I don't remember exactly how I latched onto the food blog Orangette. You follow a few links and all of a sudden you're in an entirely different world. In this case, a world with really good food.
The world of Orangette is a little old fashioned, a little bit dear. A casual story of blogger Molly Wizenberg's day-to-day life is followed by a recipe -- and always a delicious, very tempting recipe. Desserts are big, and when vegetables are at play, they're often braised or coddled in cream. There's something very reassuring about the recipes on Orangette.
Thanks to the blog, which Wizenberg started in 2004, she won a gig writing a monthly food column in Bon Appetit, a contract with a major publishing house to write a memoir/cookbook, and a husband. Not bad for a piece of free software Wizenberg utilizes Blogger's free blogspot site to host Orangette, too.
The book in question, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table (Simon and Schuster) is just out, and it's a charmer. It's the only cookbook/memoir I've ever sat down and read cover to cover in one sitting. A Homemade Life retains the story/recipe format of the blog, and faithful Orangette readers will recognize some of the stories, punctuated by familiar recipes.
But A Homemade Life is more fleshed out; the book format allows Wizenberg to spend more time ordering her life, developing themes, resolving conflicts. She moves from her intense feeling of loss after her father's death to a renewal as she meets her husband-to-be. Food is the way that she makes sense of her life; certain foods symbolize certain eras.
The only thing missing in the book is Wizenberg's photography, which lights up the blog. She likes film cameras, and she especially likes to use a Polaroid Spectra, whose woozy imagery gives the food shots a special aura. Polaroids have a tendency to render their subjects into objects of worship, just as Wizenberg's stories tend to turn her recipes into objects of worship. (In the book, Wizenberg's photographic eye is represented only with the lovely image of dishware in a cupboard that is the jacket cover.)
The recipes themselves hold out the possibility of transformation. And what recipes! They're like shared secrets, familiar foodstuffs but in wonderful combinations you've never tried before: tomatoes, but slow-roasted; radishes, with butter and fleur de sel; roasted cauliflower with salsa verde. Extravagance is saved for dessert: espresso walnut toffee and vanilla bean buttermilk cake with glazed oranges and crème frache.
But Wizenberg can create a magical picnic on her living room floor with nothing more than a good baguette and some chocolate. Reading A Homemade Life made me believe that I too could become the kind of person who can toss together a delightful picnic out of nothing more than the dregs from the fridge.