Friday, September 25, 2009

Julie, Julia, a sack of potatoes, and the clerk on check stand #5...

I can still hear Julia's voice wafting downstairs from my parent's bedroom as I'd walk in the door from school. Bubbling burnt sugar and cinnamon dribbling from a baking sheet packed with overambitious apple dumplings splattered the glowing electric elements of our harvest gold oven and produced that familiar smokey aroma letting me know that Mom had been at it again. I would be in for a tasty after school snack...once I dissected the dumpling, peeling off a little bit of hardened burnt goo and plopping a healthy scoop of boxed Lucerne vanilla ice cream on top (if I could find it crammed in the Rubik's Cube my mom calls a freezer).

I'd pop up the three stairs of our 50's suburban split-level to find Mom wrestling a mountain of laundry scattered on the bed while trying to scribble yet another recipe on a long yellow legal pad, syncopated to the rhythm of Julia pounding on some unsuspecting slab of baby cow.

They were a good pair: Mom and Julia.

So, when I first heard that a movie was coming out about her (Julia that is...) you can imagine my anticipation to reconnect with those warm (yet sometimes crispy) memories and to get a glimpse into what Julia's world was like "back in the day." I was on vacation when the movie opened so a couple of patient friends and I made a pact to wait until September when we'd make the pilgrimage to the boys allowed. The plan was to each make a dish out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, enjoy our Julia-inspired meal, then head off to the show. Well, the best laid plans... Back to School Night, soccer, volleyball, sleepovers and 2 year-olds got in the way so we were lucky to squeeze in two hours just get to the show.

Here's where the potatoes and the supermarket clerk come in...

So, my friend Laura, who knows, by name, every clerk at our neighborhood supermarket, is in line the other morning, juggling her 2 year-old and box of Fruit Loops and mentions to "Maureen", who's working check stand #5, that she is planning to see Julie and Julia that night with some girlfriends and hasn't decided what to make for our pre-party (Laura hadn't yet gotten the message that the pre-party part was off). Anyway, Maureen (who's parents live our neighborhood) takes note and later that day shows up on Laura's doorstep with 3 pounds of potatoes...peeled, heavy cream, leeks, chicken stock, white pepper and...a vintage copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (her spare) inscribed to Laura with the page for Vichyssoise bookmarked. "It's been so warm out," she said, "and I thought that this cold soup would be perfect for your party!"

Laura called and told me the story...I was blown away.

Well, we didn't get to the soup that night but we loved the movie just the same. Carly ended up joining us at the last minute and liked it too, a lot, but didn't get why I was all teary...then again, she's could she?

Moved by the holy spirit of St. Julia, the next day Laura and I dropped the kids off at school then met in my kitchen to chop, boil, puree, and strain until Maureen's precious gifts transformed into the most delicious, delicate and decadent summer soup we'd ever tasted. We were bummed when we remembered that it would have been more fun if we had donned our pearls, like Julia, for the time.

So, here's to you, my friends and family. From Mom to Maureen, I am reminded every day that love is served best a la mode...that food shared not only fills the belly but it warms the heart.

I share this with you...and in the words of Julia...Bon Appetit!

(It's just fancy potato leek soup...fear not)

Simmer together until soft:

  • 3 cups peeled, sliced potatoes
  • 3 cups sliced white of leek
  • 6 cups chicken stock

Puree soup in batches in a food processor then force in batches through a fine sieve. BE CAREFUL...the soup is hot and will splatter so proceed with caution. Also note not to fill your food processor too full. Ever heard of centrifugal force? You'll end up with hot soup all over your counter as it spins up the sides and leaks under the lid (hummm, how would I know this)? Be patient while you are forcing it through the sieve (use a soft spatula to press it against the sides). It's worth the effort to achieve the fine texture that makes this soup so special.

Stir in:

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream (yep, whipping cream...just do it)!

Chill. Taste, taste, then, taste again. Depending on the saltiness of your stock, you may need to add little or no salt but note that, the colder your soup, the more salt it might need (flavor gets dulled in cold dishes). Season with white pepper as well.

Serve in chilled cups and garnish as you please. I used finely chopped scallions (cause that's what I had) but chives would probably be nicer. I also added finely minced crispy bacon because that's just the kind of girl I am.


Serve it warm...who says it has to be cold?

Makes: 6-8 portions

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking