Molly Wizenberg • Orangette
Molly Wizenberg likes food. She likes to cook it, she likes to eat it, and she likes to write about it. And her photographs are almost as mouth-watering as her prose. She shares stories and recipes at Orangette, and she has written a book of essays and recipes that will be published by Simon and Schuster.
Can you tell us about some of the things on your wire?
I only ever change about half of my wire; the rest is kind of permanent.
One of those permanent things is a black-and-white photo of my dad, taken in what I’d guess is the fifties, when he was in his twenties. He’s wearing a suit jacket and a bow tie, and his hair is slicked back. What I love about it is that he’s not really looking at the camera. He’s looking up and to the left, and he’s got this funny half-grin, as though he were laughing and talking and smiling, all at the same time. I remember him making that face sometimes, the way his lip would sort of curl and pucker. He died of cancer about five years ago, so it’s an image I especially like to keep around.
Another permanent item is a photo of my mother in the early ’80s, I’d say, in jogging clothes, sitting on a lounge chair at the lake house of some friends, reading a book. She and I look a lot alike, but in this photo especially, she looks just like me. Or rather, I guess, I look just like her. Either way. It always makes me happy.
Other items currently in rotation are a clipping from Gourmet (a photo of a pier and a lighthouse; so stark and pretty); two photos by Mav; and a photo I took out the car window on a road trip to California in the summer of 2005, just as we rounded a bend and saw the ocean for the first time.
How often do you change your wire?
I don’t have any set schedule for it, really. I’m always collecting photos and clippings and snippets, and when they reach a critical mass, I know it’s time to change the wire.
Who or what is inspiring you right now?
This might sound funny, but I’m feeling very inspired by meat right now. I was a vegetarian for nine years until I started eating meat again about five years ago, and although I’ve gotten comfortable with cooking some roasts and such, I’ve got a lot to learn.
I have two meat-heavy cookbooks sitting next to me as I type this, each with about six recipes bookmarked. I’m in the process of doing revisions on my book and some freelance work, but all I really want is to have friends over and cook a big, slow dinner or Sunday lunch. Maybe some sort of pork roast, or braised beef, or meatballs in a brothy sauce, and little potatoes with cider vinegar and butter and parsley, and some kind of greens, and a bowl of oranges to nibble at, and chocolate mousse. That just lights me up…
Mm, that sounds delicious. What do you do to “refill the well”?
Cooking almost always does the trick for me. Writing is cerebral through and through; cooking is anything but. That’s where it all starts, where inspiration takes root and where I go to get more when it’s run out.
Taking a walk is also good, or driving around and listening to the radio — although I have a heck of a time getting myself out of the house in the winter. Bah. Got to get better at that.
What is inspiring to you vis-à-vis coming up with new recipes/experimenting with food?
The things that inspire me change all the time. But always, always, the seasons are my #1 inspiration. At the moment, I feel as though I’ve been stagnating a little in my learning about food, so I’m feeling a real urge to burrow into my cookbooks. I can be a real creature of habit, which is not good! I feel inspired right now about getting better at wintry things: meat, soup, etc. I’m crazy about soup.
How do you come up with your next idea?
In the kitchen. Or talking with friends who like to cook and eat — which is most any of my friends! Or listening to music and paying attention to where it takes me — that always helps.
Tell us a little bit about your blog.
I started Orangette in July of 2004. I was a graduate student in cultural anthropology at the time, but it just didn’t feel right. I’d toyed with quitting and going to culinary school — I’ve always loved to cook — but I wasn’t sure a professional kitchen was right for me either.
That July I was in Paris, doing research for my dissertation, when it hit me: I wanted to write about food. I’d always loved to write, but I’d been scared to ever try to make anything of it. Now there I was, doing this research and not enjoying it, when all of a sudden, I had a sense of what would make me happier: food and writing, or food writing. So I decided to quit grad school and, at the suggestion of a friend, I started my blog.
I didn’t know exactly what to do with it at first, but slowly I figured out that what I love is telling “food stories” — the moments and anecdotes that spring from cooking and eating. The food on my table shows me so much about who I am, who I have been, and who I want to be. I think it’s that way for all of us, whether we really think about it or not. I think that’s part of what makes eating and sharing food so pleasurable — and so nice to write about.
Being a food writer seems a perfect use of a degree in cultural anthropology.
I never thought about it that way, but you’re right!
How long have you been writing? How did you start?
I’ve always loved to write. As a kid, I wrote tons of short stories — often horror stories (?!). Then, in high school, I got really into poetry. Most of my formal training in writing is in poetry, actually. But I didn’t really write much from age 18 to 25, until I started my blog.
How do you think blogging has affected your book writing? Does it make it easier or more difficult to write longer works?
