The Julia Club

Finishing the 500-odd paged Dearie I started thinking about how French cooking changed the lives of authors Julia Stuart and Julia Child.

Classic French dishes were the inspiration for their first books: sole meuniere for Julia Child and a haricot bean and meat cassoulet for Julia Stuart.

In Stuart’s The Matchmaker of Perigord the story starts describing a son’s devotion to his mother’s thirty-one year cassoulet and its crucial element: a preserved duck leg.  So important was his mother’s recipe that a village feud started over a cassoulet’s proper ingredients.

‘Monsieur Moreau,’ she began.  ‘Forgive me, but it is a matter of utmost importance and a true Frenchman such as yourself will know the definitive answer.  Should a cassoulet have tomatoes in it or not?’

According to Dearie, co-Authors Julia and Simone Beck, aka Simca, nearly came to blows over the proper cassoulet for Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  They tried twenty-eight recipes with and without goose before agreeing on the final version – which did NOT call for tomatoes.

In Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo and the Tortoise, the Tower ravens ate the tail of Beefeater Balthazar Jones’ 181-year old tortoise for lunch.  Although the famous ravens ate it raw, right off Mrs. Cook’s fleshy backside, Julia Child suggested adding mustard and grating a little cheese to enhance steak tartare.

Stuart’s most recent book, The Pigeon Pie Mystery is about an Indian cook who uses a 1897 recipe for pigeon pie.  Her problem began after she altered the instructions.  Instead of carving innocuous leaves into the pastry’s top, she garnished the pie with three bird legs pointing towards the sky ensuring it was eaten by the Major-General Bagshot.

Roasted pigeon was the first Cordon Bleu dish Julia Child served to her husband, Paul.  And it was one of the first dinners she prepared that didn’t nearly kill him.

There are other similarities between Julia Child and Julia Stuart.

Both women were “trailing spouses” who followed their husbands overseas.

Neither Julia aspired to be an Expat Houswife.  Without ever having written a book, both women fearlessly changed her business card to Author and devoted eight-hours a day to her new-found passion.

When Julia Stuart asked English authorities for permission to do research at the Tower of London, they denied her access.

Disguising herself as a Tourist, she took another route to research English ghosts like Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury,

“who was chased by a hacking axe man after his first blow failed to remove her head.”

After interviewing Beefeaters, Stuart incorporated the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace apartments into her story then filled them with eccentric characters.  Her clandestine research made English history interesting – especially for Americans.  Today the English edition of her book, Balthazar Jones and the Tower Zoo can be purchased in the Tower of London’s gift shop.

Julia Child succeeded despite the famous stand-off with Madame Bressard.

After passing her Cordon Bleu exam she went out, and with her French allies Simca, Louisette Bertholle, met every famous French cook.  Together they gathered their secret recipes then tested each one for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, converting the French measurements into something useable for American housewives.  Fifty years later, the cookbook continues to sell to new generations of cooks.

Neither Julia is or was a professional actress but on camera their breathless enthusiasm and laughter makes me want to join in on their fun – whether cooking, visiting places or meeting people that inspired them.

Even if my mother did not name me Julia, I will join their club – the club of women who get lost in the maze of their dreams and persevere until they eventually and successfully find a way out.

Julia Stuart’s video tour of Hampton Court can be seen on YouTUBE.

While in London we missed Hampton Court but spent a beautiful afternoon at Kensington Palace.  Julia promised me she would show us around the next time we visited London.

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Finding Baby Sugg’s Holy Clearing in Iowa

After a year in the desert, I desperately needed to walk among trees.  From my mother’s farm, we drove 90 miles north into Winnebago County, along Highway 9 to Pilot Knob State Park.

And the trees welcomed us.

We climbed to the highest summit, the top of a glacial kame, and turned to look in every direction.  The entire landscape was a patchwork of green under the blue summer sky.

We continued an easy hike along the trail to Dead Man’s Lake.  Swans trumpeted and frogs jumped back into the sphagnum moss when we walked by.

We followed the signs to the amphitheater where I found myself transported into Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.

“When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing – a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of a path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place.”

Sitting at the edge of the circle at the bottom of a tree, I recalled Baby Suggs’ sermon in the woods.

“She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more.  She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.

She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine.  That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”

For a moment, I saw Grace among the trees.

Oprah Picks Julia’s Pigeon Pie

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme

During one sleepless night while I visited my mother in Iowa, I re-read My Life in France by Julia Child to improve my mood.

The next week as we vacationed in Santa Barbara, the SB Independent wrote Julie Child would have been 100 this year.  Dearie, a new biography about the city’s former resident was scheduled for release on her August 15th birthday.

Trying to keep our luggage light until the final leg of our journey, I waited until we arrived in Newport Beach to shop for books.  The Barnes and Noble entry table was piled high with the summer releases.

Next to Dearie sat my friend Julia Stuart’s newest release, The Pigeon Pie Mystery.

My relationship with Julia Stuart began when a friend gave me a signed copy of her first book, The Matchmaker of Perigord, for my birthday.

