Posted by: njbrown | August 16, 2009

Learning to be fearless

August 12, 2009

My mother didn’t teach me to cook. I asked her to, but her response was always, “Stir it (roll it, mix it) until it looks right.” The problem was, I didn’t know how “right” looked. I can’t recall her using a measuring cup, but she must have had one. As a result, at the age of 22 and a graduate student, I had virtually no experience with taking ingredients and producing a finished dish. As well, Women’s Lib had begun, and I told myself that I was an educated women and didn’t need to know how to cook. (Neither of my dear husbands accepted this argument.)

In the last post, I wrote about seeing a buche de noel for the first time at Christmas in Paris. A few years later when I saw Julia’s show on making a buche, I was electrified. I bought the utensils and carefully followed the instructions. I used the waxed paper, the damp towel, and trimmed the sides of the cake to begin to roll it, but it cracked and the outcome was far from a roll. I tried it a number of times after with the same lack of success. Next Christmas, I will try it again, and hope that the almost forty intervening years having given me enough wisdom and/or skill to finally get it right. If so, I will feel really triumpant!

Lovely food memories are flooding back. It’s like finding a very old trunk in an attic, and opening it to find forgotten treasures. Probably my first memory of food is of going to Howard Johnson’s in the Boston area for ice cream when I was about three. I don’t remember the flavor, but it might have been chocolate mint (my father’s favorite). Over the years Howard Johnson’s pink peppermint became my favorite -even more than any variety of chocolate. (Chocolate is my favorite food, hands down.) Sadly, it has become very difficult to find it – impossible in Canada. I think Rachel Ray said that there is still a Howard Johnson’s in Lake Placid, NY, and after I retire perhaps George and I can go in hopes of getting a pink peppermint cone.

The desserts I began making with Julia’s help were far more complex than anything I had known anyone to make. Four hours to produce one of her confections was not unusual, but there was such a rush of excitement when it turned out – and they almost always did. I think that was Julia’s brilliance – that she could make French cooking and baking do-able for average (“servantless”) women. She was able transfer her lack of fear to us.



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