Julie Powell had me at : “we both recognize the genius of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” That revelation comes early on in her book Julie & Julia, a memoir that builds upon the “Project” she embarked on just before she was about to turn 30. Disheartened with her life as a government drone in New York City, Powell was, as many of us were, looking for meaning in a post 9/11 world. But further to that- she was looking for meaning in her own life. Or at the very least, she was looking for something meaningful to do.
While visiting her parents in her native Texas, Powell confiscates her mother’s copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MtAoFC) by Julia Child.
“Do you know Mastering the Art of French Cooking? You must, at least, know of it,” Powell says. “It’s a cultural landmark, for Pete’s sake!”
And from this cookbook…and a conversation with Powell’s long-suffering (and incredibly supportive) husband, Eric, springs the Julie/Julia Project. Powell decides to cook every single recipe from the book and blog about it.
Blogging. Ahh, yes. Curious thing, that. You write and people read and the next thing you know you have a book deal. Or something like that.
Julie & Julia follows Powell’s project from beginning to end- and includes everything from her failures in the kitchen to her friend’s extramarital affairs. It is laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally self-indulgent (but what blog isn’t?). It’s peppered with expletives and bits of strange insight.
So this search for meaning (personal meaning, at least) has been done before. Elizabeth Gilbert (whom Powell thanks in her acknowledgments) did it in a little best-seller called Eat, Pray, Love. I liked Powell’s book better and here’s why…
I could relate to Powell. And, no, it’s not just because of her Buffy-love (although that certainly earned her free points.) Where Gilbert took a year off to spend four months each in three different countries, Powell could only afford the occasional day of playing hooky from her crap job while she cooked her way to enlightenment. Her house was unkept, she drank too-much and swore even more. She didn’t set off on the Project for fame and glory- she wanted to find an essential piece of herself that she thought was missing.
And she does…one recipe at a time.
(It has to be Child’s recipe for Potage Parmentier doesn’t it?)
1 lb potato, peeled and diced (I leave skins on)
3 cups of leeks, thinly sliced, white and tender green parts only
2 qts of water
4-6 tablespoons of whipping cream or 2-3 tablespoons of softened butter
2-3 tablespoons of minced parsley or chives
Simmer vegetables, water and salt, partially covered, for 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
Mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork or puree in blender. Correct seasoning.
Off heat and just before serving, stir in cream or butter one spoonful at a time.
Serve hot or cold.