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Celebrating Julia Child

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Julia's 90th Birthday Party

Kate & Julia

In his book A History of Cooks and Cooking, author Michael Symons notes that “Mass Foodism” (also known as being a “foodie”) has been on the rise for years — as can be observed in the booming gourmet food/cookware industry as well as soaring sales of cookbooks. Part of this rise, Symons adds, is due to television bringing “foodism to the masses” via charismatic instructors like Julia Child.

Julia Child made what was once intimidating obtainable, and became an international icon after first appearing (in 1963) as “The French Chef” on Public Television. Child’s greatest contribution to the art of cookery, however, is most certainly Volume One of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (published in 1961).

Child (along with her colleagues Simone Beck and Louisette Berholle) spent a decade researching and writing Volume One — the “style and clarity” of which, according to Noel Riley Fitch (author of Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child), makes it “a genuine masterpiece in culinary history.”

In 1950, Child, Beck and Berholle started their work with a goal to create a book novice American cooks could understand, yet would still be “interesting for the practiced cook.” Ten years later, Knopf’s Judith Jones wrote that the soon-to-be-published book “will do for French cooking here in America what Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking did for standard [American] cooking.”

Jones was right: the book has been in print for over 40-years, including a new edition celebrating the release of the film “Julie & Julia” — opening Friday with Oscar-winner Meryl Streep appearing as Ms. Child.

“Julie & Julia” is the first of what might well become many motion pictures based on Child’s fascinating life encompassing great loves, world-wide travels, epic feasts — and perhaps even a stint as a WWII spy. Standing over six-feet-tall, Julia Child’s dynamic physical presence and positive personality drove her ever-increasing popularity as a TV performer and delivered her passion for cooking to an international audience.

Writer Christopher Lydon, quoted in Fitch’s biography, states that: “Queen Julia has done more than [Betty] Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Co. to show American women a model of power in public and expressive self-discovery at home.”

Even after her death (in 2004 at the age of 91), the cult of Julia Child is still hungry for more: DVD collections are available for purchase, her home kitchen has been moved into the Smithsonian Museum, new books are inspired by her life,  bumper stickers read “What Would Julia Do?,” and the truly obsessed can buy devotional candles.

If you haven’t yet had your fill of all things related to ‘the original spice girl,’ check out Flickr’s Julia Child group (lovingly administered by the author of this blog… )

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EAT IT UP: Lobster in the News

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Maine Lobster Roll

Maine Lobster Roll

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Kneading

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Oregano Cottage Cheese BreadJune 15th: My first official day without a work place to report to. What did I do with my free time? I baked bread. There is little else in this world that is so comforting as the smell of a yeasty loaf baking in the oven.

I also continued my research, going back to Anthony Bourdain’s great Typhoid Mary to refresh my memory about life for women in the kitchen at the turn of the last century.

Bourdain notes that then, as now, “one finds oneself being defined by one’s job.”

So, how do I define myself when I have no job?

Written by Kate Blood

June 15, 2009 at 6:51 pm

How to Cook a Wolf

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Stretching MeatBad boy Bourdain’s rant about expensive foodstuffs got me to thinking about M.F.K. Fisher and her eloquent instructions for war time cooking (see How to Cook a Wolf, copyright 1942).

I may still be employed (for a few days), but I’m already panicking about keeping the wolf at bay (food, as you may have guessed, is never something I leave to chance). Thank goodness I still have bookshelves piled high with the wise words of cooks who have lived through much harder times.

The well-traveled writings of Paddleford and Fisher, especially, are offering up deeper comfort than ever before. Fisher’s descriptions of leisurely lunches in quaint French auberges — which I found so romantically intriguing in the past — have now given way to a fascination with instructions for grinding up cheap meat and whole grain into vitamin-rich pastes.

I hope I’ll never have to buy a bottle of Kitchen Bouquet to color up my own paste concoctions (a la M.F.K).

If need be, I’d rather sell off my cookbook collection.

Tony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook would be one of the first to go. I’ve owned the book for years, yet it has never inspired me to cook a single recipe. For nourishment, I much prefer Mr. Bourdain’s serious writing: Typhoid Mary, the story of America’s most infamous cook, is at the top of my all-time-favorites list.

EAT IT UP: Food Buzz You Should Be Reading/Watching Today

Waste Not, Want Not: The Sun Times

Typhoid Mary: Villain or Victim?: Nova

Great Depression Cooking: You Tube

Cooking for Less: OC Register

Written by Kate Blood

May 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm