Saturday, September 19, 2015

Julia and Fred, who need no introduction

If you are under thirty, if arugula and microwave ovens have always been a fixture of your kitchen, then you may know Julia only as Meryl Streep's character in Nora Ephron's final romantic comedy.  If you are of that younger generation, then you will not think of Julia Childs the way I do.

I am old enough to remember my mom watching "The French Chef" while it was still in production, but I was too young at that age to appreciate Julia's cultural importance.  She popularized French cuisine in America during the 1960s.  She was the culinary educator who became a ‘celebrity chef’ years before Food Network started grinding them out like little sausages. 

While not my earliest memory of Julia, my most distinct impression of her is from touring her model kitchen in the basement of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  There, among other things, visitors can watch of a video of Julia Child making mashed potatoes for six, with the addition of thirty cloves of garlic.  THIRTY CLOVES.  One concludes that Americans had a different sense of taste of smell in the 1960s, perhaps dulled by the widespread use of alcohol and tobacco.  Back in the 60’s, Julia was an unassailable queen of the kitchen, and one simply would not question her enthusiasm for garlic.  If you are of that generation, then you will also not think of Julia exactly as I do.  She has divided our generations that way.

My earliest specific memory of Julia Childs was her guest appearance on Mr. Rogers.  It must have been part of some sort of PBS early cross-marketing effort.  I imagine Fred Rogers made a guest appearance on her show later in the week, and maybe they both showed up on Thursday night as panelists on Washington Week in Review.  Anyway, Julia prepared a pasta dish for Fred in March 1974.  I remember my mother copying every ingredient with rapt attention while Julia prepared it, which was unusual because my mother did not often watch Mr. Rogers with us.  The ingredients were these:  spaghetti, black olives, swiss cheese, pimentos, walnuts, green onions, tuna, black pepper and parsley, all dressed in generous amounts of olive oil.  The recipe became a family favorite and as my sister and I grew older, we also learned to prepare it.  The name Julia gave that dish is interesting:  Marco Polo spaghetti.  I’m not sure where Mr. Polo was able to source Swiss cheese or canned tuna while he schlepped across the Steppes of Mongolia.  Maybe his people made it for him when he got back to Italy.  Whatever you call it, it was a tasty dish. I recall from my youth scraping bits of oil soaked parsley and cheese off the bottom of the bowl with my finger after the pasta was finished.

This will not be a blog where I attempt to recreate every recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”  That ground was already covered by Blogging pioneer Julie Powell (More about Ms Powell in another post, and also continuing the theme of generational divide)  Maybe instead I can cook all of the foods in Mr Rogers recipe cannon, a stunt that would not attract as much attention as Julie Powell's.  Another Mr. Rogers episode (non-food) which sticks in my mind was the one where he tried blowing glass, and ended up accidentally smashing an expensive piece.  From that, I think Rogers would have been kind of train wreck in the kitchen.  Let him be remembered for feeding the goldfish.
Inspired by Julia (after conceiving this posted essay)
I made garlic mashed potatoes.  
Inspired by Fred (perhaps only subconsciously) 
we completed a glassblowing class a few years ago.

Inspired by Julia (after conceiving this posted essay)  I made garlic mashed potatoes.  I did not follow Julia's recipe, instead replacing Russet potatoes with Kennebec potatoes. These were in season my local CSA, and thin skinned so they do not require peeling (a time saver).  I don't cut them very small before cooking, perhaps only halves (another time saver, but may affect consistency)

I did not make a bechamel sauce, per Julia's recipe, but added smaller amounts of milk and butter at the end (saves time and reduces calories, but may not be as richly flavorful).
I used one clove of garlic, chopped raw.  This saved time, but I would not do it this way again (I don't usually add garlic at all to my potatoes, so this was new to me).  It would be better to roast the garlic, or blanch then saute (per Julia's recipe) as cooking softens the garlic and brings out the sweetness.  I always use a wood handled potato masher, kind of similar to this one.  The potato masher is faster than using a fork, and easier to clean than a potato ricer, though each method will result in a slightly different texture.

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