Yesterday was the kind of perfect August day in Maine that gives it the reputation for being vacationland. The sky was a deep blue without even one speck of cloud to worry it. The day was warm but not hot, and the humidity was blessedly low. Oh, summer!

I invited my friend Barbara Penrod over to celebrate her birthday, and I made her lunch, which we ate on the patio. I won’t lie. The gardens are, shall we say, a little frowsy by late summer. Most everything is gone by, and the foliage has a dry, ragged look. Still, the bee balm was enough in bloom so that we had a splash of red and a constant whir of feeding hummingbirds. The scarlet runner beans still looked lush and cheerful, and the backyard was filled with the songs of crickets and cicadas.

Here is what I served: chicken salad with dried cranberries, celery, and roasted pecans, all arranged on bed of lettuce bordered by triangles of tomatoes, local, of course; homemade cornbread; and green grapes. For dessert we had cream and cherry parfaits along with lemon-frosted shortbread. Barbara is a very appreciative guest and, I’m happy to report, a good eater. However, when she said, “That shortbread is to die for,” I knew the meal was a success. I also knew her gift would be a success as I had bought a blue-swirl plate from a Maine potter and filled it with some of the shortbread.

Eating and talking, we spent a good part of the afternoon on that sunny patio, with the dog alternately begging for handouts and running around the fenced-in backyard. After Barbara left, I felt happy and content. I had gotten up very early to make the cornbread, the shortbread, and the parfaits. The night before, I had roasted the chicken for the salads. All of the food was simple to make, but it took time, something that Americans never seem to have enough of, and ultimately what I gave Barbara was the gift of my time. And it felt good to give this gift.

Cherry Parfait
Cherry Parfait

Here is the recipe for the cherry parfait. I got the recipe from my friend Beth Clark, and she, in turn, got it from her aunt.

1 cup whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 can of cherries (I used bing cherries canned in Oregon.)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
dash of salt

Whip cream with sugar, vanilla, and salt. Fold in sour cream. Alternate layers of cherries with whipped cream mixture in parfait glasses, beginning with cherries and ending with cream. Top with cherry. Chill.

The shortbread “to die for” is a recipe from the New York Times Cook Book (published in 1961), but I’m convinced that the secret to its deliciousness is the brand of butter I use—Kate’s Butter, made by the Patry family in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. (Their website is On the box of butter, it says that the butter is made without dyes or preservatives and that the milk comes from cows that have not been treated with artificial growth hormones. Whatever the case may be, Kate’s butter is quite simply the best commercial butter I have ever tasted, and once I went down Kate’s buttery road, there was no turning back. It is the only butter I use.


With the release of the movie Julie & Julia, this August has been quite the month for Julia Child. And what an appropriate month. Fans of this exuberant cook will know that August 15th was the anniversary of her birthday, and she would have been ninety-seven. (Fans might also recall that she died in 2004, two days before her ninety-second birthday.) While the movie got mixed review from some critics—in general, they admired Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child but were less than thrilled with the whiny Julie (Amy Adams)—audiences around the country seemed to love it. Indeed, the movie has taken in more than it cost to make, which is not a given for today’s films, which often rely on DVD sales to cover their budgets.

I must admit that I loved Julie & Julia, and I can’t wait for it to come out on DVD so that I can watch the extras. The food shots literally made my mouth water, especially the chocolate pie and the boeuf bourguignon, and I was enthralled by Streep’s performance, which was full of crackling vitality. However, I must also admit that I found the “Julie” parts less compelling than the “Julia” parts, but then again, who can compete with Meryl Streep and Julia Child? Most of us would fall woefully short. 

After seeing the movie, I was inspired to read My Life in France, which Julia Child wrote with her nephew Alex Prud’homme and was published posthumously. As I read the book and followed Julia Child through France, Germany, and the United States as she ate and cooked, two things especially impressed me. The first was the sheer amount of hard work it took to put together the famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Recipes would be made, tested, tasted, and made again and again. Julia Child did not just breeze her way into America’s kitchens and then become an icon. Instead, she cooked and wrote like crazy, and she didn’t give up, even when publishers rejected her work. 

The second, and most important for me, was her attitude toward cooking failures. In My Life in France, Julie Child writes, “One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed….no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” (The italics are hers.) 

I found that advice to be tremendously freeing. Yes, she seemed to be saying, mistakes will happen. It’s too bad, but that’s to be expected when you cook. Onward and better luck next time. Julie Child was, of course, American, but I can almost see this advice accompanied by a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. 

With an attitude like that, no wonder Julie Child had a bon appétit.

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