In this delicious memoir, Molly Ivins's long-time friend and fellow cook Ellen Sweets offers an intimate, fascinating portrait of the private Molly behind the "professional Texan" through stories of the fabulous meals she prepared for friends and family, along with thirty-five recipes.
You probably knew Molly Ivins as an unabashed civil libertarian who used her rapier wit and good ole Texas horse sense to excoriate political figures she deemed unworthy of our trust and respect. But did you also know that Molly was one helluva cook? And we're not just talking chili and chicken-fried steak, either. Molly Ivins honed her culinary skills on visits to France—often returning with perfected techniques for saumon en papillote or delectable clafouti aux cerises. Friends who had the privilege of sharing Molly's table got not only a heaping helping of her insights into the political shenanigans of the day, but also a mouth-watering meal, prepared from scratch with the finest ingredients and assembled with the same meticulous attention to detail that Molly devoted to skewering a political recalcitrant.
In Stirring It Up with Molly Ivins, her longtime friend, fellow reporter, and frequent sous-chef Ellen Sweets takes us into the kitchen with Molly and introduces us to the private woman behind the public figure. She serves up her own and others' favorite stories about Ivins as she recalls the fabulous meals they shared, complete with recipes for thirty-five of Molly's signature dishes. These stories reveal a woman who was even more fascinating and complex than the "professional Texan" she enjoyed playing in public. Friends who ate with Molly knew a cultured woman who was a fluent French speaker, voracious reader, rugged outdoors aficionado, music lover, loyal and loving friend, and surrogate mom to many of her friends' children, as well as to her super-spoiled poodle. They also came to revere the courageous woman who refused to let cancer stop her from doing what she wanted, when she wanted. This is the Molly you'll be delighted to meet in Stirring It Up with Molly Ivins.
- Foreword by Lou Dubose
- 1. Meeting Molly
- 2. Dining In, Dining Out
- 3. Who, Me? No Way!
- 4. Meeting Multiple Mollies
- 5. The Molly Too Few Knew
- 6. Are You Feeling Chili?
- 7. Julia Child Meets Chicken-fried Steak
- 8. Mise en Place
- 9. Food in the 'Hood
- 10. Vive la France!
- 11. Gumbo Daze
- 12. We Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends
- 13. Wine, Women, and Song
- 14. Steel Magnolias, Texas Style
- 15. Dinner--A Family Affair
- 16. Managing Molly
- 17. Everything Is Relative(s)
- 18. Westward Ho, Ho, Ho
- 19. Le Petit Dejeuner
- 20. Home Cookin'
- 21. Food Stamps and Fun on the Dole
- 22. Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler, Y'all
- 23. The Minnesota Dead Guy
- 24. You Gonna Eat That?
- 25. Thank God It's Friday
- 26. The Great Leonard Pitts–less Dinner
- 27. Plans? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Plans
- 28. . . . and a Partridge in a Bean Stew
- 29. Bienvenidos a Tejas, Comrades
- 30. Oeufs à la Neige
- 31. Table That Emotion
- 32. The Observer's Observant Observer
- 33. Salmon on the Fly
- 34. Burnt Offerings
- 35. Dinner and the Dancing Tampon
- 36. Biscuits, Anyone?
- 37. Without Hope, All Is Lost
- 38. Let's Diversify This Popsicle Stand
- 39. Talking Turkey
- 40. Bacon Has Calories?
- 41. Colorado Adopts Molly
- 42. The Last River Run
- 43. The Beginning of the End
- 44. Adieu and Adios
- Epilogue: Gentle Chicken Soup
- Index of Recipes
- General Index
Some years back, Molly was holding forth at the head of a long table at McCormick & Schmick's on Congress Avenue when I noticed that Adam Clymer's menu was on fire. Adam was midway down a table of twenty-one diners, just close enough to Molly to follow one of her long riffs on Texas politics and too close to a candle on the table.
Adam is the quintessential Timesman—former editor of the Harvard Crimson, arid sense of humor on good days, hard facts, reasoned analysis, and all that. He's the New York Times reporter Dick Cheney called a "world-class asshole."
Molly adored him. Adam, that is.
Just in from Washington and travel-weary, Adam was the final arrival at a dinner party that had grown exponentially as waiters added tables—all on Molly's tab. (Molly would part ways with McCormick & Schmick after I told her its owners had tried to eliminate the minimum wage for waiters in Oregon and bankrolled Republican campaigns.) On this Friday night in December, however, she turned the restaurant's large dining room into her salon. Anyone lucky enough to be there—including Molly's "Chief of Stuff," Betsy Moon; Liz Carpenter, Lady Bird Johnson's former press secretary; omnivorous state representative Elliott Naishtat; Texas Observer publisher Charlotte McCann; Jane's Due Process founder Susan Hays; Fox newsgirl Ellen Fleysher—was, well, lucky to be there.
