|A Cool Cat|
I may not be a fan of August temperatures, but I am a fan of some of the awesome people born during this month, and I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to three of my favorites, all of whom were a force of nature and had a great impact on my life.
Born on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France, it is impossible to underestimate the influence this diminutive Frenchwoman had and continues to have on the fashion world almost 50 years after her death. Had Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel stopped at inventing the Little Black Dress her place in the pantheon of couture designers would have been assured, but she didn’t stop there. She reinvented the well-dressed woman’s wardrobe filling it with fashionable, wearable and comfortable pieces, born of her love for the simple, clean lines and expert tailoring of men’s garments, which she adapted to suit her tiny frame. As a result, she virtually created the concept of casual chic, for which every woman owes her a debt of gratitude.
Andrea Marcellé Miller, the proprietor of my favorite vintage shop in downtown Haddonfield, Maison Marcellé (See In My Own Backyard - Maison Marcellé), has a beautiful birthday tribute to Coco in her storefront window this month. I love the hat, which looks exactly like something Chanel might have designed. She started by designing hats, but soon launched her own clothing line inspired by the clothes worn by her wealthy lovers, her first financial backers.
Julia Child in her kitchen as photographed ©Lynn Gilbert, 1978, Cambridge, Mass.
At the opposite end of the diminutive scale, 6’ 2” Julia Child, born August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, California, reinvented the way the American housewife cooked.
We all know the story of how Julia Child, who barely knew her way around a kitchen, having grown up with a family cook, accompanied her new husband, Paul Child, to Paris in 1948. A career diplomat, he had been posted there by the US Foreign Service. Paul had lived in Paris before he and Julia were married and fallen in love with the food. Eager to introduce his new wife to the glories of haute cuisine, it was a meal in the town of Rouen that opened the floodgates of Julia’s gastronomic juices. She credits that meal of oysters, sole meunière, and fine wine as “an opening up of the soul and spirit for me.” After studying at Le Cordon Bleu and with other master chefs Julia was determined to master the culinary arts à la française and equally determined to teach American housewives how to do the same in their home kitchens.
A collaboration with two fellow Cordon Bleu students Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck resulted in the publication in 1961 of a cookbook that would have a major impact on those American housewives.
In 1963, after the Childs returned to the US, Julia’s television show “The French Chef” launched a lifelong career for Julia as the official American Ambassador of French cuisine.
When I got married in 1978, tante Jeanette sent the lace from Alençon for my wedding gown and veil and a French cookbook “Toutes les Bases et les Recettes de la Bonne Cuisine.” That Christmas, my husband bought me a set of Cuisinart pots and pans and Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” Volumes 1 and 2 (the 2nd Volume was published in 1970). This may sound a rather unromantic gift for our first Christmas as a married couple, but I was thrilled, and I am certain that Paul Child would have applauded my husband’s choice.
These two books formed the basis not only of how and what I cook, but of how I think about the whole gastronomic experience. You might say that they “feed” each other and have fed us well for 40 years.
On August 17th, Mme Mère would have been 102 years old. It’s been five years since this Force of Nature left us, ever so quietly, in the early hours of an otherwise ordinary Monday morning. A most uncharacteristic way for an opera singer, who knew the value of a great exit, to take her leave; but, then, maybe that’s why she chose it. Always leave them guessing!
Taller than Coco, not as tall as Julia, Mme Mère, a former model, was beautiful, brilliant, talented, creative and charming. Her quixotic nature could be difficult to deal with; her highs were very high and her lows very low. But whatever else she was, she was never boring. She was every inch the Diva, who craved center stage.
Having a daughter who preferred the wings was a disappointment, but the Good Lord rewarded her with a handsome, brilliant, talented and creative son who would fulfill her wishes on the opera stage. Sadly, my brother Paul’s career was cut short at the age of 31 by a heart attack that struck him down in the wings as he left center stage. She got on with her life, as did I, but neither of us was ever the same.
She gave me so much. They say you can neither take all the credit nor all the blame for how your children turn out, but in large measure Mme Mère is responsible for the woman I am today. There is no question that we locked horns many times along the way, but in the end our hearts and hands were always ready to reach out to one another, and they still do.
To read more about Mme Mère's life, go to "The Best Years of Her Life - Part 1"