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The nitty-gritties

Hi, everybody.

A few of you asked, in the comments last week, if I might tell you a little more about my book, the project that’s been eating up a large portion - wait, did I say large? I meant all, or darn near all - of my thoughts for the past several months. I really haven’t told you much about it, have I? I guess I didn’t really think to until now. I’m so glad you gave me a nudge. I just got swept up in the wedding for a while there, and then, when it was over, I dove so deep into writing that it never really occurred to me to climb out, grab a dry towel, and tell you what I saw down there.

To tell you the truth, it’s pretty murky sometimes. It’s kind of hard to see where I’m going. It reminds me of a quote I read a while ago, an E.L. Doctorow line that goes something like this: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’m not writing a novel, mind you, but I know what he means. Most of the time, I just try to write, to follow the headlights, to not think too hard. That’s all I can do, anyway, and it’s hard enough, just that. When things are going well, I feel like a million bucks, like I just discovered a new planet, or the cure for AIDS, or a lifetime supply of chocolate hidden under the bed. Then again, sometimes - like, oh, yesterday - I cry a lot, over things like French toast.

(While we’re at it, let me tell you that nothing, nothing, is worse than recipe testing on Sunday mornings. Listen: if you ever write a cookbook, or any sort of book with recipes, and if you need to test breakfast foods, DO NOT test them at breakfast time, or on weekend mornings when you should really be sleeping. You and your husband will wind up hungry, and then you’ll give him the silent treatment when he tries to make you feel better, because you desperately need to pout for a while, just to get it out of your system, and so it goes until lunchtime, when you’re too starved to be mad anymore. Like I said, don’t.)

Writing a book is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But when it works, it’s so fun. I used to write poetry as a teenager - I know, I know; who didn’t, right? - and one of my teachers, a poet named Peter Fortunato, once told me something that I’ve been thinking about a lot. He was talking about writing, and about how utterly free we are when we write, about the worlds we can imagine and create for ourselves, about how rip-roaring fun it can be. He said, and I wrote in big letters in my spiral notebook: “You’re riding Pegasus! Isn’t it amazing?” He was just trying to cheer us brooding teenage poets, I’m sure, but I still remember it, after all these years. I’m riding Pegasus! This is amazing! Of course, Pegasus ain’t no carousel pony, people. He bucks and skitters all over the place. But some days, I never want to come down.

Speaking of which, before he carries me away again, let me give you a few nitty-gritties.

My book’s tentative title is Orangette: The Stories My Kitchen Tells Me. The title may be entirely different by the time it shows up in bookstores next fall, but that’s what I’m working with for now. It’s what feels right. The book grows out of the format and style of this blog, meaning that it’s a collection of recipes and the stories that go with them, sixty-some-odd in all. Roughly two-thirds of the book will be new material. I want to give you as much new writing and as many new recipes as I can, but some old stories and dishes feel like classics now, and they belong in there too. Plus, even the more familiar recipes have been tweaked and retested, made to work better and tastier than before. (Remember this banana bread, for example, with chocolate and crystallized ginger? I reworked it, using a different banana bread base, and it’s even better. I can’t wait for you to try it.)

Each recipe will have been tested by a minimum of three people, or four, if you count me. The way it works is this: first I work on a recipe in my own kitchen - often with Brandon’s help; if you like something, be sure to thank him too - and then, when I’ve got a handful of recipes ready, I send them to my team of testers. They have a month to try them, during which time I get the next handful ready, and then we start again. I have 12 testers, all of them volunteers, working for nothing but my gratitude. (There’s lots of that to go around, thank goodness.) Some of them are family (my sister Lisa and my mother, namely, both wonderfully precise cooks), and some are friends. Some live in Texas, and some live in Sweden. Some are readers of this blog, some are bloggers themselves, and some I have never met. I have been stunned by their generosity and energy, and by their willingness to buy expensive vanilla beans, port, and Parmigiano Reggiano on my behalf. You’ll hear a lot about them in the acknowledgments section, which is, so far, my very favorite part of the book to write. When all else fails, I work on the acknowledgments. Thanking people is easy.

