Happy birthday, Julia!!
August 15, 2002 1:16 PM   Subscribe

Happy birthday, Julia!! American cooking diva Julia Child turns 90 years of age today. She might be slowing, but she hasn't stopped ... and she certainly hasn't stopped eating butter and cream.

Her contributions to American culinary arts, particularly in the area of home cooking, are nearly immeasurable. When you have a look at the way we were cooking before "The French Chef" came along, you'll be doubly grateful for what she's taught us.

She's left her longtime home in Cambridge, Massachusetts for much smaller digs in Santa Barbara, California ... and subsequently donated her legendary kitchen and over 1,200 items from it to the Smithsonian Institution, who disassembled it and painstakingly rebuilt it inside the museum. Julia's Kitchen at the Smithsonian opens to the public on Monday.
posted by chuq (35 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
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posted by chuq at 1:18 PM on August 15, 2002

I have the same birthday as Julia.... shouldn't I be able to cook something besides mac 'n cheese? ;o)
posted by bmxGirl at 1:25 PM on August 15, 2002

During one program with chef, author and friend Jacques Pepin, Pepin suggested that both white and red wine are good for picnics. He asked Child what she preferred.

"I like beer," she said emphatically, pulling out a well-chilled bottle of beer and two glasses, so they could split it as they cooked.

Love, love, love her. Thanks Chuq
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:28 PM on August 15, 2002

bmxGirl: Yes. Buy her book The Way to Cook and see what you can come up with. It's meant for people with little to no kitchen experience.

By the way, it's really easy to make fabulous mac and cheese from scratch (I assume you're talking about that vile processed swill from the box.) You make a bechamel out of some milk and butter and flour and cook it until it gets thick, and add your cheese and seasonings and fold in the macaroni ... heaven. Try it with Maytag blue cheese sometime.
posted by chuq at 1:32 PM on August 15, 2002

posted by ColdChef at 1:48 PM on August 15, 2002

Mac and Stilton? Mmmmm. Do you have a particular set of instructions, or are you just talking through your puffy white hat?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:51 PM on August 15, 2002

She also had a stint with the OSS (precursor to the CIA); a little history here.
posted by readymade at 1:51 PM on August 15, 2002

90! Chuck the egg white omelettes and no oil cooking and bring on the fois gras, pate, cheese and red meat. I want to live to be 90 too.
posted by caddis at 1:55 PM on August 15, 2002

My grandmother and I watched Julia when I was a child. I still remember her beating a piece of steak with a broom handle. A strange and wonderful genius!

The Smithsonian exhibition site is great! It must be strange to watch people take apart your kitchen and ship it away into a museum forever.

Cheers to Julia on her 90th!

Oh, and for the mac and cheese, add a tiny bit of freshly grated nutmeg. It does wonders! Dinner at my place tonight.
posted by evanizer at 2:06 PM on August 15, 2002

A favorite Julia Child quote:
In department stores, so much kitchen equipment is bought indiscriminately by people who just come in for men's underwear.

A few more quotes....

(My other half once told me of an episode of her show many years back when she dropped a turkey and said something like, "Remember, in the kitchen you're alone!" I can't confirm that, unfortunately.)
posted by fredosan at 2:47 PM on August 15, 2002

to back up evanizer: nutmeg is a wonder spice. if i cook something and it ends up too salty, oftentimes adding some nutmeg will help fix it.
posted by o2b at 3:02 PM on August 15, 2002

fredosan: As always, Snopes to the rescue.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:07 PM on August 15, 2002

Another worthwhile step is to sauté a chopped onion first, then compile the bechamel on top of that. It'll make your mac & cheese even better still. In fact, starting off with a mirepoix, one of the staples of the French cooking that Julia champions, will add that terrific restaurant-y flavor to almost any dish.

Mmm, this thread is making me hungry. I'm going to go make dinner now...
posted by boomchicka at 3:17 PM on August 15, 2002

Interesting that it was both a functional family kitchen, and a TV set. How popular was the open-plan kitchen before this one was beamed into living rooms nationwide?

There's some relevant insight into the phenomenon of the impossibly-perfect homemaker's appeal to everyday women in this Atlantic review of Martha Inc.
posted by dhartung at 3:20 PM on August 15, 2002

Hopefully she'll live to be 100 and help prove to some of them diet Nazis that her philosophy of "everything in moderation" is still smart and practical.

And personally, I still think the SNL spoof of The French Chef has to be it's funniest. skit. ever!
posted by PeteyStock at 3:34 PM on August 15, 2002

Julia Child's favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara is La Super-Rica Taqueria (take that snooty California cuisine!!). Everything they make is delicious, and full of grease.

People who say diet leads to early death obviously don't give enough credence to the idea that your attitude contributes just as much to your health as your diet does.

