Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Can a Cook Book Change a Person’s Life?

A couple of year’s ago my mum sent me a first edition copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Mum was really excited about it and I thought it was cool. I looked inside it and felt dizzy. The book had many intricate recipes and they were organized by genre, i.e. poultry, eggs, deserts, and so forth. “But wait! How do I make a meal of this? And why would I need to know how to bone a duck?” I fancy myself a good cook, but I am a thirty minute cook. If I cannot throw it together in that time, familial disasters occur. I also could not figure out which dishes go together.

One evening I came home and said to my husband, “I think we need more sauces in our lives. Sauces make everything taste better!” So I opened up MtAoFC, found a sauce, and proceeded to make it. I am pretty sure that I did not read all the instructions and I probably did not have all the ingredients, because that is typical Renee. I am the queen of substitutions. Even if I plan a meal, my mood will change during the week and I will have to make do with what I have (it’s a working mom thing). Needless to say, my sauce turned out mediocre and I didn’t go there again.

Flash forward to a month ago, Andrew said that he was going to start making some dinners. I had a meltdown. I should have been happy my husband wanted to cook and help out. In my head, he was saying to me that he did not like my cooking and he was tired of it. The man who is a self-professed bad cook wants to replace me! In his head, he was thinking that the children are going through an exceptionally clingy phase and I should make dinner so they can spend some time with their mother.

Andrew is not a cook. In fact, he has never made me a meal that did not come out of a box. But he said, “I want to do this right.” He knew we had MtAoFC, because I had told him that the cook book in the movie, “Ratatouille” was a play on MtAoFC and I showed it to him. He is a fan of that movie and the T.V. show, “Top Chef,” and he appreciates fine cuisine. Andrew went to the cupboard and pulled out the cook book. The next day he went to the store bought a bounty of fresh ingredients and made the finest steak with a lovely sauce and sautéed mushrooms. It was not exactly a “meal” per se, since it had no sides. But, I did not care. The steak was so delicious I could not think about anything else.

A couple of days ago, I saw the movie Julie/Julia (warning you have to be a big fan of fine food to enjoy this movie). It was such a lovely movie. The main character Julie speaks of how Julia Childs’ cook book MtAoFC saved her, and indeed it did. But could this cook book save others? It saved this woman because she gained the writing career out of it that she so desired. It saved her in other ways as well. Julie got to know herself. She showed her true colors through cooking.

Last night, I sautéed mushrooms, onions, and green bell peppers. But before I did, Andrew stopped me and said, “Read what Julia says about sautéing,” and he opened the page in the book. Initially I thought, “How dare he tell me how to sauté? I know how to sauté.” But, I figured I was not in a position to argue. He had already made a perfect gourmet meal and Julia Childs’ is an expert. I read it. I did NOT know how to sauté. I followed Julia’s instructions and it was a revelation. I made something that did not just taste good (my usual saute). It tasted beautiful. It tasted like heaven.

I feel like a new woman. Can a cook book change a person’s life? Indeed. I think Andrew and I are happier people now for having made fine French food--food that tasted like heaven bathed in butter. I think I would like to set a resolution to make one meal out of MtAoFC every week. No pressure--It's not an ultimatum. It's just a goal.

Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (check your local library) and make one recipe, and follow it to the letter. When you do, you will feel different about food, yourself, the world--something. You will feel triumphant. “The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” --Henry Miller


Anne said...

I can totally sympathize with the "why do you feel you need to cook instead of me?" sentiment toward the husband :) I've felt that a few times.. and they never mean it that way, of course :)

You've intrigued me greatly and I will definitely have to check that book out. See what it has to say :)

Michelle M. said...

Renee, I cannot get over how similar we are! I could have written this post (although, not as well as you have). I cook the same way you do and the same things can be said for my husband (however, one time he did prepare a perfect "meal" for me: filet mignon with potatoes and broccoli. It was incredible!).

I saw Julie and Julia a few days before Bunky was born. The friend that I went to see it with brought me the book when I was still in the hospital. I read through it in about a week (while the baby was nursing)- but I do not necessarily recommend it. It was only similar to the movie, but not the same. Julie's character in the movie is much more likeable than the real-life author (who talks a lot about sex and uses bad language).

I guess I now need to check out MtAoFC; although I am terrible at following recipes. My husband always says that the best "recipes" I make are the ones I invent on the spot :)

Michelle M. said...

Wow! That was a long comment :) Have a nice day!

Renee Clayton said...

Oh Michelle, it's true that woman is vulgar. After the movie I looked up her Julia blog, and her current blog. It's full of purposeless profanity. Now I know why in the movie she keeps calling her husband a saint (that didn't make sense to me). She is really a bad person. Amy Adams was way too likable to be the real Julie Powell. It's also understandable how Julia Child could say she didn't like her.