One of the books I have been reading during my free time is “As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto Food, Friendship & the Making of a Masterpiece,” edited by Joan Reardon I have been familiar with Child’s work for a while, but have never taken a serious look at her work.
The book is, as the title indicates, a collection of letters in correspondence between two women. Amazingly, their friendship and business partnership sprang out of a chance connection. Julia Child frequently read pieces written by Avis’s husband, Bernard DeVoto, including one about the disdain he held for the trend in American cutlery: Stainless Steel. In admiration for the piece, Julia (among other admirers, or businesses who hoped to prove him wrong) sent Mr. DeVoto a knife in the mail. Avis was, at the time, acting as his secretary, and responding to some letters for him. The letters between the two women continued, and rapidly developed into a friendship, and a shared passion for French cooking, and therefore, the work in progress, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck.
I simply adore reading “As Always,” It is such an insightful read. I am learning about cooking, about relationships and social events of the time, about the personal affects that McCarthy had on many people. The letters are so detailed, varied, and anything but fluff. It is amazing to me that the two women did not meet until half-way through the collection of letters. They have such a fondness and respect for one another, that it seems as though they have been friends for a long time.
We also found that episodes of Julia’s television show are available on PBS.com! We watched the episode on French Onion soup, and were entranced. I learned so much about cooking from these products. It is really transforming my life as a cook. She causes you to look at food, ingredients, wine, reactions, results, etc. from the perspective of the relationship that those things have with each other. I am really excited to continue studying “Mastering the Art” as I return home, and entertain others.
Click here to watch an episode
So far, we have poached several eggs using her methods, and last night, we tried our first full recipe: Garlic Soup. Chris has a bad reputation for being well-meaning in regards to the soups that he made in the past. He was falsely accused of making garlic soup that was the terror of everyone around him. In reality, it was cabbage soup that struck fear into the hearts of his friends, and neighbors. But because of this urban legend, I could not resist from trying the recipe.
We planned on making the dish all day, and followed the recipe to a “t.” The introduction to the recipe explains what we were to expect:
Enjoying your first bowl of garlic soup, you might never suspect what it is made of. Because the garlic is boiled, its after-effects are at a minimum, and its flavour becomes exquisite, aromatic, and almost undefinable. Along the Mediterranean, an aigo bouido is considered to be very good indeed for the liver, blood circulation, general physical tone, and spiritual health. A head of garlic is not at all too much for 3 pints of soup. For some addicts, it is not even enough.
We made a half-batch, so only used half of the head of garlic, though I accidentally added the full amount of olive oil (3Tbs isn’t too bad, and I omitted oil from the toast, so I figure that it evened out). I found her prediction to be spot on. The soup was delightful, light, and intriguing. You don’t actually eat the garlic, but instead, the cloves are boiled, and they and the herbs are strained out before serving, leaving a clear broth. It is served with crunchy slices of French Bread, a bit of Swiss cheese (we used Compte which I L.O.V.E.) and one variation calls for poached eggs (which we executed masterfully).
The only point we had any question with is when the authors say, “Gradually strain in the rest, beating, and pressing the juice out of the garlic.” I understood the straining part, but as far as beating and pressing juice out of the garlic, it did not go as planned. When I attempted to press the garlic and extrude any droplets of flavor, the whole clove smashed into a smooth paste. Is that what she meant? I panicked, and did a Google search, and even a Google image search for the answer. Was I supposed to scrape the paste from the underside of the strainer into the soup? Mon Dieu, no answer was to be found. So, I made an executive decision, and went with the next step, “serve immediately.”
As indicated, it all turned out well in the end, but as previously mentioned, the soup is really more of a broth, and while magnificent, was not filling. So, we finished the meal with liberal amounts of bread, butter, and wine. I will definitely make this soup again, maybe tonight, but from now on, I will serve it as one course in the meal, in addition to a more filling course so that the diner will have want for naught.