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

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

 

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“After one taste of French food…I was hooked. I’d never eaten like that before, I didn’t know such food existed. The wonderful attention paid to each detail of the meal was incredible to me…It was simply a whole new life experience.” – Julia Child 

Before picking up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the extent of my knowledge of French food ended at La Madeleine. Rotisserie chicken, quiche and free bread and jam. (But the chefs wore cooking berets, so it MUST be authentic!) Of course, there are a few legitimate items I knew about:

Birthday Begnets in the French Quarter

– croissants (yum!)
– begnets (eaten in the French Quarter of New Orleans on my birthday – delish!)
– escargot (more like escarNO)

But what a relief, upon opening Julia’s cookbook, to learn that the French actually do eat more than snails and baked goods. In fact, lots of the dishes listed look really tasty! I love the way the flaky crust looks on the boned chicken recipe, and who doesn’t love a dessert lined with lady fingers? My taste buds are really getting revved up, and it’s a good thing, because we are in official countdown mode! T minus 2 days until we bid au revoir to our favorite American dishes and focus on the new and exciting French cuisine. While I’m looking forward to this taste adventure, I have to confess that I think I’m going to miss some of my favorite go-to American meals. Let’s pay tribute to a few of the ol’ stand-bys, shall we?

So long to Grandma Ridings’ Taco Casserole. My favorite part about this recipe is the crunchy Nacho Dorito topping. Oh, AND the fact that it calls for black olives, which are always fun to wear on your fingertips during kitchen prep – with clean hands, of course.

Farewell, Chicken Crescent Calzones. This dish incorporates one of my all-time favorite food products – crescent roll dough!! – in a new and exciting way. Easy and delicious…a winning combination!

On weekend mornings, I’ll really miss Allison’s Breakfast Pie. Allison brought this dish to a morning business meeting before bursting into tears upon learning that the big project she had spent a million hours of her life on could have been completed in minutes with an automated system she didn’t know we had. But don’t feel too badly. She showed us by getting married and leaving the company – and that project – far behind. Now that I think about it, this dish always tastes a little bitter to me.

Oh, Chicken Tuscan Pizza, how I’ll miss thee. Let me count the ways! Chicken, sundried tomatoes, and a thick crust make this dish a hit. Don’t worry, friends…your aerated pizza pan is a-ok for this recipe.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

When it comes time to bring a dish to a party, I’ll really be mourning these Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms. Super easy to make (they come from the Six Ingredients or Less cookbook!), they’re also super tasty and a sure way to make friends at any occasion.

And finally, Ben will be especially sad to say good-bye to our Coca-Cola Pot Roast. I’m a huge fan of crock pot meals, and this one’s always a winner. (Soda? In a pot roast??) Um, yes. Most definitely YES.

So, just for the record, these are recipes that even I can’t mess up (as long as I’ve got a recipe to follow!), so I welcome any of you to give them a try. What the heck, make ‘em this weekend! Take advantage of the time we have left before switching over to a year of Julia Child’s favorite French meals for the home cook. I have a feeling that somewhere around Day #184 we’ll all really be craving a hamburger. 

From my kitchen to yours,
-Jessica

Feeding Your Curiosity

 

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“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” – Julia Child

 

Over the past week, readers have written in with some great questions about my impending upcoming adventure. Before I get elbow-deep in goose liver and puff pastry, I thought I’d take this opportunity to compile the most frequently asked questions and address them here. Want to know more? Send me a note in the comments – maybe your question will be addressed in a future post! (We all want our 15 seconds of fame, after all.) 

 

My Marathon

Tell us a little bit about yourself at this point in your life.
Lately I’ve found myself coasting through life on autopilot, and at almost 30 years old, it’s time to take charge. I think tackling a project  that’s just for me, something that will instill some passion in my soul and bring some personal growth, is just the ticket. This desire, plus a new beautiful kitchen, a new laptop computer and a hunger to learn how to cook has led to this blog experience. Sure, I could have chosen something more normal – like training for a marathon or learning to play the guitar – but that wouldn’t be very me. I’m much more inclined to take on the nearly impossible and entirely random feat of learning how to cook from a 684-page cookbook.

