A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg
I’ve only read Molly Wizenberg’s blog Orangette a handful of times, so I didn’t pick up her memoir with a lot of knowledge about her or her story. I picked it up mostly because memoir + food = win in my book.
This one was definitely a win. And has me very excited about her next book, which is in the works according to her blog.
It’s another book that’s kind of a mish-mash – is it a cookbook with lots of personal stories, or is it a memoir with lots of recipes? Well, it’s both, and I mean that in the best of ways.
Wizenberg did a terrific job of drawing me into the tale right off the bat, despite a beginning that might be sad or hard to read about. Instead it just made me want to see how she’d handle the circumstances, and where life would take her.
I haven’t tried any of her recipes, but it doesn’t matter. The stories she tells draws me in and makes me feel like she’s right there, talking to me and telling me all about her experiences.
When Molly Wizenberg’s father died of cancer, everyone told her to go easy on herself, to hold off on making any major decisions for a while. But when she tried going back to her apartment in Seattle and returning to graduate school, she knew it wasn’t possible to resume life as though nothing had happened. So she went to Paris, a city that held vivid memories of a childhood trip with her father, of early morning walks on the cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter and the taste of her first pain au chocolat. She was supposed to be doing research for her dissertation, but more often, she found herself peering through the windows of chocolate shops, trekking across town to try a new pâtisserie, or tasting cheeses at outdoor markets, until one evening when she sat in the Luxembourg Gardens reading cookbooks until it was too dark to see, she realized that her heart was not in her studies but in the kitchen.
At first, it wasn’t clear where this epiphany might lead. Like her long letters home describing the details of every meal and market, Molly’s blog Orangette started out merely as a pleasant pastime. But it wasn’t long before her writing and recipes developed an international following. Every week, devoted readers logged on to find out what Molly was cooking, eating, reading, and thinking, and it seemed she had finally found her passion. But the story wasn’t over: one reader in particular, a curly-haired, food-loving composer from New York, found himself enchanted by the redhead in Seattle, and their email correspondence blossomed into a long-distance romance.
In A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, Molly Wizenberg recounts a life with the kitchen at its center. From her mother’s pound cake, a staple of summer picnics during her childhood in Oklahoma, to the eggs she cooked for her father during the weeks before his death, food and memories are intimately entwined. You won’t be able to decide whether to curl up and sink into the story or to head straight to the market to fill your basket with ingredients for Cider-Glazed Salmon and Pistachio Cake with Honeyed Apricots.
If you like Wizenberg, her blog Orangette has the same feel, although the stories have a lot more variety, between their restaurant(s), and the new baby that arrived last month.
If you like the whole mish-mash cookbook/memoir, here are some additional ones I’ve enjoyed:
- Cherries in Winter: My Family’s Recipe for Hope in Hard Times by Suzan Colon
- Bread and Chocolate: My Food Life In and Around San Francisco by Fran Gage (out of print, but used copies are available, and it might be at your library).
- On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Herrmann Loomis
- Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate by Alice Medrich (and Deborah Jones) is the one that’s closest to a true cookbook, with a lot fewer stories, but it’s lovely all the same. Sadly out of print, but used copies are available (although they can be pricey. Check your library; it’s how I read it. And the brownie recipe I tried from it is fantastically awesome.)
And, I haven’t read My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time, but I have very high hopes for it, what with the focus on pastry. Update: I’ve read it now, and it was underwhelming. Stick with the above recommended titles, unless you’re a die-hard food memoir fan.
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Reads, go to the series page.
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