A Loving Food Memoir

I just finished reading Molly Wizenberg’s first book A Homemade Life. And what’s not to love about it?

Most of us with a food obsession probably know Wizenberg. I first heard of her blog Orangette back in the mid- or late-2000s. I checked it out briefly, without bothering to find out who the blogger was. I hadn’t developed a habit of blog reading at that point. But the blog had stuck with me throughout the years. Perhaps it was the photography, the pretty name, or the warmth the blog emanated.

Last year, I finally caught up with the podcast trend and began listening to podcasts on a regular basis. I started with podcasts about female creative entrepreneurs before exploring podcasts on food and other subjects. Spilled Milk, hosted by Wizenberg and her friend Matthew Amster-Burton, was one of the first food podcasts I listened to, and it has remained one of my favorites. I turn to it when I want to relax and laugh. So that was my first real encounter with her work and how I found out that Wizenberg is the woman behind Orangette.

When I decided to do this blog, I started following and reading food blogs on a regular basis. The first blog I went to was Orangette. I very soon fell in love with Wizenberg’s voice and writing style. For a while, I went back into the archive and read it from the first post in chronological order to get an idea of how she began.

So it was only a matter of time before I got into her books.

A Homemade Life is such a lovingly written book. While Orangette is like a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup, A Homemade Life is like a stew—richer, deeper, more emotional.

In terms of recipes, the book lives up to its name. Wizenberg makes me feel like these recipes could be made in anyone’s home. That’s what I love about Orangette, too: its casual, down-to-earth way. By making the mere act of tearing off a piece of baguette and sticking a piece of chocolate in it worth writing down as a recipe in a book, Wizenberg validates every small act of assembling a dish together, knocks down the hierarchy of cooking, and makes the definitions of cooking and recipe more inclusive and less intimidating. There are several recipes like this one in the book, like radishes and butter with fleur de sel and some of the salads. There are more complicated ones that I want to tackle, too.

You know you’re in love with a book when the first chapter already makes you cry and you can’t stop highlighting big chunks of text on Kindle because those words feel so important and true. That’s what I did when I was reading Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Apparently, food memoirs and recipes can also do what fiction sometimes does to a life intensely lived, make it feel closer to an epic, or in Ferrante’s case, make it an epic that spans four books.

And it was the life of her late father—who loved life, food, cooking, and eating—that Wizenberg amplified through loving, affectionate, and sometimes aching words. The book begins with one family and moves into the building of another one, but the spirit of her father courses throughout the book. In fact, the first chapter “A Place to Start” inspired me to write the previous blog post about my own father and his salad dressing.

When you’ve lived a relatively normal life, especially a happy one, it’s natural to think that your stories are not worth writing down for public consumption. But no matter how happy a family you have, there are always stories of loss, love, and renewal. I don’t think Wizenberg’s book would have happened without the loss of her father and the founding of a new home with her husband. It’s a story of the first home and a new one. It’s a story of loss that’s found its way to consolation and a new beginning.

We’ve been conditioned to think that food memoirs are of a more trivial genre and that true stories without wartime backdrops or immense struggles are less worthy of serious attention. And sure, books like A Homemade Life and Luisa Weiss’s My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (With Recipes) have flooded the market in recent years. But their successes are also proof that a life-size life is large enough to be committed to the pages to be read and held dear by strangers.