Monday, August 17, 2009

Julie and Julia and Jungle Red

HALLIE: Last week I went to see "Julie and Julia," which I would have gone to see even if it weren’t my sister Nora’s movie. It was lovely and sweet—and Meryl Streep IS Julia Child.

Which led me to drag out my copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”--my copy is a 1967 edition, 15th printing, and is inscribed from friends of my parents on May 11, 1969. A wedding present.

My husband and I used to meet every few months with friends and, in advance, come up with a menu that involved each guest making a single dish that took as long as a normal single meal to prepare. Needless to say, lots of our recipes came from Julia. It's easy to see which, because those pages are warped and stained and the margins are scribbled in.

All in all, I made it through about 34 recipes--nowhere near Julie Powell's record setting mastery of all 524. But still.

Standouts were Onion soup (start by roasting bones for broth). Soup au Pistou (an incredible concoction made with zucchini and fresh peas, cooked with lots of garlic and run through a hand mill). Duck a l'Orange and Creme Caramel. And the extraordinary and extraordinarily expensive Tournedos Rossini (filet mignon, home cooked artichoke hearts, truffles, a slab of foie gras, and a Madeira sauce--Oh, baby!) Every recipe had a meltdown moment…as when the duck flew off teh platter on the way to the table or when I renverséd the crème caramel all over the kitchen counter.

Still, I can’t remember a single dish that failed, though Lobster Thermidor did not seem worth the trouble when compared to how delicious a plain old boiled lobster with drawn butter can be.

Have you cooked Julia or are your culinary triumphs more of the Galloping Gourmet variety…or are we talking green been casserole with mushroom soup and canned onion rings?

RHYS: I too used to belong to a supper club for which we had to prepare one dish. And Tournedos Rossini was the first reeeely expensive dish I ordered as an adult. And it was worth it! We used to entertain a lot and I was always trying out new recipes for guests (much to John's horror when I hadn't tested them first) My only spectacular failure was a turbon of sole, stuffed with shrimp and crab. When I turned it out, it collapsed into a nasty pink mess. I had to make a hasty sauce to cover it!

I believe that Julia herself once threw a duck across the kitchen on the way to the table, didn't she? That was why she was so popular--she was so human and really enjoyed every part of the cooking and the eating. I once had an important meeting with the head of my publishing house and the head of marketing back in the days when I wrote YA books. Julia Child and husband were at the next table and I sat almost touching her. All my table-mates wanted to know was what she was eating next. I remember she started with a dozen oysters. And she never shrank from using the butter. My kind of lady!

HALLIE: Oh, gosh, elbow to elbow! I'm jealous. My friend, chef Lora Brody, actually COOKED for Julia once. I can only imagine how nerve wracking that would have been.

JAN: I remember making a stuffed roast after watching a Julia Child episode. It was very complicated, delicious, but very rich. Although I love to cook, I usually avoid recipes that involve too many steps or too many ingredients I have to go to special stores to find.

Tonight I'm throwing a dinner party and all the recipes center around the herbs in my garden, starting with a melon sald with cilantro and fresh mint.

I spotted Julia Childs once, though, at a WGBH Wine tasting fundraiser. It was very exciting. I think she waved.

HALLIE: I also have a garden full of fresh herbs like now, and in honor of same have become an expert at making mojitos.

HANK: Oh, I've made that onion soup. Fantastic. But you know what I learned from her? Very important. Before you start a recipe, read the whole thing, and sort of--imagine how it's going to work and what you need to do in advance. There's nothing like making, say, lasagne, and then getting to the part of the recipe where it says: "add marinara sauce, see p. 233." Ahhh....

And my copy is newer, the 23rd printing from March, 1973. (The onion soup page is a crinkly mess! So is the page for souffle a la vanille.) And I just reread the first line of the foreward: "This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets ,waitlines, time schedules..."


HALLIE: Culinary triumphs?!


  1. Oh darn, I forgot to add to the post this weekend. Though I did see Julie and Julia--my god it was a great movie! Even my hub loved it. Nora E did a brilliant job of weaving the story of Julia and Paul into the present day story. Meryl Streep is a genius--she can't be a big woman and yet her presence was enormous (not to mention those shoes.) It was a total pleasure. And now I have the main character cast for the book I'm about to finish--Amy Adams would be perfect.

