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P.S. Biscuits

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Last November my Aunt Jill loaned me her copy of the book Julie & Julia.  It was about two months after I started this site, and she thought I’d be interested in another woman’s journey to make sense of her life through cooking and writing.  I loved the book, and have thought about it often while crafting posts for this site.  Not that b&s is anywhere near as demanding as cooking over 500 french recipes in one year, nor was I experiencing quite the existential crisis that Julie Powell was when she started the Julie/Julia project, but I can relate.  I started this blog fresh out of college, in the midst of my perfectly constructed five year plan crumbling around me.  In the months that have passed since I started writing, this site has been one of the most meaningful parts of my life.  It seems to make  it more manageable that I’m in an off-career track job living in a city that makes me crazy in an apartment that doesn’t get enough light to keep my  plants alive.  I may not have a ticking biological clock (at least not too loudly, and even then only when in close proximity to cute babies), but I completely understood the feeling of being lost and let down.  And, in fact, turning to a food blog to pull myself out of it.

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copper pots, halfway through the installation.  red outline indicates copper, black indicates cast iron or steel.

This past week I was invited to visit the National Museum of American History for two separate donation events.  The first, Wednesday morning, was the donation and installation of Julia Child’s copper pots.  The rest of her kitchen was donated in 2001 when she moved from Cambridge back to her home state of California.  It has been recreated with insane accuracy inside NMAH, every last spoon is exactly the way it was the day it left Julia’s house. The exhibition containing it, Bon Appetit, is a beautiful homage to Julia Child.  Her copper pots, however, have been on display in California since 2001, and were finally reunited with the rest of the kitchen this month.  I was invited as part of a group of local foodbloggers, but I was the only foodblogger that showed up for the morning segment.  In my midst were reporters from the Smithsonian Magazine, the Washington Post, and NPR.  As an NPR junkie, you can imagine that I felt a little out of place.

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However, the event was really amazing.  I watched as they hung the remaining pots on the pegboard that Child’s husband Paul painted to her specifications.  He even went so far as to outline (and color code) each pot so that she knew where they belonged.  After the presentation and group questions, I tagged along as the NPR reporter walked around the room with the curators, Paula Johnson and Reyna Green.  Their depth of knowledge about both the kitchen and Julia Child herself is immense, and it was fascinating to listen to the stories and anecdotes.  They had a story for each pot and gadget, and it was refreshing to talk to people so devoted to their craft.

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As someone a little young to be a part of the Julia Child phenomenon, I was aware of her while growing up, but never a devotee.  However, I certainly  came of age in a world much affected by Julia.  She was the pioneer of what we now consider standard for food cooking shows.  One of the things that shines through in the Julia Child exhibition is how accessible she was.  Her kitchen isn’t the fancy beach front wonders that we see on TV these days.  From the butcher block countertop to the 60 year old Garland stove, she cooked and talked in a way that made her viewers and fans feel like they could do it too.  People saw her making mistakes and were encouraged in their own culinary escapades.

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The second event that I was invited to was another donation event surrounding the Julie & Julia movie media blitz.  This event took place the evening of the copper pots installation and was a donation made by Nora Ephron, the director of Julie & Julia.  The National Museum of American History has a division of music, sports, and entertainment that has acquired everything from Colbert’s portrait to Dorothy’s red slippers.  Ms. Ephron donated the movie script, director’s plans, story boards, and the dress that Meryl Streep wears in the movie as she portrays Julia Child.

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director nora ephron at the national museum of american history, donating objects from julie & julia, the movie

By nature, the evening event was not as impressive to me as the morning event.  At the pot donation I was able to talk one on one with the curators, to learn and explore.  The evening event was larger, more formal, and a reception.  I did, however, really appreciate that Julia’s niece, Dr. Philadelphia Cousins (whose mother, Dorothy, is featured in the film), spoke.  A woman with an uncanny resemblance to Julia herself, Dr. Cousins spoke of how appreciative she was that NMAH was a vehicle for the world to appreciate what Julia represented.  I also appreciated it when she spoke about the movie.  Oftentimes I wonder what it feels like for family and friends to see an actor depict their loved ones.  It was refreshing to hear her speak about it, because I don’t believe that would be something you lied about, not even to spare the feelings of Nora Ephron (have I mentioned that When Harry Met Sally is my favorite movie?).  Dr. Cousins said that when she watched Streep’s performance, her breath was taken away.

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Tonight Dan and I went to a special screening of Julie & Julia. I was excited to see the movie long before I knew about all of these events, so it was a special treat to get to see it early and for free.  And I have to admit, I loved it.  Both Meryl Streep and Amy Adams put on phenomenal performances, and it was a fantastic interpretation of the book.  I don’t usually like books adapted into movies (I’ve had to suspend reality when watching Harry Potter movies and become all what book?, J.K. who?), but I thought this was done nicely.  I think, actually, that my favorite part was watching Dan enjoy the movie.  I read an interview with Julie Powell a few days ago where she says how much she loved the portrayal of her husband, Eric.  I would like to think that I am not as prone to meltdowns as she is, but I know that I have put Dan through more than his fair share.  It was gratifying to watch him take in the movie, grunt in sarcastic laughter when the scenes in the movie mirrored scenes from our own kitchen.  It may be that there is an overarching tone to the whole movie about partner appreciation, but I really did appreciate Dan a little more walking out of the theater.

