December 11, 2010

Julie & Julia: my year of cooking dangerously

The record of the making of one of the great Quest Blogs:

The Book:

"Mastering the Art of French Cooking". First edition, 1961. Louisette Berthole. Simone Beck. And, of course, Julia Child. The book that launched a thousand celebrity chefs. Julia Child taught America to cook, and to eat. It’s forty years later.  Today we think we live in the world Alice Waters made, but beneath it all is Julia, 90 if she's a day, and no one can touch her.

The Contender:

Government drone by day, renegade foodie by night. Too old for theatre, too young for children, and too bitter for anything else, Julie Powell was looking for a challenge. And in the Julie/Julia project she found it. Risking her marriage, her job, and her cats’ well-being, she has signed on for a deranged assignment.

365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen.

How far will it go? We can only wait. And wait. And wait…..

This is a wonderful start. Compare:

And smale foweles maken melodye,

That slepen al the nyght with open eye

So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes.

Powell embarks on this quest knowing that she is searching not for the Macguffin but for some better idea of what she should be doing. “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

This is a fine book. One might wish it took more pleasure pleasure in the food and that Powell had more fun cooking it; what remains in memory (or what makes good copy), it seems, is the anxiety about eating so much top-quality butter and, of course, the disasters. But the disaster was central to the weblog as so to the Project; failure is what makes drama dramatic. We might admire the young woman who is cooking a lot of French food, but it is only when her marriage is falling apart and the cats have eaten the last of the chicken and she’s going to be fired and when she has to know right now where can you find marrow bones in Manhattan anyway because her mother is coming to dinner – when everything is at sixes as sevens and Julie is ready to collapse in tears – that the weblog audience reaches through the fourth wall and transforms the medium into something new.