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The Julie/Julia Project
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Dish-Washing, and Morning-After Blogging
by Rosie Levy on Nov 14, 2004
I am of the firm belief that we all deserve lots and lots of treats and personal rewards in life. Whatever your pleasure or poison, as long as you're not hurting anyone, including yourself, you should indulge away. Sneaky bites of raw cookie dough, long hot showers, oily massages - Yeah, whatever.
My current beloved, "will go into withdrawal if I don't check it in the morning" treat is the compulsively readable blog The Julie/Julia Project.
In August 2002, New Yorker Julie Powell gave herself one full year to cook every single recipe in Julia Child's masterpiece cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Describing herself as a "government drone by day, renegade foodie by night," Powell shares the blow-by-blow (pan-by-pan?) accounts of her travails through crab aspic, funky lamb marinating for days on end outside of the fridge, her devoted husband's "Spicy Thursdays," and more.
I spoke with Julie about her lit foodie experiment and here are some highlights from ourscintillating exchange:
RL: Tell me how you came up with the master plan for the project.
JP: One of the great things about temping is that big corporations for some reason want to pay you to sit in front of a computer and do not much of anything, and you can go ahead with writing your Great American Novel or what have you on company time. Which is nice, and is what I've been doing (though with no resulting completed Great American anything, alas) for some time.
But then I made the mistake of taking a real job, and it was just kicking my ass, and my creative life had drained away to more or less nothing, and here I was, thirty years old with no skills, desperately casting about for meaning. Maybe this is a completely unfamiliar conundrum for you - I hope so.
So there are obviously two strings to this idea - blogging and cooking. One thought I had was "You know, I should learn how to design web pages." Because we all know how profitable that is. I had this bright idea that I would create a website, and everybody would see what a fabulous writer and website designer I was, and I'd be set for life. I bought the dreamweaver software and loaded it onto my pathetic laptop and promptly realized this was not going to happen. Which is around the time my husband told me about this whole blog thing.
As far as the cooking goes, I don't know, I've had MtAoFC for years and years, stole my copy from my mom, have not cooked much of anything out of it, but it's always been this sort talismanic object. Comforting just to hold. And I guess I was needing a lot of comfort, because I was flipping through it a lot, and this idea sprouted that if I made my way through this book I would have a set of cooking skills, and then everything would fall into place and my life would be marvelous.
RL: What has been your fave dish so far? Least fave?
JP: Favorite dish, let's see. I'm proud of a lot of the complex poached egg recipes, first of all because I'd never eaten an egg before I began the Project, and secondly because looking at a perfect poached egg in a little homemade pastry cup, napped with bČarnaise sauce is just rewarding. And the lobster recipes, while horrific, made for good copy. As far as good tasting - the one that comes to mind at the moment is Daube de Boeuf a la Provencale, a beef stew with tomatoes and anchovies. Fabulous.
Least favorite is easy. Anything involving aspic. No, wait, I take that back. There is one that surpassed the others in awfulness. Poached eggs in aspic. The aspic I made with calves hooves. I have never put anything so hideous in my mouth in all my life.
RL: How many cookbooks do you own?
JP: Not as many as you'd think, maybe. I'll guess thirty to forty? Lots of Mexican and Italian and Cajun. I've working on my third Marcella Hazan - the first two having succumbed to soy sauce and shoddy binding. I've got to say, one great thing about MtAoFC is the binding. More than six months of intense, daily abuse, and it's holding together pretty well. My Nigella Lawson, by comparison, is in half a dozen pieces. What does that say, I wonder?
RL: Who are some of your fave non-cookbook writers?
JP: At the moment I'm enthralled with Samuel Pepys. Excruciatingly dull sometimes, but addictive. Also Nicholson Baker, Peter Carey, Alice Munro, Jane Austen, Liz Gilbert, Dickens.
RL: Ever been to San Francisco?
JP: I spent one summer in San Francisco, must have been the summer of 1994, going to the ACT Summer Congress. I lived in a really hideous part of the Tenderloin and almost never saw the ocean, but lots of transvestite prostitutes and did you know you have more than your share of crazy people on your buses? Highlights were the burritos and my first earthquake, which scared me so bad I slept the rest of the night wedged under a coffee table dragged under a door frame.
RL: Sounds like a pretty typical SF first visit to me!
Julie estimates that she has about 300 hundred regular readers. She deserves more. So, I suggest you check out her site for a good laugh and culinary kick-in-the-butt. C'mon, you work hard. You deserve it!
by Rosie Levy on Nov 14, 2004