Germans, Chocolate, and a Birthday

A party without a cake is just a meeting.
– Julia Child
photo 2

To celebrate my birthday (which is today), and in honor of the German translation of my novel UNDERWATER*, my husband baked a German chocolate cake for me yesterday (pictured above).

You might think the sides don’t look right  look a little messy  don’t look the way they are supposed to, but the recipe he used said to put the (gooey, but yummy) icing on the top, and let it drizzle down the sides.

Which he did.

It tasted great, of course, just like everything he bakes and cooks.  He didn’t get the recipe from one of his Julia Child cookbooks, though. It came from another one of the many cookbooks he has either bought or been given over the years.

Before eating cake, we sat outside to enjoy the perfect October weather here in Atlanta, then enjoyed a dinner of poached salmon and salad (also prepared by my husband). Naturally, I felt very fêted…! We were missing some family members who live elsewhere, but those who could attend, did, and one had just been home for a few days’ visit.

I’m not sure if German chocolate cake is something you can find in Germany (I’ve never been there). I suspect maybe you can, but it might be a little bit different from our this version. If it does exist, I’ll bet it’s just as yummy.

In any case, with our cake, what could have been just a meeting  normal dinner was a party…


* The German version of UNDERWATER will be released next spring, but the English language versions (print, digital and audio) will be released on November 25, 2014! Click here to pre-order and have automatically delivered on 11-25-14!


Julie or Julia?

It’s a question I am asked a lot – and have been asked, for most of my life.

Not by friends or family, though  – everyone calls me Julie (and sometimes, Jule or Jules). So, when asked, even though Julia is my real name, I say “Julie.”

It’s just, well, simpler that way.

“Julia” never quite stuck (except for that brief * period in the 80s, when it did, with everyone at the office; after I quit my job to stay home and raise kids, it got unstuck again).

I don’t mind that it didn’t stick – I’m happy with either. However, I sign my name Julia (usually), and once I began writing books, after fleeting thoughts of adopting a pen name, I decided to sign use Julia.

First, Julia is more popular now than Julie. My evidence: my daughter knew several girls in high school named Julia, yet no one named called Julie.

Second – and this is the more important reason – Julia is my real name,  just like a Cathy might have the real name Catherine, or a Jim be a James.  (Then again, I imagine that most people named Julia are called Julia, the way a Maria is called Maria, not Marie.)

But my parents named me Julia, so there you have it.

There are some famous Julia’s (Julia Child, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Julia Roberts, and even a Saint Julia, I’ve learned), and some famous Julie’s (Julie Andrews, Julie Christie, Julie Newmar). Perhaps, like me, some Julia’s are also, or always, called Julie. Does the last letter really matter that much?

Not really. Make that Julie.


“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”
– W. C. Fields


* Actually, about six years…

A Pat o’ Butter in a Sea o’ Grits

Growing up in Atlanta in a family where the father did the cooking, I never realized that grits were a southern dish.

My parents were born and raised in southwest Virginia, went to college and got married in Tennessee, and “moved away from there” as young parents, before I came along…to Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Missouri and finally, Georgia.

But everywhere they lived, la cuisine chez nous was distinctly southern. Tomato Gravy, or Sausage Gravy, and Buttermilk Biscuits, made from scratch. Apple Butter. Country Ham and Red Eye Gravy. Potato Cakes. Chicken and Dumplings. Cornbread. Sweet Tea. Fried Green Tomatoes. Sweet Potato Casserole. Sometimes, Breakfast for Dinner.

And Grits.

I married a Yankee who had never heard of them, and whose talents as a chef  (later on) rivaled surpassed my father’s. Mon mari grew up in a big family where the mom had a weekly dinner menu: Monday was hamburgers, Tuesday was spaghetti, Wednesday was hot dogs, Thursday was chicken, and Friday was grilled cheese and tomato soup.

So, when he was in college in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and his uncle sent him the cookbook  Fearless Cooking for Men, he decided to learn to cook.


