Authors: Julie Powell
ALSO BY JULIE POWELL
Julie and Julia
Copyright (c) 2009 by Julie Powell
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"Designs on You" by Old 97's. Copyright (c) 2001: Songs Music Publishing, LLC o/b/o Ram Island Songs (ASCAP), Burgermeister
Music (ASCAP), Pennycost Music (ASCAP), This Is My Piece of Sheet Music (ASCAP), Wait Till Next Year Music (ASCAP). Reprinted
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"Red Right Ankle." Written by Colin Meloy. Copyright (c) Music of Stage Three o/b/o itself and Osterozhna! Music (BMI). All
rights reserved. Used by permission.
"Willin'." Copyright (c) 1994. Written by Lowell George of Little Feat. Lyrics reprinted with permission.
For Josh and Jessica,
who have the hearts of true butchers--
tough, generous, and enormous
It's the memoirist's privilege to tell her version of a many-faceted story; and any one facet may necessarily be incomplete,
fractured, or polished to a sheen that the original stuff of experience didn't possess.
is a book that is faithful to my heart, but occasionally fuzzy on the odd physical detail. Other participants in the events
recounted in these pages undoubtedly remember things differently; from them, and from the reader, I ask for a bit of patience
February 13, 2008
HIS IS REALLY
not what it looks like.
The work is most often a delicate thing, and bloodless. In the year and more that I've been doing this, I've gone whole days
with no more evidence of my labors by evening than a small bit of gore on my shoes or a sheen of translucent fat on my hands
and face (it's excellent for the skin, I'm told). So this is unusual, this syrupy drip, my arms drenched up to the elbows,
my apron smeared with crimson going quickly to brown.
I reach down into the plastic-lined cardboard box one more time, coming up with an organ weighing probably fifteen pounds,
a dense and slippery deadweight, a blood-soaked sponge. I slap it onto the cutting table, and it makes a sound like a fish
flopping on the deck of a boat; the risk of dropping it on the floor is not inconsiderable. The box is deep, and when I reach
to the bottom of it my face brushed up against the bloody lining. Now I can feel a streak of the stuff drying stickily across
my cheekbone. I don't bother to wipe it off. On what clean surface would I wipe it, after all? Besides, it makes me feel rather
I take my scimitar from the metal scabbard hanging from a chain around my waist. For most work I use my boning knife, an altogether
smaller, finer thing, six inches long, slightly curved, with a dark rosewood hilt worn to satin smoothness by all the fat
and lanolin that has been massaged into it. That little knife cracks open a haunch joint or breaks down muscle groups into
their component parts like nothing else. But with this heavy, foot-long blade I can, while pressing firmly down on the flesh
with my right palm, slice straight through the liver in one dragging stroke. Thin, even slices. With the boning knife I'd
have to saw away to get through that bulk of organ meat, making for torn, jagged edges. And you wouldn't want that. You want
the blade to slip through easily. Smooth. Final.
More than a year ago, when I first told my husband, Eric, that I wanted to do this, he didn't understand. "Butchery?" he asked,
an expression of mystification, perhaps even discomfort, screwing up his face.
His suspicion hurt me. There was a time, just a few years before, when there was no trace of it in his heart. I knew I deserved
it. But it was just so strange to have to try to explain; strange to have to explain anything to Eric at all. I'd known him
by then for sixteen years, almost literally half my life. I knew him when he was a beautiful, shy, blue-eyed teenager in baggy
shorts, a stretched-out sweater, and worn Birkenstocks, with a dog-eared paperback jutting out of one rear pocket. And almost
at the beginning I picked him out, decided he was the one I needed. It took most of a school year to snatch him from the swarm
of pretty girls that seemed always to be circling--he so oblivious, he so sweet and gentle--but I managed it. God, I was invincible
when I was eighteen. When it came down to it, I got pretty much whatever I went after.
Want. Take. Have
. That was my simple motto. And I was right--to take him, I mean. From the beginning we were interlocking puzzle pieces. From
the beginning we nestled into the notion that our two lives were to be irrevocably woven into one.
I now slice off eight pretty burgundy flaps of liver. The cut organ releases a metallic tang into the air, and yet more blood
onto the table. Changing knives now, I delicately excise the tight pale ducts that weave through the slices. Perfectly cooked
liver should be crisp on the outside with a custardy-smooth center. Nothing tough or chewy should get in the way of that sensual
quintessence. Six of these slices are for the gleaming glass and steel case at the front of the shop; the last two I set aside,
to wrap up and take home after work for a Valentine's Day dinner tomorrow. Once, I thought the holiday merited boxes of chocolate
and glittery cards, but in these last couple of eye-opening years, amid the butchery and wrenches of the heart, I've realized
life has gotten too complicated for such sweet and meaningless nothings; I've even learned I'm okay with that.
1/2 cup flour
21/2-inch-thick slices high-quality beef liver, trimmed of any tough veins or filament
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Spread flour on a large plate. Season the liver slices with salt and pepper, then dredge in the flour, shaking off excess.
Set a skillet over high heat, and add butter and oil. When the butter foam has just subsided, add the liver slices. Saute
just until a crispy golden brown crust develops, about two minutes. Flip the slices and do the same on the other side. (Don't
worry about undercooking. Overcooking is by far the worse fate for liver.)
Beef liver cooked like this--I keep telling people in the face of near-universal scoffs of disbelief--is one of the most, well,
passionate things you'll ever eat. I don't know exactly why this is. It's as sexy as hell, but difficult too. Somehow faintly
forlorn, like there is no denying that something was torn from something for your pleasure.
Eric and I married young, but that doesn't mean our union was precipitous. We'd already known each other for seven years by
the time I donned that white organza princess gown and walked along that stone path on my father's arm to the bubbly notes
of "My Baby Just Cares for Me." We could look right down to the bottom of each other and see what was swimming there, like
fish flashing in clear mountain lakes. At our center wasn't sexuality or ambition, though we shared both. No, deep understanding,
that's what we had. The nagging voice I've all my life heard in my head, the one people might call addiction or restlessness
or waywardness, but which is to me almost an embodiment, some thing outside of myself, impish, far from benign, but also inspiring
and not entirely unconcerned with my self-interest--Eric believed in it. He feared it sometimes, but he believed in it. In
2002, when I turned twenty-nine, and we were living in Brooklyn, and I was stuck in yet another in a long line of ill-paid,
dead-end jobs, loving my husband--clinging to him, in fact, as the sole solace in a world that I figured by and large didn't
have much use for me--but unhappy and beginning to feel I just didn't in fact have much of a talent for happiness, Eric understood
that when the voice spoke to me I had to listen.
"What if I cooked my way through
Mastering the Art of French Cooking
? Like, in a year?"
"What if you did?"
"That's--what?--five hundred recipes? More than that. That's crazy, right? Right?"
"Sure it is. You could blog about it. I think you should." He didn't even look confused. Eric could always divine for me just
who I was and just what I could do.
So: I did this crazy cooking thing, and did it saucily, with style and courage. And I was rewarded. Suddenly I was successful.
A book deal, a career! Using the very stuff of my despair and frustration, I'd turned my life around, transformed myself from
a depressed secretary into an Author. I was, I thought, just what I wanted to be--confident, brave, and well paid. I was congratulated
on my transformation, and because I was now a confident woman, I accepted the congratulations. But privately, I knew that
I owed it entirely to Eric. He'd seen me as better than I was and had shown me the way to get there. If you'd told me then
that he wouldn't understand when the voice spoke again, that I was capable of doing anything that could erode the faith of
this most loyal of men, I'd never have believed you.
But by the time I followed the whisper here, to this butcher shop two hours from my home in the city, I'd learned through
bitter experience that I was wrong. It turns out that things, even perfect things, pieces that seem to fit, to work together,
can warp and crack and change.
After slicing the liver, I give my hands a quick rinse in the utility sink at the back of the shop. On my left hand, my cutting
hand, I'm wearing a curious uncured leather bracelet that wraps around my wrist, then meets in a single thin band at the back
of my palm, a slit in the end of which encircles the base of my index finger. A few coarse, snow-white hairs cling to it,
though most of the hide has been worn bare. People mistake this for some sort of brace or therapeutic wrap, a treatment for
carpal tunnel or a sprained wrist, but really it is a reminder of what I've experienced during these last years of marriage,
butchery, obsession. I try to wipe some of the blood from it, but as much soaks into the leather as washes away. Then I retrieve
a china plate, white with small cornflower blooms, like something you'd find in a quaint old kitchen, and I line it with an
absorbent pad and a square of green butcher paper. I arrange the slices in an attractive floral pattern.
It was confusing and distressing to find myself, so soon after that whirlwind year came to a close, more or less where I'd
been before. That wasn't really true, of course. I could not, without seeming churlish and ungrateful, deny my good fortune,
the money and job offers and a book contract, the fans and friends and of course the devoted husband. Eric and I seemed calmer
together after weathering what I'd spent the last year putting us through. I had every reason for contentment, pride, fulfillment.
So why did it all feel like... I don't know, like cheating, somehow? If I pinched myself, I feared I'd wake up, disappear from
this dream world in a puff of smoke.