“ I don’t follow recipes. I like throwing things in—a dash here, a dash there.”
Q. When you were eight years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A. I wanted to be a teacher. I loved many of my teachers in elementary school, so they were good role models.
Q. Who influenced you most when you were in your 20s?
A. Certainly in terms of my career Richard Solomon at Penn, a psych professor for whom I worked for four years in his research laboratory. He really taught me the love of research and the confidence that I could become an investigator who would have original ideas, which is something I couldn’t have imagined.
Q. Tell us about a book or TV show you have enjoyed recently that you would consider a guilty pleasure?
A. That’s very easy. “Sex in the City.” I really was a great fan. Whenever I was home on Sunday nights, that was a must to plug into my calendar, but I was always a little embarrassed about it.
Q. Do you have any favorite vacation spots?
A. Also easy. St. Barts. Our family goes for Thanksgiving with a whole group of families and couples from all over the country. People have children ranging in age from 4 through adult children and grandchildren and it’s just become a wonderful tradition among a very dispersed group of friends that otherwise don’t get to connect with each other all year.
Q. If they made a movie about your life, which actor would play you?
A. Julia Roberts. In her roles she’s fought for causes and done things that seemed undoable and that feels very good to me, so I’d like that association.
Q. If you could play a match against any tennis player, living or dead, who would it be?
A. John McEnroe. We have the same fiery personalities so I think that would be great fun. Also he’s gotten old enough so I might once return the ball.
Q. What do you like to listen to in your car?
A. I don’t listen to music in the car. It’s very rare that I have time alone to just listen internally so I either do work or I think. Or I’m on my phone. But if I did listen to something it would be WXPN. The first time I met Michaela I said, “I listen to you, I’m a fan.”
Q. What music do you play when you need a lift?
A. Well I love classical music and I love jazz, but I haven’t listened to my CDs in a very long time. A friend gave me an I-Pod for Christmas, which was really a wonderful gift. Now I can put on rhythm and blues or jazz or whatever whenever I want.
Q. What will you miss most about living in the President’s House?
A. The wonderful events. It’s an amazing house for events…and all the closets. I will never have closets like that again and I have filled them and expanded into all of them.
Q. What one thing would people be most surprised to find out about you?
A. I’m a pretty good cook. I haven’t had much chance to do that over the last 10 years but whenever my husband and I have free time I will always cook a fancy dinner.
There’s very little in my life that has a discreet beginning and ending but cooking is one of those things. You start it, you prepare it, and it’s over, so it’s doubly satisfying for somebody who has a life as crazy as mine.
Q. Do you have any favorite recipes you’d like to share with us?
A. I don’t follow recipes. I like throwing things in—a dash here, a dash there. I think that’s why I am a good cook.
The most influential thing for me in terms of cooking was a book by Elisabeth Rozin called “Ethnic Cuisine: The Flavor Principle Cookbook,” in which she explained that every cuisine has a distinctive spice.
After reading that I really understand that it’s the spices and seasonings rather than anything else. So I just play. If you want Mexican you use cilantro. If you want Indian you use cumin and coriander and saffron. It’s really made cooking much more interesting for me, rather than just following a recipe.
Originally published on May 13, 2004