BY MOLLY WIZENBERG
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.
Molly Wizenberg is a freelance food writer and the creator of the award-winning blog Orangette. She is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit, and her writing has been featured on NPR.org and PBS.org and has been praised in The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, and The Seattle Times. Wizenberg has degrees in human biology, French, and cultural anthropology, but in 2005, she left the world of academia to write full-time.
Here’s my basic bio:
Molly Wizenberg writes the monthly column "Cooking Life" in Bon Appetit magazine, and her first book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, was a New York Times bestseller. She is the voice behind Orangette (www.orangette.net), named the best food blog in the world by the London Times. She lives in Seattle, where, with her husband Brandon Pettit, she owns the restaurant Delancey.
In addition to that, I also co-host (along with food writer Matthew Amster-Burton) a food podcast called Spilled Milk: www.spilledmilkpodcast.com.
2. Where did you get the inspiration or idea for this book?
This book grew out of Orangette, my blog. I’ve written a lot there about my family and where I come from, but there were a lot of stories that didn’t really fit within the narrow confines of a blog post. They seemed better suited for something bigger and roomier, like a book. So I wrote one! And I was lucky enough to see it published. It’s a food memoir (with 50 recipes), and it’s about growing up in a family of avid home cooks, losing my father when I was in my early twenties, and the journey – though I hate that word; it sounds like it should come with its own soundtrack of new-age music – that his death set me on, toward making a life for myself in food, and toward meeting my husband.
I’ve heard some people call it a coming-of-age story, and some people call it a love story, but to me, it’s also very much a book about losing my dad. I needed to write about him to make sure that I would remember him, all the details that made him who he was. And I also needed to write about him so that I could start to let go of, and to forget, some of the harder moments around his death. I didn’t know it until I was deep in the process, but I still had a lot of grieving to do, and writing helped me do it.
3. How did the title of your book come about?
I think there’s a real return to home cooking going on right now, and an interest in the homemade and the handmade. I see this all over, and in my own life. It’s very much reflected in how I look at food, and it’s how I was raised. My parents like fancy stuff and fine dining as much as the next person, but home cooking has always been the center of our lives. So it made sense, in many ways, to call my book A Homemade Life. I don’t totally love it as a title, to be deadly honest – it reads a little cheesy to me – but it feels right.
4. Do you see yourself in your characters? Which characters are easiest or more difficult to write?
[It’s a memoir, so I am one of the characters! Yep.]
5. What books would you say have made the biggest impression on you, especially starting out? What are you currently reading?
It’s hard to narrow it down, but M. F. K. Fisher – particularly The Gastronomical Me – has been a big influence on me, especially in the beginning, when I was first starting to think about writing about food. She’s the mother of it all. I also read Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, and Edna Lewis, and I love Calvin Trillin’s style. He has a stunning eye for detail, and his sense of humor is spot-on.
Food writing aside, I’ve also loved Michael Chabon’s novels, particularly his first, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. He’s a tremendous storyteller. I also have a soft spot for Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers. I love it when I come across a narrator who feels like a real friend, someone I miss when the book is over.
Most recently, I’ve been reading a memoir called Cheerful Money, by Tad Friend. He’s a beautiful writer – insightful, thorough, and wickedly funny – and I envy his command of language. (The man is a genius with adjectives and descriptions.) And I’m about to start reading Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson, which a couple of friends have recommended.
6. What is the next or current book/project you are working on?
My husband and I opened a restaurant in Seattle last August, so that’s been a big project, to say the least! It’s called Delancey (www.delanceyseattle.com), and it’s a wood-fired pizzeria, a nod to the great pies that my husband fell in love with when he lived in New York and went to graduate school in Brooklyn. He’s the chef, and though I worked in the kitchen for the first few months that we were open, I now spend most of my time behind the scenes. I’m the chief janitor, baseboard scrubber, light fixture cleaner, wine glass polisher, and payroll doer. I’m also starting work on a second book, most likely about the restaurant.
7. What is your best advice to anyone, including young people, who want to be writers?
Write about what you care about. Write what you want to read. If you work hard, and if you write honestly and thoughtfully about the things that move you, someone is bound to want to read it.
A HOMEMADE LIFE-STORIES AND RECIPES FROM MY KITCHEN TABLE, a personal memoir, comes from Molly Wizenberg as she writes about her family and how food was always the center their lives seemed to revolve around. In each chapter, as she recounts her life, she tells stories about her family and herself and they all seem to wind up somehow back to some kind of food. Whether it is about a family gathering and what food they served, or a place they visited and something they ate while there, food shows up as a character in her memoir. With each story and chapter, comes a recipe or two described in a way that even I can follow. I found myself wishing I had all the ingredients on hand so many times so I could rush into my kitchen and try it right away. Her father’s French toast, which I did make, is my favorite, so far.
Of course, A HOMEMADE LIFE isn’t one of THE BEST BOOKS I have enjoyed in a long time JUST because of the food. It is a beautifully written, touching story of Molly’s life and her special relationship with her family and her father in particular. The recipes she gives the reader are integral parts of the stories she tells. Whether growing up and learning to cook, or meeting and marrying her husband, or traveling to her beloved Paris, recipes and food play an integral part of making this book so personal and memorable.
Whatever You Love, You Are...Molly's ex-boyfriend was in a band and they recorded an album by that title. In her memoir, Molly writes about what that title meant to her mainly in reference to her father‘s death. Her father, Burg as he was known, died after a short battle with cancer and A HOMEMADE LIFE is dedicated to him. Molly explains how more than anyone else she knows, her father “was what he loved. …He did what he did and was what he was.” When you come right down to it, don’t we all hope we can be that way as well? Molly loves to cook with such a passion and so much of that comes from her father. She says, “I am so my father’s daughter. Whatever you love, oh yes, you are.” I think this speaks volumes and for me, who had a similar relationship with my dad before he died of cancer, I think this is one of the main reasons I loved this warm, witty, and wonderful book so very much. Thank you, Molly!
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