Monday, August 17, 2009

Julie and Julia

I went to see the movie "Julie and Julia" last night. How utterly delightful! It reaffirmed my faith in butter and refreshed my passion for all things food. Nora Efron did an incredible job weaving together the two biographies of Julie Powell, intrepid cook, and Julia Child, the towering grandmother of the American food movement. By far, Julia's "My Time in France" was the better book, rich in its depth of Julia's beginnings and subsequent trials and tribulations in becoming the original Master of French Cooking. Julie's book, while entertaining, was at times fairly self absorbed and whiny. But the blending of the two was a nod of the latter to the former and both were as beautifully paired as walnuts with Stilton.

My joy in the movie, and both books, is that I, too, feel fearless in the kitchen. I am in my element in the kitchen. It is pointless as to whether a recipe succeeds or fails because it is the transformative journey from raw food to succulent dish that moves me. Opening a box of mix or scooping raw dough from a tub or retherming a frozen meal can't even come close to the magic that mixing, roasting, blending, whisking, sauteing, searing and simmering can, to say nothing of the joys of whipping, kneading, rolling, rubbing and frying! This is what keeps me from blogging, I would rather be in the kitchen!

If you enjoyed the movie, or either of the books, I would highly suggest reading the memoir of Judith Jones, "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food." It is another view into a fabulous world of culinary adventure and the recipes in it are to "dine for!" I am very inspired when I read of the development of a recipe and there exists this possibility that I could become a part of their journey just by recreating the dish. Food is transformative for the diner and the creator.

Think of your favorite meal. Where was it, who were you with, what did you eat? What about it was the essence of making it one of the most memorable meals in your life? Can you replicate that moment in time? Probably not. But chances are high that with a little effort and the right recipes and ingredients you can recreate the dishes served. Why not try? Why not dazzle and amaze and have a life filled with incredible culinary moments. Otherwise eating is pedantic and just another activity of daily living that must be slogged through. Seriously, when you learn to cook you learn to live through senses you always took for granted and a new level of daily joy enters your life. Beware though, joy is addictive and once turned on it is very hard to go back to the other side.

Please let me remind you that I was the frozen meal queen and this is a process, one which I want to help as many people pass through as I can. I lived on the frozen food side. I didn't know how to cook anything beyond rice and pasta when I started. (I still rely on Bertolli's Vodka Sauce in a pinch. My amped up version; add some red wine and mix in some browned grass fed ground beef and a chopped sweet onion!) I remember my transformative meal: it was a dish of medium rare swordfish with a lemon reduction sauce and capers, served with an unknown risotto dish. At that moment in my early twenties I didn't know that food could taste this good or that it would become my life's passion. But if there is a food gene, mine got turned on in that instant. I wish I could help every person who is subsisting on what passes for food in this age with their transformative moment, but for each person it is different - and I don't have the budget!

Next week I will stand up in front of some 125 students and once again try to nudge them off of their sofas, where they watch the Food Network, and try to convince them to get into their kitchens. I will succeed with some and others still won't get it. Most of my undergraduates (kitchen virgins) will create more than a few incredible dishes that will shock them and, hopefully, have them calling home to tell mom and dad about what they made. This brings me hope and keeps me going. This project, when it gets rolling with the right family will do the same!

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