Monday, September 26, 2011

Another Taste of A Homemade Life

I would not normally do two posts from the same book but when the Cook the Books club chose Molly Wizenbergs A Homemade Life, I couldn’t resist another go at it.  Some of you will remember back in January when the other online book group I take part in, This Book Makes me Cook, did the same book.  The fact that I have tried and loved quite a few of Molly’s recipes, either from her blog Orangette or from the book was my driving force in doing another post.  Unlike some other food related pieces of literature the recipes from A Homemade Life have not only all worked for me but have often been very nice surprises.

You have all had that moment (I hope) while reading a book, memoir or fiction, where you stop and start taking stock of your life.  Not in a bad way, not to look at your life and say that it is not good enough or nitpicking all  the faults.  But in the good way, in the way that makes you look in every corner for your potential.  This is what reading "A Homemade Life" does for me.  Reading about Wizenberg’s life, from her childhood through her college years, a studio apartment in Paris, a long distance relationship started with a fan of her blog, and settling down in Seattle, all I think is that I want to know her. 


I tend to embrace anything that makes me take stock of life, and when you have your eyes open most things probably do.  The breeze as you walk down a city street, a certain song playing at a certain time, a good bookmoviephotographmusician.  The sun hitting me in just the right spot on the back of my neck that made me decide to ask my husband to marry me (I promise to tell you more another day).  So you see, I was happy to chat with you again about A Homemade Life

This time around I chose not to re-read it, though I found myself taking quick little bites as I flipped through trying to decide which recipe to do.  How do you pick between all these recipes?

Wizenberg on tomatoes:

They were fleshy and deep red, with edges crinkled like smocking on a child’s dress.  When we bit into them, they shot rich, vermilion juice across the table.  We were sold.”

Wizenberg on getting married:

“First, when you get engaged, a few things happen.  You agree to marry someone, for starters.  Also, your head sort of explodes. Third, you are handed a ticket--rather sneakily, I should note, with no warning at all-- to an amusement park ride known as THE WEDDING.”

Wizenberg on trying new recipes:

“I have a lot of cookbooks, and they demand my attention.  You wouldn’t believe how pushy they are.  They lie next to my bed like fat, lazy dogs.  They stretch and yawn all over my lap.”
I don’t know if I picked the best sentences, but do you see what I mean?  You want to read more don’t you?  I hope you do, and you should.  Please come back when you are done so we can chat about it.  Which recipes did you try, which could you already taste before you had even finished the page?  Why sections made you cry, did she make you want to live in France?  Enjoy!

Trying to pick between the recipes is fruitless, I want to try them all, and so I have placated myself by saying that eventually I will try most of them I just need to pick one for today.  Okay maybe two.

If you remember I recently posted about having trouble with the heat in Sacramento when I am so ready for fall to start.  I have countered my feelings by picking all the incredible fruits and produce that California has to offer and canning them.  Well not all, but a lot (you will read all about it in the next week or so) figs, peppers, plums and, thanks to A Homemade Life, carrots and grapes.  Grapes?  That’s right, pickled grapes.  And I am sure glad I did.

The quotes and recipes are directly from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life

Spicy Pickled Carrots with Garlic and Thyme
from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

2 cups apple cider vinegar plus more         1 ½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
    for topping jars                                      heaping 1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups water, plus more for topping jars     heaping 2 teaspoons brown mustard
¼ cup granulated sugar                                seeds
6 (5-6 inch) sprigs fresh thyme                  1 ½ pounds small (finger sized)
5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced                 carrots, or standard-sized carrots,
1 ½ teaspoons black peppercorns               cut into sticks about ½ inch wide
   cracked                                                    and 3 inches long

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar, water, sugar thyme, garlic, black peppercorns, red pepper flakes, salt and mustard seeds.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat, and let cool for 5 minutes.  Stir in the remaining ½ cup of vinegar.
     Put the carrots in a large, heatproof bowl, and pour the warm brine over them.  Cool to room temperature.
     While the carrots cool, wash 2 quart-sized canning jars and their lids in warm, soapy water.
     When the carrots and brine are cool, distribute the carrots evenly among the jars, arranging them snugly. (Hands and fingers work best for this tongs make a mess.)  Using a ladle, divide the brine evenly among the jars.  The carrots should be covered completely  by brine.  If they are not, add a mixture of 2 parts vinegar and 1 part water to cover.
     Seal firmly and refrigerate for at least 3 days, or, preferably, a week; carrots are dense and take time to absorb the brine.
Note:  Covered and refrigerated, pickled carrots will, in theory, last indefinitely, but we try to eat them within a month or two.

