Molly Wizenberg’s food blog Orangette was notable for its wise, warm, inviting voice — more so than the recipes, even — so it was only natural that she’d write a blog-to-book memoir, and thus A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen was released in 2009. It was, perhaps, the most blog-to-book-esque book in the world: the story of a girl, Molly, her food memories, and how, after her father’s death, she was unmoored and, again, turned to food, cooking, and a blog. She met her husband-to-be, Brandon, through the blog, and the second half of the book is all about their fairytale relationship.
It’s a very young writer’s book, earnest and sentimental, affecting when she’s discussing her father, souring when she talks, again and again, about her perfect, dreamy relationship. There can be something careful and magical about Wizenberg’s writing, in the way that love and food are in every word that she writes; but the recipes, again, are an afterthought and turn to mostly lame salads once she meets Brandon, a vegetarian. The book rides that line between sweetness and mawkishness, and some of that feels due to its true-love, fairytale structure.
Delancey, Wizenberg’s second memoir, is very different. Subtitled “A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage,” it feels real and close to the bone. Gone are the swoony descriptions of falling in love. Rather, she writes about a very interesting time in her life, when the newlyweds decide to open a pizza restaurant in Seattle called Delancey. Wizenberg is the cautious one, while Brandon is the passionate, full-steam-ahead guy: “Brandon thinks up a lot of crazy, and sometimes illegal, schemes… He’s thinking about a getaway car; I’m thinking that our hatchback is overdue for an oil change.”
Wizenberg goes step-by-step in detailing how Delancey came together as a restaurant, starting with Brandon’s passion for pizza, his working-behind-the-scenes at another restaurant, how he found a location and the permits, and started to plan things like hiring and firing. She’s honest about the strain that his passion and drive puts on their marriage — she loves him for his passion, but she worries about whether it’s a scheme and a hobby that he’ll drop, or whether the restaurant will ruin them. A restaurant is a risky proposition in the best of situations, and this honesty is really compelling. At one point she even yells at him, “I don’t want a restaurant!”
The pizza also sounds really delicious. But: again, Wizenberg does something weird with recipes — there are no recipes from Delancey (my guess is that there’s a cookbook afoot), but there’s the occasional recollection of something “they ate while putting the restaurant together.” They’re supposed to be “meaningful” recipes, but they feel perfunctory.
The first few years of a marriage are an interesting adjustment to the rhythm of someone else’s life: the idea that, through the ebbs and flows, you are legally bound to this person for life is something that carries weight. You can’t just leave. Wizenberg’s frank writing about how to make a restaurant, and the difficulties that come with this decision, show how a love of food can be one thing, enough to sustain a cute blog-to-book even, but building a life together is something altogether different — and that’s the stuff of a book that has something to say about the ups and downs of relationships, family, and love.