Clean Air to Breathe

Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you.  And if you’re in a crowd, you’ll always have some clean air to breath. – Julia Child

 

Today was Julia Child’s birthday, she would have been 100. (She made it to two-days-shy of 92, which surely should serve as an endorsement of French cookery. Or butter.)

In the late sixties, my mother used to watch The French Chef on television, and I must have watched right along with her.  Though Julia Child’s books were very popular, it was really the television show which made her an American icon. If you haven’t seen Julia Child cook, you must. (Click here.) If you have, you will be fondly remembering her enthusiasm and her warbling voice. “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.”

Dogs love it if you speak to them in a Julia Child voice. In fact, I have known more than one dog to sit raptly in front of the television listening to Julia de-bone and chop and stir.

My stepfather, who cooked enthusiastically for entertainment, embraced Child’s notion that “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” Among his many cooking books was a well-worn copy of  Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Only Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking had more spatters, spots and drips on its dog-eared pages. Now they both sit dog-eared and much-thumbed on my own shelves of cookbooks.

As a young woman I worked at the Children’s Museum Shop in Boston. I think (though my memory could be flawed) that Julia Child was on the Museum board. Whatever it was that brought her down to Congress Street, you always knew when she was in the building, as you could hear her laughing from a long way off. She was very tall (six-foot-two) and not slight– a commanding presence even when smiling. Maybe especially when smiling. In the decade after that she went on to have another cooking show on PBS television, though restaurants then were heading into that wasteland of nouvelle cuisine, which Julia herself described as a “fancy term for diet food.” She was not much for diet food, suggesting that you should “only eat it while waiting for the steak to cook.”

A few years before she died, Julia Child moved to a retirement community and gave her house in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Smith College, her alma mater. The television set for the kitchen, which was modeled on her own kitchen, was given to the Smithsonian. Both kitchens had been specially designed by her husband Paul, taking into account her unusual height. After her death, Smith College sold the house to a yuppie couple who’d never even heard of Julia Child, and the kitchen was ripped out and “updated.” All stainless no doubt.

It was horrifying really. How could someone never have heard of Julia Child? So I am glad, I suppose, that the popular book (and subsequent film) Julie and Julia did shine a light once more on the fearless and joyful Julia Child. I loved the parts of the film with Meryl Streep, though I never could shake the feeling that I was watching Meryl Streep impersonating Julia Child. The persona of Julie (the blogger who set out to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year) left me sort of cold. I’ll admit I was secretly pleased that Julia Child herself thought the woman “flimsy” and that the whole thing was done as a stunt, noting that Julie never wrote about how the dishes turned out or how she felt about the food.

It’s not that she took herself seriously, so much as she took her life’s work seriously. (I understand that she was greatly amused by Dan Aykroyd’s spoof of her on Saturday Night Live and used to enjoy showing it to people at parties.) She taught several generations of us to approach food with abandon, with the sought-after end results being a wonderful time and something delicious to eat, and in that order, I believe. She did say that you should never apologize for your failures, something I’ve found difficult to master. Her advice for conquering the kitchen was that “the only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

That, and “Every woman should have a blowtorch.”

Target number 77, Steps 5654

Breakfast: banana, half-cup of frozen greek yogurt. Lunch: three Lean Cuisine spring rolls (really, they’re pretty good), and later half a cup of trail mix (almonds, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries) Dinner: Grilled pork chop with apricot-sriracha sauce, lime-cilantro rice, crookneck squash cooked ’till tender with Vidalia onions. (I think Julia would have approved.) Two small hand-crafted chocolates.

Half an hour hike in the woods, 1.2 miles, .2 of that at a run. (Baby steps, you know.) Made dinner, joyfully. 

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4 thoughts on “Clean Air to Breathe

  1. It’s such a balance thing — food Issues — and with other institutions these past couple decades, is on trial, sometimes exaggerated misinformation is tossed in the “salad” of confusing information. Eggs were in jail for a few years, out again, and lately back in. Certified Organic? HMO, Fluoride and Amalgams in jail. Pet vaccinations are in jail. Aspartame is known poison but people still use it. That one gets me.

    A lot of old food habits have been proven to have killer consequences health-wise. This exposure is progress and the developing trend of taking responsibility for ourselves. Our institutions do not place the well being of the people first. That is a scary fact that we must evolve out of.

    I liked the Julia movie. Merle is a brilliant actress and one of the best of the history of Hollywood I think. The other Julie character was like a foil in a way. Maybe Merle didn’t get the Oscar because it was a negative ending, slightly snide — instead of Julie being viewed with humor and the compliment that it probably was, she was unsportingly trashed. I sensed ego took over Julia. Interesting ending but a downer.

    I admire your writing talent Larkin, and your fun dicipline with exercise and diet. I once lost 40 lbs. just eating half a serving of everything for 3 months, and swimming laps daily. Bicycling is another joyful exercise.

    • J, there are valid reasons behind some of the ways the pendulum swings. Pet Vaccination for instance– it’s essential to vaccinate, but not every year! Titers are established and immunity is conferred upon the animal, but we are encouraged to booster every year. We don’t booster ourselves every year!

      It’s the nature of movies that different people respond to them in different ways. Perhaps because I was very familiar with Julia Child, I didn’t buy Meryl Streep’s portrayal after the early years in France. This YouTube clip (which was a promotion for the film) is an excellent example, I think, on how she seemed to be imitating Julia Child rather than inhabiting the role. http://youtu.be/-OP08hW602U

      Since my own response to Julie’s blog was that it was disingenuous, I think that 90+ year old Julia Child was spot on in her response to it, plus that response was private. “Julie” chose to publicize it, she could have just left it out. Perhaps our “relationships” with celebrities should stay firmly in our heads. Nonetheless little “Julie” made a boatload of money off of Julia Child, regardless of Mrs. Child’s response.

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