Posted by: njbrown | August 10, 2009

Cooking with Julia remembered


August 10, 2009
I had forgotten how much I loved to cook with Julia’s help.  I can’t remember when I first watched her, but certainly by the summer of 1972, I was working my way through recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and The French Chef.  I did not do all of them, but it was a wonderful, joyous time.

Before I was married in 1967, my not – yet husband, gave me a Better Home and Gardens cookbook, and said when he returned from his ten week submarine deployment, he expected me to know how to cook.  The frozen sole cooked in cream of shrimp soup that I was able to produce wouldn’t qualify today as haute cuisine.  After his death a year later, I lost interest in eating and cooking, and it didn’t return until I married again in 1972.

My second husband’s motivation for me was to ask if I would ever be as good a cook as his mother.  These were fighting words!  (We are still happily married 37 years later.)  I threw myself into cooking, although not all were French recipes.  After two weeks of different meals, my husband asked how long I could keep up cooking something different every day.  It was six months.  (He was gaining weight).

We moved from a tiny apartment in a residence hotel in Chicago where my husband was doing a bank internship between his first and second years of graduate school (where our kitchen was smaller than Julie Powell’s) to a small townhouse in Ypsilanti, Michigan where the kitchen was a bit bigger.  My cookbook collection had grown to about 25 books, but I was able to watch Julia regularly, and she was the high point of my week.

After the completion of my husband’s graduate program, we moved to the New York area.  In New York we ate at the Four Seasons (on their early dinner cut-rate prices), the Coach House, and Lutèce.  My husband and I were hooked on gorgeous food.  Again working from a tiny kitchen, I continued to work through Julia’s recipes -Charlotte Malakoff, duchess potatoes, turban of sole, crepes with a variety of fillings, timbales, etc. etc. etc.  (My husband continued to gain weight.)  I attended a cooking class put on by the Four Seasons, and learned to make a beautiful omelet.  The version I was taught is a slight variation on Julia’s using a fork to swirl the eggs while simultaneously shaking the pan back and forth.

In 1975 we moved to Canada, and I took cooking classes at George Brown College in Toronto (Canada’s equivalent of the Culinary Institute of America), and then from a variety of local teachers.  My husband, George, continued to help me with things that require good nerves – like unmolding.

By the time our second child was born, the demands of a full-time job and two children who were more into McDonald’s than French cuisine made me leave cooking beautiful food behind.  However, now with my children grown and retirement less than a year away, the movie Julie and Julia has inspired me to return to cooking with all its joys.

The movie came out on Friday and I went to see it with my recently married daughter.  I got awake in the night, and went to the basement to find my old copy of Mastering the Art etc.  I couldn’t find it, but did find The French Chef complete with pictures from Julia’s early years on TV – a real treasure.  The dust jacket was torn, but I carefully and lovingly repaired it.  Saturday, I took George to see Julie and Julia.  He cried more than I did.
Yesterday, I made boeuf bourguignon.  I can’t remember if it was the first recipe from Julia’s book I made, but it was a family favorite. It came out well, and my happy memories of cooking and eating are flooding back.  Now I know what I’m going to do after I retire – I’m going to cook!  (George is dieting in preparation.)

Nancy

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