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Cloris Leachman's Latest Chapter

The author, actress, and dancer talks about aging, cooking, her new book -- and why she never gets stressed out.


In Cloris, you write about a time in your life when you were around 35 years old and your health was very poor. You had asthma, arthritis, terrible hay fever, and you couldn’t sleep for more than 45 minutes a night. Eventually, you decided not to eat meat anymore.

I didn’t decide it, my body told me. I was reading a book on archeology and I looked up and I said out loud, “Oh, I guess I will not be eating meat anymore.” I have not had another bite since, and I haven’t missed it. I have a little fish once in a while and sometimes I will have chicken or turkey. But neither hog nor cow.

You made vegetarian chili for a dinner at which Elizabeth Taylor was a guest, and you offered to cook for Bill Clinton to help him lose weight.

I said I’d put a bag over my head so nobody would see me [laughing].

What inspired your interest in healthy cooking?

When I decided not to eat meat any more, I had to think more carefully about vegetables and make them tastier. I read a lot and really educated myself. I use everything fresh and organic if possible, and I use a lot of garlic, lemon, and spices like white pepper.

What’s your favorite healthy dish to cook?

Well, let me see, I haven’t cooked in a long time -- I taught my housekeeper everything! Today, she gave me some wonderful potato soup with leeks and celery. Delicious, with no milk and no chicken broth. You don’t need it. For instance, I love string beans. You steam them lightly -- I don’t like them blanched -- and add a little olive oil and garlic. Delicious, and it couldn’t be simpler. And I love a good Idaho potato cooked at 500 degrees for about an hour. You take them out of the oven and tear them open quickly so the steam will get out and they won’t get soft. Then put on a little olive oil, chopped green onions and scallions, and a little salt and black pepper. Oh my God, it is just delicious. 

What is your guilty pleasure food?

Baked macaroni and cheese made with straight, full-fat aged cheddar. No guilt. Full on.

How did you stick to your healthy lifestyle when you were on location, shooting Inglorious Basterds?

Well, that's when I eat fish or chicken a little more because you can't always get vegetables that have been freshly cut. They've usually been sitting there since six o'clock in the morning.

You describe yourself as a giver of hugs. Who in the world would you most like to give a hug to?

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