Food memoirs are rapidly filling bookstore shelves these days, and just when you would think that there is simply nothing new to add to the topic along comes an original voice like Molly Wizenberg and her book A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table.
To all appearances, the author has a surprisingly modest cupboard of life experiences to draw from: She’s young, newly married, self-taught, and, above all else, a blogger. But “A Homemade Life” is a delightfully fresh, soulful collection of essays about food, meals, and the bonds nurtured around the kitchen table.
As an unpretentious foodie raised in Oklahoma, Wizenberg describes the flavors of her formative years with wit and wisdom. Her down-home, “best friend” voice regales readers with what it was like to grow up with bustling, experimental home cooks for parents.
However, her stories are not all “sunshine and puppies,” as she describes it. Her father, Burg, a clattering force in the kitchen, passed away while she was in college. Missing a beloved parent even as she transitions into adulthood gives weight to Wizenberg’s essays.
Yet her memories of Burg are nostalgic without being too sweet – and honest, without being too bitter.
As a graduate student in anthropology, Wizenberg finds herself in Paris relishing her time in cafes and bakeries more than her time spent doing research. She might want to try food writing, she ventures to a friend, who suggests that she keep a blog as a way to build a portfolio. Thus, Orangette.blogspot.com came to be (orangettes are the French name for chocolate-dipped candied orange peels).
Back home in the States, and blogging part time in Seattle, an admirer sends her an e-mail from New York City. An unexpected, cross-country romance blossoms, unified by a common interest in all things culinary.
The stories and recipes in “A Homemade Life” also grew out of her blog, which the author has faithfully updated since July 2004.
Did a young woman create a blog or did a blog shape a woman? Did her father’s passion for food guide her destiny or did her need to remember him release her creative genius? It’s deliciously difficult to distinguish.
To those who still think that blogs are meaningless puffs of thoughts, Wizenberg proves otherwise. She is a writer in the truest meaning of the word and beautifully demonstrates that with a little discipline and imagination, an online log can summon purpose, community, love, and a book tour.
Somehow, in this fast-paced social-networking world, Wizenberg has managed to step into her tiny kitchen and emerge with something unhurried, special, and full of surprise.
Kendra Nordin is a Monitor staff editor.