by Kate Oczypok
Kate’s essay appears in episode 35 of The Dirty Spoon Radio Hour.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 2009, I was a couple years out of college, a fresh-faced 23-year-old ready to take on the world (or at least Washington, D.C.). I decided to go see the movie “Julie & Julia,” as it was the screenplay was by one of my favorite writers, Nora Ephron. She directed the movie too, so I was instantly sold.
One August afternoon, I walked down the street to the local movie theater, ordered my usual small popcorn and Diet Coke and found a comfy seat in the air-conditioned darkness. As the movie began, I was instantly swept into the world of Julia Child and Julie Powell.
I enjoyed Julie Powell’s parts a lot. Her character (played by Amy Adams) was hard to like sometimes, but Adams made her endearing. As a writer, I dreamed of doing something creative like Powell and thought her idea to cook every recipe in “Mastering the Arts of French Cooking” while blogging about it was genius.
I immediately felt connected to Julia Child though. I had known a bit about her from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History exhibit of her kitchen and of course, loved all things French. I never knew she was tall and a bit awkward (6’2”!) and as a 5’11” woman, I felt like I could see myself in her. Meryl Streep’s performance as Child is one of my all-time favorites. I longed for a husband like Paul Child, Julia’s doting other half.
It was ultimately Julia Child who inspired me to do something that is a tradition now 12 years in the making. I wanted to try to cook one of Child’s recipes from her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I started by reading Julie Powell’s book, which had the same name as the movie.
The holiday season soon came and went, and it soon became that often boring time from January until the first hints of springtime with Easter. I wanted to do something for my friends for Valentine’s Day but couldn’t figure out exactly what to do.
Back in 2010, it often took six months for movies to come out on DVD. Well, lo and behold, six months after August is February! I was so excited to see that Julie & Julia was coming to DVD. It finally dawned on me—why not make that Julia Child dish for my friends for Valentine’s Day? I immediately got to researching and decided beef bourguignon (boeuf bourguignon to be properly French) was the best recipe to try that all my friends would like. I saved up my money for a few weeks, sent an email out to my friends, and a few days before the dinner got the ingredients, some egg noodles to serve with it, and of course some wine and appetizers.
Boy, am I glad I started cooking early! The first few years I made the dinner, I was in a studio apartment kitchen. It was tough with making things step by step due to the lack of room on my stovetop. I thankfully nailed down a routine to the dinner and was able to make it with ease by 2012.
In June 2013, I moved to a new apartment complex with Brad, the man who would later become my husband. The following February, I felt like a queen in my two-bedroom apartment kitchen. I blasted the “Midnight in Paris” soundtrack, loved the romance of the moment and was relaxed and able to cook so much more easily in a larger kitchen.
I was also excited to have an actual dining room area to serve my friends. In my studio apartment, we would have to eat on my couch and use the coffee table as our dining room table. It made all the difference in the world to me to have the space to entertain.
It was nice to have more pots and pans to work with too, since Brad and I combined kitchen supplies. The smell of beef, onions, and mushrooms in a wine sauce with tons (and I mean tons) of butter brought me instantly back to my small studio apartment, when the tradition began.
I set the table that first year, adding miniature red heart-shaped candy boxes as party favors and setting out Brad’s World Market wine glasses. Some friends brought dessert and others brought some appetizers. We had cocktails and then tucked into the beef bourguignon, made in the biggest pot we had. A friend took a whiff of the steam as I took the lid off the pot.
“It smells absolutely divine!” she said.
That evening, and every second or third Saturday in February (minus 2021 and 2022—thanks COVID) I look around the table of my friends, laughing, smiling, sipping wine, and eating the dinner I prepared for them. It’s those moments that make me feel truly grateful.
Ever since I saw the movie 13 years ago, Julia Child has become a representation of home, family, and a sense of coziness to me. Her beef bourguignon has become a yearly love letter to my husband and friends in the form of a meal.
“I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s
close to you is about as nice a Valentine as you can give.” – Julia Child
You can find more of Kate’s original writing on her website.
Original artwork by Alex Knighten
About the Author
Kate Oczypok is a freelance writer based in the Washington, DC area. She has written for The Georgetowner, The New York Times, Brides.com, Pittsburgh Beautiful and other publications. She enjoys reading books and magazines (she subscribes to around eight!), movies, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers and hanging out with friends. Her ideal evening is a cozy night in with her husband and her French Bulldog. Her favorite meal to cook is, of course, Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon.