Friday, November 16, 2012

Still Stirring It Up: Election? What Election??

Still Stirring It Up: Election? What Election??: The thing about the 24-hour news cycle, the thing I like least about it, anyway -- is the fact that a momentous event -- like, oh, say, ...

Election? What Election??

The thing about the 24-hour news cycle, the thing I like least about it, anyway -- is the fact that a momentous event -- like, oh, say, the re-election of a president is here for a moment, then gone the next. Then it's on to the next big thing like a certain political consultant who is probably still licking his wounds after being unable to produce one single successful candidate for all the millions he garnered from  donors.  Oh, and made for himself. Really wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now.

And no, we're not going anywhere near that 4-star general's triangular tribulations. No one could do that better than Jon Stewart did on a recent "Daily Show." But see what I mean?  Carl Rove was  stale news 24 hours after his stupendously unsuccessful promotion of right wing-nut hopefuls.  By the time I finish this something will probably have supplanted Israel's bombing in Gaza. Um, or not.

I was still unpacking from my two months  away from home when I learned of two deaths that shook me mightily: One, a dear and wonderful friend in New Orleans -- she was going for her first chemo treatment when I talked to her husband shortly before I left for one trip, and died before I returned 30 days later. The other was the death of Isaiah Sheffer, for many years the host of "Selected Shorts" at New York's Symphony Space.  He died just as I returned from the second trip. 

I never met  Sheffer in person, but I felt like I had. Sunday after Sunday I sat in my comfy  living room chair and waited for the tinkly music that presaged the start of "Selected Shorts," and wait for his gentle voice to welcome me and  introduce the evening's works.  Actors read short stories penned by  well- and lesser-known writers, and the program was always engaging.

I did, however, know  Diana Pinckley.  She and her husband John Pope graciously read and critiqued the Molly book manuscript before I submitted it. Diana came up with a title for the book I loved, but the publisher didn't, so you can pretty much guess who won that argument. (Fortunately another dear and wonderful  friend produced a title  everybody liked and that was that). Anyway, Diana took the rejection much more graciously that I did.  She arranged for me to have a book reading and signing at the Farmers Market and at Octavia Books, a charming neighborhood independent store.

While Diana's death left me deeply saddened, Sheffer's death affected me too.  She was only 60, two years younger than Molly was when she died. Sheffer, who died of complications from a stroke, was 76. When you are in you 70s, as I am, these confrontations with immortality  recall Longfellow's  reminder that art is long and time is fleeting. The time we have on this beleaguered planet is so short that it is increasingly a waste of time to fret over what we can't do or change;  to get angry with the moron who cuts us off in traffic;  the dunderhead who can't bother to stop for the driver trying to exit a parking lot at rush hour; the arrogant shopper who directs his/her filled-to-the-brim  grocery cart to the 'express'  checkout lane; the loud-mouthed idiot whose cell phone is grafted to his/her ear everywhere , all the time. 

These and other social transgressions call for a deep breath or two or three because there are other things to do. Other mountains to climb. Other places to see. Other friends to visit. Art is long and time is fleeting, so stir things up when and where possible, then move on.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Heading Home. Hurricane Be Damned!

With a Delta flight due to get me out of Boston in 24 hours I'm refusing to acknowledge the possibility that something stupid like a hurricane named "Sandy" is going to interfere with my polling place presence on Nov. 6.

"Sandy," for cryin' out loud.

That's a name for a big-eyed dog from a comic book or a play or a movie called "Annie," not some force of nature that, as I understand it (as of this posting on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 1:44 EDT) has already wreaked havoc with poor ole Cuba and can't make up its mind whether it's going to muscle its way up the Eastern seaboard, go inland a bit or slap the snot out of New England, including Boston. Meanwhile I'm trying to divine a voodoo ritual for sending the sucker out to sea without bothering any fishing, leisure or cruise boats.

So, barring the unforeseeable, this will be my last post until Austin is once again terra firma.

It has been a wild ride: got sick in Odessa, sicker in St. Louis, almost well in Wisconsin and healthy by Beantown.

Wisconsin was receptive and more than a few people had met and known Molly and were surprised to know her food-loving side. Minneapolis, of course, remembered her from her days at the Tribune -- which is still in print, thank goodness, but looking slim like too many dailies.

The Boston sojourn was organized by a friend and former neighbor from our days in Summit, N.J. Susan Chase is part of a remarkable group of women who have founded a non-profit that provides potable water by digging wells in a village in Ghana, and is now installing latrines to augment the one already in existence. And yes, that's one latrine for the entire village.

(This might not sound like much, but the World Health Organization says roughly 2.2 million people -- mostly children -- die annually from cholera, dysentery and other waterborne diseases carried in polluted water. So while masters of the universe are manning oil fields and planning pipelines to bring black gold to freighters for distribution around the globe, the Skidmore class of '71 is bringing water to children who can now live long enough to work those oil fields. If you want to know more about the program, go to

In all, it was a wonderful evening with alumnae coming from as nearby as New Hampshire and as far away as St. Croix. This is a bunch of no-nonsense, Elizabeth Warren-supporting, vote-or-die women who would take great umbrage at being labeled do-gooders. They are committed to doing good because that's what decent people who can afford to help others should do.

While others might take advantage of a visit to an historic city like Boston, I went in search of good food guided by advice from another friend and former colleague -- this time dating to my time as a reporter for the Denver Post. Kelli, her husband Andy and their baby Biscuit (whose real name is Parker) now live here and are as devoted to good food as your above-average food freak. Kelli proffered two recommendations, one of which was worth the week's salary it cost to park in the nearest garage.

The Boston clam chowder at City Landing on Boston Harbor was outstanding, but the lobster mac'n'cheese at Max & Dylan's Kitchen and Bar was a proper way to celebrate the end of the lobster season. Situated in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood, M&D's clam chowder wasn't as artery-clogging as City Landing's, but their blackened scallops -- a half dozen good-sized day-boat bivalves atop a drizzle of orange-horseradish marmalade -- were worth the forever it took to find a parking space.

So yeah, as the 2012 book tour winds to a close and funds threaten to dry up completely, it has been a worthwhile ride, notwithstanding Sandy's threats to keep stirring things up.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

England. Wales. Houston. Umcka

If you only recognize three out of the four, not to worry: but if you ever feel a cold coming on whether you're in the UK, or Texas or St. Louis (where I am as i write this), get thee to a natural foods store and stock up on Umcka (pronounced "oomka") and Wellness Formula, scary looking oval pill things reminiscent of the monster Miracle Max concocted for Westley in "The Princess Bride."

