Friday, August 28, 2009

Julie & Julia & Me

Yesterday I saw the movie Julie & Julia, the story entwining the lives of Julia Child, renowned American French chef (I mean, an American who was schooled in French cooking methods) and Julie Powell, a writer who never got off the ground until she decided to cook her way through Mrs. Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, and blog about it. Julie was successful, in the cooking and the blogging and, eventually, the book.

The movie made me think about the types of work that really make me happy - cooking and writing. I have considered going to cooking school. The more I learn about cooking, the more I realize I don't know. That doesn't bother me, it excites me. It means there is so much I can learn.

As a cook, I am self-taught, including cooking shows and websites and books and just plain experimentation. My husband encourages me, because in almost 29 years of marriage, there have been only, by his count, two meals that were inedible, and neither of us remember them. There have been many good and a fair number of great meals, though, so I guess I'm still on the plus side.

There's something freeing about cooking for me. Often, I decide on the fly what I'm going to cook, and it changes as I go. I may stand in front of the pantry or the freezer, pondering the contents - what's there that I've forgotten about? Can I do something interesting with this? Hmmm...

When things don't work as planned, no worries. Sometimes I'm the only one who knows. My mom taught me that there are never lumps in the gravy, but there may be dumplings! If the sauce doesn't thicken, then call it au jus. As long as it is (1) not raw, unless that's the proper state in which to serve an item, (2) not burnt, unless you are torching a brulee, (3) hasn't been dropped on the floor, unless you are Julia Child - then serve it with your head held high!

Over time, I have developed a few fail-safe classics - tomato basil bisque (I know, it's technically not a bisque unless it contains seafood), pears poached in red wine (and its summer cousin, peaches poached in white wine), pasta with fresh vegetables and garlic, marinated flank steak. In fact, I always - I mean ALWAYS - keep canned diced tomatoes, fresh basil, minced garlic, evaporated milk and good Parmesan cheese on hand. You never know when you might need to whip up a pot of tomato bisque for unexpected guests!

Alright, I've convinced myself. I'll sign up for a knife skills class at the local cooking school. Let's take it one step at a time and see where this leads. I won't be dedicating my life to cooking my way through the recipe collection of, say, Alton Brown - that schtick has been done. But I may wax poetic about my culinary successes, and I'll share my failures, with a modicum of humor and a dash of salt.

And now, I'm hungry!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Post-Walk Reflections

It's been a few weeks since the Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk. My blisters have healed as time has passed. I realize I need to record my thoughts about the event before time further gets away from me.

I walked further this year. I completed 50 of the 60 miles - a new record for me. Seventeen miles on day one, 19 on day two and 14 on day three. I could have done all 17 on day three, except the bone in my right foot (the fifth metatarsal, which has been broken three times and repaired with a screw) began to hurt early in the day. I jumped on a bus to rest the foot and resumed walking after lunch.

I met some wonderful people. Even with over a thousand participants, plus many volunteers, it's surprising how often you cross paths with the same people over the course of three days and 60 miles. Friendly walkers would pause to chat as they passed by me (everyone passed me by - I told people I walk slowly so they will feel like they are going fast).

Best t-shirt of the event. Hands down, the prize (which consists solely of my admiration) goes to the breast cancer survivor with whom I dined Friday evening. Her shirt read: "No, they're not real. The real ones tried to kill me." Last year's award went to a man with "Does this fanny pack make my butt look big?" on the back of his shirt.

Least favorite t-shirts. I'm sure it's just me, but I don't particularly like the team names and t-shirt slogans that use slang names for breasts. I grew up hearing these words as derogatory terms and to me they still sound like insults.

Favorite time at camp. It was wonderful to get mail at camp. Last year I didn't know people could send you mail until I got to camp. This year I made sure my loved ones got the mailing instructions. I got six cards and letters, which cheered me on and kept me going.

Least favorite time at camp. So I've just walked about 20 miles. Now I have to hydrate and refuel, then shower. The camp was set up with the various facilities at a significant distance from each other. Things seemed further away this year, and for someone with arthritis, walking 20 miles was enough. There were times I wanted to go to the 3-Day Cafe or the vendor tents, but just could not walk any more. Golf carts???

Favorite time on the walk itself. Knowing that someone you know will be waiting for you at a cheering station is incredible motivation to keep moving. My wonderful family and friends waited for me in sun and heat at four different sites on days two and three. Seeing them brought me to tears more than once.

Least favorite time on the walk. Rain! We started days one and three in the rain. It was funny, though, to see the lengths to which walkers went to keep their feet dry. I saw women with the tops of their shoes and socks sealed with duct tape, with their feet encased in plastic bags (inside their shoes), with plastic bags tied around their ankles. Me? I just walked and made sure to put on dry socks at midday.

This was a great experience. I honestly don't know if I can do it again next year. The physical toll on my body - the exhaustion, the joint pain - was pretty heavy. But I won't rule it out yet. I walked in honor and memory of a number of women - friends and the friends and relatives of friends. I was a walking memorial, and there's something holy about that. Few things in our lives can be seen that way. I will cherish the memories and the names.