Saturday, August 15, 2009

Inspiring Stories

I went to see the movie "Julie and Julia" the other night with two of my other foodie friends. The movie was absolutely delightful - truly a joyful movie-going experience, something that doesn't happen too often these days. It's not to say that it was perfect - at times both of the women's' stories seemed over-simplified but overall it was well done and certainly worth the price of admission.

I have a number of very early memories associated with Julia Child. Back in the 70's before everyone had cable, there were the standard 3 channels, a few UHF channels that only showed The Little Rascals, Laurel and Hardy movies and bad sci-fi movies from Japan and PBS. My parents didn't like commercial television so my brother and I were often forced to watch PBS. A lot of PBS. Sunday nights were for Masterpiece Theater. Weekdays were NOVA. Saturday mornings and afternoons were dedicated to Julia Child and This Old House. We turned it off when the crazy-hair oil-painting guy came on.

I loved watching Julia. My mother and I would watch each show waiting to see when she would throw something to the floor and often wondered about the poor person who had to clean up that mess! We daydreamed of having someone who could clean up our messes - an imaginary intern who would dutifully catch our scraps of pastry, chicken fat or ground meat. When I was 13, my family was in a bad car accident. My mother was bedridden for 4 weeks in the hospital and then another 4-6 weeks at home. On the weekends that we visited her at the hospital we would watch Julia and look forward to the moment when mom would come home and we could cook again. At home, I would come to her room when Julia was on and watch with her, hoping that my presence would help my mom heal faster and inspire her to get out of bed.

Eventually, my mother's bones healed and we continued watching Julia together. It became a Saturday morning ritual, at least until I became a full-blown teenager and was too busy on Saturday mornings to allow for TV watching.

As I got older, more channels came and then I went off to college. I would watch Julia when I was home or later, in grad school, on my tiny (not an exaggeration) TV. But it wasn't until after I was married and faced with my own first real health crisis that Julia Child came into my kitchen.

While volunteering at a local charity gift shop, I came across a second edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I didn't have a copy of my own but remembered my years of watching Julia and my mother talking obsessively about the boeuf bourguignon. I bought the copy for $2, took it home and read it at night. Her writing was so sassy and fun. Who knew that I had been making scrambled eggs wrong all these years! Eggs were cheap and a staple of our menu while my husband was in residency, so I read the egg chapter with particular attention. Needless to say, we had lots of omelets.

Around this time we realized that we were going down the long and challenging road of infertility. I quit my job as a midwife so that I could devote my attention to getting pregnant. I also decided that I would dive into being a real housewife: I would scrub floors (we let the cleaning lady go), iron all of Mitchell's shirts and cook all our meals. Housekeeping would be my new ambition and I was determined to do it well, really really well. It worked for a few weeks but after slaving away at scrubbing floors and ironing shirts I was ready to go back to work so I went back to the knitting store where I had worked off and on during our time in Pittsburgh. But the cooking, the cooking I wasn't ready to give up. I enjoyed planning the meals, shopping for ingredients and watching the whole thing come to life. Plus my husband and his hungry friends were always eager to eat my offerings.

We tried IVF once, it failed. The second time ended in a miscarriage. By this time we were back in Philly and I was working part-time in a knitting store and an OB/Gyn clinic but I was still cooking. I became determined to make boeuf bourguignon. I studied the recipe, picked a day when I wasn't working, bought the ingredients and started cooking. I used every pot we had and nearly every spoon all the while filling the apartment with the most amazing aromas. We invited my brother-in-law and sister-in-law over to taste my triumph. It was beyond delicious - worth all the effort and then some. We each enjoyed the meal and I felt satisfied. Not just with the food but with that moment.

The rest is history. We did another IVF cycle and this time I carried to term and gave birth to darling Lucy. It would be a stretch to say the Julia Child made it possible. I have doctors, drugs and acupuncture to thank for that. But she did calm my soul and help me find peace along our journey.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vacation Posting

I wrote this while on vacation but haven't had a chance to post it since that time! More to come.

“You’re a really bad vacationer.”