How are your friends and family reacting to this endeavor? 
So far, the response has been really positive! Everyone is using words like “ambitious” and “fun” rather than “insane” and “gone mad”, so that’s encouraging. Several people are in the same culinary boat as me and are looking forward to following along on this journey. I’m excited to share what I learn, and I hope some people will even try a few recipes with me! 

What is your strategy for finding some of these unusual ingredients?
While Julia claims that, with very few exceptions, all the ingredients called for in MtAoFC are available in the average American grocery store, I can tell you right now there are some items listed there I’ve never seen in my life. For those items, I plan to visit a couple of high-end markets near my house known for their wide variety of foods. In future posts, you can follow along on my shopping trips to see where I wind up having to go to buy these items. (I can guarantee the Vietnamese market will not find its way onto the list.)

Are you planning to have people over for dinner? How do we get invites?
Absolutely!! The thing I love most about food is how it brings people together. Besides, this adventure will be much more fun if people join in the craziness and experience it firsthand. Watch for notices and invites to be posted on the blog. And, if there are any recipes coming up that you really want to taste, send me a comment and let me know you’re interested in a dinner invite. We’re all friends here! 

What do you most like about Julia Child? Julie Powell?
I love Julia’s carefree attitude and her sheer love of life. She just put herself out there for the world to see and didn’t care that she wasn’t perfect. As for Julie, I like her ability to see past the negative factors in her life and manage to hold onto her hope that tomorrow could be better. 

Competing in Nashville, TN

Is there any stretch of time that you’ll be unable to cook in the next year?
I’ll be out of town for a week in October attending a Sweet Adelines International convention in Seattle. My mom and I sing together in a women’s barbershop chorus, and as the current international champions (it’s true!), we have the opportunity to attend this year’s competition for a “bow-out” performance to an audience of thousands, and – the best part – to sing in the new champions who win this year. It’s a blast! And while I’m really enjoying this blog, I just don’t see myself making Poulets Grilles a la Diable in a hotel room kitchenette. But fear not! I’ll have plenty to write about that week without cooking a single meal
 
Have you decided what your final dish will be?
In order to come full circle, it may have to be Pate de Canard en Croute, the final dish featured in the Julie&Julia movie. Then again, at that point I may just be scrambling to finish in time and wind up with a bunch of random recipes that don’t really go together. I have a sneaking suspicion the latter is more likely.


Which recipes are you looking forward to attempting?
The recipe for Julia’s Boeuf Bourgignon stood out for me when watching the movie (I loooove a good beef stew!) and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. Now, if I can just learn from Julie’s experience and avoid burning it in the oven on my first try… 

How does a reader get email alerts when you add a new post?
I’m glad you asked! We just added a “Subscribe” button to the home page of the site. Type in your email address, click on the button, and you’ll receive email alerts when a new blog has been posted. 

Where can we find the rules to the challenge?
Rules are outlined in the second post of this blog, The Beginning: Part 2

What are you most looking forward to in Paris?
Looking out my hotel window at night and seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up. (What can I say, it’s the little things!) 

Any plans on learning French this year? 
Yes, and you will too, if you follow along on this blog! As we get into the cooking, I’ll post words and phrases en francais with translations so we can all learn together. Feel free to wear your favorite beret!

"It's smiling at me!"

How will you handle Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners?
Like I handle them every year…with a little bit of panic. Thanksgiving might be hard, since we’re so traditional with our turkey dinner. Maybe I’ll just add a couple of Julia’s side dishes to what we normally prepare. For Christmas, I think I’ll try a duck,  as an homage to one of my favorite holiday movies, A Christmas Story! (Only this one won’t be smiling at me.)  

What would you like to say to your readers as you begin this journey?
Thank you! Thank you, thank you for following along and reading this wild tale of craziness. It’s so much more fun to know I have folks joining me on this journey. As we go forward together, let’s do our best to keep an open mind and follow Julia’s #1 rule of cooking: have fun!!

-Jessica

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

  

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“When I first started out, everything was done by hand. I think it’s very important for the home cook—that’s what I’m interested in—to have things like the food processor…to make fish mousse in a few seconds.” – Julia Child
Julia Child started cooking in the late 1940’s when she and husband Paul were living in France. As you can imagine, mechanical kitchen tools and utensils were few and far between in France in 1949, so every time-consuming task in la cuisine classique was done by hand.

