Food truck giving away cooked asparagus

I had a book client sorta recently who never mentioned his mother without noting that she was looking up at us at that very moment. I always laughed, cuz I definitely know the feeling. Which makes me almost more amused than pissed that strangers would find a dusty ol’ website and choose the famously departed as excuses to fire off hate email to someone who has always been 50,000 leagues from stardom. The first decided she knows exactly why my biggest fan called me a bitch, and she is damned if she’s gonna waste any time on me. Hitting send musta been like an orgasm (and waiting for a response must be like blue balls). And the second was such a devoted, dedicated fan of Julia he had no idea she was singular. I look forward to looking up at ‘em both one day.

Lemons up the chicken cavity

And now to Marcella, whom I never met and never cooked from but about whom I know a story I can never write even though she is the good guy in it. I’m not sure Signora Hazan should be blamed for the Olive Garden, but she definitely made Americans savvier about the way Italian food is provisioned, cooked and eaten in Italy and should be done right here. And she did it without the advantages Julia Child had, television and (chirpy) personality. (I got a sense of the prickliness when I did a featurette by phone on her condo kitchen in Florida — cabinets behind kickboards turned out to have a double meaning.) For all her transformational power, though, it’s interesting to see the food she was so repulsed by is now almost celebrated at hip red-sauce places like Parm. It’s Italian-American and there’s no stigma to it. Meanwhile, I wonder how many other cookbook buyers are like me today, looking more for specialties from one region rather than an overview of a whole historically disjointed country. The Italy shelves in our dining room are dedicated to Parma and Rome, Veneto and Sardinia etc. and to books by the types of chefs Marcella would scorn, with her insistence that Italian is “not the created, ‘creative’” cooking in restaurants. Every healthy thing evolves. I always contended Italian is not a cuisine. It’s ingredients on a plate. And that is what she proved.

A few last thoughts on the way the news spreads now: The Hazans’ daughter-in-law announced the death on Facebook (although she was omitted among the survivors in the Times obit) and from there it spread through the Twittersphere, users exhibiting an almost unseemly urge to be first to RIP. The Guardian based most of its obit, included in the Life & Style section, on an old interview on Epicurious. Safer than swiping from “news” sites, I guess. We also live in an age of obits teamed with recipes, and apparently I’ve been doing tomato sauce wrong. (Cynic that I am, I was also amused to see how very few recipes were cited time after time as iconic. Shades o’ Julia & her stew du beef)

Finally, I can say from experience it’s much easier to write an obit of a legend when you have months to research it. There was some grumbling that Penelope Casas did not get her NYTimely due; as an email right after the Marcella news predicted: “This is one they won’t skip.” From those lips to the Page One editor’s ear. Cynic that I am, I wonder how many editors with resources are in Grim Reaper mode today, speculating on the next to go to that big kitchen in the sky . . .

Hipster soup

I can’t decide what I think about this, on either side. Maybe they could have agreed to hire Richard Prince to do something for MOMA and make it all okay? But I do know Shakespeare had a good suggestion, updated as: “What do you call a million lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.”

“French herbs are seasonal, too”

On the morning after, guess I should temper the notion that that nice old lady had a partisan side. In 1953, she wrote while recipe-testing in Paris: “I have just served my husband the most miserable lunch of frozen haddock Dugléré, frozen ‘French’ green beans and ‘minute’ rice. It is just no fun to eat that stuff, no matter how many French touches and methods you put to it. It ain’t French, it ain’t good, and the hell with it.” She wasn’t just anti-wingnut ahead of her time. She was un-American for her time.

RT and/or UT

I can never remember one cappuccino makes your brain larger; another makes it small. And I will never understand how Helen Keller got a job as a photo editor. Also: Never clean your stove before sautéing a duck breast (or, come to think of it: never sauté a duck breast). And I posted on the Centenarian twice without getting to my point: What about making her birthday a national holiday — imagine the food! (Although it would undoubtedly mean fucking beef stew in hottest August.) And, finally: How many times do I have to tell you about lard?

And a side of pommes duchesses

As I noted over to the Epi Log, Julia Child had a whole other side, and it did not take well to wingnuttiness, which was at peak baying-at-the-moon level in the McCarthy years. Funny how on her birthday my copy of her book of letters just fell open to page 215 and to this, from Dec. 8, 1954: “I cannot regard the Republicans as people, somehow, only as monsters, fools, beasts, and foul excrement. Must I turn a new leaf, or another cheek?” And I can’t decide if it’s a good or a bad thing she’s not around to see the current crop.

No eggs unless you eat your Host

I have to admit it’s kinda hard to focus on food silliness when the bat guano insanity is out of control these days (is an institution best known for using little boys as birth control  really trying to take women back 50 years?) Thank allah, again, that Julia left such amazing letters proving the Republicans were just as whacked when she was struggling to create MTAOFC. Clearly, they’ve never recovered from cassoulet moving in on “real American” casserole.

