Julia Child and the Jeweled Elephant


Never mind the whining and complaining from foodies who believe Julia Child’s legacy “deserves more than being tied to a Nora Ephron-penned (romantic comedy) about a lowly cubicle worker who blogs and struggles and cries and gets a book deal”.  As the familiar voice trilled its way into my consciousness and pulled me into the living room I experienced a fleeting, absurd hope that the doyenne of dough had raised herself from the dead like one of her famous souffles.  Unfortunately, it was only the trailer for Julie and Julia, the charming if potentially overdone tale of a remarkable woman and one equally remarkable devotee.

Watching the exquisite mimetic art of Meryl Streep, I was captivated in an instant.  The  story of Julie Powell, a dissatisfied office worker who set herself the task of  preparing all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking is intriguing, astonishing and revolting in turn.  (The things done to lobster in the name of cuisine can be distressing.) 

But it wasn’t Julie Powell’s story that piqued my interest.  What astonished me as I watched the movie clip was the sudden realization that I miss Julia Child, just as I miss my beloved Aunt T who so closely resembled her.   Had it not been for T and Julia dropping advice, humor and an alternative view of the universe into my life like so many bouquets garnis, it might have taken far longer for me to move beyond the bland certainties of a 1950’s childhood into a more delightful and adventurous world.

As America emerged from WWII, most future baby-boomers grew up among practical, thrifty and reasonable folk. It was considered poor form to “put on airs”, and very few did.  The daddies went to work, the mothers cleaned their houses and the children completed homework, school projects and chores before playing outdoors until supper.  The sun rose, the sun set, and the days settled into a comfortable routine that was punctuated by comfortable, routine meals.

In those days, chickens were purchased whole and cut up at home, but they always were fried, with flour or crushed corn flake coating.  Tuna hot dish – canned tuna, cooked noodles, canned English peas and cream of mushroom soup – was considered perfectly acceptable,  as were “salads” of  lime jello with crushed pineapple and cottage cheese or cherry jello with fruit cocktail and marshmallows.  Appetizers were celery sticks stuffed with a vibrant orange pimento-cheese spread that came in little glass jars, and fancy dessert was ice cream on top of anything.   It may have been pedestrian, but it fulfilled a need, and everyone was satisfied.

In the same way, if we needed underwear, shoes or school supplies, our needs were satisfied.  If we wanted licorice, water colors or comic books, we had to save.  Everyone had a coin jar for spare change, a little box for pennies or a serious piggy bank.  Made of metal, with removable plates so tightly screwed down few children could get them undone, the piggy banks even looked serious.  Only determined children with passionate arguments could persuade their ever-so-thrifty parents it was time to tap the funds, and no one ever questioned the system.

No one, that is, but my Aunt T.  She was exotic, unpredictable and the very definition of “the other end of the spectrum”.  If we were tuna hot dish, T was bouillabaisse.  If we were Lawrence Welk, T was the Rat Pack.  While we put down roots into the cornfields of Iowa, T married and moved to New York, putting down her roots on West 16th at the very edge of the dissipation and weirdness known as Greenwich Village.  Her husband was from New Jersey, with an accent so thick we sometimes imagined him a gangster.  Tall, slender and taciturn, he was the very opposite of my aunt, who was a plump, perfumed steamroller. They traveled in airplanes and vacationed at the Jersey Shore, and when they swept into town for a visit everyone in six counties knew they’d arrived.

T doted on me.  She always arrived with far more than hugs and kisses. She’d bring salt-water taffy and Dutch chocolate in the shape of tiny wooden shoes. Once there were glass bead necklaces, and a wonderful pop-up book filled with jungle animals and princesses.  When Christmas came, her presents were the most anticipated.  I remember a rhinestone bracelet, a whole “book” of lifesavers and my first bottle of perfume.  But no matter what I unwrapped, there always was a card tucked alongside, and it always held a five dollar bill.  Best of all, there was a predictable note written in the card, directed toward my parents: “Let her spend this on what she wants.  Don’t make her stick it into that pig.”


Eventually, I began to amass capital in earnest.  Between my allowance and payment for special chores, I’d pick up fifty cents here, a dollar there.  One month I earned ten dollars, and mentioned the fact to Aunt T  during summer vacation.  That year, the holiday mail brought a Christmas box that was larger than usual.  When I opened it, there was another, beautifully wrapped box inside. It didn’t rattle, it didn’t clunk, and it didn’t weigh a thing.  I couldn’t imagine what it was.

When I finally opened the box on Christmas eve, I squealed with delight at its contents. It was Aunt T’s version of a piggy bank – a delicate, bejeweled and floral-encrusted elephant with a rubber stopper in the bottom that could be removed easily without adult supervision.  This time, the accompanying note was for me.  “Put this next to your piggy bank,” she advised. “When you earn a dollar, put half of it into your pig for things you’ll need, but put half of it into your new elephant for things that will  make you happy.”

As the years passed, the toys, games and dolls – all the detritus of childhood – slowly dropped away, but the Jeweled Elephant still is with me.  She sits on my dresser and travels with me during hurricane evacuations, cosseted and coddled in bubble wrap and towels as befits a true treasure.

She’s a reminder of my aunt, who taught me the importance of embracing life with eagerness and appreciation.  Growing up as a self-conscious child who anxiously measured her words, who believed impracticality might be the eighth deadly sin and whose emotions and world-view were constricted by circumstance as much as by nature,  I never was certain when my aunt blew into town whether she was a breath of fresh air or a tornado bent on destruction.  What I did know was that other adults were bent on diminishing her influence in my life.  “Oh, that’s just T,” they’d say. “That’s just the way she is. Don’t pay any attention to her.” 