Thanks to Umcka and Wellness monster pills I am now comfortably off  to the Chippewa Valley Book Festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin then on to Boston where I hope I have enough clothes to keep me warm. Unfortunately, I was unable to spend more than four hours at the conference I originally came to St. Louis to attend -- thanks to coughs and wheezes and sneezes -- but that's history now, as is the second presidential debate, which I watched with great glee. It called to mind the phrase I heard throughout my month-long visit in England. Invariably dinners washed down with good wines and nice brandy loosened otherwise circumspect tongues, prompting such queries as "what's going on these days with your president and Mitt the Twit?"

It seems Brits take serious umbrage at presidential candidates returning to the mother ship and challenging queen and country's ability to host the world's biggest athletic event -- which was the usual stunning display of running, jumping, swimming, shooting, riding and diving. Unfortunately what wasn't seen on this side of the pond was the Paralympics, a 12-day display of a different sort, manifested in wheelchair events; swimmers with one arm or no legs; blind runners and amputees performing everything but gymnastics -- including wheelchair fencing, rugby, tennis, riding and volleyball.  I guess we weren't privy to this extraordinary event because, who knows, maybe we're too delicate to deal with events featuring less-than-perfect bodies? Maybe greedy sponsors or scaredy-cat networks didn't think they could make enough $$$?

Well guess what: stadiums and gyms and poolside crowds were as great for the Paralympics as they were for the big games. The most moving finale included disabled athletes joined by Olympians celebrating together. In this instance Americans were the biggest losers. Over there we watched in disbelief as these remarkable people did their running, jumping, fencing, riding thing.

On the other hand, in England we also watched Clinton speak at the Democratic convention (which now seems like ages ago) and interpreted it as a prelude of what was to come in the first presidential debate -- and we all know how that turned out.

But in talking with my friend Ed Finkelstein, publisher of the St. Louis Labor Tribune and much-respected political consultant, President Obama fumbled the first debate deliberately to throw governor Romney's camp off balance. Maybe the president did, maybe he didn't. What Romney did do was let punditry pump him up to the point that he forgot he was going mano a mano a guy who is full of surprises -- not the least of them becoming president. I think that is, has been, and will continue to be a bone that sticks in any number of throats.

Well, brother Romney clearly said to himself, if that first go-round was any indication, I'll just tap dance over this guy in round two. I'll toss out enough jumbled up compound sentences that this group of undecided voters will easily see how superior I am. I'll tell them about the binders full of women I found worthy of working for me when I was governor; I'll explain how my immigrant plan provides for "illegals" (yes, he used the term in front of a group  that included at least four or five Hispanics); I'll manage to conflate the issues of automatic weapons with two-parent marriage and hope nobody notices; and I'll keep repeating the same "values" verbiage over and over and hope none of these, these, these Long Island peasants will notice I'm speaking fluent argle bargle. And please, God, don't let Obama bring up that hijacked recording of me saying 47 per cent of Americans are freeloading tax and/or welfare cheats.

We know how well that worked out for him.

So now we're down to the wire. From here I go forth and spread my non-political message of cooking with Molly and dream my dream of an America where, on Nov. 6, all the people who say "my one vote isn't going to make a difference" will see the error of their ways and stir things up by checking every box that has the name of  the candidate most likely to work for a still struggling middle class, and not for those who inherited or cultivated great wealth on the backs of workers who watched their jobs go to that big Asian country Romney wishes he didn't have to talk about.

That ought to stir things up a bit.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

...And The Days Dwindle Donwn To A Precious Few...

...and the English visit draws to a close.

That's the bad news.

The good news is I return just in time for the first presidential debate. While there's no lamenting missing the onslaught of political messages and relentless coverage that has no doubt plagued the news cycle, it has been interesting to experience the Obama/Romney kerfluffle from here -- in addition to getting a big kick out of all news coverage, especially the little bits. We used to call them "filler" in the old days. They were the tiny stories needed to fill space on a page, like the one about the woman in Aberdeen, Scotland who reached into her cutlery drawer and found a black and brown striped snake believed to be an escaped pet. Was it?
No idea. Or the guy in Runnymede who, when cited for drunken driving, cited Magna Carta as grounds for not acceeding to a breathalizer test. The judge disagreed, citing Magna Carta as grounds for finding him guilty and assessing a fine.

Town names here are good for a smile and a giggle, like Cold Ash and Ozleworth, until one considers Texas towns like Cut'n'Shoot, Tow and Dime Box. Better yet are the television shows. Numerous American series have made it across the pond, from oldies like "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," "Frasier," "Judge Judy","Everybody Loves Raymond," and "Rules of Engagement." There is not much likelihood of reciprocal episodes of "Psychic Sally on the Road," "Hunky Dory Blockbuster (the equivalent of QVC)," or BBC's "Ripoff Britain" in the morning and "Watchdog," in the evening -- both of which cite by name companies caught in the act of defrauding consumers.  In one disquieting episode, an enterprising but ethically challenged entrepreneur was videotape leaving court (after being fined for fraudulent television repairs) and became so angered with the waiting TV crew that he tosses the contents of a bottle over the interviewer's head.  The liquid turns out to  be urine. I'm sure that encouraged the viewing public to do business with him.

And speaking of the public, language on television here would probably come as a big shock --or at least a revelation -- to those unaccustomed to hearing salty dialogue on channels not relegated to cable. I mean, George Carlin would be proud.

Traveling the English countryside has also been a revelation, especially local grocery stores. The two most notable are Waitrose and Tesco -- both comparable in one way or another to Central Market or Whole Foods. Especially impressive are the frozen food offerings which include traditional shepherd's pie, fish & chips, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and -- drum roll, please -- an American Tex-Mex selection of fajitas, chili (spelled 'chilli' here) and barbecued ribs. Particularly impressive are the labels that the food industry is fighting stateside: nutritional information that includes fat content, caloric value, sugar, salt and saturated fat percentages -- on all labels. Equally conspicuous is the absence of additives.  Canned goods do not include salt. High-fructose corn syrup is nowhere to be seen. No MSG, no food coloring, no artificial flavoring (unless clearly stated on the label) and fruit juice from real fruit.

Fish displays are also a pleasant surprise. I encountered a Tesco employee who gave me more time than I deserved  upon being interrogated about where plaice, hake, haddock and mackerel originated. In between serving actual customers he confided that he had only been on the job for three weeks, having walked away from his job as a registered psychiatric nurse -- too few beds, not enough staff to do the job properly. Dover sole, it should be noted, is as pricey here as it is in our neck of the woods.

