Saturday, August 15, 2009


JULIA CHILD is one of my heroes.
So on her birthday today, I'm adding my two-cups worth of butter to her tributes.
I was privileged to not only meet her, but to interact and have conversations with her on four occasions. The last time, as I approached her, she greeted me by name. I was thrilled!
She was in her 80s by the time I met her, and was a bit stooped. But, she loved my height - she also had measured 6 feet 2 inches at one time. Tall women have big feet. Shoes are a problem. So, the first time we met, we had an exchange about where we find shoes. The second time we met, she asked where I found mine, as she did on the third occasion. I later read that when she and her sister were teens, they decided if there was ever a house fire, they'd first throw their shoes out the window before they leapt!
The above photo was taken along with Anne Willan, who owned LaVarenne, the famed cooking school that was in Paris, then later Burgundy, where I was lucky to go one week more than a decade ago. We were at a food writer's conference at The Greenbrier. I had brought a stack of my Julia books for her to sign. When she saw they were all stained and dog-eared, she cooed, "oooh, they've been used! That's a good sign."
I loved watching her sit in front of me at this conference, nodding off while listening to a panel discussion. But then, all of a sudden, she'd pop her head up, raise her hand, wait to be called upon, and ask a question.....most times, to learn something new, not add her two-cents worth. At the time, I was astonished. After all, she was such an icon, and her she was, still learning and asking questions as an 80-something year old. I wanna be like that when I grow up!
And here's another little gem about Julia. I accompanied her to the ladies room once. When she emerged from her stall, she took a look at the counter of sinks. "Women are just so messy," she said. And with that, she grabbed several paper towels and proceeded to wipe down the entire countertop, not stopping until it was dry and gleaming. I was humbled, and to this day, never leave a mess in the restroom!
Another time, she gave a cooking demo. Cooking chickens three ways, she roasted one at a very high temp, like Harold McGee had written about. That bird was called "Harooooold." Another was roasted as she writes about in one of her cookbooks, lathered with butter and stuffed with herbs. That one she called "Julia." The third way was cooked on top of the stove, like "Grandme-mere," she called that bird.
She almost did "it." You know, the famous Saturday Night Goof. She almost dropped the chicken on the floor. "OOOOOPs! " She cooed. We were rolling with laughter. "You know, I never did that. But it has been fun," she said, pointing a wooden spoon our way.
When she pulled "Grandme-mere" from the pot on top of the stove, it stuck on the bottom. That scarred breast was set up right on the serving platter. "It looks rather ugly," she tisked. But then she didn't miss a beat. While waving that spoon at us again, she looked straight out at us all, and said, "Never, ever admit a mistake. That's what parsley's for!" and with that, she picked up a bunch of the green stuff and stuck on top of the bird.

My friend Della Basnight shares August 15th as her birthday, too. So does Princess Anne. When Della told that to Julia at a food/wine meeting, Julia replied, "And do we like her?" Della assured her that when the Princess was in Manteo for the 400th anniversary, she was a delight.
Tonight, I'm roasting some chickens in honor of my hero. My youngest daughter has just returned from a trip to Europe, where she hit six museums in Paris in three days. Hats off to her! And, the nicest woman in Strasbourg helped her late at night when she was lost, getting her husband and baby from bed to give her a ride to another section of the city where their hotel really was.
Julia Child was in her mid to late 50s when her first cookbook was published. So am I.
Julia loved her life, loved exploring food, and loved her husband, Paul. Ditto for me.
Julia kept learning. She kept going when age slowed her down. She had a great sense of humor. I'm working on all of those, especially laughing more. HA!
Go see JULIE & JULIA. I loved it. Meryl Streep "got" her. Amy Adams is great in anything she does. We were all laughing, and I heard sniffles, too. When the movie ended, the audience bust into applause. It just made me so damned hungry!