Did you hear me?

BY HAND.

Does anyone even know how to do things by hand anymore? I think I’ve made cookies from scratch maybe three times in my life – and each time it was the same recipe. Things are so much easier today, between pre-packaged food, re-heatable dinners, and updated kitchen appliances. Think about how much has changed in the last sixty years, and how spoiled we’ve become. In 1949, there was no Magic Bullet; no food processor; no non-stick pans and cookie dough didn’t come in a refrigerated tube.

Here, a mortar and pestle are used to grind pesto.

Julia crushed herbs and nuts into fine powders in a marble mortar and pestle (we would just use a blender today); she mixed dough in a bowl with a wooden spoon (we would toss it into the electric mixer). Recipes that today would take us minutes to create took her hours – and yet, she still loved spending that time in the kitchen because she felt there was no better place to spend time. But don’t get me wrong – just because she was an advocate for learning la technique, Julia had no problem adopting new labor- and time-saving technologies in the kitchen, so long as they produced classical results. If these new and improved kitchen tools didn’t contribute to the production of good food, then she had no problem sticking to the old method. Laura Shapiro, author of Julia Child: A Life wrote, “Cooking, for her, was not in conflict with progress. Rather it was, or could be, in partnership with it.”

Today's food processor has revolutionized kitchen prep work.

Imagine the changes in technology Julia witnessed during her cooking career. In 1946, the Waring Blender made its way into homes; in 1953, Saran Wrap was produced for household use. That same year, the TV dinner found its way into American freezers, and it wasn’t until 1971 – 10 years after the first edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking came out – that the food processor was marketed for home cooks. Today, if we come home too tired to cook, we pop a meal in the microwave and can have dinner on the table in five minutes. If Julia Child came home too tired to cook…well, too bad. We’ve got it pretty easy, huh?

And yet, much like a farmer takes pride in the land he works because of the investment of himself in his efforts, I would imagine a cook who creates food by hand can enjoy the fruits of her labor to a greater extent. So I plan to follow Julia’s example and utilize the old way – handmade. Except, of course, when I can feel her tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “For crying out loud, kid, this would go much faster if you’d use the ol’ food processor!” (These moments are called out in italics throughout MtAoFC.)

So today I challenge you, dear reader, to avoid taking the easy route. Instead of popping some bread in the toaster, fire up the broiler in the oven. Rather than sticking that tomato under the SlapChop, give it a fine dice with a knife. Don’t opt for bottled lemon juice – squeeze your own. Do one thing today by hand, if for no other reason than to enjoy the taste of your meal a little more. As Julia says, “The treasures of the table, and of life, are infinite!”

Toujours bon appetit!

-Jessica

No Guts, No Glory

  

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“You should have seen the way those men looked at me (in cooking class)… but then they discovered I was fearless.” – Julia Child

 
I’ve never really been a picky eater and have done my best to be open to trying new things. However, there are some things I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat – and unfortunately for me, quite a few of those things are found in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Here’s something you should know about me – I really love meat. While I think the idea of vegetarianism is admirable, I could never do it. Sure, I could last for awhile, but I would eventually snap and you’d find me the next morning curled up in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, gnawing on a leg of lamb. But here’s the thing about meat…as a society we’ve really gotten spoiled, haven’t we? We can go to the store, pick up a neatly-wrapped package, pay the nice man at the counter and a couple of hours later we’ve got hamburgers – all without so much as getting our hands dirty. Nevermind the fact that at SOME point, SOMEone had to do all the messy work – but thank goodness it wasn’t us. I consider myself a pretty brave individual, and I’ve got what I imagine to be strong survival skills, but when it comes to killing and preparing my own food, I don’t think I could do it. Aren’t I a hypocrite? I have no problem scarfing down a delicious steak, but if I came face to face with a cow in a field and a meat cleaver in my hand, I’d probably give him a shove while yelling, “Save yourself!” and resort to eating blades of grass in a weird twist of irony. 

Note: This is NOT what a Vietnamese meat market looks like.

