I genuinely wanted to like Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (other editions are titled Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen and, more simply Julie and Julia) by Julie Powell. I was intrigued by her “Project:” to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. It’s an enormous undertaking (especially with a full-time job to contend with as well), and it makes you consider how much cooking has changed in the forty-some-odd years since Child’s book was first published – the techniques, the ingredients (coming by kidneys and bone marrow isn’t so easy these days), and the time and effort most of us put into our meals.
Unfortunately, the Project is just a thread that barely ties Powell’s book together. She uses the book as a sounding board to share fictionalized stories about her friend’s drunken sexcapades, true stories about her own marriage, and anything else that she feels like talking about – everything from her political leanings to her apartment’s plumbing problems to her laments about her depressing dead-end job. In between reading e-mails from friends, yelling at her husband, and trying to sleep with another married man, there are some tales of Powell actually cooking some of Child’s recipes. I wouldn’t even have minded the rest of her stories, but some of them were kind of offensive (and I think I’m usually pretty open-minded) and most of them weren’t as funny as the book cover would have you believe. Furthermore, Powell invents a lot of stories about Paul and Julia Child, which seemed unnecessary given the amount of information available on them. It seems to be a weak attempt to draw parallels between her life and Child’s.
That said, the portions where Powell is actually cooking are interesting. She places a cooking icon in a modern-day world and we get to see how relevant Child and her recipes are today. It also causes one to give though to how different food and food television might be if it weren’t for Child. Some of Powell’s adventures really are amusing – attempting to euthanize a lobster, poaching eggs in red wine and watching them turn blue, or figuring out how to get the bone marrow out of a large animal thigh bone. The book is a quick read – I probably would have given up on it, but I was able to finish it quickly and move on to other foodie adventures.
Powell’s book is being released as a movie (also titled Julie and Julia) this August, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep (the movie will purportedly follow Julia and Paul’s lives more truthfully than the book does). Powell also has another book due in August, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession.