Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Homemade Life: The Cook the Books Roundup

Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life seemed to fit into the end of summer reading for a lot of our Cook the Books participants. Whether it was devoured in just a few sittings, savored chapter by chapter, or “reheated” and returned to as an old favorite, everyone found something to respond to in this wonderful foodie memoir full of stories and recipes.
Elizabeth from The Law Student’s Cookbook says, “I really enjoyed the book and how Molly connected stories with her recipes, stories that reminded her of the recipes or were the inspiration to those recipes. Because really, everything we cook tells a story – even the shrimp over ramen noodles I made for dinner tonight. The story with that was, I didn’t have anything planned and was trying to just use stuff in the house that wasn’t promised to other dinners for the week.” Elizabeth was inspired by tales of Molly’s mom’s pound cake to make this decadent Pound Cake French Toast, full of plump blueberries. A perfect start to any day!
Having grown up eating bread and chocolate as a snack, Simona of briciole chose a chocolate theme and made some pretty Noci Pecan Ricoperte di Cioccolato (Chocolate-Covered Pecans. She says, “I decided I would try to do something I had had in mind for a while. Two events combined to direct my actions. First, an appreciation for chocolate-covered pecans, a kind of nut with which I became familiar only after moving to California. Second, in doing some research for an article on chocolate making, I ran across this piece by Shirley Corriher about chocolate tempering. Tempering chocolate is something I was apprehensive about doing at home, mostly because it uses a quantity of chocolate that goes beyond what I want to deal with in one session. Armed with the information in the article, some good chocolate and pecans, I got down to work. I did not look at any recipe, because I knew what I wanted: simply toasted nuts covered in bittersweet chocolate.”
Our friend Foodycat was new to Molly and her blog and says, “It means that the current Cook the Books book club selection, Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life, was an entirely unknown quantity for me. What a treat it was! Warm, funny, very moving, it’s a series of short pieces that hang together as autobiography, interspersed with recipes. There were a number of dishes I wanted to try, and in fact a number I have and still will, but it wasn’t long before I realised that it had to be the White Chocolate Coeur à la Crème. Unlike Molly, I don’t have a strong association between the 80s and white chocolate (I thought the 80s was all about kiwi fruit with meat and strawberry vinaigrette) but I do have strong nostalgia for coeur à la crème.”
girlichef says, “Dare I voice the fact that I always thought, when I wrote a book, it would be in this same style. Wizenberg writes in thoughts and memories.  There are no sections, rather a collection of short pieces brilliantly written to conjure up her memories and how they relate to food.” In addition to writing style, Heather shares Molly’s penchant for Banana Bread and has her own family recipe which she partnered with Molly’s Stewed Prunes with Citrus and Cinnamon. She says , “I mentioned that I love a warm slice for breakfast, right?  Well, I decided that after hearing Molly Wizenberg’s description of one of her family traditions passed down from her father, that I needed to make a batch of luscious stewed prunes to eat with my banana bread.  Molly says she likes them best cold.  I found that I did enjoy them cold with some thick and tangy Greek yogurt, but I love them even more warm alongside some warm banana bread and coffee…or meltingly swirled into hot oatmeal or grits.
Kaye of In Kaye’s Kitchen says, “Since I’ve been an Orangette reader off and on for several years, A Homemade Life was a fun read. It was nice to get to know Molly a bit better. And many recipe pages are adorned with stickies, so that corner of the book looks a bit like a pink hedgehog. Family cooking. This was the most appealing part of the story for me. Molly grew up in a family where food was appreciated and cooking was done with love. Sadly her father died much too early, and the book could be considered a tribute to him, bits of memoir interspersed with recipes.” Kaye made an entire meal of Moroccan Zucchini Salad, Papa’s Posole and Crème Caramel.Thus, I was inspired by this book to cook a meal in honor of my father. I chose one recipe I thought he might have liked, one I “inherited” from him, and one he recommended. Luckily the weather held out so we could eat al fresco, and enjoy a bit of time with Papa.” Check out the entire meal on Kaye’s post.
