Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dearie

I was shopping for a dress.  A dress for my daughter's wedding.  In order to get there I had to pass the book store...honestly I did.  Really.  I decided I could not buy one...more...book.  I made a pact with myself.  Not one.  But...I mean, what's a person to do?  (Oh hush up.)  So, there I was...suddenly finding myself in the book store...and there was Dearie, a biography of Julia Child by Bob Spitz.  And on sale!  Yes, yes, I know.  I need to find the right shoes.  I need to find the right dress.  Sometimes, however, serendipity leads you to just the right book as well.  It's all good.

In the long ago past I was a young bride eager to use her Lenox wedding china.  I was married to a military man, and we lived very simply and frugally.  We made friends with an older couple.  They owned a Lincoln car dealership, had a beautiful home with an in-ground pool and sauna, and ate at very fine restaurants.  Intrepid as I was in my youth, I invited them to what was to be my second "important" dinner party.  (The first was Thanksgiving.  I made a turkey, invited my boss and his wife and the local parish priest.  The bird was lovely and golden brown.  I carried it sizzling to the table with great pride to the hoped for "ahhhs".  My (then) husband proceeded with the ceremonious carving and as he attempted to get through the neck stuffing, he asked, "Did you stuff this with cheese?"  I looked on horrified as he attempted to pull out a melted white strand that looked a lot like mozzerella and which eventually shot out of the bird, catapulted across the room and hit the wall with a loud splat.  It was, of course, the plastic bag containing the giblets.  "Um...gravy anyone?"  Never let them see you sweat.)

And so, for that second dinner party, I turned to Julia Child and my copy of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, which I received as a wedding gift.  I made Homard Thermidor.  The two lobsters required for four people took up an entire week's food budget.   I mixed and dribbled and sieved.  I worried and fretted.  It was delicious, although I did overcook the lobster.  We ended the meal with Soufffle au Chocolat.  I was dead exhausted by the time my guests left the house, but fell into bed that night with the comforting knowledge that Julia was to be my kitchen salvation.  If I followed her instructions, I could do it.  I did and I have.  Today, without even thinking about it, I brought home chicken breasts and made two exactly as she suggested I should...the way I have been doing them for decades without giving it much thought:  Supremes de Volaille a Blanc (only made without the blanc).  To her, eating was the art as much as the cooking.

My original copy of Mastering has long ago lost both its front and back covers.  Several pages have fallen out and have been lost, a few more are stuck haphazardly into the falling apart book.  Pages are splattered with DNA evidence of balsamic vinegar, clarified butter, and wine.  A few years ago, at a library big book sale, I found another copy for $1.  What a lovely bargain.  It belonged at one time to Darris Plumb, so says her bookplate.  And in the margins dwell her wonderful notations:  "Very good," and at Filets de Poisson Bercy aux Champignons she notes "Betty says this is good."    I didn't trust Betty until I made it myself.  Betty was spot on.

In the early morning of Christmas Eve I make Julia's boeuf a la bourguignonne.  I make it in my Le Cruset rip-off and put in the oven to warm for Christmas dinner.  I make it exactly as she instructs.  I read the recipe and listen to her as she guides me step by step.  No fudging, no winging it.  Elegant enough for that important occasion, and yet easy for the end of a season that has been filled with stress and excitement.  Thank you, Julia.

Naturally, Julia Child is known mostly for her TV shows.  She kept me company when my children were small.  When I was pregnant with my second child, I put my first child down for his nap at 12:00 noon.  It was also the same time The French Chef was aired on PBS.  When I was expecting my third child, I put my two children down for their naps at noon, and there was Julia again.  Like a "big sprig" companion.

Russell Morash, the original producer of her show on WGBH-TV, recalled her voice as being "a cross between Tallulah Bankhead and a slide whistle."  I think a statue should be erected to Mr. Morash.

Since I just brought the book home today I can't tell you much about it or whether I will enjoy it, but I can't imagine not doing so.  And, as another bit of serendipity the movie "Julie And Julia" is playing on television tonight.  My only criticism of which is that they spent time making the "Julie" part of the movie.  How cool would that movie have been if it had concentrated on Julia's life only.  She's the real story, after all.  Well, in reality it will be a love story.  As Paul Child wrote to her before their marriage, "I want to see you, touch you, kiss you, talk with you, eat with you...eat you maybe.  I have a Julie-need."  Whew!  Is it just me or does anyone else think it's getting hot in there?  When I finish Dearie I will tell you all about it.  

