Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On Food, Love, and Julie & Julia

Today I saw Julie and Julia. I loved it, and it has been released at an oddly appropriate time for me.

Food has recently risen in relative importance in my life. I have always loved to go out to eat (who doesn't) and my family makes fun of me for choosing a career where I will most certainly not become wealthy when I have been choosing the most expensive thing on the menu since before I paid any attention to prices.

But this summer, I did a little internship program called SAS. And 16 people lived in a sorority lodge all together and we all loved each other and it actually was the 'intentional community' that the program mission statements proclaim. Anyway, food was very central to the whole thing. Our shared love of feta and 'family dinners' bonded us immensely. You hear a lot about how the ideal nuclear family unit should sit down around the dinner table together every night, and my family did a lot of the time--but we mostly all liked each other anyway and I didn't often attribute it to the dinners we had per se. But this summer, I saw that food could actually, to be cliche, bring people together that wouldn't have been as close otherwise.

And personally, I started to cook a lot more. My mom is a great cook, and she taught me a lot of what she knows constantly gives me good kitchen tools to help me be a successful chef too. But during the school year, when time was scarce, I mostly (sorry mom) ate Lean Cuisine or other frozen foods from Trader Joe's. Cooking just for myself didn't seem all that worthwhile anyway. But when you combine 15 hungry people, a generous food budget that doesn't come out of your own pocket, and a job that only took up 20-30 hours a week, well that is just a good recipe for cooking.

I discovered this summer that cooking for other people can really feel like giving a gift--especially when I make pie (the blog title may have tipped you off to my particular fondness for pie). Because as my mother and grandmother taught me, you must make pie crust from scratch, and cut in all that butter and shortening, and roll out the dough and shape in the pan just so. You put in time, manual labor, and creativity. And when people think that what you make is yummy, well, that's just the best.

I also discovered that cooking can be a comfort just for me, and me alone. The day my dog died, I came home from work, and I just shredded cabbage, made sauce, chopped nuts, made dough, and stirred and mashed and washed and whisked and whatever I could think to make I made it, for about 5 hours straight. It helped me to do something, and to be around people but to be focused so I didn't have to talk too much, to be sad but keep my mind occupied. I wasn't sure how to grieve, really, so I cooked. And that was when the mechanics of cooking started to seem sort of wonderful.

I heard about this book, where they interview a lot of people about their jobs (it isn't Gig- a very similar book which I love, but it isn't this one) and the only one who is really happy with his work is the stone mason, because he creates something tangible with his own hands, every day. Cooking is starting to feel like that to me. And Julie Powell and Julia Child--even thought I didn't know that much about either one before I started to read all the on them before the movie was released--both cook food as a labor of love, and as an ambition and serious project. Food that is difficult, and kind of gross to make, what with all the innards and aspics and killing lobsters, but that you can dig into, work at, and turn into something scrumptious.

I want to jump straight to the end of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to deboning a duck to wrap in that delicious-looking pastry thing that Julie makes at the end of the movie...but maybe I should learn to poach an egg first.

Julie/a Pie: rhubarb, cornstarch, sugar and an extra buttery crust.

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