Sunday, July 27, 2014

Not Julia

When I was 27, I thought I would become a gourmet cook.

Like a certain blogger who made it to the movies by cooking her way through Julia Child's masterpiece, I attempted it also, only I cheated and didn't fix any recipes with artichokes, liver or mutton. And I did not kill a lobster or debone a duck. My freezer was stocked with Julia's chicken and beef stock and homemade praline was a staple in my cupboard. Julia's method of preparing broccoli with lemon butter sauce won over people who before had only eaten broccoli with Velveeta Cheese sauce.

My French bread (Vol. II) wasn't perfect but it was amazing. R.H. helped me copy Julia's oven conditions, finding clay tiles to line my oven rack, and the results really were divine. All of Julia's desserts turned out well. The Orange Bavarian, melt-in-your-mouth perfection.

My ultimate masterpiece, a two day project, was Mt. Killimanjaro (Vol. II), a chocolate cake for my mother's birthday. Although just saying it was chocolate cake is like saying the Mona Lisa is a nice little painting.

In short, I cooked then. A lot. I tried and tried to become a gourmet cook. I collected cookbooks and read them as I did novels, in bed at night. I still do and I still have all my cookbooks except for Julia's two volumes that I gifted to my daughter a few years ago.

But I never became a gourmet cook. Just as I never became a good pianist even after eight years of lessons and being the only kid on the block who loved to practice the piano. I didn't have the ear or the talent for the piano and I didn't have what it takes to become a gourmet cook.

I couldn't pull together a complicated meal and have it all ready to serve at the same time like my mother did. I could never have a kitchen that looked organized and clean before a meal was served like my sister Deb did. And I could never become as creative a cook as my daughter is.

I could not do it but I kept trying. And then I hit my 70s.

In order to cook a decent meal now I have to begin in the morning while I'm still fresh, and I'm not fresh very long. I manage to prepare one or two main things,  and then this aggravating costochondritis (rib inflammation) flares up and I feel as if I have a pole stuck through my back to my ribs, relieved only by sitting down and icing my ribs. The rest of the day my work periods shrink in comparison to my rest periods and by five o'clock in the afternoon, after feeding the dogs, it's pretty much over for me.

So in the mornings I prepare a roast and vegetables, something that's good for leftovers of sandwiches and soup…

Or spaghetti….

Or I roast a chicken….

That gives us chicken and some easy sides the first night, chicken club sandwiches the second night, and a big pot of chicken noodle soup or chicken chili for the third night--with a couple days more leftovers of that. One of us really likes chicken chili for three days straight.

If I do plan on cooking something that needs to be done right before supper, it has to be something easy like salmon done simply with olive oil, lemon juice and herbs.

It helps if I make the salad that morning, such as s simple wedge salad with a homemade dressing like Vincent Price's Egg Salad Dressing or even a quick mayonnaise and red wine vinegar dressing. Leftover bacon from breakfast goes on top.

Vegetables are usually simply steamed squash or broccoli.

Here is last night's supper, Baked Spicy Burgers adapted from Ismail Merchant's Passionate Meals, but I serve them on top of a salad and make the beef patties up that morning to refrigerate until time to bake them.

I love many of Ismail's recipes, and when I use his cookbook I think back to all the wonderful films he and James Ivory made over the years, Howard's End being my favorite. Here is the recipe in case you want an alternative to a regular burger sometime.

Baked Spicy Beefburgers:

2 pounds lean ground beef
1/4 cup lemon juice and the zest
1 egg
1 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix all ingredients together well and form mixture into 4 to 6 patties. Place on greased baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness of patty.

Lest you think that our suppers are always like these, we too often just have a salad with a frozen dinner, or heat up canned soup, or pick up barbecue. While I still love to plan meals, still love to clip recipes and read cookbooks, and still dream of becoming a gourmet cook, my feet and back and Mr. Arthuritis in my hands tell me it just a'int gonna happen.

Sorry, Julia. You did your best to teach me.

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