I topped off this week with a visit to the ‘Siting Julia’ exhibit at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Man, I sound seriously intelligent by proxy. I should probably keep thoughts like that to myself, though.
You see, I’ve been struggling a little bit lately in this grad school world of constant transition and unknown futures. Being totally open to what comes your way is so valuable, and so incredibly tough for a type A perfectionist with a love of control. (Ehem.)
So I thought that turning to Julia for inspiration might be a good idea. The exhibit highlights original pictures, papers, and other items from the library’s Julia Child Papers collection, tracing Julia’s path through her time in Paris, her life in Cambridge, and her experiences on national television. Julia would have turned 100 years old this August, if our world were still graced by her presence, so many people are finding special ways to honor her and her influence on American cooking and American culture at large.
“I was 32 when I started cooking. Up until then, I just ate,” Julia once said. She wanted to bring her love of French food and cooking to Americans. Through her seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and then with her television show The French Chef, Julia changed the face of gastronomy and cooking in America – she made good food, cooked well, accessible to Americans in a way it never had been before.
I actually have Julia to thank, in part, for where I find myself these days – she and Jacques Pépin started the Masters program I’m currently in. Again, awesome by proxy. Turns out Julia was just the inspiration I needed this week. In a letter from Julia to her husband Paul, seven months before they married, she wrote, “I am gradually coming out of my cocoon and looking at life as it is meant to be lived… I want a job in which I will grow, meet many people and many situations.” This was exactly what I needed to hear. A reminder that spending time and money learning about things you find interesting and doing things you love isn’t fluff. Isn’t a waste. It is, in fact, important. It’s what creates lives of influence like that of Julia Child.
Today I was reminded that my time spent sitting in class, having a conversation over a glass of wine, reading an interesting article in Gastronomica, writing a post for this blog, or just being in my kitchen does actually matter. I may not know how just yet, and I may not know where this season of my life focused on food is leading me, but today Julia reminded me that’s okay.
So, on that note, I want to share with you something from some of my recent time spent in the kitchen. My new kitchen, in fact! This is the first thing I’ve baked since I moved, and not only is the company in my new apartment much better than in my last, but the oven is too. Thank goodness for both.
It’s quickly turned to fall here in New England (love!) and just as quickly my mind has turned to fall-inspired foods. This pumpkin bread is moist and crumbly, accented by bits of toasty walnuts and scents of clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. When this is baking in your oven you’re going to think it’s Thanksgiving, and then you’ll be grateful to realize that in fact you have two more months of magical fall weather to enjoy before Thanksgiving actually arrives. I promise.
Pumpkin Walnut Bread
Very slightly adapted from Joy the Baker
Yield: 2 loaves
Quick note: This bread is delicious but crumbly! There’s no great way to slice the loaves without getting crumbs. One trick to try is to cut the loaf with a dull knife while still in the pan so that the loaf doesn’t separate too much while cutting.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup water
1 cup chopped walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Grease two loaf pans and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, sugars, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, oil, maple syrup, and water.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and use a spatula to fold all of the ingredients together. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl well.
5. Fold in most of the chopped walnuts, reserving some to sprinkle on top of the batter once in the pans.
6. Divide the batter between the two greased pans and sprinkle with a few walnut pieces.
7. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven. Let the loaves rest in the pans for 20 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack.