Aug 12

Celebrating the Power of Influence with Boeuf Bourguignon

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“Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” – Julia Child

I have been out of town for a wedding, and while gone I had the chance to go and see the movie Julie & Julia with my sister-in-law. The movie tells the stories of two women, Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams), a blogger who cooked her way through Child’s first cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” in one year. The experience had a life-altering effect on Powell, although the two women never met. This influence is not unique if you stop to consider the influence Child has had on American cooks. Her books are still used as references today, and her cooking show helped shape modern food television.
After seeing the movie, I thought of a tweet on Twitter by fellow food blogger Veron of Kitchen Musings:@kitchenmusings I have a feeling after I watch Julie and Julia I will be inspired to debone a duck!” I definitely had the desire to run home and take on deboning a duck, or some other kitchen project. There’s something magical about coming into contact with Julia, whether it be through one of her books, an episode of The French Chef, or even channeled through Meryl Streep, that you can’t help but feel inspired to go and do something in the kitchen. That is a wonderful quality to have. It made me think about the other forces in my life that have inspired me in the kitchen. Although my parents have played an unmeasurable role in shaping my palate and who I am as a cook, if I continue to trace the source of influence I believe it ultimately leads to my paternal grandmother, Grandma C. She has had a huge influence on my parents’ palates and cooking habits and the food culture of my extended family. She has been that drop in the proverbial pond that sends out ripples of influence far into the distance of time.

Grandma C is one of my all-time favorite people and one of my personal heroes. (Wasn’t she a heart-stopper?)
I love spending time with her. She is instantly likable–very warm and engaging, always quick to offer up a smile and words of encouragement, and has a wonderful laugh that seems to bubble up from the depths of her toes until it explodes out from her. She and my grandfather raised eight children and lived to tell about it. (One of those children was my dad, so that was no small feat, let me tell you!) Grandma C is also a very talented cook. Just as Julia Child’s kitchen provides endless fascination for those who visit it at the Smithsonian, Grandma C’s kitchen is one of my favorite places on Earth.
Although it’s a functional place, it is also a comfortable place to be, infused with Grandma C’s wonderful sense of humor,
her eye for beauty,
and her love of family.
Grandma C is often in it, bustling competently around with some yummy concoction in progress.
Whatever comes out of her kitchen is always worth eating.
This week I sent an email to my aunts and uncles asking them to share some of their memories about my grandma’s cooking and received an avalanche of responses. As I expected, this is a topic that is near and dear to their hearts. It was fun to read all of the memories and how their favorites overlapped. My Uncle Mike said, “She was (is) ALWAYS cooking. When I was growing up, whatever she cooked, I ate, except Lima beans and liver.” My Aunt Patty recalls that my grandmother was always game for trying new things (such as cooking up a rattlesnake for my Dad). My Aunt Merilee recalls that “she always made things from scratch, and never used a mix.” My own mother learned how to make maple syrup from her (and learned to despise all store-bought brands in the process). Merilee remembers her teaching her at a young age (probably six years old) how to make pudding from scratch because Merilee preferred hers to the boxed pudding. Merilee wrote, “She taught me how so I could make it whenever I wanted to make it. It saved her the hassle and helped me love to cook.” Her tendency towards teaching and sharing was echoed by my Uncle Matt who wrote that “even better than her cooking is her desire to share her talent with others. She encouraged me as a young child to learn to cook. I remember her helping me learn how to make chocolate eclairs when I was only about 8. Later as a teenager she would even pay for the food if I cooked dinner rather than go out to eat.” My Uncle Chris summed up my grandma’s cooking perfectly. He said to her, “Mom–your cooking was simply an extension of your love for us all and your passion for life! I know that about you and I LOVE YOU FOR IT.”

