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Foodie Book Club: A Homemade Life

By May 6, 2010Books, Food, Kitchen

So we just finished month two of the Foodie Book Club, organized by (Never home)maker’s Ashley. Last month we read through Anthony Bourdain’s The Nasty Bits, and this month we chose to review A Homemade Life by Molly Winzenberg. If you are a foodie or avid blog reader, that name may sound familiar. She is author of the very popular Orangette, and has a regular radio spot on NPR.

Before reading this book I’d heard of her blog, probably glanced at it a few times when directed to specific recipes, but had not read it at all in-depth (I know, what was I thinking!). So I did the unthinkable, I opted not to look at her blog and instead get to know her solely through her book. Crazy? Yes. It was hard not to jump online to read more about certain narratives I was reading in her book, especially when she meets her husband. But I wanted to begin with a neutral perspective. I wanted to evaluate the book without knowing any more than what she was giving me in the book. I know this probably sounds strange, but in my mind at the time it made sense, …so I stuck with it.

I found this book to be enjoyable — blah that sounds pretty non-descriptive doesn’t it? I love that each of her recipes has a history, and are uniquely woven into her life through stories of family and friends, particularly her father. I related to those chapters/recipes expecially because of the bond I’ve always felt with my own dad. I like when bloggers have a narrative with their recipes. Not just feelings derived from a recipe they saw and decided to make, but an actual piece of their history, remembered through recipes and food. We all have those don’t we? Many of them might not be glamorous. Tator-Tot Hot Dish was a staple in my house and a recipe I still ¬†swoon over on cold Minnesota-like winter nights. My grandmother made the most amazing sugar cookies, which I ate by the pound until I found out they were made with lard (was a full-on vegetarian at the time). Haven’t eaten one since. Many of these recipes may be out-of-fashion or unglamorous, but nonetheless still have history and meaning to us and our families.

Wizenberg’s writing style is beyond admirable, in fact I downright hate her for it. I know of few writers who can make a foodie like me salivate without using pictures. I didn’t even take notice that I was essentially reading recipes without pictures until halfway through the book. She not only does this in describing the food, but creating encompassing narrative in the relationships and trips to France. The short chapters were concise and well connected and chronological, making them easy to follow and connect without it feeling abbreviated or choppy.

The only thing that didn’t sit well with me was this nagging feeling in the back of my head of how entitled and privileged Molly came across. I don’t mean that in an insulting or resentful way, but compared with Anthony Bourdain, who when you read his books gives you the sense he’d shoot the shit with you anytime, she just came across as unapproachable to me. I hate to be blunt but she came across as kind of entitled and spoiled. As someone who made it through college on my own with whatever pennies I could rub together, the jaunts to Europe and the dreamy wishy-washy tone just kind of annoyed me. I loved the food, I loved the stories, but it all had this cloak of yuppie and a pseudo pre-hipster vibe I just couldn’t shake. I believe Erin at Finding Foodie mentioned something similar in her review.

Look how beat up my copy is!

So there you have it. A decent book, one I will use often and it will probably get more tattered and torn than it already is from having been carried around so much. I liked the food and recipes, and that they each had a story, but if you’re like me and like a bit more grit, sarcasm, and humor, you might be a little bored and quit reading the narrative about 3/4 of the way through.


  • Maria says:

    I read this book awhile ago. I enjoyed it.

  • Hey! I also didn’t read her blog Orangette before the book. I did find myself sifting through it quite a bit after finishing her book. Also, it didn’t hit me while reading it, but I also see the privilege piece that you and a few others wrote about in your reviews. I thought it was just me being downright jealous of her fantastic writing, but she did grow up with a certain degree of privilege, which contrasts sharply with my own working-class background. I can see how that grates on people. Still love the recipes…..and how she met Brandon:)

  • Laura says:

    I definitely love/hate her for her magnificent writing style too! She can make the most mundane story interesting.

    Side note: My fiance keeps bugging me to make him Tater Tot Hot Dish, but as a non-Minnesotan I’ve never had or made it.

  • Jessica says:

    Check out the link I posted in the entry for it. It’s as close to what I grew up with as I’ve ever found. Definitely do use cream of mushroom and find the frozen veggies with the little lima beans. Mix the cream of mushroom with the defrosted frozen veggies and put at the bottom of your oven-safe pan. layer on top with tator tots and sprinkle a little cheddar/orange cheese on top. Serve on ’70’s china and you’ve accomplished a critical Minnesota dish.

  • How is everyone in this book club originally from Minnesota? Myself included!

  • Jessica says:

    Minnesotans love food! Just kidding (partial truth though). I only have connection to Erin at Finding Foodie, and it actually has nothing to do with Minnesota other than she lives there now. She and I worked together in college/high school at Target and found each other again through facebook/web. When I told her about the book club she joined right in. Where are you originally from in MN? I’m from Hastings/Cottage Grove.

  • Too funny. I must say that having recently moved to California, I love that Target smells like MN. I swear.

    I grew up in Maple Grove/Plymouth and then lived in Minneapolis for the last 5 years or so before heading west for my hubby’s job.