I grew up in a household where every response to "Where's this recipe from?" was either simply Volume One or Volume Two. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, was the single driving force that elevated my family's eating habits, now going on influencing a third generation. My father took it upon himself to cook through hundreds of dishes in MTAFC to teach himself to cook, and as life started to revolve around the kitchen more and more, I sat and watched at first, then joined in. Now my kids have grown up with classic dishes, like Carbonnades de Boeuf a la Flamande, that I gave up needing the recipe for 20 years ago.
Julia Child's posthumously published memoir, My Life in France, is a beautiful testament to her unfaltering joie de vivre and no matter how much of the book actually was penned by Julia herself, her voice and personality sparkle throughout. There are times you can hear her cackle-y voice propelling syllables at you, half-winded, half-laughing.
I know it sounds strange, but many times as I read this book, I was struck with the chills as she described the first time she discovered a dish that has become part of my cooking DNA.
Thon à la Provençal is one such dish. When I was 8 years old or so, fish came in sticks. But the first time my father made this dish it filled the house with such amazing smells, I begged for a taste and I think it was tasting that exotic herbaceous tomato sauce the first time that woke me up to how wonderful food could be. He made it with swordfish, as fresh tuna was very hard to come by in the seventies, and for years, I would eat something kid friendly early in the evening with my brother, then again with my parents at eight o'clock or so to get more of that dish whenever he made it.
Hearing Julia describe her balcony view in Marseilles overlooking the harbor and her first encounter with a beautiful slab of tuna, just pulled in, her poaching it in tomatoes and herbs...I was transported back to our little dining room in Mt. Lakes, New Jersey and that first bite.
After reading My Life in France, I couldn't help but pull out my copy of Volume One, which is completely falling apart (I got it for my birthday nearly 30 years ago) to refresh my memory on her writing style. Typical is her detailed article describing three ways to de-scum veal when you are making blanquette de veau, written in a matter of fact style at once funny, inviting and demystifying. I urge you to read this book and reflect upon the impact Julia Child (1912-2004) had on cooking in America, and at your house.
It's now available in paperback.