Julia Child

It’s Julia Child’s birthday today.  She’d have been 100.

I wanted to write…something…marking this date…but I don’t have anything really eye-opening or profound to say.

Her voice was, at times, the background music of my childhood. 

I have a memory of standing in my parents’ bedroom, my mother ironing, and the little black and white portable tv tuned to channel 2, WGBH in Boston.  I can hear the jaunty theme music play, I can see a miniature Julia on that tiny screen, and I can hear her unmistakable voice.

“Welcome to The French Chef.  I’m Julia Child.”

I’ve mentioned before that in some little corner of my mind I thought my mother and Julia Child were sisters.  Or at least cousins.  They just hadn’t met yet.  My mother was, like Julia, fearless in the kitchen.  Adventurous.  At home.

Julia showed American women (and men) that good cooking is not difficult.  That you didn’t have to be born in Paris to cook well.  All you needed, as she said in her famous omelet episode, was the courage of your convictions.

That’s how my mother always seemed to me when I was growing up.  In the kitchen she had that courage.  She baked bread.  Made pie dough.  Canned and preserved.  Made soups from scratch.  Tried out recipes from different countries.  Made us eat salads.  Well, okay, that only stands out in my mind because we hated salads when we were kids, my sister and me.  I think it’s because Mom put chopped fresh herbs in them, and she dressed the salad before serving it and I didn’t like whatever that dressing was that she used most of the time.  Or made, perhaps.  I don’t know.  My taste buds were immature.  I didn’t like the salads.

But she cooked.  And she hung out with small black-and-white Julia when she could.

Julia was confident and human and humorous.  She made her audience feel (I am guessing) that if she could do it, they could, too.  It wasn’t really that hard or mysterious, that cooking thing.  So pick up a knife and a pan and get to work.

I think that’s how my mother made me feel in the kitchen when I was young.  That there were no big secrets, no big mysteries.  And no reason not to try something out just because you’d never made it before.  And that mistakes didn’t mean you had to throw it all in the trash.

I remember one busy evening around dinner time…my mother was roasting chicken wings, I think, and making a sauce for them on top of the stove – something dark, I know it had soy sauce in it, but I don’t remember what else. 

At the same time, my sister (if I remember this correctly) was making chocolate pudding on top of the stove as well.

Someone stopped by – a friend of my mom’s – and with all the talking going on – you can see where this is going, or maybe I’ve told this story before – the chocolate mixture was poured over the chicken wings.

Chicken wings in mole sauce!  It tasted a little different, but we laughed about the mix-up and enjoyed dinner anyway.

There was no soy sauce pudding, however.

I know – I keep sliding back and forth from Julia to my mother.  I can’t help it.  They are woven together somehow in my mind.

I own several of Julia’s cookbooks; my mom owns some of the same ones and some different ones.  I don’t use them all the time, but they are there.

I think what I  use, which I absorbed from those first cooking shows and Julia’s boundless enthusiasm and from watching my mother in the kitchen for many years, is the attitude.  The sense of adventure in the kitchen.  The care about freshness and quality ingredients, good tools, and technique.  The fun of creating.  The joy of sharing that creation with family and friends, even if it’s something simple like a roasted chicken.  And that mistakes aren’t the end of the world, or the meal.

Sometimes I get away from that last lesson.  I have a hard time with my own mistakes, and I inflate them so much in my own mind that they truly seem to be one step away from the end of the world and any future meals and everything else. 

I’m working on fixing that.

I’m working on lots of things lately.  Things I learned or absorbed over the years that haven’t done me any good.  I’ve been learning that things I’ve thought for years aren’t really thoughts at all any more – they’re just habits.  Bad habits.  Bad thoughts in response to situations that are new or stressful.  Bad thoughts with no basis in reality.  They just show up.  Bad old inaccurate thoughts.  I’m so tired of all this old stuff in my head.  Time to replace bad habits and bad thoughts with better ones.  While I still can.  Before they get what’s left of the best of me.

What’s that got to do with Julia Child or my mom or cooking or anything?

Nothing, and everything.

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