Before we went on vacation last week, we stopped off at Barnes and Noble to pick up some books for the boys. At the checkout counter, I impulsively grabbed My Life in France
for myself and promptly devoured it like a fine chicken cooked for hours in garlic and thyme.
My Life in France is Julia Child's account of her adventures in food. In her late thirties, her husband took a job with the government in Paris where she had her first encounters with French food. As she described her orgasmic first bites of this cuisine, my mouth watered. She enrolled in a local cooking school and met up with two women who were struggling to write the definitive French cookbook. One drops out of the project, and Julia works with the other woman for years polishing the ultimate cookbook. Later, she becomes famous in America on the PBS cooking series.
Alex Prud'homme writes the book from Julia's perspective. He interviewed her when she was in her late 80s and early 90s about her time in France fifty years earlier. He also used Julia's and her husband's old letters to piece together the tale.
I read this book on the shores of Lake George, occasionally reading aloud to Steve. It was a joy to have Julia on vacation with us. Steve declared her, my kind of person. I guess she was. Opinionated, theatrical, obsessed, bohemian. How much fun must it have been to sit at Julia's table, all six foot two of her, and listen to her adventures in the kitchen? I imagine there would be several excellent bottles of wine on the table.
Much of her book describes the writing process. She talks about struggling with publishers to give them a product that they thought they could sell. She talks about navigating the tricky waters of co-authoring a book. Her co-author wouldn't check her recipes. The two fought about turnips and meat. Their friendship manages to remain intact, though Julia describes the resentments and tensions like they were yesterday. Each section required months, even years, of work. Any writer or editor will twinge with sympathy at Julia's struggles with book writing.
One of the problems that Julia faced was that her publishers told her that a cookbook that required time intensive cooking would not sell. Housewives no longer had time or the interest in cooking. They were expected to be chauffeurs, as well as cooks. Women would not cook a meal that required three hours in the kitchen.
Again, that twinge of sympathy. Our schedules have been so crazy that I've been relying on fast food and the kindness of Grandma to feed my kids for far too long. The soccer schedule. Homework routines. Grading papers. Therapy. Everything gets in the way. Out of desperation, I've ended up at the drive through window at Wendy's more times than I care to admit. Since the summer began, I've been determined to cook proper meals for the kids and to use the farmers market every week. I can't say that I've always been successful, but food quality has somewhat improved around here.
Julia reminds us what is important in life. We must savor every taste and experience that life throws us. A good meal takes time to create, and it is something that should be shared with family and friends. A good meal is something that can remembered in detail fifty years later. A good meal is about conversation and laughter. And who we have at that dinner table is just as important as the food itself. Julia sought out interesting characters to share her meals. She loved the eccentric, the intellectual, the oddball. Like the thyme and the garlic, the company is an essential ingredient to any meal.
Somehow I have to put aside the chauffeur duties and make time to follow Julia's example.