Not to get all Julie & Julia on you, but this post is about cooking…well, about cooking and writing. About cooking and writing and re-writing, to be precise. And the cooking part? Inspired by one of my favorite cooks—maybe you guessed?—Julia Child.
I used to make quiches all the time when my kids were home. It was kind of a Sunday morning tradition. But now, quiches are reserved for more special occasions. Like yesterday: my son’s girlfriend’s birthday brunch. Last time she was here (at Christmas time) we attempted a quiche together. The crust was gorgeous but the quiche itself? An unmitigated disaster. The problem was it never set. If you’re not a cook—or if you’ve never made a custard—you may not understand. It means that the quiche was a runny, watery mess. (In case you’re curious, I later found out through Internet searches that it was likely due to the asparagus I used in the filling… too much asparagus equaled too high a water content equaled the non-setting of the custard.)
I digress. Although the quiche filling was what failed last time, it’s the crust that I’ve always had more trouble mastering. But finally, through those years I was making quiche every Sunday, I could produce an amazing crust, as evidenced in my blog post on Writer Unboxed about the pie off (which clearly I won).
As I got out my well-worn, well-loved Julia Child French Chef Cookbook, here’s what I read as I loaded up the Cuisinart with ingredients (yes, that’s how I do it):
“Every serious cook should be able to produce a tender, crunchy, buttery pastry crust that is a delight to eat in tarts, quiches, turnovers, or quick hors d’oeuvre. The mastery of pastry dough is simply a matter of practice, as there is a definite feel in the hands you must acquire for mixing and rolling. Do a batch of pastry every day, if you are determined to learn and keep notes as you go along.”
I thought about the last quiche that M. and I made together, remembering that it wasn’t the crust that failed—it was near perfect, in fact (if I do say so myself). Although I hadn’t made a crust everyday, I had over the years become comfortable with making pastry crust, with the feel of it in the hands, as Julia said. It was then and there I decided to blog about yesterday’s effort, so I took some photos along the way.
But of course, wouldn’t you know it, as I rolled out the crust, it stuck to the mat and then it broke apart a bit. In years gone by, I might have gotten frustrated. In fact, ask MEH (My Engineer Husband), I have been known to throw pie dough across the kitchen a time or two. But this morning, partly because I’ve learned the way of the crust (and how to fix things) and partly because I was writing this post, I stuck with it. I finished rolling, put the crust in the pie plate, did some patching, and I crimped the edges.
It wasn’t totally perfect to look at, but it didn’t have to be. I knew that once I added the filling, it (probably) would be fine… although there is that danger point in the oven, when the crust could collapse.
Then I thought about something else. How much like my writing this is right now. I’m in revisions of my current work in progress. I started with a lump of dough and now I’m rolling it out. It’s unfinished and incomplete, but I’m patching it and crimping it and putting it in the pie plate everyday, sometimes over and over again each day. But I’m mastering it. And it’s looking (more) perfect. And that’s when I realized, that I’m writing the Julia Child way.
The mastery of pastry dough writing is simply a matter of practice, as there is a definite feel in the hands you must acquire for mixing and rolling revision and editing. Do a batch of pastry every day Put your butt in the chair everyday, if you are determined to learn and keep notes as you go along.
Thank you, Julia. For the pastry lessons and for the writing advice, too.
P.S. I’m also guest posting today on Jessica Null Vealitzek’s True Stories blog about the Great Ice Storm of ’98, in a post appropriately titled “The Great Ice Storm.” I’d love for you to visit me there, too!
Have you ever gotten writing advice in unexpected places? What’s your favorite thing to cook?