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June 19, 2009


Just before I started danapop, I was working as a publicist, mostly doing press surrounding restaurant openings. In the course of that work, I discovered a fantastic food blog called Orangette – written by Molly Wizenberg – and it got me…the way she writes about food is extraordinary.

And then, I read Ms. Wizenberg’s (a.k.a. Orangette) book A Homemade Life and found out there were quite a few eerie parallels in our lives. We both lost our fathers suddenly while in our early twenties, both got engaged to the loves of our lives after about a year of dating, twins run in her family as they do in mine (her mother is a twin, I’m a twin), she was raised in Oklahoma City – my parents grew up there and met during high school, married and settled there before my dad joined the Army. It’s sort of uncanny.

So I look at the arrival of Orangette in my life as a turning point; the point where I took the jump. And for that I’ll always be grateful to her – for showing me that it could be as simple as just writing what you want and being true to who you are. I got a chance to interview Molly in between her book tour stops. The Q&A follows…


danapop (dp) I’m always fascinated by stories like yours. What I have read of your background – it talks about you leaving a PhD program and then becoming a blogger – how did you come to that decision? Was it a long-time-coming conclusion, or more of an impulse?

Orangette It was a little bit of both, really. When I decided to start my blog (in July of 2004), I was two years into a graduate program in cultural anthropology.  I was very interested in what I was studying, but it had never felt quite right.  I liked my studies, but I didn’t see them going anywhere.  And I was very distracted by my after-hours interests, namely food.  Every night, all I wanted to do was cook and bake.  For a long time – since my sophomore year of college, actually – I had been toying with going to culinary school, but I wasn’t sure a professional kitchen was right for me.  So I was stuck, really.  I didn’t know what to do.

Anyway, in July of 2004, I went to Paris to do research for my dissertation.  I was supposed to be studying the French social security system – yes, random, I know – but after about a week, my notebook was full of addresses for bakeries and cheese shops, not field notes for my project.  I was spending my evenings writing long e-mails home, mainly about food.  It finally 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. All of a sudden, I had a sense of what would make me happy: food and writing, or food writing. So I made two big decisions: 1) to quit grad school, and 2) to point myself down a new path by starting a food blog.

dp How do you keep Molly separate from Orangette? Or do you even want/need to? Is it strange for you that your readers feel as if they know you without having ever met you in the traditional sense? Or was that a natural progression?

Orangette It does feel like a natural progression. When I sit down to write, I always have an audience in mind – or at least one or two people, friends or acquaintances. I have never really been interested in writing for myself – keeping a diary, let’s say – so my writing is always directed to other people.  It’s communication.  If I write something, it’s because I want to share it.  And because what I write is often at least somewhat personal, connected to memory or to my own experiences, I think it’s natural that readers should feel as though they know me. It doesn’t feel strange.  I’m honored, actually, that my writing resonates with them that way.

dp Do you ever regret postings or letting your readers in on something?

Orangette Not recently.  Back when I first started the blog, I was single and doing a bit of dating, and I occasionally wrote a few details that later embarrassed me, so I took them down.  That feels like ages ago, thankfully!

dp In your wildest dreams, did you think here, just a few years after launching Orangette, that you’d have a book deal, a husband (whom I heard you met via the website) and one of the most successful food blogs?

Orangette No way.  Not even for a second.

dp I think you write about food so beautifully and it’s obvious how passionate you are about the subject. How did your interest in food initially begin?

I grew up in a family of cooks and food lovers.  We sat down to dinner together every night, and we always spent holidays in the kitchen.  It was how we were. No one ever really taught me to cook, per se; it was just how we spent time together. It was how we played together, I guess you could say.  I always enjoyed it, but it wasn’t really “my thing” until I was in my teens, when I started to take more of an interested in cooking on my own, separate from what my parents were doing. I started reading food magazines, looking through cookbooks, etc., and from there, I started cooking more, and well, you can see where all that led…

dp I know it’s hard to pick favorites, especially when it comes to the subject of food and drink – but here are a few “favorites” questions…

– Favorite go-to takeout meal?

Chinese stir-fried hand-shaven noodles, and dry-cooked green beans.

– Friday night, and a full TiVo…what’s your favorite thing to make before you curl up on the couch?

Well, if I’m making something, it’ll be brownies.  But more often, store-bought ice cream – mint chip, usually – does the trick.

– What’s your go-to cocktail?

Gin and tonic, with lots of lime.  Although I had my first bourbon sour the other day, and it was delicious.

