By Julie Powell
Back Bay Books - July 1, 2009 - 400 pages - $7.99
What does Julie Powell, a girl from Austin, have in common with Julia Child, the iconic chef first introduced to American audiences on the Public Broadcasting System?
For starters, both of them cooked every recipe in Child’s classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” They both love butter. They both developed a taste for kidneys. And, then, there’s the potato soup.
Before she began her 365-day quest to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s cookbook, Julie Powell was working as a temp in a dead-end job. She aspired to be an actress, but it’s hard to get hired if you never go to any auditions. As Powell was looking to find meaning to her life, she made Parmentier Potatoes (potato soup) from her mother’s copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
The recipe was so good that Powell’s husband, Eric, suggested she attend culinary school. They couldn’t afford it. Then, Powell said, “If I wanted to learn to cook, I’d just cook my way through ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking.’”
There were issues with that idea, too.
“I’d be exhausted all the time. I’d get fat. We’d have to eat brains. And eggs. I don’t eat eggs, Eric. You know I don’t eat eggs.”
After a few minutes, Eric said, “You could start a blog.”
And she did. The blog became popular, which led to media inquiries; which led to interviews; which led to a book; which led to a movie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, opening Friday, Aug. 7. All sprung from a bowl of potato soup.
Powell’s book is a side-splitting romp through kitchen mayhem, marriage and the quest for a perfect mayonnaise.
She’s a great writer, even if she is gifted with what my mother would call a “fresh mouth.” If you’re offended by salty language, this is not the book for you. She is particularly fond of using some pretty spicy language, letting fly when a dish goes south, she has no access to hot water or fruit flies invade her the kitchen.
Profanity aside, Powell’s kitchen confidentials are a hoot. Who knew I’d get a kick out of her stories about gelée (French for gelatin)?
I’ve never had Oeufs en Gelée (poached egg in aspic), and after reading Powell’s hilarious account of how to make gooey gelatin out of leftover cow parts, I doubt I every will.
“. . . As it turns out, making gelée out of calves’ feet makes your kitchen smell like a tannery. The gelée also, in my admittedly limited experience, tastes like a tannery.”
Riz a l’Indienne, or “B*&%h Rice,” as Powell’s husband calls it, is another hysterical adventure.
“I guarantee you, you cannot make it without at least once screaming at the open book, as if to Julia’s face, ‘My God, woman - it’s rice, for &*%@’s sake!”
The dish also provided a lot of fodder for Powell’s readers.
“Don’t waste time on this nonsense. A Japanese rice cooker is what you need - stat! ... NO MORE B*&%H RICE!”
Powell’s journey into the heart of French cuisine also provided her with a way out of a dead end career. Due to the success of her blog and book and the sale of movie rights, Powell was able to quit her temporary job and stay at home and write in her pajamas for a while.
While I’m not really into cooking French food, I do have a renewed sense of respect for the time and detailed steps required to bring Julia Child’s dishes to the table. I also liked taking a peek into a modern, metropolitan marriage where a couple encouraged and supported each other’s dreams.
To read Julie’s blog, log on to:
Even though she’s in a good financial position, Powell has recently taken a part-time job.
Her new book, “Cleaving: The Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession,” based upon her experience as an employee in a butcher shop, is due for release in December.
An excerpt of the new book is provided at the back of “Julie & Julia:.
“My hands are blue with chill, my lower back throbs, my left wrist aches, and in the cooler in the back is a towering stack of pork sides waiting to be broken down before closing in three hours. I smile into my [coffee] cup. I am far from home. Right where I want to be.”
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