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Suzanne and Julia

Mar
9

I learned to cook the way most people do–by helping my mother in the kitchen and then by doing myself in the kitchen of my first apartment. My mother taught me to bake Grandmother Bread and biscuits. She enjoyed baking most of all, and passed a love of baking on to me. Most of what else she taught me in the kitchen involved a can opener or a box. She enjoyed grocery store convenience products. When I got married, I received several cookbooks as wedding gifts. I pored over them and tried out recipes, wanting to learn to make more things homemade. At times over the years, I’ve had urges to take cooking classes, sensing certain gaps in my cooking knowledge. It always sounds fun to take a cooking class, doesn’t it? I’ve never taken a cooking class, though I teach cooking classes. (Hmmm.)


A while back, Morgan, who says she’s not interested in cooking at all (more hmmm), turned me on to the movie Julie and Julia. I became enamored with Julia Child–and promptly went off on one of my classic tangents where I get hooked on a topic and have to read everything I can get my hands on about it. The movie, by the way, is about a writer who wrote a blog about her year of trying to make every recipe in Child’s first cookbook. So luckily, that’s already been done, relieving me of including such madness in my own temporary obsession.

I did, however, track down a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One. This was Julia Child’s first cookbook, and widely recognized as a masterpiece. She wrote it with two friends, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, with whom she started a cooking school in her Paris kitchen after graduating from the Cordon Bleu. Alongside her cookbook, of course I had to also read her memoir, My Life in France, which is surprisingly fascinating.

I don’t believe my mother had a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking–at least I never saw it if she did. But she watched Child’s PBS show, The French Chef, because I do remember it being on the television when I was a kid. I remember thinking she was a very strange woman–so tall! And that rich, warbly voice! She exuded a passion for cooking that defied you not to look when she was on the screen. Even as a child, she caught my attention. But the “French” part can be a little off-putting, and since I had no further exposure to Julia Child, I assumed her cooking was all high falutin’, which I’ve never been too interested in. I associated Julia Child with boeuf bourguignon and cog au vin–and I didn’t even know what those were, but they sounded too fancy and too difficult. The movie made me interested in her as a person, which then led me around to her memoir and first cookbook–and a surprise.

Julia Child’s cooking isn’t all that high falutin’. Yes, she has recipes for things like pain de veau (veal loaf) and champignons sautes, sauce madere (sauteed mushrooms in brown Madeira sauce), but that’s not what Mastering the Art of French Cooking is about. It’s about basic cooking techniques, with painstakingly detailed instructions not only telling you how but also why, from how to dice an onion to how to truss a chicken, or how to choose the right pots and pans to how use knives and utensils–and everything in between. Mastering the Art of French Cooking is, in effect, a cooking school, and the techniques apply not just to fancy dishes, but to the “non-fancy” as well. It’s written in an accessible style so that I think it would be useful to someone who hasn’t cooked before, but in such gradations of detail and technique, it’s also eye-opening for someone who has cooked for years. No tiny nuance of a step in a recipe goes by without intense attention to its mastery. Take a basic white sauce, with which most of us who have cooked for many years are familiar. For someone who has never cooked before, the book describes step by step how to make a white sauce in its simplest form, then the book goes on to explain why and how it works, how to solve problems, and how to create variations–and what meats or vegetables they will complement well. All helpful for the advanced home cook creating her own recipes, while not neglecting the novice.

There are fancy-sounding recipes in the book, and I haven’t made any of them (so far), but the techniques, descriptions, and explanations are the true value of the book. And perhaps why it comes across so well in this book is because it’s written by Julia Child, with her voice and humor. She believed, “We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.” Her attitude is contagious, and makes you want to run into the kitchen and make a petit pot de creme just because she says you can. I’m off to get hold of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two next. I’m hooked, and the second volume is the one that delves more fully into breads, pastries, and desserts. For me, my “discovery” of Julia Child fills in those gaps in my lack of formal cooking training–and satisfies my own passion for food and cooking and my desire to learn more.

