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

How Do You Eat An Elephant? One Bite At a Time.

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“Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health.” – Julia Child

For the past week, I’ve been poring over Mastering the Art of French Cooking trying to determine the best way to approach the daunting task of preparing 524 recipes in 365 days. The book is laid out really well. The beginning explains some techniques, covers some common cooking terms you’ll need to know, and goes over certain kitchen tools and the benefits/drawbacks of each. The rest of the book is divided into sections by food category (Soups, Sauces, Eggs, and so on). Each category begins with the recipes requiring the simpler techniques, working their way up to the more complex recipes.

The Food Pyramid

Because of this design, Julie Powell was right – you can’t very well work your way through the book from front to back. If you did, you’d be stuck in one category for days. (I personally am a fan of omelets, but I don’t really want to eat them for a week straight.) So I decided the best thing to do is make a list of all of the recipes in the book, and then start creating menus of items in similar difficulty level. (For instance, I’d start out with an easy soup, an easy meat and an easy vegetable – that would knock out three recipes right there. And if I added a dessert, that’s four!)

It occurred to me as I was listing out the sauce recipes – hello, McFly! – Julia’s recipes don’t have to be the center of every single meal. For instance, we could grill up some of Ben’s famous burgers and simply add Julia’s Sauce Robert on top. Voila! One recipe checked off the list! This may have been obvious to everyone else, but it came as a great relief to me. Mostly because it meant that in between elaborate français meals, we could have an occasional salad – easy to make and easy on caloric intake. This was starting to shape up!

Speaking of shaping up, my next concern had to do with the large quantities of cream and butter featured in these recipes. Now I’m no health nut, and you may not know it by looking at me, but I do try to make healthy decisions when it comes to food. How could I succeed in this challenge without running the risk of gaining 50 pounds? (At that rate, if I even made it to Paris, I’d be too heavy to feel like walking anywhere!) The rules of the challenge clearly state that I can’t alter the ingredients (no margarine instead of butter) and I can’t cut any corners. How in the world did Julia Child maintain her healthy weight while cooking and eating this way? And this got me thinking about the idea of eating healthy…

Dr. Robert Atkins, founder of the Atkins Diet

It’s funny how, as a society, our views on food go through these cycles. First we’re all supposed to adhere to the food pyramid; no, wait, eat a bunch of cabbage soup and it’ll flush your body of toxins; okay, scratch that, now we’re supposed to ditch the bread and eat more meat. Well, here’s what I’ll say about all of that. Robert Atkins spent years analyzing carbohydrate consumption, emphasizing protein and monitoring fat intake for the Atkins Diet – and in the end, he slipped on a patch of ice, hit his head and that, my friends, was what did him in. Not bread, not meat, not fat, not calories. My point is, we’re so busy worrying about food, we’re not spending any time actually enjoying food. I like Julia Child’s philosophy: “Everything in moderation…including moderation.”

I don’t deprive myself of the things I love, but I don’t go hog wild, either. I don’t eat fast food (okay, maybe on the occasional road trip I’ll have a quick chicken sandwich); I try to avoid soda; I use margarine instead of butter; I drink skim milk; and when my sweet tooth calls out, I eat low-fat ice cream. I tell you this not to sound healthfully superior, but to drive home this point: the next 365 days are going to be a complete shock to my system. I’m already imagining the hours I’ll have to spend on the elliptical machine to counteract the amounts of calories that will undoubtedly be digested in the next year. But I’ll also stick to the ideas of having everything in moderation and making healthy choices whenever possible. Which brings me to my next part of the plan…

Avoid Leftovers
Taking into consideration the fact that there are only two of us in my household – most of these recipes were intended to feed 4-6 people – I’ve decided that, whenever possible, I’ll divide the quantity of ingredients so that the finished product will be enough food for just the two of us. (Considering numbers are the arch nemesis of the Journalism major, I’ll have Ben double-check my math.) After all, there’s no need to have tons of leftovers lying around when there’s a new recipe to make every day…especially when we get to the dessert chapter.

Make Healthy Choices
We’ve already established that there’s no getting around the ingredients of these recipes. However, for the meals when we’re not focusing on a MtAoFC meal, we can eat lower-calorie foods and lighter meals.

Everything in Moderation
I have a sneaking suspicion that portion control will be key. Given that so many of the recipes sound so delicious, it will be hard to not over-indulge. But I don’t want to deprive us of any part of this culinary experience, either, and so we’ll have a little bit of everything. Emphasis on “little bit”. (And when I say “everything”, don’t think for one minute that includes calf brains. *shudder*)

So that’s my plan of attack. I doubt it’s fool-proof, and I’m sure at some point I’ll scratch the whole thing and just start grabbing at recipes in a desperate attempt to finish in time. (Ben will just have to be open-minded when we wind up with chocolate spongecake topped with mustard sauce.) But at least I’m starting out organized…right?


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2 Responses to “How Do You Eat An Elephant? One Bite At a Time.”

  1. Margaret says:

    I love the moderation in all things especially moderation quote. Can I just make one quick comment about margarine? Don’t. Use less butter or try olive oil or mix water into real butter to cut down on the calories. Margarine doesnt’ save you calories and it is not good for you. Go natural – just less. That is my opinion :-)

  2. Melody says:

    Just a thought – you could ALWAYS cook the full portions of one of your creations & bring the leftovers to the next tailgate party.

    I’m just sayin’ . . . 😉

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