dear julia, happy new year

In 2009, we were, all of us, universally enraptured by the charm and grace of a little movie called Julie & Julia.

Okay.  You’ve got me, I only saw it once.  Half of it.  If you’ll remember, it was the movie based on real life, on Julie Powell’s book of the same name, where she cooks and blogs her way through all 524 of Julia Child’s recipes.  Mostly it was about Meryl Streep being awesome, as per usual.

I have a bad habit of jumping on bandwagons years after they’ve left their original stations.  So, feel free to roll your all-knowing eyes as I bask in the glow of this latest revelation:  Julia Child!!  Julia Child.  Oh man.

But let’s rewind, re-trace my steps to this grand, sweepingly new understanding.

This Christmas, I was in charge of the whole family dinner.  My mom and her sisters had just arrived from the Philippines.  Everyone else was either visiting, or recovering from a flu.  Add to this my penchant for holidays, a 20+ person guest list to impress, and you have the flints that sparked this 2012’s Christmas Extravaganza.

Initially, I tried to play it cool.  To save money on decorations, I spray painted stray pieces of pine and stones from the backyard.  Gold.

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At the dollar store, I found irresistible 20-packs of small velvet ribbons.  This led to silverware tying, in fashionable Christmas napkins.

IMG_1372After stocking up on the beer and wine, things started to spiral out of control.  I needed a menu.  I needed food to be plentiful.  And, everything had to be indisputably delicious.  After much searching, I came across a recipe for boeuf bourguignon.  Affixed to the recipe was that golden name, Julia Child.

It had to be good.  By virtue of this presumption, I printed it out.  I proceeded to find complimentary recipes, for a vegetable tarte tatin, a potato gratin, some roast chicken…  Also, with the necessity of having a whole dinner ready, my usual baking responsibilities took a hit.  I settled on baking cupcakes before starting anything savory.

Quickly, I cooked down pitted cherries with sugar and a little cornstarch.  Filled standard vanilla cupcakes.

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Topped with the tastiest part of a Shirley Temple?

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Also on the cupcake platters = a lemon curd-filled chocolate cupcake, with a chocolate meringue icing.

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This was the eve of Christmas Eve, when everyone would be arriving.  At 11 p.m., I wiped the flour off of my fingers, and put the fate of an entire evening in the hands of the late, great Julia Child.  I committed myself entirely to everything she said.

This was a mistake, I soon realized.

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The recipe began with sweating the bacon.  This was followed by painstakingly browning cubes of beef, which was followed by sauteing carrots and onions.  Only after all was tender could I add the herbs, the broth, the wine.

By the time I took this picture, it was 1 a.m.

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I started to panic.  Scanning over the rest of the recipe, I realized I was still half an hour away from letting it stew in the oven for another four hours.  Why are there so many steps, Julia?  I wailed inwardly.  What is the meaning behind the method in your madness?

And then I realized something.  Though my eyes were nearly tearing from their sockets, from exhaustion, my nose was dreamily enjoying a fragrance so remarkable, it almost detached from my face.  The air!  It was filled with the scents of pork and wine and herbs and browned beef.  It was homey and inviting, a new kind of Christmas.  Oh Julia, I whispered, maybe you are onto something.

I remember watching re-runs of Julia Child’s show as a kid.  I’d often turn to my mom, to quizzically ask her what Julia was mumbling.  Mom J would hush me.  She would reverentially gesture at her own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking on the bookshelf, as if it were an obvious answer to my question.  Without knowing much about her, I grew up liking the effect Julia Child had on my mom, and seemingly had on the world.  Respect.  Genuine appreciation.  The tall lady with the red lipstick.  You realize, in retrospect, a lot of what made her was her passion, and her ability to articulate her culinary revelations.  But ultimately, all these qualities combined to age her into a legend.

This Christmas Eve, I learned that Julia Child is not a phenom by word-of-mouth, as so many things are these days.  She brought to the American table a boeuf bourguignon that I believe is the greatest dish I have ever made.

The photos don’t do it justice.

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After cooking for four hours, it was topped by onions I cooked down in beef broth, with recurring herbs and spices from the stew, as well as mushrooms sauteed in butter.  The dish was served next to a bowl of egg noodles.

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Warm.  Buttery.  Fragrant.  Rich, but without a greasy heaviness to it.  Friend, how do I emphasize to you that all I want for Christmas is this boeuf bourguignon all the time?  I have never given birth, but I think the feeling must be similar — all recollection of pain and suffering is immediately pacified at first breath, or in this case first bite, of heaven.  Right?  Am I right?  Let me make it for you.  Let’s celebrate Christmas over and over again.

I can also make this.  It photographs much nicer than the bourguignon, and is almost as tasty.  The vegetable tarte tatin.  Do you like sweet potatoes and parsnips?  Tell me when you’re free.

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Anyway, friend, thank you for reading this blog this year.  Thanks for perusing my semi-self-congratulatory pictures, for returning weekly even though I can’t tell the difference between Thursday and Friday anymore.  This year was complicated, but infinitely more cheery than the two years before it.  I suspect 2013 will be a riot.  It will be especially swell because I have a great new years resolution.  I’ve resolved to be more confident, this 2013.

Of course, I don’t mean to become more arrogant, not more than I already am.  But I think I’ve cheated myself of enough opportunities, because of insecurity.  Taking care of my dad, and spending so much time away from the shore of my interests, my ego jumped ship, and it has taken a long swim to recover myself.  This 2013, I really want to get my Paulo Coelho on, and seize my destiny.  I want to write, to tell you I am a writer, without immediately apologizing for myself.  I want to paint, to tell you I am a painter, and offer you a fair price.  I want to complete at least 10 things on my 30 things list, because I can, and I should.

As Julia says, ““The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude…”  And then, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

Happy New Year, friend.  I love you.

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