You can find lots of video clips from her old PBS shows on YouTube, by the way. They’re fun to watch, and make me feel like I’m five years old, back in my mother’s living room with the TV on. (The dearth of polish in these old shows is so endearing. One old Julia Child episode is more entertaining than all the spiffy shows on Food Network combined.)

“How about dinner in half a minute? How about a last-minute dinner party for 300 people? What about an omelette?”




I love how she throws down that other omelette pan!

Could anyone ever be as enthusiastically earnest about the perfection of an omelette as Julia Child? And that right there is what made her so awesome.

P.S. The prize for the March contributor giveaway on Farm Bell Recipes is a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One–find out how to enter here.

P.P.S. Speaking of cooking (and other) classes, we are down to only 10 spots left at CITR Retreat 2012. Is one of those spots yours? You better hurry to claim it!

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on March 9, 2012  

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  1. 3-9
    2:07
    am

    1st edition Vol I and II have a place of honor among my cookbooks. I’m an unabashed fan of Ms Child. Her first 13 shows, along with the shows she did with Jacques Pepin, just magic. Supermarkets wouldn’t have half the vegetables they do without her influence. Imagine mushrooms were so exotic, they only came in cans!

  2. 3-9
    3:14
    am

    Yes, I watched Julia with my Mom. She was a fascinating lady…very bold, very outspoken. She has a great cookbook on baking that I really enjoy. Her Volume I cookbook of the Mastering the Art of French Cooking has been recently reprinted. I saw it at the bookstore recently and was pleased that the movie has whetted everyone’s appetite for Julia Child’s French Cooking (pun intended). I also found Volume 2 at my library. Most libraries have an extensive section of cookbooks. Tax dollars well used-how rare!

  3. 3-9
    4:44
    am

    I’m not much of a cook but I dearly loved watching the old episodes of Julia Child when I was younger. And you are spot on about the lack of polish. I remember her throwing things over her shoulder and telling them “goodbye!” I would have hated to been the person(s) who had to clean up her kitchen afterwards. Thanks for the memories.

  4. 3-9
    6:01
    am

    Since retiring a few years ago (for a time anyway) I’ve done the majority of cooking at our house. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and still do in spite of having worked as a line cook for a while to make ends meet (or, to make ends of meat, if you will).

    Your review makes me want to take a look at that book. I, too, was long put off by the title, although I’ve watched Julia often enough. My personal favorite French chef, however, is Jacques Pepin. I also watch Giada sometimes, but for other reasons. :)

    For the males in your readership who have never dabbled in the stove arts, my advice is to get started the same way I did many years ago as a bachelor: learn by augmenting.

    I started out with a paperback book aimed at people who did not like to cook or who were put off by it (i.e. afraid). That book had you begin your journey as a foodie by buying canned or otherwise preprepared foods and then augmenting them with fresh ingredients. For example, Campbell’s Clam Chowder is no better than acceptable out of the can, but if you add in more clams, some selected vegetables, and some recommended spices, it can be quite nice. Do this often enough and soon you will be ready to try your own clam chowder from scratch. And from there, other things.

    I still do this when pressed for time, and especially with spaghetti sauce. I buy a good brand of sauce in a jar, then add, fresh, the stuff we like in our sauce. Then I don’t spend all day over the stove because, having recently had to go back to work, I no longer have that kind of time.

    And never be afraid to say to yourself “I wonder how it would be if I add (pick a flavor) to (the dish in progress)?” Worst case you pitch it and go for a pizza. And yes, we’ve done that a few times.

  5. 3-9
    6:47
    am

    How I loved the movie Julie and Julia. I to watched the wonderful Julia Child on PBS with my mother, such wonderful memories of my mother being so intent of watching everytime it was on. Thank you so much for reminding me of those long ago memories.

  6. 3-9
    7:39
    am

    While you’re fixated on Julia, look for the book “An Appetite for Life”. Great biography. What a fascinating life — and the public part all happened after she was about 50!

  7. 3-9
    7:46
    am

    Well, Suzanne, you have sold me. I saw the movie and wanted to immediately go buy the book, but decided it was just another one of my whims and didn’t do it. I am going to go get that book this weekend. Thanks for the great review.