– One cupboard item you absolutely couldn’t live without?

I’m torn.  Either sugar or olive oil.

dp I do know you are originally from the Midwest – I am too. My grandmother is still in Oklahoma City, which is where I believe you’re from. Where do you like eating when you go home?

Orangette This is probably not the reply you’re expecting, but I’ve always been very impressed with the ethnic restaurants in Oklahoma City.  I make a point of going to Mediterranean Imports, on May Avenue, for falafel and some of their wonderful hummus – my husband is kind of obsessed with it – and I also love Taj, on Northwest Expressway, for Indian food.  And I always, always stop at Braum’s for a chocolate malt.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing, reading and cooking?

Orangette Right now, my husband and I are working on opening a restaurant, so that’s taking up a lot of time, to say the least!  Also, we got a dog last summer, and he’s a terrier with a lot of energy (to put it politely), so he needs a long walk every day. Some days I dread it, but when I need a real break, it’s a good way to unwind.

dp How did your book come about?

Orangette An editor from Simon & Schuster read my blog and happened to mention it to a literary agent.  That agent happened to represent a dear friend of mine, and she asked my friend about me.  That’s condensing the story pretty dramatically, but in the end, I wound up signing with that same agency and selling my book to that same editor. It was published in March.

dp Did you market Orangette to expand your readership or did it grow on its own?

Orangette I have never done any marketing, no.  It grew on its own, really, very organically.  I feel incredibly lucky.  Crazy-lucky.

dp When did you start writing for Bon Appetit? Do you have creative editorial freedom over column topics?

Orangette My first story for “Bon Appetit” was published in the February 2008 issue, but because magazines work far ahead, my relationship with them really began in July of 2007.  They approached me about writing a column and asked me to suggest a possible theme for it.  I suggested that the column be about home cooking, and about the kinds of discoveries that we can make in the kitchen – which we together titled “Cooking Life” – and it’s been an absolute blast to work on.  For each month’s column, I suggest a couple of recipe/story ideas, and my editor chooses one.  So I get a lot of creative freedom, yes.  Again, I feel incredibly lucky.

dp How do you think living in Seattle influences your food writing?

Orangette Seattle is a big influence! The way I like to cook and eat has been very much shaped by the farmers’ markets around here. Going to the market is very inspiring to me.  It makes me feel very connected to Seattle, and to its seasonal rhythms, and that’s a feeling I’ve never really had – or not over the long term – in other cities.

dp Do you have a disciplined writing schedule? How do you balance that with testing recipes, and the business aspects of what you do?

Orangette Well, the shortest answer is this: I do not have a disciplined writing schedule.  When I first quit my previous job to write full time, I tried to set a routine for myself, but it just didn’t stick.  I had always thought I was the kind of person who really loves a routine, but much to my surprise, I just couldn’t do it. When I was writing the book, I did manage to write almost every afternoon – and often well into the night – but now that I am doing less-structured freelance work, my schedule is very erratic.  I am a champion procrastinator.  I usually only write when I’m under deadline. I wish I were more disciplined, but at the same time, I try not to worry if my mornings get sucked up into e-mail or reading blogs or some such.  I think 50% of the work of writing is collecting inspiration, and I never beat myself up for needing time to do that.

Oh, and of course there’s the cooking and business side of things! When I’m not under a writing deadline, they keep me plenty busy, too.  And my husband and I are opening a restaurant this summer, so that has added a whole new variable to the equation.

dp Is there someone’s career you’d most like to emulate, or are you all about carving out your own path?

I’ve never really thought about it.  I guess I’m carving my own path.  I am not particularly goal-oriented, though.  I work best when I don’t think about goals.  I just put one foot in front of the other.

But if there is any one person who has inspired me, career-wise, it’s David Byrne. He’s mainly known for his music – he was the lead singer of Talking Heads and is now a solo act – so I guess he isn’t a particularly obvious choice, writing-wise, but oh well.  He is a singer, a songwriter, a visual artist, and a great writer, and he inspires the heck out of me.  I think it’s the fact that a lot of his work is just so weird, so goofy and quirky and yet so beautiful.  I love that he is unafraid to do his own weird thing, and that he has been tremendously successful at it.  When I first started my blog in 2004, I thought about him a lot.  He gave me courage.

dp I think names say so much. How did you come up with the name of your site?

Well, I love orangettes!  Orangette is the French name for a chocolate-dipped orange peel, and I happened to have a little bag of them sitting on my desk on the day that I started the blog.  It just seemed right.