What I didn’t realize until years later is that it wasn’t “just T” who preferred exuberance to restraint or delighted in the little extravagances of life.  Walking past a dorm television room during my first year of college, I noticed some girls clustered around the set, apparently transfixed by a warbling, insistent voice. Stepping in to see what was so compelling, I got my first glimpse of Julia Child and recognized her immediately as a soul-sister to my Aunt.

I followed her program for years, less for the cooking than for the attitude: the cheerfulness, the fearless awkwardness, the good-humored acceptance of failure as a part of life.  Twenty-five years later, interviewed by Linda Greider for The Washington Post, she hadn’t changed a whit.

I’m afraid if we don’t get out of this terrible food-fear hysteria,” she says over salad, “it will be the death of gastronomy.” In case the word “gastronomy” conjures up a picture of a puffy-eyed, red-nosed blimp wallowing in wine and pork fat, a description of Julia at 77 might be helpful. Despite the fact that she refuses to touch oat bran, here is a robust, slim, vastly energetic presence who not only washes her own car and writes her own copy but answers her own phone, cleans her own lettuce and does her own dishes. Watching her work, it’s hard to argue with her philosophy of food-as-pleasure.”

In this world, it can be easy to forget the importance of pleasure, not to mention the pleasure of extravagance.  As I watch friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers become increasingly fearful, living increasingly constricted and measured lives,  it occurs to me what is dying in our culture is true, good-natured humor, the willingness to embrace the stranger and a conviction that differences are to be celebrated rather than defined out of existence. Fearful of using the wrong phrase, eating the wrong food, supporting the wrong cause  – eager to make only correct and useful choices – we’re beginning to look more and more like my pig, and less and less like my elephant.

Watching the recent health care debates, I’ve been reminded of a time-worn saying: The question isn’t whether there’s life after death. The question is whether there’s life before death.  Julia Child always was on the side of expansiveness and life, not to mention the exuberant, uncalculated gesture.

In her honor I’ve decided on a tiny little extravagance, spending  both money and time to see Julie and Julia in the theater.  I won’t be doing it  because of the food or because of the of story any more than I’ll be doing it because of Meryl Streep or Julie Powell.  This is for Julia – as irrepressible, unapologetic and cheerfully loving as my aunt  and as bejeweled and sparkling with joie de vivre as my little elephant.  Both of them helped teach the same lesson –  save for the future, tend to your needs, but invest in your happiness, too.   



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31 thoughts on “Julia Child and the Jeweled Elephant

  1. What a lovely tribute to both Julia and your aunt. I too watched Julia’s cooking shows and very much enjoyed her chatter more than the food preparations. She was an icon and for me, a friend who often visited my living room and kitchen.

    Of course I never met your aunt but I thoroughly love her spirit. I particularly love the idea that in addition to feeding our bellies we need to feed our soul with beauty and a little extravagance.

    Another enjoyable read.


    With your comment, you’ve pointed me again to Bread and Roses: the labor movement, the concert series, and the wonderful song expressing the truth that “hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.”

    It seems so appropriate that a beautiful rose has been named Julia Child. It’s yellow, and said to have the fragrance of licorice – what could be better?

    As for my aunt… Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I wish I’d known what a gift she’d given me in time to thank her in person. Since that isn’t possible, this will have to do ;-)

    Thanks ever so much for stopping by!


  2. I’ll echo Pros with “What a wonderful tribute to both Julia and your aunt”!

    Oh, I miss watching Julia, gallumping around that kitchen, making mistakes, laughing at herself and making that fancy French cooking look, oh, so easy! Not that I’ve ever tried it myself but it was fascinating to watch. It was a sad, sad day, when I heard that she’d passed.

    Your aunt sounds like she was a wonderful person and FUN! I can imagine how much you looked forward to having her visit and I can also imagine how the grownups in your family thought her a bit “unsuitable”. You take good care of that Jeweled Elephant. She’s priceless!


    T was fun, there’s no doubt about that. She always was willing to sit on a curb and watch earthworms, or spend time looking for pictures in the clouds. As kids, we all knew she was a grown-up, but she never seemed consumed with being an adult. Perhaps those other grown-ups envied her a bit.

    Julia had that same gift. Watching her, we knew she was an expert, but she wasn’t one of those unapproachable, high-and-mighty experts.
    She could cook, but she could communicate, too. I might not be whomping up souffles but I keep my knives sharpened because she taught me it was important, and I’ve never been afraid to try something new in the kitchen because of her. Thank goodness she taught us to laugh at our abject failures, too!


  3. It is funny, because now that you mention it, I too miss Julia Child, even though it was very rare that I ever watched her on television. I miss her in the same way that I miss many of the personalities that have passed away over the years, people who were larger than life not because their lives were a train wreck, like Michael Jackson’s, but because they seemed to embrace life and create something unique and yet accessible out of it.

    I really want to see the new film largely because I am an Amy Adams fan, but now with all this talk of the inspiration of the film I’ll be equally thrilled to see it as a way to remember Julia Child. She made cooking cool long before it had its own network reminding us of just how cool it is.

    “In this world, it can be easy to forget the importance of pleasure, not to mention the pleasure of extravagance.” That is so true and the idea of taking a step back and truly enjoying life is so vital to the changes we’ve made in our family lately. In returning to the world of saving that you describe and using our money more wisely, we have begun to rediscover so many of the simple pleasures that we were blind to as we rushed around spending money carelessly and trying to fill up our time with things. Now we appreciate the things we have more, when we buy something we are more grateful for it and it means more to us, and we are finding that so many of the things that seemed like chores, like grocery shopping for example, are fun ways to spend time together having an adventure.

    Lovely post Linda, as always it is a pleasure to drop by here.


