Reading Cookbooks -Julia Child and Yotam Ottolenghi

Julia Child long ago inspired me, along with my mother and grandmother, to have courage in the kitchen. They all recorded their successes in books, and reading their cookbooks has become one of my favorite pastimes. Of course, trying the recipes is a treat too.

9780385351751_p0_v3_s192x300  A friend recently sent me an excerpt in The Boston Globe of  The French Chef in America by Alex Prud’homme, Julia Child’s great nephew,  prompting me to look for this latest examination of my favorite chef.  Prud’homme co-wrote his great-aunt’s 2007 memoir, My Life in France, and he describes The French Chef in America as the story of Child’s “second act – her life after the publication of her classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

After Julia and Paul Child returned to the United States from France, they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she reinvented herself as a TV personality and dealt with her husband’s challenging health issues, never losing her optimistic view of the world – a role model who didn’t find her true voice until her seventies.   After reading Steven Krage’s  review I downloaded the book from audible and look forward to learning more about Julia Child.

9781489126672_p0_v1_s192x300   I also recently discovered Yotam Ottolenghi, the British chef with Israeli roots. His first cookbook – The Yotan Ottolenghi Handbook –  published eight years ago, has just been reissued with a shiny red cover. I found two more of his books in the library – Plenty and Jerusalem – and now have them on my shelf.

Both books are heavy with padded colorful covers.  Jerusalem focuses on traditional fare with food ranging from roasted potatoes with figs to chocolate krantz cake – better known as chocolate babka for Seinfeld fans – with step by step pictorial instructions.  Some recipes met my expectations – tabbouleh, hummus, couscous; others were a pleasant surprise – Clementine syrup cake, herb pie, lamb stuffed with pomegranate.  Plenty offers all vegetarian dishes but the desserts caught my eye: pear crostini, watermelon and feta, and Halloween soufflés.

Always looking for a new way to cook chicken, I found Ottolenghi’s recipe for roast chicken easy to follow, but finding the accompanying ingredients of sumac and za’atar required my best research skills. An easy substitute for sumac is lemon zest, and I found an easy recipe for za’atar: fresh-zaatar-rub-su-x

Grind together 3 Tbs. dried thyme, 1 Tbs. lightly toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano or marjoram, 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and add 1 tbsp lemon zest.

Years ago, a friend gifted me a small jar and I used it as a wonderful topping for cheeseless pizza. Just drizzle the dough with olive oil and pat in heaps of za’atar before baking. I may try it again now that I’ve found the recipe for making my own.

Yotam and Julia share the same philosophy in cookbooks, with the careful attention to detail and their determination to simplify instructions and clarify the process. Yotam noted in an interview: “So long as a recipe made sense and our readers could make a delicious meal by following it, that was that. Job done: let’s eat!”  Julia is famous for saying, “”Well, if I can do it you can do it.” Unlike Julia Child, Ottolenghi’s books have full page pictures with mouth-watering plates to tempt me to try making them. But for now, I’m content to read the recipes, look at the pictures, and  savor the food vicariously while listening to stories about Julia.

Related Review:   Cookbooks 101

 

Julia Child’s Birthday

Two great cooks share their birthday today: Julia Child and my Italian grandmother. Both are no longer around and both believed in butter, although my grandmother was heavier on the olive oil.

Tart Dough

To celebrate, I attended cooking classes at “Université Patisserie” – a tribute to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, sponsored by a local resort. The instructor endeared himself when he noted that most French recipes originated with the Italians.

I learned how to make pâte à choux with a creamy filling, tart dough with almond flour, and then stuffed myself with treats created by the pastry chef.

Children’s picture books that channel Julia were reviewed in Ann Hodgman’s New York Times – Let’s Eat – one starred Julia’s cat.

Minette’s Feast by Susanna Reich follows Julia Child and her husband Paul as they settle into Parisian life. The entry of Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child, a Parisian cat who adopts the couple, offers a new perspective on Julia’s life in France. With beautiful color illustrations by Amy Bates, the highlights of Julia’s cooking adventures in Paris come to life, punctuated by the fussy cat who is a gourmet. Minette would never eat out of a can, and revels in the aromas of cassoulets and soufflés, but, alas, her favorite food is still a mouse.

The newest biography of the original Top Chef has just been published to coincide with her 100th birthday. Bob Spitz’s Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child is on my Kindle, and I plan to read it today while eating my grandmother’s biscotti.

Related Reviews:

Making Friends at a Certain Age

“It takes courage” to confront a stranger to start a connection.  Alex Williams addressed making friends for those over forty in his New York Times essay – Friends of a Certain Age.

As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends…often people realize how much they have neglected to restock their pool of friends only when they encounter a big life event, like a move…

Worth rereading when everyone around you seems to have something to do that does not include you.

The sidebar by Jesse McKinley in Some Friendly Advice  offers 6 quick ways to find a friend; one is to “go it alone.”  In that spirit, I took myself to cooking demonstrations celebrating Julia Child, who will soon celebrate her 100th birthday.  People who like to eat and cook are usually friendly, and I did find new friends: Kathy, a writer from Australia, and Devra, the Coco Chanel of beautifully made ETSIS sunhats.

The best advice from the articles  – besides getting over yourself – appreciate the BFF’s you have and look for a casual friend or two – “better than total isolation.”  As the Girl Scouts sang – “one is silver, the other is gold.”

For more musings on articles, go to Read Between the Lines

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

“You are hosting a dinner party for three writers?  Who’s on the invite list?”

When Kristin Cashore, author of young adult novels, was asked this question in the New York Times book review interview By the Book,  she answered:

“Louisa May Alcott, Madeleine L’Engle, and Hildegard von Bingen…hopefully one of them can cook and wouldn’t mind coming early to take care of that.”

When reluctantly participating in a get-to-know-you exercise and asked for one author, my response – Steve Martin – was met with disdain (they were all academics.)  Having dinner with the prolific wild and crazy guy who’s written novels (Shop Girl), plays (Picasso at the Lapin Agile), can talk about art (has a private collection), and can play a mean banjo – not to mention his sense of humor – has the potential for good dinner conversation.  Calvin Trillin could add a little spice, and if I were to add one more, of course, Julia Child (to cook).

Do you have authors you would like to meet?  maybe share a meal?

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Travel Through Children’s Books

Tours that follow an author can be inviting. Literature tours in England follow Austen and Bronte;  New England in the United States attracts followers of Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  A friend gave me an article from the Wall Street Journal – Going By the Children’s Book – with Liam Callahan’s suggestions for touring Paris through children’s book authors.   Although I have often dreamed of following Julia Child through France, his itinerary also has appeal:

  • Bemelmans’ Madeleine captures Paris from Sacre Coeur to the Jardin des Tuileries;
  • Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (a film before it became a book) floats through Montmartre;
  • Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret looks back at the famous train station and local streets.

Callahan provides a map with tangential adventures, the possibility of buying a book store, and additional books to inspire your literary trip:

  • Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock
  • Paris in the Spring with Picasso by Yolleck and Prideman

My favorite is Rupert Kingfisher’s  Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles – “selling all kinds of rare and exotic delicacies” – a culinary adventure – but Julia Child would wonder over the cobra brains in black butter.