There is something deliciously wicked about reading memoirs written by foodies. I can't help but be seduced by descriptions of meals, especially when it comes to meals that feature classic French food. There's something about the unabashed use of butter, wine and the best produce and product that you can get your hands on that is tremendously sexy. And let's face it, in our world that teeters between diets that verge on insanity and giant-sized meals that are tasteless and cheap, French food doesn't apologize for what it is -- instead, it comes right out and waves at us to come and enjoy.
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And to foodies around the world, there is no greater advocate for French food than the late Julia Child, who took French cuisine, and introduced American cooks to the delights of this fare. That two volume set, Mastering the Art of French Cuisine, helped to demystify all those fancy terms and techniques, and had a vibrant, humourous take on the art of cooking.
As she begins her story, Julie Powell is at loose ends. She's a New Yorker working as a secretary in Manhattan, making that long commute every day from Long Island City (LIC), a trip that is certain to inspire hopelessness in anyone. To shake herself out of her funk, she decides that she is going to take on Julia Child's masterwork, and cook ALL of the recipes in the first volume of Mastering the Art... -- and she intends to do it within a years. That's 524 recipes, 365 days. Along with her is her long-suffering but ever supportive husband Eric, who willingly serves as helpmeet, critic and finder of obscure foodstuffs. Oh yes, and did I say that she was going to be blogging about the experience?
Mixed up in all of this is Julie's readers ('bleaders' she calls them, a great term) and friends, who offer up their own thoughts and commentary, Julie's self-awareness that her biological clock is ticking and other mediations on cooking and ingredients, the state of New York City today, and other gems.
What hooked me was the food, naturally.
The writing style is profane, full of slick humour, and moments that anyone who has tried to cook something fancy will instantly recognize. I found myself reading bits of this aloud to my partner J (who warned me don't even think about it) and giggling myself silly and making notes for later. If you're a fan of the writings of Anthony Bourdain, you'll appreciate this one as well.
But the other star of this memoir is Julia Child herself, as Julie slips in quotes from the cookbook, and creates a series of memories from Paul, Julia's husband. It was fun to see glimpses of Julia Child beyond the culinary diva, and discovering that she must have been quite a person to know.
Ultimately, I was rather sad to see the story end, as Julie and Eric embark on an improbable but thoroughly reasonable road trip. In the mass market paperback edition, there is an excerpt from her next set of memoirs, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession, due for publication in December 2009. I intend to read it as quickly as I can get my hands on it, and I can't give any higher praise than that.
This is one that is going on my keeper shelves, so that I can remember that dreams are always worth following and that life isn't about the goal, it's about the journey there.
Four stars. Highly recommended.
Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
2005; Little, Brown and Company, New York
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