Yesterday morning, in a fit of serendipity, my iPod shuffled its way over to Christopher Lydon’s 2003 proto-podcast interview of Julie Powell, the Julie of the Julie/Julia Project. By that same fit of serendipity, Julie’s new (first) book, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, had arrived from Amazon a week or so before. I had been waiting for the right moment to read it; the shuffle play of the interview felt like an invitation.
The title is somewhat misleading. The claimed premise for the book, as for the Julie/Julia Project, is The Project: cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s landmark Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 in a year. In the book, however, the focus is more on how a frustrated writer and temp administrative assistant in New York City came to start the project, and the lessons she learned from Julia Child’s towering example. The shift in focus was welcome, frankly: as much as I would have loved to have a hardcover copy of every blog post that Julie made in the course of that year, getting the perspective on Julie’s life effectively shifts the focus to the wonder of food and cooking and how it can rescue otherwise lost souls.
Interesting, too, that in this book the “Julia” of the project is revealed to be essentially a literary construct, born straight from Julie’s reading of MTAOFC. Julie and Julia never met, and the eventual revelation of the Grande Dame’s position on The Project is a traumatic anticlimax to the Project. But Julie’s constructed Julia is a genius, in the Greek sense: a guiding household spirit who takes Julie’s agonizingly unfulfilling life and turns it into something rich and wonderful through the medium of sauce veloute and calf’s liver and bone marrow.
This, I think, is the genius (in the modern sense) of The Project and of Julie’s book. We all could use a Julia to steer us in the direction of joie de vivre and fulfillment. In the meantime, I’m going to have to go back to our copy of MTAOFC and dive into some of the more ambitious chapters. Kidneys, anyone?