    Interesting you should mention the “larger than life” aspect. In an earlier draft I mentioned that Julia wasn’t exactly larger than life, but as large as life, because she was able to embrace and contain the world in a way most of us don’t. That’s your point exactly, and part of what made her so appealing.

    I don’t know how well I can express it, but I think there’s a lesson from the arts for those concerned with the art of living – the spaces are important, too. In music, sound and silence need one another. In the visual arts, the background is as important as the figure. In writing, too many words can turn into clutter. In the same way, attentiveness to possessions and commitments allows life itself to be shaped in far more pleasurable ways. It took me a while to understand there’s a difference between collecting and accumulating!

    And I loved what you “cooked up” with Maguire’s work in your last post!


  4. Clearly, your aunt was “T” for treasure! Your very own Auntie Mame. Every child deserves to have someone like her in their life. “Bug” is right: your elephant is priceless!

    As for Julie & Julia, I don’t remember Julia’s original TV show, but I do recall Dan Ayckroyd’s spot-on imitation on the original Saturday Night Live….”The things done to lobster in the name of cuisine can be distressing.” LOL So true!


    “T for treasure” ~ perfect! It never had occurred to me, but of course you’re right.

    I’ve not thought of Auntie Mame for years. I went looking and turned up another treasure ~ this little snippet of dialogue.

    Auntie Mame: Oh, Agnes! Here you’ve been taking my dictations for weeks and you haven’t gotten the message of my book: live!
    Agnes Gooch: Live?
    Auntie Mame: Yes! Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

    It’s fun to ponder the dates here. Auntie Mame came out in 1958, and The French Chef was first broadcast in 1963. Did Julia ponder Auntie Mame in setting her own course? Did she set out to feed our spirits as well as our bodies? Whatever the truth in that regard, it’s amazing to me that only after writing this I should figure out that Auntie Mame and my own Aunt T were so much alike. Thanks for pointing out the obvious!


  5. First I thought that this would be a story full of references I wouldn’t understand being from another generation as well as another country.

    But I was wrong.

    You have been blessed with a gift to express yourself and tell your story so even someone lacking the references will understand and enjoy the reading.

    Thank you.


    How wonderful! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I laughed this morning when I saw ds’ comment that she hadn’t seenthe original “French Chef”, but does remember the Saturday Night Live spoof. Oh, oops. I guess my age is showing!

    But that’s part of Child’s genius, too. She appealed to all generations when she was alive, and she continues to appeal today. We’re so lucky that gone doesn’t mean forgotten, and that we have the technology to keep introducing her to new admirers.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your kind words.


  6. You had me at your title, Linda, because I watched Julie & Julia last weekend when it came out. I can never see a Meryl Streep movie fast enough! My guess is she’ll get an Oscar for this one, if not “only” another nomination. I hope you end up liking it as much as I did, juxtaposed as it was with the other true story.

    To my loss, I never watched Julia Child on TV. But if I had, I’m sure I would had learned many helpful life lessons. Nor did I have an aunt or friend or mother or father who took her place. In fact, I remember the day in my mid-adulthood when I realized I almost totally skipped childhood. Ruth is 11 years younger and doesn’t have the same experience as mine from our preacher’s home, but I’m guessing she has similar feelings. Interestingly, she is the one who first started instilling in me the love for good, decadent food, after her trips to Paris.

    Little by little, I have learned to save money as though I’ll live forever but to also spend it as though I’ll die tomorrow. The same with love and adventure and the extravagance of life. I have a feeling your Aunt T would look at me and still try to loosen me up…but I’m definitely better than I once was. Thanks for the reminder! :)


    Part of the giggle of this whole experience is that when I watched the trailer, my first thought was, “I have to see that movie”. Since I’m not a movie-goer at all, or even a movie-watcher most of the time, my response surprised me a bit. That’s why I decided to write about all this. I figured anything that tugged at me that viscerally had to have some interest, somewhere.

    A lot of people have brought a taste for French cooking home with them after travel – including Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson actually took his cooks with him to Paris to be trained, so that when he returned home he’d never be without a French chef! I found a bit of a Library of Congress documentary where Julia talks about all this – and then demonstrates the pleasures of a singing cookbook!

    I like your aphorism about saving as though we’ll live forever but spending as though we’ll die tomorrow. Somewhere Annie Dillard mentions that in regard to time. Spend it, she says. We can’t take it with us.

    I’m even more anxious to see the movie now that I have your report.


  7. “Cooked up”…now you’re sounding just like my friend Jerry, the pun king! ;)

    “It took me a while to understand there’s a difference between collecting and accumulating!” Very well said. I have just learned that recently which is one of the reasons that selling off parts of my collection…er, accumulation…in order to set myself up in a better place financial has actually been a pleasure and not filled with sadness. I know these treasures of mine, ones that I am willing to part with, are going to good homes, the people buying them are getting great deals, and I am ultimately more happy because I’ve held on to those things that, like you said, help shape my life and gotten rid of excess things that were just cluttering up the landscape of Me.

    “Large as Life” is a perfect description for people like Julia Child.

    I forgot to mention in my last comment just how happy it made me that you continue to possess your elephant from your aunt. What a great reminder to have with you not just of this aunt but also of your own childhood. I have precious few things from my younger days, besides treasured memories, but the few things I do have are cherished.


    Nature forces me to confront these issues of collecting and accumulating every year, you know. The first potential storm of the season is getting ready to form in the Atlantic, and it’s time to sort, store and ready for transport my various treasures.