Eliot Eats first encounter with Molly was memorable due to an unfortunate marshmallow-making incident (not Molly’s fault she declares!), and she says, “I could not believe it when Cook the Books announced this was our September foodie read.  And I was elated that Molly would actually be judging the posts.  (I hope she doesn’t hold the marshmallow fiasco against me.) I first read Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life:  Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table  last summer.  I was hooked. I was laughing out loud in most sections and bawling into a Kleenex after some of the other chapters. … I decided that since I had LOTS of basil and had recently been the recipient of a friend’s surplus of zucchini that I would make Zucchini Noodles with Pesto. Also,my husband is not a big pesto fan, so I thought that if he knew the dish was for one of my blog posts,  he might have a different attitude.  Always the realist though,I thought it would be good as a cold leftover pasta  salad for my lunches.” The results? “I love this dish.  It is healthy,light,and helps showcase some of the late summer’s best offerings:  basil  and zucchini (and offerings that most people have lots of.)
Claudia of Honey From Rock was inspired to get into the kitchen and experiment. She says, “Something about this book just got me trying things.  Often I can have a cookbook on my shelf for years, without actually making anything from it.  However, for the past few months I have been enjoying an unprecedented  number of recipes from A Homemade Life. For instance, normally, I’m with Brandon on the cabbage question.  I love raw cabbage and rarely cook it, so of course, I first had to make his Cabbage Salad with Lemon and Black Pepper, which was excellent of course, but then I wanted to try the cabbage cooked in cream method.  It just sounded so decadent.  And, since the recipe made enough for four, it gave me two meals’ worth. More also rans from Wizenberg’s book were the Bouchons au Thon (a kind of tuna muffin), were tasty both hot and cold; the delicious Turkey Meatballs with Lemon Yogurt Sauce (which as it turned out, I liked better with the sauce cooked); and a most excellent Butternut Squash Soup with Pear and Vanilla.  Also her Ratatouille, a dish I’ve made for years (though still prefer my simpler method),  inspired me to add Scampi, bringing about a wonderful new combination of two old standards.” In addition to Claudia’s meal of Cream Braised Green Cabbage with Seared Ahi, check out the other dishes she tried on  her post.
Danielle from The Growing Foodie has been reading Molly’s blog Orangette since college and says, “The recipes are always delicious and she has a great writing style.  I knew the book was going to be amazing.  Ms. Wizenburg (can I call her Molly?  I want to pretend we are friends) and her writing literally jumped off the pages and I devoured the book in one sitting.  It helped that I was on a train to NY at the time.  She has a ton of recipes in the book which made it hard to pick just one to feature here. … Incidentally, bread and chocolate are two of my favorite things, so it was probably no surprise the combination stuck in my mind.  And then, I was hit with a ton of bricks.  I found this recipe at Dishing the Divine for “Chocolate Things.”  Call it a more complex recipe for Chocolate and Bread, but a delicious one all the same.” Danielle recommends, “If you’re anything like me and feel like life is comprised of cooking, food, and family, this is the type of book you will love.
Tina from Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Manor says, “Molly really spoke to me. I read this book and I felt I was having a conversation with her. Some bits were like reading a letter from someone I knew well, someone who poured out their heart and feelings. She is so much younger than I am but I sure could relate to so many things she wrote about. From the unresolved feelings regarding her father’s death to the cautious delight of falling in love with her soul mate. The calm and focus that creeps in when you are immersed in preparing food for people you love and her unapologetic Francophile side. (seems so many are determined to hate the French these days…)” Finding it difficult to choose just one recipe, Tina made a bunch; Ed Fretwell Soup, Spring Salad with Endive, Avocado and Goat Cheese, the Dutch Baby Pancake, and Cornbread with the Creamy Middle. Check out all her dishes on Tina’s post.
