Saturday, August 14, 2004

Julia and Me

When I heard that Julia Child had died I only had a mild interest. True, I love to cook (and eat!) and the only cookbook of hers that I own, The Way to Cook, is fabulous. However, she's not one of the personalities in which I ever took any interest, she was able to enjoy her life to a grand age, and she died in her sleep. So, good on her, but none of it really mattered to me.

Thinking about it later, though, I realized that I owe more than I knew to Julia. She had tremendous influence over my parents. They were gourmet cooks who delighted in experimenting with new recipes and eagerly read all that was written by Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and other food mavens of the time. In fact, they threw themselves into the gourmet movement with such gusto that we never ate such "common" things as Meat Loaf, Macaroni and Cheese, or Tuna Noodle Casserole. For that, we had to go to my grandparents' house. At home we consumed exotica such as curry, squid or Mexican food. It was a given that my brother would request Chiles Rellenos for his birthday. This was not your typical Kansas kitchen of the 1960s. I grew up with a respect for authentic ingredients and food of all sorts that was engendered by pioneers like Julia Child.

Although my siblings and I all have found our own definite cooking styles, we all share a love for good food and are not afraid of the exotic. My brother can throw together Dolmas with the practiced speed of a Greek housewife. My sister thinks nothing of throwing a party for over a hundred of her husband's co-workers and makes everything by hand. I, myself, have raised children that routinely request Pesto Pizza (with home made crust and pesto) for birthday parties. They then carry on the legacy by pushing it on their friends who will ask if we're having "green pizza" when they come over.

Of course, we are a bit more ecumenical than my parents. Basic American standards like Macaroni and Cheese or Tuna Noodle Casserole do appear in our households. When I think about it, I realize that this too is true to Julia's legacy. When she came to Dallas, one of her favorite restaurants served Tex-Mex and basic Texan food. She told the owner that she always got taken to fancy places when really she enjoyed every kind of food. As long as it was delicious, she never shunned any sort of food ... even Meat Loaf.

More than that, she enjoyed living life to the fullest and she didn't sweat the small stuff, as in the famous incident during the live TV show when she dropped the chicken on the floor, picked it up, and kept on going ... and that is the most important legacy of all. It is one I hope to pass on to my children. So, thank you, Julia. I pray that you are enjoying a heavenly feast now that puts all your earthly ones to shame.

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