Friday, August 14, 2009

Vacation, Part II

I confess my knowledge of history is a little spotty, but my husband makes a hobby of it, so while on vacation we visited some spots where significantly important things happened during the creation of our country. One of those spots was where General Braddock is buried. Braddock was in the process of eking out Braddock’s Road, which would become National Road 40, when he was killed in battle in 1755, which, to those of you are historically challenged like myself, was before this was even a country. His assistant, Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, had him buried right where he died under the road so that his remains would be undisturbed.

We visited the glen where, with the aid of some Indians, Washington ambushed (though this is highly debated) a French scouting party, in the process killing a French guy named Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. This is said to have been the event that started the French and Indian war.

We also visited Fort Necessity (wouldn’t that be a great name for a home goods store? I digress.), which Washington, as a British officer, had built with some flaws. On a beautiful plain for grazing cattle and horses, it was too close to the forest which left them exposed when the French retaliated. Washington suffered great losses that rainy day 255 years ago. He would later buy land in this area, in hopes of seeing a tavern built on the national road to refresh pioneers moving west. Though he would not live to see its construction, Mount Washington Tavern stands as a monument to his wishes. Washington went on to become the first president of something or other, as well as a popular sitter for very large paintings.

Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Hello there, back from vacation …
It would be a serious understatement to say my husband and I don’t get the chance to take a vacation together often, so when we saw a tiny space in both our schedules, we quickly made plans to go to western Pennsylvania. The landscape is stunning, and there’s a million things to do clustered in a rather compact area.
While I compose my thoughts about the piéce de resistance, I needed to share a little about the place we stayed. Summit Inn is perched on this great mountain so that you can see deep down into the valley of Uniontown. While I thought (shrug), “I’m from Vermont, I’ve seen vistas before,” the scenery blew me away.

The inn was built in 1907. If you squint a little, it’s very easy to imagine what a visit was like then; men in their straw hats and spectators, women in muslin gowns, playing croquet and lawn tennis. Such places were built, not as a place to park your luggage while you attend a wedding or business meeting; they were the destinations themselves. And like other such places, this one comes with a history. Imagine guests like Warren Harding and Henry Ford sitting in the Stickley chairs (still there) in the grand lobby by the fire discussing politics and smoking pipes.

We did things that people apparently do on vacation. We slept in a little, lingered over our breakfast, sipped wine on the terrace while the night closed around us and another guest played at the piano. We met a delightful Italian family, and talked the night away. We woke surrounded by luscious fog. We saw what we imagined were ‘regulars’ reading and sipping appletinis in their wicker chairs on the porch. We just might have to become regulars ourselves. Magical, isn't it?

More on the rest later …

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Julie & Julia

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.

Bon Appétit!

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