How to Cook Like Julia Child: A Play in Two Acts

ACT I

[Marie is in her kitchen, assembling ingredients and reviewing the appropriate pages of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to prepare the Custard Apple Tart. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major streams from Pandora.]

Marie: I have reviewed the recipe, purchased the ingredients, and assembled all the things. I even poured a beer to enjoy as I cook. I’m ready!IMG_4430.jpg

Marie: [Reads aloud Step 1 of the Custard Apple Tart Recipe on page 637] Use the sweet short paste on page 633 for the pastry shell. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Marie: [Preheats oven. Turns to page 633.]

Marie: [The recipe lists “Amounts Needed” as follows:

“For an 8- to 9-inch shell, proportions for 1 ½ cups flour.”

“For a 10- to 11-inch shell, proportions for 2 cups flour.”

IMG_4422.jpgThen, “Proportions for 1 cup flour” with the actual recipe to follow.]

Marie: …

Marie: [Asking a friend] Does this mean that I’m to adjust the recipe by adding .5 for everything since I have a 9-inch pan?

Friend: This is nuts. I have no idea. I’ll read it some more.

Friend:I believe you adjust the recipe amounts to 1.5. So you’ll use 1 cup flour and 1.5 cups sugar.

Marie: This is why I don’t use Julia’s recipes more. They make me crazy. I adjust everything, right, not just the flour?

Friend: Adjust fats by .5 also. Urgh!

Marie:I can’t do math! Damn you, Julia!

Friend:Blahhh – why butter AND shortening?

Marie: 1 ½ T shortening x .5 is…2.25 T shortening?

Friend: 2 T and 1 tsp. Unless you have a quarter tablespoon measure. A teaspoon is about a third of a tablespoon.

Marie: Don’t round. Must be precise. I need the math.

Friend: Urk. 2 T plus .75 tsp.

Marie: Fuck. I got 2.25 T. Is that the same thing?

Lisa: I think so?

Marie: All I can think of is my remedial math teacher in college intoning, “fractions never go away.”

Lisa: I hate that teacher! But, he is right.

Marie: [Mixes dough. Does baking things.] Motherf…the dough has to chill in the freezer for an hour. Guess I’ll turn the oven off.

Friend: Oh, fer…

Marie: I’m assuming that the “freezing compartment of the refrigerator” is the freezer, yes?

Friend: Hahahahaha!

Marie: Or, the dough can be refrigerated for two hours or overnight. That’s right, two hours, or tomorrow. There is no in-between, apparently.

Marie: [reviews instructions for making the dough] It says to “place the flour in the bowl, mix in the sugar and salt, and then proceed to make the dough …” Make the dough? That’s the instruction? It’s like being on the technical challenge of the Great British Baking Show.

Marie: [Looks up instructions for making the dough on page 140]

Marie: [Reads aloud the instructions for making the dough in a food processor. She is not making this up.]

Measure the dry ingredients into the bowl. Quarter the chilled sticks of butter lengthwise and cut crosswise into 3/8 inch pieces; add to the flour along with the chilled shortening. Flick the machine on and off 4 or 5 times, then measure out a scant half-cup of iced water. Turn the machine on and pour it all in at once; immediately flick the machine on and off….

Marie: [Stops reading, because that is insane.]

Marie: [Reviews how to make dough with her hands.]

Place the dough on a lightly floured pastry board. With the heel of one hand, not the palm which is too warm, rapidly press the pastry by two-spoonful bits down on the board and away from you…

Marie: F this, I’m just going to knead the dough.

Marie: [Reads instructions}

“Then press the dough firmly into a roughly shaped ball. It should just hold together and be pliable but not sticky.”

Marie: What if it IS sticky, Julia? What, then?IMG_4423.jpg

Marie: [Rolls the sticky dough into a ball, wraps it in waxed paper as directed, and places it on a plate in the refrigerator for two hours, but not overnight, having not felt confident on the meaning of the “freezing compartment of the refrigerator.”]

Marie: [Finishes beer and wonders what she got herself into.]

[End of scene, End of Act I]

 

ACT II

[After a walk outdoors to rethink her culinary choices, Marie is back in the kitchen, attempting to roll out what she hopes will pass for dough. The only sound is that of her despair.]

[Six hours later…]

Marie: I have a tart! It’s pretty and it tastes good. Also, I am never doing this again.

[End of scene, End of Act II, End of Play]

IMG_4431.jpg

You Can Learn a Lot From a Grocery Store

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is visit local grocery stores. These spaces are often the best way to learn about the similarities and differences of local culture.

In France, the wine selection goes on for days and days. Sometimes there is even a wine cellar. The wine is all dirt cheap (think $2-3 a bottle for something that would easily cost $25-30 in the States), and very good.

The French also love smoked salmon, apparently, because never in my life have I seen such a selection of that particular item.

DSC_2066
I wasn’t kidding about the smoked salmon.

In Italy, what’s not on the shelves is interesting: peanut butter. While you may find familiar labels (Nivea, Dove, Nestle) on the shelves, peanut butter of any brand has not infiltrated Italian culture.

In Iceland, I found a variety of dried fish, candy that tasted like menthol, and skeins of wool right there near the cash registers.

In Japan, a four-pack of peaches cost $20. A lot of fruit has to be imported, so the prices reflect that.

DSC_1533
I wasn’t kidding about the menthol candy, either.

