Monday, August 31, 2009

Reflections on Julie & Julia

Julia Child's Kitchen, image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Yesterday one of my best girlfriends and I went to see Julie & Julia. It was a wonderful movie spanning modern and traditional themes, with insight into lives lived decades apart. It will no doubt strike an intimate chord with anyone who watches it. I left the movie feeling a warm sense of admiration for both women and for their accomplishments. They lived out their passions and pursued their dreams. They didn't let setbacks or snags stop them, at least not for long. I also, like many of you I suppose, left wanting to go home and cook like a fiend!

For me there was another specific revelation. Neither Julie or Julia had especially large or fancy kitchens. The magical work spaces where the creativity of both J's came to life were pretty unimpressive. Think about it, a tiny kitchen in a cramped apartment and a moderately-sized kitchen lined with pegboard and hooks like a tool shed. No custom-tinted countertops, Italian tiled backsplashes or islands with built-in twin sinks. The exception for Julia, IMHO, was her Paris kitchen because I'm thinking anything in Paris is inspiring! On the contrary, they both had excellent tools and appeared to use the best quality ingredients. But the kitchens themselves were fairly basic.

My husband used to be a kitchen designer. He designed many impressive kitchens with beautiful stone countertops, stunning hardwood cabinetry and top-of-the-line appliances; all customized to near perfection. And most of these kitchens were huge. He would tell me about whatever kitchen design he was working on at the time, often during dinner. There we'd sit, in our undersized eat-in kitchen, talking about dream kitchens. Other peoples dream kitchens.

I used to have a larger kitchen; not particularly fancy but spacious. Not my dream kitchen, but it had potential. Back then though, I only cooked for survival. I enjoyed experimenting sometimes but at that point in my life, cooking was mostly a means to an end. Now, in comparison, we live in a house with the least impressive kitchen we've ever had. It's dimly lit, lacking cabinet and work space, and very small.

Despite my humble setting, I now have a growing passion for cooking. Yes, I have found passion in the mundane! I want nothing more than to stay home and cook, cook, cook. It's not about the space I'm in anymore. It's about what I do with it. I seek out cookbooks and ingredients like a woman possessed. I have a running list of gadgets like Le Creuset stock pot and Silpat that I carry around in a small notepad to every thrift store I go to. Hoping against hope that I might find them there. I come up with recipe ideas before I go to sleep at night and end up turning on the light a half a dozen times to write them down. Once I find a recipe that I want to try, it gnaws at me until I try it. I'm finding the more I enjoy the process, the more I enjoy the outcome.

I still fantasize about my dream kitchen, but it's not particularly large or fancy. It's in an old farmhouse with big windows, a walk-in pantry and well-worn vintage furniture. Maybe even a windowsill deep enough to cool a pie on. Turns out it's not about the style of cabinets or what the countertop is made of. The kitchen of my dreams looks a lot like my Aunt Maude's kitchen. My dear Aunt Maude was a precious woman with an amazing heart and a true gift for cooking. She had a very hard life, one that most wouldn't survive in. My memories of times spent with her when I was little are priceless to me. There, in her large farm kitchen with sunny light glowing through the tall windows, I witnessed something amazing; a woman truly happy in the moment. Despite the terrible things that she'd been through in her life, she was a woman of great faith and inner joy. She made simple food that was simply incredible. She would spend most of her days cooking, baking and serving her family. It may have looked to an outsider like a life of indentured servitude; but I believe she loved the process as much as she loved being a true servant of unconditional love and great food.

I'm grateful for the special people in our lives that teach us more than they intend to. I'm glad to be reminded that our circumstances don't define us, but that our passion and sense of purpose does. And I'm thankful for a leisurely Sunday matinee that brings all of this into perspective.


  1. A very valuable insight gained! I find it intriguing that often people with much don't seems to be as content as those with less!

  2. Loved that movie and love your review of it. You are a pleasure to read! With 4 babes and more on the way, I enjoy finding easy, healthy, yummy things to cook. The most important being EASY! But it was inspiring. Thanks!

  3. What a lovely and inspiring post Leslie! I love the simple and rustic looking kitchen posted above. It makes me want to bake a pie, even though I am not much of a baker. LOL!

  4. Thanks so much for your warm comments. Being happy where we are with what we have, doing what we love and sharing it with those around us -- I think happiness really is that simple.

    *Elisa, I think I need to come to NY so I can haul your fabric and learn more about sewing. You can come to VA and I'll help you put the whammy on a homemade pie. Sounds like a plan!*

  5. Hey Leslie - love this post - haven't seen the movie yet, but this summer I read Julia's book & loved it. Yes, the more & more I think of it my "dream kitchen" changes to be more homey than impressive!!

  6. Bonjour Leslie,
    I too enjoyed very much the film (and your post too...), particularly the story of Julia Child... By the way, the restaurant where Julia takes a fabulous buttery lunch at the beginning of the movie is called LA COURONNE, the first Auberge in France ( and is located in my hometown, Rouen, in Normandy...
    Regarding the subject you wrote about, the size of a kitchen, the one I cooked in where I arrived in Manhattan in 2007 was probably 1/3 of the Julie's one in the movie... With a gas stove and oven that might be the age of my mother (!), I was still able to cook some decent food and even to prep some of my catering events. So I also think cooking is more about ideas, imagination, love and technics than nice equipments and fashionable spacious luxurious kitchen space. I haven't yet find one equipment I couldn't substitute to one other (with a little bit of DIY sometimes)
    Please keep posting !
    Le Chef Bleu, from New York


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