Friday, September 4, 2009

Bon appétit! and All Things French

I'm spending the day thinking about all things French.

From my previous post, dear bloggers, you can see that I was a bit overwhelmed this past week. My best strategy for lowering stress is to dive headfirst into a book and start swimming, and Julia Child's My Life in France was just the pool in which to immerse myself. (Julia died in 2004.) I enhanced the background atmosphere by playing the often viewed movie, French Kiss; and, I admit, I was pleasantly distracted. One side issue, I encountered while reading this memoir was an ever insistent pull towards the kitchen...but dear me,

[(photo credit) Vieus port de Marseille- the Old Port of Marseille, France- a place where Julie and Paul Child live and view the amazing tuna-catch just outside of their apartment window]

my kitchen is not Julia's.

Where is the order? Where are the correct pans, measuring cups and ingredients? Oh Juliawould not be happy with me-not at all. I chastise myself- I need to get my kitchen in order, while all the time knowing that I mean that I must get my life in order.

I read about the tuna run in Marseille and think, I hope the fishermen didn't catch any dolphins in their nets. (I have heard of that problem.) Why do I get so fascinated with books that show a part of life I never could relate to? You know I'm vegetarian? When I read about getting the last bit of juice from a carcass, I am both compelled to keep reading and repelled at the same idea.

I'm jumping ahead here...just when I was about to confess another reason Julia would disapprove of my cooking- you see, I share a similarity with one of her co-teachers, Louisette Bertholle (not the excellent Simone Beck). The three women had a little French cooking school, L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes (The School of the Three Hearty Eaters), where they taught Americans how to make basic French meals. The unfortunate similarity I uncovered is that Louisette and I both cook by instinct (-however, this trait is a serious problem with a cookbook collaborator) -in fact-

I do not measure
. (or follow a recipe to the letter!)

I'm one of those cooks who throws everything together in the order that I hope works, tasting along the way, and hoping it all turns out fine. I count on the creative muse to provide me with the substitute ingredients this type of unplanned cooking occasions(-no onions? -just try the garlic.) With this cooking style (or personal flaw!), I insist on no criticism while I am cooking. I believe that if I become angry, the food will express it. (I have proven this to my own subjective satisfaction by burning spaghetti, toast, or tostones while cooking within a climate of anger.) I do not even answer the question, "Mom, what are you cooking for dinner?" because this invites negotiation and I don't want to make false promises. Afterall, I am not sure what will actually turn up on the plate. My muse is the boss. I just follow along. I stand before the pantry and ponder, should I cook pasta or rice? I stare at the bags, canisters, jars and cans- my mind goes blank (or it could be exhaustion!) and then I select what feels right.Now it has happened that I will not pause and just grab what is closest. I start to boil water for pasta when suddenly I know I am cooking rice today and I have to start over.

Yes, Mrs. Child would say "I'm not a serious cook" which is just what she said about Julie Powell as reported in her book and also in the movie Julie and Julia- but I would endure her criticism. It's not so important to be Julia's exceptional student because I just want to be her friend.

I take to heart Julia's wisdom:

One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed. (My Life in France 327)

And I also apply this same philosophy to life.

I imagine myself traveling around France with Julia in a compact car and observe her while she shops at the local markets. I would thrill with delight to hear her "flutie voice" as she visits shop owners and collects bits of local gossip. She is just the kind of toweringly tall outgoing friend that I would love to pal around with. Oh how I would love to stay in her little guest room in Provence and listen to her chat with her husband. Or maybe we could drive around the Côte d'Azur in our compact car (not her blue or black car but a bright little red one -see the photo?). We would gaze at the sea while catching our breath after the shock of driving around those hairpin turns. Soon we would stop at a little out of the way restaurant, and I would delight in listening to her gush, exclaim and sigh over her carefully ordered meal.

After reading her memoir, I think Julia Child would be the perfect traveling companion. One who accepts the occasional discomfort in order to genuinely experience the local feel of a place. A good friend who knows how to appreciate another friend's goodwill.

With that in mind, I want to call your attention to a couple of good blogger friends, Sarah Laurence has a wonderful review of Julie and Julia and Vicki of French Essence also has a few related posts- one about Mastering The Art of French Cooking and one about driving in France. So please, go visit these exceptional writers!


  1. Bonjour, joli post, comme toujours. Jolie aussi la chanson de Trenet. Au revoir, Italo.

  2. I love cooking, I enjoy the formality of knowing that to make a beuchamel sauce you have to do it properly. And I love throwing whatever is in the fridge in a pot and seeing what happens and making fridge soup.
    And shopping in French markets is the best, before going off to a little bistro for a leisurely lunch. The French really have sorted it with their two hour lunch.