I picked up both books and during the sixteen hour flight from Los Angeles to Dubai, I finished reading The Pigeon Pie Mystery.  Between The Hunger Games and a documentary on Woody Allen, I thought about why I loved her book.

Arriving home, I discovered others agree with me.  I opened my email to a message saying The Pigeon Pie Mystery was one of Oprah’s two new book picks of the week.

“Good for Julia,” I thought.  But I wished I had beaten Oprah to the posting.

Oprah’s LifeLift blog summarizes Pigeon Pie’s plot but there is something I must add.

Julia Stuart tells stories as if she is the village raconteur who knows the history of all parties involved.  Instead of being embarrassed by her neighbors, she delights in filling her listeners in on their eccentricities – making mountains out of molehills, or a short story long with delicious tidbits.

Her characters swim in life’s tragedies – lost love, dead children, loneliness, regretful deaths, and losing parents.  Yet in-between sorrow, she finds laughter, imagines unexpected friendships, fulfilling dreams, and finding love usually at home, in our own backyard.  And just when it seems like the story is nothing but one novelist’s over-active imagination, she slides in a historical fact, proving the cliché that real life is stranger than fiction.

Her books are described as “witty” or “charming” because she sees life for what it is and instead of focusing on the darkness or negativity, she chooses to write lightly with humor, delighting in people’s diversity of experiences and interests.  That’s what I like about Pigeon Pie.  It’s a matter of style – how to tell a tragic story with humanity.

It is Julia’s positive outlook on life which landed her book on Oprah’s LifeLifts.

Congratulations to Julia Stuart.

Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

When I mentioned the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at dinner last night, three people piped up that they had read the book by Paul Torday.

The premise of salmon fishing in the desert made everyone ask, “is this a true story?”

Almost any story about bringing water thus life to the desert seems to be preposterous.  But did you know in the Egyptian desert are whale fossils with legs?  Have you read there are signs that Sahel, a semi-desert zone along the Sahara, is becoming green?

Tim Mackintosh-Smith, the British writer and Yemen expert, wrote in his review that twenty years ago he came upon a man fishing with a pole and a string in a wadi.  Like this man, he said Torday’s book is about the belief in the impossible and belief itself.

The Arabian Peninsula is a land guided by faith.  Every year HRH King Abdullah, Keeper of the Holy Mosque, and his men perform their Islamic rain dance.

While growing up in Saudi Arabia, my step-father told us they were discussing the idea of towing an iceberg from Antarctica across the Indian Ocean into the Arabian Gulf.  Granted half of it would melt, but if the iceberg was large enough ….

There was also an idea for a kind of desert terrarium that people could live in.  The ideas never materialized but simply knowing these ideas existed made me believe the movie’s premise that desert sheikhs will try impossible things.

Actor Ewan McGregor plays the British fisheries-expert who is hired by the Yemeni-Sheikh to figure out how to populate the Yemen with British salmon.  As it turns out the very, very, VERY rich Sheikh loves fly fishing in which he finds many metaphysical lessons.

As soon as I saw McGregor I fell under the movie’s spell.  For I remembered him as the young Albert Finney in the movie Big Fish, the story of son who discovers the people in his father’s “tall-tale” life were real.  And whose father believed that all myths and legends stem from some truth.  How that truth is interpreted by future generations depends on the stories men craft around it.

If you would like to see a movie about possibilities that pokes fun at politics and has romance, I suggest Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  In Bahrain, it is currently playing at City Center.

Winfred Marcel Peppinck

What the Eye Cannot See by Winfred Marcel Peppinck

Any child given the name Winfred Marcel Peppinck is destined to become either a diplomat, a novelist, or an adviser to a King.

Or like my friend Fred – as I call him – you can be all three.

Ringing in the New Year together, Fred and I chatted about what we were going to accomplish in 2012.  He had finished his book and was figuring out how to get it published.  I was to finish my book and figure out how to get it published.  Fred has done it.  I have not.

Which is why it is Winfred Peppinck who will be talking about his latest book, WHAT THE EYE CANNOT SEE, and not me.

WHAT THE EYE CANNOT SEE is an Aesop’s Fable for grown-ups with great characters and all too real circumstances.  Fate may conspire to bring people together, but what happens when it grows bored with the game?

Reviewer  Debbie Al Asfoor (how does she get these books before I do?)

“Loved this book. Couldn’t put it down. Racy and exciting. An unexpected twist in the story. Thought provoking and the one ultimate crime in a partnership that the majority of us dread … infidelity! All very real and certainly gives food for thought!”

If you are interested meeting this Dutch author who grew up in Perth, then come along to WORDS on Budaiya Highway this Tuesday, May 1 at 7pm.  Fred will talk about this book, his other novels including The Diplomatic Dog of Barbados and e-publishing.

WORDS is on Budaiya Highway in the Palm Square Shopping Center.  It will be on the right hand side if you are coming from the Burgerland Roundabout towards Al Osra.

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