt like she was able to experience a big part of the Los Angeles culture. Next time she goes back to visit, Ms. Jeannie hopes it will be for the Academy Awards, where both her friends will have been recognized for their talents:)

Until then it is one great big giant cheers to them – for new beginnings and for continued strength to pursue their dreams.