julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Getting to Know Jessica

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“I was 32 when I started cooking. Until then, I just ate.” – Julia Child

 When I was born, I weighed a whopping 10 lbs. 7 oz. (the nurses called me “Jumbo Jessica” – tell me that doesn’t give you a lifelong self-image complex!), and I came into this world HONGRY. Within two weeks I was on rice cereal, and before I was really walking I could finish off an entire piece of fish. To put it literally, I have always loved food.

Here’s the thing about me and food – it’s not just that I love to eat (and boy, do I!), but more importantly, I love how it brings people together – families around dinner tables, friends at parties, co-workers in the break room. It helps us celebrate, it comforts us and heals us and, most of all, it fuels our bodies – and our psyche.

Cheesesteak in Philadelphia

Because food touches all of our senses, it has this strong, subtle power of triggering our memories. I can’t eat a piece of sourdough toast without thinking of the summers I spent with my grandparents in California as a little girl, the salty beach air wafting in through the dining room window. For our honeymoon, Ben and I took a 3-month road trip across the country. We visited all 48 contiguous states and Canada, and stopped at  every major league baseball field and professional football stadium in the country. We saw national landmarks, historical monuments, visited state capitol buildings, toured battlefields – and do you know how I can remember all of the different places we went? By the food that we ate while we were there. I had a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich after seeing the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia; I cracked open a lobster in a small second-story dining room in a restaurant overlooking foggy Bar Harbor; I ate a crabcake sandwich in a little dive on the boardwalk at Virginia Beach while we watched the All-Star baseball game on the bar TV; we bought a hot dog from a sidewalk vendor in Washington, D.C. just before visiting Ford Theater. It’s amazing the lasting impressions food can leave on us. (Of course, I can also remember when I got food poisoning in college after eating a barbecue sandwich and couldn’t even look at brisket for three years, let alone eat it. Ugh.)

So why is it that someone who loves food and loves to eat has yet to master the art of cooking? I think the answer is the fact that there are always easier options. I know. Sad but true. Growing up, the adults in my life did all the cooking. In college, I lived in a girls’ dorm with a community kitchen on the first floor. Did I take advantage of it? Nope. I grabbed my meal card and headed to the Student Center like everyone else. Sure, I used the oven from time to time to bake cookies or brownies…but even those came in a tube or a box. (Oh, dear. I think I just heard Julia Child sigh in disgust.)

Maine Lobster in Bar Harbor

After college, I was thrilled to move into my first apartment and felt that this was really my chance to make something of myself in the kitchen. Only I soon discovered that my oven and my smoke detector were working in tandem and plotting against me. Every time I opened the oven door to pull something out, the heat from the oven would set off the smoke detector – whether the food was burnt or not. So eventually I learned that the only way to cook anything without alerting the entire building was to open the back door to my patio before opening the oven door. As you can imagine, this practice grew old, and while I was able to live off of pan-fried chicken breasts and steamed broccoli, I never did fulfill my dream of becoming the Betty Crocker I thought I could be.

But now things have changed. For starters, I’ve recently bought a house – with a real, full-sized kitchen! – and I am determined to learn how to make the most of it. It has a gas stove (which, I have to admit, I was terrified to use for the first few weeks until Ben demonstrated that I really and truly would not blow up the house in an explosion of blue flames) and an oven that actually works as it should. I have cabinets and counter space and a pot rack, and I have an arsenal of utensils and machinery. (A dough hook! I own a dough hook!) But the biggest difference of all is that now, I have the hunger of a challenge burning in my belly. I have the accountability of this blog and the support of my friends and family (and readers! I have actual readers!) to keep me on track.

Of course, the promise of a trip to Paris doesn’t hurt, either.

So here we are, just over a week away from attempting our first Julia Child recipe and a line has been drawn in the proverbial sand(wich). There are no more easy outs. No more meal cards. No more excuses. From here on out, it’s just me, Julie and Julia – and our love of food.

-Jumbo Jessica

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One Response to “Getting to Know Jessica”

  1. Melanie Ridings says:

    Good Morning Sunday, July 25th! Great entry for the first entre’ – brave girl using ‘jumbo’; of course, that could work in your favor in order to remember of what you don’t want to be? So do tell, what are you planning on cooking first? Can’t wait to follow! I guess my next question is do you have good knives? Please send me an email – Good Luck on this venture! Its going to be a blast! Have fun! Love, Chef MJR

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