    Some things, like my grandmother’s quilts, heirloom linens, special books, photos, paintings, African artifacts and such, go up to North Houston to live in climate controlled storage – there just isn’t room to take everything in the car when we evacuate. So, there’s a lot of decision making that goes on, and a lot of prioritizing. Every year I pare things down a little more, and a little more. Every time I do it, I feel a little lighter. Maybe Janis Joplin was right: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…”

    I have one other childhood toy I refuse to let go of – a set of red plastic bricks that came with white plastic opening doors and windows, clear jalousies, green cardboard roofs and lovely white trim. I built a thousand houses with those blocks. They evacuate for hurricanes, too. :-)


  8. I.Love.Your.Blog. It is just a beautiful, beautiful place with such incredible writing on your part.

    I relate to this post on so many levels: loving Julia Child, having an aunt who resembles her, but most importantly of all, I think, is the lesson you mentioned – “the cheerfulness, the fearless awkwardness, the good-humored acceptance of failure as a part of life” as well as, “Is there life before death?” How important that is! I want to live, unafraid of mistakes (which all too often bog me down completely). I create a classroom of great joy and laughter, I hope, because finding the joy in something is one of the keys to good living. As Julia taught us and you remind us.


    It’s a joy to me that you came to visit, and enjoyed your time here.

    You may or may not know that I varnish boats. My mother likes to say that a truly bright woman wouldn’t do brightwork for a living, but I’ve learned a thing or two, particularly about mistakes and imperfections. Every time someone comes along to point out a flaw – a missed spot, an insect, a patch of pollen or dust – I just smile and say, “That’s why God made sandpaper”. Julia seemed to have a bit of the same attitude. The crust fell apart halfway to the pie plate? Roll it out again. A truly bad roux? Just re-do. The omelet flops out of the pan in front of how many thousand people? It’s another opportunity for a good laugh. She showed us a great way to live.

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I’m extraordinarily eager to choose my books for your challenge, and spent entirely too much time last night sorting through choices!


  9. I drove my long drive home yesterday from work and had your words humming in my head. Well, not the words only, but the images they created. I felt so happy for you to have had a T in your life. I thought of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, and how some legendary women live beyond the world, making all of us richer. A few of us are fortunate enough to have direct contact with such a person.

    Julia is an inspiration to me. To have a plain American woman, and a plain spoken one, channel French cooking to the rest of us is a great gift. I invested in her two-volume set of the Art of French Cooking and thought I would try to go through them too, as Julie did. I didn’t get far. But she made many dishes accessible to me, and I keep going back to them with joy. When I found out her alma mater was the same as my mom’s – Smith College – it endeared her even more. The image I have of her closing her eyes in ecstasy when tasting another cook’s concoction is a supreme case of grace and generosity, and enjoyment of the senses.

    Some of the things you wrote about her reminded me also of Nigella Lawson, another cook who expresses the sheer joy of food. Nigella taught me to find sensual bliss in food – visually, as well as tactically – and also in life. There is hedonism, and there is life well lived – a vast difference, but sometimes a fine line. I do love Julia and Nigella for these gifts of getting the most from food and feasting when appropriate, after a preacher father’s influence (think Babette’s Feast to some degree), as Ginnie mentioned.

    As Ginnie also said, I have had three Michelin 3-star restaurant experiences in Paris – twice with her. And while just one would be an experience of a lifetime, three did not lessen the sense I have of the grace and generosity of eating that well. The satisfaction of eating several courses and leaving the table JUST perfectly filled, not stuffed! And each bite being heaven. I am not wealthy, but I chose to spend a lot of money on a meal (two of them were gifts, wow) – a priority many would not understand or condone.

    Your elephant is an other-worldly treasure, a symbol of T, and of so many good things of the world, and of the inner joys of life.

    Thank you for another wonderful article – a feast as sensual as a meal prepared by a fine chef.


    After a long detour through Babette’s Feast and the various sites belonging to Nigella Lawson, I’m back to re-read your comment with new appreciation. Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa is one of my favorites, and now there’s no doubt that Babette’s Feast will become familiar, too.

    What wonderful experiences you (and Ginnie) must have had while dining in Paris. Your account nudged me to search my memory for such “perfect” meals, and I discovered I’ve had some, although they weren’t in such lofty establishments and certainly couldn’t qualify as haute cuisine. One was in a Lebanese family’s home in up-county Liberia, one in the home of a Muslim family in Monrovia, and one in a German home in the Black Forest. The unusual settings and the air of familiarity common to family gatherings might account for my memories being particularly vivid, but in each case the food simply was superb. As for you in Paris, there were multiple courses of perfectly prepared dishes, each with its own taste and texture, enjoyed over a span of hours. And there, I suspect, lies part of the secret to feasting. The American love of gulping down supersized chunks of whatever or piling plates high at all-you-can-eat-buffets is the food equivalent of accumulating rather than collecting. Certainly it has nothing to do with the grace and generosity of eating well.

    Thoughtfulness for the menu, patience in preparation, a willingness to devote time to the enjoyment of the sight and taste of perfect ingredients creatively combined – there’s the heart of feasting. The beauty is that even in our own homes we can have that experience ~ thanks in good part to Julia.


  10. What marvelous memories. T was my family, but I was fortunate to have an aunt by marriage who was the polar opposite. I loved her to bits. Well, except the green bean casserole…


    See? Your family was at the other end of our spectrum. You were proscuitto, while we were spam! :-)

    Joking aside, it’s a wonder to me how every family has its outliers ~ living, breathing reminders that whatever the family “culture”, someone is going to be pushing the boundaries. It’s also a wonder that you only have to say, “green bean casserole” and I can smell those gawdawful canned fried onions… No more of those in my life!


  11. Well Linda…

    I just loved this post; and not just because of your beautiful and thoughtful writing or my weakness for a piece of nostalgia or because of our shared love for Julia Child. (I loved the movie, by the way.)

