October 19, 2008

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

I read My Life in France over the last couple of weeks and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a little sad to finish it. No more foodie adventures with Julia Child. The book mainly covers her first years living in Paris, where she began her culinary training and started writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The audio book is great, too, for picking up correct French pronunciations.

I remember in 1996, my family got a new PC (with Windows 95 and everything). It came with a hodgepodge collection of software, things like Grolier's Encyclopedia, a golf game, and Microsoft Bob. One of the included CDs was "Julia Child: Home Cooking with Master Chefs." I remember being very excited, since I was a budding cook, and had already gotten a bit of a reputation for making good desserts. I knew this would be a wonderful resource, and it was on the computer, too! What a disappointment it was, however, to find that the recipes on the CD were for traditional French entrées and other very snobby gourmet foods. Roasting a whole chicken did not much appeal to a teenage girl more accustomed to Taste of Home recipes with five ingredients, one of which was always chocolate and another peanut butter. Not much has changed on that front either.

Thus concluded my experience with Julia Child. Until now, that is. I love the enthusiasm she had for cooking and food. I love one story Julia tells about getting too self-confident while she was in cooking school. She served the most terrible meal "one could imagine outside of England." But she made sure not to apologize for it. She writes:
I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as "Oh, I don't know how to cook...," or "Poor little me...," or "This may taste awful...," it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, "Yes, you're right, this really is an awful meal!" Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed - eh bien, tant pis!

Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile - and learn from her mistakes. (p. 71)
While reading this book, I got an intense craving for French food. I quelled the cravings somewhat by eating dinner at Cafe J. I had pan seared duck breast with béarnaise, sweet potatoes, and spinach. It was a beautiful presentation and very delicious. I thought as I ate the spinach that I should take some back to the workplace cafeteria. "You see, this is what cooked spinach should be! See how it is still bright green. See that it still has some shape and some bite to it. It's also seasoned!" For dessert, I had a crepe filled with vanilla ice cream surrounded by raspberry sauce and topped with whipped cream, fruit, and almonds. I'm making plans to reserve a table for me and my book at the reliable Frenchman Inn here in town. Very spinster librarian of me. Also making plans to try some classic French recipes, perhaps coq au vin to start. I like this quote by Julia's instructor, Chef Bugnard at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school:

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake"You never forget a beautiful thing that you have made. Even after you eat it, it stays with you - always."


Chet said...

In addition, you never forget a beautiful thing that you have eaten. I know I sure miss you (and your cooking).

wendy v. said...

Whoa, Chet ate you one time? Save your Frenchman Inn appointment until I come! I promise to sit quietly and not bother you as you read.