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dress by ann roth from julie & julia, the movie.  made for meryl streep in her depiction of julia child.

When I was invited to take part in all of these events, it was with the hope that I would help promote Julie & Julia.  I am not, as I try and make clear on this site, in the business of hawking things that I don’t believe in myself.  However, I feel comfortable telling you how much I enjoyed every part of this.  When I first read the book, I loved it.  I felt like I understood Julie Powell’s perspective and have been following her blog since because I’m interested in her as a writer.  I also strongly recommend that you visit the National Museum of American History and take in Julia’s complete kitchen.  Even as someone who didn’t grow up on Julia Child, I have, over the course of the past year, started to appreciate her hold over the American public, a combination of absurd behavior and whimsy.  And finally, I do recommend that you go see Julie & Julia, the movie.  I promise I’m not getting paid to promote the movie, it just made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

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In the final scene in the movie and one of the final scenes in the book, Julie and her husband Eric drive to NMAH to visit Julia’s kitchen and to leave a box of butter in front of her portrait.  This scene struck a cord with me.  Partly because they drove down Georgia Avenue (a street I drive down daily) and partly because I’m always touched by a pilgrimage (especially one containing butter).  It does make me wonder- in a world full of food stars and celebrity chefs, who do you feel a connection to?  Would you travel to New York to place a poblano pepper at Bobby Flay’s doorstep?  Would you bring Paula Deen a cup of mayonnaise?

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script, director’s book, and storyboards from julie & julia, the movie

Finally, now, I’ll get around to the recipe.  I knew when I decided to post about this experience that I needed to pick a good recipe to post with it.  But Julia Child was a classically trained French chef, so what recipe would be fitting to post on a southern food blog?  I spoke to Paula Johnson, one of the curators of Bon Appetit!, and she recommended a recipe from Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom. This recipe is the last in the book, and is even labeled as a post script.  Julia notes that every good recipe book should include biscuits, and then goes on to explain that these are her adaptations of southern biscuits.  Even though this recipe is pretty similar to my rosemary biscuits, I thought it was perfect because it combined all aspects of my experience and my newfound knowledge of Julia Child- her American roots, her love of technique, her desire to cook everything and anything, and, of course, my southern roots and the purpose of this blog.  So I offer to you today Julia Child’s baking powder biscuits.

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title wall for the exhibition containing julia child’s kitchen at the national museum of american history

Baking Powder Biscuits
Source: Julia Child, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour

1 2/3 tbsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp sugar

3/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 cup milk

Whisk together dry ingredients.

Use a pastry knife (or two knives) to cut in vegetable shortening.  Blend until the texture is similar to cornmeal.

With a wooden spoon, stir in milk.  Dump out onto a floured surface and fold in half 6 times over.  Spread with your hands until it is 3/4″ deep.

Use a biscuit cutter to cut 10-12 biscuits.  Place on a piece of parchment paper and bake at 425 for 10-12 minutes.

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Summer Banana Pudding

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This weekend Dan and I went to North Carolina for a family reunion.  It was three days of whole smoked pigs, enjoying the marsh breeze, lots of wine, and my southern accent coming out with a vengeance.  I can’t help it, when I’m surrounded by that many southerners I just twang.  It was a great time, and it was reassuring to see that I come by my crazy naturally.

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The reunion took place in Morehead City, and about 40 Rosemond descendants flocked to the area to celebrate our heritage.  My dad rents a double wide (Casa Tortuga) in MHC that he uses as a business hub and as a place for some of his dive clients to crash.  As a rule, divers are cheap, and it’s good for business for him to have accommodations.  Because so many people were here and staying in the Swamp House, we ended up staying in what my step mom has dubbed the “modular home.”  As far as double wides go it’s adequate, but it’s kind of a man-cave.

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My dad’s thought is that if he stocks the kitchen with, you know, dishes, people will be encouraged to cook and therefore will make a mess.  So, in order to make the pudding I had to beg, borrow, and steal what I needed.  What ensued was typical- it all failed miserably.  I have a theory that my recipes work best when I cook them at home for nobody but myself and Dan.  I’m not sure if it’s a combination of stagefright and bad luck or if I just don’t cook well under pressure, but it seems my biggest failures always have audiences.  And I was already nervous about bringing a banana pudding to a group of picky southerners, failure was not really an option.

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Not like that made a difference.  I made the vanilla pudding on Friday, hoping that it would have more than enough time to set before the official reunion festivities on Saturday.  I did not, however, account for the fact that the refrigerator would remain barely cooler than room temperature.  Not that it’s a great refrigerator to start, but the fact that it was overloaded (with beer, mostly) and that it was being opened every 10 minutes (and being held open by whichever (male) family member was grazing for 10 more minutes) meant that my pudding didn’t set.  Not ever.  I thought, after a few hours, that putting it in the freezer might help.  It just crystallized around the edges.  I thought that it just needed time.  It didn’t.  I’m not sure if I missed the window on setting pudding, or if the stars aligned just right to humiliate me, but when I woke up Saturday morning it was liquid.

