Cooking with intention: Traveling with Julia Child
Anyone who’s above a certain age remembers Julia Child’s TV shows on PBS. Much more recently, the 2009 film Julie and Julia sparked new interest in the work of Julia Child. It certainly got my attention during the pandemic quarantine.
Terry was thrilled at this new hobby of mine. By his own admission he was not a great cook, but we ate. Truth be told, he did most of the cooking during our marriage, because most of the time I was teaching and really didn’t have much motivation for the kitchen after work. Hamburger Helper and Kraft Mac & cheese were staples in his repertoire. But the movie got me buying every cookbook Julia Child put out, and I started experimenting, as did Julie from the movie.
The recipes turned out really well. I mean… really, really, well.
Terry was gobsmacked. He was shocked. He was shook. He was just amazed.
“Ah ha! So! You really cancook! All this time I thought you couldn’t cook, but you can! And really well, too!”
I tried to explain to him that “being able to cook” means you have a talent for making things from whatever ingredients you have in the house, and having a sense of how things smell and how they taste, and what will go best with what. I’ve known a few people like that. They are the real cooks. By contrast, all I can do is read, shop and follow directions.
Julia Child’s recipes are famous for a few things: fresh herbs, lots of butter, heavy cream and some kind of alcoholic beverage. To the diet conscious, her dishes are a bacchanalia of fat, but as my friend Betsy is fond of saying—and she is a real chef de cuisine—“Fat is not what makes you fat. Hidden sugar and high fructose corn syrup are what make you fat.”
Julia Child says in Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking: “I do think the way to a full and healthy life is to adopt the sensible system of ‘small helpings, no seconds, no snacking and a little bit of everything.’” (2019 xv) She read my mind.
I lived in Germany from 1993 until almost 1998. In that time I enjoyed dishes similar to the Child recipes: full fat, lots of cream, lots of heavy sauces, in addition to the German classics of bratwurst, plenty of beef dishes and the like.
After one year in Germany, I had lost ten pounds without realizing it. I only noticed it when I was in a department store and happened to be standing across from a full-length mirror. The jeans I’d brought with me to Germany which had been uncomfortably tight when I got there, were bagging. It looked like they were in danger of falling off. I bought a scale and learned that Kg = 2x2 to get pounds, and I was shocked to see that I’d lost weight.
There were several factors in this unplanned weight loss. One, we walked as a mode of transportation. Typically if you wanted to go somewhere, you’d walk to your local train station, and wait for the train. After getting off the train, you’d walk to your destination. Or, to go grocery shopping, you’d just take your little wicker shopping basket (I still have it, by the way!) and high tail it to the market. The refrigerators were very small in comparison to American ones, so you’d wind up grocery shopping several times a week.
And there was never a question of freezing meats or extra vegetables to cut down on trips, because the typical German freezers of that time were large enough to fit one American gallon of ice cream.
When I got back to the US from Germany, I was in Charlotte, N.C. I was determined to maintain the good habits of walking to the market. This turned out to be impractical. I finally gave up when every single time I’d be going down the street, neighbors would stop their cars and beg me to get in so they could take me to the supermarket—in their cars. They insisted it was too dangerous. Not sure about that, but it sure was a lot hotter in the summer than in Germany! Eventually I gave in and started driving everywhere, like everyone else. And surprise surprise—the weight crept back on.
The French (and Italian, and German, etc) way is to serve incredibly tasty food in relatively small portions. But you are satisfied because the dishes are just so good. I mean… Really, really good…
American portions are huge, but the taste… let’s just say, the taste could use some work. It’s as if we compensate for blandness by increasing portion size. The European way is to serve comparatively tiny portions…but those portions are exquisite. Yes, they use full cream and real butter. The cooking is just off the hook good, but the portions are, by our standards, very small. It's not a bad tradeoff in my book.
Buy a French cookbook. Get the Madeira wine—and get the good stuff, not the so-called “cooking wines.” Pour in the heavy cream, plop in the butter, and grow the fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Cook magnificent meals for your loved ones. Make every day an anniversary dinner.
Wish I’d found Julia sooner, but I’m glad I found her at last.
Cherie Calletta was born and raised in Hammonton. She went to Japan for four years to teach English as a foreign language. She later spent about five years in Germany outside of Frankfurt am Main. After several years in Charlotte, North Carolina, she returned to Hammonton in 2002.