Martinis, Fate, and First Dates with Hannah Orenstein
A Q&A with the author of Meant to Be Mine, available wherever books are sold
Hannah Orenstein is one of my favorite authors and I’m lucky enough to call her a friend! Today, I’m thrilled to share a Q&A with Hannah in celebration of her new book, Meant to Be Mine, which came out this week. Grab your copy here and keep up with Hannah on Instagram and TikTok.
Abigail: Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Meant to Be Mine?
Hannah: I'm Hannah Orenstein, a writer and editor. My new novel, Meant to Be Mine, is a rom-com about a woman who knows the exact date she'll meet the love of her life, thanks to a prophecy from her eccentric grandmother, only things don't go quite according to plan. (It's out now! You can order it here.) I'm also the author of Playing with Matches, Love at First Like, and Head Over Heels. When I'm not writing fiction, I lead Elite Daily's Dating section. I also had a brief, disastrous stint working as a matchmaker for a luxury dating service, which inspired my first book. I live in Brooklyn with my fat cat, Eloise. I like reading in my bathtub, yoga, cooking, and playing mah jongg.
Abigail: This might be your most food focused book yet and I love it. It’s full of New York restaurants and ends with a recipe for your grandma’s matzo ball soup. How do you choose the restaurants you feature in a book? How do they help set the scene?
Hannah: My main character, Edie Meyer, just so happens to live in my neighborhood (Williamsburg), so I was excited to showcase some of my own favorite neighborhood spots: Shalom Japan, Llama Inn, Sweetwater. I wanted this book to feel like a vibrant New York vacation, so it was important to choose beautiful restaurants that serve delicious food, and linger over details describing the meal and the decor in each scene.
Two of the book's big themes are family and Jewish culture, so there's a chapter that takes place on Rosh Hashanah, when Edie's grandma Gloria makes matzo ball soup, and the whole family sits down for a traditional holiday meal. I don't read a lot of rom-coms that talk about tsimmis or gefilte fish, so I was excited to write this scene. I hope that it evokes warm feelings of nostalgia for Jewish readers and teaches non-Jewish readers something new.
At the back of the book, there's the recipe for Gloria's matzo ball soup... which is really my own grandma Eleanor's recipe! Not that I'm biased or anything, but her soup was the best. In 2018, I interviewed her about it for a story on Bustle. "It's very easy, a one-dish supper," she said. She rattled off the ingredients but didn't specify amounts; she had always cooked by instinct and taste-testing: "You add lots of celery, cut into pieces. Lots of carrot, cut into pieces. Then some parsnip, which gives a little sweetness to the soup. You can put in a piece or two, nothing much.” When I asked about the recipe's origin, she balked, "Well, it's not a real recipe. My mother made it that way. Everyone makes it that way." I am so glad I have her exact words preserved — I hear her voice whenever I read them — because she died in 2020 while I was writing this book. I love that I can honor her in this small way. Her recipe box was her most prized possession and she loved holiday dinners with our family. This feels like just the right tribute to her.
Abigail: There’s a big question in this book about fate and choice when it comes to love. What made you want to explore that question and did you change your mind at any point in the process?
Hannah: I began working on this book during the early days of the pandemic, when every aspect of our life suddenly felt so uncertain. I think that's partly why I wanted to explore what would happen if one element of your life was very certain. At first, I thought that if I were in Edie's shoes and I could know the exact date I'd meet my soulmate, of course I'd want to know. But after digging into her story, I saw how that creates so many problems. She never got to experience that flicker of excitement that happens when you meet someone intriguing and wonder if it could go somewhere, because she believes she knows exactly what life has in store for her. She broke up with a boyfriend she really loved because he wasn't The One. And once she meets her fated match, she finds it impossible to relax and go with the flow, because there's so much pressure for it to be "perfect." It might be comforting to have a road map to life, but a little mystery serves us well.
Abigail: This book made me cry several times, as it explores a really special grandparent relationship, and it’s dedicated to your grandparents. How did you weave them into the story?
Hannah: I'm sorry you cried, but thank you! That is the nicest compliment. I was incredibly lucky to have two grandparents into my late 20s. That felt really special to me — as a kid, you might take your grandparents for granted, but as an adult, your relationship with them can develop even further and be so meaningful. I think we all had that idea of a light at the end of the tunnel when it came to the pandemic. People would say, "When this is over, I want to travel," or, "As soon as it's safe, I want to go out dancing with my friends." For me, I wanted to give my grandparents a hug. They actually both died in November 2020, just 27 days apart after spending 65 years together.
There are bits of all four of my grandparents in Gloria's character: Like Eleanor, she makes a killer matzo ball soup and is a mah jongg maven; like Jerry, she has a colorful vocabulary scattered with Yiddish; like Rose, she's a beloved New York queen who was Ed Koch's pen pal back in the day; like Fred, she has a ridiculous connection to Barbra Streisand. Also, I wove important dates in my family's history into the book — so, Gloria meets her husband Raymond on my grandparents' wedding day, June 1, 1958; Edie meets her match on flight #1224, a reference to my parents' Christmas Eve meet-cute, and so on.
Abigail: How do you like your martinis and what’s your favorite spot to have one?
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