  3. What a fun entaining post Cynthia!
    I seem to be one of the few who really doesn't know much about Julia. I remember seeing her some on TV but that's about it. I do want to see the movie as Meryl is one of my favorites!xoxo :)

  4. Thank you Cynthia for those lovely words.
    I have read Julia Child's book and absolutely loved it - i am now awaiting my cookbook to see if it can help me! Like you I am a cook by intuition not by recipe kind of gal and this does have limits....Have a great weekend, xv.

  5. I'm almost ashamed to say that until I read a review of the Meryl film I had never even heard of Julia Child - I'll be seeing the film though - I'ma big Meryl fan

  6. I adore Julia Child. Learned to from my mother, another talented (hate to use the pedestrian word cook for that Mistress of the Kitchen, that Queen of the cookstove) Chef! Mama's fame is known far and wide in these parts! And in answer to your question, Pomegranates should flourish in the tropics! They come from India originally and Mamas trees by the house are over 50 years old! THey were bushes at first!

  7. who says blogging isn't eductional. I've now found out all about these :

    (I've also just noticed the verse alongside - 'May the Longime Sun'. I've got that on an Incredible String Band record - is that where you know it from too?)


  8. I have Julia's book "How to Cook Everything", one of her latest. It is truly a treasure to peruse and use as a reference. I too cook intuitively, mixing things as I go along.

  9. My mother read cook books the way that some people read romance novels. We had a library in our home devoted to cook books. Mother watched Julia Child regularly, occaisionally allowing me to test the recipes with her. I loved watching her with my mother. She was firm but friendly. Years later when I met her briefly in Nantucket she was more fragile but just as lovely as I had imagined that she would be.

  10. Italo,

    thanks so much for your comments. I'm glad you like the Charles Trenet version...did you know that there were so many versions of La Mer?

    Fire Bird,

    so true...a long leisurely lunch...elegance, peace, and deep connections to those you share lunch with. What could be better? I love the idea of fridge soup...but the name conjures images of my own leaking kitchen model...not appetizing! <3


    thanks dear! I just love to read comments from you. Your house projects are coming along so well and it seems as if your energy is back! I'm glad everything is going so well...and the little puppies are doing just fine.

    Now it's time for you to get back to your novel. AM I right? <3


    Yes, the memoir is a great read...have you read the blogger book Julia and Julie? It puts me off the master-work difficult...but I want to get it anyway just to read her anecdotes...the style of writing is delightful.

    You're already starting way ahead of the cooking game...that tomato tart recipe you posted this week was incredible! <3


    wonderful to be so connected to own mother was a great cook! And I must get a pomegranate tree this year...I wonder why people don't grow them here?

    Thanks for the information... and don't go diggin' up yur planters without checking!

    French Fancy,

    Yes, I learn a lot from blogging, too. It's a daily newspaper and more...I'm delighted that you came over here twice.xx And I've heard the song by a few's so peaceful to me...a lovely way to foster goodwill. <3


    Yes, it's great to be intuitive...that in itself is a skill. When I was just out of high school, I worked as a diner cook, then later I worked in a more formal restaurant...I also worked as a vegetarian cook in a house for a few months...I think you just get the feel for cooking. But to rise to Child's level? No I'm not there and neither is my muse!


    Wow, you met Mrs. Child? Yes, it's so heartwarming to have memories such as those you describe...then when you think of Julia, see her book, or the think of your mother and the warmth of her love. <3

  11. what a delightful post, cynthia! I loved traveling with you and julia...I too cook mostly by intuition, especially after all these years, although, believe it or not, I did cook my way through Mastering I & II... having some veggies in the garden helps immensely, something we have been remiss in getting to these past few years...

    I love vicki's blog, it's wonderful in all ways...I will toddle off and visit the new one and thank you for sharing with me her blog, in advance!

  12. loooove this post. especially since you seem to cook like i do. that which grabs my attention, taste buds, whatever, is what goes in...

  13. Cynthia, what a lovely post, just what I needed on this dreary day in "sunny" FL! I am enamored with all things French...swoon...some day I'll make it to Paris!

    As for the cooking, I'm quite the opposite, tend to follow a recipe to the letter, lol! But I do share your distaste for the "carcass" parts...shudder...I was a vegetarian for 10 years and still learn toward a plant-based diet so many of Julia's recipes just don't work in my kitchen. I still adore her, though!

  14. Funny! I’m no Julia in the kitchen either. My approach is more similar to yours on an angry day if you add a huge mess. I actually think the best cooks (like my husband) make things up as they go along and follow their muse. I’m guessing your dishes (when not angrily burnt) are delicious and original.

    You make me want to read Julia’s memoir and remind me to rent French Kiss. Thanks to the link to my review. This sharing of good books and movies is a great benefit of blogging.

    I can see in the post below that your life has been as crazy as mine this past week. My weeds are growing in my house as I try to keep up with everything else. It is good that you found your peace after all that.