What’s my problem? Is it fear, or is it the gross-out factor? Maybe it’s the fear of being grossed-out. Ben once took me to a Vietnamese market in an act of show-and-tell. We had just gotten ice cream cones, and here I come, bopping into the store with my vanilla soft serve, excited to see how other people lived. When we got to the meat section, I stopped in my tracks. There were unwrapped packages of ground beef sitting out, attracting flies, and an assembly line of butchers stood behind a counter messily hacking away at things, tossing fish heads into the air, and there was this awful smell – and all I could think was, “My ice cream cone! All of this contaminated air is touching my ice cream cone!!” The butchers laughed at me, because no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t mask the look of complete shock and disgust on my face, and it was all I could do to keep from running away screaming in horror.

I can’t help it – certain animal parts really freak me out (Ben once chased me around the meat section of the grocery store with a giant cow tongue). And the idea of touching those parts, let alone EATING those parts … well, let’s just say there are some places in the world I could never visit or I would starve to death. How nice to have the luxury of choice, huh?

All of this to say – I’m terrified of Chapter 7, pages 408-416. Julie Powell’s big hurdle was having to kill a lobster (a close second for me) and boning a duck. Not me. 

You can bet I’ll be investing in some rubber gloves for this little project.

Julia’s whole philosophy when it came to cooking was to be fearless. After all, that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? If I can do this, then I can do anything, right? I can be fearless…right?


Right? 


…Hello?… 


*tap tap* 


This thing on? 


*whimper*
-Jessica

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?

-Jessica

Ma Cuisine est Votre Cuisine

 

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“I’m very happy if I can influence anyone to keep into the kitchen and make it a real family room and part of your life.” – Julia Child    

Julia Child's Kitchen

In the 1990’s, Julia Child’s home kitchen in Cambridge was fully transformed into a functional set for her television program In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs. The room was installed with TV-quality lighting, three cameras and a massive center island with a gas stovetop on one side and an electric stovetop on the other. Husband Paul designed the kitchen, choosing the blue and green color scheme in the ‘60s, and he built the maple countertops two inches higher than normal to make things easier for his 6’2″ wife. She welcomed family, friends, colleagues and all of America into that kitchen for 45 years – now, I’d like to welcome you into mine.  

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Ben and I recently became homeowners for the very first time. In our search for the perfect house, one of our top priorities was to have a big kitchen (not that I fully knew how to use it, mind you, but that could come later.) We wanted a place where people could gather, relax, and hang out while yummy smells wafted from the oven and pots simmered on the stove. 

Jessica's Kitchen

So when we walked into the cute red-brick house on the corner, we both knew this was the one as soon as we saw the kitchen. It was spacious (but then, anything would be more spacious than the kitchen in our apartment) with updated appliances (a gas stove and oven!) and lots of counter and cabinet space. We made an offer that day. 

The kitchen was the first part of the house we painted, the first room we moved into, and the first area that was completely finished – even before our own bedroom. I knew that kitchen would be the heart of our house, and I was right – when people come over, it’s the natural gathering place. I’m excited that in just one week, I’ll really get to put it to the test. Since we’ll be spending so much time there over the next 365 days, I thought it  might be nice to give you a tour… 

Pot Rack

One of my favorite things about this kitchen is our pot rack. We scored this from the previous owners – they weren’t willing to part with their refrigerator (we didn’t really want it anyway), but they were happy to leave this behind. 

Gas Stove/Oven

Next – the appliances. I’ve never had a gas stove/oven before, so it took a little getting used to. Unfortunately for me, in MtAoFC, Julia explains that a modern electric stove is much better than weak domestic gas burners, and that electric ovens are better for pastry baking while gas ovens are desirable for broiling. “One of each is ideal!” she says. Ha! I suppose we’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got, eh? 

Our refrigerator was our first major purchase for the house. The bummer was that because of the height of our cabinets, we were limited in what size refrigerator we could purchase. In the end, we love what we got and are continually amazed by how much we can fit in this French door style. The in-door ice/water feature is especially luxurious (since before we had ice trays). We love this thing. 

