Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dinner with Julia

On Friday Michael and I went to see Julie & Julia, a truly delightful movie in which Meryl Streep plays Julia Child. The movie has a heart warming portrayal of love between mature people: Julia and her husband Paul, and it's also about friendship between women, and blogging! Plus there's food! Who could ask for more?

I was inspired to re-post this blog from 2007, when I finished making my Julia Child doll, which was my response to reading her wonderful book My Life in France.

Here are some final clues to the identity of my doll:

I hope these ring some bells for you. I explained to my daughter that I had made a doll of Julia Child, and she said, "Oh yeah, Rachel Ray talks about her!"

So here's my homage to dear Julia Child.She was an influential presence in my life: my whole family watched her throughout the 60s and the 70s, and a lot of these memories came back when I read her memoir My Life in France.One passage in particular captures my impression of her from her early TV days:

"On the evening of July 26, we ate a big steak dinner at home and, at eight-thirty, pulled our ugly little television out of hiding and switched on Channel 2. There I was, in black and white, a large woman sloshing eggs to quickly here, too slowly there, gasping, looking at the wrong camera while talking too loudly, and so on. Paul [her husband] said I looked and sounded just like myself, but it was hard for me to be objective. I saw plenty of room for improvement, and figured that I might begin to have an inkling of what I was supposed to do after I'd shot twenty more TV shows. But it had been fun."

Julia Child was America's first celebrity TV chef, but she began her career by authoringMastering the Art of French Cooking, (1961) which she wrote with her French co-authors Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, after an extensive recipe testing process than took ten years. The patch Julia wore on her early TV shows, which prior to my research for the doll, I thought was a Cordon Bleu patch (since Julia graduated from that cooking school) was actually a patch her husband Paul designed for Julia and her two French collaborators. In 1952 the three friends started a cooking school in Paris, L' Ecole Des Trois Gourmandes, which Julia translated as the School of Three Hearty Eaters. She wore this patch on her blouse through the early TV shows.

There is a wonderful website at the Smithsonian Museum, where Julia's kitchen from her days in Boston has been recreated with all of its original tools and appliances. She popularized the wire wisk in the U.S., which I included as an accessory for my doll. She also closed all her TV shows with her signature phrase "Bon Appetit!" which I machine embroidered on her dish cloth.

I wrote the following poem a few years ago, calling up some of my youthful memories of Julia. I hope the doll captures some of her hearty and creative spirit.

Dinner With Julia

We’re lined up on the cracked vinyl couch
waiting like soup kitchen diners
for Julia Child to light up
our living room
with her mannish hands,
her schoolgirl squeals.

We’re waiting to see Julia cleave
knives to slabs of meat
and dump the scraps on the floor.
She always sticks her fingers in the food
and then puts them in her mouth.
She’s sweaty and dishevelled as a saint
before a vision of God.
We’re waiting to witness her rapture.

Today Julia pulls bolts of tripe
in ascending sizes from off-camera.
White fields of fat and muscle,
blankets of honeycombs,
only Julia would bring out these pieces
huge like winding sheets for the dead.

We’ve never seen a woman
handle so much meat
and as off-handedly as if she were
unfurling towels for the clothes line.

And menudo, of all things,
a la francaise, who was to know
that anyone but us Mexicans
crave tripe, which when cooked,
fogs the house with its sweaty smell for days.

My mother clucks her tongue.
La Julia is carving the tripe
into squares big as hands.

My father howls through his
tumbler of red wine, says
she must be drunk, tossing those dirty plates
off-screen without a thought.

But we all love Julia,
wait weekly to see her,
a broad-shouldered
square-bodied woman
who cooks with both hands
up to her elbows in the food
and opens her mouth all the way
to laugh.


Kay said...

What a great tribute, both the doll and the poem. I never saw Julia; we didn't have TV at that time. But I had her books and followed them faithfully with some of my friends. They're so wonderfully written and illustrated that it makes the recipes easy, (if you don't mind dirtying every dish in the kitchen). I still remember and use many of her techniques.

How sad that your daughter only knows Rachel Ray.

Judy S. said...

Barbara, all you different creative adventures are so much fun! You are amazing....would love to be a fly in your classroom as I bet lot of fun and learning happens there.

Debra said...

Wes and I saw the movie last week & both enjoyed it. Afterwards I was telling him that one of my friends made a doll to honor Julia & he asked me, "Why in the world would anyone do that?" so I changed the subject!

I thought of you obviously!

dee said...

Oh Barbara! This was such fun to read. I remember the same shows and have loved Julia for years for the same reasons. I found Julie's blog a few years ago when I began reading cooking blogs and hadn't yet discovered quilt blogs.
I can't wait to see the movie. Thanks for this delihtful review and the poem. She inspired and amused-not a common trait in t.v. celebs.

Plays with Needles said...

That poem was a real treat Barbara! What a talent for words you have: there were so many great descriptive lines -- I'm going to forward the link to my bookclub.

We just finished reading both books...I just haven't had time to post about it...and we had a special dinner a la Julia where we all tried a recipe from her book...Phew! It was really fun to get immersed in her life...But it was even more fun for me to hear how much she influenced your family. really enjoyed this post!!

jettstream said...

Gosh, Barbara, so much to love! Your new blog look (well, new to me--I've been away for a while), the dollhouse, and Julia. I loved her book too. Interesting to hear why Julia was significant to you.

Magpie Sue said...

I don't remember seeing Julia Child on tv but I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie when it comes out on DVD. I doubt that I'd ever be inclined to try her recipes - I hate cooking! I think I would have enjoyed her personality though.

Deb H said...

I loved the movie "Julie & Julia" too. I downloaded Julia's book "My Life In France" the night after seeing the movie, & am just reading it now.
Your doll is great! What fun!

Cathy said...

Wow...I can see Julia in your doll! I hope you send a picture of her to the Julia Institute!