And speaking of food, as is often the case, English food in 2012 is a far cry from what it once was. There are wonderful meals to be had in towns large and small. I thought about the fox family that used to live at the bottom of the backyard space at Molly's house and was lured to The Snooty Fox in Tetbury, a town in the heart of Gloucestershire's hunt country. The shrimp and haddock fishcake, topped by a perfectly poached egg and finished with a chive butter sauce was outstanding -- as were the steamed mussels in cider cream served with house-made white bread sliced thick.

By the by,  brace for sticker shock. Food, like everything else, is expensive, whether dining out or shopping to eat in.

But some things are worth paying for, like dining out. First, there was the perfect meal at Number Seven Fish Bistro in Torquay. This exquisite family-owned restaurant features fish caught daily, and the flavors --and a packed house on a mid-September Wednesday evening stand in testimony to a sturdy reputation for quality. It worth a trip to Torquay just to eat there. Which is not to say that the menu at Jesse's in the town of Cirencester is anything to be sneezed at. Situated down an otherwise unremarkable alleyway, just behind the butcher shop that share's its name,Jesse's is reason enough to go to Cirencester. The seared sea scallops, the chicken liver pate (with red onion marmalade and toasted granary bread also justifies the trip to Gloucestershire. Other than my friend Cath's cooking (this evening she made and outstanding Beef Stroganoff), these were among the best meals consumed, or, more accurately, devoured, here.

If you can get to Bath, and this World Historical Site is just too wonderful for words, have lunch at The Pump Room. On the day we visited the lunch specials featured roasted fennel and butternut squash with a blue cheese dressing; lamb and rosemary cassoulet with roasted garlic and baby green beans; and for dessert,orange marmalade bread and butter pudding.

Yes, we had good food in London, but here in the hinterlands is a happening food scene too.

So as I wind down my escape from 24-hour political stuff (hate that I missed P.M. Cameron on Letterman, but apparently his inability to identify the author of  "God Save the Queen" was disquieting for the local newspapers).  Yes, plural. Newspapers. Five, I think. Even the rail system has free newspapers with synopses of local, national and international info.  Anyway, I will be home in time for the first debate.

Meanwhile, permit me to lord over you that fact that by the time I return I will have seen three episodes of "Downton Abbey" and you, my friends, will have to wait until January for Season Three.

Shall I tell you what happens?

Nah. I was just stirring stuff up.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Greetings from the Cotswolds

I am in such a beautiful place I can't believe it.  I'm visiting a friend who was my neighbor when I lived in England 40 years ago. She lives in the village of Malmesbury in the County of Wiltshire in a stone house built in in the 1820s -- one of the newer houses in this town, where parts of it date to the 13th and 14th centuries. The Avon river courses through her property and today we watched a heron hang out near the water's edge for more than an hour.

The roads are barely wide enough for two tiny cars to pass one another by, and we had a near miss when an oversized lorry  -- sorry -- when a big-assed truck came toward us at a rate of speed sufficiently intimidating to force us to drive off it into a patch of green to let it pass.  There are no overhead lights so roads are eerily dark at night, and the fines for driving under the influence are wicked enough to persuade everyone to either have a designated driver or not drink at all.

As in: at all.

All said, since I'm terrified to drive on the wrong side of the road I'm letting Cath drive, so I'm having the time of my life, and I will share more detail than you probably want to read when I return.

What I really want you to know is that no matter where I go, no matter what the conversation has started out to cover, it invariably turns to the 2012 campaign -- the one i fled the country to avoid hearing or reading about.  Yet here I am, sometime among conservatives, sometime among socialists, sometime among independents, who have all, at one time or another, characterized the Republican side of the campaign as "Mitt the Twit and that other guy."

That's how things are playing out on this side of the pond. I now have way too many clippings from various papers that allow as how well, Obama might not be all we had hoped for, but he is a damned sight better than the alternative.

And, as it should come as a surprise to no one, folks over here know a lot about various candidates.  They've read about Akin's ridiculous "legitimate rape" comments; they hold Elizabeth Warren in high regard; they find it hard to believe anyone would opposed creating health care for all Americans -- just as they are appalled at Rick Perry's efforts to withhold funding for women's health programs. They know about this stuff.

Honest to God, I am not making this up, the Brits are tracking us. They want to know if Jan Brewer is going to be re-elected because they think she is dangerous. The think Eric Cantor is not unlike a nematode and they find unfathonamable the notion that a significant portion of a congressional body can hold a country hostage to its resolve to defeat a sitting president, primarily because they oppose abortion.

And each time someone says to me either by way of a rhetorical question or a direct comment that the brouhaha is directly linked to Obama's skin color, I smile and say "What do YOU think?" The response is invariably "yes."

Having said that, everyone is also stunned by the murder of the envoy and members of his staff (although here they are asking why there were no marine guards to fortify access, given the tenuous relationships throughout the Middle East  Here folks can't believe the US didn't carry the Paralympics, which attracted as many people as the Olympics did. And of course they're all a twitter over photographs of the Cambridges in the buff.

Me, I don't care one way or another. This is England, which is consistently full of surprises.  For instance, next Sunday (Sept 23) the gardens at Malmesbury Abbey --which are stunning beyond description -- will have a "clothing optional" day when naked gardeners will be at work trimming trees, pulling weeds, pruning plants and such like. Visitors can come clothed or stark naked.

I plan to be there.

Until I return, cheerio.

Monday, August 20, 2012

OK. I give up... least for now.

I'm taking a time out on the heels of the latest loony political pronouncement in a generally lackluster campaign year. This gem comes from whackjob Todd Akin of Missouri, the hands-down winner of the monthly Republican Dumb Comment sweepstakes. It is so dumb it could have come from Texas.

As the whole world knows by now, when asked whether women can become pregnant when they're raped,  Missouri's Republican Senate candidate reportedly said that pregnancy from rape is really rare. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,"  he explained.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the icing on the cake for me.

I have always wanted to leave town when election time rolled around, then get home just in time to vote and be done with it. Maybe I'll tune in here and there while I'm away, but for the most part, electioneering has become so vapid, so devoid of integrity and so intrusive that I'm doing what I've long wanted to do: I'm spending a month abroad to see how we're viewed from someplace far, far away.

To get into the spirit of my trip I booked British Airways to fly me across the Atlantic to England, where I'm reuniting with a former neighbor. Ron and Cathy Young and her husband lived across the street from me when I lived in Leicester, a decent-sized town in the Midlands. We cooked together, argued politics and on more than one occasion she had to step in and mediate when her husband and I got a little to wound up.  It took almost a year for me to realize his greatest pleasure in our discussions was baiting me.

