Dedicated food nerd that I am, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of the new movie Julie & Julia for months. Being of a social disposition, I thought it only right that my personal premiere should include food—and not just any food, but dishes from Julia Child’s seminal work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
After scaling back my original party vision (handmade invitations, houseful of people, 5 course meal, Julia Child impression contest, fabulous prizes…) due to budget constraints, I ended up inviting a few friends over for a Julie Child pot-luck and trip to the movie.
My guest list included two of my Dallas Symphony Chorus foodie group friends. We’ve been singing together for 15 years, give or take, and for something like 8 of those years we’ve held several dinner parties each season, all themed around the music we were performing. Menus have included everything from schnitzel and spaetzle (we sing a lot of German music) to New York-style pizza (Bernstein) and borscht (Tchaikovsky). With all this experience (literally) under our belts, we felt pretty confident tackling The French Chef.
Unfortunately, only one of us actually owned the cookbook—and that someone was not me. On the plus side, the fabulous McKinney library does own a copy, and it was even on the shelf when I went to look for it. Considering this was the week before J-Day (August 7, the day Julie & Julia released), I took that as a sign of divine favor and left the library rejoicing.
After several phone calls, we had our menu. Rosemary would make vichyssoise, which while not actually in Mastering the Art… was a JC recipe. Vikki, who does have the book, offered to make coq au vin. Holly, who is not a foodie, brought a wonderful whole-grain baguette.
I—surprise, surprise—tackled dessert. But which dessert? I bake cakes all the time, so I didn’t want to go there. The apple tart sounded delicious but. . . I eventually decided on cream puffs. I really wanted to make a croquenbouche—it’s kind of a Christmas tree-shaped tower of cream puffs decorated with lacy sugar garland—but apparently one has to have a special form, along the lines of a metal traffic cone, to pull that off. So plain old cream puffs—filled with Cream St. Honore flavored with crème de cacao and topped with homemade caramel—would have to do. Cream puffs are ridiculously simple, btw, so if you’re thinking of trying to make them: do.
While I would have preferred opening night, we couldn’t give proper attention to both a gourmet dinner AND a movie after work on Friday. Saturday, August 8, it was, then. And what a fabulous evening. Vikki came in costume with a vintage apron over her dress and pearls; the rest of us made do with wearing my collection of bridesmaid pearls to the movie. And the food? Oh. My.Here’s the vichyssoise, which Rosemary informed us was created by happy accident. Apparently it was meant to be hot potato-leek soup, but someone forgot to reheat it before it went out to the customers. Nobody complained, and a new dish was born. Next course, coq au vin. As Vikki said, “I knew it was going to be good when the first step was ‘Brown the bacon in butter.’” The (almost) two bottles of wine that went in it didn’t hurt either. If you’ve never tried coq au vin, run, don’t walk, to the nearest grocery store for ingredients and make it tonight. It was lick-the-plate good. Those potatoes are roasted garlic and shallot mashed potatoes left over from an earlier dinner, btw.
Roused from a food-induced coma by the sight of the clock, we dashed to the movie. Fortunately the theater is just 5 minutes from my house. It was delightful—but we were SO glad we’d eaten before we got there. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to find a film that has very little bad language, no nudity—except for a couple of chickens—happily married couples, and a satisfying ending. Not to mention the food porn…which is why we were so glad to be well-fed.
Afterwards we went back to my house, resolved to make that boned duck in the not-too-distant future, and stuffed ourselves with cream puffs. And they all lived happily ever after. Amen.