Friday, January 29, 2010

The Joy of Cooking...Julia Child's "My Life in France"

It all started with the movie Julie & Julia, which was quite fun and inspired me to ask for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 for my birthday.

It continued when I suggested that my daughter get my husband, for his birthday, My Life in France, co-written by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme, who is not the son of chef Paul Prudhomme, the conclusion to which I had leapt, but a great-nephew of Julia. I co-opted the book after Christmas when Colorado plunged into a deep freeze and I needed another "pick me up," and absolutely loved it.

First the premise, the book is a series of mostly chronological anecdotes based on letters that Julia and her husband, Paul, sent whilst they were living in France shortly after WWII. As the foreword says, virtually every word in the book is Julia's or Paul's; Alex assembled them into a cohesive whole, which is no mean feat because the narrative does hang together remarkably well.

Julia's practical, no-nonesense joie de vivre shines through gloriously and the reader, at least this one, comes away thinking she has a new best friend. It's easy to see why Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, fell in love with Julia Child and mentally talked to her throughout her year of cooking her way though Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia Child's personality is strong and her style is unique and unforgettable.

As a middle-aged dreamer, I loved reading about how Julia came to her vocation rather late in life--mid-30's--and learned virtually everything she knew about cooking and food as an adult. That gives me great hope. She provides a striking role model for those of us who aren't willing to let the "young folks" have all the fun!

As a lover of travel, I relished Julia’s adventures as she made a home for herself and her darling husband in a series of apartments and houses in Paris, Marseilles, Germany, and America, none of which was even remotely perfect but in all of which they found something to love and laugh about as they worked through the kinks of small kitchens, domestic help, hideous furnishings, and the like.

As a wannabe cook, I loved reading about her struggles to understand technique and her dedication to find the freshest and best ingredients and not settle for poor, out-of-season fare. I learned about another Julia cookbook that is now on the birthday list for next year, Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking.

As a romantic, I enjoyed reading about the relationship she had with her husband—I especially loved the Valentine cards they sent to family and friends. She also writes of his accomplishments and talents, and I felt that I was privy to a very special, wonderful relationship. My one complaint is that I wanted more photos. Those in the book are snapshots, which gives a wonderfully intimate feel to the book, but I love to look at photos in biographies and autobiographies and wanted more.

As a writer, I found Julia’s description of the trials, tribulations, and joys of collaborating with others to be fascinating. Reading about her approach to the task of creating Mastering the Art of French Cooking makes this book required reading for any writer, not just those of us of love travel and great food and wine as well.

Her work ethic is what you would expect, and reading this book has inspired me to not shy away from tackling the big projects in life as well as the little ones. I also found refreshing Julia’s confidence in herself and her abilities—no false modesty here, nor should there be.

Julia Child was a multi-faceted, talented, interesting, strong woman who lived long and well—the slice of her life chronicled in My Life in France simply demonstrates how much richer she has made the world through her dedication, work, toleration, curiosity, and joy of cooking.


  1. Great review! I would love to read this book. I just saw the movie "Julie and Julia" on DVD last weekend and my husband and I both loved it! Very inspiring and a great love story too! Also so very sensual with the great food, wine and joie de vivre!

  2. My mother-in-law gave me Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1 and 2 for Christmas and they are wonderful. I should definitely go grab this book as a companion (and inspiration). Thanks for the review!

  3. The movie certainly introduced me to a Julia Child's I never saw in the t.v. shows. I just recently saw the movie again and now I need to get to this book which is somewhere on Mt. TBR!

  4. I am reading this right now and I love it!

    Thanks for visiting Rose City Reader.

  5. Hi! I just learned about your blog and your wonderful book, through Maria's blog-Fly High. You gave a terrific interview. Thanks!

  6. I loved the movie too! And now am interested in reading this book on her.

    Jane, wonderful interview with Maria on her blog! Great pics and learned such wonderful things! Thanks for sharing yourself with us bloggers and your wonderful talents!

  7. Hi, I read your interview on Maria's blog (she is such a lovely person) and I wanted to check out your blog. I see that you are a Civil War fan, so am I. There is new movie in preproduction about the Cherokee and the Civil War in which my kids will probably be extras. I will let you know as it progresses since it is a movie you will most likely desire to see.
    Take care, and nice to meet you.

  8. Lucy and Avalon - thanks for dropping by. Maria is a gem, and it was fun to work on the guest blog with her.

    Avalon - I haven't heard of that movie but I will look for it. Cool about your kids being extras--I also thought that would be an interesting experience.

  9. I too loved this book! And I found Julia's Kitchen Wisdom helpful in my cooking. Julia is truly an inspiration!

  10. Julia Child is fascinating! I'm grateful to hear what you thought of this book because I've been wondering. I think you've inspired me to look at it closer. The movie was fun to see as well. I love food and so I loved to see how Julia's reactions to food might have been like through Meryl Streep. I also loved the Valentine's they sent!
    Thanks for visiting 5-squared!

  11. Jane -- Can I add a link to your review on my review post?

  12. Rose City - Absolutely! It's fun to read what others have said about the books we've enjoyed!

  13. I really enjoyed this book as well. Julia Child's life is so interesting, and as a recent foodie-convert I loved hearing about all the great dishes she made!

  14. Dana - thanks for delurking and stopping by. Julia is quite a national treasure! People say she taught America to cook--I think she also taught us how to eat :)