A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

Jan 9, 2015

Our flight to Australia was 12 hours long. It began at 10pm on Wednesday and ended at 8am on Friday. We crossed over the international date line sometime in the middle of the night, which effectively eliminated Thursday, November 20th, from our lives forever. (It's so weird to see that date missing from my journal, not because I forgot to write but because I didn't get to live that day.)

Several times during that endless night, I tried to begin the audio of A Homemade Life. It was dark in the cabin, and I didn't feel like being the only light disrupting people's sleep or movie watching, so I thought listening to a book would be the perfect solution. However, every time I turned it on, I fell asleep within five minutes. I couldn't fall asleep without it, but I couldn't stay awake with it, so I heard the first five minutes probably five times before giving up entirely for the rest of the trip.

When we got home, I considered just returning it to the library since it didn't seem to hold my interest very well. But I thought I should give it a fair chance in the daytime, fully awake, when my sense of time and place weren't severely warped.

And what do you know? It was actually super interesting and engaging and very enjoyable to listen to. And it's about food. Bonus.

When Molly Wizenberg was growing up, her father liked to say, "You know, we eat better at home than most people do in restaurants." (I heard that sentence almost a dozen times since she mentions it twice in the introduction, and, as I explained above, I listened to the introduction multiple times.) Her family loves food. And they love to create it, not just eat it.

Molly is the only child from her father's second marriage. She has three (much older) half siblings, but she basically grew up as an only child. She was always very close to her parents (as evidenced by an essay she wrote as a teenager describing their midnight raids on the kitchen), and so when her father is diagnosed with cancer, it is absolutely devastating.

While she certainly spends a fair bit of time on her father's illness and the effect it has on her, she also talks about the years she spent in Paris, the development of her blog, and dating her eventual husband, Brandon. Every story, regardless of the actual subject, begins and ends with food. Her wedding, for example, carries with it all the normal planning and stresses . . . but also pickled grapes. (Brandon loves vinegar, so they spent hours together pickling red onions, carrots, and grapes for their rehearsal dinner.)  I have to admit, I was more intrigued than disgusted by the thought of pickled grapes.

This book is loaded with recipes. I didn't count them all but it has to be at least 45 since there's one (or more) at the end of every chapter. (I've heard that her second book, Delancey, contains only 12 recipes, which just seems paltry when compared with this one.) Molly's descriptions are mouth-watering. She can make anything sound absolutely delicious, including the aforementioned pickled grapes.

After I finished listening, I checked out the actual book from the library because I was dying to try the "Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger" (which I did, and, mmmmmm, scrumptious, it begged "to be cut into big, melty slices" just as she said it would). One of the disappointing things for me about the audio was that the recipes were not read, so even though I could usually tell which recipes Molly was sharing, and I still got her thoughts and descriptions, I didn't get to form a mental picture of the actual recipe. (Maybe you think it would be weird to hear an ingredients list being read aloud; I maybe would think that too except that when I listened to Garlic and Sapphires, every recipe was read, and I thought it was fantastic.)

(And while we're on the subject of the audio, I'll just add that the men's lines were spoken exactly as I would speak them . . . and that, unfortunately, is not a compliment.)

So yes, I would consider buying this book for the recipes alone. There are still so many that I want to try: Burg's French Toast (which I wanted to make on Christmas Day but we were just too sweeted out by that point and settled for breakfast burritos instead), Vanilla-Black Pepper Ice Cream, Slow-Roasted Tomato Pesto, and Burg's Potato Salad, just to name a few.

In all honesty, the stories, although adding interest and background to the recipes, weren't my favorite part of this book. Sometimes I found her writing style a little cheesy and trite (particularly at the ends of the chapters). And also (I hesitate even mentioning this because it sounds like I'm criticizing her as a person, which is not my intent at all), sometimes she just sounded so much like an only child that I almost couldn't take it. It was hard for me to relate to her, which definitely is not a necessity for enjoying a book, but regardless of that fact, I kept thinking, I love the way she writes about food, but I just don't think we would be friends in real life.

For that reason, it's a really hard book for me to rate. There were portions that I would definitely give five stars to but then other parts that just didn't do it for me. I'll probably settle for the nondescript, fence-sitting three and call it good. (This is why some of you have dropped rating books altogether, but I still find it mildly helpful--with a grain of salt and all that.)

Criticisms aside, I really enjoyed this book, and it once again confirmed the fact that I love, love, love food memoirs. Which is why one of my goals for the year is: read a food memoir. This one doesn't count since I read it in 2014, so I'm up for suggestions.

What's one of your favorite food memoirs?


  1. Have you read Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist? It sounds very similar to this one, personal stories/essays tied around food, and a recipe at the end of each chapter. I asked for it for Christmas partly because I wanted the recipes, and partly because I really did like her writing. I'd be interested to see how you think the two compare. Food memoirs seems to be a big thing right now, but Bread and Wine is the only one I've read so far. I need to get my hands on some more.

    1. I have heard only good things about Bread and Wine, and it is definitely at the top of my list (that and My Life in France--I would love to have time to read both!).

  2. I agree with your review, I read like a blog (which it was built from after all). The recipes are good, especially desserts.
    My favorite food memoir recently is My Life in France by Julia Child and "As always, Julia"- the collection of her letters to Avis DeVoto, just to see how her iconic cookbook was created is absolutely fascinating.
    Non memoir but food related- I love Relae, this collecion of food essays is amazing.

  3. I think the only one I've read is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I really liked it! But my friend says it doesn't make a very good audiobook--the author reads it, and she does so veeerrryyy slowly. Of course, if you're listening to it x2, then maybe that doesn't matter!

    1. I haven't read that one but I need to. I'll have to see if the narration is bearable on double speed. :-)

  4. Amy, you have to read Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn (or her The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry). I think you'll find she's someone you WOULD be friends with. :)

    1. Okay, that's enough to convince me. I will add both of those to my list. It's going to be so hard to choose which memoir to read first!


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