Saturday, January 08, 2011

Julia is not to be trifled with

My mother gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking as a Christmas gift, and it’s something I plan to treasure and use for years to come before passing it along to my own daughter. I was hoping to end up with Mom’s own, decades-old copy, but it seems to have disappeared somewhere between my childhood and now. I made it a point to make Julia’s famous onion soup first, since it was a staple in our home as I was growing up. And I quickly learned that when Julia admonishes the reader to do something (i.e. watch the onions carefully in the caramelizing stage), she’s not doing so for her own benefit: A mere few minutes distraction and I had eye-watering charcoal in the pan instead of uniformly browned onions as the recipe called for. Not to be put off by this initial mishap (mainly because I’m well aware there will be hundreds more like it in my future as I work my way through Mastering the Art), I tried again. Keeping my focus this time and following Julia’s directions to the letter, I ended up with a dish that not only brought me right back to cozy winter nights with family while the northern California rain beat down on the roof, but that even had my finicky tween son asking for seconds.

Moving on, it was time to tackle Poulet Poele a L’Estragon (many accent marks missing), which is basically Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon. Here it was necessary for me to deviate from Julia’s directions slightly (even though I’d assured myself I’d never do that again after the charcoal onion mishap), mainly because I didn’t have the mattress needle and white string necessary for trussing a chicken. So, I sort of just let my chicken hang loose throughout the process – more of hippy chick(en) than an uptight, French bird. And the fact that I kept thinking things like “Poor little chicken” to myself while preparing the dish is just one of the reasons I would have made a terrible farm kid. Regardless, I was obliged to put the thing through all sorts of humiliations (beheading and plucking aside) in order to end up with yet one more mouth-watering (if I do say so myself) and popular dish:

I'm pretty sure Julia's chickens behaved in a much more professional manner.

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