Julia Child once said, “I don’t think about whether people will remember me or not. I’ve been an okay person. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taught people a thing or two. That’s what’s important. Sooner or later the public will forget you, the memory of you will fade. What’s important are the individuals you’ve influenced along the way.” Thank goodness for those people like Julia Child and my grandma who understand the importance of the power of influence. It’s a pretty sweet experience to sit back a bit now and watch while my own children are touched by the love and influence of my grandma. I only hope that someday they will be able to look back and recognize that influence.
In honor of these two great women, I did what would make them both proud. I tied on my apron, stepped into the kitchen, and answered the siren call of Julia’s first tome once again and made one of my personal favorite French dishes: Boeuf Bourguignon (p. 315).
This beef stew is a labor of love, as it takes a fair amount of prep and then several hours of cooking before it is ready to be served. But every minute is worth it because the result is a rich, comforting, and filling stew of beef, bacon, onions, and mushrooms in a rich sauce.
Julia explains, “As is the case with most famous dishes, there are more ways than one to arrive at a good boeuf bourguignon. Carefully done, and perfectly flavored, it is certainly one of the most delicious beef dishes concocted by man . . . .” All I can say in response to that is, Amen Julia!
In this month of all things Julia (not only did the movie Julie & Julia open on August 7th, but Julia was born on August 15, 1912, and died on August 13, 2004), I think it would be appropriate for us to pay tribute to those who have played “Julia-esque” roles in our lives. I will be sharing some more of the memories shared with me by my aunts and uncles and the accompanying recipes this month. I’d love to hear who your “Julias” are and how they have played an influence in your lives!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

shizuokagourmet August 12, 2009 at 8:10 am

We seem to share more than one thing!LOL
I'm Bourguignon and not so long posted the recipe!


veron August 12, 2009 at 8:24 am

Oh Rachael , your grandma is gorgeous…reminds me of the glamorous stars of the 50's – I see where you get your features :D.
And boeuf bourguignon, the hubby is so encouraged to make this. It looked so heavenly in the movie, didn't it. Great post to two wonderful women , Julia and your grandmonther!
P.S. I still really want to debone a duck!


Kelly August 12, 2009 at 8:27 am

I just started reading the book Julie and Julia- I like to read books before seeing the movie :) I think you are right about the influence people can have through cooking. It was a lot of fun to read about your grandma. She sounds like a very special person.


Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction August 12, 2009 at 8:51 am

What a beautiful post about your grandmother! I agree that Boeuf Bourguignon is a wonderful way to celebrate such wonderful and influential women!


Frieda August 12, 2009 at 9:08 am

What a great post about your grandma~ both my grandparents died when I was very young. You should gather her recipes and include those family memories into a book.


Fuji Nana August 12, 2009 at 9:47 am

Ah, this made me teary. I always tell Fuji Papa that I married him for his parents. What a wonderful influence they have been in our lives!


Nutmeg Nanny August 12, 2009 at 10:12 am

Your grandmother was gorgeous. The Boeuf Bourguignon looks amazing and is such a comforting meal to honor such wonderful women.


Snakebit August 12, 2009 at 12:43 pm

I have been surrounded by great cooks: my mother (Grandmother C), my wife (Fuji Nana) and my daughter (LFM). Cooking and eating definitely adds spice to life (in many ways). Thanks for taking me back down memory lane (and the beef dish looks fantastic – any leftovers?).


Jenn August 12, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Aww your grandmother sounds like a wonderful person and I'm sure she was. This makes me wish I knew my grandmother. She passed shortly before I was born. Though, I'd like to thing that she lives within me almost like an exchange.

Nice Bourguignon. I'll have to try that one day. Gotta work myself up first. ;-)


Bob August 12, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Sweet post. My grandparents all lived on the other side of the country and I didn't get to see them much.

As for my "Julia" that would have to be my mom, if we are keeping it to people I actually know. She raised me in the kitchen, I probably spent 3/4 of every day in it up till kindergarten.

Although, in a way, Mrs Child was my Julia since I grew up watching her shows. PBS was the only station I was allowed to watch as a kid so I watched anything I found interesting. I remember being as young as 4 and watching the cooking shows that came on before Mr Rogers. :D


Andrea[email protected] August 12, 2009 at 1:38 pm

What a wonderful tribute to two amazing women! The food we eat and the people who prepare it for us can truly have a great influence on our lives.

