Cleaving by Julie Powell

I don’t know about any of you, but I have been riding an inexplicable high for the past two or three weeks, I don’t even know. But it’s been fantastic. When you’re just annoyed for a long time, or angry or overtired (well, I’m still overtired), you kind of forget how amazing it is to just be happy because you can be. And today I’m even better for reasons that are too complicated to explain but you might actually know about them already.

I think it’s art that keeps me sane. You know when people talk about productivity, and they mean homework or chores or things that need to be done? Finishing all of my homework on time doesn’t make me feel productive, but creating something I can be proud of absolutely does. I’ve managed several accomplishments this week which have left me feeling pretty darn good. First and foremost, there’s the cake I decorated. There’s the super-tiny kusudama that took me half a week to make. I also learned two new origami forms this week- lotus and camellia, but I don’t have photos of those yet. On top of that, I’ve quite taken to watercolor. I love it! Oh, and I almost forgot- I made this video in collaboration with my dad. It’s his music over my photos.

Oh, and I’ve been reading.

Cleaving is the second memoir written by Julie Powell- authoress of Julie and Julia, which I read about a month ago and loved so much that I went out and bought this one before reading it. I was putting a lot of faith into this book, but I felt that I was in safe hands.

Julie is the kind of person who stagnates if she doesn’t do something challenging and fascinating fairly frequently. She explains it differently- she says that she feels urges that come from nowhere, and she and Eric have become used to them to the point where he’s no more than just mildly disconcerted when she decides that she wants to learn butchery, and then spends two month searching for a shop that will actually take an apprentice, and then finds a fantastic little shop two hours outside of Queens.

However, a lot has happened since the events of her first book. She’s not a nicer person. In fact, if you didn’t like her in the first book, well…. you might want to think twice before reading this one. She has an affair. This is what amazes me about memoirs; she speaks completely honestly (and sometimes crudely) about her passionate, torrid love affair with this other man she’s known since college, and what it does to her relationship with Eric (who somehow doesn’t leave her), despite the fact that both of these men are probably going to read the book.

The book begins right at the end of her two-year affair, where everything is on rocky ground but there hasn’t been an earthquake yet. When Julie gets her apprenticeship outside of the city, she and Eric agree that it would be best for her to rent an apartment closer to the shop, since she’ll be working ten-hour days. She does, they have their space, and she returns to her home in Queens two or three times a week, and now she has the butchershop.

I dare you to try and read this without falling in love with the Fleisher’s team. They’re the kind of people who are legitimately too amazing to exist in real life. All of the butchers are men, but there’s another woman who works the counter, and Josh’s wife, Jessica, owns the store with him, and she manages all the business. So there are other women around, but the testosterone kind of pools around the meat counter. There’s much goading and competing and joking and cutting and meat and it sounds completely fantastic, just a joyous space to inhabit. Fantastic.

Also, one of the guys there was continuously trying to squick her out with something like pig cheeks and skin masks and things, and I was just sitting there going, “This is the woman who intentionally cooked and ate brains, who hacked through her own marrowbone, and who spent a week on an aspic diet.” She can not be grossed out.

Now, I didn’t like this book as much as her other. It was a little bit less readable, because she spent a long time discussing the ins and outs of butchery, and if you know nothing about the anatomy of livestock, it can be a little incomprehensible. I was also annoyed at her because I wanted her to stop texting her lover all the time (even after they broke it off, she would not leave him alone) and accept the complete wonder of a husband she had in Eric.

If you don’t know at this point, I’m a serious foodie and very impressionable. If I see a photo of a plateful of crepes (for example), I want to make crepes right now. This book has made me bloodthirsty. I, who can’t claim to vegetarianism but ingests a fair amount less meat than the rest of my family, have been craving something savory since I began this book. But cooking meat is intimidating. I’ve baked chicken, I sautee shrimp on a regular basis, but I really don’t cook with meat. Luckily, this book comes equipped with plenty of interesting recipes worth trying if you’re brave enough.

I’m going to start with liver. That’s been her constant throughout these books- I think liver is her favorite food. She first tried it for the Julie/Julia project, and she went on for about a page on how amazing liver was. Then, later on, Eric tackled it for her for her birthday, and she took the opportunity to again obsess over liver, and then, within the first four pages of this book she’s expounding on the joys of liver, and provides a very simply-looking recipe for how to prepare. So I’m going to try that. Does anyone here have a positive liver experience to share, as I go into this? My family has been slightly less than optimistic, but is willing to back me up.

Okay, it’s just about give o’clock, and my mom is about to get off of work. I have a pile of foodie books right next to me, but I feel like I should be spacing them out rather than thrusting them all upon you at once. So, I’m going to ask my mom to take me to the library and then to the store (for liver), and pick up some non-foodie books. Until then, folks!

The verdict on liver:
So the liver was made for dinner tonight. Mother genuinely didn’t like it, but Max genuinely did. I was somewhere in between. The taste and texture were unusual, and it wasn’t as amazing as Julie had led me to believe, but it also wasn’t terrible. Coming from someone who isn’t actually big on steaks, it’s something I wouldn’t mind making from time to time, just to feed myself and Max. Here’s the recipe that I used, in case any of you are curious:

Thin slices of liver- however many people you’re feeding. Should be about 1/2 inch thick.
Flour to coat
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

Season your liver, then coat in flour and shake off the excess. In a frying pan over high heat, melt butter with oliver oil. Once butter has stopped foaming, place the liver in the frying pan. Wait until a golden-brown crust has formed, then flip it over so the same can happen on the other side. This will happen fairly quickly. Very quickly, actually. We didn’t have time to make any sides. Julie saws not to worry about undercooking- overcooking is “by far the worse fate for liver”, but you should also try not to make it raw, as mine was in some of the thicker places. Basically, if it’s crusty on both sides it should be mostly okay.

If any of you try this, let me know what you think.

Published in: on March 14, 2011 at 4:52 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think I’ve eaten liver before. I can never remember if it was liver or kidneys. Whatever it was, it did have an unusual texture, that’s for sure. Almost…. idk, smooth? Too smooth for meat? I’m texture oriented, which is why I didn’t like cornbread for a long time (boy was I missing out!) so liver/kidney isn’t something I’d want very often. Mostly just if someone I’m with is making it and I want to be polite.

    • Smooth is a good way to describe it, but I don’t know how kidney’s taste, so they might also be smooth. It was a fun experiment. I could make it for you when you come over on Saturday! Would your girlfriend eat liver?

      It’s polite to eat what someone gives you when you’re at their house, but I think it’s a little impolite to serve a guest something that many many people don’t like (unless you’re Julie Powell and you have to cook 524 recipes in 365 days, then you’re asking for the aspic).

  2. […] … in her next book, Cleaving, a title that in this context suddenly sounds disturbingly sexual. enoughbookshelves And/or downright homicidal.In the book, Julie goes on to disclose that another one of her hobbies […]

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