Julia Child is one of those historic figures whose influence only seems to grow as the years pass. The longer I live, the more I can appreciate not just her method of cooking, but the woman herself. She is the poster child (no pun intended) for life’s possibilities long after everyone has written you off.
Julia was 49 when her first cookbook came out and by her death at 92; she had not only cookbooks to her name, but television shows, SNL skits, a rose, and chefs worldwide across the States could say with no small amount of pride that they had cooked with Julia Child.
I was barely in my teens when her last PBS series, Julia and Jacques, Cooking at Home, was released. Back then, PBS showed an afternoon of cooking programs in my area and my mother still remembers my insistence on being at home for Julia Child’s hour to arrive. Even today, watching her cook is a joy and never seems to get old.
Over the years, but especially over the past year, as I’ve tried to forge my path independent of the 9-5 workday and the modern workplace, she’s become even more of an inspiration because some of her comments on cooking have applicability in other areas of life, too.
1. Carry on, even if you don’t have all the ingredients.
I can’t remember the exact episode, but there was a point in Julia and Jacques where Julia went on a tear about people who would give up on a recipe just because they didn’t have every single ingredient on the list. Her reply to that was “of course you can.” All you had to do was to substitute the missing ingredient or leave it out.
That’s pretty solid advice when you’re cooking. It’s even more solid when you’re not cooking. How often have you given up on a career move, a job application, or even taking another path because you didn’t have everything you thought you would need? If you’re like most people, that’s probably every single day.
As a writer, in particular, I think the work is never done. That paragraph in the next post doesn’t flow exactly the way I want it to. Or I haven’t found the perfect graphic to go with that section.
But at some point, give in and just do it. Besides, you never know if your innovation won’t turn out better than what the “recipe” tells you to do, anyway. Life doesn’t have a set of rules for every single thing set in stone. Some things you just have to figure out on your own and hope for the best.
Your life doesn’t have to take place in an Insta-worthy world or in a constant TikTok. Your life is your own and you have to live it regardless of whether your next reel is perfect or your TikTok has gone viral.
You never know, it might actually be better.
2. Complexity can sometimes be easier than simplicity.
The last episode of Julia and Jacques has two duck recipes. Both of which I’ve made at one point, by the way. Jacques’ recipe is very simple. It’s a dump-everything-in-and-let-it-cook-until-done sort of recipe. Julia’s recipe is more involved and requires two different cooking sessions for the duck.
Would you believe that Julia’s recipe for duck is the one I use more often?
And no, it’s not because I’m a remote worker. I started making Julia’s recipe when I had a 7-5 day job, five days a week. Sometimes with nightwork and weekends.
Doesn’t sound possible, does it? Well, if you look at the recipe itself and Julia’s explanation of it, hers is actually easier. Why? I can do the recipe in stages over 2-3 days.
The dump-everything-in-until-done recipes are all grand, but you have to do all the cooking all at once. Which, if you’re already exhausted, is an ordeal unless it’s a 30-minute recipe.
But it’s the same in real life too. If you have a major project, it’s far better to sit down and plan everything out in smaller steps than it is to do everything at once. It’s tempting to just do everything by the seat of your pants, like the dump-everything-in-until-done recipe. But if you’re already overloaded, then you’ll just end up exhausting yourself.
Jacques’ recipe for duck is excellent, but I’ve only ever made it once. Julia’s is my standard every Christmas because I can cook around a very busy schedule and have enough energy to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Or the succulent duck breast of my labor, as the case may be.
Although the cheese souffle is something to die for too…
3. Don’t skimp on the good stuff
When Julia and Jacques attempt a Thanksgiving-style dinner in one of their episodes, they both make the comment that you could leave out the butter, the cream, the wine, etc. But you’ll regret it. When the show was made in the late 90s, the fat-free craze was still in full force—keto diets and low-carb diets weren’t yet a thing.
Diet trends notwithstanding, they make a good point. You could skimp on everything for whatever reason. But should you always? Especially now, we’re very conscious of what everything costs and of the environmental impact of everything from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive.
There’s nothing wrong with cutting back consumption of everything once in a while. It’s good for you, your bank account, and, yes, even for the environment.
But enjoying that extra glass of wine with dinner is also good. Especially if the dinner was superb and the company particularly engaging. Taking that extra long drive for a quick day trip can be restful—even if it uses up a little extra gas. Bread and butter are still comforting when you’ve had a horrible day, and a new pair of shoes can be as effective as an entire hour with a therapist under the right circumstances.
So don’t be afraid to indulge. Drink the wine, and celebrate that win at the office, even if it’s your home office. Oh, and add that extra bit of butter to your sauce. You could leave it out—but, as Julia and Jacques will tell you, you’ll be sorry. Just as you’d be sorry to turn down an excellent French Pinot Noir served with a complicated duck recipe.
4. Finding your gifts late doesn’t make you a failure.
Alexander the Great has a lot to answer for. When he was in his mid-thirties he died, having conquered most of the known world. Makes it harder for us to live up to anything after that, doesn’t it? Goodness only knows what damage he could have done had there been Instagram back then.
If you’re in your 30s or even older and you’re still struggling to find what you are meant to do, then social media can hurt more than help at some point. It’s tough not to compare yourself with other people and think that you’re somehow a failure because you haven’t met certain milestones yet.
Life isn’t a competition. If it were, Julia would have been on the losing side when she published her first cookbook. But she wasn’t. Without her, there would be no Food Network, Cooking Channel, or foodie/hipster culture. A childless, 49-year-old woman started all that. Hardly a failure, is she?
If you haven’t found your calling yet or are still struggling to chase your dream, then look at it this way: sometimes you are needed elsewhere before you find what you’re meant to do. I look at my own career and the people whose lives I’ve touched. I was needed in that time and that place, for that person. Perhaps it’s the same for you too. Even if you don’t see it.
Which means that even if you aren’t actually doing what you’ve always wanted to do, you are at least doing something good. And that isn’t a failure, my dears. That is something of which you should be proud.
Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home is available to watch at Amazon.com. Occasionally, it does go on Prime so you can watch it with your membership. I bought the entire series because it really is worth having. So is the cookbook.
I am not affiliated with Amazon in any way at this point. I merely provide the links to their site because it’s easy to find and buy for most of my readers.
If you do buy the cookbook, however, let me know what recipes you try!
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