Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"You Satisfy My Taste Buds Beyond Measure"

Why Julia Child came to my mind this morning I cannot say - but there she is. Last month my daughter and I went to see Julie & Julia. Katharine read the book and couldn't wait to see the movie - which we both loved.

I feel a special connection to Julia Child, although our lives never intersected. When I was living in Chicago with two children under the age of 4 and hugely, lumberingly pregnant with Katharine, I would settle the boys down to their lunch at 11:30 a.m., and then their nap time at noon. I would lie down on my own bed and turn on The French Chef. Being pregnant, it was difficult not to fall asleep despite my most valiant efforts. But I usually made it through to the end, always enthralled with her humor, her high spirits, her enthusiastic desire to show us how to eat. No. No, I'm wrong there. Not just eat. How to savor would be more accurate. Although I didn't know her, of course, I would nevertheless bet my bank account that Julia Child savored life as well as food.

There are just some things that go together naturally: Thunder and Lightening, Ying and Yang, Sean Connery and Me (just seeing if you are paying attention) Abbott and Costello, Life and Food. We feed people we love during happy times and tragic times. We nurture them with our gentle caresses and our baked lasagna. We wrap them up in our arms and in our flaky pastry. Our love bubbles over, like our chicken pot pies and homemade jam.

Julia Child made challenging dishes approachable. I remember making Lobster Thermador from her Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, Vol. I - which I still have, but which has lost both its front and back covers - for a small dinner party when I was a (fairly) young bride. It really did take all day (although it probably shouldn't have since the lobster turned out a little overcooked). What I remember most about making the dish was the joy I had in its preparation, the smell of butter and cognac and thyme and tarragon, and the pleasure I had in presenting it to my husband and friends.

For years I attributed my rich and unctuous Boeuf Glace/Glace De Viande recipe to Julia, but I am apparently mistaken about it's origin. Alas, I cannot find it in my old, faithful, battered, cookbook. You see, my knee jerk reaction is to lay all my gastronomic successes at her doorstep. Perhaps that is so because it isn't really the cooking lesson, but the living lesson, that is at the heart of feeding someone.

In my favorite episode of The French Chef, Julia boils lobsters. In the final moments, before the now-famous theme song begins to play and the credits begin to roll, she sits down at the table and ties a huge napkin around her neck. Every time I see it, I laugh aloud. Julia is poised to dig into life and lobster with an unrivaled gusto.

It is fitting to end this post with a poem written by her adoring husband, Paul Child, for her birthday in 1961:

O Julia, Julia, cook and nifty wench,
Whose unsurpassed quenelles and hot souffles,
Whose English, Norse and German, and whose French,
Are all beyond my piteous powers to praise --
Whose sweetly rounded bottom and whose legs,
Whose gracious face, whose nature temperate,
Are only equalled by her scrambled eggs:

Accept from me, your ever-loving mate,
This acclamation shaped in fourteen lines
Whose inner truth belies its outer sight;
For never were there foods, nor were there wines
Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight.
O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!
You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.

Well, if you can read that without feeling all slobbery and wildly romantic, a serving of diced potatoes sauteed in duck fat until brown and crisp should be administered to you immediately. With perhaps a nice glass of something red and robust.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Life And Faith

Life has been on my mind lately. So has faith. Life and faith. What do they expect from us? Do they sit on some throne high above us? Joined by Death? Faith sitting in the middle with Death at its left hand and Life at its right?

Yesterday, I was driving aimlessly in the car on some forgotten errand. I suddenly became angry with - of all people - my Father. "I know you love me, Dad," I shouted, "so why haven't you proven that there's something else? That when we die, we still live? That you are still aware, still loving us? Can't I get one damn sign from you, for God's sake? Is that really too much to ask?" (After which spewed forth some rather obnoxious swear words which, though not typical of me, nevertheless felt awfully good.) I looked over at the car next to mine and saw the "crazy person alert" look on the driver's poor face. It was Sunday. He was all dressed up and probably going to church. I didn't go to church this Sunday. I wasn't quite certain anymore. I had lost my bearings. My compass pointed everywhere except in the right direction.

I have heard people remark that God doesn't give us more than we can bear. To which I say, "Bull**it." God gives us much more than we can bear. Which is where Faith comes in. I was looking for a sign from my father that I am on the right track when I believe that the spirit continues to live, even after its vessel has died. After thinking about it more calmly, however, I decided that Faith is believing in something that cannot be subject to proof. That by its definition, Faith defies reason.

Before the drive ended, I realized that I had been driving in silence, with the radio turned off. I switched it on, and there was a discussion being had about a recent wedding. A man was talking about his daughter's wedding day. The first words I heard of the conversation were, "On our way to the church, I told my daughter it wasn't too late. We could still turn around if she wasn't sure." It swept me back to a January day in 1971. My Father took my arm in his and lead me to the waiting limousine. As he held my train and veil, I slipped into the backseat, and he slid in beside me. On the ride to the church, he gently picked up my right hand and held it in his, "You know, Lindy, it isn't too late," he said. "We can still turn the car around if you want to." Dad and I laughed about it for years and years.

Was it the sign I begged for? Who can say. Maybe it was; maybe not. In any event, it came after I had already reclaimed the peace I craved. Faith is, I have decided, a gift that you don't send back.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Goodnight, Sweet Prince

For Robert Sanchez, Soldier, Patriot, and Friend, who was killed in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan on October 1, 2009

And when [he] shall die, take him and cut him up in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will fall in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun. William Shakespeare