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The Way to Cook - Julia Child
"The pleasures of the table, that lovely old-fashioned phrase, depict food as an art form, as a delightful part of civilized life. In spite of food fads, fitness programs, and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal."

Yes, this a cookbook I have actually read cover to cover. Not all at once, but as eagerly and happily and intently as I've read anything. And the pictures! Simply gorgeous photographs.

Sometimes I just open and gaze and read at random, the way I do with poetry or art books or familiar novels, seeking inspiration or admonition or reassurance or something, whether I'm wanting a recipe or not. And then there are the recipes, 800 of them.

Once, feeling sad and frustrated and wanting relief from a seemingly intractable dilemma I could not bear to contemplate for one more minute, I opened to page 120 and read (after eyeing the accompanying and steamy photo of provocatively piled and freshly opening shells):

"Here is the classic way to serve fresh mussels. Steam them in minced onions, parsely, and white wine just until they open, and serve them mounded in great bowls. Use a pair of the hinged shells to pluck out the mussel meat, and when all are eaten, drink the fragrant liquor."

I believe I will, I said, and proceeded to fishmonger's. I spent not one more minute of that day feeling bad, and enjoyed a lovely dinner plucking and eating and drinking the heaped bounty with friends, because there is something about Julia's cooking that makes one want to share.

If splotched and crimped pages are signs of a well-loved cookbook, there's no question that this one is. It is also, as the blurb says, everything you need to know about the essentials of good cooking today, and it's like having Julia tell you herself, and when it comes to cooking and living and making life matter, no one says it better.