Alone with Mom and Dad on Thanksgiving, I determined to make a nice meal (that was not a turkey), and found my courage to try Julia Child’s recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon (beef stewed in red wine). The recipe had intimidated me for a long time, because of the expensive ingredients (quality cut of beef, bottle of Bordeaux) and the many involved steps that have to come together. Boil and brown the bacon sticks. Brown the beef cubes. Sauté the sliced carrots and onions. Pour in the red wine and broth. Simmer in the oven for three hours while sautéing small whole onions and quartered mushrooms to add later. “Do not crowd the mushrooms,” Julia charged. The last step was to boil the wine and broth down to a thick gravy to pour over the platter of beef, bacon, onions, carrots, and mushrooms. To my wonder and delight, the meal was a smashing succulent success. I felt quite proud of myself as the three of us chewed with delighted mmmms and ahhhhs. How disappointing to get full so fast! I will not prepare this dish often, but the four-hour cook time was worth the happy result as we quietly concluded our Thanksgiving Day with our meal of French Boeuf Bourguignon.
I wanted to make a nice dessert for Dad, and settled on a cream cheese tart. I added fresh guava puree to exotify the pie, and sweetened the filling with Splenda. I have become proficient at making French tart shells (pie crusts) from Julia Child’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Dad sat at the island watching me prepare the dough. “Don’t mix it too much,” he interjected. I think you mixed it too much. It needs to be ice cold and barely blended.” I paid no heed, and placed the wax-paper-wrapped balls of dough in the fridge to chill. After a few hours, I rolled the dough out and shaped the shell in the spring-form pan. When I first starting baking, I pressed into the shell a sheet of aluminum foil and poured in a pound of dry black beans, to keep the bottom from bubbling up. The beans are a cheap but effective substitute for ceramic baking beads, which I only recently bought. Sitting in a yogurt container, they looked just like Holland mints, round and white. Dad suddenly picked up a ceramic bead and plopped it into his mouth, thinking it was a mint. Before I could articulate gentle words, I blurted, “Uh uh uh!” like one would chide a child with its hand in the cookie jar. I did not mean to treat him like an errant child, but out of instinctual fear I did what I needed to do to stop him before he crunched on the glass bead and broke a took, or swallowed the bead. He quickly spit it out, and neither of us looked at the other or said a word. I did not want to shame him anymore than I already had with my tut-tut, and he did not want to acknowledge his gaffe. We pretended nothing happened. But later, when the pie came out of the oven looking beautiful, he confessed, as if I hadn’t known, “I almost ate one of those white glass beads. I thought it was a mint!” The beads removed, and the guava cream cheese filling poured in to bake, the tart tasted wonderfully delicious.
Having recovered from my last exhausting cooking experience, I resolved to cook a nice Sunday dinner for Mom and Dad. Mom sat in her recliner, reading the Sunday New York Times, listening to music in the family room: a home-made CD of Mom’s church choir performances. Dad decided to rest in the living room, reading Michelle Obama’s excellent memoir Becoming, playing his daily Johnny Mathis. The kitchen is situated in between. I attempted to review Julia Child’s cooking instructions, with “Count Your Many Blessings” in one ear and “99 Miles from L.A.” in the other. Unable to read, I put the book away and attacked the recipes from memory. Cooking Julia’s French recipes has become easier with practice, I guess, because I had dinner ready in good time: sauced fish poached in white wine; creamy garlic onion mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and sliced cucumbers. Practice is also helping me refine the textures and flavors for a more pleasurable outcome. Mom and Dad agreed the meal was a triumph. But now I am tired and do not want to cook for another week, knowing I will be hungry tomorrow.