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.

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