Monday, July 2, 2012

{review} my life in france

This is a scheduled post for Paris in July, hosted by bookbath and thyme for tea. It is scheduled because I am actually in Paris at the moment... Squeal!


Julia Child (with Alex Prud'homme) My Life in France (2006)

The weather held up splendidly, and we began at 2:00 p.m. with Americanos on our terrace. Moving inside, we had fresh foie gras panné à l’anglaise et sauté au beurre, paired with a Chassagne-Montrachet ’59. Next came a filet de boeuf stuffed with a Catalan mixture of onion, garlic, ham, black olives, thyme, and rosemary, all bound together with egg. It was paired with a 1964 Pommard, and was superb. Then salade verte, une tarte aux pommes, plus cheese and fruit and more wine. The conversation was loud and fun, and mostly about food.
Reading Julia Child's autobiography has been making me drooooool. There are descriptions so mouth-watering that it is lucky I haven't been electrocuted by my Kindle.
The pièce de résistance for the evening was a mammoth galantine de volaille, which took me three days to create and had been adopted from a recipe in Larousse Gastronomique. First you make a superb bouillon— from veal leg, feet, and bones—for poaching. Then you debone a nice plump four-pound chicken, and marinate the meat with finely ground pork and veal strips in Cognac and truffles. Then you reform the chicken, stuffing it with a nice row of truffles wrapped in farce and a fresh strip of pork fat, which you hope ends up in the center. You tie up this bundle and poach it in the delicious bouillon. Once it is cooked, you let it cool and then decorate it—I used green swirls of blanched leeks, red dots of pimiento, brown-black accents of sliced truffle, and yellow splashes of butter. The whole was then covered with beautiful clarified-bouillon jelly.
Julia Child could have been a conventional well-heeled, American college girl living a conventional American life but a number of factors contributed to her becoming an iconic figure in the history of twentieth century cooking. The Second World War set her loose on the world (she was in OSS). She married exactly the right person (a tolerant, travel-loving Francophile in the diplomatic corps), she was completely open-minded about new experiences ("I was a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian"), she had a remarkable attention to detail, an eye on the endgame ("our ideal reader - the servantless American cook who enjoyed producing something wonderful to eat") and her rise to fame coincided with the growing popularity of television. 

She discovered, when she went to France, that France was her 'thing'. France got under her skin:
I felt a lift of pure happiness every time I looked out the window. I had come to the conclusion that I must really be French, only no one had ever informed me of this fact. I loved the people, the food, the lay of the land, the civilized atmosphere, and the generous pace of life.
Child has a wonderful eye for detail:
The drill was to wait patiently in line until it was your turn, and then give your order clearly and succinctly. Madame was a whiz at judging the ripeness of cheese. If you asked for a Camembert, she would cock an eyebrow and ask at what time you wished to serve it: would you be eating it for lunch today, or at dinner tonight, or would you be enjoying it a few days hence? Once you had answered, she’d open several boxes, press each cheese intently with her thumbs, take a big sniff, and—voilà!—she’d hand you just the right one. I marveled at her ability to calibrate a cheese’s readiness down to the hour, and would even order cheese when I didn’t need it just to watch her in action. I never knew her to be wrong.
Among much good advice for the cook, I really liked this piece:
Unable to find spinach at the market, I’d bought chicory instead; it, too, was horrid. We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine. I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as “Oh, I don’t know how to cook ...,” or “Poor little me . . . ,” or “This may taste awful . . . ,” it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, “Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!” Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed—eh bien, tant pis! Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile—and learn from her mistakes.
It isn't all "mayonnaise, hollandaise, cassoulets, choucroutes, blanquettes de veau, pommes de terre Anna, soufflé Grand Marnier, fonds d’artichauts, oignons glacés, mousse de faisan en gelée, ballottines, galantines, terrines, pâtés". The Childs also ran into problems with the McCarthy witch-hunts in America. The decline of Paul Child's health at the time the couple were finally able to celebrate their great success casts a shadow. There were also problems with Child's co-writers of her first bestseller Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Child's achievements are immense and her story is fascinating and informative.
This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!
Oh, and she pandered to a rather spoiled "poussiequette" in Paris!

Incidentally, I haven't seen the Julia/Julie blog, book, film stuff. Should I?

Rating: 8/10. Thoroughly enjoyable. A bit staccato in places. 


  1. Glad to see you are having fun in Paris, Vicki! I found the Julie half of Julie/Julia (the movie) very annoying and sympathised with Julia's refusal to have anything to do with her. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci are lovely, though.

  2. Thanks Anne! I shall avoid, I think. I love that passage about cheese. My hotel was just opposite a little square on the Bld Saint Germain where this cheese shop is: Amazing. You could smell it as you crossed the road.

  3. How amazing to be in Paris in July! I am a little jealous!

  4. Thanks Marg! It's been wonderful. So much gorgeous food. There was a market opposite my hotel too - flowers, odd sorts of meat, fish, honey, bread. Food paradise!

  5. I thought the movie Julie/Julia was great. The book was whiney!
    If you never saw the real Julia Child, Meryl Streep does a wonderful job of acting as her. I would see the movie and skip the book.

    Not often that I say that!

    1. Thanks Brenda! Everyone seems to be in favour of the movie version.

  6. You just reinforced how much I need to read this book. My uncle, who is a total foody and loves everything French, keeps telling me to read it. I've never read the Julie and Julia book but I love the movie. It's my go-to when I'm just feeling blah and need to eat icecream and watch a movie ;)

    1. Thanks Kelly - it's a really enjoyable read, although the drooling may be an issue!

  7. Great review! I loved the audio version of this book, but ended up borrowing the print version from the library in order to see all the pictures. The other commenters are right... just see the Julie/Julia movie and skip the book.

    1. Thanks JoAnn - It is a lovely chatty book, so I imagine it would work really well as an audiobook.

  8. Squeal indeed. How wonderful to be in Paris, July or non. This sounds such a fascinating read. I love that first quote, that France was her thing. I think France is my thing too, it's how I feel in France. I think the Julie/Julia movie is the best thing-it's charmant. I caught the tail end of the Julie blog. I liked her style, but realise that she isn't to everyone's taste.

    1. Thanks Louise - there's that magical moment when you surface from the Metro and you realise you're in PARIS! A wonderful feeling.

  9. How did I miss this one before? You nailed it on this review of Julia's book -- she is one of my favorites -- she was before I read "My Life in France" and that only made me love her more! In the US, public broadcasting stations will be celebrating Julia's 100th this year (without Julia, alas) and I'm looking forward to all the fun programs we'll get to revisit!

    1. Thanks Jeanie! I've never seen her a whole one of her cooking shows, but from the book it is obvious that they completely changed how things were done and presented - I'm hoping some are broadcast in Australia for the centenary.


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