My Life in France, by Julia Child

It’s a joy to recommend a good book. This one is light, yet inspiring, easy to pick up here and there, in the quiet moments.

 My Life in France is much more than an easy gift for the foodies in your life.  Julia Child’s memoir of her time in France is the story of her love affair with a country and its remarkable culinary tradition.This light and engaging read offers a glimpse of the inspiring passion of a woman who  changed the way Americans thought about cooking.

For this reader, the details of classic French cookery are sometimes nauseating. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a friend to butter, cream, fat, and all those awful things that taste so delicious. But I tend to enjoy simply prepared vegetables and food that hasn’t been overly fussed about. Consider the following passage, a brief description of her three-days labor to create a “mammoth galantine de volaille”:

First you make a superb bouillon–from veal leg, feet, and bones–for poaching. Then you debone a nice plump four-pound chicken, and marinate the meat with finely ground pork and veal stripe in Cognac and truffles. Then you re-form the chicken, stuffing it with a nice row of truffles wrapped in farce and a fresh strip of pork fat, which you hope ends up in the center. You tie up this bundle and poach it in the declicious bouillon. Once it is cooked, you let it cool and then decorate it–I used green swirls of blanched leeks, red dots of pimiento, brown-black accents of sliced truffle, and yellow splashes of butter. The whole was then covered with beautiful clarified-bouillon jelly.

Call me pedestrian, but after reading that, all I want it is a fresh salad and a  glass of cool water.

But the charm of Child’s memoir is not the food–it’s fascinating, painstaking preparation or the toothsome result of all that meticulous effort– it’s her enthusiasm for her work. She pursues her beloved with relentless energy and curiosity. When evaluating the recipes that would eventually form part of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she writes,

Working on soups, for instance, I made a soup a day chez Child. On the day for soupes aux choux, I consulted Simca’s recipe as well as the established recipes of Montagne, Larousse, Ali-Bab, and Curnonsky. I read through them all, then made the soup three different ways…my guinea pig, Paul, complimented the three soupes aux choux, but I wasn’t satisfied.

She is a perpetual student, a scientist, an evangelist, and at her story’s end she has converted her home country to the joy of cooking in the tradition of her beloved France.

~K

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