Tuesday, September 29, 2009


This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but knew what to do with it.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are back from our latest trip to visit parents and Practical Sis to help my nephew celebrate the big two years old birthday, and we are home now, for good, it seems, at least for a couple of months.

You see, with Patrick's work (construction diver), there is not usually a reliable schedule of where he will be or when, and there is no predicting the future, so we take advantage of time when we have it and live very in the moment. It is really nice, if you look at it the right way, but very difficult on any type of schedule. That is the big reason I stopped working when we had Babou, with Patrick's work being as it is, we thought it would be best if our children had at least one parent consistently there for them. And that would be me. I thought that I would thrive in creating my own schedule and really enjoy the freedom of our lifestyle.

In reality, it is much harder than I imagined. I talk to my sisters, all busy and stressed and find myself envious. That they get to go somewhere and either get paid for their work or see that they are accruing credits towards their goals. Measureable rewards for time spent. My life, I am finding, is quite unmeasureable right now. My goals are difficult to see happening and I have to really focus on creating a structure for myself within which to try to move forward. Homework is not as easy as I thought.

This sort of whiney post is a...to be continued...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mastering the Art of Joy

"Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It's not what I thought it was. I thought it was all about-I don't know, confidence or will or luck. Those are all some good things to have, no question. But there's something else, something that these things grow out of. It's joy."

-Julie Powell, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.

It is an ordinary scene, a young woman in her kitchen whipping up some sort of chocolate concoction to alleviate a particularly hideous day. She turns to her husband and explains she finds comfort in the fact, that after a day when nothing makes sense, she can follow a particular recipe and it will achieve a particular result. A harbor of reassurance in an ocean of uncertainty.

This young woman is Julie Powell, in Julie and Julia, a movie based on two books: one on Julie Powell's blog-turned-book in which she trudges through every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a sort of homage to her adoration of Julia Child as well as to her sometimes precious nature; and My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme, which Julia describes as a book about some of the things she has loved most in her life: her husband, Paul Child; la belle France; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating.

The movie is a beautiful collage of the two books and personalities. Meryl Streep is a wonderfully credible Julia Child and the film provides an edited version of their time in France and after. While I do appreciate Julie Powell and her book, I have to say My Life in France is very simply a must-read for anyone interested in Julia and Paul Child.

The book is written as a series of stories, strung together chronologically, and are based upon countless letters saved by friends and family throughout the years. Julia writes that while her letters consisted of very badly spelled two to three page affairs documenting the latest escapades of their cat, any good gossip, and whatever food-related revelation she was currently enthusing over, Paul was a serious letter writer and would often include sketches and collages of news and photo clippings in addition to his journalistic detailing of their day-to-day life. It is in this way that My Life in France takes on an immediacy of detail, and at once you feel you yourself are there with Julia and Paul, enjoying "the brilliant sparkle of autumn light on the dark Seine," and "the smell of Montmartre at dusk."

Moving to France was a pivotal moment in Julia's life. It was where she found herself, awakened to the sensuality of food and life, came into her own, and found her calling.

This awakening is seen so vibrantly felt and described both on the pages of My Life in France and in Julie and Julia. Julia is a woman filled with joie de vivre. Her enthusiasm for everything about France is absolutely contagious, how she simply fell in love with its people, food, rituals, and its "generous pace of life." You see how really, although her life had evolved in a rather unplanned manner (Julia describes how, after attending Smith with only "half my burners on," she planned on becoming a famous novelist but instead found herself a bit afloat until she joined the service, began to travel, and met Paul), fate had a plan the whole time. That maybe the chaos of life is only chaos to the naked eye, but has a much richer and deeper cadence that is by nature unknowable.

Julia's transformation is such a joy largely because she is so honest about herself, so unselfconscious of any vanity. Upon her arrival in Paris, Julia says of herself, "I was a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian." A year later she writes, "Upon reflection, I decided I had three main weaknesses: I was confused (evidenced by lack of facts, and inability to coordinate my thoughts, and an inability to verbalize my ideas); I had a lack of confidence, which caused me to come back down from forcefully stated positions; and I was overly emotional at the expense of careful, 'scientific' thought. I was thirty-seven years old and still discovering who I was."

But in discovering her calling, she discovered herself. She realized that while she could at times be "overly emotional," she "was lucky to have the kind of orderly mind that is good at categorizing things." This way of being was intrinsic to the success of her book and the launching of her career. Who else could have so passionately fallen in love with such a vast subject as French cookery or chronicled its many nuances as scientifically?

