Sitting where Einstein sat in 1931 as he rode the bucket up to the top, I couldn't see the hawk through the clouds, but I could hear it and the whispers of history as the bucket slowly rose to the top of the Mt. Wilson Solar Tower.
A benefit of being married to ECG, I get to experience hands-on, butt-on, sometimes white-knuckled science. And Sunday, I got thrown headlong into astronomical history at the Mt. Wilson Observatory when ECG and I accompanied a friend to inspect the workings of the solar observatory. Our guide, our friend's friend who had requested the help, showed us the inside and out of the place where the universe became much larger. The four of us were all over the mountain and its stories.
While some of the observatories and telescopes on the mountains seem archaic, all are still performing real work, and some of them are completing work so far beyond my understanding, I can only think of the big, big sky getting even bigger.
Sitting where Einstein sat, hiking in Hale and Hubble's steps, wandering through the halls where the almost-forgotten young Englishman who loved the mountain and the science lived before a sinus infection spread to his brain and killed him, and looking up and up where the seeing is good—all of this did not make me feel small; instead, it made the giants seem human-sized.
I went up a mountain and came down closer to the sky.
Julia Child was from Pasadena, and in my imagination, she encountered Hubble and Einstein at some swanky dinner party when home from France for the holidays sometime in the very early 50s. The scientists were immediately charmed by Paul Child, his curiosity, and the occasional spy story that he hinted at with sparse detail and twinkly eyes. Already an old man and visiting from Princeton for only a weekend, uncomfortable Einstein immediately felt at ease with the equally awkward but infinitely more confident Julia, and she made him laugh.
The elderly scientists invited the Childs up the mountain, and there, while Julia plopped a few good ingredients into a dish and fiddled with the temperamental oven in The Monastary, the men clambered over the top of the mountain, talking and swapping ideas. On their ramblings, they wandered through the machine shop, where Paul examined the tool-covered wall, picking up an idea that would come to fruition years later in Julia's own kitchen.
Once Julia hand conquered the oven and set the dinner to scent the kitchen, she stepped out to find the men in the 100-inch telescope, talking and laughing and explaining. She joined them, telling her own stories and listening, listening to hear the stars.
When the cold iced eyes to tears, the foursome moved back inside. Julia opened the oven and presented dinner.
Poulet en Cocotte Bonne Femme
Adapted from Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, Child, Bertholle, and Beck
You will need:
1 pound of small, baby potatoes, cleaned
4 strips of good bacon
1 3 pound chicken, ready to roast
4 cloves of garlic
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs and a couple broken bay leaves
To make the chicken:
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Place the potatoes in a large pot full of salted water, and bring to a boil. As soon as the water reaches a boil, remove the pot from heat and let the pot sit until you are ready for the potatoes.
Meanwhile, cut the bacon strips into 1 inch lengths and cook over medium heat in a Dutch oven until the bacon is about halfway cooked and has rendered a good portion of its fat. Remove the pot from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, scoop out the bacon and set it on a large plate. Using the slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the other pot and place them in the Dutch oven. Add the garlic cloves to the pot as well. Toss the garlic and potatoes with the bacon fat. Once they are coated, use the spoon to remove the garlic and potatoes, and place them on the same platter as the pieces of bacon.
Turn the heat back on under the Dutch oven, this time to high. Pat the chicken with a clean rag or paper towels to dry it off, sprinkle it liberally with salt, and place it in the hot pan. Brown the chicken all over, using heavy tongs to turn it every five minutes or so. Once you've browned the chicken as well as you can, place it breast side up in the pan.
Scoop the potatoes, garlic, and bacon back into the Dutch oven, tucking them around the chicken. Toss the pieces of bay and thyme over all. It should look like this:
Cover the Dutch oven tightly, adding a layer of tinfoil if you need to in order to get a good seal, and place it into the oven. Bake the chicken for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the meatiest portion of the chicken has reached 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using your mighty tongs, place the bird and the potatoes on a serving platter. Enjoy under a cold, clear night sky.
Serves four bright ones.