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“Julie & Julia”… and Grandma Betty

Several years ago, I went out on a “Girl’s Night” with my 93-year-old grandmother, Betty. It was a simple plan. I’d pick her up, take her out for an early dinner, and then we’d catch the 7 p.m. showing of the movie, “Julie & Julia. 

As someone who enjoys cooking, I understood Julie’s fear of being a “lobster killer,” was impressed with her attempt to make gelatin from actual bovine hooves, and felt her triumph when a special dinner came together beautifully. When Julia discussed sex with her husband, there was an awkward moment when I remembered I was sitting next to Grandma, but when she laughed out loud, I loved the movie even more.

When I took Grandma home at the end of the evening, she asked me to wait before helping her out of the car. She reached into her bag and retrieved a book. “Here,” she said, handing it to me. “For my birthday this year, I want you to make Julia’s Boeuf Bourguignon.”

I held in my hands her aged copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (9th printing; 1966.) Within its pages were old newspaper clippings about Julia Child that she had clipped and saved, along with handwritten notes on the pages of her favorite recipes – notes written decades earlier when she was the busy mother of three girls and the hostess of countless dinner parties.

Months later, in February 2010, with my kitchen counter filled with all of the ingredients I needed to make Boeuf Bourguignon, I poured myself a glass of red wine and prepared my first Julia Childs dish. And like Julie in the movie, I could imagine Julia in my kitchen. Unlike other recipes, reading Julia’s recipe was having a friend sitting at the counter while you cook and share a bottle of wine. I could hear her voice. Over the course of that slow-paced cooking day, the house filled with heavenly aromas of fresh herbs, Beaujolais, root vegetables, and beef.

Our family celebrated Grandma’s birthday the following evening and enjoyed Bouef Bourguignon and chocolate layer cake. It was an unforgettable meal.

Sadly, my grandmother passed away a few years ago, just shy of her 100th birthday. And while I miss her dearly, she left me a few things that remind me of her – among them her wedding ring, an antique serving dish, and an old cookbook which now – along with Grandma’s newspaper clippings and hand-written notations – includes a thank you card that reads, “Dear Kerstin & Family, The birthday bash was wonderful! Julia would have approved and I had a great time being the guest of honor. Love, Grandma B.”

Now that cooler weather is upon us, I encourage you to pour a glass of your favorite red wine, light a fire, and spend an afternoon cooking with Julia. This is a recipe that is best shared with the people you love. It takes time – enough time to read several chapters from a favorite novel while your pot simmers – but it will be worth every minute.

Bon Appétit!

Julia Child’s Bouef Bourguignon recipe can be found here and pairs perfectly with Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Claret.

Kerstin March is a member of the Tall Poppy Writers and the author of two novels, FAMILY TREES and BRANCHING OUT, which are set around the Great Lakes. She lives in Minnesota and is currently writing her third novel, which was inspired by her grandmother.