Blogging keeps me loose, I guess you say. I’ve always loved what blogging pulls out of me, but since I started writing the book, the blog is even more valuable to me. When I write for the blog, what comes out feels more spontaneous and more giddy and more fun that it ever has before — and I think part of it is that, of all my writing, it’s most closely connected to my daily life. The book is less rooted in this particular moment; it’s a different kind of writing. The two — the blog and the book — play really well together, though. The blog keeps me warmed up for writing the book.
What is your background?
I have a BA in human biology, a minor in French, and an MA in cultural anthropology — nothing that really pointed me directly toward writing! But I don’t regret any of it. I’ve always had lots of interests, and even if some of them don’t interest me anymore, I’m glad I pursued them for at least a little while. I feel like they taught me to think.
What’s your day job?
I’ve been writing full time for a year now. (I can’t believe it’s been that long!) Before that, I worked as a publicist for an academic publisher. And before that, I worked as the assistant to the owner of a Pilates studio, taught English conversation in France, sold olive oils at street markets in Paris, and worked at Whole Foods in Mill Valley, California. It still blows my mind that I’m actually getting paid to write now. Holy crap.
Do you keep a writing schedule?
Not really. When I first quit my job to write full time, I really tried to set a routine for myself. I’ve always thought I was a routine-loving kind of person, but much to my surprise, I just couldn’t do it! What I’ve wound up doing is writing mainly in the afternoons. That’s what seems to work best. And I try not to worry if my mornings get sucked up into e-mail or paperwork or distractions or whatnot.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
For me, creativity always comes with a bit of fear and dread. Keeping up a blog has, more than anything else, helped me to overcome that, even though it’s always a struggle. I really think you have to just keep going.
Deadlines are an incredible motivator for me: they make me forge ahead, even when I don’t want to. In the process of keeping up my blog and writing my book, I’ve learned — although lord knows I still have to remind myself sometimes — that if I can just make myself get started, the pieces will fall into place.
There’s a quote on my inspiration wire by the English novelist Colin Dexter, and it helps me remember that. It starts like this: “Well, I think you’ve got to be prepared to write a load of nonsense to start with and then you can tart it up. The business of getting going, getting started, is enormously important.”
What’s your perfect creativity-inspiring day?
Oooh, I like this question. The day after my husband and I got home from our honeymoon was one of the most inspiring days I can remember. Our friend Sam was at our apartment when we arrived — he’d been house-sitting — and he made dinner for us, and then he stayed over in our guest room. The next day, we all sort of futzed around — alone but together. The guys ate scrambled eggs and shot the breeze, and I had cereal and wrote letters. We picked blackberries in the backyard — they grow wild everywhere, even behind our crappy rental — and made sorbet. We read and talked and listened to music. I still think about that day. It was everything I love.
Do you think relaxation is key to creating? Down time?
Definitely! For sure. I write in spurts, sort of — working entire days and then taking, whether I intend to or not (!), a couple of days off. I try never to give myself a hard time for that. I don’t work well with stress, so it’s sort of in my natural rhythm to stop and do other things, like cooking or watching movies or taking walks with friends. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about what to write next or what to revise, so I’m never entirely “off” — in a good way. Each thing I do feeds the next, if that makes sense.
What place inspires you?
Paris. And Seattle. But mainly Paris. I worked there for a year after college, and it was hard being alone, but I loved it. Paris makes me feel so lonely and so happy — and somehow the two feelings are the same. That city just fills me up.
What other people have influenced your work?
There are lots of writers whose work I love — Calvin Trillin, Edna Lewis, Nora Ephron; I could go on and on — but these days, I’m most influenced by other bloggers, especially craft and art bloggers. There are so many talented people out there! Mav of port2port, for one, is a gem. Her writing and photography have an uncanny sense of grace — it’s just contagious. And Shari of the glass doorknob has a lovely quietness that inspires me tremendously. She is a keen observer of the world around her, and that’s something I want to get better at. Also, Hannah of Huffmania is so funny and smart and creative — and she’s an amazing writer. These ladies give me so much to think about every day. Oh, and I LOVE Maira Kalman. She knocks me out.
What’s your favorite thing in your house?
I love our white enamel kitchen table. My husband bought it for $45 a couple of years ago at a thrift shop that has now, interestingly enough, burned down. I wasn’t totally sold on it at first, but now, oh, I love that thing.
I know you and your husband love to thrift. Tell me about the inspiration you get from thrifted finds.
My husband is a much better thrifter than I am, to tell you the truth. I owe it all to him. (I’m way too impatient to be a good thrifter.) The things he brings home inspire me tremendously, mostly because they’re often old — crackly-finish plates or milk glass or whatnot — and show so much history and care.
It sort of jives with how I feel about food: I’m not really interested in those cakes you see in fancy bakeries, the ones that look all glassy and smooth and perfect, as though they were never touched by human hands. I’d much rather have a slightly lopsided layer cake, or a lumpy apple crumble, something that has character. The thrifted dishes and things that Brandon brings home are like that. They’re much more interesting to me than new things.
Molly’s book: A Homemade Life
Posted by Lori at 1/23/2008 04:17:00 PM