I hate chick lit. I hate chick flicks. (Some people will take exception to my use of the word “chick.” Suck it up. I’m as feminist as they come, and I recognize a catchy term when I hear it. This is why I came up with the term “dick flicks”—movies that are made for and marketed to men.)
I hate cooking, too. I can cook, and on rare occasions, do. I’m skilled enough to deviate from recipes without sending anyone to the hospital for a good old-fashioned stomach-pumping. But for me, cooking is like housework. I’m rarely in the mood to do it. I’d rather ignore the dust elephants, eat a bowl of cereal, and get back to my laptop.
Given my dislike of chick lit, chick flicks, and cooking, “Julie & Julia” was not a must-see film for me. The story of Julie Powell’s cooking and blogging her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” pretty much proves a theory I’ve always had: If you can read, you can cook.
Several of my friends saw the movie and loved it; it inspired some of them to do some fancy cookin’ of their own, which made me really not want to see it. What if the urge to cook was so powerful that it derailed the urge to write?
Despite my reservations, last night the boyfriend and I watched it. Meryl Streep is, as always, sublime. Amy Adams is, as always, adorable even when she’s cranky. I wasn’t struck by a sudden desire to bone a duck (although every time Amy Adams used the phrase “bone a duck,” my mind became that of a thirteen-year-old boy).
However, about a third of the way into the video, I had my own trés amusing idea. What if Julie Powell hadn’t been inspired by Julia Child’s masterpiece . . . but by a cookbook that’s been in my limited collection since 1982: Cookbook #4, compiled by the United Methodist Women of Union, Mississippi?
Cookbook #4 relies heavily on cream of mushroom soup, canned vegetables, and cake mixes. Often, these ingredients are combined in an unholy marriage that results in recipes like Tomato Aspic Miniatures (the first “ingredient” on the list is “six empty Styrofoam egg cartons”--count 'em, six--so don’t worry, there’s plenty of egg-shaped tomato-gelatin goodness to go around), Surprise Meat Loaf (I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any surprises in my meat loaf), and some ungodly cake topping that uses two cups of apricot baby food cooked into a custard. This, my friends, is the reason the United Methodist Women should stick to their annual bazaar and stay out of the kitchen.
Of all the possible culinary delights hidden between the covers of this comb-bound classic of small-town cooking, the recipe that stands out to me is Sequin Salad, brought to us by “Mrs. D. A. McLean (In Memory).” Maybe it’s the flashy name. Maybe it’s the alluring combination of lime Jell-O, onions, and vinegar. The ways of Cookbook #4 are mysterious.
If I had the slightest desire to spend more than three minutes in my kitchen, I would make Sequin Salad and photograph it. But since a quick read through Cookbook #4 has convinced me that I’m no Julie Powell—much less a Mrs. D. A. McLean (In Memory)—I’ll just give you the recipe. Read it, and draw your own conclusions about what killed Mrs. McLean.
1 pkg. lime Jell-O
1 c. hot water
1 c. cold water
2 T. vinegar
1 tsp. salt
Dash of pepper
1 T. grated onion
1¼ c. small pieces raw cauliflower
¼ c. chopped pimento
(Still with me?)
Dissolve Jell-O in hot water; stir in cold water and chill until slightly thickened. Mix vinegar, salt, and pepper; add onion, cauliflower, and pimento. Fold mixture into slightly thickened Jell-O. Top with mayonnaise to serve.
That’s it. A simple, elegant fusion of lime Jell-O, vinegar, onion, cauliflower, and pimento, elevated beyond the sum of its parts by a topping of mayonnaise.