Cookbooks - J-school

Julie Powell is a legend in the food blogging community. A Texan who moved to New York City to become an actress but wound up working as an almost-thirtysomething government secretary, she made a random decision in August 2002. She would cook her way through Julia Child's breakthrough cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Vol. 1), and record her efforts on a then-new Internet medium, the web log.

A devoted group of readers showed up and stayed for dinner. Then came a flurry of media attention. Then came the book deal and high-profile magazine assignments.

Julie & Julia (Little, Brown, $23.95) wrangles all the material of Powell's life during her year with Julia Child's opus magnus into a frisky, chatty read. Powell curses a blue steak through her trials of making aspic; she bemoans the effect that all the rich French food has on her sex life; she recounts a stomach-curdling encounter with maggots. A passage on trying to fix botched mayonnaise represents a typical scene in her kitchen: "I poured the failed sauce into the blender, because, fuck it, right? What could happen? Not much, as it turned out ... the sauce just spun loosely around like so much failed mayonnaise, and separated out as soon as I stopped the blender. This is when I began throwing things."

The complaining certainly entertains, but her hard-earned triumphs in the kitchen eventually spur potent transformations in her life — and hook readers in the process. Unfortunately, Powell strikes an overly glib tone in the book's wrap-up: "Two years ago, I was a 29-year-old secretary. Now I am a 31-year-old writer. I get paid very well to sit around in my pajamas and type on my ridiculously fancy iMac, unless I'd rather take a nap. Feel free to hate me — I certainly would."

Julie could take a cue from Julia here: Humility wins far more fans than arrogance.

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