Tag Archives: Julia Child

Rekindling a Love for Julia Child

“Julie and Julia” premiered Friday, which is based on a a book
based on a blog chronicling a woman’s effort to cook her way through Julia Child’s cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and since then, people have apparently fallen in love all over again with the woman who made French cooking seem so accessible. Sales of both Julie Powell’s book as well as Julia Child’s autobiography and cookbook have been selling like air conditioners in a heat wave.

It’s a renewed fondness for Julia Child that I share.

Last fall, as part of a book club, we read her autobiography My Life in France, a chronicle of her introduction to France and through the process of building her co-authored book of French recipes that Americans can cook for “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.

Neither France nor cooking were lifelong passions for Julia Child. “France was a misty abstraction for me, a land I had long imagined but had no real sense of. And while I couldn’t wait to step ashore, I had my reasons to be suspicious of it,” she says in the book. “… thanks to articles in Vogue and Hollywood spectaculars, I suspected that France was a nation of icky-picky people where the women were all dainty, exquisitely coiffed, nasty little creatures, the men all Adolphe Menjou-like dandies who twirled their mustaches, pinched girls, and schemed against American rubes.”

And while she enjoyed the fresh food available in her hometown of Pasadena, Calif., she didn’t cook, didn’t see the point in it. She learned to love fine food and wine from her husband Paul and from her first French dish eaten on her first day in France, sole meunière, a “a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top”. She would later be inspired to take classes at Le Cordon Bleu and eventually the cooking icon the U.S. came to love.

What you lean about Julia through the book is a sense of her charm and a sense that anyone can reinvent themselves — whether at 34 or into middle age — develop new passions and pursue them. And one of the life lessons I’ve learned from her and her shows (many of which you can see on PBS’s web site) was that being a normal person and making mistakes is OK. Her speech wasn’t smooth and polished. She laughed when she burned something, talked through errors like the common kitchen occurences they are.

“You just have to have the courage of your convictions,” she said on an episode of The French Chef just after she’d about tossed an omellette onto the floor.

Thank you Julia.

Food Failure No. 324: Why Do They Always Happen?

FAIL: Poached Pear Tart
FAIL: Poached Pear Tart

No, I’m not really keeping count, but sometimes I feel like some ghost consortium of departed award-winning chefs is checking off the three-hundreth failure mark along a list of my cooking (and food photo) attempts.

I could feel it when I once went chasing after my cat and left a pot of water boiling on the stove so long that the non-stick layer smoked and peeled right off. Felt it when I had to step away from a dish-in-progress to look up the word “julienne” while onions and garlic burned away in a skillet on the stove.

And I felt it again last weekend, when I thought for sure I could pull off a poached pear tart, almost straight out of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”.

A few months before, I’d had my first little test with a poached pear after eating a delicious dessert at Seattle’s Le Pichet: a delicate little pear poached in white wine with a dollop of an airy cream sauce. We had gone to the restaurant as part of a book club excursion after reading “My Life in France,” a posthumously published autobiography about Julia Child’s introduction to the country, cuisine and cooking.

After a little trial and error, I got down a passable piece of poached fruit. There is not a whole lot to poached fruit except sugar, water, spices and maybe wine or liqueur. Which is how I got all confident about the poached pear tart.

The rest of the tart requires a sugar crust and a custard bed for the red-wine-poached pears and a currant jelly glaze. The original recipe calls for an almond custard, but since I was bringing the dessert to a friend who is allergic to almonds, I went for a more standard custard recipe offered on the previous page.

Well, it seems that everything I touched for that recipe started out wrong:

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