    I loved it mostly because your words invited me to play. I’ve always liked that expression, “living large;” but to “live large” should mean that there’s plenty of room to play. I think your Aunt “T” played often and I know from her biography that Julia was all about playing in the kitchen; I think cooking all day for Julia was child’s play. And of course, there is that old adage, “All work and no play make…”

    Your post made me pause to wonder why I tend to stuff a nice work project into the spot marked “Play”. You’re post, along with a couple of similar ‘invitations’ I’ve received this week have filled me with that desire to finally hit “Pause”.

    Your words hit home. Well done.


    So you’ve seen the movie, too! I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, and look forward to it. It will have to wait just a bit, though, as they’ve begun muttering about storms in earnest now and all of us who’ve been living in blissful, post-Ike denial will be busy with hurricane chores for a few days.

    Sometimes it seems to me that even the children aren’t allowed to play any longer. Watching them being hauled from music lessons to sports to dance class to cheerleading practice, they sometimes appear as driven and overscheduled as their parents. They’re active, and they’re involved, but many of them appear pretty serious about it all. I’ve wondered if the success of Harry Potter isn’t related to a huge hunger for play – that’s armchair sociology at its worst, I suppose, but I still think it would be interesting to see what some of the kids would do with magical powers. (Poof! go the adults running their lives!)

    As for us grownups, part of growing up was the command to give up chldish things. Unfortunately, play was defined as childish, rather than human. Maybe that’s why we keep filling up all those spaces with work.

    Always a pleasure to have to you stop by!


  12. Oh, those “books” of lifesavers!!!!! they were the prized gift at our elementary school Christmas gift exchange (also no longer allowed, or rather, so named.)

    Anyway, for another bit of Julia that will make you smile and hug her memory, have a look at this book EAT, MEMORY which features an essay from Julia (via Paul) about her cooking class experiences. It’s a wonderful essay and insightful, as full of her tenacity as it is with her joie de vivre. I’d send you the book which I reviewed for a food mag, but hmmmm….someone has stirred these shelves with a spoon, so to speak.


    I’m making a pass through our local Half-Price books today, so I’ll look for it. Since I’m fond of essays generally, it looks like the book as a whole would be enjoyable. I vaguely remember a time when there were long stretches of rainy days. If that ever happens again, this would be a perfect read. Thanks so much for pointing me toward it.

    And of course the mention of Julia’s tenacity – perhaps what I like to call perseverance – warms my little heart. I was just reading about Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and his “10,000-Hour Rule”. He suggests the key to success in any field is a matter of practising a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. I wonder how many kitchen-hours Julia logged? ;-)


  13. If you haven’t seen Babette’s Feast yet, you will see why it is a favorite. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it. It goes right to that place you and I have discussed before – the extravagant gesture. So lovely, so profoundly gracious.


    I was watching the tropical radar this morning as I did a little of my “pack-it-up-move-it-out” routine and suddenly thought: I need a different kind of evacuation kit. Along with the prescriptions, kitty necessities and bottled Starbucks, I need to put together a little box of books and DVDs. Babette’s Feast will start the list, along with The Girl with the Pearl Earring. I picked up Pride and Prejudice two days ago – I’ve been promising Arti I’d read it and just never have gotten started. Now I can.

    It’s almost enough to make a girl wish for… well, a nice, soppy tropical storm, maybe. But no hurricanes!


  14. AUNTIE MAME!!!!

    Oh, I loved Auntie Mame… I haven’t seen that movie in the longest time. Every child should have an Auntie Mame.

    My mother’s sister was mine, though nowhere near as flamboyant as Mame or your Aunt T. She was the only aunt I had that would spend hours with me, doing child-like things. The others were thoroughly adult. I didn’t see my Aunt J often, as we only went up once or twice a year to visit. She was single, childless and lived with my grandmother and her bachelor brother.

    Perhaps being childless is the key to being an Auntie Mame.

    Not always, though… I had another spinster aunt who looked and acted like she had been weaned on vinegar and lemons, very prim, proper and prudish. She had no understanding or patience with children at all. We were to be seen and not heard. She periodically “invited” me over to spend the night. I dreaded those visits. She would spend the entire time lecturing me about my tomboyish ways and trying to turn me into her idea of a young lady. Why she put both of us through that misery, I’ll never know. Mama knew how I felt, and sympathized, but sent me anyway, to keep peace in the family. How much more fun we would have had, had she been an Auntie Mame!


    Speaking of the other end of the spectrum – we had Rilla, my great-aunt. Rilla not only consulted the Ouija board, she based life decisions on that thing, and she made Prim and Proper look like pole dancers. One of her legendary pronouncements is the stuff of family legend. “I’d have been happy to marry,” she once said, “if only it hadn’t been necessary to involve a man in the business.” I have one photo of her – terrifying.

    My poor mother’s still trying to turn me in to a Lady. She acknowledges that time’s running out on her, but she keeps trying. I’ve got a little list of qualities that evoke the statement, “That’s not very lady-like”. Put them all together in one package and you’d pretty much have Julia, or Mame, or Aunt T. Thank goodness they exist!


  15. Oh, proscuitto we were, preferably a thin slice wrapped around a slice of cantaloupe, which was always called muskmelon in my house.

    The worst thing for me about that casserole isn’t even the onions (and I don’t like onions unless I’m cooking with them), it’s the damn cream of mushroom soup. Even before I knew or cared that it should be called Cardiac Ward in a Can, I hate, hate, hated it. I think it’s one of the most vile things Campbell’s ever came up with. I wrote about all this 2 Thanksgivings ago and will probably do an encore this year, so I won’t bore you with the details. But believe it or not, I only had that casserole once.

    Remember Dream Whip? The casserole aunt used to make the best dessert with it, so rich I should have married it.


    I just went looking for info on the great muskmelon/canteloupe debate and found an interesting link with information on their origins, cultivation and so on.