I’m learning all the time. Writing is such a strange, mysterious process. I say that even now, as I sit here, doing just that. In writing this book, I’ve remembered some of the weirdest, most wonderful things. Like my first kiss, for example - which, let me tell you, was pretty weird. Or that my mother and her siblings went to school with John Waters and Divine. (Weird and wonderful, right?) Or how much my father loved mayonnaise. I’d forgotten all that. It feels so good to remember. It’s what keeps me going, what keeps me from freaking out entirely, with only eight weeks left to finish this manuscript. December 15 is coming up awfully soon.

Hopefully, next fall, the date when it hits the shelves, will come even faster.

I can’t wait to share it with you.

Fennel-Potato Soup with Dilled Crème Fraîche
Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2007

I didn’t want to leave you without a recipe this week, because heavens knows we all have to eat, even when we’re on a deadline, right? I made this soup last Friday and have been eating it for lunch ever since. It’s a terrifically easy one, just the thing for a filling-but-healthy fall lunch. It’s subtle and soothing, a blend of sweet leeks, perfumed fennel, and rich, earthy potatoes. As flavors go, this one is utterly reassuring. And with a dollop of cool, green-flecked crème fraîche on top, it feels a little fancy too.

The original version of this soup calls for chopped smoked salmon as a garnish, rather than the dilled crème fraîche I use here. Though I love the flavor of smoked salmon, I didn’t like the idea of its chewy, flaky texture in soup. And, as it happened, I had some crème fraîche kicking around the fridge, along with some fresh dill left over from a recipe test (my dad’s potato salad; wait till you see, it’s really delicious). This soup seemed like a fitting use for both. Plus, I love the way it looks and tastes with a spoonful of tangy, herbed cream.

For soup:
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium (or 1 large) fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced
1 large leek (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 ½ lb. russet potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cut into coarse cubes
5 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth (such as this one), plus more to taste
Salt, to taste

For serving:
Crème fraîche
Finely chopped fresh dill

In a heavy large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, leek, and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the potatoes and 5 ½ cups broth, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 12-15 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. (When working with hot liquids like this, never fill the blender more than 1/3 full, as the liquid can expand and cause some nasty burns. Brandon currently has a scab over his eyebrow from just this sort of soup-explosion accident.) It should be very smooth and creamy. Return the pureed soup to the pot and rewarm over medium-low heat, stirring regularly and thinning with more broth by ¼-cupfuls to reach your desired consistency. (I added an additional ½ cup.) Season with salt to taste. It’ll need a pretty good amount.

Just before serving, spoon some crème fraîche into a small bowl, and stir in finely chopped dill to taste. This sort of thing can take as much or as little dill as you like. Taste, and add a pinch of salt. Stir well.

Divide soup between bowls, and serve dilled crème fraîche on the side, so that each eater can dollop a bit into their soup.

Yield: 6-8 servings


Blogger Shelby said...

A book is so exciting! At least with the blog posts you can only read over it so many times before you have to press publish - I can only imagine the temptation that comes with a publication date so far in the future. Write, read over, rewrite, read over, edit, re-edit, etc. The frequency with which the blog has to be updated removes that bit of insanity, and I'm sure provides you with some well-needed grounding every week. Also - I've been using dilled creme fraiche in a lot of things too lately, so I was really glad to see it make an appearance here!

3:29 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so excited to hear about your book and can't wait to buy it and try out all your recipes. If you ever write another cookbook, and need another tester, sign me up! I would love a good excuse to regularly buy such fantastic ingredients as vanilla beans and Parmigiano Reggiano. As long as I'm not combining them in the same recipe ;)

3:47 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Jacqueline said...

