My mother never cooked Julia Child’s recipes and didn’t watch her PBS show. So what I knew of the woman over the years came mostly from the SNL parody, internet snippets of her TV highlights (that pancake flip!), and, of course, her reputation as a gourmet French cook.
It took watching the fabulous movie “Julie and Julia” for me to get what all the fuss has been about: Julia Child made cooking fun!
That’s something I haven’t felt in years, despite attempts at watching Food Channel shows. Most nights, dinner means throwing together one of the five recipes that neither of my teenagers dislikes. Cooking has long become a chore, up there with vacuuming and folding laundry. But when several girlfriends and I saw the movie, we were hooked. By channeling Julia Child like blogger Julie Powell did, we could make cooking a joy again! We immediately began planning what we came to call our “J&J dinner.”
First we had to wrangle Child’s cookbooks. After checking several bookstores—all sold out!—Claire bought Child’s Mastering masterpiece online. Meanwhile, I’d put my name down at the library and a week before last Sunday’s dinner, The Way to Cook came through. Over Starbucks’ lattes one morning, we pored over the books and planned our menu, looking especially for dishes we’d never created, or even tasted, before.
Our impulse was to keep things healthy. So we settled on her Soupe a l’Ail aux Pommes de Terre (saffron-flavored garlic soup with potatoes), Poullets Grilles a la Diable (grilled chicken), Riza Orientale (rice with veggies), whole baked onions, and steamed broccoli. But we were quickly smitten by some of Child’s creamier fare, which we eagerly added: Coquilles San Jacques (scallops in a creamy cheese sauce), beurre au citron (a lemon butter sauce to sprinkle over the broccoli), and croutes au fromage (toasted French bread slices with melted cheese and olive oil). While Claire, Josie and I were settling on the recipes and who would cook which ones, Carol was busy selecting her desserts: a Queen of Sheba chocolate almond cake, and carmelized pears in puff pastry. (I don’t recall their French names, but you don’t need them to picture their exquisiteness—and decadence!)
It turns out Child’s recipes are not for the faint of heart. I was in charge of the soup, bread and side vegetables. It took three trips to various supermarkets just to get all the ingredients. If I thought 3-inch onions were a tough score (eventually located at Costco), that was only because I hadn’t started scouring for saffron. I finally found this delicate spice (for $20!) at Albertson’s; it came in a bottle I first thought was empty but actually held an envelope with minute amounts of the precious herb. And that was before the hours I, and all the other women, spent in the kitchen.
Still, when Sunday evening rolled around, the hard work was forgotten. Each dish tasted as spectacular as Child’s experience of her first Parisian sole meunière. So was sharing our efforts around a festive, wine-filled table with friends and family. The dinner was nothing short of magical. (So what if, in our collective recipes, we ended up using 16 sticks of butter—more than one per person!)
Our J&J dinner did its job: it has inspired me to keeping seeking out new recipes (although certainly ones with less butter and cheese). After all, I’ve a rack of new spices to start using, not least of which is that extravagant saffron. This morning I found a couscous paella that looks superb. Thanks Julie and Julia! Bon appétit!