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Julie and Julia and Me and You | Manolo for the Big Girl

Julie and Julia and Me and You

I said yesterday that I would talk about that book I read on my recent road trip. I will. The book was Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. I know, I know, I’m way behind on the curve. The movie has already opened. Yes, I will be going to see the film, but no, I haven’t seen it yet.

I think part of the reason I kept putting this one off on my reading list was simply the fact that I have such strong memories of Julia Child. My mother, back in the days long before anyone had thought of The Food Network, used to watch most of the cooking shows on PBS. The Romangoli’s Table, Yan Can Cook, show after show featuring Jacques Pepin…but my strongest memories are of watching in fascination as Julia Child careened her way around her kitchen, seemingly courting disaster at every turn until she presented a beautiful and delicate French dish to my wondering eyes.

Julia mesmerized me. I’m not certain my mother ever actually made a dish Julia taught on her show, but she was a fan, too. She owned both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Julie Powell doesn’t seem to have come from  such a Juliacentric background. Still, one day while visiting her family, she suddenly decided to make off with her mother’s copy  of The Book. And after a horrible day of working a job she found unappealing, being reminded by her gynecologist that a woman nearing thirty with PCOS should probably have a child sooner rather than later if she wanted one, and watching a woman have a complete mental break as she waited for the subway train she needed to get back to her apartment, Julie found that Julia Child made everything okay again with a bowl of potato soup.

Shortly after that, the Julie/Julia project was born. Julie decided to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking – all 524 of them – in a single year and blog about doing it.

Obviously, the book is  about her efforts and her successes and her failures along the way. Of course there are discussions both hilarious, triumphant, and discouraging about the various dishes she makes. There are passages that can churn the stomach even while exercising the funny bone, such as her very first battle with bone marrow. There are passages in this book that are definitely not for the faint of heart, nor for those who find offal offensive.

But in the end, the book is about far more than one frustrated secretary facing thirty and deciding to cook a lot of retro French dishes. No, it’s about grabbing the brass ring of life. It’s about finding something that brings you joy, no matter whether anyone at all – including you – understands why it brings you joy. It’s about choosing to find meaning, being bold, and refusing to let the daily grind make you nothing but ground down. It’s about the tiny bit in all of us that longs to tilt at windmills and climb things simply because they’re there.

Sometimes it’s enough to do something simply because you got it into your head to do it. Every person I know who has approached life with that attitude has been able to find joy, whether permanent or sporadic. Most of the best decisions in my life have come about this way. I might not know why I felt a need to do these things, but I did and they paid off in ways I could never have imagined. I took my first acting course this way, began writing this way, learned to make bobbin lace this way, and discovered how wonderful Mr. Twistie is just this way. I have found joy and meaning in every one of these whimsical decisions.

If there’s a thing you’ve been considering doing but thought it was too silly or too self-indulgent or too pointless, please, take another look at that project. I don’t care if it’s building a replica of Stonehenge out of toothpicks in your garden or writing up the story of Obama’s election in the form of an ancient Icelandic saga, or translating the complete works of Shakespeare into Pig Latin. Sometimes in life you just have to roll the dice and see how it works out. Take that class, create that artwork, start that screenplay, or take a year to learn everything you can about how the very first steam engine worked.

Time is our most precious commodity. And sometimes you just need to spend some in a seemingly frivolous way to find the greatest rewards for your investment.

14 Responses to “Julie and Julia and Me and You”

  1. Deb August 9, 2009 at 11:52 am #

    “Sometimes it’s enough to do something simply because you got it into your head to do it.”

    I think I’m going to needlepoint this onto a pillow and then go do those half dozen crazy things I’ve got in mind to do. Thank you.

  2. Monica the Tiara Chick August 9, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    BRAVA!! I have not read the book, but this is exactly how I felt after watching the movie yesterday morning (which by the way was in a packed theater at 9:20 AM). These “What If?” opportunities can be The Thing(s) which keep one from becoming numb to life. My own such Things include bellydance, yoga, travel destinations, jewelry-making, and my own current Thing, participation in my first juried art show. Thank you Twistie!

  3. Melissa August 9, 2009 at 12:13 pm #

    Oh Twistie. I picked this book up in paperback while traveling through Houston a couple weeks ago. On my flights from Houston to New Haven I read nearly the whole book. I love that Julie is a cranky, potty mouth Texan in search of something more – of herself and everything around her. It’s obvious, but one of my favorite scenes is her first attempt to cook lobster. Some of the side characters are as entertaining as the mains.

