Understanding life through a cook book

Julie and Julia (2009)

On a cloudy Sunday morning, I woke up thinking about going to one of Hong Kong’s famous wet markets to purchase a few vegetables for the week. Living in South East Asia for more than two years now, has made me a fan of vegetables like bok choy (白菜) leeks (大葱大蒜), and Chinese lettuce (白菜). These three make the most of my cooking, along with eggs, bell peppers, tomatoes and chillies. I saute and boil, shallow fry and microwave, or simply assemble all between two bread slices, for dinner. The cooking routine forms my stress relieving habit every evening, as I spend an hour in the kitchen while my housemate’s pup finishes his rice and chicken. Often he’ll get startled by the whistle of the pressure cooker, jump as the whiff of freshly beaten eggs onto a pan swarms around the apartment, or simply wag his tail as I seat myself onto the couch with dinner and Netflix.

It was one of these weekend dinners, that I came across Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia, and decided to finally finish watching the film. The lives of Julie, an ordinary government officer and Julia, an enigmatic American housewife of a diplomat recently moved to France, are so different and yet so similar. Both are bright, but haven’t found the motivation of their lives. Both have found love, yet internally have insecurities that they project onto their spouses. Both love cooking, and choose it as their pivot to turn their lives around. In different times and different occasions, they find peace in cooking and enjoying the journeys to making exceptional food.

Cooking acts as their ambition, their failure, their achievement, their therapist, and most importantly, their meaning to life. Dish by dish, Julie and Julia learn their lessons on understanding this journey called life.

Julie imitates Julia’s cookbook, “524 recipes in 365 days,” she writes on her blog, unaware that those recipes will change the way she thinks and lives. They transform her. She understands the value of love and what failure actually means. And that there is no one but you yourself, who can respect for who you are, everyone else is figuring out themselves.

Something, which at some point, we all learn. The hard way.

From chopping onions perfectly to boning a duck, each aspect of cooking requires hard work, determination and self-affirmation. Nothing is too easy, and nothing is too hard. As long as you find value in the process. And that is the path to success. But when you really achieve it, you realise that the process is much more redeeming than the actualisation of that dream.

Julie and Julia teaches that. As both the women face rejections and internal conflicts, they cherish the cooking journey which enables them to let off steam and find better meaning in their lives.

After the film, as I rinsed my dishes, I thought of so many aspects of Julie and Julia’s lives I could resemble with and learn from. But none shone brighter than loving something without any external attributes. One that makes each day a learning, and each step forward, a calling.

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