I got to sit next to her when Fellowship of the Ring was here in town, and let me tell you, even at ninety, she's a big burly lady, and the clutch she gave me the first time the Balrog appeared liked to have torn my hand off.
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:44 PM on August 15, 2002

PinkStainlessTail: Do you have a particular set of instructions, or are you just talking through your puffy white hat?

Your wish is my command. While this recipe is made with Maytag blue, I'm sure Stilton would work wonderfully. It's an Emeril Lagasse recipe (you may hate his TV persona, but I've had some of the best meals of my life in his restaurant), and the first time I made it people were moaning and pounding their fists on the table.

BTW, I love the idea of a little chopped onion, but I think I'd try it with some finely minced shallot, which I'd sauté in the butter before adding the flour for the roux.


3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
Freshly ground white pepper
1/2 pound crumbled Maytag Blue Cheese
2 egg yolks, beaten
Dash of Crystal Hot Sauce
1 pound small shells, cooked until tender
1 cup fine dried bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Grease a large shallow baking pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter.

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.

Whisk in the milk, 1/2 cup at a time. Season with white pepper.

Cook, stirring constantly for 4 to 6 minutes.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheese and egg yolks. Season with the hot sauce and salt if needed. In a large mixing bowl, toss the pasta with the sauce.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. In a small mixing bowl, combine the bread crumbs and oil.

Season with salt and pepper. Mix well.

Sprinkle the pasta with the bread crumbs. Bake until the top is golden and bubbly, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings
posted by chuq at 3:46 PM on August 15, 2002

Nice post chuq, at dinner time is the bell rung for the chuqwagon ;) sorry I couldn't resist. It is a good post.

Wow I still see her on other folks shows, which does show; cooking your own food, makes one live long and your able to enjoy and share yummy foods.........Julia, inspired me to cook or at least try.

Remembering the first quote of hers that left an impression. She was discussing why she used oil and butter for coating the pans as a preparation instead of using Pam (who knows maybe they wouldn't sponsor her this was in the 70's). ( In Julia Child's voice) As Pam keeps the food from sticking to the surface of a pan folks, and what then was Pam sticking too? And you don't want Pam stuck in you, now do you. I guessed her reasoning, if it didn't stick to the pan then it stuck to the food, and some how you. Yea, real yummy is what I thought.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:53 PM on August 15, 2002

Today's my birthday too. Always knew Julia shared the same date which was the only "noteworthy" person who shares the date that is still alive. Same with Napoleon and Woodstock starting, but otherwise normally a tax date extension deadline for those late filers. Toast to everyone this hot August day.
posted by brent at 4:52 PM on August 15, 2002

I remember reading that her favorite drink is a martini. Her recipe? Straight gin-- don't bother with the vermouth.

As to my own mac and cheese preference. I make it about once a month or so and throw in all the odds and ends of cheese. And since there are only 2 of us, I use about 7 oz of pasta to two cups of white sauce and as much cheese as I feel like grating. Our favorite combination is Swiss cheese, gruyere, and parmesan (none of that nasty canned stuff, I grate my own). When we are not on a diet, I use whole milk, or even-- gasp!-- half and half in the white sauce. And a big yes to the nutmeg and onion (only don't tell the significant other because he thinks he doesn't like onion).
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:00 PM on August 15, 2002

Here's my favorite recent Julia quote, although I can't quite remember the exact wording, so I'm paraphrasing:

"I'm eighty-seven years old, and my doctor finally put his foot down and told me I'd have to stop eating butter and cream. So ... I got another doctor."
posted by chuq at 5:01 PM on August 15, 2002

Look into the Smithsonian site for a pic of the magnificent stove. Made right here in Detroit. Of course, there have been more impressive ones.

She is a true American hero.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 5:15 PM on August 15, 2002

Wow. Great cook, great woman, great thread, great recipe, chuq!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:40 PM on August 15, 2002

I always dug Bill Cosby's imitation of her when he was cutting the Thanksgiving turkey: "Cut along on the countour of the bird, and the grain of the fowl..."

WolfDaddy, was it pure coincidence that she sat next to you, or are you part of her kitchen posse?

And, chuq, that mac 'n' cheese sounds righteous. I know what I'm having for dinner tomorrow night...
posted by RakDaddy at 5:52 PM on August 15, 2002

Jeffrey Steingarten, the superb lawyer-turned-food writer who almost makes Vogue worth purchasing, cites the "French Paradox" in his essay "Why Aren't the French Dropping Like Flies?" Even with their butter and cheese-laden diet, he writes, the French have one of the lowest heart-attack rates in the world. Recently, the French Paradox has been somewhat disproven, but even with the increase recommended in this study (.pdf), their heart disease rate is still far lower than in the U.S. It looks like J.C. (Julia, of course) might be right -- butter and cheese aren't the worst culprits after all.

p.s. Don't bother searching Vogue's crappy site for Steingarten's essays -- they're not posted. Instead, the site is filled with inane chat forum topics like "Who's Prettier - Gwyneth Paltrow or Reese Witherspoon?" and "Two Words - Fanny Pack." (I kid you not.) If you're interested in his writing, do yourself a favor and check out his current book, or his upcoming November release.
posted by boomchicka at 6:05 PM on August 15, 2002

the roommate i had when living in the university dorms LOVED to make mac'n'cheese with limburger way too frequently.

even more on the coincedence tip... i was discussing purchasing a new stove with my father, who happens to be a chef.

sure wish i had julias!
posted by mariatessa at 6:35 PM on August 15, 2002

WolfDaddy, was it pure coincidence that she sat next to you, or are you part of her kitchen posse?

