Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Homemade Life — Molly Wizenberg

Molly Wizenberg's blog, Orangette, is my favorite on the internet. She is my favorite writer writing online today. She is also co-owner of one of my favorite restaurants. This is probably the dozenth time I've mentioned her over the last five years. All that said, I'm embarrassed to admit that I've only just this recently finished reading her first book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table.

I didn't even buy the book with my own money, you guys; I received it at Christmas from my dear friend, Kait, who devoured it on her trip to Belize in November. Despite two straight years of walking past its seemingly-permanent home on the pretty cookbook table at Elliott Bay Books  (near the café, in the back!) and thinking, It really would be cheaper for me to buy it on Amazon... I still never followed through. I really am a terrible fan. And I'm ashamed.

All my personal guilt aside, let me tell you just two things, followed (naturally) by many other things:

1. Read this book.
2. Don't be afraid to buy it, from that local bookstore you like, at full price.

I'm drinking wine now, and it's late in the evening. I wish that I had some chocolate Winning Hearts and Winning Minds cake—a recipe that Molly shares at the end of her heartwarming book—to round out my Wednesday night. In addition to craving multiple sweet and savory recipes, her personal stories continue to linger in my mind, weeks later. They're told so naturally, it feels as though this is your closest friend telling you the story of their life on your back porch over grassy-green tea and lemon-laced cookies. The sun is just starting to set and there's a cool breeze. The dogs smell like dirt and a cat jumps lithely onto your lap.

She's a vivid storyteller, and it's easy to imagine the city of Paris, where she studied as a junior in college and experienced an entirely new culture of food; the expanse of Oklahoma, where she grew up with a father, Burg, who loved to experiment in the kitchen; the rainy grayness of Seattle, where she now lives with her husband, Brandon. But it's her descriptions of food that leave your mouth watering as if you can see, smell, and taste it as you read. She makes cabbage sound delicious—on two occasions!—which is a true testament.

The stories flow well and progress naturally into a corresponding recipe. It doesn't rush, and never feels forced. She shares things that surprised me; I know that sharing heartbreak and weaknesses can be difficult and frightening, especially when you know strangers will read. But for Molly, she weaves through events in her life without ever falling into melodrama, yet you're kept wanting to know more. Maybe that's why she's the #1 food blog on the internet.

People initially click on the link to her site for personalized recipes, like how to tweak Marion Cunningham's fresh ginger muffins just right, but they stay for the honest stories, kind disposition (so much as writing can convey a disposition), and stunning amateur photography. With the exception of the photographs (Molly, won't you please include personal photos in your next book? Pretty please?), you'll find the same in A Homemade Life.

Much of the book centers on her father, who died when she was in her mid-twenties of cancer. (If you've read her blog, ever, you know this. I swear I'm not ruining anything.) He's complicated and a true character, and it was difficult to read about her personal account of watching him die. It's possibly one of the most honest things I've ever read. Conversely, the portion of the book which documents her starting her blog, meeting her now-husband through said blog, and getting married makes what might seem like a simple and common life into something of a fairy tale.

It was a pleasure to read, and it will be a pleasure to read again. Oh, and cook from, of course. A few favorites from the book, now on my to-make list:

  • Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
  • Hoosier Pie
  • Coconut Macaroons with Chocolate Ganache
  • Bread Salad with Cherries, Arugula, and Goat Cheese
  • Cream-Braised Green Cabbage
  • Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Coriander
  • Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider, and Vanilla Bean
  • Chana Masala
  • Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper
  • Little Corn Cakes with Bacon, Tomato, and Avocado

I know. I'm hungry, too.


1 comment:

  1. I want to try that butternut soup! Yum!

    Great review. I definitely would love to read through it. I haven't really checked out her blog much, but I may start doing it more regularly.