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!