Friday, November 19, 2010

Julia


Julia Child has always been an inspiration to me. I’ve read many of her books, and The Way to Cook is one of my favorite cookbooks. Julia was also completely hilarious. Someone who is funny and can cook will always have my admiration.

One morning I was too goofy to write, so I did what I sometimes do when I can’t think: watch TV. The day before I had written for a full eight hours and needed some not-writing time. I’m not one of those writers who will sit at my desk when I don’t have an idea. The great Flannery O’Connor sat at her desk every day for at least two hours. Sometimes she wrote, sometimes she didn’t. I can’t do this. I will get up in the middle of the night if I awake with an idea or a first line comes to me, but I can’t sit at my computer waiting for the muse. She is often at Starbucks drinking a soy chai latte and eating an apple fritter. And, of course, she never gains weight.

So I plopped onto the couch and looked at my viewing choices. There were no crime shows on, which bummed me out. Nothing like solving a murder to wake up the brain. Then I saw that public television was airing episodes of The French Chef with Julia. I hesitated. The reason is, I tried to watch this series on DVD about four years ago and was unable to stop laughing. See, Max and I had just watched Saturday Night Live: The Best of Dan Aykroyd and his Julia Child was stuck firmly in my mind. I returned all three disks of The French Chef to Netflix unwatched.

I decided to give The French Chef another go. Julia beat the eggs for her omelet with chopsticks and said not to let the butter get too brown or “it has a cheap taste.” I cannot believe how much I learned in these few episodes! Not just stuff about cooking, either. Julia’s show is such a refreshing change from the today’s slick Food Network fare (Ina Garten excluded). Julia is unapologetically herself and when she instructed the audience “if you’re alone in the kitchen” to use their hands to shape an omelet, I laughed out loud. Not only because it was funny, but because who hasn’t done that? You can tell that these shows are sans script and all Julia. She tells it like it is. Cooking is messy, things don’t always go as planned and a lot of times you have to punt. Kinda like life.

This is my favorite quote of all time: “No one is born a great cook. One learns by doing. This is my invariable advice to people: Learn to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” Julia said it, Julia meant it and Julia lived it.

This quote hangs on my refrigerator, and I try to live by these words every day. I also use my hands to fix stuff all the time. But that’s just between us.

Double Chocolate Muffins
Makes a dozen muffins

I think Julia would dig these muffins because I used butter and room-temperature eggs, and they are just a third of a cup of sugar and a dollop of frosting away from being a cupcake. They’re also a surefire way to get a sleepy teenager to wander into the kitchen before 10 on a Saturday morning and ask with interest, “What are you making?” I used unsweetened chocolate almond milk, but unsweetened regular or vanilla almond milk works just as well. If you want to use real milk, that’s okay, too. No judgment, man. If you want to add nuts, I’d go with toasted almonds or hazelnuts.

Canola oil spray (if you’re not using baking cups)
cups all-purpose flour
½ cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon instant espresso 
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
½ cup unsweetened chocolate almond milk
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare muffin pan by lining with baking cups or spraying with canola oil.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, espresso and salt.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together butter, almond milk, eggs and vanilla and almond extracts. Stir dry ingredients into wet until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
4. Spoon batter into muffin cups until ¾ full. Bake 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Transfer muffins to rack to cool completely. And if you drop one on the floor, just dust it off and act like nothing happened. No one will know!

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