Hi, Molly-this is my first comment to Orangette...I'm fairly new to this whirling food blogging world, but since finding yours I have been digging through each archived post, not wanting the day to come when I've read through them all (it will probably be tomorrow at the rate I'm going!). Your writing is inspiring and your recipes have me eagerly grabbing for any pen and paper nearby. I'm so happy to learn that you're writing a book! You're likely over the hardest hurdles with the ms due date coming up, so stay strong and know you have loads of telepathic support! =)

4:35 PM, October 15, 2007  
Anonymous Luisa said...

I. Can't. Wait.

4:36 PM, October 15, 2007  
Anonymous mdvlist said...

You know, I don't think you should worry. Relax with some hot chocolate. I'm something of a food blog junkie, but I've yet to buy a food blogger's book. I'm too poor and miserly, for one thing, but I'm also, I must confess, too critical-- especially of writing. So many food bloggers are out there exercising long-fostered and blatantly obvious literary pretensions, which really embarrass me. Many others don't seem to appreciate that the food does not speak for itself, and that we could use a little more motivation to get off the couch and head for the kitchen. YOU, on the other hand, put on a classy show. You have a written voice that truly works for this genre: the perfect balance of casual and polished, everyday and inspirational. I would buy your book even if you promised me that the recipes would be total crap.

5:15 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Gretchen Noelle said...

Out of all the food blogs that are out there, I landed on yours first, well over a year ago. I was inspired. So much so that I started a food blog and started taking pictures of everything I eat. (Well, not everything!) Looking forward to the cookbook. But missing your regular posts. I just wanted to encourage you that what you are doing makes a difference...it has inspired others. Me.

5:21 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger tammy said...

Very exciting!

5:21 PM, October 15, 2007  
Anonymous Dana said...

What an exciting year this has been for you! A wedding with your soul mate, an opportunity to write a book (about food, no less)... You're quite the lucky one! Congrats :)

5:26 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Lynn said...

Can't wait for your book!!!! I also can't wait to try the recipe!!!

5:28 PM, October 15, 2007  
Anonymous allison said...

I'll stand in line for The Book.

6:53 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Congrats on the book, Molly! That is so exciting. I can't wait for its arrival next fall.


7:08 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Juree said...


I have been delighted by reading the other bloggers that are writing for the first time about how much you have inspired them, as I feel much the same way. It has taken me awhile to actually comment on your posts of course, but I am so looking forward to all of the new material and the new stories! Just remember, you are almost there- and you are so right about both cooking (and writing) being a wonderful way to remember--and also to discover. No wonder we are all so crazy about it...

7:21 PM, October 15, 2007  
Anonymous paula said...

I stumbled upon your latest post as I tried to distract myself from my latest blog post, which is at two paragraphs that I've been staring at blankly for about 15 minutes. Writing is hard. Sometimes it comes to you, sometimes it doesn't. Hang in there. That book will be great.

7:24 PM, October 15, 2007  
Anonymous Alicia A. said...

I cannot wait to lay my hands on that book! Best of luck with all of the work. I'm sure it will be brilliant.

7:31 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Michelle said...

I can't wait to go to that big bookstore out by the mall, and casually browse with my blog- deficient friends, and look down and say, "Hey! I know this gal! And she's even from the same town we're in!" How cool is that! Speaking of cookbooks, I was wondering if you could recommend some of your favorites. I am always looking for a good one and right now am needing some good soup recipes. Also, you are such a good writer, I'm curious to know who some of your favorite authors are as well.

8:15 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Alice Q. said...

I can't wait! And if you need more volunteers...

8:37 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Pille said...

This was an exciting update, thanks! I'd be more than happy to volunteer as a recipe tester in the future, too, given that I've liked every single recipe of yours that I've tried so far (and there have been quite a few:)

10:21 PM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger Casey said...

I'm a big fan of your writing, Molly, and am delighted to hear you're writing a book. I co-wrote a book (on home organization, not cooking) several years ago and well remember the roller coaster ride from delight to despair and back to delight. Just keep getting the words out--and tell your Inner Critic to shut up while you're working on initial drafts. She'll get her say during rewrite time.