    We always called it muskmelon, too, but we were Iowans, and we spelled it “Musc” melon. They were grown in huge quantities around Muscatine, Iowa, and we thought that’s where the name came from!

    As for the famous casserole ~ I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving I decided to do fresh green beans tossed with toasted almonds. “What are these?” was one of the first questions. You would have thought I’d grown an extra arm or showed up with sushi. The green beans had been buried under that soup for so many years no one could recognize them.

    I remember Dream Whip, but I’m not sure I ever tasted it. By the time we stopped using real whipping cream Cool-Whip had made its appearance. Another abomination, in my book.


  16. With each post I love you more and more. And now I love your Aunt T, as well.

    Just last week I rewatched a 1950s French film that I adore, called Mon Oncle, and your post reminded me of it. In the case of Mon Oncle, Monsieur Hulot is not necessarily a whirlwind like your Aunt T — but he is so delightfully out of place in his sister’s sterile suburbia, and is the only bit of fresh air for his poor nephew who never gets a chance to just live and be a kid.

    I had a Great Aunt Frankie that I unfortunately didn’t get to see too often, but she was always so much fun to be around — even well into her rest home years. My parents inherited a lot of her furniture, which I’m grateful for because they are a nice reminder of her sense of humor and sense of the exotic.

    -Rachel Creeter


    There’s another film for the evacuation kit I mentioned to Ruth, above. I just watched the clip of M. Hulot in the kitchen with the bouncing jug, and laughed out loud.

    Mon Oncle reminded me of the anthem of my generation, pre-Woodstock. Pete Seeger’s song Little Boxes was as biting a piece of social satire as you could hope for, and reflects some of the concerns of Mon Oncle. People who didn’t live through the fifties can’t conceive of the power of an event like Woodstock. The Woodstock nation had lived in those tract houses, literally or figuratively, and they weren’t having any more of it ;-)

    Certain possessions do seem to carry the spirit of an individual, don’t they? I have a set of tea-towels my grandmother embroidered with some of her favorite recipes. All I have to do is look at them to be carried back to the front porch where she and her friends would sit and stitch, changing from English to Swedish when they didn’t want us kids to understand what they were saying. The elephant is Aunt T, of course, just like the old inlaid cribbage board is my dad and the needlepoint pieces are my mother. Sometimes the things we cherish are understandable, and sometimes they just seem silly or trivial, but in the end they all help to bind the generations together.


  17. Linda,

    Do follow your heart and instinct: Go see the movie. You’ll find it’s more than food. I won’t drop the spoiler on you… you must experience it yourself. And after you’ve seen it, you’ll agree with me that they should make a sequel: Aunt T and her niece.

    As for Babette’s feast, remember the film course I took in May at Regent… well, this movie was placed in our last class, ie the climax and the culmination of all our discussions and learning. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it immensely.

    Thanks for stirring the pot to stimulate bigger appetite in us for life’s sumptuous offerings.


    I can’t believe it was May you were at Regent – it seems like yesterday! What is clear is what I’ve already noted – that Babette needs to be added to my list.

    I finally picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice. I started reading the introduction in a long post office line, and after two pages of that thought, “I remember this kind of writing. Yuck!” So, like the smart little cookie I am, I passed right by the rest of that academic introduction and started in on the book itself. I got two pages read before my turn came, and it was just enough to make me think, “This is much better than that silly intro!”

    So now JA is tucked into one of my “this goes in the car” evacuation boxes, where I can get at it easily if (1) a rainy day shows up and (2) I have all my pre-hurricane chores done. That’s pretty good motivation to get busy!


  18. Linda,

    I loved Julia for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie soon.

    You had an Aunt T and I had an Aunt K. She was wonderful influence. All children need an Aunt T and an Aunt Kay.

    I love that you don’t leave your elephant behind when storms head your way. Aunt Kay gave me a book of poetry that finds its way into a box every time we move, and it’s always placed on a shelf in the new house soon after we arrive. I often wonder if people like T and Kay realize the influence they have on children.

    Thanks for stirring the memory pot today.



    Everyone talks about the “spoiling” tendencies of grandparents, but my thinking is that the presence of grandparents leaves aunts and uncles free to do the real spoiling in the world. They’re under the parental radar, so to speak. Besides, since I’m an only child, Aunt T provided just a taste of the pleasures that come with having a real sister – sometimes a confidant, and sometimes a partner in crime!

    These little bits and pieces we tote around seem to function like totems, reminding us of our identity and connecting us to the past. When I imagine you putting your book on a new shelf, it’s a little like seeing fire carried to the hearth of a new home. We’re not as removed from those primal experiences as we sometimes think.


  19. My wife and I went and saw Julie & Julia tonight and I thought it was a lovely film.

    Of course, I am not one of those who feel like a legacy was tarnished by Nora Ephron getting ahold of it because I happen to be a fan. It inspired me to place holds on both books that the film is based on AND I certainly am in the mood for some good cooking! I am thankfully blessed with a wife who is a marvelous cook that loves to try new things!


    Thanks again for the kind mention in your blog.

    I’m an Ephron fan myself, although for her essays and such. Shall I confess right here in public I knew nothing of her screen-writing skills? I did see When Harry Met Sally, and I’ve heard of Sleepless in Seattle… But I hadn’t a clue that Ms. Ephron had a hand in them. As I tell people from time to time, the rock I live under is rather large, if quite pleasant.

    Well, I’ve discovered Kurt Cobain and Eric Clapton since I began blogging. No reason not to take on a screen-writer. I’m planning to see the film this weekend, and I’m looking forward to it!


  20. Oh, Linda! What a lovely blurb you got on Stainless Steel’s entry on Julie & Julia!


    Wasn’t that nice? You know this is one of the things I enjoy most about blogging – the relationships that develop, the conversations that swirl among writers, and the way we stimulate one another’s thought. You know something about that, being the first recipient of my Team Muse award!

    When I think how many wonderful writers are hidden among these blogs, it just astonishes me. It’s hard to keep up with them all, but it surely is fun to try.

    So nice to have you stop by – it’s always a pleasure!


  21. I cannot wait to see what you think of the film…and I am certainly surprised by that rock. I thought everyone in the world had seen Sleepless in Seattle. :)

    Which only goes to prove …. something! If I ever figure out precisely what, I’ll let you know ;-)

  22. Oh, Linda, I love Aunt T. I’ll bet every person reading this wished your Aunt T was their Aunt T or Aunt Em or whomever! The foofy elephant bank — how cool is that (and a little lesson in there — necessity matters, but so does desire!)

    My mother taught me how to live while dying; from my dad I learned you can die while living. I can assure you, living while dying gives you far more joy than just starting the death while you still have some life in you. It’s a shift of the soul. Your Aunt T. lived. I see her as a glorious woman who understood that you don’t save the good china, you take your chances!

    Well, I was just about ready to write about Auntie Mame and then I went back to your comments and how many beat me to the punch! But yes, there are woman who are exactly like that. I know a few, and I hope that most of the time I am one!

    You might be interested in knowing that in August or September on various PBS stations, they are having a marathon of six “French Chef” episodes. I’m looking forward to it! AND, I hope you see “J&J” but even more I hope you read Julia’s “My Life in France.” It is simply glorious. That joy, exuberance, sense of life didn’t start with the French Chef. It probably started LONG before her years in France, but it was certainly in solid place by the time she landed there in 1949. You will enjoy. It might even be like reading a menoir by Aunt T!


    Not saving the good china – there’s the heart of it. When we were cleaning up the mess left by tropical storm Allison, I pulled out the china for our evening meals. There’s nothing quite like sitting on coolers in the middle of mud, filth, ripped up carpet and the smell of mold, eating dinner on Haviland, to make a person smile. Getting my own mom to use the “good” china and silver on a regular basis has been quite a struggle – I keep asking, “What good does it do, sitting in a china cabinet?” Her response? “But what if it gets broken?” To which I always respond, “That’s life.”

    And that is life. Things do get broken – china, dreams, hearts – but if we keep any of them locked up and out of sight they don’t do anyone a lick of good. Even Aunt T had a few things broken in her life, and some of them I heard about only in the last decade. But she never stopped living.

    Thanks for the heads-up on the PBS series. It will be wonderful to watch it again with my new perspective on some of this.


  23. Linda,

    With a cup of coffee in hand I have had a pleasurable time spent reading about your Aunt T, the jewelled elephant and Julia Child. I followed it up by reading all the comments.

    Ruth mentioned Nigella Lawson. She did a TV show a few years ago that had every man in the land drooling! Not over the food she prepared, but over her! She recorded one programme in her negligee, tasting the chocolate dessert she had made with a sensual lick of her finger!

    Your aunt’s comment “put half of it into your pig for things you’ll need, but put half of it into your new elephant for things that will make you happy” reminded me so much of watching my Mum play banker every Friday evening. Dad would bring home his wage packet and tip out the contents on the table. Mum had a green metal money box with slots in the top, each one labelled (rent, milk, coal, food etc). I think there were seven slots, and the money was duly placed through the top of the box to land in the compartments with a economical clunk! (The ‘half a crowns’ made a delightful “plink” as they landed.)

    Once all the slots were fed, any remaining money went into a green glass jar on the mantelpiece, which was fondly called ‘Mum’s special money’. It helped pay for Christmas and birthday gifts, day’s out, and any other special treats. I haven’t thought of that green jar for decades!

    Oh, time seemed so much simpler to a child during the 50’s.



    Those were the days, too, of the “Christmas Club” at the bank. Every week Dad would put a set amount into that account, and that was the money allowed for the holiday. Can you imagine – saving all year for Christmas spending, and then spending only what you had saved? The banks themselves encouraged it, and ran such programs for kids, to encourage thrift. How much we’ve changed, not to mention the banks!

    I hadn’t heard of Nigella until Ruth’s comment. How the mind works – when I first heard her name, the word that popped into my mind was “Nutella”!
    Given what I’ve since learned about her, that may have been appropriate.

    I could just see that Friday night routine, and the money box. There’s a fellow named Dave Ramsey who has a money management show on radio (and perhaps tv now) who encourages people to do things precisely that way. He suggests using envelopes, but the principle’s the same. Allocate your cash, spend the cash, and then don’t spend anything more. It’s inspirational and funny both to listen to people discovering this “new” system for managing money and getting out of debt. Solid, common-sense solutions still work ;-)

    And though no one’s asked, the answer is that yes, I do still use the little elephant. I only put quarters in her, since she’s rather small and pennies aren’t going to add up to much. But, she’ll hold enough to pay for a wonderful brunch, a book, or even a movie about Julia Child – with popcorn!


  24. To think, all these years later, you are introducing the fabulous T to a vast world, and we are admiring your crazily ornate ‘piggy’ bank – I think she would love that.

    New phrase to be daily mantra – Don’t stick it into that pig!


    Maybe it’s a holdover from your growing-up years, but you always “mine” the best nuggets out of my posts. I laughed and laughed when I remembered and recorded that phrase – “Don’t stick it into that pig!” It’s worthy of mantra-hood, for sure.

