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Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Book Review: Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

It's like butter, baby

I'm in the middle of reading Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell. I am enjoying Powell's book for two reasons. The first reason is because it is about food and the second reason is because it is based on her blog. Powell's blog--the Julie/Julia Project--chronicled the year she cooked 524 recipes from Julia Child's landmark book on French cooking, aptly titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Powell affectionately refers to the book as MtAoFC.) After the blog, came fame, glory, and a book deal.

Powell is candid about her reasons for starting the Julie/Julia Project. She was filled with general ennui at turning thirty and specific angst at her ticking biological clock. Due to physical problems, she was unsure if she would be able to have kids, but due to emotional problems, she was unsure if she wanted them. What to do? With a gentle nudge from her patient-yet-tired-from-the-crying husband, she started cooking and blogging.

The cooking and the blogging saved Powell from an early death due to ennui and angst and eventually helped put her on the path to a new career; because of her blog, she received a 2004 James Beard Award for food journalism. She went from a depressed secretary who was prone to openly crying on the subway to a published author and a food writer.

I like how Powell writes about preparing food; she’s honest and straightforward. Her quick wit and candor pulls you in and turns you into her new best friend. She writes like a blogger and it works even in this traditional format.

Powell is upfront with the fact that she has no formal cooking knowledge. This book is as much about her personal journey to finding self as it is about how she followed Child's recipe in hopes of making excellent Beef Bourguignon. Although she feels like quitting the project on numerous occasions, she doesn't. Powell writes,

"I couldn't quit because if I wasn't cooking, I wouldn't be the creator of the Julie/Julia Project anymore. I'd just have my job, and my husband, and my cats. I'd be just the person I was before. Without the Project I was nothing but a secretary on a road to nowhere, drifting toward frosted hair and menthol addiction."

I don't know the answer to the big question--does Powell find the holy grail of personal fulfillment when she reaches the end of MtAoFC?--because I haven't finished her book, but after reading half of it, I can tell you that her life is changed because of her blog project, irrevocably and for the better. I also can reveal that she learned to make excellent Beef Bourguignon.

I never read Powell's blog so I can't tell you how much re-writing she did for the book, but I like the book's rapid fire "in the moment" feel, which I suspect came from having blog entries--as well as comments--to use as content. Powell writes about dinner parties involving aspic gone awry, sordid IM conversations between co-workers, cozy kitchen conversations with bad-girl girlfriends who like to smoke cigarettes and drink vodka, as well as blow-by-blow accounts of how exactly one goes about procuring hooves or live lobster in New York City. Without ever having to leave the comfort of my bed, I can live the life of a thirty-something city gal who likes to cook, loves to drink, and who uses the F-word in every other sentence.

Now, I'm not shy of the F-word. I used it a lot BK (before kids). But my favorite word that comes up over and over again in Julie and Julia is the B word. That's right. Say it with me now. Butter. Powell confessed to interviewers that she used over 60 pounds of butter during the year she worked on this project. That fact might make some people ill, but it makes me salivate. Mmmm, butter. And because the food is French, you don't have to worry about getting fat from eating it, right? Don't answer that. At any rate, don’t have to worry about getting fat from reading about it.

If you're hungry to move your words from the online realm of the Blogosphere and into a more traditional print medium, you can learn a lot from Powell. She teaches us that if you write well, are passionate about your subject, can persevere even when you'd rather give up, and can laugh at both the world and yourself, you just might have what it takes to move your F-word laden prose from the computer monitor into something that sits on a book shelf and makes your mother proud to have spawned you. Bon appetit!

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