Saturday, September 14, 2013

my week of living like julia - part three

For me, the end of August was two things. One: time off to celebrate my anniversary with Stephen. Two: my chance to Live Like Julia - in which I chose one of ten rules spelled out in Karen Karbo's new book Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life, and lived that rule for one week. My chosen rule was Cooking means never saying you're sorry. For that one week I pledged to [try my damnedest to] never apologize.

And that's what I did. I tried my damnedest. You can see most of that damned trying here and here.

Actually, trying your damnedest can pay off. By day, Stephen and I worked on our wedding scrapbook, and I didn't apologize for my work. At night, it was movies and food, and I didn't apologize for my cooking, although that's because I didn't cook. Thursday, August 29th, the second to last day, there was a bit of cooking, but Stephen did it.

No apologies.

I love that I chose rule number eight because that chapter also contains this word of advice: "Find yourself a Paul Child" - Julia's lovely husband who played production assistant for tapings of Julia's shoestring-budget television show The French Chef, doing dishes, even "shovel[ing] the snow off the fire escape before lugging in the pots and pans they'd brought from their own kitchen."

"Reader," Karen Karbo writes, "I wish I could offer concrete advice on how to find and land your own Paul Child, a guy who will effortlessly switch roles with you if and when your career suddenly takes off, becoming in a matter of a few short months the wife to you that you once were to him, but I fear it’s mostly a matter of luck."

Well, I've been lucky.

Stephen hasn't had to do any role-switching on account of my budding chef or television career, but I've definitely been lucky to find a husband who's my kind of wife. Lucky I can be his kind of husband. And all vice versa.

I had to cap this Live Like Julia week with something special for him. My cold was going away and now that I'd spent a week eradicating my over-apologizing ways, it would be the perfect test: to see if I could cook a fancy French dinner for him and not apologize for it. A grand task. I am not a cook. I'm also a vegetarian and Stephen tries to stay dairy-free and wheat-free, so some substitutions would have to be made. So without apologies, I give you:

Coq au Vin à la Julia Child [by way of the internet and some improvisation on my part]

  • 1 pkg. bacon "ends and pieces" that you finally find while aimlessly wandering the meat case at the grocery store because you don't know that bacon is kept the same aisle as bologna and hotdogs
  • 1/3 pkg. freezer-burnt fake bacon you've had in your ice box for a very long time
  • 3 lbs. chicken breasts
  • 2 meatless chicken cutlets
  • 2 yellow onions [Some recipes say 1 yellow onion and some recipes say 12 to 24 small white onions, so you get 2 yellow onions for good measure, and it's the right decision.]
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 2 cups red wine [Avoid bold, heavily-oaked varietals like Cabernet. Instead, you go with a cheap, thin Pinot Noir called Flip Flop.]
  • 2 cups broth
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 10 oz. sliced mushrooms [You choose morels because your husband is fussy about mushrooms - and you add some golden shiitakes for yourself.]
  • Salt and pepper to taste
*Some recipes call for adding cognac and then setting the kitchen on fire, but you decide against it.


1.  Find supposed Julia Child Coq au Vin recipe online and then, just before leaving for the store to get ingredients, notice, at the bottom of your printout, one review: "This recipe was costly and time-consuming. The results were revolting." Quickly find two more supposed Julia Child Coq au Vin recipes online [there are many and they are all different]. Take all three to the store just in case.

2.  Give yourself a goodly amount of time for cooking since, even though the recipes say this will take an hour and forty minutes, you don't want to trust yourself.

3.  Put morels in bowl and cover with hot water. Soak until soft, then remove from water. Set aside in a pretty place and take picture.

4.  Chop one third of one yellow onion until you cry. Leave kitchen and get on computer. Surf facebook until you recover. Return to kitchen. Chop one third of one yellow onion until you cry. Leave kitchen and get on computer. Surf facebook until you recover. Repeat.

5.  Fry bacon over medium heat, then place on paper towels to drain. Keep the bacon grease in the pot. Fry fake bacon in separate pan. Remove before its neon red color turns brown. Add olive oil because there will be no grease left in that pot.

6. Strain the water from the morels and realize you can use it [along with Better Than Bouillon] to make your stock. You are a genius. Gain a nicely-inflated sense of self.

7.  Turn heat to high and sear chicken until golden brown on both sides. Stick the meatless cutlets in their separate pan. Don't they look lovely? Take picture.

8.  Add onions, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Sauté six minutes, then add broth and red wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for thirty minutes. Remember you're supposed to be doing the same thing to your pot of frozen meatless pellets and rush to catch up.

9.  After thirty minutes, remove chicken [and in turn now-unfrozen meatless pellets] and place in oven-safe dish and put in oven to warm while you work on the sauce. Realize you were supposed to have preheated the oven to 250 degrees somewhere along the line.

10.  Into the red wine sauce in each pot, stir 1 tbsp.butter [or Smart Balance since your husband tries to avoid dairy] and 1.5 tbsp. flour [since you forget that your husband also tries to avoid wheat]. Bring to a boil and stir constantly. Add mushrooms, bacon [and fake bacon] pieces, salt and pepper and cook for 10 to 12 minutes.

