One thing that comes with what seems like a lifetime of dieting and calorie counting is that butter is something that only comes in little pats out in restaurants, not in your own kitchen. Sometimes my mom would buy a box of butter to bake butter cookies at Christmas time – c’mon, “margarine cookies” just aren’t the same. But that was it. Everything else was low fat, lower calories, shaving off food values and often flavor in a quest to save fat grams and calories.
Julia Child did not cook that way. Julia lived with gusto, enjoyed her food, and taught America about French cooking, not sparing the butter or the wine along the way. Food was complicated but rich and flavorful. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a breakthrough for American cooks at a time when casseroles made with cans of mushroom soup were haute cuisine.
My introduction to Julia Child was Dan Akroyd’s impersonation of her in a Saturday Night Life sketch and I never watched food chefs until the last few years, when I’ve become addicted to the Food Network. But there would have been no Food Network without Julia Child.
So I was delighted to finally get and devour Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell. It’s about the Julie/Julia project, in which a NYC secretary takes on a self-imposed project of cooking the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, and blogs about it as she goes. It’s not a cookbook but you do read about the success and failure (but mostly success) of her stretching herself to learn new things, eat new food, expand her horizons, and grow. Julie & Julia is a story of accomplishment, relationships, life in NYC, coming of age – and yeah, that food.
I can no more imagine going through the pounds of butter that Julie used in recreating these recipes than I can imagine walking to Houston. But I loved the richness and discovery that came with using that butter in faithful adherence to Julia, in honoring her food. I can’t wait to see the movie based on the book that’s due out in August 2009 – with Meryl Streep as Julia Child.
Julie Powell says at the end of the book something that will stick with me:
Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It’s not what I thought it was. I thought it was all about — I don’t know, confidence or will or luck. Those are all some good things to have, no question. But there’s something else, something that these things grow out of.
Read this book. See the movie with me next summer. Use some butter in a recipe now and then. Stretch yourself to learn and grow and try new things. And find your joy.