Perhaps it's the respect that I have for chefs and cooks that glues my eyes on the TV. I admire how they make elaborate recipes seem effortless. This respect and admiration also translates to books about cooking, eating, and anything that has to do with food. When I saw Julie Powell's memoir entitled Julie & Julia in Fully Booked the other week, I was intrigued by the premise. Julie Powell, who works as a secretary by day, decides to cook every single dish in Julia Child's bestselling cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1, for one whole year. Powell also decides to blog about it, after much prodding by her husband Paul. She eventually gives the whole endeavor a brand -- the Julie/Julia Project.
Powell is a first-time author, and it shows in this memoir. Most of the time, I end up re-reading certain passages just to get the idea right. Powell does have a gift for capturing vivid imagery, especially when she writes about her difficulties following Child's recipes to a T. When she recounts how difficult it is to obtain bone marrow in NYC, you empathize with her predicament. Other times though, she just rambles on.
I chilled it and served it the next night, in the coffee cups with the Raphael cherubs on them that we bought in a cheap souvenir shop outside the Sistine Chapel during our honeymoon, after a long, long walk, which we then used to drink wine with the cheese we had for lunch, on a green square, as we did every day during our honeymoon. And eating it that night reminded us that there was such a thing as fun, which was a good thing to remember right then.And here's another reason why blurbs aren't to be trusted. Entertainment Weekly describes Julie & Julia as hilarious. I don't think it is. The attempts at humor feel somehow affected and generally fall flat. Powell does write about several self-deprecating instances which could've been funnier if these appeared in manageable doses throughout the book's 300 or so pages. As it is, Powell pokes fun at herself and at the disastrous results of her dishes so many times it just feels tiring.
(Also -- and I didn't mention this before because it's rather embarrassing -- but under my too-tight dress I was also wearing an extremely binding corset/girdle sort of thing. I had bought it in college for -- God, this part is really embarrassing -- a musical theater troupe I was in, because we were performing -- this is mortifying -- "Like a Virgin." ...Since the Project, though, I've been wearing it because it's the only way I can squeeze into a lot of my clothes.)There are so many recipes in MtAoFC (I think there are more than 500 of them), so Powell focused on a few in her book. In these few occasions, you get a glimpse of how Child's recipes can be deceptively simple. Powell writes about how she's challenged by them and recounts the circumstances she's in as she's doing them. You get to know her close friends, her family who supports her throughout the project, and her job, which finds itself standing in the way of the Project.
If you're looking to be inspired to sample Child's recipes in MtAoFC, you may be better off buying Child's cookbook. Powell's descriptions of the dish she managed whip up tastes bland on the palate. Perhaps this may be the result of focusing too much on the complexity of the recipe rather than the final output itself. Nevertheless, what is enjoyable to read is when Powell relates all her cooking adventures into her personal life and the people around her.
My husband cooed as he dug into his plate of delicious flambeed crepes. If there's a sexier sound on this planet than the person you're in love with cooing over the crepes you made for him, I don't know what it is. And that blows Botox and ropy necks to hell.The thread that connects Powell's narrative in Julie & Julia to Child's biography is thin. Powell just injects snippets of Child's personal history between chapters, and these biographical bits focus on a time when Child hasn't begun cooking yet. The technique works though, and it propels Powell's thesis to full effect -- one woman finishing a project based on another woman's work, who, in another time element, is just starting out her own.
Julie & Julia isn't really a food about the joys of eating or food. Powell's memoir touches on these superficially. Often, these simply serve as a backdrop to what's happening around her -- her ongoing attempt at having a baby, her relationship with her husband, her frustration with her dead-end job. Still, Julie & Julia is a good memoir, providing you with an honest glimpse of the unglamorous life of the memoirist. But if you're looking to read about food and the joys of eating, I suggest that you check out Jeffrey Steingarten's wonderful books The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate.
Read this book if:
- You've always been fascinated by French cooking.
- You love watching all those cooking shows.
- You're a blogger and you're participating in challenges.