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Valerie Bertinelli Wants You to ‘Indulge’ Every Day

Actress presents new cookbook that focuses on nurturing yourself and those you love

spinner image Valerie Bertinelli against red background with outlines of pans on it
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: John Russo)

Recently, life has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride for Valerie Bertinelli. In 2023, a year after going through a divorce from her second husband, the actress and author proudly watched her son, Wolfgang (whose father is Bertinelli’s first husband, the late Eddie Van Halen) marry his longtime girlfriend, Andraia Allsop. Then in mid-January, she got the disappointing news that her contract as cohost of the Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship was not being renewed. But now the 63-year-old Bertinelli — whose friends call her “Val” — is focused on an exciting new project: the release of her latest cookbook, Indulge: Delicious and Decadent Dishes to Enjoy and Share.

The book is packed with delicious recipes for breakfast foods, sandwiches, pasta, seafood and desserts — plus a surprising variety of ways to prepare chicken thighs — and Bertinelli infuses each page with a gentle, loving spirit while reminding readers that they deserve nourishment in all forms. Bertinelli says she has reached a point where she is comfortable in her own skin and content in her own company. Lately she has been, in her words, “humming at happy.” For those not fluent in Val-speak, that means life is pretty good. AARP chatted with Bertinelli about the new cookbook, her approach to social media and why she’s loving her new role as a mother-in-law. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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You’ve written a couple of cookbooks already. What did you want to do differently with this one? 

This book, Indulge, is a little bit of an offshoot of the book I just released called Enough Already, where I was really trying to do my best to be intentional in finding my joy and finding where I can hum at happy. I’m a naturally happy person. But in recent years, I really was not humming at happy. I started to ignore it. So Indulge was my way of finding my way back to my joy and indulging in my life. And I thought there might be a message here for other women. I’ve been able to build up a really beautiful community in my Instagram, where every time I have written about anything about my self-healing and what it means to go through what I’ve been going through at my age, I’ve had so many incredibly beautiful [messages] from so many people that are going through the same thing. I thought maybe I can help them through cooking, which is something that I absolutely love. And through the essays that I write in here about forgiveness, and to stop beating yourself up if you can’t forgive. I don’t like to be stressed into forgiving, when some of that sh-- is unforgivable. But what I can do is look inside and forgive myself for staying in situations I never should have stayed in, or for tolerating the intolerable, all the stuff that we need to start forgiving ourselves for. And I’m hoping that maybe I can help a few more people find a way to indulge in the joys of their life.

Why do you think the word “indulge” gets a bad rap sometimes? 

A lot of people think like, “I’m going to cheat,” or “I’m going to indulge this weekend.” Why? Indulge every day of your life. You’re only here for so long, you only have so many nights and so many days to live through. Indulge in your life. I have figured out that when I stopped eating, and blaming food, and then wanting to numb my emotions and not feel my emotions — when I started using food in a way that was not its purpose — that is when all of the dominoes start to fall. And now I’ve been doing my best for the last year and a half to feel my feelings when they come up — because feelings, all they are is information. And if you start asking [yourself] why you’re feeling a certain way, your feelings will talk to you if you get silent enough. It’s not necessarily always easy, and sometimes you really just don’t want to feel those flippin’ feelings. But when you do, you will notice that you won’t go towards food to soothe those emotions where you can actually self-soothe. And you don’t need food for that. You don’t need alcohol for that. 

You say in the book that you had an epiphany around the time you turned 60 and adopted a new mindset. What is different about how you look at life now? It sounds like you seize the moment.

spinner image Book cover with Valerie Bertinelli behind spread of food on it; words say Indulge, Delicious and Decadent Dishes to Enjoy and Share, Valerie Bertinelli
John Russo/ William Morrow Group/Harper Collins

Cook With Valerie

Bertinelli shared two recipes from Indulge: Delicious and Decadent Dishes to Enjoy and Share for AARP members:

No-Bake Lasagna

Sometimes you just don’t have the hours it takes to make lasagna. This is quick and easy, and you get all the flavors of lasagna in one pan. 

Cream Cheese Brownies

These cream cheese brownies are rich, gooey, chewy and oh-so-chocolaty good.

I hope so. I’m doing my best every day to do that. I only have so much time left. Why am I wasting it worried about what the scale says? Screw the scale! Why am I wasting it denying emotions that are just trying to inform me about where I am in my life? Why am I denying myself food that I want to indulge in, that I know makes me feel good [and that I can share] with family and with friends [and] enjoy their company? I want to indulge in all of that and change the narrative of what “indulge” actually means. You should feel pleasure in your life. That's what we’re here for — to feel.

You also describe the joy you take in every part of the food preparation process. It seems like you really have learned to embrace all the senses and all the little moments. 

I’m hoping to, because sometimes just the prep work alone can be soothing and kind of zen. Just knowing what you’re prepping and knowing what it’s going to go into — and then knowing when it’s done, how it’s going to taste. And if you’re making food for other people, how they’re going to feel about it — all the love that you’ve put into it and how much they’re loved. They’re going to feel your love in it. And I think by being intentional, it makes the process so much more fun.

The word “nourish” appears throughout this book. What are you doing to nourish yourself in different ways? 

Spending time with my family, that nourishes my soul. Walking my dog nourishes my soul. It’s little things that can do that. When I really feel like I’m taking care of myself emotionally and physically, that’s nourishing. But mainly the little things — just going out in the morning in the backyard when it’s a beautiful day, with my cup of coffee and my dog and just soaking it all in, and just being grateful and thankful for the beautiful day.

What’s your go-to comfort food? 

Lately it’s bananas, of all things. For the longest time, I was afraid of bananas — too much carbs and too much sugar. Now it’s like, It’s a banana. It’s good for me. Just flippin’ eat it. Same thing with peanut butter. I love peanut butter and apples. And because I live by myself, I can dip the apple straight in the peanut butter jar. And I love that I don’t have to dirty a dish. In the morning, I’ll toast up a nice piece of sourdough bread and put a little peanut butter on it, slice up the banana and mush the banana in, and then a little bit of honey — that is heaven. And it’s a great, great breakfast to start off with. I don’t care what any nutritionist tells me, it’s a good breakfast.

You are active on social media, which can be a mixed bag. Have you found that the positive outweighs the negative?

Absolutely. The positive outweighs the negative by a huge margin. And you know, there is this thing called the block button. I don’t care if someone gets offended [that I block them]. If you can’t be kind on my own page, then you don’t deserve to be here in my company. And I’m not embarrassed by that.

Your son got married last year. How are you enjoying being a mother-in-law? 

I’m very lucky because Andraia is the sweetest, most wonderful woman in the world, and she loves my son. That’s all I ask of her. She’s kind, she’s thoughtful, she’s funny — it’s kind of an amazing feeling as a parent, when your child finds their forever person. There’s a peace in that and a calmness in that, and that’s what I have. I love them together. 

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