    As for cooking, I do not own Julia Child's cookbook! I suppose I will have to go out and buy it. In my formative years of cooking, I used the Joy of Cooking and all the Moosewood cookbooks. Probably my greatest masterpiece was a Chinese meal done from scratch, start to finish, including the eggroll skins!

  2. Hank, I liked this:
    "budgets ,waitlines, time schedules..."
    Waitlines sounds a lot like time schedules. ;^)

    Julia's no-fail food processor pastry crust is my best friend when it's pie time. When she died, I made a celebratory dinner of her recipes. Coq au vin was the main course, I believe. Can't wait to see the movie!

    I also really like planning meals around what is harvestable in the garden (or at the farmer's market) today. The melon sounds wonderful, Jan.


  3. I was lucky enough to see Julia do a lunch-time cooking demonstration in San Francisco, many years ago--I still have the mimeographed (!) recipe somewhere. And of course I saw the movie, the day it opened.

    The most wonderful thing about Julia's recipes is that they work. She tells you what each step should look like (and reassures you that it's supposed to look curdled or lumpy at first, but it will all work out in the end). You can trust her. And her portions are sized for real people.

  4. I have to make time to see the movie this week!
    And yes, she was a really big woman. Not fat, but at least six feet and she towered over Paul, who looked very frail when I saw him.
    I'm really impressed with the cooking prowess of my fellow JRRs. Maybe we should think of a Jungle Red Cookbook??
    And I was even more chuffed (sorry,I can't think of an American word that works as well as this one) to see my name show up in the red links next to the words Meryl Streep and Nora Ephron--two of my idols.

  5. I belonged to a supper club back when my husband was at the UM in Miami - one of those "women's group" things (although the men came to the dinners.)

    It was fun because you could tackle one dish, and there was very little coordination done ahead of time. The hostess was responsible for making sure there were appropriate courses, but not what they were -- and despite that, we never had a bad meal.

    I remember the time I decided to do Moussaka. A true culinary endeavor. Amazingly enough, the other 'main course' person also brought Moussaka -- but she made hers with beef and I used the traditional lamb, so there were still two "different" entrees.

    Most of the time, though, I was encouraged to bring what had become my "famous" taco salad. Since it was quick and easy, I usually said fine.

  6. Well, my cooking seems to have more melt-down moments than not, but it did feel great when I made my mother-in-law's meat pie, after she'd passed away, and my husband couldn't get enough. Nothing fancy like Julie OR Julie--I even use the Pilsbury crust, but definitely "Yum!"

    We loved the movie. I kept jabbing my husband & son and pointing to all the tips about the right things to say to a writer--at all those good AND bad moments! :)

  7. Hallie, lovely images, esp. the creme carmel all over. I once wrote a cookbook (never published) and wrote to Julie Child asking her to write the forward because she lived in the same dorm I did at Smith. She wrote me a lovely letter back (wish I still had it somewhere) saying that I'd be much better on my own, with lots of encouragement. She was one of the few people taller than I. I tend to do the roasty things, cassolet, coq au vin, all delicious.

    By the way, her first season on PBS is available (the photo that you have is from that yes?) and if you want to laugh and cook at the same time, pick it up. Fabulous.

  8. And talk about laughing, wasn't the scene from Saturday night Live hilarious in the movie? They did a lot of spoofing of Julia back in the day--there was one where she got sauced as she cooked with wine and dropped the chicken onto the floor. very very funny stuff from Dan Ackroyd.

  9. Loved this movie!

    My in-laws have a copy of the cookbook, bought in a secondhand store for just a few dollars. And on closer inspection this past weekend, I believe it's a first edition!

    I can attest to the fabulousness of the salade nicoise recipe.

  10. What a yummy post, Hallie. I'm hoping to see J & J in the next day or two while I'm on the way home from leaving my Nora at college in MA. Comfort food of a sort....

    Reviewed and loved the book when it came out a few years back. And I know exactly who I lent it to last!

    I received my Mastering the Art 1981, right after I got married. It was printed in the late sixties and inscribed and passed on by four different women. I confess that I kept it--they can't possibly have made decent use of it! It's a treasure. My favorites: Apple Tart w/ sweet pastry, potato/leek soup, scalloped potatoes, stuffed mushrooms (love the word "duxelles" They're detailed, but get easier with practice.)

    I am a huge fan of Julia's The Way to Cook. It really does show one how, and I always buy it for new brides and grooms.

    (Worst disaster, pre-Julia? Um, deboning an entire raw chicken for chicken soup. Thought my SIL was going to choke laughing!)