May her ghost haunt my kitchen
Ni chi fan le ma?
If you have traveled to China or plan to, you may be familiar with the phrase, Ni chi fan le ma, it means, “Have you eaten yet?”
And though the greeting initially arose in the language due to intermittent periods of food scarcity, it demonstrates the importance placed on nourishment i.e., foodstuffs.
You’ll find a similar phrase in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos and India.
Whether you use chopsticks, silverware or your dominant hand, dining well is an excellent way to have fun while embracing a necessity at the same time.
“A party without cake is just a meeting.” – Julia Child
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or getting all of your three squares at McDonald’s, you have probably heard of Julia Child.
While Julia and her husband, Paul, were living in post-war France, she found herself with a lot of time on her hands and a newly found passion for food and its preparation.
Although being a chef was generally the province of men then, Julia ignored the apparent challenges. She insinuated herself into the most celebrated cooking school in the world, Le Cordon Bleu.
As expected, she was treated as an outcast at first. But her enthusiastic personality soon won over the men, and she graduated from the prestigious cooking school in 1951.
Interestingly, as generally believed, Julia Child was not the first female chef. That honor goes to Dione Lucas, who also had a TV cooking series.
But Julia is the first female to attend Le Cordon Bleu on the GI Bill.
“I enjoy cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food.” – Julia Child
There is no doubt that Julia Child was responsible for changing how we cook and think about food. Unfortunately, the food industry in the U.S. was going in the opposite direction of Julia’s sentiments about food – convenience at all cost was, and still is, its unwavering motto.
And America eats it up, so to speak.
Slow food, like the proverbial racing turtle, has yet to overtake the fast food rabbit, much to the detriment of the nation’s health.
Food preservation in the form of cooking goes back at least 250,000 years, long before the exuberant kid on the Shake ‘n Bake commercials exclaimed, “And I helped.” That irritating kid represented one of those now-dated commercials that only a grandmother could love after hearing it ad nauseam.
Cooking food was a helpful preservation method, making our mastodon roast more digestible and flavorful, significantly reducing the potential for food poisoning.
Cooked food and a portable form of fire-making made it more mobile, allowing humans to spread throughout the globe.
It shaped us in ways we might not consider. It freed us up to think more, and all of those new neural pathways required a larger brain; hence our abilities to reason and create became more expansive.
Sapiens began developing language, art, and writing, exponentially advancing our technologies.
Many early food preservation methods are still in use today – salted and dried foods could be kept palatable for extended periods, particularly for those living in the higher and colder latitudes.
Canning debuted in the early 1800s when the lead used in sealing the cans was not recognized as a health hazard. Then came pasteurization, home canning, freezers, freeze-drying and TV dinners.
War and space exploration changed food science, including MREs and instant soups. (MRE = Meals Ready to Eat)
Remember Tang, the product that NASA made famous and is still around? Tang is a powdered orange drink that tastes vaguely like real orange juice. Tang does deliver a good dose of vitamin C and calcium, so it was onboard many space flights.
Now, please don’t draw back when you hear the word “processing,” it is not all bad, folks.
Some processing is necessary to make our food edible – think of making bread without grinding the wheat; this is called primary processing.
It’s the tertiary processing we need to be wary of. In this processing stage, other ingredients enter our food that may adversely affect our health, such as nitrates. When we eat vegetables like beets and celery that contain nitrates, there are no problems.
When nitrates or nitrites are used to preserve meat, a completely new compound results, which can be carcinogenic.
Then there are the problems associated with overloading food with sugar, salt and fat.
We know, without a doubt, that we are a country where life expectancy is decreasing while diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are rising. At least part of the blame can be placed right at the doorstep of fast food, soft drinks and many highly-processed foods.
We are also sedentary people compared to our ancestors. The physical effects of hard work are reflected in many photographs Preservation Officer B.J. Gudmundsson contributes to The Pocahontas Times.
Although we may not get our apoplectic government in its current state of paralysis to serve our needs as promised, we can change our own health on an individual basis – it’s a choice!
“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” – Julia Child
When WW II began, Julia, true to her character, tried to join the Women’s Army Corp, but, believe it or not, at 6’ 2” she was too tall. It must have been a uniform issue because men did not have the same standard.
Undaunted in demonstrating her patriotism, Julia joined the Office of Strategic Services in 1941 as a typist. The OSS was a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.
But a woman as sharp as Julia Child was not destined to stay a typist for long. She was quickly promoted to the highest levels of the OSS.
In 1944, Julia was posted to Ceylon, modern-day Sri Lanka. There she met Paul Child another OSS employee. Shortly afterward, they were married.
Ceylon is where the military asked Julia to make a particular type of recipe, a recipe she referred to as “The first recipe in my cooking career.”
It was a secret recipe that took many trials and errors before she got it right. Julia Child made the first known effective shark repellent, which was used for covering the life vests of sailors and naval mines.
What a novel way to begin a long career in cooking.
Four years later, Julia and Paul moved to Paris for Paul’s job, leaving Julia with time to consider what she should do after leaving OSS. Her first dining experience at a superb restaurant suggested by her husband set Julia on the path to cooking stardom.
After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, Julia and her French friends, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, started a cooking school for American women living in Paris. They named their culinary endeavor L’ecole des trois Gourmandes, meaning The School of the Three Food Lovers.
Julia’s relationship with Simone and Louisette set the stage for writing a cookbook masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, still in print today.
After being rejected by one publisher who felt it too “encyclopedic” in content, it was recognized by Alfred Knopf for the treasure it is, and they published it.
(Author’s Note: Although Mastering the Art of French Cooking is still popular, the Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer has outsold Child’s book many times over. When the movie Julie and Julia came out in 2009, Mastering the Art of French Cooking was flying off the shelves; 20,000 sold in one week. There is a timeless quality to this delicious book written by three women many years ago.)
Another period of Julia’s career came when she and Paul returned to the States. In 1962, she appeared on a show about books on WBGH (NPR) in Boston.
Much to the producer’s chagrin, she insisted that a cooking demonstration was much more suited to her presentation than a dry discussion of her book. She demanded they bring a hot plate into the studio.
She was right on in her assessment of the audience. She whipped up a French omelet on the hot plate and signed on to 10 full seasons of the wildly popular The French Chef, where we all got to know, love and mimic her.
Come on – you’re all alone reading this; no one can hear you. Say it out loud in Julia’s unmistakable voice – “Bon Appetit.”
Was Julia a spy?
We may never know for sure, as real spies usually deny their involvement in tradecraft. That said, Julia worked at the highest levels of intelligence gathering. And, who in the world would ever suspect that the tall dame with the breathy voice holding a spatula was a spy?
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘What the hell’ attitude.”
Take Julia’s advice Madams and Sirs: If you want to up your game in the kitchen, don’t be intimidated by French, Italian, Vietnamese or Ethiopian recipes. Fetch the right ingredients, march into your kitchen, make a big mess, and give your taste buds a real treat.
Julia Child left us on August 13, 2004, but not before being awarded, among her many awards, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Legion of Honor.
Wherever you are, Julia, we are among the legions who are grateful for your service to our country and the appreciation for better food your efforts have engendered.
In closing, I want to share something a dear friend sent me that I found pretty funny and pertinent to the topic at hand. I hope you enjoy it, as well.
The Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The French eat a lot of fat and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Japanese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and also suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
The Germans drink a lot of beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than the British or Americans.
Conclusion: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.