    One of the main themes in the book that you mentioned here really spoke to me. Doing something because something inside you tells you it is the right thing to do – it’s what you are SUPPOSED to be doing. I followed that feeling two years ago and it led me to a new job and life – I’m a cranky potty mouth Texan currently in Connecticut. And while I’m not exactly thrilled with all the results of the change I know that it was the most right thing I’ve ever done.

    Come back once you’ve seen the movie, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

  4. maryb August 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    I’m a cranky potty-mouthed New Yorker currently in Texas, so hello to people doing the same thing in the opposite direction! I liked the book, too; haven’t seen the movie yet. And I love both Julia Child and Meryl Streep, so I’m really looking forward to it. And I so believe in the idea that sometimes you just do a thing. But here’s what I didn’t like about the book, or maybe about Julie Powell–that it didn’t so much seem to me like she wanted particularly to do the thing well, just to do it. I think that’s what Julia Child meant (or maybe what somebody else–perhaps meanly–attributed to Julia Child) in describing what Powell was doing as a stunt. I guess I believe in trying to do well what you care enough about to try to do; that doesn’t always mean in fact doing it well (as I really really know), but I believe in something about the trying. And Powell in her book is too willing to leave out ingredients or skip things or just let things be a mess for me. I feel as if she wanted to be able to say she had done it, but I’m not sure she so much wanted to do it well. (Does this reveal way too much about me and maybe about how my mother brought me up? Maybe.)

  5. Princess of the Universe August 9, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    I saw the movie this weekend and positively adored it – I actually prefer to do it that way- see the movie first, and the book is always better. I shall be picking it up soon.

    And it was inspirational – makes you want to come up with your own “Julia” project.
    xo

  6. Cat August 9, 2009 at 7:29 pm #

    I actually read the blog before the book came out, and read the book shortly after it came out, because my sister-in-law was besties with Julie Powell in elementary school and junior high. I enjoyed both the blog and the book, but I’m not sure I want to see the movie. The movie always pales in comparison with the book.

    Amen to the message you took from the book, Twistie! I think the world would be a happier place if more people would go ahead and do that crazy thing they’ve always wanted to do.

  7. sarahbyrdd August 10, 2009 at 10:33 am #

    Fabulous book! And please, please, please also read “My Life In France”. So awesome. My ladies floating dinner party group will be going to see the movie this month in lieu of our usual activities, so that none of us has to swelter in an August kitchen.

  8. mdegraffen August 10, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    I saw the movie Sunday and loved it. Streep is phenomenal as Child. I strongly advise eating before you go because the movie makes you really, really hungry. I’m not kidding. I’ve been craving French bread with butter for the past 24 hrs, so I have to make an emergency stop after work.

  9. Chicklet August 10, 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    I’ve been craving French bread with butter for the past 24 hrs, so I have to make an emergency stop after work.

    Why wait that long? Surely you could go to your boss and say, “I’m sorry, but I have to leave. I HAVE A BREAD EMERGENCY.”

  10. KESW August 10, 2009 at 12:10 pm #

    I’ve just started reading the archives of her blog and I love it! I’m a big believer in cooking-as-therapy, and my life is feeling pretty spectacularly crappy as well right now, so I am loving all of these descriptions of cooking things I can’t pronounce that are drenched in butter. :)
    And to me, her shortcuts and “Dammit, I’m Texan and I’m not boiling any more bacon” attitude make it more worthwhile to me. If she had done the project perfectly by the book, it would be less real and relatable. I can’t wait to see the movie.

  11. Sarah Fowler August 10, 2009 at 12:55 pm #

    I read the book a few weeks ago and just saw the movie Friday night. The movie is actually as good as the book! It’s really wonderful, especially Meryl Streep as Julia. Delightful.

  12. Melissa August 10, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    You know, the first time I encountered Julie taking shortcuts in the book I was a little disappointed with her, but I have to say – as someone who actually attempts recipes that are well beyond my ability – that sometimes I do that too. Thomas Keller forgive me, but there are just some things I am not able to perform.

    And omgbreadwithbuttersoundssooooooogood.

  13. Duane Kemnitz July 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Thanks for a brilliant blog