In a time when a lot of people are unemployed, soul searching and trying to redefine themselves and their careers, Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia” is inspiring. This is an autobiographical account of the writer, who is about to have a nervous breakdown in her job as an office drone in downtown New York, on her impulsive quest to cook 524 Recipes in 365 Days from Julia Child’s famous cookbook, Mastering The Art of French Cooking. Julie never meets Julia but becomes obsessively preoccupied with the famous chef and TV personality as she delves into the mysteries, pains and pleasures of French cookery.
Julie lives with her school sweetheart-come-husband in a tiny Queens apartment where most of the cooking action goes on. She makes all kinds of weird stuff off the regular American food radar. She hunts out obscure shops in different parts of New York for such things as bone marrow, lots of organ meats, live lobsters and almost anything that you can imagine to put in aspic. She even learns Julia Child’s very French “proper” techniques to kill lobster herself which she describes in heartless detail for her hungry readers. She uses tons of butter in the recipes and claims to have gained 20 pounds throughout the project! Her husband doesn’t gain weight at all though he eats everything that comes out of Julie’s kitchen with gusto (so unfair!) She jokingly starts referring to him as a “skinny bastard.” The effort that Julie puts into making all of these rich foods just the way Julia Child would is really fun to watch, I mean read, cause the way Julie writes does make you feel like you are watching her cook!
Julie, just like her mentor Julia, also likes an audience. As she starts her frenzied cooking experiment she gets on the blog-train and begins posting her experiences on-line. Very quickly she gathers quite an avid following. She calls her readers “bleaders,” and it’s clear that she’s very fond of them, especially the ones who write in often. (Note to you reading this out there, we at weirdcombinations love you so keep reading and writing in!) She really starts to have a spark and passion for the cooking when she looks forward to what she’s going to write about her project on the blog and what her fans might say.
Unlike Julia, Julie is not calm and doesn’t recover from disasters that well. She messes up a lot of the recipes at first. She frequently wonders if she’ll even be able to complete them all in her self-imposed one year time limit. It feels good to see her making mistakes and then eventually figuring it out. The fear around getting everything perfect is common, particularly when you’re trying to make something out of a famous person’s cookbook in front of an audience. Anyone can relate to Julie’s stress. I found myself anxiously cheering for her through much of the book!
Julie’s funny too, and not only about cooking and food. Her friends seem to think that she’s an expert in the bedroom as well as the kitchen. They’re always coming to her talking about their sex-capades and what not. Julie thinks it’s just because she’s married that they flock to her for sex advice; like a married person would know all the tricks or something!?! She mentions most of what she tells them comes from “Sex & the City” so she’s pretty grateful for the show. She’s interested in another TV show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, even when she’s being interviewed and filmed cooking at her own apartment by a news crew from CBS; she has to stop everything half-way through to watch an episode of it.
Her blog and story really take off and it’s not just CBS that interviews her. When talking to CNN, she mentions the famous “French Paradox” that French people stay skinny even though they’re constantly eating fattening foods and drinking a lot of fine wine. I guess Julia Child always talked about moderation; but Julie seems to prefer JC’s friend, Jacques Pepin, who famously said, “Moderation in all things—including moderation.” Now that’s the philosophy for me!
The only time that the book really annoyed me was when Julie kept moaning about turning 30. That seems very young to me. She kept making me feel old, too. So irritating! Julia Child herself was 37 when she first decided to go to the famous Parisian cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu! That Julia Child didn’t come into her own and find her passion for life and cooking and all that until she was 37 is a strange parallel to my own life. I’m also over six feet tall, and I’m 37 right now, searching for a life! Weird!
Overall it’s a fun realistic read of a modern woman finding her way in the post-9/11 world while embracing past traditions like food and cooking. A movie version is soon to be released starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell. I can’t wait to see the movie but I’d recommend the book first.