    And what a good question for all of us to ponder – “Who’s your pig?” We all put a lot of time, energy and material resources into one kind of pig or another, and let our crazy old elephants languish. I’m so glad to have been reminded that the elephants count, too!


    ps ~ saw Julie and Julia last night, and enjoyed every minute of it. I was surprised to discover Julie’s part of the story was equally intriguing and enjoyable. It wasn’t her cooking that I found to compelling, but her journey into blogging. Apparently Nora Ephron was listening in to my conversations about bloggin with my own mom when she wrote that part of the dialogue :-)

  25. Wonderful piece as always.

    Kate and I saw “Julie and Julia” yesterday, with friends. What a pleasure it was–imagine a movie about good people enjoying life!

    I enjoyed watching Julia myself. I’m certainly no chef, nor am I a “foodie,” but she was very entertaining. Her enthusiasm was infectious. No doubt I would have liked your Aunt too.


    I know you would have liked my aunt. Apart from her ebullient personality, she was the one responsible for putting my first camera into my hands – a little Brownie, as I recall. I still have a few photos I know were taken with that camera. They’re from my days at summer camp, and I would have been the only one who could have taken them.

    I thought the revelation of the depth and complexity of Julia’s character was extremely well done – the bits of naughtiness, the sudden, deep grief when she learned her sister was pregnant, her preference to avoid facing the realities of Paul’s later career moves. Very human.

    And as you say, how refreshing to spend some time with good people who knew how to enjoy life. It was a nice antidote to the sort of atmosphere you referenced in your own latest post. :-)

    So nice to see you!


  26. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog as well as the marvelous dialogue between you and your readers.

    I just wanted to add that this brought back memories of my childhood. At the time, we lived in Brooklyn and had a small portable black and white tv. My sister and I used to watch Julia Child’s “The French Chef” on occasion. One episode, she was making an elaborate pastry which involved multiple steps of making the dough, then putting it in the freezer for several hours, then rolling it out, putting it back in the freezer, etc. etc. Of course, for the purpose of demonstrating, the dough had been pre-prepared for eachstep in the recipe. I just remember at the end of show, Julia’s wry comment, “Well, that didn’t take any time at all.”

    I also remember being thoroughly revolted watching her put peas in a blender to make pureed peas. Peas were one of the few vegetables I enjoyed, preferring them served whole with butter, salt and pepper. Somehow pureeing them seemed a terrible violation. Nonetheless, it was certainly educational to see that foods could be prepared and enjoyed in unexpected ways.

    My husband and I took our two middle-school children to see “Julie & Julia” last weekend and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, it has inspired my husband and son (who loves to cook) to prepare her Boeuf Bourgignon.

    Thank you again for your delightful blog!


    I told your story about the pureed peas to my mom, who’s now 91 and terribly glad she doesn’t have to have pureed anything. But, she’s a pea-hater from way back, and will happily sit and pick them out of any dish put in front of her. She thought the pureeing was a good idea. As she said, it makes it easier to pour them down the garbage disposal ;-)

    It makes me happy to hear your children enjoyed the movie. Actually, it makes me happy every time there’s a new movie that entire families can appreciate. When a friend asked me if it was worth seeing, I told her it was a “nice” movie, and it really was. “Nice” has taken a bit of a beating recently – we tend to think of it as a synonym for boring or worse – but I think it’s just the right word. As Mike said, above, it’s a film about good people enjoying life, and that’s nice.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece, and the comments. We do have a good time here, and you’re always welcome. Like your husband and son, I’ve been thinking about that Boeuf Bourgignon. With the weekend coming I may give it a whirl, especially since I know now to dry the meat before I brown it!


  27. Loved reading about your Aunt T :-) Julia (and your Aunt T) reminded me of my grandmother, who was also known as Aunt Tilly to my cousins. She was a true Auntie Mame type, and her niece referred to her as such in a family cookbook she put together. Julie & Julia made me cry … it was a lovely movie, but oh, how it made me miss Julia…and my grandmother!


    Aren’t we lucky to have known such women? I’ve been continuing to think about them a lot, and it occurs to me that part of their appeal lay in their relative lack of two things: self-absorption and snarkiness. They simply were too interested in life and too ready to enjoy it to allow that sort of thing to take over.

    Since the movie, I happened to see a short PBS series of Julia’s cooking shows. Knowing so much more about her today, I enjoyed them even more, but like you, I found myself missing both she and Aunt T even more!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the kind words.


  28. I’m Janet’s cousin, (see above) and she is right, Aunt Tilly was one of those wonderful women who chose to LIVE life to the fullest. She made me laugh, she made me believe in myself and she was never afraid to try new things.

    Her sister, my grandmother, taught me to cook. We never used recipes. What fun is that! Family meals during the holidays were big joyous occasions! Tilly and her sister Mary just knew how to make them special!

    Like Julia, they are gone now, and we miss them more than I can say, but with Janet and myself, they live on…


    We had those family meals too, and they’re wonderful to remember. My generation made the mistake of not recording a lot of the recipes, but I have some, and they’re part of every holiday celebration. (Of course, some of those Swedish “delicacies” wouldn’t be made in my kitchen even if I had the recipe. I can’t even read about some of the jellied meats and such without thinking, “Now THAT is way too much trouble for not quite enough benefit!)

    Laughter and love – integral parts of all of those kitchens. It’s the real reason we remember them so fondly, I suspect.

    I’m so glad you stopped by, too – it’s fun to share such great memories.


  29. Here’s a lesser factoid of my existence. Miss Julia was born just up the road and around the corner from me.

    Not sure why and I’ve heard when given opportunity to revisit said no. I guess I watched my share of her.

    1. blu,

      She’s one I would have enjoyed meeting – but of course, I had my aunt, who was a pretty good stand-in.

      On the other hand, new information has come my way and I’m going to have to write “the rest of the story”. It’s not that my aunt wasn’t the person I thought she was, she just was more than the person I thought she was! I might bump that tale to the top of the list – it’s an interesting one.


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