Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Nook - A Homemade Life

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

One of my favorite book genres is the food memoir.  I love reading others' experiences in the kitchen, with various recipes, or food-related experiences in a new culture.  Maybe this is because I spend so much time in my own little kitchen, I like to know that I'm not alone.  Or maybe it's just because I'm always hungry!

In A Homemade Life, author Molly Wizenberg shares story after story about growing up with foodie parents, her late teens/early adulthood (with various time in Paris!) and how she met her future husband through her popular food blog, Orangette (warning: it's incredibly addicting).  Each story is followed by a recipe that somehow pertains to what we just read.  For example, in the chapter entitled "A Personal Chronology in Christmas Cookies" she tells us about all the cookies that her family makes, which ones are destined to be iconic, and how she tried the fruit-nut balls only after hunger and desperation from a long layover at the airport.  Then, the recipe for the aforementioned fruit nut balls is given, along with her mother's notorious espresso-walnut toffee.

Here's the thing about this book: Wizenberg's writing is funny, personable, down to earth, and she has a great way of looking at things and writing about them.  I couldn't get enough of her writing style, and apparently I'm not the only one, because she got a book deal (actually, two - there's another one in the works) and a husband because of her blog.  In one of the chapters, she includes an excerpt of a piece that she wrote in high school about making fresh ginger cake in the kitchen, alongside her parents who are making rice pudding and poached pears (at midnight).  And it's there, in her early writing, that you can see she is destined for her book deal, her uber-popular blog, and her adoring husband.....because her writing, even back then, is just so good!  And reading her posts or her chapters, you can't help but feel like you know her, that she is one of your friends - a really cool, witty friend who seems to know multitudes of interesting people and do all sorts of amazing things with her life, like study abroad or open a restaurant.  My life does feel a little boring compared to Ms. Wizenberg's!

So, about the recipes.  I was so incredibly excited about Wizenberg's stories, that I started post-it-noting practically the entire book.  And I've tried several of the recipes, but unfortunately, only a couple turned out to be fabulous, including one that I least expected.  First, I will tell you about the desserts that I tried (yes....dessert first!): French-style yogurt cake with lemon, winning hearts and minds cake & coeur a la creme.  The lemon cake was good, the lemon being light instead of overbearing.  I would definitely recommend the lemon syrup and icing....they add a lot.  And I liked this better on day two, after the syrup and icing had a chance to really work their magic on the cake, making the top moist and sweet.  Maybe I would make this again, and add blueberries on the side, or maybe raspberries.  Below is a pic of DD helping with the icing (the Bachsters were so excited about this cake, because I rarely make cakes outside of special occasions):

As for the winning our hearts and minds cake, also known as the author's wedding cake, I'm on the fence about it.  It's a dense chocolate cake - the recipe is basically just chocolate, eggs, butter and sugar - but it had a strange, egg-y texture.  Almost like chocolate quiche.  Or light fudge.  But it wasn't super sweet, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes.  We served ours with vanilla ice cream, but I think her recommendation of whipped cream would be good too.  But I'm still not 100% sure about this recipe - one bite, I like it, the next bite, I don't.  The coeur a la creme, however, is wonderful!  This dessert is simply heavy cream whipped & sweetened with white chocolate & powdered sugar.  I didn't mess with the heart-shaped mold, opting for serving it in ramekins instead.  And I also didn't bother with the raspberry puree, but topped the dessert with fresh raspberries.  It's so creamy & white-chocolatey....I'm definitely making this one again, maybe around strawberry season.  It's divine with fresh berries.

The Ed Fretwell soup was ok - as the author mentions, it gets better with time.  I made mine with navy beans, so maybe if I had used the cannellini or marrow beans as she recommends, I would have liked it better.  I found that I had to salt it, and salt it, and then salt it again, to enjoy it.  It didn't seem very healthy with all that salt!  The other soup I tried was the butternut soup with pear, cider and vanilla bean.  This one, sadly, didn't work.  The soup ended up tasting too sweet, and the pears made it sort of gritty. 

And I also tried the frisee with ham, eggs and mustard vinaigrette, except I made the Bibb lettuce version, with toasted walnuts.  It's delicious, but I actually already have a recipe that is almost identical to this one, just with celery, so it's more traditional than original.

Now, for the recipe that topped them all, a recipe that I will surely make time and time again, one that completely, and happily, surprised me: cream-braised green cabbage!  It's soooo delicious - and simple: cabbage, cream, butter & a little lemon juice.  I could have eaten the whole thing by myself.  Giving it time to cook down, where the cream is almost cheesy, it the key to this recipe.  If you make any recipes from this book, make sure you start with this one - it's a keeper!  Cabbage....who would have thought?

While the recipes were very hit-or-miss, there are more recipes in the book that I would be willing to try.  And I would like to read the book again, too.  There are so many funny & poignant stories, along with delicious-sounding recipes, that this book truly leaves you hungry for more.


PS - Incidentally, I got my recipe for the awesome peppermint bark (see original post here) from the Orangette site, way before I found her book.  If you've never tried it, you must - especially if you like peppermint!

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