Funny how a movie can touch some personal chord and awaken a memory, a feeling, a connection. I stayed up very late one night recently watching Julie and Julia. That movie, set in Paris and New York, brought me right back to my childhood, growing up in New Orleans. New Orleans is a very special place, not really like the rest of the country. New Orleanians knew that the Joy of Cooking extended to the realms of Mastering the Art of French Cooking long before Julia Childs rained her brilliance onto the world.
The Spring and Summer weekends were full of food. The stage was set in the backyard with huge vats of water for boiling crabs, shrimp and crayfish. The table was laid with newspaper for catching the shells and us kids ran around like kids do, stopping every now and then to create a mound of shells as we popped the tender morsels of shellfish into our mouths.
I remember the year my Father got onto a Crayfish Etouffee kick. It’s a real endeavor to make this dish. First you have to boil the crayfish in the big vat in the backyard. Then you have to peel the tails without eating them (and that’s not fun ’cause you really want to pop those little bits into your mouth) and clean the heads. Then you start on the veggie chopping for the stuffing that goes into the heads. Finally you begin to put the whole thing together, starting with the roux of course.
How my Daddy loved his Creole gourmet cooking! But he always wanted my Mom to help and she got tired of the whole ordeal. That year he was obsessed with Crayfish Etouffee. After three weekends in a row of making Crayfish Etouffee my mother threatened my father with divorce if he made it a fourth time. Well my Daddy had a mind of his own. The fourth weekend rolled around and he went right ahead with his Crayfish Etouffee feast.
My Mom didn’t really divorce him, but she got mad, grabbed her purse and said, “Johnny Shaw, I’m going shopping and that’s all there is to it today. Have fun with you Crayfish Etouffee and clean up after yourself.” And off she went leaving him to cook all alone. Of course I had to clean up the kitchen and believe me that was a job. My Father had a way of dirtying every pot in the kitchen when he cooked.
Eggs Benedict was another French dish my Daddy loved to make. Today we all go out for Sunday brunch, sometimes ordering Eggs Benedict but in my childhood home it was a dish for Sunday brunch at home. And then there was my high school graduation when Daddy lovingly prepared Eggs Benedict for my senior prom after party. Smart man – get your daughter off the street and under his watchful eye, feed the kids some good French cooking.
But back to the move and how we hit on ideas that touch a universal chord. From Julie’s husband, Eric came the idea of the blog, then she took action, ended up with a book, which became a movie and here I am reminiscing about my childhood food experiences.
Which then brings me to thoughts on death. How did Paul Childs live to be 92 and Julia Childs to 91 eating all that butter? And yet my Father died at 59 and my Mother died at 69 eating all that butter? I suppose only the strange and mysterious workings of the universe can explain such a thing.
My parents have been dead for 33 and 23 years respectively, but this movie stirred rich, living memories in my heart; memories seasoned with a well-browned roux, sprinkled with crayfish and topped with a big scoop of love.