Friday, August 14, 2009

Julie, Julia & Me (and a raccoon)...

(blogged this over on

I feel I ought to step up to a microphone somewhere and look bashfully out at the audience and say, "Hi, my name is Toni. And I love cooking competition shows."

My particular faves are Top Chef (though Top Chef Masters is kinda boring), Iron Chef and even Hell's Kitchen (though I squirm through half of that show, and sometimes wish someone would just give Ramsay a hug).

I love how, on Top Chef, the contestants are forced to create something in like two nanoseconds using cardboard, mustard and a piece of celery and feed 300. It amazes me how they are thrown these challenges where they could not possibly know what to do, and yet, thirty minutes later (for the Quick Fire challenges), they have something that generally looks not
only edible, but quite pretty and tasty. This would never happen at my home, if you were asking me to create something, and I am granting that you would give me a full pantry and an entire stocked refrigerator / freezer. When I open that pantry, I am immediately stumped. There are soup cans in there (I recognize those), and some cereal I'm familiar with, but all of that other stuff? A mystery. (My husband, on the other hand, knows what that stuff is and how to use it. I, very wisely and at a young age, realized that this was the thing he loved and it was to my advantage to stay out of the way.)

It's funny how people [particularly people in the south] look at a woman and expect her to be able to cook well. I used to amass dinners that didn't kill the children. I'm fairly certain that there was a point somewhere back in the Pleistocene era when I concocted meals that were tasty. Uh. Edible (Let's not throw that bar up there too high.) But when the writing took over my brain sometime back when the kids were in elementary school, whatever part of my brain which felt competitive about cooking just... went AWOL. It stopped caring about amount of ingredients or ratio of spices or little minor details like, oh, say, cooking time, aka setting the house on fire.

One time, I madejambalya from a mix. Now, Zatarain's has a really great mix, very authentic flavor (said by the woman whose house was a stop-over for firemen district-wide)... And whenever I was deep in writing mode and didn't want to order pizza (they had my order memorized), I would pull out the Zatarain's box and know that the kids were getting something that they liked, which wasn't horribly unhealthy.

I cooked the jambalya, dished up portions for the boys, and had turned to go back to work when my oldest spat it out and my youngest started making gagging noises. I tried it and sure, I had somehow managed to go slightly off recipe, but it really wasn't that bad. Boys, however, can heap on the guilt factor and make you think they will DIE if they are forced to eat something that is not pizza or cookies, and I was so deep into whatever it was I was writing, it wasn't worth the argument. I gave the dish to the dog and went about ordering something deliverable.

The dog, finicky eater, wouldn't touch it. (She was always difficult about that. Weird dog.) I gathered it up to throw it out in the garbage (I did not have a disposal), and then I remembered the raccoons. Since they'll eat anything--they were tearing through our trash on a regular basis--I figured it would just be wise if I left the bowl out there, let them have at it, and then wash the bowl later. No strewn trash, happy everyone.

We sat outside to watch the raccoons since they came up to the house about the same time every evening. The biggest Cat-Daddy of all raccoons sauntered up. I swear, if there was a barroom for raccoons, this guy would've been the bouncer. The kids were fascinated to watch him, so at least my cooking provided a little entertainment. That raccoon reached into the bowl, scooped up a big handful of jambalaya...

...and spit it out. Spit it out and ran away. Raccoons will eat garbage.

I think that may have been the last day I attempted anything that could be reasonably called "cooking" at my house.

But I am fascinated with cooking shows. I love how they know so much about their field, how much they have to believe in themselves, in their own vision, and how almost every single one of them battles fatigue and self-doubts to push through the competition.

Which is a very long way around to talking about the new movie, Julie & Julia which I saw on Sunday.

I think the device of using the blog written by Julie Powell to delve into the movie works, because honestly, I'm not sure that anyone would really go to a movie if they thought it was just a biography ofJulia Child. The film, however, is so much more than that, more than the quasi-reverent look at Child from Powell's hungry gaze, and the film really does well in showing where women stand with each other, how the current culture perceives who we are and defines us frequently by outside standards--what we've achieved, where we rank, what new ground have we broken, and how to be true to ourselves. How to find ourselves in the midst of the hustle.

Both Julie and Julia faced searching for their dream, each in their own way, and it's amazing to realize that Julia Child faced down her own inner desire to "do something" back in the late fifties--nearly sixty years ago--when options for women were so slim and no one believed she had a smidge of a chance to do what she did.

Meryl Streep is amazing as Julia Child. For her performance alone, I'd rate this a "definite go-to" film.

So how about you? Do you watch cooking shows? Have a great relationship with your oven or have your served it divorce papers? If you like to cook, what is your favorite thing to cook? And if you are like Julia in the movie, who "loves to eat" -- tell me what your favorite thing in the world would be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy cats, I did not think anyone had me beat the the raccoon spitting out the food wins. I am on the floor here.

August 18, 2009 at 2:24 AM  
Blogger Toni McGee Causey said...

heh. Thanks, Max. I, uh, think. ;)

August 18, 2009 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

I used to cook. Now when I get home from my job that I hate, I find it very hard to get inspired and usually end up ordering pizza (which the kids love) or grabbing something frozen to throw in the microwave. Last night I thought I would make sloppy joes but as we are trying to eat healthy, I used ground turkey instead of beef thinking the manwich sauce would disguise the switch. I had to run out so I told hubby to make up the sandwiches and eat while I was gone. When I returned home, I was told that they were so bad, not even the dogs would touch them. We had cereal for dinner last night.......LOL.

August 19, 2009 at 6:50 AM  
Blogger Brandy said...

I'm sorry but the raccoon spitting out your food had me cracking up!
As for cooking? The hubs and I take turns. He learned how to cook out of self-preservation (His Mom? Can NOT cook.) and I learned watching my Mom. *G* I like to cook and love to bake. And the family likes both results. I don't watch many cooking shows though.

August 19, 2009 at 7:51 PM  

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