I tried to get Adam's attention, but he was not to be distracted. So I removed the menu from his hand and smothered the flames with a clean dinner plate. It was no surprise that Adam missed his own fire. Molly was a marvelous performer. She performed on paper, eight hundred words, three times a week for four hundred newspapers, until breast cancer ended it.
She also performed in the kitchen, where she could whip up a remarkable lobster bisque or a perfect steak au poivre. She performed at the table, where conversations were fueled by good wine and good food, or beer, burgers, and barbecue. She loved cuisine, haute and not-so-haute, served up with conversation, high- or lowbrow.
Regarding the not-so-haute, Molly and I once planned a magazine piece that would describe a white-linen dinner built exclusively on the recipes we found in The Ron Paul Family Cookbooks. That's Ron Paul, the Libertarian obstetrician Republican congressman adored by gold bugs, Ayn Randers, and conspiracy theorists (anyone who believes right-wing nuttiness isn't congenital might read up on the Kentucky Senate campaign of Dr. Paul's son Rand).
The cookbook has been filed away in my attic archives. But I recall ambrosia, a Spam recipe, Jell-O dishes, and green beans in cream of mushroom soup; it also had a Dream Whip dessert that I think required the crushing of Oreos. They embodied the congealed sixties-in-suburbia offerings that Johnny Depp's alien character found so utterly alien in the film Edward Scissorhands.
"We'll cook it. Alan Pogue will photograph it. Sweets will review it. And someone else will eat it," Molly said. Sometimes journalism requires sacrifices too great to bear.
I admit that I had misgivings about a book about cooking with Molly Ivins. It seemed that it was neither fish nor fowl, neither a cookbook nor a memoir. Yet the more I thought about it, the more the idea of a culinary memoir appealed to me.
Here's why: because she was a performer (she described herself as a professional Texan), Molly Ivins was a difficult person to know. Too often, even among large groups of friends, she was "in character" or "in voice." Molly's métier was that remarkable voice, appropriated from the gargoyles who pass for elected officials in Texas and from the decent elected officials who still speak in a genuine Texas idiom.
Yet there was much more to Molly than the public persona, as interesting and entertaining as it was. She was polyglot fluent, speaking Texan, Smith College English, and French. She was complex. She read broadly and deeply. She was loyal to a fault, often hiring a larger entourage of unemployed friends than did Elvis. She was an ardent Elvis fan and loved Jerry Lee Lewis enough to buy a piano she never learned to play in hopes of someday mastering "Great Balls of Fire."
It was in the kitchen and at the table with small groups of friends that Molly disarmed. It is Molly disarmed whom Ellen Sweets introduces to readers.
On the Sunday morning following the McCormick & Schmick dinner, Molly invited a group of about forty to brunch at Fonda San Miguel, an Austin Mexican restaurant that has cultivated a national following in the thirty-five years it's been in central Austin. The brunch at Fonda, an elaborate buffet of dishes you would have to travel to Oaxaca or Mexico City to find, was the end of a weekend celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Molly's beloved Texas Observer, which continues kicking ass and taking names in a state where a substantial number of asses need kicking.
At one end of a long table, my wife and I sat with Adam Clymer. Adam wore a sport coat, a freshly laundered white shirt, and dress slacks. Because it was Sunday, he had forgone the tie and was wearing a Washington Nationals baseball cap.
At the other end of the table sat Molly, in a Texas Observer shirt and dark velour pants so worn they were weirdly iridescent. (I always considered her something of a sartorial felon.)
Adam was magisterial, quoting polls and attitudinal surveys that defined the insurmountable challenge that lay between then-Senator Barack Obama and the presidency, when the other end of the table erupted in laughter as Molly wrapped up a story.
"You know," Adam said with a smile, "she never fit in at the Times."
She didn't. But she found a home in four hundred smaller newspapers in smaller markets, where hundreds of thousands of readers isolated by geography and political beliefs devoured her columns. Those readers, who knew Molly on paper, will now get to know her in the kitchen.
“Knowing Miz Molly . . . in the kitchen, at the supermarket and grocery store, and around the dining room and restaurant table is a great way to reflect on who Molly Ivins was, how profoundly and amusingly she thought, and the enormous amount she had to contribute to our understanding of Texas and national politics.”
“A whiz with a whisk and French cuisine connoisseur, Ms. Ivins honed her skills as the consummate dinner-party host. Ms. Sweets’s anecdotes about the cast of characters who roundtabled Ms. Ivins’s home are as satisfying as the Texas pistol’s concoctions.”
Wall Street Journal
“Sweets is an engaging writer, and the book bursts with personality and humor. . . . As a portrait of a friendship, Stirring It Up is a poignant work that travels beyond the public view of a writer’s life.”
Columbia Journalism Review
“A rendering of a deep and lasting friendship, painted with dozens of anecdotes about Sweets and Ivins and their rollicking adventures in cooking and eating, including dropping gumbo on the floor before later serving it to assembled guests.”