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Happy 100th Birthday, Julia Child!

Mastering the ArtA very grown-up birthday present

I’ve been dragging my feet about writing this post as there were so many tributes going around yesterday to honor the late Julia Child on what would have been her 100th birthday.  I’ve written several times about her influence on my cooking and on my mother’s cooking and about how I received my own personal copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a very grown-up present for my 25th birthday, having fallen in love with my mother’s own battered and taped-together copy.

Not sure that crêpes were something that my grandmothers made, ever

What actually struck me is that, when I did the math, earlier this year would have been my grandmother’s (my father’s mother’s) 100th birthday, too. She was not much of a cook, by all accounts. When I would eat out with my grandfather, his tastes didn’t seem to stray very far either, as I recalled in my post shortly after he had passed away. I wonder what it was like for my grandmother when this culinary revolution started, as her children were grown up and married by the time the fervor took full hold of the American appetite. I’ve never heard from either my father or grandfather that her culinary repertoire changed as a result of this opus.

Stovetop Hollandaise – my mother swore by this recipe

Even more interesting, I realized, two of my great-grandmothers were still alive when the original volume of Mastering was published.  They were much older and well past the stage where they would have been preparing meals for their families (in fact, I think they might have even been living in retirement communities by that time).  For them, as well as for my grandmothers, modernization had meant canned and convenience foods, moving them further away from the farmland products with which they’d all grown up and away from spending time in the kitchen.

Spinach Salad – another favorite recipe of my mother’s

The dinner table at my parents’ house was definitely influenced, even in subtle ways by Julia Child.  I think she gave my mom the confidence to be a more adventurous cook.  When she did an episode on how to make homemade pita pockets, well before these showed up at every corner bodega, guess what we ate our tuna salad sandwiches in all summer long?  Looking for a way to get the kids to eat seafood during Lent?  My mom tackled her recipe for Crêpes avec Fondue de Crustacés (seafood crêpes).  They are creamy, rich, and oh-so-delicious and were a special treat for us, a big change from pizza or fishsticks on a meat-free Friday evening.

New school uniforms – look how bright and clean they are!

I guess, however, one of the biggest ways that Julia Child had an influence on my life and what I eat is evident in the next stage of my professional and personal life.  This past Monday, I started at the International Culinary Center as a student in their Classic Culinary Arts diploma program, which is based upon classic French cooking techniques, methodology, and recipes.  Pursuing this chef’s training program has been something I’ve wanted to do for many years.  After taking the Culinary Techniques course earlier this summer, I realized that now is the best time to take this next step if I’m ever going to do it.  It will definitely be an interesting journey over the next few months as I tackle this challenge.  Merci, Mrs. Child for all the impact that you have had on my life and on my future culinary career.

Buon appetito!