One thing I have noticed in particular is that in European countries, eggs are found on a non-refrigerated shelf. I was happy to have the opportunity to explore why when invited to write an article about it for moneysmartfamily.com. The short version as to why some cultures refrigerate their eggs and some do not lies in how we approach managing salmonella. The chickens, and the eggs, are essentially the same.

I hope you enjoy reading about the cultural differences of egg storage. Please share the differences you have found with grocery store food when traveling!

The Key to Maintaining A Healthy Weight in Your 40s

I am a reasonably slim, physically fit woman. I have always been active, and enjoy exercise. Yet, despite these truths, I started gradually putting on a little more weight, and a little more, and a little more after that, until one day I was 40 years old and had no idea how I suddenly needed all new pants.

I went hiking last year with a dear friend and after several hours of a fairly grueling ascent, we took a selfie. I hated – and I mean hated – how I looked in that picture. I was embarrassed by that picture. My friend posted that picture to Facebook and I almost asked her to take it down. Then I thought, no. Hiding from this is not the answer. Instead, I need to figure out what I’m going to do about it, because no way am I buying all new pants, again.

Marie before
My “Before” picture

How It Happened

In a nutshell: I turned 40. When women get to middle age, our metabolism decreases by about 5% for every ten years past the age of 40.[1]By changing nothing other than simply observing the passage of time, I will continue to gain weight slowly yet steadily. It’s a cruel game, but one that I am determined to win.

What I Did About It

I resolved to make some changes in my life. I started by moving more. I found some buddies at work who also want to move more, and we went for a brisk half hour walk every day at lunchtime. Eventually, I found some coworkers who wanted to hit the gym pretty hard during our lunch breaks, so I joined them. Together, we have been incorporating running and strength training – get this – into my workday. That was a tough change at first. I had to embrace packing (and unpacking) a gym bag each and every day. I needed a second pair of sneakers so I could keep a pair in my bag at all times. I got used to taking a sometimes cold shower on the fly after a workout and going back to my desk just a bit askew. I accepted that any good hair day I had would only last for the morning, because after lunch I would have workout hair.

And you know what? It was worth it.

Within six months I noticed I not only had more energy, but my pants were fitting looser. I was able to lift heavier weights. I started to like what I saw when I looked in the mirror more and more.

Don’t Count Calories

As much as I know that exercise helped not only my waistline but also my psyche, changing my eating habits helped much more. I met with a nutritionist, and that was helpful, mostly because she showed me that as long as I am eating nutritionally dense foods, I can eat much more than I thought I could and stay within a healthy calorie range. But the real key was when I met with my doctor and asked for her recommendation for a healthy weight. She paused for a minute, and then said thoughtfully: “Women in our 40s and 50s just don’t need as many calories.”

It was like a light went off. She’s right. That’s the key. It really is that simple.

I have to work on not eating when I’m not hungry. I don’t need to munch on something every time I sit down with a book. I don’t need to pre-emptively eat now just in case I get hungry later and don’t have easy access to food. I started stashing healthy, protein-heavy snacks in easy to grab places. I have a large tub of unsalted mixed nuts in my desk at work. I bought 100 calorie Kind bars so I can throw one in my bag for when I’m out and about. I made it easy for myself to always have something that tastes good and is nutrient-rich around me at all times, so that I make better choices.

This way, when I do make less than healthy choices, I’m not derailing myself. I still eat ice cream, but I buy mochi, which are individual sized bites of ice cream wrapped in rice dough. They’re delightful and portion controlled. I sometimes eat more fruit snacks than I should but I make sure to buy them in individual sized packages so I don’t snarf an entire bag in one sitting. Sure, buying things that are pre-packaged that way is a bit less economical than portioning them out myself, but not having to buy all new pants – again – is well worth the added bit of expense of these foods. I’m more likely to stick with the healthy snacks when I make it as easy on myself as possible to access them.

Throw Away the Scale

This step is key. I was making myself crazy by stepping on my bathroom scale every day, every day. Then the battery died, and I made a conscious decision not to replace it. I give the side eye to the scale at the gym and keep on walking. I’ll let my doctor weigh me once a year, but other than that, the only number I’ll pay attention to is the one on the smaller size pants that I’m buying.

I also do not count calories, ever. Do I have a better idea of what constitutes 100 calories? Yes. Am I getting more comfortable with just how much food I need at any given meal to be satisfied and healthy? Yes, though that’s still a process. When counting calories, I would try to “win” by eating as few of my allotted calories a day. That was a mistake. I was constantly hungry, and then angry, and then hangry, and then had no energy, and this doesn’t work! Do not do this to yourself! I am now in the habit of knowing that I will be happier if I eat those multi-grain toaster waffles with almond butter in the morning than if I have a doughnut for breakfast. I’m giving up nothing.

What’s Next

I’m going to continue to plan meals, including making extra and freezing them. This way, when I’m hungry and don’t have the time or energy to cook, I simply pull a premade meal out of the freezer, defrost, and enjoy. I’m going to continue to exercise regularly and find new ways to fit exercise into my daily routine, because I enjoy it, not because I feel that I should. I’m going to continue not caring about the number on the scale, because the real point of life is to find the balance between enjoying food without overindulging in food (which really isn’t so enjoyable anyway).

after
Me today.

I plan to eat all the things, but to remember that I simply don’t need as many calories, and let that be my guide. So far, it’s working out pretty well.

[1]https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/fighting-40s-flab#1