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Two birthday cakes for Julia Child

When you have several cooks in the kitchen, things go faster but they can also go awry. What happened when we tried to bake two sponge cakes in honor of Julia Child's 100th birthday.

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It looks like I have some more sponge cakes to make.

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Staff editor

Kendra Nordin is a staff editor and writer for the weekly print edition of the Monitor. She also produces Stir It Up!, a recipe blog for CSMonitor.com.

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In the prologue to her memoir “My Life in France” are these thoughts on her own learning process:

“I would approach the stove armed with lofty intentions…. My meals were satisfactory, but they took hours of laborious effort to produce. I’d usually plop something on the table by 10:00 p.m, have a few bites and collapse into bed. [Husband] Paul was unfailingly patient. But years later he’d admit to an interviewer: ‘Her first attempts were not altogether successful…. I was brave because I wanted to marry Julia. I trust I did not betray my point of view.’ (He did not.)”

This quality of forging ahead is one of the endearing traits viewers of her many PBS shows came to love (and still do). A dropped ingredient, a too-brown omelete were part of the flow as the cameras rolled on. Delicious meals are a noble goal, but with the tempermental medium that is food, at some point you just have to flow on, sit down, and eat.

Or in Julia’s words: ”The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘What the hell?’ attitude.”

Despite our flat sponge cakes, which were really too flat to cut in half and fill with icing, we pressed on. We melted chocolate and butter for icing and stirred preserves with sugar on the stovetop for an apricot glaze. We dressed the Chocolate Sponge Cake with festive raspberries and birthday candles. Almond slivers made an interesting pattern on the Orange and Almond Sponge Cake.

And then the skies cleared. Sunlight cut across the lawn. We shifted our indoor picnic back outside and carried out towels to dry the lawn chairs. It was too windy to light the candles, but we sang “Happy Birthday” anyway and sliced the cakes.

Of course they were delicious, because we were happy. Glad to be together picnicking above the damp grass tickling our feet on an August afternoon, and relieved to be out of the kitchen.

"Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal," Julia once said.

And that recipe is absolutely right.

Happy Birthday, Julia, to the woman who taught us that home cooking can be a learning experience, an adventure, as well as a delight.

Bon Appétit!

Related post on Kitchen Report: "The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food," by Judith Jones

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