Trapped in a dead-end job, blogger Julie Powell set out to cook every recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1." The "Julie/Julia Project" turned into the book, "Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen."
And now the book is a movie, "Julie & Julia," opening here Aug. 7, starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child and the adorable Amy Adams as Powell.
Needless to say, the real-life Powell is no longer stuck behind a desk. A recent blog post even features photos of her lavish Ritz-Carlton bathroom.
"I am going to sit in the tub watching the big-screen TV mounted over it on my lunch break," she posts.
Since Julia Child became the first bonafide TV celebrity chef, debuting "The French Chef" in 1963, our focus on food - as a cultural phenomenon, pastime and entertainment - has exploded. Today, books, TV networks, movies and countless blogs are devoted to celebrating food and the people who cook it.
Crossing all social, demographic and economic boundaries, this new food media permeates our culture with the notion that anyone can - and should - cook.
All that got me thinking: Who would play me in the movie version of my husband's wacky food blog, "I Love Sandwiches"? August marks the seventh straight year Bill has celebrated National Sandwich Month by eating a sandwich a day and posting its picture online at keaggy.com/sandwich.
Most days, he leaves the cooking to the professionals: the St. Paul sandwich at Kim Van; beef brisket at Pappy's; the belly bomber from White Castle.
But often, I play sandwich chef. My favorite creations have been the black & blue sandwich (roasted eggplant and blue cheese on pumpernickel), the green sandwich (avocado, bibb lettuce and sharp cheddar on sunflower seed bread) and the waffle sandwich (strawberries, peaches and banana and mascarpone on waffles). Bill would probably pick the Manwich.
My husband is not the only local food blogger who has turned the everyday task of eating into a sport. Across St. Louis, other food bloggers are pursuing oddball culinary projects. They are driven by a passion - bordering on obsession - for food and cooking, as well as their love of a tough challenge.
Here, four St. Louis food fanatics discuss their blogs, their readers and their recipes.
The Cupcake Project
Age - 33
Home - Webster Groves
Stefani Pollack had no experience baking cupcakes when she offered to prepare enough for her friends' wedding.
"I couldn't believe they said yes," Pollack said. "You would think they would want someone who knew what she was doing."
So Pollack decided to practice. Every week, she baked a new cupcake recipe. She blogged simply to keep track of the experiments.
"I like the game of it," she said. "If I had a cupcake shop, then that would take away the fun of it. I wouldn't want to make the same thing every day."
Ultimately, her friends selected ginger bread latte, margarita and root beer cupcakes with cream soda frosting.
But Pollack decided to continue creating new and unique cupcakes for her growing online audience. Her baked bean and tomato cupcakes won first place at last year's Iron Barley Tomato Fest. Her avocado lime cupcakes won the quirkiest cupcake award in the monthly Cupcake Hero contest. Southern celebrity chef Paula Deen has asked Pollack to be a regular contributor to her website, pauladeen.com.
Pollack's favorite creation may be her Oreo cupcake, which features a shot of Bissinger's chocolate cup wedged into the cupcake's core. Before serving, she fills the cup with a shot of ice-cold milk.
But there have been disasters as well - an occupational hazard for any dedicated daredevil.
"The corned beef and cabbage cupcake was horrendous, as you would expect," she said. "But I have made some good meat cupcakes. I made a beer cupcake with bacon and cheddar frosting that was good."
So Stefani, how much weight have you gained?
"Actually I haven't," said Pollack. "But I do have a cupcake every day."
Becky and the Bean Project
Age - 40
Home - St. Louis
On the long list of foods Americans love to cook, beans ranks somewhat higher than quinoa and brussel sprouts, but way lower than say, bacon.
Still, Becky Pastor is obsessed with heirloom beans. Last year, she set out to cook and eat a different bean recipe every week using beans most of us never knew existed: moon beans, tepary beans, black valentine and Chinese red.
"Yeah, a lot of people don't get it," Pastor said. "Beans aren't exactly everyone's favorite."
Pastor, a vegetarian, values beans not only for their flavor and nutritional value, but their diversity.
"I'm very interested and committed to diversity in the food supply, and one way to protect the diversity of heirloom beans is to create a demand," she said. "That's what I'm trying to do with these recipes."
Becky and the Beanstock certainly has improved her cooking skills. Pastor has become a master of the bean soup and is experimenting with black bean cookies and brownies.
And the project has honed Pastor's literary style as well.
"I've created a voice for myself," she said. "I can't wait around for creativity and inspiration. I have to maintain this project. It keeps you honest."
The A to Z of Marathi Food
Age - 30
Home - St. Louis
Nupur Kittur does not care whether you read her One Hot Stove blog. She does not solicit advertisers, nor does she count visitors. Still, she is deeply moved when readers find her blog and comment on her recipes.
"The most rewarding e-mail is when someone tells me they got a taste of home," said Kittur, who is from India. "Many of us foreign students go out for curry - and that's fine. But we don't know how to make the home-cooked meals anymore. There is the risk of those recipes dying out. Blogging is a way to keep those traditions alive."
As a student in New York, Kittur decided in 2006 to cook 26 of her favorite dishes from her home state of Maharashtra, one for each letter of the alphabet. (She admits she had to cheat on I, J, O, X and Y.)
Highlights include amti (Marathi-style dal), gharge (fried pumpkin bread), lasun chutney (garlic chutney) and bharli vaangi (stuffed baby eggplant).
"I was missing the home cooking, and I thought this would be a fun way make some of my favorite foods," Kittur said. "India has different states, just like America, each with its own culture, language, holidays and food. Here, you go to an Indian restaurant, and there are the same breads and curries. But to me, Indian food is so much more than that."
Kittur has begun a longer project. She plans to finally cook the 550-plus recipes she has bookmarked online through the years.
"I've made quite a few in the past month, but I have a long way to go," she said.
A Veggie Venture
Age - 50
Home - Kirkwood
Second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg never read her mother's food column, "A Kitchen Parade," until she died.
"I still remember people stopping her on the street telling her they had tried something," Kellogg said. "I was too young at the time to read her columns, but later I realized how good they were.
"Like many of the women of her time, she was enamored with Jell-O and box cake mix, but most of the recipes were nutritious and simple."
Kellogg has revived the column online (kitchenparade.com) and is regarded as a leading voice among food bloggers. Her passion is vegetables, so in 2005 she started preparing a different daily dish featuring seasonal produce.
"Originally, I was only going to do it for a month, then I knew it would be for a year," said Kellogg, who continues posting vegetable recipes. "When I started, I didn't know how to count traffic or if anyone was reading. But I was having fun. There were times when it felt like it was a grind. I had a recipe called 'Your Basic Freezer-burned Broccoli.' But I felt like there was something I had to accomplish."
Kellogg considers both Powell and Child mentors.
The "Julie/Julia Project," Kellogg said, "encouraged people to find their own passion. It really planted the seed for me."