Julia Child, from a Polaroid taken by Elsa Dorfman
in 1988. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Today, as you surely know, is the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birthday.
One of my favorite Julia stories comes from Colman Andrews who recently wrote a fond, funny appreciation of the woman who, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2, “changed the way Americans cook and think about food—all food, not just the French stuff.” (The Wall Street Journal, “The Moveable Feast,” August 4 -5, 2012, pp. C5 and C6.)
He reports that at 6 feet two inches tall, she was instantly recognizable, especially after the launch of her popular TV series, “The French Chef.” “She became an icon…sometimes mobbed in public—and she loved it. ‘Why languish as a giantess,’ she once asked, ‘when it is so much fun to be a myth?’ “
Julia’s stature—and good humor—figure in a tiny personal story. One evening long ago B and I took her to a fundraising dinner for the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food. She was staying at a huge downtown hotel and as luck would have it, the lobby was packed shoulder to shoulder with half-drunk convention-goers.
How on earth would I find her, I wondered, as I wedged myself into the bibulous throng.
Not to worry. I spotted her easily, standing by a column, smiling expectantly, towering over almost everyone else in the lobby. The crowd parted magically as we made our way to the door. “I knew you would find me,” she laughed as she slid into the front seat of our blue Volvo station wagon.
In a town in which everyone drove Cadillacs and Mercedes, our not-so-new vehicle was probably tricked out with food-spattered baby seats and chewed-up pieces of stale baguettes. “Oh don’t you love your Volvo?” she exclaimed happily. “I have one too—a red one!” Did I say she was kind?
We talked a lot about food and restaurants--B later took her to dinner at Hammersley's in Boston--but for some reason, her admiration for Volvos sticks in my mind.
If you’d like to read more about Julia Child, see today’s New York Times for pieces by Jacques Pepin and Julia Moskin (who, it seems, was named after Julia Child by her French food-cooking parents). And go here for Julia’s recipe for Soupe Au Pistou, one of the tastiest soups ever and a longtime favorite in our house.
The Rainbow Room, 2004, bradfordshultze. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to be alive in 2012. I mean, it’s not really my decade—or even my century. Others in our family feel the same: There’s a definite penchant for fine hotels with glamorous bars, classic cocktails and Thin Man movies, especially scenes in which Nick and Nora don elegant evening garb and head out to a swish supper club where they solve a murder. (Or at least pick up clues while downing flights of martinis.)
The sad decline of the famed Rainbow Room on the 66th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza has therefore struck me to the quick. In today’s New York Times (“Rainbow Room, Shut by a Feud, Has a Fading Wish,” August 15, 2012, pp. A1 and A3), James Barron reports that the restaurant, which closed in 2009, has been the victim of “an angry feud” between the landlord, Tishman Speyer, and the Cipriani family which operated it for its final decade.
In the latest installment the Ciprianis have just filed for interior landmark status for the restaurant, possibly in hopes of mucking up the landlord’s ability to lease it to another restaurant group. But it may be too late. There are rumors that the bar has been “chopped into sections” and that the banquet room and “gleaming kitchen” down below have been leased to an accounting firm.
Sad news for the restaurant that served Noel Coward and Cole Porter on the day it opened. Barron writes, “It was probably the most cinematically perfect space in New York. It had that stylishly streamlined modern look—elegant crystal chandeliers here, a revolving dance floor there….And it had those magical views that made the Empire State Building and the Crysler Building seem small enough to reach out and touch.”
Actually I never went to the Rainbow Room, though I have a vague memory of wandering in once when it was under renovation. My mother told me that she and some friends went there to see Frank Sinatra on a weekend escape from their Southern ladies college. They were shown to a table by a snooty maitre d’, but when they opened the menu, they realized they could not afford to order even a Coca-Cola. They exited sheepishly as the maitre d’ purred: “Leaving so soon, ladies?”
A book by Peter Hatch, Monticello's former director of gardens,
chronicles the lengthy restoration of Jefferson's vegetable garden.
In “Founding Farmer” (Garden Design, September/October 2012, pp. 54-61), David Masello writes about the 35-year restoration of Thomas Jefferson's abundant vegetable garden by Peter Hatch, Monticello's recently retired director of gardens and grounds.
Hatch says that Jefferson was relentlessly experimental: "He kept planting and planting and planting. If something died, he'd plant something else. He planted the wine vineyards six different times alone." He adds: "It's a lesson in perseverance for those tending vegetable gardens today."
Many of the vegetables now cultivated at Monticello are similar to those which Jefferson grew, although Hatch estimates that he's only sure of 15 percent of the exact heirloom varieties. But I was thrilled to read that he gave a “small Marseilles fig tree” to Michelle Obama and that “it now flourishes in the White House Garden.“ The Marseilles fig was Jefferson’s favorite and, as you may possibly know, the same tree has just had its most prolific year in my own garden.
To read more, see Hatch’s new book, A Rich Spot of Earth: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello (Yale University Press, $35) which he describes as "a culmination of my interest in Jefferson and my taking care of the garden.”