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Archive for February, 2013

A bittersweet treat

I’m not the only one, I learned, who believes that the kitchen, and the food that comes from it, is where everything begins.

– Molly Wizenberg in A Homemade Life (2010)

Food memoirs are one of my go to class of books. I might have found a book particularly insipid, or I might have spent a few weeks agonizing over a brilliant but distressing book, and I find that food memoirs not only cleanse my palate, but sweeten it. And I’m ready to take on that book about the meth epidemic or the American language landscape.  Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life certainly qualifies as a memoir, and food certainly features prominently in it, and not only in the recipes themselves. The centrality of food, of cooking, of the kitchen table in her life undoubtedly comes through in her writing. But A Homemade Life is as much about life as it is about food.

a homemade life

Part of why many of us like to read memoirs is because, whether we admit it or not, we are curious about people’s lives. Through memoirs, we learn about life in a poor rural commune in China, about life in a poor rural community in Stamps, Arkansas, and an unorthodox childhood in the Southwest. We take in all those little details and indulge in a little harmless voyeurism. Of course, we’re never really sure if the writer’s memories are untarnished  by some creative imagination, but then memories are never completely reliable anyway. We learn about what went on behind closed doors and inside people’s heads, and sometimes we learn about another piece of the world, another time, another culture, another person, and frequently even about ourselves. Some of us have delicious memories that’ll be a crime not to share – memories of dipping that crusty little piece of bread into a plate of perfect, fruity olive oil, or picnic lunches assembled under shady trees with sliced radishes, butter, salt, and good bread, or of getting together with aunts and cousins assembling tamales or braising duck, or growing your own carrots and pulling them out into a waiting basket, or your grandmother teaching you how to select the really tender eggplants, or in my case summer afternoons spent drying vadams in the sun, making scarecrows and sneaking the perfectly half-dried vadam in to my mouth without anyone noticing, or helping my mother roll out salty, buttery cheedai on Krishna JayanthiWhether you know what a vadam is, or a cheedai, or you’ve ever tasted tamales or kaya, you know they must be lovely things and happy times. Eating is a sensory experience, and food memoirs often provide the reader with a vicarious excitement. Food memoirs are mostly joyful. They are about the pleasure of growing, cooking, serving, feeding and eating, frequently involving family and friends.

Wizenberg’s memoir is a little unusual, not only because it is incredibly personal, but also because it deals with death and grieving, subjects that I have not known food memoirs to dwell on. Of course, life is as much about loss as it is about love, hope, and birth, but food memoirs don’t usually venture into that territory unless to mention a beloved person’s favorite technique just in passing. Wizenberg writes honestly and bravely, whether she talks about her father’s illness and death, or about falling in love with her now husband. She writes with wit and she writes well. Her recipes are a bit heavy on desserts and salads (which is not a bad thing at all), and you know that they’ll be good too. Also, Wizenberg is a blogger (a food-blogger), and it is difficult not to relate to someone who writes…

It’s hard to beat the rush that comes when you press “Publish,” sending your words out into the ether, or the satisfaction that stems from someone leaving a comment on your site.

…when you are a blogger yourself.

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