When I was in seventh grade, the school I attended nominated me and my best friend Kelli to go to summer culinary arts camp for three weeks. I never questioned it at the time, but dutifully went to camp and learned how to flip eggs in a pan, how to make and decorate a cake from scratch, and when to pull brownies from the oven. While the experience was special for me at the time, my appreciation for it didn’t fully emerge until years later.
My mother didn’t watch Julia Child on public television, and I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if she had. Is it overstating the fact to say my life might have been any different? Considering the impact that Child’s books and show have had on American cooking, I don’t think it is.
My mother’s cooking omitted all of the heart-stopping creams and sauces that Julia found to be the staple to French cooking; my grandmother died of a heart attack at the age of fifty, and so my mother vowed to steer clear of the things that might perpetuate this family history.
What my mother had, which Julia did not, was five daughters; she had to use an economy of scale. This accounts for her buying and having butchered a cow every year which was stored in the basement freezer. Running downstairs for the ice cream always had a morbid element, when right next to the ice cream was a cow’s tongue, taste buds intact. But my mother’s menu wasn’t joyless. Sundays brought desserts native to her Québec roots. Sticky rolls made with maple syrup, pecan pie, and a pie one of my sisters and I refer to as Distraction Pie (raisin) which others would eat so we could have more of the better desserts.
The movie Julie & Julia isn’t just about an American in Paris learning how to cook French cuisine and a blogger in Queens, cooking her way through a cook book. It is also a loving portrait of a marriage. In the movie, like life, food is mingled with the events and celebrations we share with our family and friends. It is steeped in powerful meaning, both sensual and civilized. It is a nod to history and the future at the same time.
In honor of Julia Child, I made some bread today. It turned out okay; I’m a bit rusty. But with her books, and her charming, blundering shows, I too believe anything is possible.