For years I promised to visit. Year after year there was always something: my mother was dying; Molly was dying; I was broke from traveling back and forth to visit the both when I lived in Denver. There was always something. When I retired and move to Austin I got involved in writing the book. Then there was touring with the book. Still, they said, please come to England.

Once again I promised. I'm coming I said.  When they said they'd bought a house in a little town in France, I absolutely promised to visit. We'd hang out a bit in Wiltshire, in the beautiful, historically wonderful Cotswolds, then we'd take the Chunnel to France or fly from Bristol to La Rochelle, then drive to Antezant. This went on for a while and suddenly I heard nothing. Figuring they had tired of me and my empty promises and given up, I wrote a pleading email asking for one more chance.

No answer.

One day I learned why I hadn't heard: Ron had died suddenly and Cathy was alone in their Wiltshire dream house. I bought the ticket I should have bought months before. I called Susan Concordet, Molly's former roommate in Paris and said I would visit her too. Then I called the reporter to had lived with me when she had a fellowship to work a summer at the Dallas Morning News. We'd stayed in touch, but not seen one another in 20 years. I'm taking the Chunnel to visit her, her husband and two sons.

They will all poke fun at our political process and the pathetic performance of Congress over the last four years; they'll laugh and cringe at the presidential race, what with the Romney-Ryan ticket sounding increasingly like a bad parody of a real campaign. They'll ask me why no one is addressing economic issues and I won't even try to make sense of the forthcoming debates.

Just as we wished for a presidential White House like the one portrayed in Alan Sorkin's wonderful "West Wing," I'll tell them how much I wish we could have a political debate like the mock one in HBO's  wonderful series "The Newsroom." I'll listen to them excoriate the idiocy of political candidates like Todd Akin and hope that, if nothing else, Akin's comments will stir women up enough to storm the polls to vote against him and his ilk.

A bientot.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How Much Crazier Can We Get?


Let me count the ways in which recent events have turned my brain to mush..

First we have a congressman who thinks it would have helped in that Aurora shooting if more patrons had had guns. Louie Gohmert, the Phi Beta Kappa candidate who thought more guns would be a good idea -- reminds me of a lost gopher, no insult to rodents intended). Then, in a runoff election we Texans got a nobody named Ted Cruz, a Tea Party candidate who will possibly become the other clueless senator from the Loon Star State. He reminds me of a snake -- no insult to reptiles intended. Moreover, if you can believe it,  he's worse than the guy he ran against who was, trust me, bad enough.

I'm drowning in a tidal wave of not-good news. Stop scratching your head over the Romney-Ryan ticket long enough to consider what's going to happen to our food if we are unfortunate enough to get saddled with these two come November. Both are superbig on deregulation.

So consider this, especially if you love corn: you're about meet genetically modified corn in a can. Or frozen. Or on the cob. If it isn't here already, it's en route to a grocery shelf of the nearest Wal-Mart. Sure, some stores have refused to carry this GMO stuff, but if you can't afford to shop at Whole Foods, or there's no Trader Joe's in your neighborhood (although if it helps, General Mills has promised not to incorporate the genetically engineered corn in its products) what do you do? And why should you care?

Well, as reported in a clear and concise article by freelance writer Diane Petryk Bloom, here's why: the corn is from Monsanto seeds, which produce a plant a pesticide that will kill insects that feed on the plant. It's coming to Wal-Mart from farms in the Midwest, Northwest, Southeast and Texas. Bloom is among the most recent writers to cry 'foul' over this fact.

Bloom goes on to say that in addition to the toxin consumed by those who eat this, there are serious farming issues as well. Just ask some of the small farmers who have complained in court when pollen from Monsanto's corn crops have cross-pollinated their heirloom corn. Monsanto has sued for theft, and they such deep corporate profits the little guy doesn't stand a chance. And those

Now that we are released from the 2012 Olympics, let's get to stuff that the right-wing nuts hoped we'd forgotten about in the two weeks since the torch was lit in London: and we fail to notice at our peril. Let's look first a California's Proposition 37 -- which would require all products containing GMOs be labeled as such. We'll know in November if the Golden State will set an important precedent in this country.And guess who doesn't want that to happen?

So you eat crap that has poison designed into its DNA. Sure it kills bugs. How can we know what it will do to humans down the line? A link between sterility in rodents has already been linked to GMOs.  Do you really want to find out what it might do to your children, especially if you want grandchildren? And hey, where is our great protector the FDA in all this? Anybody seen the FDA?

If we can't wait for the weather to cool down before we take to the streets, we can at least write or email our members in Congress. Even if we know the probable response; we can still worry the daylights out of them. We can write letters to editors and company executives. We know they don't read their own mail, but by God, unless their minions are complete cowards, they'll pass it on. They'll know we're out here mad as hell and not willing to take this nonsense anymore.

Oh, and for your information, we watchdogs stateside aren't the only ones who fear genetically engineered stuff -- Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia. China and the European Union require the labeling California seeks. It's a sad, sad day when China is more concerned about food toxicity than the good old U.S of A. And one more thing: Monsanto isn't the only booger in this. The  creatively titled Council for Biotechnology Information  lists among its members BASF;  DuPont, Switzerland-based Syngenta and Dow AgroSciences (remember Dow, the wonderful people who brought us Agent Orange?).

And yes, as I read each new article and post each new clip on my overburdened Facebook page, I wish anew for the feisty Molly Ivins voice, although I'm inclined to believe that by now she, like so many of us, would be shaking her head in something midway between horror and despair. In one of her last columns she wondered how we became so mean, so senselessly violent, so apathetic,  so unwilling to care about one another, so resistant to hearing any opinion other than our own.

By now she would have to asked how many deaths will be enough for Congress to stand up and face down the insanity that allows automatic weapons into the hands of anyone -- let alone those eligible for white coats and institutionalization; how many travesties will we permit companies like Monsanto, Dow et al to perpetrate upon us?

Finally, because this is too much of a downer to continue much longer, one last thing: Remember when a symbol represented the person formerly known as Prince? Well, according to news out of Ottawa, Canada, via the Huffington Post, Canadian troops and police were trained for two years by the international security contractor formerly known as Blackwater. And in the best Blackwater tradition, it was done without the permission of the U.S. State Department. This revelation appears in U.S. federal court records, unsealed in North Carolina as part of a $7.5 million settlement of criminal charges against the company now called Academi LLC.

Yeah. So lest anyone of us still wonder who's really running the country look no further than Yertle the Turtle; Gohmert the gopher; the NRA; Monsanto, Blackwater/Academi LLC and all those fanatics lacking a sense of irony who call themselves pro-life but support capital punishment.

