If you've seen the movie Bridget Jones's Diary, you might remember the scene where Bridget has a dinner party for her friends. She shops for fresh veggies at market and spends all day in the kitchen and the meal ends up consisting of blue soup and marmalade jam for dessert, or something to that effect. Not what you might call a successful meal, but entertaining even so. That's almost (almost mind you) the sort of cook I am. I don't do badly when it comes to baking, but cooking really isn't my thing. I think I'd enjoy cooking if it wasn't (in my case anyway) such a solitary activity. Maybe if I was cooking with friends, and even if the meal was a disaster but we had fun and it ended up being all a lark, I would look upon it as something to enjoy rather than dread. But my experiences are more along the lines of cooking for unappreciative and critical audiences. Not so much fun.
So when I heard of Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life: Stories from My Kitchen Table I figured it would probably be fun if that was your sort of thing, but cooking not being my sort of thing I'd just give it a pass. It seems to have come recommended by so many people, I had to finally break down and see for myself, and you know after just starting it, I think I'm going to like it. Besides, you don't have to actually be able to do whatever the author happens to be writing about to appreciate it, right? I've read books on mountain climbing and heaven knows I'll never get around to doing that. Besides Wizenberg has such an informal, yet intimate voice it's hard not to warm up to her stories. She makes me wish I had that sort of upbringing or curiosity about food and cooking, and then maybe I might look on the whole affair as something very different.
So my teaser this week is from the introduction to her memoir. She writes about how her father loved home cooked meals the best, and that it wasn't necessarily that the food was always the best, but the company was. They weren't in an anonymous place served by people they didn't know; her family simply grew up around the kitchen table. She spent a lot of time in the kitchen and learned to cook by a sort of osmosis rather than any special training. Since she loved it so much, she thought perhaps becoming a chef would be the best way to "make something of it", but she didn't like the discontinuity--seeing only one aspect of the whole endeavor and not being able to see where the food ended up or who was eating her food. So she studied instead.
"All along, something kept calling me back to the table. Every time I opened my mouth, a story about food came out. In July of 2004, I decided that I had to listen. I left my PhD program with a master's degree instead. In an effort to make something of my madness, I started a blog called Orangette, a space where I could store all my recipes and the long-winded tales that spun from them. I named it for one of my favorite chocolate confections--a strip of candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate--and started to fill it with my favorite people, places, and meals."
"I wanted a space to write about food. That's all, really. But what I got was something much better. I got an excuse for long afternoons at the stove, and for tearing through bags of flour and sugar faster than should be allowed by state law. I got a place to tell my stories and a crowd of people who, much to my surprise, seemed eager to listen and share. What started a lonely endeavor came to feel like a conversation: a place where like-minded people could swap recipes and dinner plans, a kind of trading post where cakes and chickpeas are perfectly valid currency. I'm not the only one, I learned who believes that the kitchen, and the food that comes from it, is where everything begins. What started as a simple love for food grew yo have a life of its own--and a life that, in turn, has changed mine."
Strangely, for someone who doesn't like cooking, Orangette was one of the first blogs I found (non-book blogs I should say) when I started blogging myself and has been on my sidebar since the beginning, though more from admiration of something I can't do and someone else does really well, than as a desire to swap recipes (my recipes are pretty unswappable!). So it seems only fitting that I finally read her book. And this is not actually the first food-related reading I've done this year. I had a run in with MFK Fisher already. Cooking may not be my thing, but I'm happy to wash dishes in exchange for a good meal!