  8. 3-9
    9:26
    am

    :happyflower:
    I have a copy of the cookbook for many years, and have looked at it from time to time, but never really seriously, I shall get it out of the case and take another look. I loved watcking Julia Childs when she was on pbs, I think of her often when watching some of the cooking programs on tv today, I remember Julia dropping things on the floor and picking them up and proceeding with her cooking. I miss those early days of tv.
    Says some thing about my age—doesnt it? ;)

  9. 3-9
    9:31
    am

    I saw the movie with my best friend of 25 years. We decided that I was Julia and she was Julie. Especially the scene where Julie is laying on the floor in a tizz. My friend exactly. We laughed until we cried at that movie. So the next Christmas she gave me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I promised that I would cook something out of it and have them over and then we sold our house and moved away. She is planning a visit this spring so I need to get the cook book out!

  10. 3-9
    9:37
    am

    I hope I win – they still rerun “Baking with Julia” and “Julia and Jacques” on weekends and I enjoy it. She definitely has a big personality – so much more entertaining than most recent food programming.

  11. 3-9
    9:38
    am

    Wait, this isn’t a giveaway! I still love Julia anyway. :)

  12. 3-9
    9:52
    am

    Like so many others, I remember watching Julie when I was a kid and being amazed at her techniques….in particular they way she tossed things around the kitchen. :lol: She was a tremendously classy lady and I was thrilled when the movie came out. I actually watched it on an airplane. What a great way to speed the trip! I have lots of cookbooks but not that one. Guess I’d better get moving on a post!

  13. 3-9
    9:55
    am

    Last summer I was only working weekends and went on a psycho Julia Child kick. I read Volume one obsessively and just soaked in every word! While the vichyssoise (which sounds so fancy!) became our new favorite soup, the pate a choux was not a hit (too eggy). Maybe it would have been more appreciated if it weren’t 100 degrees outside! I did learn how to make some rockin’ sauces that I can use in almost any meal-veloute for chicken, mornay for mac n cheese and queso dip; and bechemel for biscuits and gravy. See! Soooo much better than the powdered sauce packets I used before! Pluse the croque-madam gives you a real reason to make a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a poached egg on top, need I say more?

  14. 3-9
    10:41
    am

    As soon as I saw “Julia” next to Suzanne’s name, I knew exactly who it was she was writing about. You can’t be a cook or someone who’s even trying to learn to cook, without hearing the name…Julia Child (say it in a soft whisper, it’s quite mesmorizing ;) ) Heehee! Her attitude and enthusiasm are inspiring, and I also love watching her with Pepin. It is funny when he picks up an ingredient to put into their dish and says/asks, “I think it needs more such-n-such, don’t you?” and is forced to stop midway as she says, “No, I don’t think so.” Do you ever see that smirk on his face as he looks down and goes along with her? LOL, hilarious! You have to smile and/or laugh when you watch Julia Child.

    I have flipped through her cookbook at the local library (and yes, it is one place that they don’t seem to have misused our tax dollars) and thought, oh my, that’s too advanced for me! But after reading the message above and the proceeding comments, I am ready to acquire the book and DIVE IN! …maybe into a vichyssoise!

  15. 3-9
    4:36
    pm

    It’s all been said. Except this…………
    If Julia weren’t a lady, but were an animal instead…………
    I think she would be a chicken! Manerisms scream of a futsy, loveable, clucking mamma hen.
    As a child I was mesmerized by her voice. Whenever I think of Julia Child I remember watching her make pressed duck. I was flabergasted that anyone would eat it but I couldn’t stop watching.
    Then of course there are those old SNL skits. :bugeyed:
    She was a character!

  16. 3-9
    6:05
    pm

    I love Julia. I also felt that the recipes were too high falutin’. Not so long ago I decided to make coq au vin. In plain words it is chicken stew. A whole cut-up chicken using herbs, mushrooms, carrots, etc. and wine. Used the dutch oven and it was yummy. I find that I don’t want to use a recipe when it calls for ingredients that I don’t readily have in my pantry or freezer.

