If you happened to watch the movie Julie and Julia when it came out in 2009, you probably fell in love with Julia Child just like I did. It's hard not to love her enthusiasm and her pluck, and I thought Meryl Streep portrayed her with tremendous depth and humanity. I had the pleasure of reading Julia's autobiography My Life in France in a book club this year, and one thing we almost unanimously agreed on was that her personal story was an inspiration. When she married Paul Child, she was an aimless 34 year old who had been working for the foreign service in China because it was something to do during WWII. And when she and Paul moved to Paris shortly after their marriage, Julia could barely cook to save her life!
I doubt Julia would describe her life this way, but her search for something meaningful to do really resonated with me. She and Paul were never able have any children, and in the post-war era, there just weren't a lot of other career options for women. I thought the movie captured it perfectly when Julia, whose book has just been rejected, says "Eight years of our lives just turned out to be something for me to do, so I wouldn't have nothing to do. Oh well." Of course, we know that her book did go on to be published and that she went on to be the fairy godmother of French cookery in America, but at the time she must have felt very deeply that her work had turned out to be frivolous; just something to pass the time.
I think what I love about her story the most is that it's never "too late" to find something you love and be successful at it. In the post-war era, 34 was terribly "old" to marry (for the first time, at least!), but she found a great and lasting love all the same. She didn't discover her love of cooking until her mid thirties, and she published Mastering the Art of French Cooking at 49. The first episode of her TV show was broadcast when she was 51, and most of career as a television personality happened in her 50's and 60's. In our high pressure, fast paced culture there's this underlying assumption that you have to have everything figured out by the time you are 18, and if you don't, you've missed your shot. I like to think that Julia's legacy is testament to the fact that you don't have to have everything figured out right away. Like Julia, you can get half way through your life before you even discover what you love!
Tomorrow is Julia child's 100th birthday, and so to honor her (and ::ahem:: my 29th birthday also happens to be this week, just saying) I'm hosting a dinner party in her honor! There are a lot of different restaurants, chefs, and individuals honoring her all over the world, but I'm planning on honoring her in the way I think she would have liked best: by cooking from her cookbook in my servantless American kitchen. The intention of Mastering was always to make French cuisine accessible to the average American housewife, and I think she would be pleased that 50 years later, it's still being used the way she intended it to be.
So here's a rundown of the recipes coming to you over the next few days. I've tried to pull as many recipes as possible from Mastering. Some items, such as the "inverted martini" (5 parts vermouth to 1 part gin) and the fishie crackers, are simple things that happened to be Paul and Julia's favorite. The menu is modeled as much as possible on the menu that Julia served for Paul's 50th birthday party, which she remembered in My Life in France as one of her favorite parties of all time.
Paul and Julia's favorite "inverted" martini
5 parts vermouth, 1 part gin
Rosé French 75
gin, lemon, pink champagne, sugar
gin, crème de mûre, lime, sugar
Amuse-Gueule Au Roquefort
Roquefort cheese balls rolled in breadcrumbs
Fondue Au Gruyère Canapés
gruyere cheese gratinee on bread rounds with fresh vegetables
mushrooms stuffed with cheese
Heirloom Tomato Salad
hand made croutons, burrata cheese, fresh herbs
Julia's red wine "sauce vinaigrette"
Le Plat Principal
Filet De Boeuf Braisé Prince Albert
braised filet of beef stuffed with foie gras and truffles
scalloped potatoes with garlic, cream, and gruyère
to be determined
Assorted French Cheeses
Red Grapes, Apple Slices
Gâteau D'anniversaire Au Chocolat
chocolate birthday cake with almonds and raspberries
Coffee with cream and sugar