Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Julie and Julia by Julie PowellBacon Phat
00:00 / 50:37

Julie and Julia details temporary-government-worker-turned-food-writer Julie Powell's journey creating all of Julia Child's recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. 

 In this episode, we discuss:

Show notes:

We can relate to Julie Powell

 

We admire Julie Powell because she said she wanted to make a change and she wanted to start and finish something, and she did it! She was unhappy with her life and felt like it was going nowhere, but she lacked the ability to do anything about it: "When I thought back to days Before the Project, I remembered crying on subways, I remembered cubicles, I remembered doctor's appointments and something looming, something with a zero at the end of it." Completing the Project gave her purpose, and she rejoiced that her hands created something concrete every day. We both struggled to find something that gives our lives meaning and the satisfaction that we've finished something we started.

She is tough and vulgar

 

We also like that Julie is honest and crass. We are also those things, so we can relate endlessly to her self-deprecation ("I've got to say, it's a nice feeling, impressing Amanda Hesser of the New York Times. Even if it is with your idiocy."); offensive language ("...Riz à l'Indienne. 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 fuck's sake!' Eric...dubbed it 'Bitch Rice'..."); dumping on her husband and unconditional support system ("Like if on the second-to-last day of a year of torture imposed on the man you love, you scream and throw things and call him an idiot..."); and disasters in cooking ("...except when they smelled like formaldehyde or I overcooked them to squoosy gray hockey pucks"). 

She's down with organs

Not many cooks are willing to make organs nowadays. A lot of people in the paleo community give lip service to eating offal as a way to easily consume the most beneficial (and rare) nutrients in the human diet. However, the same people rarely show you how to eat them or even offer up a single recipe. We, of course, love to incorporate organs into our diets, and we are thrilled to find a food writer who agrees with us.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking emphasizes offal, including liver, kidney, brains, marrow, and giblets. Not only does Julie eat these foods, but she loves them, and she feeds them to her guests and husband. She feeds food writer Amanda Hesser kidneys ("But kidneys taste like piss"), and she eats liver with bread crumbs, mustard and butter for her 30th birthday. In fact, Julie Powell's description of liver was so delicious that Julia made the dish (and ate 3 portions by herself the first time): "The crunch of the mustard-spiked crust somehow brings the unctuous smooth richness of the liver into sharp relief. It's like the silky soul of steak. You have to close your eyes, let the meat melt on your tongue, into your corpuscles."

Our critiques

One small critique we have of this book is that butter and cream are not the causes of Julie's Project weight gain. Julie repeatedly references her weight gain, and she connects the rich, fatty foods from MTAoFC with the weight as if the former caused the latter. If Julie stuck to just the food in the book and did not supplement with a bunch of sugar- and wheat-based foods, processed foods, and alcohol (she drinks at least one drink a night), then she probably would not have gained weight during the Project. Moreover, her temporary job as a government employee working on issues related to 9/11 would have been very stressful, and the Project itself would have been stressful.

Her second book

After Julie found success with her blog The Julie/Julia Project and the Hollywood movie Julie and Julia, she wrote a second memoir called Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. After the movie is produced and she's still married, Julie has an affair with D, someone from her past. Even though the book received plenty of negative reviews, we liked it. First of all, the memoir is an honest account of an awful situation. Just because extramarital affairs are not typically celebrated does not mean that a book about one should be criticized as a bad story. 

Second, the book is not all about the affair. In fact, the affair only happens in, at most, a third of the book. The rest of the book is about Julie apprenticing as a butcher at Fleishers in New York. As Julia knows from working as a butcher in Indianapolis, processing meat is a difficult and physically demanding job. We like this book because, contrary to most book critics, we like meat and appreciate reading about other female omnivores.

Third, the last part of the book is about Julie's travels to other countries on a meat pilgrimage. She goes to Ukraine, Africa, and Peru to taste other cultures' meat and visit their salumerias. In this one small part of the book, she sees more of the world than most people see in a lifetime. If anyone is considering traveling and learning entirely new trades but is unsure about how to start, we think Cleaving is a great book to read.

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Julie and Julia is a deliciously compelling account of a woman who decided to changed her life by way of doing something indulgent and incredibly difficult. Julie Powell, miserable and paralyzed in her temporary government job, takes on a self-imposed challenge to cook all of Julia Child's recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year while juggling her marriage, work, and life in a tiny Brooklyn apartment.

The recipes Powell tackles don't often appear on American tables nowadays, so even though the recipes were first printed in 1961, the book is a welcome alternative to the Standard American Diet. And it seems every recipe is either a glowing success or terrible disaster with  corresponding amount of f-bombs. The book is relatable in that, contrasted with MTAoFC, French cooking is decidedly hard. But Powell's humor and unique experiences make reading about French cooking fun. And make it seem much more attainable. Even though Julia Child hated Powell and her project, the latter must have improved sales of Child's cookbook by making the recipes seem possible and accessible to regular people.

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