I'm taking off for a month, but I'll be back in time to vote. And I just might find something cheerier to write about while I'm away.

In my absence I'm counting on you to keep stirring it up.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

SRO on The Crazy Train

So far this year, was there even a one-day hiatus from mean-spirited attacks on our president? I mean, we're almost three-quarters through a year marked by one of the most vitriol-filled campaigns leveled against an American head of state in memory. The poor guy doesn't seem to be able to do anything right -- at least according to those paragons of rational thinking whose initials are Boehner, Issa, Cantor, and McConnell.

The subject of presidential trials and tribulations surfaced at a small dinner gathering I had for out-of-town friends a while back. One couple was here from New Orleans, the other from Columbia, Mo. They were in Austin for the annual fancy-schmancy Texas Observer fundraiser that has come to be known as the Molly Dinner. Named for Miz Ivins, the event usually features a bit of entertainment, a decent meal, a prominent speaker (this year it was Pulitzer Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman), an honoree or two, and journalism awards for writers who most reflect Molly's spirit and sense of social justice.

I mention all this because my little cornbread-and-chili supper on the evening preceding "The Molly," as it has come to be called, was almost a repeat of a dinner gathering my living room a few months earlier. As usual, we ended up talking politics during a momentary hiatus from our feeding frenzy. One of my guests was from Scotland, that Anglo-Saxon country we rarely think about unless there's a golfer in the family. Greg the Scotsman said his relatives across the pond couldn't make heads or tails of any reason to vote for any of the goofballs chasing the Republican nomination at the time.

(Remember now, Scotland is also home to a bunch of people named MacDonald. Greg regaled us with his recounting of a Scottish nobleman who rented rooms in his castle and had an in-house restaurant called MacDonald's. Our McDonald's threatened to sue. Their MacDonald threatened to sue our McDonald's -- despite the fact that their MacDonald had been around some 400 years. Check and mate.  Our McDonald's backed down. But I digress)

The free-flowing conversation that evening made me wonder anew how Molly might have responded to our Texas governor who thought Congress should only meet every other year, like the Texas legislature; or to Newt, the semi-aquatic amphibian who characterized President Obama as "the best food-stamp president ever," who probably never in a million years intending any racial innuendo.

And let's not forget Time magazine's Mark Halperin calling the president "a dick" on MSNBC -- not to mention that bizarre episode of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer wagging her bony finger in the president's face as though scolding a recalcitrant child. At least Newt is finally political toast, Halperin got suspended and Perry only emerges periodically from beneath his rock to make some goofy speech or other, as he did on a recent goofball appearance on "Face the Nation." As for Brewer, if there is karmic justice, hers will be ugly.

We lamented the loss of Molly's singular voice, recalling some of her more acerbic observations as aapplicable today as in years past.  "If his IQ dropped any lower we'd have to water him twice a week"; or "It's like, duh. Just when you thought there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, the Republicans go and prove you're wrong";  One of my personal favorites, and one perfect for our times is, "Any nation that can survive what we have lately in the way of government, is on the high road to permanent glory."

So, in a way, she is still with us. Anyway, halfway through the more recent 5th anniversary of Molly's death, we are once again reminded how few voices like hers remain. I wonder how she would react to the level of meanness to which congressional activity has risen. I suspect she would despair of how few voices fearlessly speak truth to power anymore -- although she owuld be delighted that Bill Moyers is still in fine form on PBS -- which continues to give congressional boos the heebie jeebies.. For the most part, though, reporters who once spoke for the voiceless now parrot a corporate line mandated by media moguls. We're left instead with the stunning new HBO series, "The Newsroom."

Just as the slightly overwrought opening episode addressed newsroom ego clashes, I'm hoping that at some point a story line will deal with the extraordinary bigotry reflected in the behavior of so-called law enforcement officers, especially in the wake of President Obama's executive order allowing children born in the U.S. to remain here with all the rights of other American-born citizens. Specifically in mind is that guy out in Arizona.

Somewhere in that treasure trove of wouldn't-it-be-nice-if-we-still-had-an-Edward R. Murrow-among-us scriptwriting there must be a character based on Joe Arpaio, Arizona's dreadful Maricopa County sheriff. He has got to be the sorriest excuse for a law enforcement officer since Bull Connor. The only satisfaction to be derived from his miserable presence on planet Earth is the knowledge that somewhere down the line karmic justice will bite him on the butt so thoroughly that he'll wish it was a pit bull instead.

Alas, reporters who covered every minute of the Daniel Ellsberg Pentagon Papers trial decades ago are long gone -- mainly because the spirited editors who put themselves out there are also all but gone. Important publications like The Texas Observer, The Nation, The Progressive, The Washington Spectator and Mother Jones struggle to survive. A handful of truly brave web sites track, collate and disseminate accurate information about a crazy Congress, loopy candidates and avaricious corporations, but they too operate on a shoestring. If anybody believes we still have mainstream media that consistently speak truth to power, also believes, like the song says, eggs ain't poultry,  grits ain't grocery, and Mona Lisa was a man.

So here we are, rocketing toward a national election with standing room only on the crazy train.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rage, Race and White Trash Cooking

My friend Bonnie and I are so much on the same wavelength much of the time it gets scary. Our biggest point of departure is the fact that she is not only a voracious reader who retains roughly 95 per cent of what she reads, but she formulates ways in which she can translate her information into action rather than rage.

When she does get exercised, it's because of this country's continued use of torture, the lies that are spread in defense of it, the people who perpetuate it and those who practice it. I'm angry about just about everything, from official abuse of authority, to pollution, to political lies to Texas heat, so I sign petitions, send certified letters and emails couched in the most temperate language I can summon to corporate bullies who are unworthy of temperate criticism.

When we get together over lunch or dinner, Bonnie and I come to earth long enough to talk about Molly and/or food. And so it came to pass that in a conversation more than a year ago we decided to have a party that would celebrate the culinary traditions of a group of people who have been long lost to our social consciousness.

The idea came about, as near as I can recall, because we were sitting in some fabulous Mexican dive of a restaurant that served the most exquisite ceviche and tacos, tamales and empanadas. Hardly anyone spoke English, and you waited while your food was prepared because everything was made to order. Nothing fancy, just good solid food as good for the soul as it was for the body.

Somehow, we detoured into favorite foods growing up and I told her about the onion sandwiches my father and I used to make -- a slice of Bermuda onion and a slice of Beefsteak tomato between two slices of Wonder bread slathered with Miracle Whip and finished with a generous sprinkling of black pepper. No, not mayonnaise. I mentioned that I had been surprised the find a recipe for the same sandwich in a 1986, spiral-bound volume of "White Trash Cooking." Turns out Bonnie had the same Ernest Matthew Mickler book (Ten Speed Press has since published a 25th anniversary edition). The Mickler family had the good sense to know their foodways were to be treasured, not ridiculed.

We then got into a conversation about how white trash cooking is not much different from what has come to be known as "soul food." Which then made us wonder why one iteration of the same foods should have one name and the other a different name. But before we could get too existential about it, our Mexican food came and we had decided to do what we often do when we eat: have a party.

An homage to white trash cooking.

It took a year to convert conversation to action. We scoured recipes from White Trash volumes I and II. We came up with far too many components, winnowed them down and sent invitations. As expected, some recipients were, at best, ambivalent; at worst, horrified. We decided that those who didn't get it, oh well. Others began to reminisce about their own roots in Texas, or Kentucky or West Virginia or Maryland or Missouri. They told of Jell-o molds with bananas and canned fruit cocktail and lime Jell-o with cottage cheese. Greens cooked with fatback. Okra and tomatoes. Black-eyed peas, pickled okra,  peas and smoked ham hocks. Buttermilk cornbread. Red soda. RC Cola and Moon Pies. Macaroni and cheese made with Velveeta. Fried chicken. Biscuits. Potato salad. Cole slaw. Corn Pudding. Hamburger Gravy.

OK, so even though we found a place to buy dressed possum, squirrel, alligator and raccoon, we bypassed the opportunity in deference to our budget and the fact that nobody would eat raccoon stew even if we did make it with locally sourced, organically grown herbs and vegetables. Willie's Swamp Cabbage Stew didn't make the cut, nor did Jail-House Chili, Esther's Five-Can Casserole, Lady Divine's Chicken-Asparagus Pie, or Mama Leila's Hand-Me-Down Oven-Baked Possum.. It might be The People's Republic of Austin, but, well...

Anyway, this dinner party would be a tribute to the resilience of a group of people who had to make do all their lives with foods that generate upturned noses among the well-heeled, especially those lacking the empathy gene. Again, we figured folks would either get it or they wouldn't. As it turned out, about 60 people did get it. They realized you didn't have to be from Hot Coffee, Mississippi or Dime Box Texas to relate. They came, they ate, they talked politics they talked food. They were young, old, Democrats, Republicans, black, white and Asian. Some allowed as how they also came with Tums and Alla-Selzter. Eri Weinstein made peach cobbler in a cast-iron skillet with peaches picked from the tree where he is co-owner of a massage therapy school and spa.

Yes, there were Moon Pies and fruit pie and red velvet cake.

A year or so ago, when Bonnie and Gary, my brother Fred, his wife Denise and I were in New Orleans with a group of friends, we sprung our white-trash dinner plan. Bonnie asked Fred and Denise, "Will you come?" To which they replied, "Sure; we'll come as friends of white trash." They too grasped the concept.

In the best white trash/soul food tradition, we had too much food. We still have leftover Orange and Grape Crush. Some guests entered so thoroughly into the spirit of the occasion that they brought not Cotes du Rhone and Pinot Grigio, but cheap beer and Boone's Farm Strawberry wine. The first guests arrived right at 6, and the last left at about 11. By then we had already decided to do it again next year. We haven't exactly decided on a theme, but two of the guests, a couple displaced by Katrina, brought shrimp and white beans. It set us to thinking...other than Native Americans and Afro-Americans, what group's culinary traditions survived to become among the trendiest of recent food trends?

Stay tuned. We'll be stirring it up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You CAN Go Home Again

I should know. I never miss a chance to go back to my home city, the place I couldn't wait to leave, to see people I've missed ever since departing.  This time I came to St. Louis to the home of my almost-sister, Rose. She and I go back so far in food years it isn't even funny. And here we were again,  stirring it up. Only this time it revolved around what we've come to call "The Book."

She actually flew me into town to prepare a meal based exclusively on recipes in The Book: carrot soup, Caesar salad, Cajun meal loaf, green beans and, of course, butter-laden garlic mashed potatoes with sour cream (which should have been in The Book but wasn't) and Ina Garten's sinfully splendid brownies.  The occasion was her turn to host the book club she joined four years ago. They've been going strong -- with the occasional dropout and replacement.  Appropriately called "The Laughing Ladies," we gathered around Rose's eight-seater of a mahogany dining table, amply fortified by red and white wine.

As guests arrived they immediately gravitated toward the kitchen --- as seems to be the case at any get-together.

Sara, whom I hadn't seen in years, promptly assigned herself to adding butter and sour cream to the mashed potatoes as I mash-squish-mash-squished the addition of heavy cream and more butter.

Robin set about mixing the salad and topping it off with freshly grated Parmesan.

Rose assumed her natural role as gracious hostess while I tried not to sweat over the meatloaf as I removed it from the oven and transferred pan juices into the skillet that would soon be filled with the Cajun sauce (we call it gravy in Texas) loaded with the trinity of chopped onions, celery and bell pepper. Garlic is a given.

Soup was actually served in soup bowls, part of a set Rose brought from her visit to the Czech Republic. We decided to dispense with salad bowls and assign lettuce to plate, alongside the meal's main components. Our sole concession to calorie counters, bless their hearts, was an absence of bread.  That was more than compensated for by brownies and French vanilla ice cream. Of course there was fresh fruit -- raspberries, strawberries and grapes -- which I interpreted as being part of the brownie-ice-cream configuration, not an alternative.

Oops. When you're a charter member of the Too Much Is Never Enough Society,  well, too much really is never enough.

Now it should be noted here that this was a celebratory meal. Few of us would recommend so much butter, cream, butter, sour cream, butter, and more butter in one sitting, but there are times when, in preparing a meal from a book, caution gets thumped sideways: a little fruit of the vine and a lot of  fruit of the cow makes for delicious merriment.

It was the kind of evening I enjoy most; friends sitting around talking asking questions, discussing ideas, reminiscing about favorite meals and talking about Molly.  "Wonder what Molly would have to say about (fill in the blank; the options are endless)"; "What did you leave out?" (personal stuff from conversations she never meant to be public and that had nothing to do with cooking together);  and the most frequently asked -- "What was she really like?" (Private, surprisingly shy and very funny even when she wasn't 'on'.

Finally, as the evening wound down conversation inevitably veered toward politics. How could it be a dinner devoted to Molly and not head in that direction, for cryin' out loud. This much I know for sure: she would have loved the idea of some knucklehead arranging to have Rush Limbaugh enshrined in the rotunda of the Missouri state capitol, if for no reason other than the fact that it would have given her ample material for one of her eviscerating columns dedicated the addlepated troll of the airwaves.

