Julie Powell,
Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes,
1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

(Little, Brown & Co., 2005)

Expect a love or hate reaction to this book. Some people found author Julie Powell hysterical, whiny, prone to fits and snarky about Republicans. Many of them also expected good cooking advice and practice. I found Julie hysterical, whiny, prone to fits and snarky, and I didn't expect any cooking advice, just some excellent interpersonal stories.

Don't pick this up if you want to master the art of French cooking. Don't pick it up if you want to glean expert recipe skills. In fact, if you are a foodie, you might not enjoy Powell and company's lack of appreciation for the more exotic delicacies. This is a book for anyone who enjoys a good memoir -- this one just happens to be centered around the ultimate gourmet cookbook.

As a modern working woman, I appreciated Powell's shock at the time these recipes called for. Finding ingredients was hard enough (no supercenters for these people -- they spent hours traipsing through neighborhoods for complete leg bones with marrow, sugar cubes instead of granular sugar and calves' feet). Once the ingredients were tracked down, recipes took hours, If things went awry, Julie could be behind on dinner by 10:30 a.m. Mixtures often needed to sit for "at least 12 hours, preferably 24." Everything was made from scratch. No quick gelatin -- it was created from calves' feet, which "makes your kitchen smell like a tannery ... also, in my admittedly limited experience, it tastes like a tannery." Mayonnaise was made from scratch, and ladyfingers from scratch were attempted so as not to use commercial ones and "debase an otherwise remarkable dessert."

Powell's book takes place post-9/11, and she comments on her job as a secretary in a government office overlooking Ground Zero, on the families who visit their windowed conference room and on her data entry job receiving surveys about the 9/11 memorial. She also lived in New York through the 2003 blackout, and there is a beautiful chapter about the candlelight dinner she made for her city refugees on the night of the power outage.

Overall, this is a terrific read IF you read my caveats and didn't come looking to master the art of French cooking.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
14 October 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.