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Naturally, my pudding anxiety woke me up at 6am.  After checking that my pudding was, in fact, still liquid, I tried to pass time until Dan woke up.  An hour of checking facebook and reading the news later, I decided that 7 was plenty late to wake him up if I suggested a consolation trip to Bojangles for breakfast.  Grumpy though he may have been, nobody can say no to Bojangles, so by 8.30 I had made a box of replacement vanilla pudding.  I know, box pudding is a huge cop-out, but I couldn’t show up to the reunion sans banana pudding and I was out of time to try it again, so I folded under pressure.  I’m not proud of it, but at least the final product was a big success.  Everyone loved it, which may have been partially due to the fact that my Uncle Everett wouldn’t allow a wine glass to sit empty for long.

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second generation cousins (they all share grandparents on the rosemond side)

Summer Banana Pudding

1 box vanilla wafers

4 cups vanilla pudding (recipe here)

6 bananas

1 pint whipped cream

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Begin by making your pudding.  It will need to set for at least 3 hours, so allow time for that.

When your pudding is set, pull out your serving dish.  Banana pudding in the summertime does not bake, so it can be a decorative bowl.  Begin your layers with a layer of wafers.

Slice your bananas into thin slices and layer on top of wafers.  Cover with a thin layer of pudding.  There are two secrets to a successful banana pudding.  One is that it needs to sit for at least 4 hours so that the wafers can absorb the flavor and moisture, and the second is that the edges need to be sealed to lock in the moisture.  No wafer should be left dry!  So, as your spreading on your pudding, make sure that the pudding touches the edge of the dish.

Add another layer of wafers, followed by bananas and the remaining pudding.

In a medium sized bowl, whip cream until it begins to thicken.  Add sugar and vanilla.  Continue to whip until it holds soft peaks.  For banana pudding I like my whipped cream to be a little soft because it blends with the pudding so well.  By no means should it still be liquid, it just doesn’t need to be too firm.

Finish the layers with a thick layer of whipped cream.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

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my brother reid doing cartwheels off the tortuga


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Chocolate Dipped Cookie Dough Bites

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I am that person that lives out of her purse.  I lean towards oversized carry-all purses that can hold so many things at once that I often lose my hand in their depths.  As someone perpetually on the go, this habit is a life saver.  Need a pen?  Check.  Need a some propel mix for my water?  Check.  Need a water bottle for that water?  Check.  Need a book about Andrew Jackson?  Check.  Some iphone cords?  Check.  Three pairs of headphones, two of which are broken?  Check.  Every receipt from the past three months?  Check.  Okay, maybe it’s half a life saver and half a bottomless pit of junk.

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Either way, one time that this obsession with shoulder-hung space is handy is the movie theater.  When I was in high school there was a place right next to the movie theater that made the most amazing kung pao chicken over noodles.  I would get it to go, hide it in my purse strategically under other objects, and enjoy it during the movie.  Over the years I’ve snuck everything from the expected Twizzlers to oversized burritos into movie theaters, all with the same result- one happy viewer.

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One of Dan’s favorite snacks to bring to movies are chocolate dipped cookie dough bites.  They sell them at the movie theater and in drug stores, and they’re pretty neat little snacks.  While I prefer Sour Patch Kids and popcorn over something chocolatey, I will on occasion swap him for one of these dough balls.  They’re tasty and I mean, seriously, who doesn’t like cookie dough?  So, as a method of cheering him up midweek between two emotionally draining family vacations, I made him chocolate dipped chocolate chip cookie dough bites.  And they are fabulous.  As a resident of the wild side, I used real egg in my dough.  If you prefer to play it safe, there’s a pretty good list of substitutes for egg in baking here.  Once you’ve solved the basic question, to egg or not to egg, the recipe is easy and straight forward.  I halved a standard cookie dough recipe, melted two bars of semisweet dark chocolate and went from there.  I may even smuggle some of these in to the special foodbloggers screening of Julie & Julia next week (more on that to come!)

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Chocolate Dipped Cookie Dough Bites

2 bars semisweet dark chocolate

Dough:

2 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 egg

1 stick butter, softened

Mix together butter, egg, sugar, and vanilla.  Stir in flour and baking soda.  Stir in chips.

Cover a baking sheet with wax paper.  Spoon out teaspoon sized dollops.  Don’t worry about them being too ball-shaped right now, you can form them later.  Refrigerate 1 hour.

About 20 minutes before your dough is finished cooling, break the chocolate into chunks and melt in a double boiler.  When it is melted, pour into a bowl.

Remove your dough from the fridge.  Spread out a second sheet of wax paper.  Form each piece of dough into a small ball.  Dip into the chocolate using forks (it’s too hot for fingers!!), tongs, spoons, or whatever tool you have accessible.  Coat the ball entirely and then place on the wax paper.

Refrigerate 2-3 hours, then serve.

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