Even if you didn’t enjoy cooking, you could enjoy watching Julia Child.
Her unpretentious style and witty asides as she whisked her sauces made for good entertainment, and the sheer joy she found in food influenced a generation of home cooks to have a little fun in the kitchen.
Child, who died last week just short of her 92nd birthday, made French cooking accessible to millions of Americans with her PBS show, "The French Chef."
In so doing, she protected the notion that cooking and sharing food is a critical way for families to connect. That to grab a sandwich and dash out the door is a disservice not only to your stomach but to your psyche.
Julia Child also bridged a generation gap for mothers and daughters of that era. I had nothing against Bing Crosby or Benny Goodman, but I didn’t really get it. Julia Child I got.
I remember watching "The French Chef" with my mother. Even more, I remember having a front-row seat at the kitchen table while my own personal chef prepared dinner.
Though she claims to have never liked to cook, my mother was very good at it. She didn’t attempt many of Julia Child’s recipes (though she still appreciates a good buerre blanc), but she didn’t take any shortcuts either.
Meals were the standard fare: Fried chicken (and, a couple days later, chicken pie), something called Monday macaroni, meat loaf, pork chops, hamburgers (cooked in a skillet, with homemade french fries) and for Sunday supper a rib roast with carrots and potatoes.
Also standard for the day was the fact that we ate together as a family every single night. Seven people around a dining room table, a parent on each end and the youngest (me) squished between two siblings on one side.
We had rituals and we had rules. No singing at the table. No topics not of general interest (when one of us wanted to talk about a cartoon or the kid who barfed in the cafeteria or something). One "nothing-to-eat" per child (I picked spinach, and never had to eat it). A drumstick chart to avoid fights over the fried chicken legs.
We had the chance to process the events of the day, to engage in lively discussion, to learn manners, to talk about our big plans and to laugh out loud.
I know that feeding seven people seven days a week year after year can take some of the joy out of cooking. I know that none of us really appreciated what we had at the time. I know that the food our family shared together then, and now, makes us stronger and healthier in both mind and body.
My mother doesn’t cook much anymore. And Julia Child is gone. Their gentle, yet firm, insistence that we eat well and we eat together is yet another gift from that generation to ours. Unfortunately, it’s a gift that we squander all too often.