Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
Nonfiction - Audio (read by the author) - Abridgement
Finished on 3/13/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
On a visit to her childhood home in Texas, Julie Powell pulls her mother’s battered copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking off the bookshelf. And the book calls out to her. Pushing thirty, living in a rundown apartment in Queens, and working at a dead-end secretarial job, Julie Powell is stuck. Is she in danger of becoming just another version of the housewife-in-a-rut? Her only hope lies in a dramatic self-rescue mission. And so she invents a deranged assignment: in the space of one year, she will cook every recipe in the Julia Child classic, all 524 of them. No skips, no substitutions. She will track down every obscure ingredient, learn every arcane cooking technique, and cook her way through sixty pounds of butter. And if it doesn’t help her make sense of her life, at least she’ll eat really, really well. How hard could it be?
But as Julie moves from the smooth sailing of Potage Parmentier into the culinary backwaters of aspics and calves’ brains, she realizes there’s more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. For every heavenly meal, an obscenity-laced nervous breakdown lurks on the horizon. But with Julia’s stern warble steady in her ear, Julie carries on. She battles sauces that separate, and she haunts the city’s butchers, buying kidneys and sweetbreads. Her husband endures the crying jags and midnight dinners. Together they discover how to mold the perfect orange Bavarian cream, the trick to extracting marrow from bone, and the illicit thrills of eating liver. With fierceness, irreverence, and unbreakable resolve, Julie Powell learns Julia Child’s most important lesson: the art of living with gusto.
I rarely listen to audio books. There’s just something more enjoyable about holding a book in hand, Post-It Notes at the ready, the static text allowing for trouble-free re-reading of passages. I’ve listened to a couple of audio books while traveling and found that experience pleasant enough, especially in the pre-iPod and satellite radio days in which I grew weary of listening to the same cds over and over again. (Or worse, driving in areas where the radio reception was poor or nonexistent.) But those occurrences are few and far between. A couple of years ago, I decided to give audio books another chance. I listened to one over the course of a few days, while cooking dinner and driving to and from work. I found myself distracted as I tried to read a recipe while listening to the narrator drone on and on, and my commute wasn’t long enough to make it worthwhile, especially when I realized I’d been daydreaming and had to spend a big chunk of time “rewinding.” (What is that called when listening to a cd?) And then there’s the issue of poor (or annoying) readers. So, it’s never been of much interest to me. That is until recently, when I discovered podcasts.
I started perusing iTunes and discovered a slew of podcasts to download to my iPod. I listened to those as I drove to work and on my daily walks. For the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed listening to something other than music while driving (read: irritating morning talk shows) or exercising. Then, after recently reading Anderson Cooper’s memoir, I felt compelled to get the audio version from the library. I loved the book and thought it’d be great to hear Cooper read his own words. Unfortunately, all the copies of Dispatches From the Edge were checked out, but I did notice a copy of Julie & Julia on the new release table and thought, why not? I love to cook and I vaguely recalled a friend’s praise of this book, so I snatched it up, brought it home, ripped the discs to my iTunes library and loaded them onto my iPod.
I listened to the first chapter on my Bose in the kitchen while fixing dinner one night. Between Frankie’s non-stop meows for attention and my distraction as I tried to follow the directions to a new recipe (how ironic), I couldn’t concentrate on the audio book, finding myself getting irritated with the noise level in my kitchen. I also felt that Julie sounded angry and brusque as she read and those doubts about audio books began to resurface. But I wasn’t ready to give up. The following day I listened to more of the book while walking on the bike trail; I generally go for just about an hour, so I got a lot “read” that afternoon. Somewhere between the first and second disc, the intonations of Powell’s voice evened out and she didn’t sound quite so harsh. I began to look forward to my afternoon walks, eager to return to Julie’s kitchen and find out what new recipe she was working on. I found myself chortling out loud on several occasions (cause for some interesting glances from fellow walkers or bike riders as they passed by), finding Powell’s self-deprecating anecdotes quite humorous. I saw a lot of me in the author: I, too, have had temper tantrums (including one involving a cookie gun and a porcelain sink) while trying out new recipes. Yet, while I love to cook, I can’t imagine spending an entire year on such a daunting cookbook. The recipes sound extremely complicated, and neither my husband nor I would enjoy very many of these fussy meals. (Does anyone even eats aspic anymore?!) I own one Julia Child cookbook, but haven’t tried more than a couple of the recipes, so don’t look forward to a similar cooking journey from this cook. If I were going to spend a year working my way through a cookbook, I think I’d rather choose Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes. I certainly wouldn’t hear any complaints from my husband!
Note: Julie tends to use the f-word quite a bit and while I don’t usually have a problem with reading it in books, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to hear it read aloud on an audio book, especially when it’s played on a stereo in the house rather than listened to through headphones. Just a cautionary note in case any of you plan to listen to this on your family vacation this summer. As I always told my daughter when it came to the use of profanity, “Know your audience.” Nothing I hate worse than hearing that particular word used in everyday conversation, especially when young children are nearby.