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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The REAL Julie and Julia Project

"Julia Child began learning to cook when she was thirty-seven years old. She started because she wanted to feed her husband Paul. She started because though she’d fallen in love with great food late, when she did she’d fallen hard. She started because she was in Paris. She started because she didn’t know what else to do.

Who knows how it happens, how you come upon your essential gift? For
this was hers. Not the cooking itself so much – lots of people cook better than Julia. Not even the recipes – others can write recipes. What was Julia’s true gift, then? She certainly had enormous energy, and that was a sort of gift, if a genetic one – perhaps the one thing about her you can pin down on the luck of the draw. She was a great teacher, certainly – funny, and generous, and enthusiastic, with so much overbrimming confidence that she had nothing to do with the surplus but start doling it out to others. But she also had a great gift for learning. Perhaps that was the talent she discovered in herself at the age of 37, at the Cordon Bleu School in Paris – the thirst to keep finding out, the openness to experience that makes life worth living."

Friday, August 13, 2004
Original blog posting from Julia Powell on her blog via Salon:

The Julie/Julia Project


I've been reading the book "Julie and Julia" and have been very pleasantly surprised. I thought the author, Julie Powell, would be a serviceable author with a readable style and not much more. Boy, was I wrong. She can write. Her style is effortless and breezy. I see why people flocked to her blog. Her prose on the blog were solid and her basic hook of an idea fun and new. And she was very honest about her struggles.

After the first hundred pages of the book, I thought to myself, "My, this woman doesn't seem to have a care in the world. She's so damn UP. Maybe it's her Texas raising. They're born optimistic down there. I have a project similar to hers, I cook to feed my husband and now I'm striking out with a food project. I'm writing a blog in an attempt to understand my life by cooking, cooking, cooking. But I'm about to lose my mind. Why did SHE strike such an instant cord with such safe, yet articulate and well-written thoughts? And sound so damn happy in the process?!"

Then I scoured the web for her original blog postings and struck gold. Read the entry above. She wrote it on the day Julia Child died. It's articulate, emotional and her insights are universal but very personal. Entries before this one were angry, hurt, confused and wonderfully emotional. She was feeling sapped by her secretary jobs, she took on the Julie/Julia Project and was exhausted after cooking and writing until she was about to drop and was done. I see why people read her.

I love her wording 'essential gift.' I have spent my entire life looking for mine and I have yet to find it. Yet, perhaps, it is as Mrs. Powell writes - maybe it's welcoming the experience of life and staying open to what comes our way. I do believe we all have an essential gift. In cooking, mine has always been to feed my family first, and then to feed others so they feel loved and nurtured. Taking care of others and cooking for them is a way my essential gift is expressed.

I don't know what else to do as well. Cooking has fallen into my lap. I didn't ask for it; it arrived. True story: five years ago, a psychic entered my life and told me I'd have my own cooking show. She also told me one of my mentors in life was James Beard. James Beard? I asked her, "Who the hell is he?".

I had first been introduced to the works of James Beard from a former friend of mine. She lived at the time in Connecticut. She was a writer, married, and had raised two children. She hated living in Connecticut and when her kids when to college, moved to Roosevelt Island (across the water from Manhattan) and enrolled in an MFA program (one I introduced her to, but I'm not bitter, no, not at all).

She was a wildly smart woman who, in the end, stopped all communication with me. I suspect she felt I wasn't smart enough for her. Despite my raging insecurities in friendships, I'm shockingly intuitive about what other people think of me. I'm sure she considered me intellectually uninteresting. She wasn't a very warm and fuzzy person. Her kids were smart and distant (like her) and her husband always had a smile but, like his wife, his expression was a mix of silent judgment and pensiveness.

One afternoon I took the train from Manhattan to Stamford. She agreed to meet to discuss a screenplay I was writing. As with our other meetings, I felt stiff and uncomfortable around her. Like a pupil waiting to hear why his professor had given him a C-. She talked, taking on her role of the Smarter One while I nodded and listened. I can see my needy and uncertain former self lapping up her comments in hopes she would help me to write a script that would finally sell and delivery me from my daily secretarial grind. I wanted her approval and still do. Can't be a healthy way to think. She was a cold, distant woman who, in the end, showed she never really wanted to be my friend. Gosh - mother transference anyone?!

But one thing she did do is introduce me to James Beard. On the aforementioned Uncomfortable Afternoon, she handed me a dog-eared copy of the paperback "James Beard and Fish". I was appalled. I hated making fish (and am still not a fan), but took it from her, thinking there was some mystical reason she was giving it to me. I'm not sure why I gave her such power, but I saw her as so much better than me. In reality, she was an judgemental snob disguised as a bohemian renegade.

It was as I read the tiny, fragmented cook book on the way home I realized I was falling in love with world of James Beard. It wasn't so much the food or the menus. It was the way he wrote. There was a life to his prose I had never read in a cookbook before. An unmistakable joy. This guy really loved to cook and entertain.

I immediately got the only biography on him (a plodding and poorly written book, "The Solace of Food: The Life of James Beard" by Robert Clark) and found out he was a failed actor who turned to cooking as an attempt make sense of his life! Yes! It made such sense. He wrote like an artist in love with his muse.

I read most of his books after that and made many, many of his bread and meat dishes. I also made his pasta meals, which were fantastic. I have more in common with Mr. Beard than I do with Mrs. Childs. Mr. Beard could veer towards the melancholy at the drop of a hat. I am the same. I am wildly moody and so was he. The psychic told me five years ago Mr. Beard was standing beside me, urging me to follow a path of cooking and food. I have, but as of yet, nothing has materialized besides my keen ability to cut an onion very quickly.

So I will keep writing on this blog as long as it feels I must. And I'll think of Mrs. Powell out there, living the life I would like to live. And I'll think of the famous photos of Mrs. Childs and Mr. Beard, side by side, each honoring their gift in life and sharing it with the world.

Until next time...

Yours in food and whining -

Your Food Therapist

1 comment:

  1. Excellent writing, Mike! You need a wider the writing! XO