I’m sure we can all agree this heat–and the humidity–have been close to unbearable the last couple weeks. I had gotten into the routine of walking five mornings a week for a good half hour but gave up when the sun was blazing first thing. So this morning I was delighted to tie on my walking shoes, slip my MP3 player in my waistband and head out the door. It was misting lightly at first, but soon I was warm enough to take off my pullover and walk in my tank top. Across Juniper and up Grand, then across Chestnut and back down 5th. I was surprised how quickly I got back in the rhythm and even remembered the plot of the mystery I’d been listening to 10 days ago. I’ve been thinking of loading my Spanish tapes on to the player so I can learn while I walk, but I think that is asking too much of myself. I am at heart not an exerciser, but I do love books so I think I’d better stick with the combination that gets me going just so I can hear another chapter. And in this case, it gives me the added bonus of taking place in Sweden, in winter, so when I’m walking up a steep hill I try and pretend there are snowflakes just on the other side.
Last month, I picked up a melon at the Farmers’ Market and served it as a simple dessert. Everyone agreed it was amazing–sweet, juicy and richly flavored. I went back the next week and she had none. And so it went for a couple weeks. But then Tuesday, there they were at the table one off the corner of Kalmia and Grand on the north side. They’re oval rather than round so not quite sure what the variety, but they’re ripe and that seems to be the key. This one is not for company, I’m cutting off a couple wedges a day, squeezing on a little lime to counter the sweetness and hoping they’ll be more next week–I might have to buy two.
As you know, I am a huge fan of fresh tomatoes in season–and skip the pallid tasteless ones that show up in the market most of the year. And then along came Trader Joe’s heirloom cherry tomatoes and I had to reconsider. Though I still stick with ones from the Farmers’ Market when I want raw with olive oil and salt, my husband created a spaghetti dish using TJ’s tiny tomatoes and now we’re both hooked on it. Here’s how you make it. First, get all your ingredients prepped: chop separately garlic, parsley, oregano (if you have fresh), black oil-cured olives (Major Market) and a few ounces of thickly sliced Proscuitto. Get a large saute pan hot, add a good glug of olive oil and toss in all the chopped ingredients and saute until there’s some browning. Then add the tomatoes with the big ones cut in half along with a cup of water. Cook at a brisk simmer, stirring regularly for about 30 minutes. Let sit with heat off until spaghetti is almost done, then turn up heat, add cooked spaghetti and toss for a good minute. Serve with Parmigiano, making sure to have a spoon to get out the sauce since it will puddle in the bottom. (I have tried this with large tomatoes, but it doesn’t work as well. I think the skins from the little ones play a crucial role in the flavor and texture.) We had it for dinner night before last, wonder if tonight would be too soon to have it again?
To me, this looks like the carved wing of an angel. Combined with the soft coo of doves, they seem almost celestial. It seems fitting that many years ago, when I saw a pair of doves toddling down the sidewalk, I realized they reminded me of a pair of nuns in full habit. We have a duo that lives somewhere in the trees around us, and they come to the fountain often. One lands, with a flutter, and then the other appears. As one bows its head to drink, the other keeps an eye out for danger. Then they switch duties, with the first surveying the scene while the other drinks. They’re very nervous birds and are quick to take flight, but when I hear them arrive at the fountain outside my kitchen window, I try to take the time to enjoy their delicate beauty.
If I could pick four words to describe the salad, they would be “needs more olive oil.” It is hard when you aren’t following exact amounts of lettuce, potatoes, beans and tomatoes to be sure everything is being dressed properly and as I look at Julia’s recipe I realize she has solved that by breaking it down into parts, so the potatoes have their own recipe “French Potato Salad,” as does the vinaigrette. I obviously didn’t make enough to portion it out properly among the different ingredients. But all in all, it was a very nice dish with toast made from our own bread that was rubbed with fresh garlic and drizzled with olive oil. I find I’m liking the flavor of capers more each time I have them and would have liked some squeezes of Meyer lemon but the fruit on our tree is still green. The best part was Julia’s hard boiled eggs–put in cold water with an inch of water above the eggs, bring to boil, take off heat and let sit for 17 minutes then put in ice water. The yolk was still orange and had not turned that pale yellow we are so used to with standard hard boiled eggs–and of course none of that olive green ring that is the sign of a badly overcooked egg. The flavor was light, delicate and rich at the same time, so will remember Julia’s technique for future hard boiled eggs.
I’ll be making a Salade Nicoise for dinner tomorrow night, so thought I’d get some of the prep work done today. I’m making it by “the book” meaning “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One” and her directions couldn’t be clearer. Once I started to check on whether I had everything I would need, I decided to compose a bowl of almost all the ingredients–the salad greens and parsley are tucked away in the frig and will come out when I make the salad tomorrow. So here’s a look a the main ingredients and where they came from. Green beans and tomatoes–got them at the Farmers’ Market on Tuesday. Dry cured olives, garlic and capers–Major Market. Tuna in olive oil, anchovies, cage-free eggs and olive oil–Trader Joe’s. Organic Yukon gold potatoes–Jimbo’s. I’ll blanch and dress the green beans in a garlicky vinaigrette from the book and let them marinate overnight. Everything else will be done on Friday, and served in the oval white bowl the ingredients are nestled in. With a loaf of my husband’s bread, I have no doubt it will give us a “bon appetit.”
In the past year I first read and then more recently listened to “My Life in France” which was written by Julia’s nephew after her death based upon her and her husband Paul’s letters to each other and others as well as at least one other bio of Julia. So when I picked up “Dearie” from the Escondido Public Library (It is a new bio that I had planned on reserving but there it was when I walked in on Saturday!) I expected to learning nothing particularly new and there were many “famous” occasions that I already knew word for word. But I was amazed at what a hard worker Julia was almost through her 80s, traveling, cooking and working on new projects. It is interesting to read that she was someone who never apologized for a cooking mistake, always looked forward and almost never looked back. We had a friend for dinner tonight and I said I’d always been kind of lazy and my husband said “Not lazy, just not ambitious.” So Julia was ambitious and since her career didn’t truly start until she was 50, she had to make up for lost time and she worked tirelessly even as physical ailments took their toll. Two days short of her 92nd birthday she chose not to go through extensive medical treatments that might extend a failing body but continue to leave her with an inability to taste food. She died a day later, something she always referred to as “slipping off the raft.” She was amazing for all she accomplished at a time that women were meant to stay in the home kitchen and a woman of her “advanced” age would rarely be considered a “star.” Good work Julia.
I moved from California to Boston in 1972. I don’t remember exactly when and where I started watching her cooking show, but I do remember watching them. But as she showed us all the intricacies of French cooking, I was in desperate need of Mexican food and the possibilities were slim to none. Sure there was one–and I do mean only one–Mexican restaurant in Boston and it’s food was not bad, but I wanted to cook the dishes I’d grown up with in So. Cal. Virtually nothing was available. The only tortillas I could find were in a can and a more bizarre rendition of a tortillas you’ll never find–concentrated taste and a texture like a cloth napkin. Taco and enchilada sauces were not on the shelves, and the only fresh ingredient that was even close to Mexican was scallions. I hoped that if Julia started making tacos and enchiladas, the right ingredients would start popping up in our local Star Market. But to no avail. Instead, for a number of years, I would return from trips home, my suitcase filled with cans of refried beans and enchillada sauce and bottles of La Victoria red taco sauce all nestled amongst dozens of packages of fresh tortillas. Imagine what Homeland Security would do with that today.
Wednesday, August 15th would have been Julia’s 100th birthday. So in honor of her, this week will be all about Julia. Let’s start with the movie “Julie and Julia”. I saw it at the Escondido theater when it came out and thought it was wonderful. In fact, I wrote about it, listing 24 reasons to see it…they all still hold. 1.Meryl Streep 2.Stanley Tucci 3.Julia Child 4.Julie Powell 5.Paris 6.Sole menuiere 7. French onion soup 8.Shirtwaist dresses 9.Meryl Streep 10 Duck 11.Martinis 12.Restaurants 13.Old cars 14.Cordon Bleu 15.French accents 16.Tall women17.Short people18.Queens 19.Books 20.Beef Bourguignon 21.Brie 23.Butter 23.Waiters 24.Cambridge This movie is joyous, exuberant, funny, touching and I guess I would say rollicking, a word I rarely use. It’s now out on DVD so you can buy it, rent it or DVR it the next time it comes around. Great movie to watch while cooking–especially if the menu is French! (I also found a wonderful Charlie Rose interview with Meryl and the late Nora Ephron about the movie–here’s a link to part one of four CLICK HERE. It’s on youTube so once you get there the others follow.)