My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme, and Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

Today you get two book reviews in one – My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme, and Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell.

I actually bought my copy of My Life in France way back in March when I picked it up in a clearance sale, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it. I recently picked up one of the (heavily discounted because it’s on the bestseller list) Julie and Julia books. And then I found out that I won a draw for a preview movie ticket, so I figured that I should probably read both books before going to enjoy the movie.

I first started reading Julie and Julia. It was a relatively quick read and I can certainly see how it would appeal to a certain kind of reader. My best description of the book would be to say it’s like Bridget Jones or one of the Shopaholic books, but with a lot of swearing, some food, and less charm. I tried to like this book – I really did. But I have to admit that she got on my nerves.

It’s not so much about the food as a journey that Powell takes to “find herself.” Julia Child and her food just happened to be the tool. To be very frank, there were too many times that I felt like she didn’t like any of the food she was making. And when she did like the food, the descriptions usually ended up being something like “hmm” or “mmm” or “it was good so we ate it” (I’m paraphrasing). There weren’t really many explanations as to why the food tasted good to her, or even in most cases why the food tasted bad.

Half-way through Julie and Julia I HAD to take a break. And so I switched to My Life in France.

This book is not so much an autobiography but is actually a collection of memories and vignettes, accompanied by many fantastic photos taken by Paul, Julia’s husband. I found this book even easier to read than Powell’s book due to the length of each vignette. Similar to a book of short stories, it is a book that can be easily picked up and put down again without interuppting the narrative flow.

Julia and Paul’s adventures in France made for entertaining reading. And, unlike Powell’s book, you can actually feel the passion Child had for food. Food, however, isn’t the only thing that you experience in this book. You get to see post-war France through Child’s eyes, and even some insight into the political life of the U.S. diplomatic service.

This book makes me want to go to France. And to try cooking some of Child’s recipes, whereas Powell’s book gave me very little encouragement to even flip through the cookbooks. If you want to learn about Julia Child, I highly recommend My Life in France. I unfortunately cannot say the same for Julie and Julia, unless you’re looking for chick lit.

I’m seeing the movie tonight, so expect a review in the next couple of days.

Edited to add: After some thought over the past couple of days I decided that I should have added this to my original review. I just wanted to say that my opinion of Julie Powell’s writing is only based on her book, and not the old blog or her current blog. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t read either one. At one point I did read a bunch of her Julie/Julia blog posts around the time that she was finishing her project but I didn’t find it particularly compelling at the time and never bothered to read the whole thing or to continue to follow her. I do admire that she finished the whole project, but I didn’t care for the book and I think I agree with Julia Child’s opinion that it didn’t seem like Julie respected the food.

Great book deals

For the past two days I’ve been at the University of Alberta taking a 3-day course. And this means I’ve had easy access to one of my favourite places in the city, The Book Cellar in HUB Mall. This store is the U of A’s book remainder store and they have a surprisingly large selection of children’s books, non-fiction and fiction. And food-related books.

(Remainders, by the way, are those never-been-read books that publishers have sold to bookstores for dirt cheap because they’re older books and they’re taking up valuable warehouse space. Those “bargain books” with the red and white price tags, sitting in the front section of the Chapters/Coles/Indigo store? All remainders and almost pure profit. You’d be shocked at the profit margin.)

l bought a lot of books. So many that the cashier gave me an extra 25% off my purchase. It’s probably a good thing for my wallet that I don’t go there very often. I hope I didn’t giggle in glee too loudly while I was immersed in the stacks. Some of these were books that I had on my to-buy list already and I saved a nice amount by picking up these copies instead.

So which food books did I get? Everything was in hardcover, prices not including the extra discount:
Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop – $7.99
My Grandmother’s Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Lo – $7.99
The Seventh Daughter by Cecilia Chiang – $7.99
My Life in France by Julia Child – $5.99
Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch – $5.99

They also had a Charlie Trotter cookbook that I looked over, but I decided that it was probably something I’d never cook from and that I had already picked up too many books.

Let’s see if I can resist going back there tomorrow during our class break.

Side note: while I was typing this out, Alton Brown made candied ginger, ginger cookies and ginger ale. Mmmm. Too bad it was only on my TV and not in my kitchen.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

After reading Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef (my review here), I thought The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry would be a somewhat similar book, but from the perspective of a Le Cordon Bleu student instead of a Culinary Institute of America student.

And that’s exactly what I got. Sort of.

This book is a quick and pleasant read; the writing is clear and amusing, and the story is easy to read. There are lots of descriptions of the food cooked in class, interesting characters, and even some romance. The author’s difficulty with French is a popular theme in the memories. Continue reading

The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America By Michael Ruhlman

The Making of a ChefI’ve wanted to read Michael Ruhlman‘s series of Chef books for a while now, and when I started reading his blog and seeing him on TV I decided that it was about time that I pick one up. The Making of a Chef is a book about what students experience as students at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). It talks about Ruhlman’s personal experiences while taking classes and learning various techniques such as how to make a roux, bake sourdough bread, and work in a real restaurant kitchen. Peppered with some of the history of the CIA, the book also examines what being a chef really means to both students and teachers. I found this an interesting book to read. It gives you a good glimpse of what life is like for the future chefs. I also liked it because of how the author examined his own expanding view of food. It did lag a bit in the middle but the rest of the book made it worth reading. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Candyfreak by Steve Almond

CandyfreakHow can you not love a book about candy by a guy named Almond? When I first read this book I couldn’t believe how much fun it was. Part personal exploration, part U.S. candy history and part travel diary, Almond draws you in with his humourous take on what candy means to him. Candyfreak contains discussions about the candy he ate while growing up and his quests for great candy. This is not a serious study on the evolution of candy; it’s a love letter to it. Be warned, your sweet tooth will kick in while reading this book. In fact, I had a chocolate craving just from writing this review.