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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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.

America’s Most Famous Expat Housewife – Julia Child

Your passport is stamped “Not Permitted to Take Up Any Employment” do you whither or do you soar?

Recently, I ran into an old banking colleague.  Like all new expats, her initial six months was flurried activity setting up house.  But now her life had settled.

She asked me “what do you all day when your “housewife” status becomes your reality?”

Like other freedoms, the freedom to do nothing can be an opportunity or a curse.

Some women use the time as an extended holiday: shopping, nightly parties and recuperating on the beach during the day.  Others sit alone in their house and complain about the differences.

Or you can be like Julia Child.

In the movie Julie and Julia, after attending her husband Paul’s glittering photo exhibit, Julia asked him “What should I do?”

He said, “What would you like to do?”

“I think I will take up hat making.”

Paul lifted his eyebrows at her and said “You like hats.”

Julia tried hat making.  She quickly became bored and tried bridge.  Bridge wasn’t enough.

However Julia found her love in Paris.

“I fell in love with French food – the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals.”

She followed her love to the Cordon Bleu Cooking School.  It was there cutting onions and beating egg whites she found her passion.

“I was beginning to feel la cuisine bourgeoise in my hands, my stomach, my soul.”

Her passion led her to earn a degree in French cooking.  She and her two French friends started Les Trois Gourmande cooking school teaching American housewives how to cook.

During the eight years Paul’s assignments moved them from Paris to Marseille to Pottsdam to Oslo,  Julia perfected her recipes and typed out Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  When Paul retired and was left with an unstructured life ahead of him, it was Julia’s interest that saved them.  Their collaboration led to the first televised cooking show in 1963 when Julia was 51-years old.  She did not stop teaching until she was 88-years old.

To me, Julia’s life story is her most important legacy.  Married at forty, unable to have children, she found herself and her creativity outside the confines of her Pasadena, California upbringing.  Her life began the day she became an expat housewife and asked herself “What do I do?”

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

Julia Child’s delightful autobiography is My Life in France.  Her enthusiasm is contagious and reading the book is a marvelous way to lift your soul.  If you only have two hours to spare, the movie Julie and Julia is a great alternative.

Julia Child and Meryl Streep from the Nora Ephron movie “Julie and Julia”

PS Today the Corden Bleu Cooking School specifically mentions Julia Child as one their notable graduates.

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