10:36 PM, October 15, 2007  
Anonymous Lindsay said...

December 15th is a good day!! One of my dearest friends from waaayyy back in the day is getting married on the 15th, so I know for a fact it will be a magical one indeed. And to add a funny twist to the pot, she is the niece of Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa! How cool is that!?! I'll be sending culinary wishes your way while I dine with one of your fellow colleagues ;) Congrats on the book, can't wait to read it!

11:31 PM, October 15, 2007  
Anonymous VegeYum said...

Just gotta tell you that your photography is fabulous.

2:31 AM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger Lisa said...

I hope we get the book in Australia, is all I can say :) I love your writing, and your recipes are always great. Are you taking the photographs too? I think at your last update that detail was still undecided.

2:40 AM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous radish said...

I can't wait for your book, personally. You writing is so calming and evocative and then there are those glorious pictures! As for testing out new breakfast recipes at breakfast, it's been quite a frustrating experience for me, so we stick to the basics now and I experiment with all of it later. One question for those folks (me) who aren't fennel fans - what would you use for a substitute? I know fennel lovers will say that nothing comes close to the flavor, but any thoughts? I love the idea of the soup, but perhaps celery root?

4:48 AM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger shari said...

thanks so much for sharing more about your book molly. i'm so excited. will next fall just hurry up already?!! and equally exciting is that it's soup season (and you know how t and i love our soup). can't wait to try this recipe though there seems to be no fennel at the farmer's market. sigh. xox

5:37 AM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger hannah said...

i'm just sitting here smiling and smiling thinking about you. just you. and all that you do. molly you are such a great lady, i just want to squeeze you. with a little extra squeeze for brandon too. this book will be wonderful wonderful. i know it.

ps. you think this soup would work with the crack cream too? because i am looking for an excuse to make some...

7:17 AM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger Anali said...

This has been such a wonderful experience reading your blog. First it was just about the stories, pictures, and recipes. Then I started reading about Brandon, the engagement, the wedding, the book. It's really a wonderful ride! I cannot wait for the book! ; )

7:46 AM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger charlotte s said...

wow! i cant wait for your book! hang in there, your writing is absolutely beautiful, and im sure the book will be amazing! and i'm adding myself to all the people who volunteered to test the recipies for your next cookbook!

8:33 AM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Meryl said...

oh thanks for the scoop Molly! hearing about your book is just so exciting; I can't wait to buy it!

Thanks for sharing :-)

9:58 AM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Marvin said...

Thanks for sharing, Molly. You really are an inspiration.

10:10 AM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Abra said...

Just please don't put your Mom's ultra-fabulous toffee in the book. I want to keep it as "my" secret recipe for gift-giving!

12:25 PM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous swirlingnotions said...

You go girl! I'm on the last edits of my novel (four years I've been working on this puppy . . . I can so relate to that headlight quote), so I'm right there in the nitty gritty with you. Congrats on such an amazing year, Orangette. I'm thrilled for you and can't wait to see your book!

1:23 PM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Gemma said...

Mmm. I can't wait for your book. It has been so fun this past year to buy the cookbooks of other food blog friends. I greatly anticipate yours, Molly! While every website I visit does a great job, your writing is truly the most enjoyable out there to me.

1:25 PM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous C in DC said...

I'm curious: what is that thing in the second picture? It looks like a wonderful mobile but I could be way off.

Keep me in mind as a recipe tester for your next book!

1:29 PM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger Sarah McColl said...

Oh, Molly...you must be so, so proud of yourself. At least, you should be. When Sunday morning tears take over, just remember, "I'm writing a book, for crying out loud! How amazing is that?" It is wonderfully amazing, and no one deserves it more.

1:51 PM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Hillary said...

I'm so happy you chose to tell us more about your book! I can't even tell you how excited I am (not to put on the pressure) and how long the whole year before it comes out is going to seem.