  17. 3-9
    6:20
    pm

    Julia taught me to cook. Mom wasn’t into it. It gave a whole new meaning to ‘fixing’ food. Food was bland, made from stuff out of cans and packages, and always the same. I saw Julia on Public TV (another good use of tax dollars) and, even though I was kinda young, got a copy of Mastering with money saved from babysitting. Julia taught me technique, and also gave a great lesson on how to achieve mastery in anything you tackle by learning basic steps thoroughly and then building on that solid foundation. At some point, you find the sweet spot and just soar! Thank you, Julia, thank you!

    Also, most of French cuisine has solid roots in country-style cooking, for that country at any rate. The quality of the ingredients is stressed above the quantity. PS My family appreciated the difference Julia made, too. Mom was happy to let me loose whenever I wanted! PPS build a good pantry and use it.

  18. 3-9
    9:00
    pm

    My husband and I share an obsession with Julia Child, and between us I think we have all her cookbooks. DH liked to tackle the more elaborate dishes from Mastering, I & II; the ones that dirty every pot in the kitchen. I enjoyed READING Mastering, but I preferred cooking the simpler recipes from “Julia Child & Company” and More Company.

    However, we both agree that her magnum opus is “The Way to Cook.” For one thing, it’s about cooking in general, not French cooking. And it’s intended to be a complete course in cooking. It starts with the basics and then builds on them, from making stock to soups, methods of cooking such as braising vs roasting. She first teaches the method (and it’s lavishly illustrated) and then gives recipes using that method. It covers everything. We have given it to several people who were either beginning cooks or wanting to expand their cooking skills.

    We have the DVDs of her original black & white show on PBS, and watching it is like visiting with an old friend. One of the ways I used to amuse myself on long drives was imagining, if Julia Child were coming to our house for dinner, what would I cook? To this day, when I flip an egg, I remind myself of her admonition to have the courage of your convictions. It works, too!

    Julia Child has brought much happiness to my life. I admire her, and am grateful to her. I think she was a no-nonsense person, with integrity.

  19. 3-10
    7:52
    am

    I also love that movie. And Julia, what an amazing women. I would highly recommend you read My Life In France. You will love it too!

  20. 3-10
    12:35
    pm

    I too, am intrigued by French cooking and saw Julia and Julia. I own La Technique by Jaques Pepin, The Professional Chef (textbook from the CIA-Culinary Institute of America) and Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain. It’s interesting but I have yet to master all the mother sauces!

  21. 3-10
    5:24
    pm

    Suzanne – you have to have a look at this site (if you haven’t already seen it)!

    http://www.thekitchn.com/how-i-invited-julia-child-into-my-office-166797#comments

    Some amazing pictures of Julia Childs!!! I love, love Julia Childs and the movie was amazing!

  22. 3-12
    10:03
    pm

    8) I used to see The French Chef as a teenager from time to time on weekend tv. And The Frugal Gourmet, Grahm Kerr,whom I immediately stopped watching when he said organic was foolish. I guess everyone who watched Julia more than once came to appreciate her enthusiasm. I have had many cookbooks in my just short of sixty years, I was a foodie when no one knew what that was, especially in east Texas!I made pot a creme in the 8th grade for homemaking class .But a recent move made me look more seriously at what I actually ever opened a cover on. It wasn’t the church cookbooks or the magazine cookbook or even popular chef cookbooks. It actually turned out to be how to cookbooks. The Meat Book by Bruice Adelis, my faithful red and white checked Better Homes cookbook,a couple of others like that. I took a laundry basket full of cookbooks to Goodwill. I’m not sure where my adventuresome side came from (food wise), but Childs and Pepin certainly added fuel to the flame. I’ve never splurged on the cookbook, I’d love to win a copy. Great post, great comments.

  23. 3-12
    11:28
    pm

    What a great talking point – Julia Child & what she has meant (and currently means) to modern American cooking. Obviously she still resonates with old and new cooks. I have never thought about picking up her book(s) to read but now I think I will do just that. My mother was a “home economist” by trade and education (she had a college degree). She never talked much about Julia Child but passed on to me books about Jacques Pepin and other famous chefs of her era (30’s to 50’s). I still treasure them as they represent another era which we should never forget. Thanks for the talk…

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