5.17.2014

Just the thing

Five years ago, my friend Molly wrote a book. She wasn't “my friend Molly” back then, not yet; just the voice behind the blog I’d discovered right before that book came out. I was recovering at the time from all that crazy brain stuff, still a couple of surgeries away from a fully intact skull, and on medical leave from graduate school. I’d recently started my own blog, this one, because I needed a project, and because for reasons I couldn't yet explain, occupying myself with food and writing felt like just the thing.


I didn't read blogs of any kind before I got sick; I didn't know food blogs existed. This was 2009 already, so I had a lot of catching up to do. The whole thing was a revelation: people sharing food and stories on the internet, like one sprawling dinner party, tables and chairs for miles. I did a lot of clicking around and determined that blogs were primarily records. Of days, of recipes, of photographs. A blog was a place to get things down, a jewel box of sorts for collecting favorites, a hub for sharing and connecting with likeminded people. Then I found Molly’s site, Orangette, and learned that a blog could also be something else: a space you turn into something; a kind of studio where you could go to make art.


The subject of Molly’s art – her writing, photos, and recipes – was everyday life. From where I sat in early 2009, that was huge, since illness had put such a giant wedge between me and my own. I missed the big things plenty: studying, teaching, runs along the river. But more than any of that, I missed my everyday. I missed waking up early, comfortable in my bed and in my body, contemplating the leftovers in my fridge and a second life for them beneath fried eggs; I missed kneading challah dough on Friday afternoons, carrying a heavy stack of dishes and a fistful of silverware to the table, standing around in the kitchen with Eli at the end of the night scraping plates, rinsing glasses, wiping down counters.



It's clear to me now that starting a blog and filling it with food, making something of the bits of normal life that were slowly sprouting up again, was my way of registering these things, really seeing them, and believing in them once again. Of course it was! But back then I didn’t have a clue. In fact, I wondered if it wasn’t perhaps a bit weird, this writing about and photographing my everyday. Molly made it feel less weird (or made me feel less alone in the weird) not least because she showed me what it looked like to do it really, really well.

So I sent her an e-mail: a short piece of fan mail on the day her book came out. And Molly, because she is very lovely and also a little insane – it was her publication day!! – wrote me back right away. She started reading my site, which meant a lot, and somewhere along the line, through e-mails, phone calls, and in-person visits on her coast and mine, we became friends.


About three years ago, Molly and her husband Brandon and I spent a couple of days at a house on a lake outside of Seattle. I was pregnant with Mia at the time and getting started on my book proposal, and Molly had just sold her second book, Delancey, to her publisher. We talked a lot on that visit about the stories we tell, why they matter, if they matter, about the process of getting them down (owwwww!), and the preliminary nuggets – memories, scenes, ideas – that were driving our respective projects. We've kept these conversations going over the years, and it’s the highest praise I can think of when I say that reading Delancey, which came out last week, felt exactly like those conversations: Molly being her smart, funny, thoughtful self, figuring things out as she goes, discovering what’s what through the stories she tells. I could hear her putting things together bit by bit as I turned the pages which, when I'm reading, is my favorite thing to hear.




Delancey the book is named for Delancey the restaurant that Molly and Brandon opened almost five years ago. All of these photos, if you haven’t already guessed, are from our visits there. The book is about the collision of their marriage with that restaurant and what came of it, for better and for worse. (Spoiler alert: Mostly for better.) It’s about how the things we make, make us. It is also, I think, about discovering our stories as we live them, learning to understand them, and ourselves through them. Oh, and it’s about pizza, too, of course. (Did I mention, Delancey’s a pizza restaurant? And that Brandon’s pizza is THE BEST?!) By the end of the book I was ready to consume an entire Delancey pie. Preferably the crimini, like so:


Congratulations, Molly, and thank you, for so much inspiration.

15 comments:

Andrew and Mel said...

Hi Jess, funny thing, Orangette and reading Molly's first book came at a time in my life when I needed a change and it inspired me to move forward on my current creative adventures. A lovely post! Thanks for sharing. (www.44cookhamroad.com)

Liz Luscomb said...

I am currently in the middle of reading Delancey, and as always, her writing carries a beautiful rhythm. You're writing does, too! It's amazing how a blog can turn into something so meaningful to ourselves and others when most of the time we are slightly embarrassed to admit that we have one. Or at least I am! haha!

Such a lovely post; have a good weekend. :)

Pia said...

What a beautiful post to write for a friend, Jess. Your relationship sits very sweetly on the page.
I love Molly's writing as much as I do yours. I'm sure Delancey is a fine book - and on my list.

Shanna Mallon said...

Beautiful.

Susanne said...

I really love your special words!

Amanda Hawkins said...

So bittersweet, just yesterday I missed Molly (again) in San Francisco because I chose the everyday goodness over the excitement of insanity. (Long, long drive.) Yes, some of us are conflicted about the everyday, and blogging it, too. Thank you for your eloquence, simplicity, care. And looking forward to your book!

Katie said...

Ah, Jess! I was so hoping you'd write about Delancey, as I have to put off reading it until I finish a big research paper, and I'm trying to live vicariously through blogs. I'm so glad you and Molly are friends, two of my favorite writers, both insanely smart, and generous. And I agree that Brandon's pizza is the best! How he manages that perfect crisp/chew combo is beyond me.

xo!

talley said...

your words - your photos - both so clearly art. Your studio is wonderful, and a constant inspiration, truly. I often wonder what I'm doing blogging, but then I read yours, and Molly's and it's so comforting to land here, in this space, and read your entries. Thanks for that. Really. I'm in the midst of Delancy and really enjoying it so far. Side note to anyone getting ready to read it - get ready to crave pizza in a serious way. I've already made pizza three times since starting. (Currently loving the Roberta's recipe in the NYTimes.)

Really looking forward to reading your book, Jess!

Christine said...

As I read Delancey, start to finish, yesterday afternoon, I remarked at the beauty of Molly's vivid descriptions but still regretted that I didn't have a visual image of those concrete tabletops and salted chocolate-chip cookies that are so central to the restaurant's operations. So, this post is timely. Thanks for the words and the photos!

Ashley said...

What a beautiful post. And can I just say that I'm so glad you started this blog and take the time to write about your everyday?

sara forte said...

oh i simply cannot wait to read it. I adore her writing, like so many others. I hope you hear it as a compliment that I hear a similarity in both you and molly's writing voices - both like the sort of women I would want to be neighbors with and end up chatting on the porch watching kidlettes run in the grass. Such a sweet note about her book and so glad you two have connected as you have. This blogsphere is amazing in that way - drawing lines between friends who may have otherwise not found each other. Hope all is well, Jess!

Kasey said...

What a wonderful tribute, Jess. It's funny, when I first started reading your blog, I found that your spirit spoke to me much the same way that Molly's did. Both your writing makes ME want to be a better writer. I loved Molly's first book, and agree that she's easy to like :)

Roberta said...

You never know how you're going to meet a friend. I could never guess that anyone would follow my blog let alone meet up and befriend me. The internet can be intimate and aloof at the same time.

As for your writing, it is very personal and forthcoming and honest and beautiful. What a gift you have. And Freddie! Oh, my. I love the photos. Congratulations.

Gemma said...

So lovely, Jess. I read Delancey so quickly and am looking forward to going back and letting it sink in a little more slowly next time. It's so good and so brave, Molly really is a star.

Molly said...

Jess! I know others have already said it, but I have to say it again: this is beautiful. Thank you, sweet friend. I'm so glad you sent me that e-mail five (!) years ago, and that you're here, and that I get to follow your everyday, because it makes my everyday so much better. xx