Summary: My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme tells the story of Julia Child’s adventures in French cooking, beginning with a move to Paris after World War II following her husband’s job and taking us through her television show, The French Chef in the sixties. Alex Prud’homme, her husband’s grandnephew, helped Julia Child gather her thoughts through interviews and the book was completed by him after Julia Child’s death from those interviews and family letters. Her distinctive voice shines through, however, so this reads like a memoir.
Thoughts: Yesterday, I posted Bastille Day, Weekend Cooking Part 1. Today, is Part 2, a review of the book I chose to accompany my France week adventure. I can report a further development in our cheese adventures from Bastille Day. We tried the Pata Cabra, goat cheese from Spain, on our tuna panini last night and it was amazing. The right cheese can turn a very good sandwich into a superb one. Something Julia Child would know.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, mentioned Julia Child this week in a blog post about embracing her new passion, Why I’m Sometimes Tempted to Fight My New Passion–And Why I’m Embracing It, Instead, telling herself to
Imitate the spiritual master and patron saint of enthusiasts, Julia Child.
The link is to her reflections on Julia Child’s My Life in France, A Happiness Lesson from Julia Child? where she finds Julia Child a surprising inspiration for her. It’s slightly less of a surprise to me, because I love food. I don’t love fussiness or adherence to rules, so it wasn’t completely obvious that Julia Child’s memoir would be applicable to me, but it was.
Besides being an inspiration to enthusiasts, Julia Child is the patron saint of late bloomers. She was in her 30s when she moved to Paris and learned to cook, in her late 40s when her first book was finally published, 50 when she started hosting The French Chef. As someone still feeling her way toward her mission in life at age 49, I find in Julia Child a model for “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
Julia Child also has things to say about living a balanced life. Her co-author Simone Beck, nicknamed Simca, suffered from what the French called la tension, nerves and high blood pressure. From page 206:
“You must pay attention to your health,” I cautioned her. Simca didn’t take criticism well, so I tried to illustrate my point by telling her about Paul’s twin, Charlie Child: “Everything he does is at full speed, like a rocket taking off,” I wrote. He lived each moment “as if it were the supreme one, requiring every ounce of energy. You are the same. You have to let a few things…slip by you, rather than being pitched at the highest key….Force yourself to relax at times. It is not necessary to do everything as though your life and honour depended on it.” I doubt my words had any effect on her.
Far from being the perfectionist that I feared Julia Child might be, she exemplifies doing the best you can but persevering through the inevitable setbacks. There are several accounts in this book of failed dishes during important dinner parties, awkward interactions with VIPs, and other survivable stumbles. She shot at least her early shows in one take as described on page 242, in part to illustrate this concept:
[W]e decided to tape the entire show in one uninterrupted thirty-minute take, as if it were live. Unless the cameras broke or the lights went out, there would be no stopping or making corrections. This was a bit of a high-wire act, but it suited me. Once I got going, I didn’t like to stop and lose the sense of drama and excitement of a live performance. Besides, our viewers would learn far more if we let things happen as they tend to in life–with the chocolate mousse refusing to unstick from its mold, or the apple charlotte collapsing. One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed.
For no other reason than I like collecting library quotes, here’s a lovely description and an appreciation for American libraries from pages 165 and 166:
In the slightly larger village of Moustier, we delivered–on behalf of the consulate–a stack of books to an elderly, self-taught librarian who had been patiently requesting printed matter for years. He kept all of the volumes in his musty, dark, one-room operation “protected” by wrapping them in plain brown paper (thus obscuring the titles). The books were shelved on rough, hand-hewn planks, which reached to the ceiling and were accessible only by a rickety ladder that not even he dared to climb. Lacking a card catalogue, he had devised his own system: “I organize the books by size!” he proudly announced. From what we could tell, he hadn’t had many–or perhaps any–visitors in a very long time. In the car afterward, we couldn’t help compare this sad little library with what you’d find in most American towns, where everything was bright, well organized, and bustling.
Appeal: Obviously, My Life in France will appeal to food lovers and Francophiles. Less obvious, it will appeal to everyone who has a passion or wishes for one. Julia Child lived life well and this book illustrates how the rest of us can do that, too.
Check out the other Weekend Cooking posts at Beth Fish Reads. There were other blog posts this weekend with French themes:
- Weekend Cooking: The Sweet Life in Paris at My Cozy Book Nook
- Murder in the Kitchen by Alice B Toklas at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
- Book Review: The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn at Elle Lit.