11.  Place chicken back in sauce and serve with braised asparagus and a good salad.

Yield: there's nothing wrong with lots of leftovers.

Outcome: satisfied husband.

Time as stated in recipe: 1 hr. 40 min.

Time in actuality: 3 1/2 hours. Not including making the salad and asparagus. No apologies.

Friday, September 6, 2013

my week living like julia - part two

"For all of the equality feminism has wrought," Karen Karbo says in her new book Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life, "women are still the Apologizing Gender."

So true. We are the grand apologizers. But why? Is it a way of politeness passed from mother to daughter? Is it hooked up to our instinct to be the nurturers rather than the fighters? Is it some insecurity we don't want to believe we still have, as women, some sense of being less worthy?

I thought a lot about Karen's statement during the week I elected to Live Like Julia, choosing one of Julia's ten rules to adhere to and then write about. The rule I chose was number eight: Cooking means never saying you're sorry. You can see Day One of my attempt here. It wasn't stellar. In fact it was so un-stellar that I amended the plan to change Day One into what was supposed to be Day Two.

But the thing is, I had a lot to overcome. My very first memory is of throwing my apple on the ground in preschool - and then feeling so sorry for it that I picked it up and apologized, softly petting its mushed-up skin.

Sometimes I think my impulse to apologize all the time stems from my woman's mothering instinct. That want to nurture and make better. Another memory: me as a depressed teenager, in a rage, throwing a glass Christmas ornament against my bedroom wall. Smash of tiny violence - very satisfying for a second - but then it hurt my heart. I laid the pieces together like feathers in a nest, putting them back in my box of Christmas ornaments because I was so sorry about breaking this inanimate object that I couldn't bear to throw it away.


I began my Live Like Julia week on the weekend. Saturday was [the new] Day One of no apologies. Tuesday was our wedding anniversary, and my task for Saturday and Sunday was to finish my anniversary card for Stephen. We always photoshop cards, trying to outdo each other in cleverness, artistry or at least twistedness. Like this. And this. And [for the twisted side of things], this.

My idea this year was to take our wedding picture and switch faces.

The original.

And the image for the card.

As I worked, my mind was already apologizing. I could hear myself Tuesday morning as Stephen opened the card: sorry, I just couldn't get it perfect. I didn't 't know how I expected to change my apologizing ways when I was apologizing, in advance, for something I hadn't even finished yet. All alone to myself.

Stephen was probably out there in the studio right now, working on his card to me. His card wasn't going to be only-perfect-enough, it was going to be perfect-perfect. And even if it wasn't, he wasn't of the Apologizing Gender; he wouldn't feel the need to impulsively apologize for it, not like weak, pathetic me.

I was a woman photoshopping her face on a man's body, obsessing over whether she was less than a man.

"Stop it!" I said out loud.

The soft brown curl of Chihuahua on my lap put up his head, quick, at my outburst.

"Sorry," I said.

Those musings on how my apologizing must stem from some nurturing impulse inside me? A crock. Do you want to know what's inside me? It's that thing I pretend isn't there, that spends a little too much time reminding myself that women are men's equals. That thing that weirdly, inconceivably questions - every day - whether it's actually true that women are men's equals. That thing that has no place in the life of the daughter of a strong, capable woman, in a family full of strong capable women. I don't get it, but this thing inside me believes somehow that the apology embedded in my psyche is there because I'm lesser.

When really, the opposite is true. The lesser gets embedded there because of the apology.


I sorted through my proposed apologies as I continued work on the anniversary card. Some, I realized, were instances where, if I apologized later, I wouldn't have to work harder now. So, I worked harder now. In the spots where working harder didn't make it perfect, I let it go. By Monday morning I had my card printed and ready -  no apologies - and Stephen and I were on our way to work for a quick half-day before our anniversary celebration would begin. 

"I've been thinking about your apology thing," Stephen said.


"What if you used the words excuse me instead? Sometimes when you say sorry, what you really mean is excuse me. Which is different."

Thought number one: would that be cheating?

Thought number two: I like this idea.

"When you think about it," he said, "excuse me is much more active than I'm sorry. Excuse me is an order."

Maybe I was going about this all wrong. I was being contrite when I could be contrite and a badass at the same time.


As I went about my day, all my thoughts were a double-exposure with the question of apology superimposed in front. Trying to listen to myself and stop any sorries that wanted to pop out. Trying to perform the sleight of hand that would slip in an excuse me instead.  By midday [this was Day Three], I'd gone from saying "I'm sorry" to "I'm sor-" and sometimes "I'm s-" With periodic bouts of "I'm sorexcuse me."

Passing a coworker in the hall, though I was nowhere near her, I said, "Excuse me."

She put one eyebrow up at me and kept walking.

I felt like queen of the world.

By Tuesday morning, our anniversary, I was knocking off those excuse mes like a champion. I was still letting fly with plenty of "I'm s-" but something in me had changed. In that region of my brain that churned out sorries routinely and without thinking, there was an awareness.

We had mochas and macarons and exchanged anniversary cards. As Stephen studied my card, my mouth wanted so much to apologize, but I just kept shoving cookies in there.

