We'll be having company, lots of company in the next few months. I'm going to be cooking, and I need eaters. Let's see, the Bacon-Spaghetti Casserole,—that one had better wait until fall. The Outrageous Brownies? Perfect next week when I'm cooking with my grandson. Maybe the Salmon in Papillote or Smothered Chicken in Onion Gravy the night his aunt comes to dinner.
Maybe you are thinking that I have a new cookbook. I do, in a way, but it's more than that. The cover calls it Stirring It Up with Mollie Ivins: a Memoir with Recipes. In his introduction, Lou Dubose, Ivins' coauthor of three books, declares it "neither a cookbook nor a memoir . . . [it's] a culinary memoir." I agree. It's delightful, full of good food, good times, good gossip and some aching goodbyes. The book is as satisfying as a good meal at Molly's custom-built table.
I have been a Molly Ivins fan for decades. I read her work during her early days at the Texas Observer, and I read her last syndicated column in January, 2007. I've read articles by and about her, two biographies, but in all of this I never knew she loved food and loved to cook. Her friend and kitchen companion, Ellen Sweets, has set me straight—and I thank her.
Journalist Sweets had just moved to Dallas to a new job at the Dallas Morning News when she decided to attend an ACLU banquet. Ivins was the moderator, and Sweets hoped to meet her or at the very least, simply enjoy her performance. Instead, they hooked up in the entry, and Ivins took the newcomer under her wing. Soon the two were sharing not only ACLU activities and talk (the organization is one of the dedicatees of the book), political and journalist news and tidbits, but also food. Lots about food and lots about cooking and especially cooking together. Over the next seventeen years, this bound the friendship.
The drill was much the same every time. Decide on a menu and an appropriate guest list. Shop together, hit the kitchen, usually Molly's, and have a fine time. The book abounds with recollection of these parties, and as many names are dropped as there were splats on the kitchen floor at the end of the evening. Texans and Ivins fans will particularly enjoy these evocative chapters. Those not so familiar with the delightful and irreverent Ivins are in for a treat that will leave them wanting more. Fortunately, there are books out there that will satisfy. I'd start with Ivins' own, maybe Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? or Nothing but Good Times Ahead.
Yet there is more to this book than memories of friends cooking and sharing their recipes. Ellen Sweets adds her own memoir as well. The daughter of the owner of the St. Louis American, she grew up in journalism. She began her career at the family paper but soon moved on to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and then to a string of national newspapers, working as a general reporter and sometimes in the food arena. Her story is as riveting as Ivins' and she skillfully braids the two with the recipes.
This is a book I recommend and that I plan to keep nearby. But where do I keep it? Does it go on the shelf in my study with the memoirs and autobiographies, or will it find a home in the kitchen bookcase with the cookbooks? I can't decide. But for a few weeks, at least, it is going to be open on the kitchen counter, probably with many drip marks on the pages. Brownies—here I come.
Ellen Sweets studied philosophy at Antioch College; after graduation she began a career in journalism at her family's newspaper in St. Louis. From there she moved to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Austin American-Statesman and other major newspapers. She holds the James Beard Foundation Award for best food section. She now lives and writes in Austin, Texas.
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