Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Julie/Julia Project

I saw the movie Julie & Julia a couple of weeks ago. For those who are not familiar with the movie, it revolves around the stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell. Everybody know Julia Child. Unlike most reviewers I found Julie Powell's story more interesting. Hers is the tale of a bored cubicle worker for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation who hears complaints from the victims of the 9/11 attacks all day (this is the first time I've seen a movie mention the emotional turmoil of 9/11 victims and it is still uncomfortable to listen to today). To get out of her misery she decides to start a personal project to take her mind off her office misery. On the advice of her husband, she starts a blog called the Julie/Julia Project. She chronicles her journey through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, cooking all the recipes in the book within one year.

The movie seems to give more screen time to Julia Child but I wanted to know more about Mrs. Powell so I've been reading her original blog. It is fascinating reading. She starts out as a complete novice, having never even eaten an egg up to that point in her life. You'll have to read the blog to understand. But soon she is making statements like "...artichokes no longer seem such a pain in the ass as they once were. I just broke off the stems and then the leaves, chopped off the top of the cone and trimmed the green bits. I didn’t have lemons (this is getting to be a trope), so I rubbed the cut placed with vinegar, and it seemed to really help with the discoloring. I made a blanc of flour, vinegar and water, and boiled the trimmed artichokes in them for forty minutes or so, then cleaned the chokes out. Easy."

Pretty quickly she's expertly discussing the differences between Bechemel and Mornay sauces, Sauce Robert vs. Sauce Brune vs. Sauce Perigueux. But this blog is not just a list of recipes. It's her sense of humor that drives her wide readership. You have to be a little thick skinned to get through some of her profanities. But every once in a while you'll come across gems like this "I’m rolling lamb like a lonely rancher’s son. Eew. I mean like a champ." Priceless.

As a new blogger myself I'm in awe of her style, the casualness that comes across the internet. She goes into details of her marriage to her intrepid husband Eric. He is almost saintly in her descriptions, hardly ever complaining about eating close to midnight every night while she pulls together another three course French meal. He shops for her all over Manhattan to get her ingredients, spending their savings down to nothing. And he cleans all the dishes after these late night feasts. In the entries in spring of 2003 she frequently mentions the start of the Iraq war. The night the Iraq war started I was cramming for my oral board exams the following morning so the memories of that night are very vivid. It's funny to read about what other people were doing at that exact same time.

I have not completely finished reading the Julie/Julia Project yet. I haven't even read most of the comments that accompany each blog entry. But like most books, it is far better than the movie that came from it. Each blog is short so it's easy to read if you have a few minutes of free time. Highly recommended especially if you've seen the movie and want a little more background information.

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