 Stephen's card to me, playing on his recent injury and subsequent tweaked back.
- - - >

[I didn't notice the "excuse me" in it until just now.]

Mid-morning, Stephen made us omelets. And you want to talk about Julia Child? That man can cook. His was the one with dairy-free cheese, mine with real. He made his first, so mine would be hottest when we sat down to eat.

But as he worked, I heard him cussing in the kitchen.

"Oh, yours is kind of destroyed!" he said.

"It'll taste lovely."

"Mine should be the one that gets destroyed," he said. "Yours should be the pretty one."

When he set the omelet down in front of me, he said, "Sorry, sweetie."

The man was apologizing for his cooking.

I was so excited.

I said, "Let me give you a lesson in Julia Child."


Stay tuned for part three, wherein I attempt to cook one of Julia's recipes and present it with no apologies. #LiveLikeJulia

[For more information on how you can Live Like Julia, check this out. To pre-order Karen Karbo's lovely book Julia Child Rules, go here.] 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

my week of living like julia - part one

Writer Karen Karbo has a fun month-long project going on over at her blog Karbohemia, to help promote her new book Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life. The idea is this: you choose one of Julia's ten rules and live that rule for one week, then write about it.

I chose rule number eight: Cooking means never saying you're sorry.

"[Julia] knew that mastering anything was a process," Karbo writes, "and just because you were serious, that didn’t mean you wouldn’t mess up, a lot. Her own show is a real-time lesson on this philosophy: the nonsensical instructions, the occasions when things are overdone or underdone, or something that’s supposed to adhere, doesn’t. This is simply the way of it, or so the unspoken message goes, and there’s no need to apologize, ever."

How freeing, I thought. And how... impossible.

I apologize for everything: for my cooking, for gifts I give people, for social engagements I can't make. When I have a nice conversation with a friend I've met at the supermarket, I later apologize for having kept her so long from the peanut butter aisle. I apologize with my face when I haven't yet gotten around to apologizing with words. In writing group last Thursday, the low-grade apologies I tossed out about the excerpt I was about to read had my fellow writers bringing up the theoretical "apology bucket" so much that we found ourselves in a discussion about how cool it would be if we had an actual apology bucket, with actual money, and could take up a pool where someone could win the pot.

"Why all this apologizing?" Karbo asks. "It’s a terrible and silly tic, and it’s not remotely polite. Instead, it creates the mental habit of feeling apologetic."

Alright it was time to change. For years, my sorry-sorry-sorry had been driving Stephen crazy, and now we were on the brink of a week in which we'd taken time off to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. The timing was perfect. I determined that with Julia's help, and Karen Karbo's, I was going to spend the week of Friday, August 23,  through Thursday, August 29, not apologizing - and break this habit forever.

Of course the first thing you learn when you agree to Live Like Julia for a week is that you can't just instantly turn on your inner Julia and turn off your inner you. In the car on the way to work that first morning, Friday, I was feeling terrible that we were approaching our anniversary celebration and I'd suddenly come down with a bad cold. The apology popped out as naturally as an exhale. It wasn't just the guilt over the bug I'd contracted [which I had no control over]. It's also pretty automatic with me whenever I sniffle without stopping myself:

Sniffle. "I'm sor--"

"What?" he said.


I decided that Friday would be pre-Julia day. As preparation for my week of no sorries, I'd have a day where I just observed my sorrying habits - which is to say, I moved my start date back a day because I obviously wasn't ready. That day I apologized to my boss because I was taking time off work. I called and apologized to Stephen when I wasn't ready to be picked up at five ... then when I wasn't ready to be picked up at five-thirty, then five-forty five. Stephen didn't care. The only thing that was annoying was the apologizing.

"Starting tomorrow," I told him that evening, "I'm not apologizing for a week."

As I explained the plan, I fully expected Stephen to praise me for the initiative I was taking in honor of our relationship, but what he said was:

"I hate to say it, but--"

"What?" I said.

"But you're not anywhere near as bad as you used to be," he said. [Surprise.] "When we were first together, it drove me nuts."

Hmm. Maybe he'd gotten so used to my apologies that he hardly noticed anymore. Or maybe it was true. Maybe I wasn't as bad. Maybe this would be easier than I thought.

Saturday morning, I awoke feeling good. The game was on. As I brushed my teeth and gave them a floss, I didn't feel apologetic at all. When, a little later, I apologized for stepping on what I thought was Stephen's toes but turned out to be the rubber rim of his flip flops, I was not concerned. It was a momentary setback in an otherwise promising morning.

A little later:  

Sniffle "Sorry," I said, and then immediately, "There I go again."

"What?" Stephen said.

"Oh, sorry, I apologized again." I said. "Oops, and again. Sorry."

This was not working.

I decided to amend my goal. Instead of I won't apologize the whole week, the plan would be, by the end of the week, I'll have gotten myself to stop apologizing.


 That I could do.

#CliffHanger #LiveLikeJulia

[For more information on how you can Live Like Julia, check this out. To pre-order Karen Karbo's lovely book Julia Child Rules, go here.]