Kitchenaid Mixer

Here is one of the star attractions in our kitchen: this superfly Kitchenaid mixer. Julia used one on The French Chef in the episode titled “Pain de Mie”. She first made bread dough by hand, kneading it with great effort; then she did a version in the mixer and the ease with which it was done was a significant improvement from the hand method. Hooray for technology! Can’t wait to put this baby to work.

I love how much countertop space we have here – this should definitely come in handy as we get into these 524 recipes. I also like how we have so many electrical outlets along the counters – great for mixers and other small appliances.

I can see from Julia’s book that I’ll need to pick up a few little things before we get started – her section titled “Kitchen Equipment” is helpful and suggests finding a restaurant-supply store for some reasonably priced kitchen objects. There just so happens to be one not far from my house, so I may check it out and report my findings. 

Overall, I think we’re in good shape. Starting next week we’ll be hanging out here a lot, so make yourself at home! Like I’ve said before, I love how food brings people together…and here we are! Together in my kitchen, the very heart of my house. Feel free to kick off your shoes and stay awhile. We’re all friends here. (Just please don’t drink from the milk carton.)

My kitchen is your kitchen!
-Jessica

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

Getting to Know Julie

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“I was painted into a corner. I was completely lost — I didn’t know what I was going to do. I wanted to learn to cook … It wasn’t until the project was nearly done that I really understood that what I was trying to do was figuring out a new way of living and finding new experiences in life.” – Julie Powell


 This December, I will turn 30. I’ve never had a problem with birthdays or the idea of growing older, but for some reason, this year feels a little different. (Of course, part of it could be the fact that Ben takes advantage of every opportunity to remind me, prematurely and in exaggerated digging tones, “Wow, you’re thirty! Don’t you feel ooold?”) I’ve lived a third of my life already (yes, I plan to make it to 90, okay?), and more and more I find myself questioning my purpose in life – Why am I here? Who am I, really? What’s my destiny? And then I climb over the pile of laundry in my bedroom and take a nap.

Julie Powell

Before the movie Julie&Julia, I had never heard of Julie Powell, but when I saw the depiction of her on screen, I instantly felt a connection to her. Not because I live in a tiny, filthy apartment in Queens (I don’t) or because I take a crowded subway to a dead-end job (no way), but because of the little pieces of me I saw in her… both Texas natives; both lacking culinary skills; both pushing 30 and both a little lost. Julie Powell and I were both looking for our purpose.

She found hers one night over Stoli Gimlets, when her husband suggested she take on this challenge – this Julie/Julia Project blog thingy – and the next thing you know, she’s on her way to self-discovery and, ultimately, a better outlook on life. Inspired, I looked up her blog to read it for myself and see what kind of wisdom she could share with me, what lessons she had learned from her experience…and to find out why Julia Child didn’t like the Julie/Julia Project. I couldn’t imagine Julia Child not liking anything, except maybe health food.

Amy Adams as Julie Powell

Having been introduced to the sweet Hollywood Amy Adams version of Julie Powell, I was surprised to see that Julie’s blog, while well-written and witty, was not only extremely cynical but was also littered with foul language – distracting and not something I would envision Julia Child to appreciate. But then again, Julie herself said about her on-screen depiction, “I did have to get my head around the fact that someone so perky and sweet and lovely would be playing me, because I’m not particularly sweet.” At least she’s honest.

I was also a little deflated to see that her descriptions of the meals she cooked along the way weren’t very detailed, commenting “It was quite good,” or “The green beans tasted like green beans. But with butter.” The more I read, however, I began to realize that she didn’t elaborate on the parts about food, but rather on the parts about how it impacted her life. It was then that I understood her blog about cooking wasn’t a blog about cooking – it was a blog about her journey of self-discovery in challenging herself to find new life experiences.

I really admire Julie for taking on the task of the Julie/Julia Project. To be honest, if she hadn’t done it, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to give it a try myself. I’m glad the end results have brought her such success: book deals, television appearances, interviews and, best of all, the ability to quit her crummy dead-end job and find her real purpose in life – to be an author.

Would Julie like my blog? Or for that matter, would Julie like me? Now that I’ve learned more about her, I can honestly say that I don’t think she would like either – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Not only would I imagine her to feel that I’m calling a do-over of her culinary victory (remember, I don’t think I can do this thing better than Julie; I just think I can do it differently), but I now find our differences to far outweigh our likenesses.

Julie's Recent Book

For starters, I’ve never had a Stoli Gimlet and I’ve never watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – what would we do with our time together? I tend to avoid the kinds of places she likes to frequent, and I think my optimism would clash violently with her signature cynicism. More significantly, while Julie is a self-proclaimed “cynic about the contemporary notion of marriage” as evidenced in her latest book (and for which she has received harsh criticism, but let’s not be completely unoriginal and delve into those sordid details here), I have to side with Julia’s take on it: “The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they’re right if you love to be with them all of the time.” In short, I think my relationship with my husband would really get on Julie’s nerves. But the biggest difference of all? I’m really, really happy with my life.

Who knows where this endeavor will lead? Magazine interviews? I doubt it. Book deals? Hardly. My own show on the Food Network? Fuggedaboudit. More important than any of that, in taking on this culinary challenge I look forward to learning about food, learning about cooking, and most of all, learning about myself.

Is it August 1st yet?
– Jessica

Getting to Know Julia

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“Some people like to paint pictures, or do gardening, or build a boat in the basement. Other people get a tremendous pleasure out of the kitchen, because cooking is just as creative and imaginative an activity as drawing, or wood carving, or music.” – Julia Child


I vaguely remember seeing Julia Child on TV when I was a young girl. I would come home from elementary school and join my mom in the living room to watch our favorite afternoon programs, like Justin Wilson’s Louisiana Cookin’ and The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross (whom we affectionately referred to as “the Painting Maniac”), and every now and then Julia would find her way onto our television set.

Justin Wilson

Wilson’s Cajun drawl was relaxed and his grandfatherly demeanor was inviting. Ross’ voice was soft and patient, and his gentle tone was soothing. Julia Child, on the other hand, made me a little … well, uncomfortable. She was a towering woman, looking worn from life and seeming a little awkward, and her signature operatic voice was somewhat disconcerting. Frankly, Julia Child scared me.

Growing up, I certainly knew of her and her various projects (famous chef, author of cookbooks, host of TV shows) but I didn’t really know much about her. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that until I was 15 years old I thought her name was Julia Fairchild (that was one embarrassing game of hangman, let me tell you). I saw her kitchen in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. and knew she was important to the cooking community – I just didn’t grasp the significance of it all.

Bob Ross

And then I saw the movie Julie&Julia, and my interest in this larger-than-life woman was piqued. It’s easy to become enamored with Hollywood’s romanticized version of a real-life person. The Julia Child I saw in the movie wasn’t scary or intimidating. On the contrary, she was lovable and daring…and funny! And she single-handedly revolutionized American home cooking. After the movie was over, I had to know just how accurate this portrayal really was. Who was it I liked – Julia Child or Meryl Streep as Julia Child?

Bracing myself for disappointment, I began to do some research on my own – and only had to go as far as an early episode of The French Chef to confirm that it was indeed the real Julia that I loved. Unlike the Julia Child I had seen as a girl, the woman in this early show was young and lovely, fresh and new. Donning her signature pearls and Ecole des 3 Gourmandes patch (worn in honor of her first cooking school in Paris with friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, a gesture I find particularly endearing), Julia was always cheerful and never predictable, and I instantly admired her ability to quickly recover from the occasional mishap. Whether it was a handle falling off a fry basket in a vat of 400º peanut oil (“Hm…how am I going to get that out of there?”) or the infamous pancake flip gone awry (“You can always pick it up. When you’re alone in the kitchen, whooooo is going to see?”), she always took everything in stride and never let the unexpected catch her off-guard. As one critic wrote, “Each program had about it the uncertainty of a reckless adventure,” and yet – if you ask me – that was the beauty of the show. The not knowing what would happen next, the “real-ness” about her that reminded us it was okay for things to fall apart in the kitchen. In the end, none of it mattered – as long as you loved what you were doing and were fearless about it.

Julia Child

Even when she struggled to find the words to express her thoughts, groping for ends of sentences, her passion for teaching and for cooking seemed to radiate off the screen (even in black and white). By the end of the 30-minute program I felt that I was right there, sitting at her kitchen table like we were old friends. I wondered if she was this easy-going and likable when the cameras stopped rolling, and learned through an interview with the Christian Science Monitor’s TV critic that, “She is the only television personality I have ever known whose manner is the same off-camera as on.”

