Oh Dear, Oh “Dearie” Me


My poor Kindle has been feeling quite neglected this past month as my bedtime reading was restricted to an absolute doorstop of a book, Dearie, the Julia Child biography by  Bob Spitz.

Biographies are one of those hit-or-miss things for me. I’ve picked up random tomes on people I know nothing about and been utterly engrossed, re-reading them over the years (Galina being a prime example), whereas books on subjects I’m somewhat familiar with have left me cold. The voice of the writer matters quite a bit, and Bob Spitz–who admits a bit of a crush on the grande dame of French cuisine–does an excellent job of narrating her life and the times that helped shape them.

We open with her first stint on public television, and Spitz turns such phrases as

“The shows were dry as toast,” but plans were afoot to inject a little jam into the equation. (p5)

Cooking, like sex, was practiced privately–and, some might say, without much enthusiasm–in the home. (p8)

you never forgot that this was the story of a food revolution but he didn’t hammer away at the point unmercifully. I appreciated his delicate use of imagery as well as his complete picture of Julia Child’s life. Even before, really, as the early chapters go back to the lives of her forefathers, the men who would eventually settle in Pasadena, California, in answer to restless Midwest spirits looking for a respite from their harsh winters–and the gold that California was full of.

While I already knew Julia was no great cook in her earlier years (I’ve seen Julie and Julia, of course), there was so much left out (of my personal knowledge) of how she came to her love of food, French food in particular, and how much Paul had to do with that. She was positively aimless until she met and married Paul Child after many months abroad with him during the war, and even then cooking was something she took up only after many other failed attempts at filling her time when she refused to go back to secretarial work. (And while much is mentioned of how Julia was “a spy”, Spitz is careful to point out that when the opportunity came for Julia to move out of the Registry office she commanded in several foreign locations and actually become a spy, the war would have been over by the time she would have been trained, and it just never happened.)

We also learned much more about Julia’s husband, Paul Child. Any romantic notions I had of him from what was portrayed in the aforementioned movie were mostly dashed as we learn about his struggles with inferiority and his lack of confidence leading to a lack of ambition, but oh did he redeem himself as we learn how integral part  he played in her early television success–his attention to detail rivaled only his wife’s, I’d say, and he really helped her get her TV-legs and keep things running behind the scenes.  (By the  by, did you know Julia was not a fan of Meryl Streep’s back in Streep’s activist days? Julia was, sometimes misguidedly, in favor of the technological advances being made in agriculture, including certain pesticides and Streep’s protest of the use of Alar–later banned–put the actress on Julia’s shit-list.)

And if you’re alarmed by my use of common vulgarity, above, you should realize that to have said it any different would be untrue to the late doyenne’s nature–she who possessed the most mercurial spirit and cursed like a sailor when the mood took her, who pulled no punches with her opinions, would appreciate my turn of phrase, I think.

The entire book was a wile ride of ups and downs, relocations and set-backs, struggles to stay in the public eye against failing health–both Paul’s and, eventually, her own. I respect the hell out of the woman who stopped certain medications because they robbed her of her sense of taste. Who went out of her way to avoid the appearance of sponsors “buying” her good opinion. Who knew when to say enough was enough.

And even though I knew how the story ultimately ended, that the book would more than likely close with her death, the way the author phrased it–with the toast at Olio e Limone…

“Our dear friend and mentor Julia Child passed away today,” she said. A chorus of gasps and cries sifted through the room. “So we invite all of you to raise a glass in her honor.” With great vivacity, she sang out: “Cin cin! Salute, Julia.”

Someone had the good sense to shout, “And bon appétit!”

And damn if I didn’t cry. And teared up again as I told Todd about it the next night over supper. Just as I’m tearing up now, typing out those same words, more than a week after their first reading.

That, my friends, is the mark of a well-written story. One that grabs you, involves you in the subject’s life, and touches you more, now, with their death than you felt at the time in history when it actually happened.

Even though I’d done “the chef thing” by then and was still marginally connected to the food world, her passing was a blip on my radar. Now I grieve that I didn’t grieve more, then. It’s a peculiar feeling to realize what the world “lost” that day, and that more wasn’t made of it.

Last month would have been Julia’s 100th birthday, and much fuss was made over that fact. At first, I admit, a part of me saw it as just another PR move, just another hashtag campaign in the making. But after more fully digesting Julia’s impact on food and cooking, the effects of which are still being felt, I humbly apologize for such a jaded opinion and encourage you all to dust off that copy of Mastering… and cooking something in her memory.

Bon appétit!


I was provided a copy of Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, by Bob Spitz for purpose of review. All of the above opinions are my own.

JC100 | Chocolate Mousse Tartlets


Chocolate Mousse Tartlet

Yesterday I attended (and helped judge) a Mini-Burger Challenge with our local foodie group. In addition to the burger challenge there was also a pie-off (determined by popular vote only), and I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring.

Each pie was supposed to be cut into 16 slices but I knew that was a disaster in the making for my pie plans: chocolate mousse would end up so incredibly messy once it was transported and cut. Instead, I decided to make mine into mini-pies, aka tartlets, and save everyone the trouble.

 Thanks to the JC100 campaign going on through August to celebrate what would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday on August 15th, I had to go only as far as my inbox to find the perfect chocolate mousse recipe. (This was actually the recipe for 2 weeks ago, but work on my own book has kept me too busy to participate for the first few weeks.) Combined with a tender cream cheese crust borrowed from a pecan tassie recipe I’ve made many times, I hoped to wow my constituents on Sunday afternoon.