Yield: 2 quarts

Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Black Pepper
from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg Adapted from Susan Kaplan

1 pound red or black grapes,            1½ teaspoons brown mustard seeds
   preferably seedless                         1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cup white wine vinegar                  1 (2½ inch) cinnamon stick
1 cup granulated sugar                    ¼ teaspoon salt

Rinse and dry the grapes, and pull them off carefully from the their stems.  Using a small, sharp knife, trim away the “belly button” at the stem end of the grape, exposing a bit of the flesh inside.  Put the grapes into a medium bowl and set aside.
     In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil over medium- high heat, then pour the mixture over the grapes.  Stir to combine.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.
     While the grapes cool, wash 2 pint-sized canning jars and their lids in warm, soapy water.  When the grapes are cool, ladle them into the jars.  Chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.
     Serve cold.

Yield: about 3 cups
 (Wizneberg recommends eating these in the first few days, though she mentions that others have really enjoyed them after a week or two)

If you would like to read about the last time I read A Homemade Life and tried the recipe for Dutch Baby Pancakes with Lemon and Sugar you can check it out here.

To read the other blog posts from this months book group, or to join this great little collection of bloggers come on over to the Cook the Books Club

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  1. Oh, you pickly girl...those are the two recipes I want to get into next. Yum yum.

    Glad you enjoyed the book. Great Cook the Books post!

  2. I LOVE those pickles. I haven't tried her carrot recipe though. You are so right about books speaking to one's life. So far, I have gleaned something from each CTB selection.

    Great post and I enjoy your site!

  3. Thanks so much for joining in and doing a second A Homemade Life post for Cook the Books. I wondered about the pickled grapes recipe especially--it sound so unique and so good. ;-)

  4. Those carrots sound yummy! What happened to the figs? Sorry we couldn't come to help you!

    I've been trying to find creative ways to use the farm produce...I preserved some peppers in oil(I don't know how that will turn out), made squash bread, and have been infusing water with the melons and cucumbers. Still have more than I know what to do with!

  5. Thanks everyone. I couldn't resist trying out the grapes, though I did question if I would like them. Turns out my first try I didn't but now on day 3 I keep finding myself going back to the fridge for "just one more".

    Meg- did not try the carrots yet, but you are welcome to some! I love seeing what a glut of produce makes people come up with. we made jam with the figs (have some of that for you too).

  6. Whenever I need to inspiration, I turn to "A Homemade Life." The way she uses sentence structure pulls you in. I love that she can talk about the past and the present in fail swoop without making me feel off kilter. What really does it for me though is her attention to detail. She turns simple things into poignant moments. I love the quotes you picked, but this is my favorite:

    When Brandon walked me across the Brooklyn Bridge that afternoon in March, almost a year after we met, and steered me up the hill to Brooklyn Heights, to a bench on the promenade, I had no idea. When he knelt in front of me and put his head in my lap, I had not the foggiest. I was thoroughly absorbed in fact, in staring at a fleck of dandruff tangled in one of his curls (244).

    Quick heads up (though I am sure you already know) she's working on her second book. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited!

  7. Mikaela- I am eagerly awaiting the next book!! I also love the quote you picked, and I have the feeling we could pretty easily pick a few more.

  8. I'm a pickle lover too, and these are calling to me, especially the carrots. Great review of the book.

  9. The pickled grapes are really intriguing. All the jars you made look really nice.

  10. Love the pickling process because I, too, am a pickle lover! The carrots look great, but I have pickled carrots before...what really interests me are those GRAPES! Also loved the book :)

  11. I love your blog! As a poet, writer, reader and food lover, I've been looking for ways and places the two lives mesh as well. Even though my family canned all throughout my childhood (Mormon!), I'm just rediscovering it now as an adult. My blog: - is a way for me to bring the world of literary/personal essay together with food memoir...I'm going to definitely try your grapes with cinnamon and pepper - sounds delicious! Thank you and I look forward to reading more! (my more 'food' related blog)

    thanks so much for writing this!