    Great posts!

  15. Oh Cynthia, this is really a lovely post and making me wish I could see the movie, I'll probably have to wait for netflix.
    I could also relate to so much of what you said, I've never thought so much of my cooking style until now. But Julia was brilliant, making the fine art of cooking seem approachable for anyone willing to learn.
    She had a home just minutes from me and although I never met her, i just missed her a few times, once signing my name in a guest book right below hers!

    love, lori

  16. I came here through David's POTD, and I truly enjoyed this post and the way you compare life with cooking! I can so relate to this theory!
    I look forward to see this movie, but it's not due here in Belgium before the end of October!

  17. Julia Child is all the buzz right now. I love how Mastering the Art of French Cooking is back on the best sellers list! How wonderful.

    I enjoyed your post so much I'm going back to read it again. Thanks for the lovely words woven together so deliciously. And congratulations on your POTD mention.

  18. Ca va bien, mademoiselle? :-)

    I enjoy the French language better than the French cuisine. The latter leaves me as hungry as I was before eating :-).

    Many thanks for such an uplifting post.

    Greetings from London.

  19. I am ashamed to confess I have no idea who Julia Childs is, but I still loved the post, nonetheless. You have such an engaging writing style, it's such a pleasure to read.

    As for cooking, it is my escape and my salvation. It is where I go to chop onions and to cry, or to frizzle diced choritzo whilst I dance - and no recipe escapes my personal twist, sometimes to my horror, often to my delight. I have only one rule; no one enters the kitchen whilst mamma is creating!

  20. Travels with Julia,
    now wouldn't that have been fun!

    I came over from David:
    Congrats on the Post of the Day Award!

  21. Cynthia,
    your interest in the tuna run in Marseille brought me back. I have a book in my library that I'd like to recommend to you, Theresa Maggio's "Mattanza . love and death in the sea of Sicily".

    The Mattanza, or tonnara, is the annual ritual of "harvesting" the bluefin tuna near the island of Favignana, off the coast of Sicily, Italy (Favignana, the mythic place where Calypso rescued the shipwrecked Odysseus). An intriguing tale, I am thinking of this tale with every treasured morsel of tuna I have tasted since.

  22. I was only now listening to the "French Connection" movie trailer - same song by Paolo Conte as in one of my most favorite food movies ever, the original "Mostly Martha":
    Here and
    here, trailer and Via con me on Youtube.


  23. Enjoyed the post...I'm having a Julie and Julia girls night this month and plan to prepare a very Julia meal, the rest of the group will all work together on a dessert from The French Chef cookbook. It seemed like a fun idea....until I really looked over the recipe. Now I can relate with Julie, and hope I don't burn the meal. Guess I better buy a couple extra bottles of French wine so hopefully the girls won't notice if I flub the recipe! giggles....hiccup!

  24. I do agree that Julia would make the most wonderful traveling companion. She was so full of life. I adored her...and her cookbooks.

  25. Ever since i saw Julia and Julie, last Monday, I can't stop thinking about cooking. My dad was a gourmet, i have his Larousse Gastronomique with me. I'm dying to buy Julia Child's book and start cooking.

  26. Cynthia, thank you for sharing that post. I love cooking but I hardly have time to do it. I had a Julia Child book when I was younger, but trying to follow her purist style, I only made a few delicious things. I am almost finished reading Julie & Julia. Thank you for introducing me to the book...I love it.

  27. Blogger friends:

    So sorry I couldn't answer your comments. My computer was not working for several days! It was the no big problem. I Enjoyed your comments this week and will post again soon.

    Merci, thanks so much for the link. I love the song! And I will look out for the movie.

  28. I saw "Julia and Julie" and found the "Julia" part more compelling. Then I saw the real Julie in a television clip and found her very compelling. I believe either would make good traveling companions. And I find them both inspiring, adventurous women.

    Hey, next time we're in France at the same time, I am definitely for climbing into the little red car. You drive. I'll clutch the door handle. That kind of terror does whet the appetite.

  29. Okay San! I will give you a call!

  30. Enjoyed this visit.
    Thanks for sharing...
    Cool music/picture show.

  31. Thank you for this beautiful post! I just had to add..when I was 21ish, I met up with an old boyfriend who was a spiritual soul..heavily into Buddhism at the time, and also into macrobiotics. He told me never to cook when you're angry, cross, pissed off, or whatever other negative 'mood' word you'd like to insert. He was convinced the awful mood insinuated itself into the food. I've never forgotten that. Now when I cook? I make sure my mind is in the right place. Oh, that question? "What's for dinner mum?" used to push my blood pressure up at least 20 points from the inner rage I would feel! Always the same question, aproximately 2.5 seconds after I arrived home from work! My secret was to have a glass of wine, and then make the dinner.


Start a conversation with your comments here...