Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

Cathy Belben

Good Reads for Writers

Reviewed By Cathy Belben
My summer experience as a nanny for an infant required that I find things that I could do while watching him (at least from a short distance) and that could be done in the 5-10 minute intervals of time during which he wasn’t crying, pooping, or otherwise requiring attention. Surprising not only myself but many people close to me, I began cooking. And I don’t mean the usual cooking I’d been subsisting on for the last 30+ years—the kind that involved poking holes in a microwavable pouch and then spinning the food around in the magic box for a few minutes.

I mean actual cooking. The kind that requires drizzling tomatoes with olive oil and blanching things and soaking small fruits overnight in a bisque of brandy and cranberry juice. I made white sauce, clam sauce, pesto, chili, artichoke-garbanzo bean soup, and a bunch of other stuff that’s much easier to just buy in a can. But now I know what it feels like to be Julie Powell. Sort of.

Powell is the author of Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, her account of the year she cooked every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. No easy task, but Powell, feeling stuck and bored in her job as a temp, was eager for a challenge. Child’s cookbook is “childishly simple and dauntingly complex, incantatory and comforting,” Powell writes. Reading it, she says, “I thought this was what prayer must feel like. Sustenance bound up with anticipation and want.”

I won’t spoil the story for you, but I will say that reading about food is almost as fun as eating it, especially in the talented hands of a writer like Julie Powell. She could’ve written a book about deciding to watch NASCAR racing every day for a year and I probably still would have found it hilarious, fascinating, and completely impossible to put down. She’s that entertaining. Even if it doesn’t send you to the kitchen, Julie and Julia serves up a terrific sampling of how to weave a story and a life into an entertaining memoir.

Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.

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