There’s nothing I don’t like about this woman, and in all honesty, I think we could have been great friends had we met in 1963 (although we never could have shared clothes… she stood an entire foot taller than me). From her positive outlook on life to her loving relationship with her husband, I am somewhat smitten with Julia Child and hope to honor her memory throughout the duration of this project. I believe I have a strong understanding of what she was all about, both in the kitchen and in life. When it came to learning how to cook, Julia said, “You learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simple or luxurious. Then you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.” It just so happens that that’s what this site is all about. In taking her words to heart, I’ll do my best to live up to her standards and make her proud.

Bon appetit!

– Jessica

The Beginning: Part 2

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“You must have discipline to have fun.” – Julia Child 

 

On the way home from the restaurant, we stopped by a nearby bookstore and purchased a copy of Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Despite the popularity of the book among her generation, my mom did not own a copy. When I asked her, she replied, “Are you kidding? I need a cookbook called Mastering the Art of Grilled Cheese.” There you have it.)

The first paragraph of the book explains,           

“This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children’s meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat.”

Seeing as how I have recently all but given up on my waistline and I one day hope to become a parent-chauffeur-den-mother, it seems Julia is telling me that if I’m going to learn how to cook, now is the time. And so we laid out the rules: 

Rule #1: I have 365 days to create all of Julia’s recipes.
While I don’t have to create one every day, all must be completed by the end of the 365 days. According to my calculations, that comes to roughly 10 recipes per week.

Rule #2: I do not have to personally eat all of the recipes, but they must all be edible.
This is my insurance policy. I’m sorry, but courage of my convictions aside, I just don’t think there’s any way I can bring myself to eat calf’s brains and sweetbreads. Any volunteers? Sign up today!

Rule #3: No cutting corners.
Julia herself says, “elimination of steps, combination of processes, or skimping on ingredients such as butter, cream and time…are death knells for good food.” I must adhere to the ingredients listed, following the recipe exactly. If I do not possess a certain tool (i.e. a copper pot), I may use the closest thing I have on hand, as long as it maintains the integrity of the dish.

Rule #4: Don’t sugar-coat it – tell it like it is.
This was Ben’s rule, and he’s right ­- I tend to be a find-the-silver-lining kind of person – sometimes to a fault. Throughout the duration of this challenge, it’s inevitable that I’ll experience some setbacks. During these times I am not allowed to put an overly positive spin on the situation – as Ben pointed out, not only would 365 posts of pure positivity be boring, but it wouldn’t be honest. The people want real drama! And so, it may not be pretty, but hard journalism is what you’ll get.

Rule #5: Upon successful completion of this challenge, my husband will take me to Paris.
Paris! That’s in France!! The closest I’ve ever gotten to Paris was when we took a road trip to Quebec. It seemed nobody we met spoke a word of English, but I felt certain that I could conjure up enough junior high French to get us through our visit. Unfortunately, during our stay not once did anyone ask me to count to ten nor did I have the need to ask where the library was located. Quel dommage!                                                      

Paris, France

So now, with the rules in place and the reward on the table, the challenge is ready to begin. Mark your calendars for August 1st and come along for the ride. Whether you’re a non-cook like me who wants to learn from the master, or you’re a skeptic who wants to see if I can actually pull this off and make it to Paris, tune in to A Year With Julia as it catalogs my (mis)adventures in the kitchen as both Julie (who has been through this before) and Julia (who literally wrote the book on cooking) teach me the ways of mastering the art of French cooking. I’ll upload photos of the dishes, videos of my attempts, as well as some French phrases we can learn together.

Julia Child loved to teach, Julie Powell loved to cook, I love to learn – and all three of us love to eat! Giving new meaning to Les Trois Gourmandes, it’s my hope that our experiences combined will bring you the education Julia Child aimed to teach in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In it she claims, “Anyone can cook in the French manner anywhere, with the right instruction.” Julia seems pretty confident. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Only time will tell.

 Laissez les bons temps rouler!
-Jessica

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