From there we zig-zagged to more politics, international travel, fun vacation spots, and finally wound down to who would host the next book club gathering -- a sure sign that the two and -one-half hour meal was coming to a close.

So see, Tom Wolfe, you can go home again.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Road Food, Not Road Kill

 One of the saving graces of being on the road in pursuit of book sales is the occasional soul-soothing food encounter. It doesn't come along all that often, but when it does, boy, does it ever.  And since I've gone and lost April altogether, I've got some catching up to do in the road-food department.

When last I mentioned food finds I was in Seattle, where I felt slightly out of place because I am not rail-thin, sinewy, an exercise enthusiast or a coffee drinker. But never mind. Shortly after Seattle came San Francisco, and if you can't find good food there you don't know good food when it's looking you square in the taste buds.

But where to start?

That question was easily answered because I was berthed in Mill Valley, a pastoral enclave across the glorious Golden Gate Bridge and close by some pretty swank Marin County real estate, including Tiburon, Larkspur and Sausalito. Since my reading was at Book Passage in the picturesque town of Corte Madera, I had the good fortune to stay with a Sandy, a friend cultivated in Austin who now lives in her home state of California.  I also learned a thing or two about where residents eat when they eat out in t-shirts and flip flops-- as opposed to fancy-pants places otherwise populated by the well-heeled.

Now, if your hostess happens to have at one time lived on a Sausalito  houseboat, you  find yourself ordering a late lunch at Fish, a nondescript place on Richardson Bay and just a few dozen kayak strokes across from the aforementioned water homes. Fish is seriously devoted to sustainability  and serves nothing that is at risk in the oceans. As you might imagine, the bill of fare is dedicated to whatever was caught that day.  Protocol  requires you to stand in line, peruse the chalkboard and order when your turn comes.

We lucked out.The daily special was a whole grilled salmon trout (yes, there is such a thing) grilled to perfection, stuffed with sprigs of cilantro, wafer-thin slices of cucumber and lemon and served on an over-sized platter and accompanied by little heads of grilled baby Romaine dipped in a tarragon vinaigrette; big fat bulbs of roasted garlic; and honkin' great slices of sourdough. Washed down with a pint of Anchor steam on tap (served in pint Mason jars), it was one of the most wonderful restaurant meals I'd had up to that point.

Tucked into a corner of the limited seating indoors, we lit into that lovely lake trout specimen with a vigor that might have proved embarrassing if our table had had a tablecloth on it. We launched lunch with Hog Island oysters on the half shell, so fresh you could taste the gentle brininess of its California origins.

In between San Francisco and Denver came a Saturday in Galveston, the fun and funky island community on Texas' Gulf Coast. It has a rich history of pirates and hurricanes and remarkable resilience -- as evidenced by the return of the Galveston Book Shop after the one-two punch of hurricanes Katrina and Ike. I not only met the head of the bird-watching society there, I met tourists from New Mexico who had met Molly..

After the signing we could have gone to Benno's on the Beach, or Boudreaux's on the Bayou, but we opted for Gaido's -- Galveston's iconic seafood stopping place. Only we went to the low-rent version. Same kitchen, different staff, different vibe, same food. For less. A semi-snack of a dozen oysters on the half-shell held us until we made the 50-minute drive back to Houston where my friend Connie had reservations at  a culinary treasure called Just Dinner.

At home in a renovated house built in the 1920s, the menu, ambiance and service are worthy of anything found in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, or -- dare I say it -- New York.  Dining rooms are segmented, so that Just Dinner seats more than it would seem at first glance. There were only four four-tops and two two-tops in the room where we ate.

The lights and the music are soft and low. The menu is tantalizing but compact.  Seven inventive appetizers included a  special -- shrimp, goat cheese and quinoa croquette -- but my heart belonged to the Gulf crabcake served with a basil pesto aioli. Three salads and two soups rounded out the starters. The tomato was nicely basil-tinged, light and lovely; Connie opted for the white asparagus, which, it should be noted, was rich and flavorful and not at all possessed of the blandness I usually associate with that sun-deprived vegetable.

Then we were on to entrees, bypassing consideration of pasta choices, speeding by braised boneless short ribs; Moroccan-spiced lamb shanks; pan-roasted duck breast; crispy chicken breast with blue cheese polenta and straight to the  evening's special: pan-seared salmon with asparagus risotto and asparagus-pea-fennel salad. I detoured. coming to a screeching halt at the rainbow trout fillet in brown butter sauce accompanied by Parmesan risotto served with a melange of julienned carrots, red bell peppers, shallots, and celery.

We brought along a Temperanillo and happily popped for the $8 corkage fee.

We probably had dessert. I'm sure we did, and I don't want to offend the pastry chef by not remembering, but  I also didn't want to do anything to interfere with the residual loveliness of my recently devoured brown butter-laced trout.

Two  trouts, two road trips. Two divine dining experiences: good food on the road, and nothing even reminiscent of road kill.

Next time: Denver dining and outstanding Salvadorean food where you'd never expect to find it.

Until then, whenever the opportunity presents itself, stir it up.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

On The Road Again

Yeah, well, Willie Nelson might not be able to wait until he's on the road again, but I can't wait to be off, despite going home to Left Bank Books in St. Louis for a warm welcome and good turnout. I love it when they sell out.

People think this book-tour business is the coolest thing since sliced bread -- and it is if you have money and time to truly enjoy being in these truly cool places. Otherwise you're pinching every penny and depending on the kindness of strangers.

Fortunately, there is an upside. For instance, I never tire of being in New Orleans. So when my friend Diana Pinckley arranged a book signing at Octavia Books, one of the loveliest little bookstores ever, it wasn't her fault that it rained. I still got to eat good food and meet lovely people. It especially helps if the sun shines for the duration of a stay in Seattle.

Knowing I'd be in Seattle with next to no money, I sent out a distress call to friends in Columbia, Missouri, who were previous residents of Seattle and still who still had friends in the Emerald City. They hooked me up with not one, but two households who offered bed and board during my 6-day stay.

My first stop was at the home of Margaret Barrett and her husband Joe Cail. He works part time on a salmon fishing boat; she's and aide to her sister who's an attorney. Joe showed me around several favorite haunts that tourists probably never see, including a neighborhood storefront that stocks an estimated 1,000 beers from around the world and local microbrews. Daily draft specials can be consumed on the premises. Margaret served me a delicious rigatoni dinner made with some of the salmon Joe had caught.

