Another third Wednesday rolls around and catches me completely off-guard. Yes, it’s time for the Progressive Book Club, and this month I haven’t completed an entire book cover-to-cover, but instead have four works of fiction underway and a couple of reference books tapped. Such is the life of a busy reader/writer with a couple of acres—many demands in the non-writerly world are pulling at once, and I’m all-consumed with keeping on top of them. Spring has definitely sprung here in Florida.
My post, however, is a perfect example of the looseness of the PBC this year—any book will suffice—and this month’s, although not read in its entirety, is Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Remember how I told you one of my interests is FOOD? Well, I didn’t mean the culinary delights of McDonald’s or Burger King; I was referring to meals fit for a king and served in five-star restaurants. Unfortunately, my wallet is that of a pauper. I remember a time when I frequented some of the best eateries in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—and once you’ve experienced nirvana, it’s hard to digest the greasy soy that is fast food—but alas, that day has come and gone. On top of that, my mom was an excellent cook, so I was spoiled on the good stuff early in life.
Therefore, in order to eat well, I had to learn to cook well, and if you know the basics—how food should look and taste and smell at different stages of the cooking process, as well as how to follow a recipe—then that’s most of the battle. But fret not if you aren’t overly adept at these practices; Mastering the Art of French Cooking covers all these things.
Julia (and I’ll mainly refer to the authorship as Julia Child, although written in conjunction with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck) is wise to begin the book with an orientation to kitchen terms the reader needs to understand. She lists no recipe until after the first thirty-six pages, which cover everything from Kitchen Equipment (or Batterie de Cuisine) to Wines, with chapters devoted to Definitions, Measurements—including the size of an appropriate celery stalk—and all the various ways of Cutting.
Goodness! Chop, slice, dice, mince, julienne; gripping the knife, slicing round objects, dicing solid vegetables…who knew? And there is such a variety of ways to cut mushrooms, it has its own illustrated cross-reference on page 509. When a recipe involves a specialty cut, such as an artichoke, it thoroughly explains the procedure in the recipe itself, and once explained, if used again, refers back to that page. This single volume is a veritable encyclopedia of French cooking. Nothing is left to chance, and Julia cautions the cook in the Foreword:
Pay close attention to what you are doing while you work, for precision in small details can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food. If a recipe says, “cover casserole and regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly,” “heat the butter until its foam begins to subside,” or “beat the hot sauce into the egg yolks by driblets,” follow it. You may be slow and clumsy at first, but with practice you will pick up speed and style.
Hmm…that’s certainly food for thought in other aspects of my life, such as writing. What say ye?
Okay, I’ll admit it. I bought this book after watching Julie & Julia specifically for the Boeuf Bourguignon dish, which I’ve made several times, even creating a crock pot adaptation. French cooking takes a LONG time!
Whenever I buy a classic book like this (and yes, this is a classic in its own right), I try to get as close to first edition as possible at a reasonable cost. This one is the sixteenth printing, 1967. While it arrived in pristine condition, sans a dust jacket, I’ve already “compromised” many pages with grease and wine spots. But that comes with actual use—I make no apologies!
I’ve also made other dishes featured in the movie, such as the braised cucumbers, which were surprisingly good. I’m not big on mint, which the recipe calls for—I only like it in gum, toothpaste, and creme de—and will probably use a smidgen less next time I make it. While it definitely complements the cukes, use it to taste. Her recipes for artichokes, mushrooms, and oignons glacés à brun (brown-braised onions—delish!) make other tasty sides. For now, I’m holding off on deboning a duck.
Of course this is Julia Child, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a masterpiece in the Culinary World, so naturally I give it five stars, however, the recipes are a bit involved, and some rather expensive. Julia recognized this in the opening statement:
This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules…or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat….This makes them a bit longer than usual, and some of the recipes are quite long indeed.
And that, my friends, is the gospel. When I come up for breath and have a bit more time…ha!…I’ll dip further into the entrées. I do recommend this book, though. If you have enough advance notice to grab a few essential ingredients (most are standard staples, others, not so), want something different than the usual fare, and can allot a day to create a royal feast, it’s just what you need.
For me, this also brought to mind the whole creative process—no matter your medium. Each skillet is a blank canvas wherein the chef (artist, writer) sears the meat, adds the veggies, sautés, simmers, mixes and stirs until the end product is a unique rendering of his experience, and no two—not even the same recipe—are ever alike. You can make Coq au Vin or Chicken McNuggets, the choice is yours.
That’s certainly something to chew on.
For a variety of other reviews and thoughts from our members, click the frog’s head below for the link list. The selections are as diverse and exciting as their readers! And as always, we are open every month to new participants. For more information, go to the Progressive Book Club Guidelines in the tabs at the top of the page.
The Progressive Book Club meets the third Wednesday of each month. If you’d like to know more, click on the badge to link to the guidelines. Any book is welcome, and we’d love to have you—the more participants and titles, the greater the likelihood one will resonate with our readers. Hope to see you next month!
ML Swift is a writer of Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction, although he dabbles in many genres.
An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.
He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.