My father has always loved Julia Child. Her improbable size and voice. The wondrous food that emerges from occasional lapses of memory, ingredients dodging to the floor, the ubiquitous glass of wine, and of course, the laugh. And as is often the case with fathers and daughters, his delight became my own, and I was consequently the only child in my neighborhood who took breaks from playing to catch the grande dame of accessible French cuisine on public television.
Julia Child was a woman in a man's world of serious cooking when she emerged as a public figure, an achievement in and of itself. Many attached themselves to her instructions in an effort to escape the casserole blandness of American cooking in the fifties, to achieve an elegance they thought beyond their grasp until they listened attentively to Julia. French cuisine epitomized these yearnings for many, and the food became accessible to them in her hands for the simple reason that she told us all that it was. Julia was the ultimate nurturer. She convinced us all of our culinary potential, and with her often parodied disdain for perfection in process, demonstrated that serious cooking need not be a staid affair.
So a few weeks ago at the movies, I saw the preview for Julie and Julia with Meryl Streep as Julia Child and knew immediately I had to see it, and had to read the book upon which it was based. Meryl Streep bears no physical resemblance to Julia, but her performance achieves something more important than that - she captures the essence of Julia. The joie de vivre, the come hither glance from her kitchen. So the Borders next door to the theatre proved very convenient that night as I rushed in and purchased Julie and Julia by Julie Powell at the very end of the cooking section, lodged in the food memoir section.
I devoured this book in less than two days even with a thousand other things to do. The author reveals, in often surprisingly honest detail, her quest to reclaim her life from the dead end secretarial pool as she nears thirty. This quest takes the form of a self-imposed deadline to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, and to share her rocky journey in a blog. This book is often a disappointment to foodies because it is not centered upon the food but upon personal realization. Vodka, colorful language, insect infestation and all so be warned if you crave just step by step insights into the preparation of classic French cuisine.
What I enjoyed most about this book was Powell's realization that cooking, approached in a Julia type way, is akin to sex. Surely you Child fans or today's Nigella Lawson fans have thought this before? Julia did not just cook to satisfy her unquiet self or to meet the needs of a gourmand husband. She had a sensual relationship with that food. Cue up those episodes where she manhandled a whole fish or chicken. Where she consumed her own creations. Or where she looked out at you in your home, and assured you in the most uncertain terms that you too could do this. Powell captures this here:
"Somewhere along the way, I discovered that in the physical act of cooking, especially something complex or plain old hard to handle, dwelled unsuspected reservoirs of arousal both gastronomic and sexual. If you are not one of us, the culinarily depraved, there is no way to explain what's so darkly enticing about eviscerating beef marrowbones, chopping up lobster, baking a three layer pecan cake. and doing it for someone else, offering someone hard-won gustatory delights in order to win pleasures of another sort. Everyone knows there are foods that are sexy to eat. What they don't talk about so much is foods that are sexy to make. But I'll take a wrestling bout with recalcitrant brioche dough over being fed a perfect strawberry any day, foreplay wise."
So this summer, in addition to the Proust, Bolano, and Wallace mountains I am electing to climb, I will be pouring through cookbooks from the library. With all those heavenly photos. Because there are book sluts. And then there are cookbook sluts.
Today, I will be continuing to laugh my way through The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. And thinking about one day writing about all the books I read. Just thinking though. Probably won't ever feel the need and that is OK too. I mention this because I had an email this week from a reader that asks why they see in my sidebar that I am reading something, it disappears, but then I never write about it. Wish I had a better answer than I just didn't feel like it. But I don't.
Oh, and don't forget to enter my poetry giveaway! Ends on Friday. Just click on the button at the top of my right sidebar. Then fix a picnic and read poetry to your significant other in the park after you win. It is summer after all. Don't spend it inside.
What are the rest of you in the Sunday Salon reading today?