I love the pictures of your grandmother, and your description of her. You are very lucky, but I'm sure you know that already… ;)


My Inner French Girl August 12, 2009 at 4:28 pm

I'm going to have to read this post in its entirety later this week, as I haven't yet seen (and thus reviewed) J&J yet for my own blog, but can I just say that your grandmother was a knockout?? She reminds me so much of Rita Hayworth in that photograph! You come from amazing genes, mon amie. ;-)



Sarah August 12, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Wow! What a special post. By the look on Bug's face in the photo, she's realized what a special person her great-grandmother is!

My personal "Julia" would definitely be my mother. I remember helping her out in the kitchen or even making things on my own from a very young age. My mum inspired in me a love of trying new things and the ability to laugh off failures (for the excellent cook that she was she also had a habit of occasionally forgetting the main ingredient – like milk powder when she made custard, or baking powder in a cake!).

I have some of the recipes that she used to make, and being able to make those dishes and bring back memories is a very special thing. Unfortunately so many of my mum's specialties were never written down, and so have disappeared. I'd definitely agree with Frieda's suggestion that you compile her special recipes (the every day ones too of course) into a cookbook for your family, it'd be a special momento and a wonderful way of showing your grandmother how much you all love and appreciate her.


Val in the Rose Garden August 12, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Wonderful reflection of your grandma. Those types of warm memories always leave a soft place in my heart. :)

Julie and Juila was a great movie. I saw it last night and am still enjoying it in my head.



LollyChops August 13, 2009 at 10:38 am

Oh I loved this story! I am hoping to go see that movie this weekend. I can hardly wait now that you have shared your memories and stories and pics with us all!

I think I might have to bust out the dutch oven and try my hand at that stew!!!



Amanda August 13, 2009 at 7:46 pm

What a GREAT post! I loved it :) Wonderful picture of your grandma and the baby! I still plan to try this dish, but there's only so many days in a week LOL!


Kristen August 13, 2009 at 8:50 pm

What a wonderful post and a wonderful tribute to a couple of amazing women!Love your photos here too!


Melanie Gray Augustin August 13, 2009 at 11:47 pm

What a beautiful post! How lucky you are to have a person like your Grandma in your life!

While I don't have a fabulous cook in my life (and could be why I'm so fussy with food), for me, it was my mum and grandma who really influenced the creativity in my life. Something I'll always be thankful for.


diva August 14, 2009 at 2:13 am

i wanna meet Grandma C. she sounds like an awesome woman. :) and definitely wanna see this movie soon. it's not out in the UK or Singapore yet i think. ack, the wait!


Jess August 14, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I had two Julias growing up: my great-grandmother and my grandmother.

My great grandma Kamnn was one of the single most awesome ladies in history. Trust me, I was there for part of it. She was born with only one arm – her left arm stopped at the elbow. Yet this woman could cook, knit (with her FEET – that was the coolest thing ever to watch), paint, do pretty much anything she set her mind to. Everything she cooked was awesome but my favorite part about going to "Grammy's" was her pies. I remember being very small, standing on a step stool in her kitchen and helping her roll out the dough for the pie shells while she told me stories from her days as a teenager during the 1920's. Strawberry and blueberry pies were her favorites to make. Until the day she passed at 103 she was still making her pies.

My grandmother – Grammy Kamnn's oldest daughter – is an awesome cook in her own right. Grandma's specialty is Mexican food. My grandparents own a vacation home near Puerto Vallerta and we've spent several summers, holidays and random weekends there since I was 10. My grandma can make Mexican food alongside the best Latina cooks you can find. Its incredible. To this day whenever she visits we'll hang out in the kitchen listening to musicals and making pico de gallo or her special tamale chili.

My favorite wedding present, by the way: a scrapbook cookbook, made by my grandmother and my Aunt Jenn, that is filled with my great-grandmother and grandmother's favorite recipes, along with funny stories from my childhood and pictures of my two favorite cooks.


OysterCulture August 17, 2009 at 8:44 pm

What a wonderful tribute to your grandmother. Its memories like you shared that are so special.

I just watched Julie and Julia on August 15, which coincidently is my hubby's birthday. The local theater that played it had a birthday party for Julia so that anyone that brought a cake got in free, and everyone who watched the movie got to sample the cakes afterwards. A lot of fun.

My last living grandmother passed away earlier this year and I was thinking it was funny that most of my memories of her revolve around food and the special dishes she made, that I'll forever associate with her.


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