Monday, August 24, 2009

Julia: Alive & Well

Almost 48 years after it was first published, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child is finally topping the New York Times best-seller list. I saw the charming movie Julie & Julia over the weekend, which is fueling this recent book-buying frenzy. Last week 22,000 copies were sold — more than were sold in any full year since the book’s appearance, according to its publisher Alfred A. Knopf.

It's not because we've thrown caution to the wind and have adopted a butter, cream, and fat diet, all deliciously wonderful things at the core of traditional French cooking. Or because there's been a renewed interest in aspic. I think people are simply bewitched by "Julia" (played with aplomb by Meryl Streep). She had such a passion for life and food and possessed this magnetism about her. You couldn't help but smile when you saw or heard her. She had a big spirit and I think people were drawn to her because of it. She was a bit of a "fish out of water" — physically at 6' 2" and emotionally restless and looking for something "to doooo" in Paris —but didn't let that stop her. She was brave. She was loving. She was joyous. 

The movie follows two story lines of women (Julie Powell being the second who decides to take on the challenge of cooking and blogging about all 524 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a mere 365 days) who turn to cooking when they were looking for a sense of purpose. It happened to lead them both to great things. I don't think any of us who picked up the cookbook or have renewed interest in Julia Child after watching the movie are expecting to find similar success. I think we all just want to be a little bit more like Julia. 

Julia followed her stomach — and her heart — in a way I don't think many do. It's the passion that counts in life. Hers happened to be about food and it revolutionized home cooking. She famously said, "I see every recipe as a short story." I love that. Where some people can hear a song and are transported to another place and time, food has that power over me. I remember cities, people and events according to the food I ate or cooked and who I shared it with. Like when I recently discovered I actually like olives when I was in Madrid this summer. Well, not all olives, but some of the green ones. Or when I stayed up all night baking lemon squares for a sorority rush party my junior year in college only to walk in the kitchen to find the cat standing in the middle of the pan (which is impossible to fix, I realized). When I see macaroni and cheese, I think of my parents going out on the town. That was our standard "babysitter dinner." It allows me to catalog my life, but in a delicious context sprinkled with the memories of how I've become who I am and how I got here. Sure there were some culinary misadventures and even catastrophes, but I wouldn't trade them. It's what makes life life

I think that's why I'm so drawn to Julia, now more than ever. She exuded life. But she knew it could be messy. She seemed so fearless and undaunted by the occasional mishap. She's made me braver, more adventurous in the kitchen — and in life. So I think I'll head down to La Super-Rica for lunch. This was one of Julia's favorite restaurants and happens to be here in Santa Barbara, where she moved in 2001 and lived until she passed in 2004, just two days shy of her 92nd birthday. I want to revel in her spirit and I'd like to think Julia would approve of my method. 

1 comment:

  1. Julia also liked the hot dogs at Costco :)
    I still think I would opt for La Super Rica.