"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book Review: Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell

The Great Readers of M's May book discussion was today. Our selection this month was chosen by Kit.

In "Julie and Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen," Julie Powell wrote about her quest to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's french cookbook - Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie needed a "project" to motivate herself as she was not very happy working as a secretary for a government agency dealing with 9/11 victims. In addition to experimenting all the recipes, Julie decided to start her own blog, documenting her experience filled with lustily-written passages describing cooking. It was encouraging to her when she started having readers who encouraged her to keep going when she was very frustrated with her cooking as well as just life in general.

I found Julie hysterical, whiny, prone to fits, snarky, and I didn't expect any cooking advice, just some excellent interpersonal stories. Don't pick this up is you want to Master the Art of French Cooking. Don't pick it up if you want to glean expert recipe skills. In fact, if you are a foodie, you might not enjoy Powell and company's lack of appreciation for the more exotic delicacies. This is a book for anyone who enjoys a good memoir-this one just happens to be centered around the ultimate gourmet cookbook.

As a modern working woman, I appreciated Powell's shock at the time these recipes called for. Finding ingredients was hard enough (no supercenters for these people-they spent hours traipsing through neighborhoods for complete leg bones with marrow, or sugar cubes instead of granular sugar, or calves feet).

Once the ingredients were tracked down, recipes took hours, If things went awry, Julie could be behind on dinner by 10:30 AM. Mixtures often needed to sit for "at least 12 hours, preferably 24." Everything was made from scratch. No quick gelatin-it was created from calves' feet, which "makes your kitchen smell like a tannery...also, in my admittedly limited experience, it *tastes* like a tannery." Mayonnaise was made from scratch, and ladyfingers from scratch were attempted so as not to use commercial ones and "debase an otherwise remarkable dessert."

Powell's book takes place post-9/11, and she comments on her job as a secretary in a government office overlooking ground zero, on the families who visit their windowed conference room, and on her data entry job receiving surveys about the 9/11 memorial. She also lived in NY through the 2003 blackout, and there is a beautiful chapter about the candlelight dinner she made for her NY refugees on the night of the power outage.

Overall this is a terrific read IF you don't come looking to Master the Art of French Cooking. Plus I found a kindred-spirit in Julie as a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Read Julie Powell's blog at: http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/

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