With simple, tasty recipes, the world of cooking opened up to him. He enjoyed the benefits of making dinner in his dorm room and off-campus apartment: it was cheaper than going out, and convenient on the weekend, with his weekday-only student meal plan.

And it was a great way to a woman’s my heart.

Over the years, he’s evolved into a gourmet chef. His cookbook library has grown to include a variety of cuisines, including all of Julia Child’s recipes – she’s a favorite, and we both love la cuisine française. He’s also become acquainted with southern dishes, and introduced me to “northern” ones and their accoutrements.

Creamed Onions. Turnips. String Beans. “Southern” Fried Chicken (I always thought it was just Fried Chicken, but they add a qualifier.) Corn Fritters. Rolls (in place of biscuits, and store-bought). Ketchup on Scrambled Eggs.

I’ve adopted that last one, and for family birthday meals, “Southern” Fried Chicken and Corn Fritters are a tradition, but at least I don’t put maple syrup on mine. The rest of the above dishes are just, well, not me. At my urging, my husband has tasted grits, but he doesn’t love them and has never cooked them (even though they’re great with butter*).

Which brings me to the title of this post: another name for Chapel Hill, North Carolina.


I didn’t hear the Southern Part of Heaven** described that way until I met him, just after I turned eighteen. But “a pat o’ butter in a sea o’ grits” seemed perfect: if North Carolina (my second favorite state) is the grits, then yes, Chapel Hill is the pat of butter in the middle, dressing it up and making that tasty, buttery difference.

Other than my first Christmas break, the next summer, and ten months in the south of France – the experience on which my novel MAKE THAT DEUX is drawn –  I spent as much time as I could in Chapel Hill between 1977 and 1981. My year in France was wonderful, but the tradeoff was missing a year in Chapel Hill and UNC, the most beautiful college campus in le monde

My daughter just found out she’s been accepted there as a freshman this fall, and she’s thrilled to be a Tar Heel. I’m not sure if she likes grits as much as I do, but I know she’s a big fan of butter.


* See my post of October 3, 2012: What would Julia do? Faire la cuisine française.

** also known as a little slice of heaven…

What would Julia do? Faire la cuisine française

Anyone can cook, with butter.

– Anonymous

My husband and I heard that offhand comment a few years ago at a fête — and a new (ironic) family motto was born.

Because, not anyone (such as, well, me) can cook, even with butter — an ingredient that my husband doesn’t fear.* En fait, because he enjoys faire la cuisine (and since I don’t know how), he does the cooking in our home, toujours — every day — an arrangement that works for us, and one that’s never changed. 

(If he doesn’t feel like cooking, we order a pizza, eat leftovers, or go out.)

As you might imagine, some of our his favorite recipes are found in cookbooks written by Julia Child.

If I were Julia Child

So, whenever he tries a new and complicated recipe (which is often) — if it calls for butter (which is quite often) — someone in our family might remark to him that, well, “anyone” can cook with it.

Then, he laughs…and concocts something délicieux. 

I blame my inability to cook on my family growing up: my father did the cooking, so I thought that was normal. Evidemment, it was one of the qualities I looked for in a husband. That, and a sense of humor, patience, and optimism, among others.

But from what I’ve observed, cooking almost requires those three — at a minimum.

In my soon-to-be-available novel, the main character, Jenny, is a girl in college, and in one of my favorite scenes, her date cooks dinner for the two of them at his apartment. I’m not saying whether butter is involved, but wine is — c’est certain. But c’est la France, so c’est necessaire. The evening is a memorable one, but not because of the food. I won’t describe it further here, except in these words: guitar, bathroom, and (full) disclosure.

Jenny has her own list of qualities that the ideal man should possess, and I’m not sure they match my own. Let’s just say, she’s open to persuasion.

I don’t know what Julia would do. But – what will Jenny do? Il faut acheter le roman! (You have to buy the book!)



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