Presentation counts for a lot–we eat with our eyes, remember–and while I”m all for the wonders of simple food, simply prepared, this particular occasion called for a little extra touch. When I went to pick up the chocolate (at the local Cost Plus World Market) I happened across a tin of roller wafer cookies filled with orange-flavored chocolate. It was kismet! Julia’s mousse is flavored with both strong coffee and orange liqueur, so these cookies would make a fitting garnish. The only thing was that they were the same color as the mouse, and I was looking for a little contrast. Dipping one in end in candy coating and sprinkling with a bit of freshly grated orange zest gave me just the look I was after.

Tower of Tartlets (chocolate mousse)Sadly, I didn’t even place in the pie-off (we had 6 entries and there were medals for the top 3). Oh, well, the fact that 2/3 of them were gone when we left still tells me people enjoyed them, and that’s all that really matters.

But don’t let that stop you from giving this a try, yourself. They are phenomenal!

Cream Cheese Crust

7 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour

Combine the butter and cream cheese and stir until evening mixed before adding in the flour and working into a soft dough. A spoon is just going to make a mess once the flour is in there, so use your hands and gently combine everything. Don’t over-knead, though, as this can toughen the dough.

Scoop or shape the dough into 1-inch balls and chill until firm (half an hour or so).

Preheat your oven to 350º F and grease 2 mini-muffin pans or 24 tartlet molds.

Press the chilled dough balls into the molds, making as even a layer as crust as possible.

Blind-bake the crusts for 12 minutes, turning halfway through, and let cool for 5 minutes or so in the pans. Unmold (use a toothpick to help lift them out of their wells) and let cool completely on racks.

Makes about 2 dozen tarlets.

Julia’s Chocolate Mousse aka Mousseline Au Chocolat
(from Mastering the art of French Cooking, Volume 1)

4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur
6 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, broken up or chopped
1/4 cup strong coffee
6 oz unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup finely diced candied orange peel (optional)
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp granulated sugar

From Julia’s description:

Among all the recipes for chocolate mousse this is one of the best, we think; it uses egg yolks, sugar, and butter, and instead of cream, beaten egg whites. . . [It] may be unmolded after chilling, or served in a bowl, or in dessert cups, or in little covered pots. (Note: When served in pots, this dessert is sometimes erroneously called pots de crème au chocolat. French dessert crèmes are custards [this mousse is not].

Making the Mousse:

Separate your eggs into yolks and whites, the yolks into a bowl large enough to hold the final mixture and allow for folding in of the egg whites, the whites into the bowl of a stand mixer (if you have one). Set the whites aside, for now.

Start a pot of water (an inch or so) on the stove so that it’s just below simmering and prepare an ice bath in a pot big enough to accommodate your yolk bowl. Sprinkling a little salt on your ice cubes before adding the water will keep them from melting quite so quickly.

To the yolks add the superfine sugar (granulated sugar pulsed in your food processor is a decent substitute if you can’t locate superfine–it’s not the same as powdered sugar, not that fine) and whisk together until the “mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back upon itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon.” Whisk in the liqueur. (I used Cointreau, Grand Marnier would also be a good option. If you come near this recipe with Triple Sec I will disown you.)

Whisk the yolk mixture over hot water for 3-4 minutes until “foamy and too hot for your finger.” This gently ‘cooks’ the egg yolks to a safe temperature and the constant whipping keeps it from scrambling and causing lumps in your mousse. Move your yolk bowl to the ice bath and continue to whisk until it’s cool, thick, and doing the ribbon thing again. Set aside.

I broke a whisk right about here, so choose a sturdy one to start with.

Combine the chocolate and coffee in a bowl and melt over that hot water bath the yolks just vacated until nice and smooth. Remove from the heat and beat in the butter a bit at a time until nice and smooth, then add the chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture and beat until totally incorporated–no streaks. Now is when you would add the candied peel, if you’re going that way (I did not, I wanted the smooth mousse, not bits of peel laying in wait, but that’s me.)

Beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form, sprinkle in the sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form and hold when you raise the whip. Doing this by hand is possible, but a pain (though a great arm workout); use a mixer for this step if no other and save yourself.

Stir 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, get it nice and uniform, and then oh-so-gently fold in the rest of the whites until it’s all a nice, even, color and consistency. The first quarter of the whites are like a sacrifice, they lose a lot of their loft in loosening up the chocolate and yolks, the remaining whites are what give this mousse a light, airy texture and you want to be gentle getting them incorporated or you’ll stir all the air out of them and have wasted your time. It’ll still taste okay, but the texture won’t be right.

Makes about 5 cups.

Spoon (I used the mini-ladle from my gravy boat) the mousse into the waiting pie shells and chill until set. 2 hours minimum, overnight is better. What doesn’t fit into the shells can go into ramekins or coffee mugs or whatever. I made a double batch of the mousse and it was WAY more than enough for the triple batch of crusts I made plus 6 ramekins and one small casserole dish. Seriously, I could have made a single batch and still had extra, but where’s the fun in that?

In case you couldn’t tell, I have paraphrased the hell out of the source material, though I like to think she would have understood my vehemence against the Triple Sec, seeing as how she was a devotee to butter and cream and all things delicious.

Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.