I find it very fortunate that I have never been a big worrier.
It is not because I am smart or organized or efficient. I don’t worry because I am just too naive to ever think of outcomes that I should be worried about. I usually find out from other people that I should have been worried about a situation, well after it is over and done.
Moving to new cities, and even new countries when I was over six months pregnant might have been cause for some concern. But it was just what I did at the time. And I did it three times! I guess I forgot about the first two times when people told me how crazy I was. Having a selective memory has also served me quite well throughout my life.
Since I have these traits, I just let myself believe that they are a good thing.
The most significant example of my naiveté is how shocked people are to find out that I cooked for Julia Child. Since I am not nor have I ever been a professional in the kitchen, that information is a bit surprising. But I did not cook for her at an event, nor as part of a fundraiser, nor as a job in a test kitchen. I cooked for Julia as a friend, to sit down and eat with her.
Hubby and I met Julia for the first time in 1981 at the inaugural meeting of the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF). Julia and Robert Mondavi gathered wine professionals, chefs and friends to kick off a new organization that would honor and promote gastronomy. The meeting was held in Santa Barbara, California, and Hubby and I were invited since he worked in the wine business and we were friends with people in that world.
We were still in college at the time and were definitely the youngest people there. That meeting and subsequent brief meetings with Julia weren’t memorable, to her nor to us. No one had cell phones back then and meeting someone once or twice did not constitute a friendship. We lived our separate lives and continued pursuing our mutual loves of wine and food.
Many years later, we ran into Julia at a party. We began reminiscing about AIWF and that meeting and subsequent years of me being on the AIWF New York board and mutual friends and so on. I moved on to chat with others at the party that night but Hubby and Julia continued talking for hours. When we were leaving, Julia said “Let’s have dinner,” and a beautiful friendship began.
I cooked for Julia numerous times, usually at my house with me in the kitchen and a few friends around the table. A few times I cooked at Julia’s place with friends of hers and her endearing assistant Stephanie. Eating and cooking with Julia was always entertaining and she liked to have participants. This was during a period late in Julia’s life so she wasn’t usually active in the cooking, although she did teach me to shuck oysters one fun evening in my neighbors kitchen.
It seemed very normal to cook for a friend and so it wasn’t a topic of conversation that I brought up much with people during the years it was happening. Obviously I knew Julia was famous; we ate out at restaurants with Julia and she was a very recognizable figure. We became used to people clapping when she entered or coming to the table to shower her with praise. Julia took it all in stride and accepted it with grace and modesty. She had many, many friends that she ate out with at restaurants, but, as I learned later, not so many who cooked for her.
When Julia died, it was announced that Hubby had been named a trustee of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts, and it became public that we knew her well. It was then that I realized that cooking for Julia Child was something that might have, or maybe should have, caused a bit of anxiety for an inexperienced home cook like myself. People exclaim upon finding out that I had Julia to dinner that I must have been SO NERVOUS! It finally began to dawn on me how oblivious I really am. And I have an equally oblivious husband. He was the one who called her up to invite her over the week after the party where we had reconnected. Apparently, she had given him her number during their conversation that night. He casually told me that Julia Child was coming to dinner that Friday night and asked who else should we invite.
I wasn’t nervous at all that first time. Julia was such a warm and wonderful lady, it never occurred to me that she would be critiquing my food. For me, it was just a chance to get together with friends who would be interested in wine and food. It turns out that I was right to be relaxed about it because Julia was the most gracious guest one could ever have.
The first thing I served was a chilled pea soup that I learned to make from my friend Sarah while living in Australia. It is a fresh-tasting, simple recipe that I had made dozens of times and people always seemed to enjoy. Julia complimented it as she dove in enthusiastically, saying something like “This is delightful Dearie. What is in it?” I replied, “It is Lettuce Pea Soup, pureed and chilled, with cream added at the end.” My good friend Peter who was also at the dinner said, “Are you serious?” I thought he was referring to the lettuce and I told him it really did have an entire head of iceberg lettuce in it. He laughed deviously and suggested I rethink the name of my “Let Us Pee Soup.” Julia had a great sense of humor and loved a good laugh so it was a great start to a wonderful friendship.
When I think back on situations like this one, I am very grateful for my obliviousness. Perhaps I am not as conscientious, intellectual or driven as some people, but my lack of perfection has allowed events to happen that may never have come to be if I had thought too much. Apparently, inviting Julia Child to come over for a home-cooked dinner was not something a lot of people felt comfortable doing. It’s too bad more people didn’t because Julia probably would have said yes. Inviting Julia to dinner is what sparked the development of our friendship. And my memories of our friendship, and dining with Julia casually around our table, are priceless to me. The food may not have always been up to par with her usual fare, but we always had a good laugh and a good time.
“Learn how to cook-try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” – Julia Child
Sarah’s Chilled Pea Soup
1/4 pound fresh shelled peas OR 1 heaping cup frozen peas
1 large potato, peeled and sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1 head iceberg lettuce, broken up
5 cubes chicken bouillon dissolved in 3 cups water OR 3 cups very strong chicken broth
2 T. chopped chives
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream (to your taste)
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 T.)
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 tsp white pepper or to taste
chopped chives and blanched snow peas for garnish
Put peas, potato, onion, lettuce and chives in large pan with strong chicken broth. Bring to boil and simmer 15 minutes or until potato is soft. Cool and puree in blender or food processor until smooth.
Add cream, salt, pepper and lemon juice. If too thick, add more chicken broth.
Serve with snow peas and chives sprinkled on top.
Note: Can be prepared one day ahead but add cream a few hours before serving.