Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ely and Julia

My four year old son is obsessed with Julia Child. It's all my fault, really.

While I wouldn't call myself a huge Julia fan, I do like her. A lot. When I lived in Alabama, I picked up a remaindered copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for $2 at the place where we liked to buy new but slightly damaged books. In Austin, before I had kids, I would spend the morning shopping at Central Market and the afternoon cooking coq au vin and the special mushrooms and onions Julia says you must serve with the dish. After my mother recalled how my brother and I loved the French hamburgers she used to make us from MTAFC, I tried them myself and quickly found a new family favorite. Nowadays, I'm happy if I only spend 30 minutes a few times a week making dinner for us, as it's not too much fun with the baby hanging on your legs, and the four year old chasing the dog in circles around you, as you try not to get yourself or anyone else burned by the hot stove.

One of the best food nights is Sunday, as we usually go to my parents' house for dinner. They always cook a feast with cheese and wine beforehand, to keep us coming back with their grandchildren, and to give them leftovers to eat for the week. A few weeks ago, I was perusing my parents' bookshelves while eating grilled figs drizzled with honey and cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto and drinking our favorite prosecco when I spotted My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme. I didn't realize my parents (actually my Dad I think) owned this book. I seemed to recall that several of my friends had read it and loved it. I also knew the upcoming movie Julia and Julie was based on Julia Child's memoir as well as Julie Powell's book and blog of the same title, both of which I had already read a few years ago. I quickly put My Life in France in my bag to bring home.

I finished the book in four days. It was that good. My Life in France is the type of book you hate to finish because you worry there aren't any other books out there as good as this one, but you also can't put it down because the voice is so perfect and you have to know what happens next in the story. I knew a little of Julia's life before I started, but I hadn't realized all the hard work and determination and luck and support by her husband that made her life and love of cooking possible.

Of course she talks about her tv series, The French Chef. I can remember watching it as reruns on PBS as a kid, but I don't think I'd seen her cook in 15 or 20 years. I checked Netflix and sure enough there are two series of The French Chef on dvd. My local library had the first, so I requested it immediately. I know I mentioned before that my son and I like play games after his rest time is over but while the baby is still sleeping, but once The French Chef dvds were at our house, we started watching Julia make onion soup gratinee, roasted chicken on a spit, tarte tatin, french fries, and many many other dishes. Ely was entranced. He loved to watch her show off Big Bertha, a 45 pound lobster covered in seaweed she has on "The Lobster Show", that takes a good 45 minutes to cook. He began to tell me the difference between a roaster chicken and a fryer, or what Julia uses to make sausage casing (lamb intestines). He would wake up in the morning and ask for Julia. He would want to watch Julia after lunchtime, and of course once he was up after rest time. If I let him watch Julia while I was trying to get dinner together, I had one less kiddo (possibly two) in the kitchen. I finally had to put my foot down at more than two episodes per day, and a few tears were shed when the dvds had to go back to the library.

What I realized myself, is that so many of her dishes aren't the complicated, all day affairs I thought they were, that most of her bases and sauces are made from simple, easy-to-memorize formulas, and while Julia knows all the traditional methods she would rather - just like most people - beat her eggs whites with an electric mixer than by hand in a copper bowl. While I don't see myself making tripes a la mode or pate de campagne any time soon - if ever! - I definitely want to make a cheese souffle, and sandwich bread, and a spinach tart, and mousse au chocolat, and I haven't even finished watching the second series yet. When I make these dishes, I know I'll have a special four year old sous-chef helping me out. I guess I'd better start sewing him an apron.