December 2, 2021

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table


2009 Simon & Schuster
Finished on November 16, 2021
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

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.

Years ago, when I was first got into blogging, I stumbled upon some non-book related blogs filled with beautiful photographs of home interiors and delicious-looking meals that satisfied my desire to live (and appreciate) a more simple life. Shauna Ahern's blog Gluten-Free Girl was one of the first sites that caught my eye and I looked forward to each new post about her life in Seattle with her husband, who at the time was a chef at a local restaurant. It wasn't just stories about their lives, but the enticing recipes that kept me reading. It was on Shauna's blog that I learned about Molly Wizenberg (who was also living in Seattle) and started following her posts on Orangette. At the time, my husband and I were living in Nebraska and we both yearned to move to the Pacific Northwest, so I lived vicariously through these blogs with each mention of Seattle and the surrounding areas, recognizing specific places we'd been to while visiting my dad and stepmom (who were living on Lake Union on their boat during that time). 

As is the way of early blogs of the late 90s and early 2000s, and much to my disappointment, Gluten-Free Girl and Orangette are both now defunct. However, both women have fairly recent published works, which is exciting for this lover of foodie memoirs. Shauna's collection of essays (Enough) was released in 2019 and Molly's third memoir (The Fixed Stars) was published in 2020. 

I've had Wizenberg's first memoir on my shelf for about a dozen years and finally pulled it from that shelf and read it this month for Nonfiction November. I don't know why I waited so long; I loved everything about it! Each chapter reveals a little bit more about Molly's childhood, time spent in France, and life as a young woman living in Seattle. The anecdotes dovetail neatly with specific recipes, many of which I have marked to someday try. 

Wizenberg's writing is conversational, yet polished, and the pages practically turned themselves. It was easy to read a dozen or so stories each night, telling myself, "just one more." Now that I've finished, I can't wait to get a copy of Delancey, which continues with Molly and Brandon's story. (Delancey is also the name of their restaurant in Seattle.)
Like most people who love to cook, I like the tangible things. I like the way the knife claps when it meets the cutting board. I like the haze of sweet air that hovers over a hot cake as it sits, cooling, on the counter. I like the way a strip of orange peel looks on an empty plate. But what I like even more are the intangible things: the familiar voices that fall out of the folds of an old cookbook, or the scenes that replay like a film reel across my kitchen wall. When we fall in love with a certain dish, I think that's what we're often responding to: that something else behind the fork or the spoon, the familiar story that food tells.
These are some of the recipes that I'd like to sample (listed for future reference):
  • Burg's Potato Salad
  • Blueberry-Raspberry Pound Cake
  • Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
  • Burg's French Toast
  • Chocolate Cupcakes with Bittersweet Glaze
  • Hoosier Pie
  • Fresh Ginger Cake with Caramelized Pears
  • Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar
  • Jimmy's Pink Cookies
  • Doron's Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro, and Golden Raisins
  • Cider-Glazed Salmon
  • French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon
  • Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider, and Vanilla Bean
  • Caramelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde
  • The Winning Hearts and Mind Cake
A Homemade Life is certain to appeal to readers who loved Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking, Ann Hood's Kitchen Yarns, and Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone.


  1. This sounds wonderful, Les! I, too, followed Shauna Ahern’s blog. She was enormously helpful when I started learning how to cook gluten-free meals for our daughter. Molly’s book sounds so enjoyable. I’m going to put it on my list!

    1. Robin, I'll bet Shauna's blog was very helpful and informative when you started cooking gluten-free meals! I loved reading her blog, even though I didn't need to cook that way. I've been glancing at her IG pictures and noticed that her daughter is now a teenager! Where did the time go??

  2. When I read "her mother's pound cake," I was reminded of my grandmother's pound cake. She always made that for me and chocolate pie for my brother. This does sound like a fascinating memoir.

    1. Jenclair, I've only made a pound cake once, so I'm anxious to give it another try, especially with the berries! Yum.

      I loved everything about this book. I hope you give it a try someday.

  3. Nice story and recipes! I'm hungry just looking at them. I probably told you I lived in Seattle from 1990-1993. Was your Dad on Lake Union then? For awhile I worked on the tour boats that go through the locks! Seattle brings back memories ... of young adulthood ...

    1. Thanks, Susan. Yes, my dad was on Lake Union from at least 1986 to 2008. Probably longer but I don't remember specifically. My stepsister (who lived aboard with my dad and stepmom) used to work on the tour boats, too. She worked for Argosy Tours.

  4. I think I mentioned to you that this was the book selection for our book club's inaugural summer potluck meeting. We all made one of Molly's recipes - so delicious and so much fun! I made Doron's meatballs and still make them occasionally. Glad you enjoyed the book, too.

    1. JoAnn, I think I remember you mentioning that. I nominated it for my book club in 2020 and we wound up cancelling that meeting due to Covid. It might be fun to add to our 2022 reading list, although I wonder how much there is to discuss about the book. We could do what your group did and just have a more casual meeting. I'm planning to read her second book later this month. She's quite a good writer!

  5. I'm going to look for this book right now! Her recipes sound exactly like the kinds of recipes I enjoy. And her writing looks just as delicious. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. :-)

    1. Laurel, I think you'll enjoy this one! I borrowed her second book (Delancey) from the library and plan to start reading it later this week.

      We had a great Thanksgiving. Hope you two did, as well.


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