Other kids had Saturday cartoons. I had Julia.
Combing my long toddler hair was such an ordeal that my mother went against her better judgment and plopped me down in front of the tube so that I would stop fidgeting. She did, however, exercise strict control over which programs I could watch during these hair-wrangling sessions. Julia was at the top of the list. From then on Julia Child has always been one of my top three idols (the other two being Bonnie Raitt and Miss Piggy). I have been watching her for as long as I can remember; so long that the memories of my maternal grandmother and Julia have melded into one person. Hey, both taught me how to cook! In my head, my grandmother is there teaching me to make chicken pastry but the voice coming out is distinctly Julia’s.
I would sit in front of the TV consumed and inspired. I started to cook as soon as I could, constantly mimicking what I saw on the screen and around me. As I grew older, I continued to watch Julia, learned to bake and discovered Jacques Pepin. My mother, an incredible cook and cookbook collector extraordinaire, began to give me her cookbooks and surrounded me with a growing amount of culinary equipment. Soon I was holding my own in the kitchen, even if I was losing the battle with combing my hair
When it came to college Julia guided me once again. I was a stubborn little bastard when I was looking at schools. It was settled in my mind: I was going to RISD and my parents would just have to deal with it. They insisted (thank the academic gods!) that I go to a liberal arts school. Bah Humbug! How uncool! Then to top it off they wanted me to look at an all women’s college. What on earth? I flat out refused. “Did you know Julia Child went there? And sometimes she comes back to her old ‘house’ and cooks with the students.” Before I knew it I was packed into an auditorium with a hundred other anxious college bound girls and their families listening to Smith College’s pitch. I had seen the Olmsted designed campus. I had seen the houses. I had met the art professors. I was impressed but still not convinced.
Suddenly, a woman rushed onto the auditorium stage and whispered something to into the presenter’s ear. The presenter looked out over the audience. “I am sorry to announce that one of our most beloved alumnae has just passed away”. The audience gasped. She didn’t even need to say her name. Julia was gone, along with any hope of my ever getting to meet her. For some strange reason I took it as a sign. I belonged here. On November 15th I applied early decision and have never looked back.
Graduating in 2009, my class and generation found ourselves faced with one of the worst recessions in history. I have moved back in with my parents. I am not the next “IT” artist. I am not creating the next Facebook. I am not working for NPR. I am not an intern with Conde Nast. I am, like most of my friends, back in my hometown praying for work. (In full disclosure I do have a wonderful job with a non-profit arts organization that I adore. It is part time and a grant-funded position so if I were not living with the ‘rents’, I do not know how I would survive.) Once again, Julia showed up to comfort me. Re-reading her biography I was reminded that after Smith, Julia moved back in with her parents and didn’t come into her own until after WWII. If Julia could wait that long then, damnit, so can I! So in the meantime I began to cook.
I am back in my childhood kitchen: a wonderland of mess and encyclopedic amount of equipment and books. Suddenly I have the time and space to cook and explore whatever I want. I am interested in Southeast Asian, Indian, Northern African, Middle Eastern and Greek cuisines, but the standard is always French and the ultimate authority is always Julia.