Julia Child's story is a quintessential tale destined to unfold. Perhaps that is why Julia writes "one of the things I loved about French cooking was the way that basic themes could be made in a seemingly infinite number of variations." That one could master a technique and really be set free creatively, allowing the technique to guide the form, and grant you, the season, and your mood, the artistic license.

Perhaps this is where the movie fell a bit short for me. It seemed to me that while Julie wanted the comfort and reassurrance of a recipe, Julia wanted the freedom of variation within the order of technique. Julia's way seems more joyful and free, and more mature. You get a sense that Julia had faith that on the other side of chaos lay order, that life could be very free if based on a foundation of structure, and that life could be trusted and lived with great, unassuming joie de vivre.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Last Hurrah

Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.

-Guilaume Apollinaire

My Old Man, who I am now calling Patrick because I do not feel right calling my husband "my old man." I did it because he sometimes, much to my consternation, calls me his "Ol' Lady." But it's not me and it feels weird to write it so I am stopping. Good. There it is, so we will start again...

Patrick got home from his most recent job a couple of weeks ago and it has been wonderful and disrupting and all of that since his return. The balance of my days shifts quite a bit to accomodate lots of family time whenever he returns. I am always between the two seeking some sort unattainable equilibrium.

But we have been having a lovely time with lots of beach days and even snuck away for a couple of days on our own, much in thanks to the MIL. It was the 12th anniversary of our first kiss (I know, I know, eyeballs roll to the ceiling but truly we are very sentimental about this but not disgustingly so, I hope at least) which was really our beginning (See archive for full, squishy details).

To celebrate, we headed north to Fort Bragg, a little fishing town that is now known for its abalone diving and fishing. The Noyo river runs into the Paciic there and a little harbor supplies lots of old fishing town quaintness.

We ate at a very fun, quirky family owned and run Italian restaurant in the harbor the first night. And for our anniversary dinner we ate at a place called "The Restaurant," run by a husband and wife team.

The food was amazing, especially the house made dessert, the best cheesecake we have ever had. I know I will be gaining lots of weight trying to replicate their cheesecake recipe in the future!

We brought our bicycles so we spent much of our day riding around town checking out whatever struck our fancy.

We met a lot of interesting people and decided that we would always bring bicycles on our trips, it was such a fun and easy way to explore a place.

But the best part of getting away was truly coming back home. I had never been away from Babou for more than one night before and we spent two nights away this time (and probably the last time with the new one on the way now, this was sort of our last hurrah for a long time). I missed her so much! The closer we got back to home, the more excited I became to see her again! I realized that I now have another love of my life, thanks to the first love of my life, a love so much deeper than any words can say.

(Babou in her 1st pair of cowboy boots, thanks to her Nana!)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fall Inspired Dinner Party

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

-Harriet Van Home.

In my continuing fixation with fall (and would it please start to cool down please, pretty please?) I recently hosted a dinner party inspired by the season I am so anxiously anticipated. The food turned out beautifully and, although the weather is still quite warm, I did notice some of the sycamores that line our street are starting to fall!

An Autumn Menu

Butternut squash tortellini in a sage butter sauce with dried cherries and walnuts

Green salad with apples and roquefort cheese in an orange vinaigrette

Pear cake with fresh whipped cream.

For the butternut squash ravioli, I cubed and roasted a butternut squash lightly tossed in olive oil and dusted with salt. I pureed the squash with low fat ricotta cheese, about a cup, and a couple of ounces of neufchatel cheese. I also added some salt, cinnamon, and coriander, to taste. Then I used won ton wrappers topped with about a teaspoon of the mixture to create the tortellini. I made them earlier in the day, along with the cake, so they would be ready to go when it was time for dinner. When it was time, I boiled them for maybe five minutes while melting butter with sage I cut into ribbons, chopped walnuts, and dried cherries. I added the tortellini to the butter sauce and tossed to coat them and then into the serving bowl they went!

For the salad I made a vinaigrette with Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. I added a sliced green apple, blue cheese and mixed greens, tossing it at the last minute.

The cake I got from Clotilde Dusoulier who has a food blog (and now book) called "Chocolate and Zucchini." She is also translating a French cookbook, I Know How to Cook, first published in 1932 and considered the French equivalent of Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking, due out this October. The cake is surprisingly easy and really good. It calls for "ground almonds," which I don't know where to find, so I just minced up some slivered Trader Joe's almonds and it seemed to work just fine.

Although it was a labor intensive dinner, with a little organization and timing it was pretty easy. Making the tortellini and cake ahead of time made dinner really come together quite quickly in the end--just mixing up the salad, cooking the tortellini and making the sauce, and serving. It was rich but very delicious and a perfect, dinner party worthy, vegetarian feast.