3:19 PM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger Bill said...

You forgot to mention that all your recipes are OUTSTANDING!


4:12 PM, October 16, 2007  
Anonymous Kit said...

I'm looking forward to buying your book. I've followed your blog and your grand amour for a long time. Thank you!

8:23 PM, October 16, 2007  
Blogger Figs Olives Wine said...

It's so exciting to finally hear about your book! It sounds like a beautiful concept, and I can't wait to buy copies for my mother, sister, and friends as well as for myself! They're all going to love it, I just know it. When my book hit a snag, which it did, and who knows what's ever going to happen with it, I walk around composing acknowledgments in my head. It's the happiest, easiest part!

5:11 AM, October 17, 2007  
Blogger melissa said...

I love your photographs; such pretty light.

6:47 AM, October 17, 2007  
Blogger Carrie said...

Molly, I'm so excited about your book deal! I think fingers crossed most food bloggers are hoping that will come our way as well! I started reading your blog this year as it was posted on Adam's website. I love your stories and your writing. You deserve a book! Congratulations! I'm ready to pre-order!! ;-)

8:36 AM, October 17, 2007  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I love reading your blog and can't wait for your book to come out. I also just recently became a professional writer and having deadlines, writing constantly, being creative as your work - it's a strange world to just jump right into. Not to be a giant cornball or anything, but when I'm feeling a little stuck on my writing or fumbling for words on my food blog, I always find myself heading right for your blog for inspiration and a good smile.

12:06 PM, October 17, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, thank you for so many lovely, sweet, generous(!) comments, friends. This is the sort of thing that I'll stash away for a rainy day...

And thank you to those who have volunteered as future testers! You're terrific. If I run into trouble, I know who to call.

Michelle, to answer your question about my favorite authors, hmm, let's see. I think Michael Chabon, for one, is an absolute genius! I have no idea where he gets those stories of his, much less how he keeps them organized in his head while he's writing them. Super Genius, that one. I also love Laurie Colwin, namely her food writing - Home Cooking is a real inspiration. I'm also pretty smitten with Calvin Trillin. I'm currently reading Service Included, by Phoebe Damrosch, and it's an absolute pleasure. (Full disclosure: I had lunch with Phoebe last week, and she's an absolute pleasure too.) And next up in my bedside table stack is Oranges, by John McPhee.

Lisa, the photography issue is still undecided. I've got my fingers crossed, but we'll see what happens...

Radish, you know, you might look at the celery root soup I wrote about last winter. It's wonderful. Love that one.

Hannah, crack cream would be delicious here! Ooh yes yes.

Oh Abra, I don't know if I can resist! How much will you pay me to keep it a secret? Hmmm?

C in DC, you're right: it's a mobile. A mobile that my cousin Katie made when we were 12, in fact. Or maybe 14? I can't remember. Either way, it hangs over my bed. I really love it...

Aw, thanks, Bill! (Everybody, Bill is one of my testers. Listen to him.)

12:13 PM, October 17, 2007  
Blogger aubrey said...

yay! i loved hearing the update on your book. i can't wait till next fall to buy it and try out your yummy recipes. hang in there with the book writing. there's not much that can go wrong since you write so perfectly. and don't forget to eat in the mornings...curb the grumpiness. it's what i do with my kids. feed them right when they wake up. breakfast cookies are my current favorites.

10:46 PM, October 17, 2007  
Anonymous Aria said...

I can't wait to buy your book next year. My cookbook shelf has a special spot waiting for it. I hope that you go on a book tour and that it swings through, say, Central Oregon? :)

2:22 PM, October 18, 2007  
Anonymous The Yummy Mummy said...

Molly -

Wonderful news about your book. We haven't met yet, but I hear from some folks in the blogosphere that you're a real dear.

I've written a few books now (as a ghostwriter)and I find that even though it is a process that makes you want to scream sometimes, it is also wonderfully revealing and satisfying. Your description of it's maddening nature is right on.

