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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Cooks and Bloggers
August 27, 2009 - 8:53am

If you are a gourmand, then I assume you’ve seen Julie and Julia, the new film about quirky TV chef, Julia Child, and the blogger who tackled 524 recipes in 365 days from Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julie Powell. Everyone in my food-loving family saw the film within a few days of its release.

After seeing Julie and Julia (twice in two weeks!), my ex-husband went out and bought Child’s two-volume set on French cooking. The film drove my partner, Ted, and me to an all night gourmet diner at 1:00 AM, an act that persuaded me, around 3:00 AM, to blog about the film.

As much as I enjoyed watching Julie and Julia, particularly Meryl Streep’s seamless performance, I found that there were a few disconnects in the film, the most obvious of which is the fact that Child disliked Powell's blog and found it to be “stunt”-like or self-promotional. In the film, Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, ignores this negative information and continues to love French cooking and to gush about Julia Child. At one point, Powell’s husband politely reminds his wife that Julie’s image of the chef is a projection of the jolly, kindly soul portrayed on television. Julie Powell barely registers Child’s criticism of her. She just keeps cooking and, more importantly, she keeps writing.

Writer/Director Nora Ephron doesn’t try too hard to explain away the disconnects between Child’s cooking biography and Powell’s blogging history. Both are endeavors that involve a lot of projection. Imagining that ground beef with marrow, butter and suet is good for your health or that a blog represents certain journalistic truths are both misconceptions that are revealed as soon as you take a closer look at the contents. Americans seem too willing to confuse the gusto of opinion with facts, and enthusiastic responses with mass approval. In “Why I Blog” The Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan has written about the “intoxicatingly free” experience of blogging. Posting comments in real time as events happen and then receiving immediate responses, even negative ones, is “like taking a narcotic,” he wrote.

I think about the nature of blogging now because I require my Communication students to create blogs for homework assignments. We discuss the balance between creative authorship, solid research, style and character. Good blogs contain all of these elements, making them an easy analogy for good cooking. In both cooking and blogging, it's the exchange that's at stake (suggested Ted while making a frozen Pad Thai dinner in our kitchen). The aesthetics and the chemistry of cooking--the presentation and the flavor--both ask for a response from others at the table, just as a blog gets more interesting from the responses of its readers.

Recently, when the Wall Street Journal’s Naomi Schaefer Riley compared Mama Phd’s writing to “a form of hyper-self-consciousness—mixed with worry, martyrdom, pride and moral instruction” many of us were secretly a little delighted. Why? Because even though it was a negative critique, one of the “big boys” in journalism had noticed our blog. Our reflections on academia, motherhood and imperfect family lives were being noticed. Our blogging machine was being fed…

My own imperfect family romance has been rekindled through a shared love of cooking, exchanging family recipes and occasionally eating meals together. As film critic A.O. Scott comments about Julie and Julia, “an imperfect meal can still have a lot of flavor,” but many of the critics of the film seem to have missed one of Ephron’s main points. It’s not really a bio-pic of Julia Child, nor is it the success story of a young writer, but it’s a story about how a love of food can recenter the family and become a passion in its own right.

I’ve started gathering more stories about family cooking recently. For instance, food writer Patty Lamberti told me that she has videotaped her Italian mother, Linda Lamberti, cooking pasta fritta — Italian dough stuffed with cold cuts and cheese — and, much to her mother’s horror, posted the videos on YouTube for a family keepsake. Attorney Esther LaBovick recently edited the Palm Beach Junior League cookbook and included in it many ethnically diverse family recipes, reflecting Esther’s Cuban-Jewish heritage (and a changing Junior League...)

My own mother, Blanche Gray Coffman, is quite the Southern cook with many cookbooks under her belt. I would be remiss if I did not post one of our favorite recipes of hers. In honor of Julia Child, it includes lots of butter…

Please feel free to post more!


3 cups hot, cooked sweet potatoes
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1 stick butter
1/4 cup milk


1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup chopped pecans

In a mixer, mix sweet potatoes, butter, vanilla and milk. Bake in 2 quart buttered dish at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Mix and spread topping over the potato mixture. Bake 15 minutes longer.


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