Saturday, 24 October 2009

Julie and Julia: a film for food lovers

Earlier this week I went to see the film Julie and Julia. I loved it and, if you like food, you'll probably love it, too. As a Brit, it didn't matter that I was only loosely aware of Julia Child or that there was no mention of Elizabeth David who was just as influential. It is warm, gentle and thoroughly entertaining and reveals the powerful role food can play in people's lives; as someone who has adored cooking since the age of seven, I was captivated from beginning to end.

The film portrays two food-obsessed women. Julia Child's passion is fired when her diplomat husband's work takes them to Paris. Via hatmaking and other hobbies, she settles on cookery, studying at the Cordon Bleu school. Half a century later in New York, failed novelist Julie Powell realises that her enthusiasm for cookery compensates for the deficiencies of her job in a insurance company. The two women's stories are brought together by Julie's decision to try every recipe of Julia's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and document her experiences in a blog.

There are a number of memorable scenes depicting both women sharing their creations with their husbands and friends (and seeing Meryl Streep's Julia Child enjoying Parisian restaurants and food shops and markets for the first time is priceless). The film demonstrates just how pleasurable and therapeutic cooking can be and how it is a tool for expressing love.

In our materialistic, yet economically challenged world, reflecting on these simpler pleasures helps remind us what really matters. This delightful film shows how mood enhancing some time in the kitchen can be, whether Julia Child in Paris or Cambridge, Massachusetts or Julie Powell in Queens (or Lucy in London). Bon appetit!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Miscarriage: no justice

As a passionate lover of food and wine and someone whose thoughts are always on their next meal, pregnancy throws a big spanner in the works. While pregnant with my three-year-old daughter Alice I felt as though I'd been hijacked. The ongoing queasiness of my mild morning sickness put me off most food (baked potatoes with cottage cheese became a staple) and I didn't want to think about wine; attending wine tastings and events professionally felt quite surreal. I didn't even enjoy reading about it. Actually, this was all quite helpful given the long list of official recommendations of what mums-to-be should avoid consuming.

Food and wine play and enormous role in my life professionally, socially and domestically. Early in 2008 we started trying for a second child and, so far, I have had two miscarriages in just over a year. As a woman trying for a child, your months work like this: during your period you relax and eat and drink what you like. As the month goes on and you think you might be pregnant, you start being a 'good girl' and become aware of what you are drinking and keep the intake moderate. At the end of your cycle either your next period comes and you're back to eating and drinking as normal or, in the absence of a period, you lay off booze completely and start cooking all your meat thoroughly, avoid certain cheeses etc etc.

With miscarriages, on a practical level this process is infuriating (aside from all the emotional issues). Before having my first miscarriage, I didn't feel remotely pregnant, so a huge effort was required to stay on the straight and narrow food and drink-wise. The latest one (this summer) was easier as I did feel pregnant and had the familiar queasiness and desire for bland starchy food. Just as you begin to accept your new routine a couple of months into the pregnancy, bam, you discover you've lost the baby. For me, this involves visits to University College Hospital in London and each time I come away with not just the sad news but some tasty treats I'd hitherto been denied. Last month I was consoled by some delicious sushi from a Japanese take-away conveniently located just across Tottenham Court Road from the hospital. That evening I enjoyed it with a strong gin and tonic before a supper of steak and kidney pie and a rich, ripe red wine. Since then I've been partial to juicy steaks, prosciutto, pâtés and unpasteurised cheese (and, yes, some rather special bottles of wine), although even this was interrupted by a week on some powerful antibiotics that apparently would have made me nauseous if I'd drunk any alcohol. How I resented having that silver lining dented.

So, here I am back at square one. We'll see what the future holds, but I don't relish the idea of having to keep repeating the first few weeks of pregnancy, both emotionally and gastronomically. For now, though, cheers and bon appetit!