My co-host Rachel, The Crispy Cook says, “There are times when you are in the mood for a light read to let you escape into another world; there are times for a chunky doorstop of a novel to distract you from the miseries of a stubborn cold; and then there are those occasions when a great book of essays or short stories is just the thing to see you through bouts of stop-and-start appointments and other life interrupters. Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table” was the perfect book to tuck into during a busy last few weeks and I thoroughly enjoyed reading and dog-earing the pages of this lovely book of food essays.” For her dish, Rachel went savory saying, “The book is stuffed with recipes for desserts and sweets, but I was lured in by her recipes for savory delights. Someday I will try her intriguing recipe for Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper and those Tuna Buchons, but for a recent dinner, I made up a batch of her homey Cream-Braised Green Cabbage. The cabbage sections come out caramelized, yet sweet and this simple, luscious recipe has won a place in my brassica recipe rotation.
Jessica, The Literary Foodie says, “I would not normally do two posts from the same book but when the Cook the Books club chose Molly Wizenbergs A Homemade Life, I couldn’t resist another go at it.  Some of you will remember back in January when the other online book group I take part in, This Book Makes Me Cook, did the same book.  The fact that I have tried and loved quite a few of Molly’s recipes, either from her blog Orangette or from the book was my driving force in doing another post.  Unlike some other food related pieces of literature the recipes from A Homemade Life have not only all worked for me but have often been very nice surprises.” What to make for this round? Jessica says, “Trying to pick between the recipes is fruitless, I want to try them all, and so I have placated myself by saying that eventually I will try most of them I just need to pick one for today.  Okay maybe two.“  She selected Molly’s Spicy Pickled Carrots with Garlic and Thyme and Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper. You can see both recipes and what she made for her first go-round on her post.
CTB co-host Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food says, Orangette was one of the first ever food blogs I read and I was really looking forward to finding out more about Molly’s life, loves and fears. Not that one doesn’t through her blog, but books are always more focused, plus the title was so inviting: A Home Made Life. Writing was never my strong point in either language, so I am easily impressed when others write so well, especially about mundane, every day things most of us take for granted, making them sound and feel special. Molly is one of those people. One feels at home with her stories, as they come from the heart.” For her dish Jo selected Chana Masala and says, “I love chickpeas and curries, so that dish brought the two together and could not, but become a house favourite. But the most life-changing piece of advice I got from the book and this recipe in particular, is one you wouldn’t expect to have passed me after years of blogging and cooking: brown your onions. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I never did. And now that I do, all my food tastes even better. Thank you Molly!”
Finally at Kahakai Kitchen,  I have been a fan of Molly’s since I stumbled across Orangette searching the internet for a banana bread recipe before I started blogging myself. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this wonderful book. I love Molly’s warm, lets-have-a-cup-of-tea-and-chat conversational style and each and every recipe sounded amazing. But since banana bread was my first introduction to Molly, it seemed only fitting to pick the Banana Bread with Chocolate and Cinnamonfrom Orangette that I made several years ago and  this time make it into muffins as my  CTB selection. The warm notes of the cinnamon when  paired with the chocolate is delicious and the lightly crunchy cinnamon-sugar topping makes them a delight to eat. To try to adhere to portion control, I put my muffins in the freezer and there is nothing better than heating up one and enjoying it with a cup of tea. Perfect comfort food!
What a great collection of entries! I do not envy our judge Molly Wizenberg in having to pick a winner for this CTB round. Every entry looks delicious and each post was written from the heart. Thanks to everyone who joined in–I am glad you all enjoyed the book and I hope you get a chance to get around and see each others’ CTB posts if you have not had a chance to yet. Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner, as well as a post announcing our next three book picks for 2012. Until then, try to secure your copy of our October/November selectionHarlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis, hosted by Johanna and get to reading!