what corner of the story to bite off

"Decide what corner of your subject you are going to bite off and be content to cover it well and stop. You can always come back another day and bite off another corner."
William Zinsser, from On Writing Well
I was going to post today about how a recipe for cooking is somewhat like a recipe for writing... or life. And it is. It is. But I am far too exhausted after yesterday's cooking marathon to be even somewhat erudite, so I will just post photos and say that, after seeing Julie and Julia, I bought a 1965 copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (ninth printing, $22, thank you abebooks.com and The Book Store in West Bridgewater, Mass.) and decided to make Boeuf Bourguignon -- Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon.

I also made, concurrently, a Tofu Bourguignon for those who eschew meat. Notice the excitement in the photo below.
Hannah made peach pies and peach salsa, both extraordinary. She also served as assistant cook which, by the time we were nearing our fifth (or was it sixth) hour, included her reading and repeating (ever more stridently) every single step to me as I entered the home stretch. Sort of.
The plan was to celebrate Julia Child's 97th birthday (RIP) and the start of the second season of Mad Men on AMC. If you don't watch Mad Men, you should know it's a television series that takes place in the early 1960s, which is my character Franny's time frame and the time frame of the first book in the Sixties Trilogy.
Mad Men is about advertising men (and women) in New York City and their lives, loves, foibles, scotch, and Lucky Strikes. Lots of martinis (or, in my case, watinis), Old Fashioneds and Luckies. Lots of sixties food, too. What would be appropriate for a Mad Men Sunday night supper? Why, Julia Child, of course -- Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961.
There are 6, 352 steps in the recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. Plus there's the fact that I couldn't spell it, but spelling aside, this recipe (which ultimately uses THREE of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, something I did not understand until the seventh hour) took the entire dang day and night to put together, and I will no longer listen to any of you who say Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams) was a whiner in Julie and Julia -- the woman is a saint. A cooking saint, at least. YOU try making Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon! Better, try making all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days. Impossible, I tell you. Impossible!
I'm laughing as I type this. We actually had the best time, but I can now SO identify with Julie Powell lying on kitchen linoleum with chicken and stuffing everywhere, moaning, "There's stuff on the flooooor!" Especially at every new revelation. BOIL the bacon? DRY the meat? Wait! There's a RECIPE for braising onions! It's on page 483! Oh no -- 40 minutes to braise onions...
(I can see, I'm going to write about this anyway, erudite or not. Sorry.)
Soon we were reaching for the bourguignon. Just kidding. But we were at wit's end. It took three of us, at the eighth hour, to rastle dinner to the mat. Er... table. Such rinsing, cutting, straining, sauteeing, braising, quartering, searing, separating, skimming you've never seen!
Somehow it all came together -- beautifully, just as Julia told me it would if I only would follow her precise directions.

And then... there was rejoicing! The cooks celebrated one another....
...the diners toasted the meal... and moi? O! Thankyouverymuch. (It was the King's Death Day, too, I'm sure some of you will tell me, but we don't celebrate death days around here. Tune in again on January 8 when we cook something Elvis Worthy.)

We sat down to dinner at 8:48pm. We had started cooking at 12:47.
... we aired our collective YUMS and chewed slowly and appreciatively, toasted our shared victory with war stories of the day, and then there was dancing in the kitchen during dishes as we listened (as high as the volume would go) to the play list for book one of the Sixties Trilogy -- oh, there was dancing! C'mon, c'mon, do the locomotion with me! Do you loooove me? Now that I can dance! Watch me now!
Hit the road, Jack! and don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more!
And, of course, there was Mad Men watching and peach pie.
And this morning? This morning I could barely get out of bed. ha!

I had been standing for so long yesterday that, even though at some point I'd put on my hiking shoes (a fetching sight in the kitchen), my feet were hobbled when I tried to get up this morning, and the walk from the bedroom to the kettle in the kitchen was a long one.

But I'm fine now. Better than fine. And we have created a memory to last a lifetime. WHAT a day.

Now. To the Zinsser quote at the top of this post and how I wanted to tell you all about how a recipe for cooking is somewhat like a recipe for writing... or life.

I thought I wanted to tell you a story about Beouf Bourguignon (which I can now spell) from my childhood, my only time eating Beouf Bourguignon before last night, when it was served at the Swamp Fox Room at the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, where I got to eat it with my friend Diane Holeman, on her sixteenth birthday, because her mother was a waitress at the Swamp Fox Room and her boss gave her permission to bring her daughter and her daughter's best friend to dinner. We were sixteen, Diane and I, and dressed up, and starry-eyed at the attention, the atmosphere, and the Boeuf Bourguignon (which I did not care for). Diane's mother was a working mother... the only "working mother" I knew. And Diane was...

... but I digress. I am biting off another corner when I am done here. I truly love this story, but I will tell it another day. I will stick with Zinsser today, as he also says:

"Trust your material if it is taking you into terrain that you didn't intend to enter but where the vibrations are good. Adjust your style and your mood accordingly and proceed to whatever destination you reach. Don't ever become the prisoner of a preconceived plan. Writing is no respecter of blue prints -- it is too subjective a process, too full of surprises."

Just like life.


  1. once again your words and pictures make me hungry! I made a version of beef (not even going to try and spell it) last weekend from a copy of a Julia's cookbook from the 80's - it was my grandmothers copy that I got from her house after she died (my grandmother that is) - I took a few short cuts, but it was still good - the 40 minutes for the onions was going to kill me - LOL!

  2. So we were in the kitchen with Julia together. I like that. Hope school is going well this year...


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