 


19 comments:

  1. I see no reason why one can't have both clothes and books. And I couldn't agree with you more about "Julie and Julia." Happy wedding--and reading and cooking and eating.

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    1. Tinky, the closet is empty but the bookshelves are packed to over-capacity. What does that tell you? Maybe I should re-fit the closet. Anyway, many thanks. I'll be happy when the big day finally gets here.

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  2. I've never tried a Julia Child's recipe but her food does sound delicious so I will have to remedy that. Hope you enjoy the wedding, and the cooking :-)

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    1. Pete, how can anyone go wrong with enough butter? The Lobster Thermidor was a little tough, but that is because I overcooked it. I think I should have made something less ambitious at that stage of my culinary career. You can probably get her book in a second hand store for a lot less than you'll pay for it from the publisher, but try it. And thanks!

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  3. What a wonderful find! And I loved your cooking stories. You know I'm not the cook at my house and that is fine by me. When I was a teen and my mom was trying to teach me how to cook I told her my husband was going to do the cooking and she laughed at me. Well, I'm having the last laugh on that one :) Bookman is more mad scientist than French chef. But it's the taste that matters, right? That and all the love he spices the meal with.

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  4. Stef, I'm right there with you. Cooking should be fun for the person doing the cooking. And cooking for someone you love is best of all. The rest doesn't matter. Although I hope Bookman is writing down his science experiments so he can share them with the rest of us. After all, Winter Solstice isn't that far off!!

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  5. I love your cooking post! I do French family classics with shortcuts every time, but I don't do anything elaborate and I just can't abide a whole recipe, I always have to replace or add something to it! The important is that it's fun though. Congratulations for your daughter!

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  6. Smithereens, Julia Child is the only - and I mean only - cookbook author whose recipes I follow strictly. Even after years and years of making Beef Stew w/ Burgundy (sounds less froo froo in English, doesn't it) I check and double check. I think I cheated once and put the mushrooms in at the beginning. She knew best and it didn't turn out quite the right way. She would agree with you and the important thing is to have fun in the kitchen and savor everything (including a lovely wedding).

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  7. I loved this. Yes, sometimes we are led to just the right everything. I don't have a copy of The Art of French Cooking and I'm not sure why. I really do need to rectify that!

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  8. Holly, the books is (thankfully) still in print, but you can also do what I did and find a nice used copy. Serendipity is lovely, isn't it. I checked out your blog and liked it very much. It has a very positive message, which is always a good thing.

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  9. I very much enjoyed the movie Julie and Julia and the book that preceded it. For me Julia Child will always be a version of Meryl Streep, I fear! But the biography sounds fascinating and I'm already looking forward to your review. I'm just sorry I can't come round for dinner. :-)

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  10. Wouldn't it be fun to have all the blogosphere friends over for dinner! I'd be a nervous wreck probably. I loved all the "Julia" parts of the movie. I'm not a big fan of Julie Powell (nor was Julia Child). I do have the book, though. I think my daughter left it behind when she moved. My Life In France was wonderful and I recommend it highly!

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  11. That is a great pre-review! You make me want to get that book *and* Julia's own book, and to bravely go on cooking and eating.

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    1. Gretchenjoanna, was it Samuel Johnson who said, "he who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else". And in her book The Art of Eating M.F.K. Fisher points out that unlike other senses (sight, hearing, and...well, other things)...the joy of the table...of good food, hangs in there. I hope you do get a copy of Mastering and then go make something delish!

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  12. Also, am I the only one here who is now considering boeuf a la bourguignonne for Christmas dinner? It sounds so civilized to do the (artful) work early on and to enjoy the feast in a relaxed way on the feast day.

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    1. Gretchen...it is also incredibly delicious! And actually improves by sitting in the fridge for a day. You don't need to buy the book for the recipe, just copy it at the library. I promise you, it's wonderful.

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  13. Tell us, when you find out, if their happiness lasted through time.

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  14. I've promised myself I will not go into bookshops when on important shopping missions but they just seem to call my name! I think I can smell a bookshop from miles away ...

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