“We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine. I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make... Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is vile,...then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile- and learn from her mistakes.” (Julia Child)
This story from My Life in France of a lunch gone wrong illustrates the very reason I love Julia Child so much. I believe as I think she did that few things are as bad as we imagine in the moment, and that failure is just an opportunity to reinvent. Child was respected for the attention to detail, the perfectionism demonstrated in her cookbooks, but she was loved because of the personality revealed in her television shows. She and her partners spent years painstakingly developing and testing recipes in an effort to make authentic French cuisine accessible to the average American cook at the highest level, but the television personality so many loved was famous for her laissez-faire and forgiving nature in the kitchen. Drink freely, do the best you can, just pick that chicken up off the floor.
These somewhat contradictory elements of her personality give an energy to My Life in France that is even more greedily consumable reading material than the descriptions of her Parisian years and the foods and wine she and her husband Paul enjoyed. The book does not disguise the challenges and disappointments of a woman who felt her very large physical presence made her less than beautiful, who was unable to have children, who was adrift from her father because of political views, who bemoaned her husband's position as a government bureaucrat in an alarmingly conservative climate, who discovered her calling late in life and was constantly trying to reconcile her quest for the perfect with a ticking clock. But it does minimize them in comparison with the joys of love and life. From the woman who sent out an annual Valentine's Day card rather than Christmas cards because she could never get her Christmas act together in time and because a holiday about love was simply preferable.
My Life in France is of course a delight for francophiles and foodies, but goes beyond that to capture an enthusiasm and drive that inspire. And hints at a complexity about Child that she guarded well. But most of you know that. Because most of the blogging world has read this. Glad I finally joined in.