Nutway 1961, revisited

Also, too, I keep thinking how bizarre it is that no one would ever have considered Julia for an op-ed gig — she was just a “chef.” But when you read her collected letters to Avis  DeVoto, all you can do is marvel at her hyper-informed, agile, open mind and her often poisonous pen. In real life, even at her peak, though, what marked her was modesty. If someone had thought to ask her to solve all the world’s problems through food, I suspect she would have had the good sense to STFU. If you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs, you also can’t pivot from fat to fear with credibility.

Pepper through a grinder?

Even acknowledging this probably only encourages the willfully stupid, but a certain heritage hire who will never learn that a Nobel prizewinner won for a reason decided to take him on, yet again, for his smart post saying kitchens really are not the space-age transformations we might have once expected — many more advances were made from 1900 to 1950 than from 1950 till today. Ms. Idjit of the Himalayan Pink Salt, being younger and of course smarter, begs to differ. She owns a 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook, you see, and the recipes therein prove no one had a blender or a mixer or whatever back then. Even aluminum foil was unknown! Start with the Googleable fact that stand mixers were not rarities in American kitchens 60 years ago — you can find models from before 1954 on eBay today. (My dirt-poor mom taught me to bake using hers.) Blenders? More than a million sold by 1954. And crappy cookware pre-All-Clad? Our dirt-poor family did fine with cast iron. Ms. Born Yesterday really needs to get in more. I cook in a 1929 kitchen, only moderately altered: I can stand at the stove and reach the refrigerator and the sink — the cabinets she cannot imagine holding up are doing fine; a stove older than I am, and in better shape, kicks the BTUs out of anything you can buy now. The design abides. What’s saddest is that one of the leaders of the Food Coven hyped this horseshit, just after touting the Julia letters compilation in which Mme. Child and her Cambridge correspondent endlessly document how advanced kitchens and appliances (and ingredients) were even in 1953/4. They even talk about foil . . .

Just add red, trendy as the Cat

My consort laughs at me for wandering into the cesspool that is the WSJournal’s opinion pages, but many times it pays off. You need to know the enemy to see what’s ahead — ugly so quickly accelerates. Take the letter to the editor after a rational column advocating calming the fuck down about butter, cream and bacon. Rather than attacking the writer or the science, the Astroturfer went after a dead icon, noting that Julia Child had breast cancer at 51 and asserting that she had “chronic weight problems.” (Call this anus the jerque who mistook a 6-foot woman for Paul Prudhomme.) “Child Wasn’t a Good Health Model” is a helluva hed when you consider she lived to 91 (they could look it up) and kept her bile well contained. I’m assuming the Murdoch health insurance plan comes with very good drugs.

Gourmettes Live

I’m way behind on my book readin’, but a couple of enticing reviews of the new Mastering the Art of Lost Correspondence did finally entice me to pick up my copy. Flipping through quickly, intending to go back and revel at leisure, I was amazed at what first caught my eye. One caption had “traveling in Province,” and another mentioned Curonsky. With so many trained wordsmiths out there, desperate for work for any fee, why would the publisher not run this past one last set of cheap eyes? Or, given the cult of the Child, solicit volunteers?

But the one letter I randomly read almost compensated — Julia ranting in 1953 about our hometown paper: “Such a horrible report of a priest’s speech, supporting McCarthy. The way they say it’s only the left-wingers who are against him. I really read those things and scream from the stomach.” Which sorta describes how the sane feel these days plowing through gushing coverage of today’s wingnuts who think tea comes only in a bag. So to speak.

Friends & family, dreck division

Something must have been lost in translation in the hometown paper’s piece on how the French are receiving the “Julie & Julia” juggernaut. Personally, I am unaware of the “cliché of beef, baguette and canard farci,” although I would love to see a Willy Ronis shot of a Parisian kid rushing home with duck in hand. I have no idea how shellfish oil could replace mayonnaise in a crab cake. And WTF is “Julia Child with real fish”? Don’t even get me started on the description of Guy Savoy as merely “owner of the restaurant that bears his name in Paris.” Earth to Eighth Avenue: He’s now as American as Las Vegas.

From Escoffier Room to Escoffier Room

Meantime I’ve started wondering if everyone might be confusing Julia Child with Dinty Moore. WTF is up with all the beef stew in hottest August? Did the poor woman codify no other recipe? Or is everyone just needing to hit the Burgundy right now? Plus, did I actually spot someone Tweeting about getting out the pressure cooker to make it? Sole a la microwave would make more sense.

The 60-Minute Mark Twain

So much for Michael Pollan’s cred. Food & Wine has just declared this the year of the home cook, even as he is swearing cobwebs are covering American stoves. Hmm Balzer notwithstanding, someone is buying an awful lot of groceries these days. Then again, there’s a whole cookbook coming out on ways to doctor up pre-fab cookie dough — with no ways to take shit out, of course, only to add it back in. Leave it to the Guardian, though, to really put all this in perspective with a story on how “Meryl Streep film starts debate on loss of cooking skills.” Yes, Sophie the Prada-Wearing Devil did it. Apparently the paper is outsourcing its headline-writing to Lahore.