Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Becoming More Like Julia

Julia Child dedicated Mastering the Art of French Cooking to "the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat."

This is the woman I want to be.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is such a woman. I’m not sure there is a woman alive who can put aside all of these concerns at one time and simply enjoy the act of eating.

On the rare occasion, we can splurge on a feast without counting our pennies. On the rare occasion, the stars align and we have the time to enjoy a long meal with friends. On the rare occasion, children will eat what is presented to them without complaint.

But I wonder if there’s ever an occasion when a woman can disregard her waistline and dive into a chocolate soufflĂ© without a trace of guilt.

I will admit I don’t know much about children or the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, but I can say that I wish I could be more like Julia and liberally pour cream into my soups, blend whole sticks of butter into my cookies, and beat dozens of eggs into my cakes without worrying that they will later convert into jiggly bits.

I began to cook because I had gained ten pounds. I had gained ten pounds from blithely enjoying my food in large portions and forgoing physical activity. This was not a rational decision, mind you, but an accidental, creeping phenomenon caused by a cubicle job and a long drive to and from work. In short, ten hours a day of sitting in a small space, grazing on Starbucks and snacks from the vending machine, coming home to large portions of noodles and meat. I didn’t notice the ten extra pounds I was lugging around until I visited the doctor for a yearly checkup, and the fact that it had arrived silently and stealthily filled me with horror and shame. How had I let this happen, I lamented.

I panicked. I joined the gym and Weight Watchers. I read articles about nutrients and took classes in spinning, boot camp, yoga, and weight lifting. I turned down any and all desserts, except for Weight Watchers ice cream. I gave up pizza, pasta, and French bread and turned to apples, oatmeal, and Splenda. When F came home with a steaming, crusty loaf of bread, I heated up one of my frozen wheat rolls and ate it slowly, savoring its spongy texture and cardboard tang. It was almost bread, but not quite.

I lost the weight pretty quickly, and was in better shape than I’d ever been. After all, Weight Watchers is about learning to eat right. I learned about portion sizes, I decided to give vegetables a try, and I was getting exercise. But I wasn’t happy. I counted my points and worried constantly.

I wasn’t happy because I no longer enjoyed eating. Food had become the enemy and the act of eating was accompanied by fear. When you fear something you must do at least three times a day to stay alive, it makes for a pretty miserable existence.

Cooking made me brave. When cooking for myself, I can control portion sizes and ingredients, while making dinners that I actually enjoy. I can make my own wheat rolls that actually taste like bread. I can grill my own marinated chicken that is tender and flavorful. I can make cakes and brownies that taste like dessert. I found that I when I enjoy cooking a meal, I enjoy eating it, too.

Slowly, as I learned to love cooking and to appreciate food, I started to reintroduce the dishes I loved into my menu, and to find new foods to love. I started to eat French bread again, and now I also love oatmeal. I reintroduced pasta, and have now discovered quinoa. I found that I really like vegetables and love fruits. And I realized that I can have a full-fat feast once in awhile, and it tastes all the better because I don’t do it every day.

Julia had the right idea. Life is too short to regulate our food while closely monitoring the fluctuating girth of our thighs. Life is too short to allow a fear of food to “interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat."

But I still think about my waistline. Even while enjoying a fancy dessert or a Pig Dinner, I can’t help but consider how many points I’m packing away. And that’s pretty sad. I wonder if there exists a woman who is able to snuff out these fears and completely give in to the simple enjoyment of food. Are we capable of turning off that little niggling voice in the back of our skulls that says, “That may taste good now, but you’ll be sorry later”?

I like to think so. I like to think that Julia Child was just one such woman.

And I want to be another. Here’s to becoming more like Julia.


  1. I whole-heartedly endorse Mrs. Child's effects on your culinary life.

  2. oh how i hate that niggling voice.