Archive for August, 2009

I have become rather enamored of the no-nonsense brilliance of Lilith Saintcrow.
While I suppose that I should be embarrassed to admit that I have not in fact read any books by this woman (although there is at least one in my library waiting to be read), I feel the need to tell whoever might venture into my microscopic space in the blogosphere that I enjoy reading her blog immensely, for her style and for the information contained therein.
She talks quite a bit about the writing life and work, as writers tend to do, I suppose, and while she may not always be saying something new and previously unheard of, her perspective makes a lot of sense to me.

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The article addresses volume and variety rather than quality and technique, but the point about audience and tone is key.

“What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.”

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I know that it only scratches the surface as far as the mind boggling level of need in so many parts of the world (sometimes even including the United States), but you have to start somewhere, right?

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There are a number of organizations out there with similar goals, but it always makes me happy to hear (read) about people finding ways to share books.

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Courtesy of Philip Pullman.


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This afternoon, after somehow wrangling a file cabinet upstairs from the porch where it has been patiently languishing since last December, I decided that it was a good day to go to the movies, so I took myself off to see Julie & Julia, a film about a woman who decides to cook her way through 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the course of a year and also about the woman who inspired the project (and co-wrote the revered cookbook).

Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci play Julia and Paul Child with enthusiasm, respect and fearlessness. Especially Meryl Streep. You can tell she just embraced Julia’s larger than life, enthusiastic approach to everything and didn’t worry about anything else. Amy Adams is delightful as Julie Powell. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who will wish for more Julia and less Julie, but I enjoyed the balance.

The film had all of the necessary elements of a good film. I was transported to another time and place for two hours, and in the process was made to think and feel — the hallmark of good art.

I laughed at Julia’s feet hanging off the end of a too short bed, the ill-fated hat making session, the determination which resulted in a mountain of chopped onions (and Paul’s reaction), and, of course, the lobsters.

The scene where Julia gets the letter from Dorothy saying that she is pregnant was utterly heartbreaking and brought tears to my eyes.

I worried about their future as Paul is investigated by Senator McCarthy.

When the editor at Knopf discovers Beouf Bourginon, I could practically taste the delicious recipe, and I had a sudden inclination to rush home and prepare it myself.

Oh, and the film definitely made me want to live in Paris. And New York.

If there was any flaw it was that the movie had to be movie sized and could only hold so much detail.

When I moved into my little house on Water Street, one of my great sources of excitement was the kitchen — a *real* kitchen, with counter space, a dishwasher and a gas stove. The presence of the gas stove especially went a long way to influencing the purchase of the house. For (I believe) six years prior, my cooking had to be done on an electric stove and in an electric oven … and with zero actual counter space. Any preparation had to be done on a small cutting board on the stove top, on the ever-cluttered kitchen table, or on top of the washer. And by washer I mean clothes rather than dish.

I grew up in a kitchen with a gas stove, and it always seemed to me to be the only way to go. My general stance on most subjects of preference is “to each his own,” but why anyone would actually want to cook on an electric stove is quite beyond my capacity to understand. (But then I tend to avoid using the microwave, so I’m sure that plenty of people would argue that I’m not quite right in the head myself.)

Lack of counter space + electric stove = not much in the way of serious cooking.

When I did cook, meals often didn’t turn out quite right, and I was never quite sure whether to blame the electric stove and oven or my relative lack of practice under less than user friendly conditions. One notable exception was the Thanksgiving turkeys, which did tend to be a success, even if the stuffing was not. Perhaps I will have to see what Julia says about stuffing a turkey. (This year I have delusions of preparing a turducken, but I think that they may have to remain delusions a while longer.)

Many of my cookbooks were stashed away or scattered haphazardly about the apartment because I didn’t have a proper, central location for them. In the house, I have cleared out a small bookcase, and it houses the cookbooks almost perfectly. It’s in the living room rather than the kitchen, but at least they are close by, and it’s not as if I generally need to use more than one at a time.

At about the same time that I was looking to buy a house, I started reading about food — in fiction and non-fiction — and one of the first books I read was Julie & Julia. Reading Julie Powell’s various (mis)adventures in the kitchen with Julia encouraged me to keep reading about food and reminded me how much I loved Julia. I have fond memories of watching The French Chef on on Sunday afternoons, and I remember Mastering the Art of French Cooking sitting alongside my grandmother’s recipe box in my parents’ kitchen.

My parents no longer live in the house where I grew up, however, so when I asked my mother about the book — technically books, I suppose, since it is a two-volume set — I learned that it had been among the donations when they moved to what I still refer to as the “new house,” even though they have lived there at least half a dozen years now … maybe even as many as ten. (I could sit here and figure it out, but chasing after such details would only detract from my little story, and I think that the shaded ambiguity lends an air of mystery.)

Apparently, I was distressed enough by the knowledge that my parents no longer had Julia in their library that I blocked the information from my memory, causing me to repeat the question on at least one more occasion, and though it wasn’t really meant as such, my mother took the hint and tracked down a nice copy of the fortieth anniversary edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and had it sent to me. It sits proudly on the shelf next to a rather battered (I would like to think well loved and used) copy of Simca’s Cuisine.

I have not yet cooked my way through Julia’s extensive offerings, but I do consult her advice from time to time.

I have been labeled as “adventurous” in the kitchen, and as I become more so — which I think I shall be once I truly find the courage of my convictions to flip a potato pancake or an omelette in a frying pan — I am sure that I will spend more time with Julia and Simca.

While the film is still fresh in my mind, however, I am sitting here with copies of Appetite for Life and My Life in France next to me on my desk, trying to decide which one to read first. I am likely to start with My Life in France because I would like to hear more from Julia in her own words. I know that the book was written with the help of Alex Prud’homme, who is her grand nephew, I believe, but based on her introduction, I am quite convinced that he was mostly the means for telling her story, almost as if he played the role of pen and paper, or perhaps typewriter. (Somehow I can’t possibly see Julia sitting in front of a computer.)

Julie Powell did sit in front of a computer, however, so the Julie/Julia blog might be the real place to start, rather than rereading Julie & Julia as I had briefly conisdered doing.

I’ll let you know how it goes. And perhaps once I have spent some more time with Julia, I will finally delve into the works of another venerable foodinista — M.F.K. Fisher.

Edit to add:. In the end, I did decide to start with Julie’s blog. If you share the inclination, start here.

Edit to add (on January 10, 2010): Now that Julie & Julia is available on dvd, I can watch the film almost any time I care to, and one of the times I cared to was this evening while I had the house to myself for a while. What I really love about the movie — about the story of each of these women actually — is the reminder that success doesn’t come from talent so often as it does from hard work and perseverance. Find a way and the time to do what you love. Work at it and keep working at it, and success will follow.  Maybe not millions of dollars and international fame, but success in the form of personal growth and satisfaction.  Such is my wisdom on this particular Sunday evening.

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