Friday, August 6, 2010

Mastering the Art

Almost every day I look at Beattie’s Bookman blog. It keeps me abreast with the literary scene, aware of new publications and processes, and is thought-provoking - a good site. Of late there have been many cookbooks mentioned. I sometimes have a grumble how cook-books are inclined to dominate the non-fiction sales lists but I have to admit they sell well. They are also often good reading – anticipation and ideas.

Further, they also a social phenomenon. As fast food outlets proliferate and obesity concerns health professionals in many countries there has been a swing back to home cooking. The popularity of cooking programmes on TV is another illustration of this trend.

Preparing food for friends, colleagues, partners and even for oneself is a very human activity. It involves the act of giving. I regret that my illness has meant that I have had to give cooking away. Preparation of a meal was fun. (I acknowledge, though, it can also be a chore, a daily grind).

Anne recently asked me did I have a hankering for something. I said it’s been a while since we had lamb shanks. So she slow-cooked two for last night’s evening meal. Superb, in flavour and texture! We are dining royally tonight again, rock oyster entrée, followed by salmon fillets.

Anne’s been looking at Julia Child’s culinary masterpiece ‘Mastering The Art of French Cooking’. Last evening after our meal we watched a DVD of ‘Julie and Julia’, a 2009 movie. Child frequently mentioned her first French meal in Rouen, oysters, sole meuniere and fine wine, a culinary revelation. The film began with that meal. I recall two lovely rabbit meals during our brief visit to Rouen and of course duck.

The movie was based upon a book written by Julie Powell. Powell, a frustrated cubicle office worker, decided to write a blog for a year in which she would cook all of Child’s recipes. She turned it into a book. Which in turn became the movie – one of those wholesome, feel-good films which leaves you with the sense that you are all the better for having seen it.

The scenes alternated between Child’s Parisian life and Powell’s New York existence. Child was six foot two inches. Meryl Streep, whose impersonation was brilliant, played the part. The gawky awkwardness combined with ebullience and an unusual accent are well-captured. Streep wore high heels and small people were cast for the other parts to accentuate her height enabling her to tower over them. The film followed her  career very faithfully; boredom obvious until her passion for fine food was unleashed, along with a desire to share it with ‘servantless housewives’. Probably too much butter for today’s health-anxious cooks.

Julia was lucky; as portrayed Paul, her diplomat husband was a lovely man. The one occasion the story strayed from the culinary in her career was to show him being grilled by McCarthy – a chilling cameo.

The critics while praising Streep’s performance find more fault with Amy Adams who plays Julie’s part; not of Adams, but of the script. I was less disconcerted. Different lifestyles, relaxed Parisian and a joyful acceptance of sensory experience contrasted with hectic New York with its haste and bustle. All that, plus, modern tensions with her husband. One cause I can understand. Blogging is a self-centred activity. Several times Anne has said 'you’re not listening'. True! My mind was elsewhere composing thoughts for the blog. Compositon is self-absorbing.

But who would not be worried about how to kill a lobster? Or bone a duck? But the end result – fine food. That’s what this delightful film was about. Yum!

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