This month, The Kitchen Reader group is reviewing Julie & Julia - 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment (Penguin) by Julie Powell.
I had read this book earlier this year, but needed to re-read it to remind myself of the finer details. This book has become the flavour of the month because of the movie based on it, but I am yet to see the movie. For the purposes of this review, that is a good thing, because my comments are not influenced by the movie.
This book evolved from Julie Powell's blog, The Julie/Julia Project. Julie's blog chronicled her progress in making every recipe in the American classic cookbook, Mastering The Art of French Cooking ("MtAoFC") by Julia Child, in a 12 month period. The Julie/Julia Project commenced when Julie's husband Eric suggested that she attend culinary school as a way to escape the rut that she felt trapped in with her life as a secretary living in the outer boroughs of New York. Julie countered Eric with the fateful statement that, if she wanted to learn to cook, she'd just cook her way through MtAoFC (which she had snaffled from her Mom's house in the spring on the hunch that she'd found something important). Rather than being dissuaded, Eric suggested that Julie should do just that and write a blog about it - and so the Julie/Julia Project was born.
Julie & Julia chronicles, not only Julie's progress through MtAoFC, but also her interactions with family, friends and total strangers during the project and the ups and downs of her life. We are offered a "fly on the wall" perspective as Julie conquers her fear and loathing of eggs, then moves on to challenges such as tracking down and extracting bone marrow, making various types of aspic, cooking live lobsters and boning a duck. There are both triumphs and failures, not to mention Julie's incidental battles with a couch, the plumbing in the couple's apartment and an unintended science experiment under the dish rack.
Interspersed with Julie's story are reconstructed snippets from Julia Child's life with her husband Paul. Julia's story gives me hope because it wasn't until she was around my age that she began to cook, and discovered a whole new life for herself.
The contemporary timeframe in which Julie & Julia is set is readily apparent through, among other things, its pop culture references (Julie quotes Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, and is an avid Buffy fan), and the discussion of 9/11 (Julie worked for a government department that dealt with the families of victims of the tragedy as part of their work in planning the redevelopment of the World Trade Centre site).
Through the Julie/Julia Project, Julie feels transformed, and indeed, her life does change from that of an anonymous suburban secretary to an author with a presence in cyberspace, on television and in print. Julie concludes that, rather than using MtAoFC to learn to cook French food, she was really "learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility". If both Julie and Julia discovered themselves and their passions through these recipes, then MtAoFC has much to recommend it.
Overall, I enjoyed Julie & Julia, although Julie's anecdotes were sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying (perhaps like all of us). I was fascinated by the incredibly gross things that Julie sometimes had to do for the various recipes and the lengths required to track down certain ingredients (who would have thought that sugar cubes would be difficult to find?). As a food blogger, I was also interested in Julie's interactions with her blog readers and what motivated her to blog. You can check out the views of the other Kitchen Readers on Julie & Julia by visiting the Kitchen Reader blogroll.
The final word goes to Julia Child: