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Friday, July 29, 2011

Saturday's With Julia

Julia Child in later years.
I first became aware of Julia Child somewhere in the early 1980's.  By that time she'd already been a fixture on public television for over twenty years.  Julia came on each Saturday night at 7, her theme song at the time was a jazzy version of "These Foolish Things", and I loved every minute of that half hour.  Not only did she indulge my budding interest in cooking, but I just liked her.  She was cozy and dependable and funny.

My appreciation of Julia has never abated and, for many years, she remained a part of Saturday evenings.  When our oldest children were small, we had a sort of Saturday evening routine.  We'd watch our two favorite cooking shows on PBS from 7-8, Julia always occupying the second half of that hour, and then take in the Britcoms that followed.  There was Julia in the Kitchen with Master Chefs and Baking with Julia, later followed by Julia and Jacques: Home Cooking.  One always felt like a personal guest in her Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen (now enshrined in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History), with it's walls covered in pots and pans and the inevitable cat pictures (Julia always liked cats in the kitchen).


Julia's Cambridge kitchen - also the set for many
of her television programs.  The kitchen is now
in the Smithsonian's Museum of American
History in Washington, D.C.
Despite her training at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, Julia never lost the enthusiasm of an amateur.  Not a chef, but more of a skilled cook, Julia made good cooking approachable.  To watch her earlier shows is to see a woman with, perhaps, a little too much energy and, despite the education she received in France, a rather slap dash manner.  Even delicate pastries were sometimes thrown together rather heartily.  This was no Martha Stewart - perfection in appearance was far less important than quality of flavor and, quite frankly, having a lot of fun in the kitchen.  Julia looked like she was doing just that - having fun.  You got the impression that her cooking was meant to be eaten and enjoyed rather than being used as a tool to draw attention to herself and her skill.

I admired Julia Child, but I also liked her.  She was a sort of televised friend and, even today, I love to watch reruns of her old shows.  Her rapport with Jacques Pepin is delightful!  Julia was, at times, openly flirtatious with "Jack", as she called him, as well as some of her other, rather younger, guests on later programs.  She could also stand up for the things she viewed differently - her use of white pepper rather than black being most prominent. 


Julia Child and Jacques Pepin

Julia Child was also a woman who loved to eat and to eat well.  To Julia, good food was food that tasted good, not food that necessarily had any sort of illustrious pedigree.  She loved McDonald's french fries with a passion...  until they stopped frying them in lard.  She was also a staunch champion of butter and cream.  Low fat, nouvelle cuisine did not impress Mrs. Child.  If you ate lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and balanced your diet with the common sense that we all forget we have, why not indulge and enjoy?  Funnily enough, today's diet news tells us just that.

Today's TV chefs can be entertaining and, truth be told, even I have a soft spot for Paula Deen, but there are no Julia's for the twenty-first century.  She was a truly American treasure - proud of her own heritage, but interested in seeking knowledge and understanding of a world far outside of her own privileged and conservative Pasadena upbringing.  As part of a panel of well-known cooks and chefs in her later years, she replied quite forthrightly to the question, "If you hadn't been a chef, what would you have been?"  While the others all gave idealistic and politically correct answers, Julia stated, "Well, I guess I could have married a Republican banker and been an alcoholic." 

And that was Julia...  witty, honest and a lot of fun to spend a half an hour with.

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Learn to Make an Omelet with Julia



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