RakDaddy (we related or sumpin'?) it was pure cowinkydink ... go see a matinee on Wednesday and you might end up sitting next to someone famous! I've seen Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, and have sat next to Anthony Edwards and Julia Child this way. :-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:37 PM on August 15, 2002

I remember watching her explaining how to pick a good baguette. She held up one stick by the end - it stood straight and proud. "This is the kind of baguette we want". She picked up another one. It drooped limply. "We don't want this!". And she simply flung it over her shoulder. I distinctly remember a crash.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:48 PM on August 15, 2002

readymade beat me to it.

Go Special Ops!
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:51 PM on August 15, 2002

Loath as I am to disagree with Julia, I think a Martini has to have at least a little vermouth in it. Drinking straight gin isn't a cocktail!

Speaking of cocktails ... when the Childs threw their fabulous dinner parties and Julia was in the kitchen preparing the sumptuous meal, her husband Paul handled the cocktails. Recently Julia found a boxful of his handwritten original cocktail recipes and sent them to a friend to "figure out what to do with them." Here are a few of his cocktail recipes:


Make a [gin] Martini. Take one teaspoon of juice from a jar of Maraschino cherries and carefully drizzle it down the inside of the glass so that if forms a layer at the bottom. Garnish with the cherry.

(This is not unlike the superb version of the Casino cocktail made at the Petrossian Bar at the Bellagio in Las Vegas:
2 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur (I like Maraska from Croatia; it's a little drier), 1/4 ounce lemon juice, 2 dashes orange bitters, and do the same drizzle/layering with the juice from a jar of brandied cherries; garnish with a brandied cherry.)


2 ounces gin, a splash of Welch's grape juice, 1/2 ounce dry vermouth (or 1/4 ounce each vermouth and white wine), squeeze of fresh lemon. Spear two red grapes for garnish.


1/2 bottle dark rum, 2 ounces vermouth (Noilly Prat), 1 jigger Cointreau, 6 ounces strong jasmine tea (cold, of course), 4 ounces Rose's lime juice, 1 whole lime, chopped up, with its peel, 1 ounce raspberry syrup, 8 dashes Angostura bitters, 5 dashes orange bitters. Ice to fill; shake hard, then let it sit in refrigerator to blend for 3 hours. Serves ... several.

Ah, the civilized cocktail hour ...
posted by chuq at 11:06 PM on August 15, 2002 [1 favorite]

In the words of Mojo Nixon, " I have got to get some gin in me."
posted by caddis at 6:21 AM on August 16, 2002

*looks at the mac'n'cheese recipe, drools*
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:21 AM on August 16, 2002

Julia Child's own personal kitchen was only used as the set for her last couple of cooking series -- the ones where she hosted other chefs, and the series with Jacques Pepin. The various French Chef series of the 1960s and 1970s were shot at the WGBH studios in Boston (though some in later years were shot in other "real" kitchens, just not hers).

I knew a guy who was a production assistant on one of those later series. According to him, the kitchen was exceedingly cramped once all the video equipment was in place.
posted by briank at 6:29 AM on August 16, 2002

Chuq, wonderful link, great thread and recipes. I learned everything I know about French cooking from Julia (I am surprised to see that you differ from her on bechamel technique!). But, on the issue of vermouth, Ogden Nash would have something to say:

"A Drink with Something in It"

There is something about a Martini
A tingle remarkably pleasant
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth--
I think that perhaps it's the gin.
posted by lackutrol at 7:11 AM on August 16, 2002

You can really tell a lot about a chef by the way they interact with Julia on her show.

In some, (Wolfgang Puck & Emeril come to mind,) the chefs fawn so much over her (not that she doesn’t deserve it) that it just becomes unwatchable. On the other hand, people like Martha Stewart are almost comically disrespectful – they get in there and totally cut Julia off every time she tries to speak.

But I just love the shows with Jacques Pepin, their esteem for each other is mutual, and they are really funny together.

Jeffrey Steingarten, the superb lawyer-turned-food writer who almost makes Vogue worth purchasing, posted by boomchicka

Agreed. Steingarten is the only reason to even read Vogue these days.

Dinner at my place tonight. - posted by evanizer

So who wants in on the carpool over to evanizers?
posted by lilboo at 11:25 AM on August 16, 2002

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