This is what my husband said to me as I plopped down next to him on the plastic wicker loveseat on the balcony of our beach rental. This is what he said to me as he drank the delicious French press coffee that I made for him. This is what he said to me as he enjoyed the triple berry scones (from this book) that I got up early and made for him and Lucy.

And he’s right.

I’m horrible at it. I’m not really sure why. We never vacationed like this when I was a kid – that is we didn’t take vacations where we laid around near a lake or ocean or mountain. Our vacations were destinations, an opportunity for my parents to expose us to the world outside of Oklahoma City. We went to Santa Fe, Boston, and Washington DC. And we went to Dallas. A lot. Shopping was abysmal in OKC so we made the 4 hour journey at least 4 times a year. But that’s another blog entry.

When I was a bit older, we flew to Maine for a few weeks each summer, staying with family friends. These were true vacations but by that time I was a sour teenager and couldn’t appreciate it. I just wanted to go to Freehold and do some shopping.

So now, at the ripe of age of 37, I take vacations. Real ones. To the beach, to Florida, to Maine and I’m just not good at it. I get anxious. I can’t relax. What to do when there is nothing to do?

So this is what I do. I cook, mostly bake. For a week or two before our annual vacations to a rental (either NJ or Maine), I peruse all of my favorite cookbooks and decide which treats I’m going to make. There are the staples: vegetable frittatas, chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins. And then there are the treats like this morning with the berry scones. Last year we made ice cream.

One of the reasons that my husband says that I’m a terrible vacationer is that when I get to said rental, I immediately go through the kitchen and figure out what they have and what they don’t. Then I lament to my husband who dutifully tells me to go to the store and just buy the baking sheet/measuring spoons/whisk or whatever it is that is lacking.

I did just that last night and bought all those things. Oh and a hand mixer too (who doesn’t have a mixer in the kitchen?) I woke early due to the pitter patter of rain and decided to get to work on breakfast. First I made the coffee. Then I started the scones. No food processor – no worries. My hands dug right in, kneading the butter into small pieces. I forgot to buy the buttermilk – no worries. A little lemon juice in 2%milk should do the trick. No currants – no problem. Chopped cranberries made a delightful substitution.

With the buzz of the coffee coming on, I was feeling pretty good. I turned on the oven. Mitch and Lucy were up by this point. I offered them fresh berries while they waited for the scones. All was well. Until I realized that the oven wasn’t working. Then the panic set in. No oven? How am I ever to relax without an oven? Others may come to the shore to body surf, build sandcastles or sunbathe but I come to bake! Mitch could sense that I was on the verge of tears and tried to calm me down but he knew that his efforts were futile so he went back out to the deck and suggested that I call the landlady.

After a bit of tinkering, we got the oven working. I could feel myself relax. The oven heated up beautifully, baking the scones to crisp perfection. While they baked, I brewed tea for my ice tea/lemonade drink.

So when I sat down with Mitch, even though everything had worked out ok, he could still feel the lingering tension. Of course, his observation only made me annoyed and defensive but then something else happened: I took Lucy on a bike ride. After that, I packed the two of us up for the beach (Mitch had to go to the city for a family funeral.). At the beach, I read Michael Polan’s article on food shows (another blog entry) and then helped Lucy make chocolate stew – my job consisted of walking back and forth to the ocean carrying pails of water. When it stated raining, we came home, took showers and then ate our snacks while we watched the downpour. And now, Lucy is doing princess watercolors and I’m writing. For fun. It feels great.

So I may be a bad vacationer but today I’m making the commitment to becoming a better one.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Good morning

Strawberry Rhubarb jam, originally uploaded by stitchingpink.

I ate the last of the jam the other day. It was so yummy. Rhubarb and strawberry - really is there anything better?? (The answer is no.) I just used lots of strawberries, cut up rhubarb and followed the cooking recipe from the sure-jell box. Turned out perfect. Don't tell anyone, but I had on occassion just eaten it by the spoonfulls from the jar. Makes me think of this clip.

Need a good laugh. Check out this little cartoon.