CASA GRANDE

From National Spaghetti Day in January to a celebration of the peppermint latte in December, each month has plenty of commemorative food days to observe.

But in August, every day of the month is dedicated to at least one — and sometimes two or three — food commemoration days.

Some of the foods that have their special day in August are:

  • The ice cream sandwich, Aug. 2
  • Watermelon, Aug. 3
  • Chocolate chip cookies, Aug. 4
  • S’mores and banana splits, Aug. 10
  • Julienne fries, Aug. 12 — not to be confused with National French Fry Day on July 13
  • National Bacon Lovers Day is Aug. 20, the same day as National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day
  • National Sweet Tea Day, Aug. 21
  • Spongecake and the Cuban sandwich, Aug. 23
  • National Burger Day and National Pots de Creme Day, Aug. 27
  • Toasted marshmallow day, Aug. 30.

National Lemon Meringue Pie Day falls on Julia Child’s birthday, Aug. 15, and that’s an occasion I will likely observe.

Like many people, I learned to cook by following recipes in a hand-me-down version of Julia Child’s “The French Chef “ cookbook (a book I still have and use). The book was written in the 1960s based on the television show of the same name. Some of the classic recipes from the book remain among my all-time favorite foods.

Child’s coq au vin (an easy but time-consuming dish to prepare) is one of the foods I tend to make when I’m feeling indulgent or want to impress visitors. Her beef bourguignon is another. Is anything better than chicken or beef simmered slowly in rich red wine and herbs?

After making these dishes for years, I recently started adapting them to the slow cooker.

In doing this, to stay true to the recipe, especially with coq au vin, it is necessary to still follow each individual step of preparation as written by Child, including simmering the bacon and then frying the chicken in the bacon fat. But then everything gets added to the slow cooker and time and low heat do its magic on the wine, chicken, bacon, onions, mushrooms, herbs and other ingredients.

As “coq au vin” literally translates to “rooster with wine,” a rooster should probably be used to prepare the dish, but the cookbook simply suggests a chicken, so I’ve always used a regular grocery store chicken.

While coq au vin is now considered haute cuisine — and I don’t like to admit how much I paid for coq au vin when I ordered it at a contemporary French restaurant in the San Francisco theater district recently — the dish actually has its origins as rustic French fare that likely developed as a way of tenderizing the tough meat of aging, no longer useful roosters.

Boeuf bourguignon is another dish that likely started out as food prepared by farmers and peasants in the French countryside to make use of lesser-quality meat. If using a slow cooker to prepare this dish, like with the coq au vin, each step still needs to followed individually before items are added to the slow cooker.

Sometimes for fun, I’ll sit down with “The French Chef” cookbook and flip through the pages in search of something easy to make and delicious to eat. Among the soufflés, cakes, breads and entrées, I’ve had my successes but plenty of failures too.

In experimenting with recipes in the book over the years, orange butter has become another of my top favorites. A simple yet delectable creation, it’s found along with crêpe recipes in the book and is suggested as a filling for sweet crêpes. But it’s also delicious when spread on bread, toast or crackers and is a scrumptious addition to a cheese board.

One recipe in “The French Chef” I haven’t attempted to make is Child’s recipe for beef Wellington, another classic dish and one of my all-time favorites (when someone else makes it). But with so many time-consuming steps and so many ways the recipe can go dramatically wrong, it’s an intimidating dish that I’ve never felt properly prepared to tackle.

When I was a teenager, I had a neighbor tell me: “if you can read, you can cook,” but I suspect that neighbor never stressed out watching the rise and fall of a classic Julia Child chocolate soufflé or worried that the bottom pastry of a beef Wellington didn’t become too soggy.

But beef Wellington is something I’ve always wanted to try to make. Maybe this year, I’ll observe Julia Child’s birthday by finally attempting to conquer the recipe. Or maybe I’ll just take out my slow cooker and whip up a batch of coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon. And maybe I’ll make a lemon meringue pie to go with it.

Beurre d’orange (orange butter)

“The French Chef” cookbook

3 or 4 lumps of sugar (about ¾ teaspoon each)

2 oranges

½ pound unsalted butter

2/3 cup strained orange juice

3 tablespoons orange liqueur

Rub sugar cubes over the oranges to allow the sugar to absorb the flavor. Zest the orange, then crush the sugar lumps and the zest in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and use an electric mixer to beat until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the orange juice and liqueur. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

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