Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A conversation with Molly Wizenberg

I recently had the chance to speak with Molly Wizenberg (pictured to the left; photo courtesy of Carla Leonardi), a Seattle-based food writer who has been compared to such greats as M.F.K. Fisher. She's the voice behind the pioneering food blog "Orangette," which has thousands of fans, me included. Molly is busy at work on her first book (to be published by Simon and Schuster next year), a collection of essays and sure-to-be mouthwatering recipes. She was kind enough to pause and answer a few questions:

SJ: You've been blogging for several years. Over which time, many blogs have come and gone. What is your advice to fledgling bloggers about developing a successful, lasting, well-read blog?

MW: First I will say this, because it really rings true for me: more than anything, write what is interesting to you. If you're bored with what you're writing, other people will be bored reading it. Second, reach out to other bloggers. That's crucial -- not only to your blog's success and popularity, but also to your longevity as a blogger. Feeling a part of a community is so important. I've met countless amazing, inspiring people through this ole blogosphere of ours. I would be nowhere without them. Third, keep your eyes open. If you ride the subway or the bus, or if you walk a lot each day, look around. See what's there. See what inspires you. Notice things that are strange to you, or patterns you had overlooked before, or eavesdrop on other people's conversations. (I LOVE eavesdropping. My apologies to anyone who rides the bus with me, or who sits at a table near mine in a restaurant.) All of these things are fodder for good writing and good blogging. Take your camera with you, if you want. It'll help you to notice things. I find that my camera really helps me to open my eyes and see what's around me. And for us food bloggers, I would really urge you to try taking pictures of things other than your food. I love taking photographs of food, but I learn much more from the photographs I take on the fly at other times. It takes a lot of inspiration to continually "produce" on your blog - go out there and find it!

SJ: I had a dinner disaster tonight. The meal sounded good, in theory, but it didn't translate to the plate. I'm too embarrassed to give details (it was really quite bad). While I'm sure yours are few and far between, please make the rest of us feel better about our kitchen bloopers and tell us about one of yours.

MW: Ha! That's a fun one. My friend Sam was just reminding me the other night of a savory clafouti I made for him and Brandon last spring, shortly after I came back from a trip to France with my mom. I'd clipped the recipe during our trip, from one of those little free newspapers they give out in subway stations. It was a basic milk-and-egg custard of sorts enriched with gruyere cheese, and then you stirred in cherry tomatoes, poured it into a pan, and baked it. Well, it was NASTY. I'm not sure if it lost something in translation or what, but it was N-A-S-T-Y. It was pale and rubbery and dense, and it tasted like a very mild, flavorless macaroni and cheese, but nastier. Did I mention that it was nasty? I'll bet you could have taken a wedge out into the driveway and played basketball with it -- it was that rubbery. And the cherry tomatoes hadn't cooked an ounce. They were still raw. Sam bucked up and ate two slices, but Brandon and I could barely make it through one each. It was torture. Sam still likes to joke about it, calling it my famous mac 'n cheese.

SJ: We have to know: What do you eat at the airport? And I don't mean the Sea-Tac airport where we are lucky enough to have a fairly decent selection of options (Kathy Casey's terrific eatery comes to mind), but rather in the middle of the country, say Dallas-Ft. Worth (where I always seem to end up during a layover). When you have to choose between Chilie's, TGI Fridays, and Burger King, do you starve, hold out for airplane peanuts, or settle for a Whopper Jr.?

MW: I have to say, I'm definitely the type to hold out for the airplane peanuts! Or soft-serve ice cream or frozen yogurt. (They've got lots of that at DFW; I know from my layovers on the way home, to Oklahoma.) I don't like going hungry, but I'm also pretty picky. I'm a real stickler about packing food for flights. The only time in recent memory that I ate airport food -- aside from the aforementioned peanuts or frozen yogurt -- was last spring, at Chicago O'Hare, when I ate a slice of pizza. I was desperate, and I'd missed my flight. I love pizza. Even nasty, greasy, airport pizza. But really, it need not take a lot of time or fuss to make food to take on a flight. It need not be a luxury! I just make an extra-large batch of spaghetti the night before, or I hard-boil some eggs and take a hunk of bread. Also, whenever I make pancakes, I throw any leftovers in the freezer. Thawed on the counter the night before, they make a great travel breakfast.

SJ: In your opinion, what are three things every person should know how to cook well?

MW: Well, these aren't all necessarily "cooking," per se, but: homemade vinaigrette, chocolate chip cookies from scratch, a basic vegetable soup -- I could live on those three things -- assuming, of course, there was something green to put the vinaigrette on.

SJ: Can you tell us a little about the book you're working on? And, when can we buy it?

MW: My book grows out of the format of my blog. It's a collection of recipes and the stories that grow out of them. At the moment, I'm working on about 65 recipes (and, by extension, 65 essays), so the final book should hopefully have about that many, give or take a few. The essays are very similar in tone and style to what you see on my blog -- sometimes thoughtful, sometimes irreverent, and always -- I hope! -- delicious. I'm really loving the process thus far. Writing always sort of wakes me up. When I write, I remember all sorts of things that I thought I'd forgotten, and I discover so much that I hadn't seen before. That's really exciting, you know? I hope my readers will enjoy reading this book as much as I've enjoyed writing it! My manuscript is due December 15 [gulp!], and it'll be published by Simon & Schuster next fall, the fall of 2008.

SJ: My prediction: Your book is going to be a huge success. And when Oprah contacts you to be a guest, and cook for her -- on the air -- what will you make for her (and her millions of viewers)?

MW: Oh, eeek! I'd have to build up some serious guts for that! I think I'd make either a shaved fennel salad with lemon, olive oil, and Parmesan, or my "winning-hearts-and-minds" cake, an almost-flourless cake with loads of butter, chocolate, and eggs. Both are an absolute cinch -- confidence boosters for anyone, even the worst cook -- and are completely delicious.


tammy said...

Nice interview! Welcome to the blogosphere.

Marvin said...

Hi, found you through Orangette of course. Great interview.

Jessica said...

Hi, Sarah.

Great questions! You would be a fantastic journalist-- airport food and kitchen horror stories. Keep at it, lady. We'll soon be interviewing you. :)

Jessica said...

Hahaha-- looks like I was right, you ARE a fantastic journalist. :)

Hillary said...

I found you through Molly's blog and I have to say I'm very very jealous that you had the chance to interview her! She's such an inspiration.

My brother is moving to Seattle in a couple of weeks (we're from Chicago).

Sarah Jio | said...

Hi all! Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your comments! Hillary, that's fun that your bro is moving here. He'll love it. Seattle is a wonderful city.

And, Jessica, thanks for your compliments! : )