I'm excited to read it when it's finished. Count me a fan...

8:06 AM, October 19, 2007  
Blogger iamchanelle said...

how very exciting, molly. best of luck for the finish! i know it will be perfect.
i hope your photography will find its way into your book as well??!!

8:48 AM, October 19, 2007  
Blogger Blackberry Pockets said...

Yay! A whole book filled with your engaging writing, elegant photography, and scrumptious recipes! I can't wait!

8:58 AM, October 19, 2007  
Blogger Maryann@FindingLaDolceVita said...

I wish you every good thing in the making of your book.

10:12 AM, October 19, 2007  
Blogger Flo Bretzel said...

Good luck for your book

12:33 PM, October 19, 2007  
Anonymous Erin said...

As someone who procrastinates on her own writing by reading yours.... I am so very excited to see the results!!!

4:43 PM, October 19, 2007  
Blogger jennifer said...

Delurking to say hello.

The photo of your kitchen provoked a Proustian moment for me. After my husband and I were married, we splurged and bought some of the items from our registry that we hadn't received as gifts, including that very sculptural Calphalon tea kettle. Over time, hard water pitted the interior and we had to chuck it. Our current tea kettle is serviceable but nowhere near as attractive.

I'm really looking forward to reading your book when it's released. All best as you work toward "delivery" date.

7:22 PM, October 19, 2007  
Blogger nicole said...

Your book will be fab -- looking forward to reading it! Lots of luck with it ... and I've gotta try some of that dilled creme fraiche. Yummy.

11:39 AM, October 22, 2007  
Anonymous Kara said...

Good luck with the book! I'm a first time poster, but I hosted a dinner party last night that was full of Orangette recipes with great success. Vinegar-roasted shallots as an appetizer, and roast sausages and grapes for dinner alongside braised winter greesn with chickpeas and garlic. Delicious!

1:53 PM, October 22, 2007  
Anonymous Maija said...

I look forward to your book so much - I hope there are repeats from your blog, as it would be great to have them in paper form, too. My kitchen has too few counters for my laptop to find space when I cook, so I always have recipes from blogs scrawled on the back of a scrap of paper as my guide. By the way, I have made your warm butternut squash & chickpea salad w/tahini 2 times now. It was very popular at the potluck I took it to on Friday - I came home with only 2 lone chickpeas rattling around the container. By the end, everyone was taking large bites directly out off the serving spoon. That dressing is funny - it never tastes quite right on its own (too much lemon?) but on the squash, it's perfect - almost tastes like yogurt with its tang.

4:01 PM, October 22, 2007  
Blogger Blue Yonder said...

Your blog is always so gorgeous and inspiring, Molly. I have no doubt that your book will be even moreso. Congratulations, and happy writing! Thanks so much for the soup recipe as well!

8:41 PM, October 27, 2007  
Anonymous amanda said...

Molly - the book sounds just delicious. I cannot wait to read it! And I can't tell you how much I just nodded my head at your description of writing. Oh, so much..it's all so very true. I'm in the place right now (I think our deadlines are close to each other) where I'm going frantically between glee at how it's all coming together, and absoulute horror at how it's NOT coming together. Frightening when I go back and forth on a near hourly basis at this point. ;)
Wishing you well as you keep on writing!!!

7:20 AM, October 29, 2007  
Blogger Channing said...

Your food photography is wonderful. The photos with the empty baking-dish, the crumpled napkin, and open magazine are refreshing departures from current food photography cliches. It's inspiring, both photographically and gastronimically.

7:45 AM, November 28, 2007  
Blogger mgabrial said...

This is quite an old post, but I merely wanted to comment after I noticed that you wrote that Peter Fortunato was your professor at one time... WOW! I only just had him last semester, and I found him amazing... I could completely imagine him saying exactly what you had said, with that enthusiasm of his..

Not sure if you'll ever read this comment, but I thought, why not? hehe..

5:51 AM, March 31, 2009  

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