This Month's Simple, Good, and Tasty Book Club: Molly Wizenberg's "A Homemade Life"


Selfishly, I found myself super excited when this month's book club pick was announced. I'm a huge Molly Wizenberg fan -- she of the successful blog Orangette and the amazing, go-to recipe collection, and she of the blogger-turned-author fad that has swept the nation these past few years. I guess I just love her natural, homey, chefy, and Frenchy vibe -- and apparently I'm not alone. Wizenberg's practical. She's cheeky. She leads with her taste buds. She seems like someone I'd enjoy sharing a bottle of wine with. And, to be completely honest, I've also got a girl crush on her for parlaying her blog into a book deal. I bought this one the week it came out. You go, Molly!

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table is Molly Wizenberg's love story to her father, their family meals, her husband, and even love itself. The stories in the book are rounded out by an array of beautiful recipes, with the ingredients put together in yummy fashion. We'll be talking about A Homemade Life at our November/December combo book club event this Thursday, December 2, at Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op’s Selby location from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. and at the Harmony Co-op in Bemidji from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

If the cookie picture above wasn't enough to whet your appetite, here's a review, a recipe, and a few discussion questions.

From Publisher's Weekly:

Memories of her father [...] begin with his cherished formula for potato salad and an attempt to recreate his French toast, but also include a variation on scrambled eggs that spurred a comforting moment as he was dying of cancer. The second half of the memoir focuses on her blossoming relationship with Brandon, who started out as a fan of the blog, became a long-distance boyfriend and eventually moved to Seattle and married her—of course, she shares the recipes for the pickled carrots they served at the wedding as well as the chocolate cake she baked for dessert. Though there is an emphasis on desserts, the recipes cover a variety of meals, none beyond the range of an ordinary cook, and Wizenberg's directions are laced with a charming voice that strikes a neat balance with the reflective passages. Her strong personality stands out among her generation's culinary voices.

Paging through the book, in the chapter called "In Need of Calming," I found the following recipe. It sounds winter-comfortable to me.

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger

  • 6 T (3 oz) unsalted butter
  • 2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 3/4 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 3/4 c semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 c finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 c mashed banana (from about 3 large ripe bananas)
  • 1/4 c well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)
  • 1 t vanilla extract

Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a standard-sized (about 9x5") loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.

In a small bowl, microwave the butter until just melted. (Take care to do this on medium power and in short bursts; if the heat is too high, butter will sometimes splatter or explode. Or, alternatively, put the butter in a heatproof bowl and melt in the preheated oven.) Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized finger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. (The same fork works for this.) Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not over mix. The batter will be thick and somewhat lumpy; just make sure all the flour has been incorporated. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 minutes to an hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with foil.

Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing. The loaf freezes well wrapped in plastic wrap and again in foil to protect from freezer burn. 

Molly WizenbergMolly WizenbergFinally, our friends at were kind enough to publish some discussion questions that seemed right for our gathering, so I thought we'd start there. It feels like Molly would approve of our not fussing too much.


  • In her introduction, Molly describes her love for the intangible things about cooking. She explains, “When we fall in love with a certain dish, I think that’s what we’re often responding to: that something else behind the fork or the spoon, the familiar story that food tells” (p. 2). Are there any dishes that you associate with a particular story, person, time, or place? Describe those dishes and the intangible meaning they have for you.
  • People often associate food with celebrations and holidays. In the chapter “Italian Grotto Eggs” (p. 135), however, Molly describes a dish she made for Burg as he was dying of cancer. How did the egg dish provide relief for Burg? How did it provide relief for Molly? Do you associate any recipes with a sad or tragic memory?
  • Molly defines happiness as “a pan of slow-roasted tomatoes” (p. 189). Can something specific and tangible define happiness? If so, what defines happiness for you?

Say what you will, but a recipe with a little back story is always more delectable to me. We hope you can join us on Thursday. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some banana bread to make.


Tracy Morgan is a frequent contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. She also runs Segnavia Creative, a business development and marketing firm, and serves on the board of directors for the Mississippi Market Natural Food Co-op in St. Paul.