Marie Caffrey, who knows practically everybody who's anybody in Seattle (and who, with her late husband the late Walt Crowley founded, hosted a lovely dinner party where guests pitched in and we all prepared recipes from the book.

Marie, a dynamo who is also president of the Seattle Library's board of trustees, walked me through all nine floors of the stunningly sculptural central library designed by Rem Koolhaas. She also took me to the famed Seattle Locks and let me hang around long enough to see a series of little boats pass through -- including a drawbridge that had to open for a high-masted sailboat. A nearby 4-year-had nothing on me for wonderment in simple pleasures.

In San Antonio the turnout was sparse, but it coincided with the Saturday farmers market and connected me with Darby Ivins, Molly's niece, who lives there. I wandered around the market before the signing until landing at a counter serving chicken and waffles. Yes: fried chicken and waffles with butter and real maple syrup. It was one of the best breakfasts ever.

A successful signing in Dallas reunited me with people I hadn't seen in years, thanks to a lovely event planned by Liz Baron, who owns Blue Mesa Grill.

Houston took me to Brazos Bookstore. You know you've come to the right place when you walk in and Philip Glass is quietly playing in the background. That was was only a few days after I spoke to the Walker County Democratic Club in Huntsville. For those of you unfamiliar with Huntsville, it is where Texas' infamous executions occur and where there is a cluster of seven (or is it eight?) correctional facilities, called "units," are planted. It is a very conservative community, but the Dems soldier on.

So here they were on a recent Saturday evening; 140 progressive Democrats, gathered to hear Molly stories and chat as I signed and signed until there were no more books. Other than a Houston restaurant experience that brightened my stay with Bill and Connie Habern, two encounters remain standouts.

So Houston first: Connie and I had lunch on the very first day of Gulf oysters on the half shell went on sale for $5.95 a dozen at Pappas Seafood House. Hallelujah! Sweet, plump, fresh-from-the-water oysters. Praise the Lord. I don't care what you scaredy-cats say about risky post-BP seafood, the Pappas family has its own oyster beds and I totally trust their oysters and I scarfed them so there.

Now Huntsville.

Dear Huntsville: Other than its dark side, it has a quaint town square that houses Walker County's Democratic headquarters. So, after a late start from Austin, I embarked on the three-hour drive to the lovely, slightly spooky piney woods of East Texas. As usual I missed a turn and got lost. Reverting to my tried and true method of resolving such mishaps, I stopped at a service station to verify my route, seeking help from the first driver I saw in a busted-up panel truck -- a good way to identify a local resident.

"Excuse me, sir, but can you tell me how to get to Huntsville from here?" He looked me over for a second or so. "Yes ma'm," he replied solemnly (manners are still important in most of Texas).

"Which unit y'lookin for?"

Next stops: San Francisco, Colorado and Galveston.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Box It Up

I often giggle at my best friend's penchant for snow globes, and only recently have I learned that she also has a thing for the Infant of Prague, which accounts for the collection she has in her guest room -- and she's not even a Roman Catholic, but that's too long a story to detail here. The point is that upon reflection I recently realized that without initially realizing it, I too collect.


I don't have many, but the ones I have are sufficiently special that I remember how i came by them. The hand-made, heart-shaped one is from Karachi Michael gave me. When I visited Oaxaca for a friend's wedding anniversary I bought a handcrafted oval raffia box from a street vendor.

For my 50th birthday my daughter Hannah made a suede-covered jewelry box for me. It has compartments and is silk-lined and one of the few things I never pack in a box when I move; I put it on the back seat of the car. Hannah once worked for a small company that hand-crafted calendars, notepaper, holiday ornaments and boxes. She applied skills learned there to this wonderful gift.

Even before that, she made 21 Victorian-style Christmas tree ornaments on the eve of her 21st birthday to celebrate the 21 years we had been mother and daughter. The plain cardboard box that holds them travels in the car with the jewelry box.

For my 60th birthday, Susan, a dear Dallas friend, covered every surface of a box, inside and out, top to bottom, with a collage comprised of hundreds of representations of every facet of my life in Texas up to that point -- favorite restaurants, quotes, favorite foods, vacations, photocopied photographs -- everything that had to do with anything related to my life and work in the Lone Star state. It was (is) amazing. I use it to store photographs that have yet to make it into an album (feel free to complete the phrase: "...and never will").

When I moved form Texas to Colorado and back to Texas again, Susan's box moved in its own box on the back seat, next to the jewelry box in which I pack the heart on top of the photographs.

Now comes a new and wonderful box. Remember the Infant of Prague friend, the one I've know for multiple decades? She took the cover from her edition of my Molly Ivins book and decoupaged it onto a metal box, covering it top to bottom with the dust jacket and flaps. Rose didn't just laboriously cut and arrange pieces to fit; she then filled the box with hand-made truffles dusted with cocoa powder.

When I shared the contents at a dinner party for six, I graciously set out a bowl of Clementines and a small dessert plate of 12 of the truffles on a bed of Marcona almonds. Guests who thought I had been clever enough to launch my own marketing strategy to further promote the book. asked where they could buy one. It too will have a place on the back seat should I get crazy enough to move again.

I can see it now: state trooper pulls me over, looks in the back seat and says "what's in the boxes?"

And I'll say, "Love."

So remember -- Feb. 14 isn't necessarily about romance, fancy meals, flowers and chocolate: its real value rests in the joy borne of having a special person care enough to do something super-special for you.

Have a nice Valentine's Day.


I often giggle at my best friend's penchant for snow globes, and only recently have I learned that she also has a thing for the Infant of Prague, which accounts for the collection she has in her guest room -- and she's not even a Roman Catholic, but that's too long a story to detail here. The point is that upon reflection I recently realized that without initially realizing it, I too collect.


I don't have many, but the ones I have are sufficiently special that I remember how i came by them. The hand-made, heart-shaped one is from Karachi Michael gave me. When I visited Oaxaca for a friend's wedding anniversary I bought a handcrafted oval raffia box from a street vendor.

For my 50th birthday my daughter Hannah made a suede-covered jewelry box for me. It has compartments and is silk-lined and one of the few things I never pack in a box when I move; I put it on the back seat of the car. Hannah once worked for a small company that hand-crafted calendars, notepaper, holiday ornaments and boxes. She applied skills learned there to this wonderful gift.

Even before that, she made 21 Victorian-style Christmas tree ornaments on the eve of her 21st birthday to celebrate the 21 years we had been mother and daughter. The plain cardboard box that holds them travels in the car with the jewelry box.

For my 60th birthday, Susan, a dear Dallas friend, covered every surface of a box, inside and out, top to bottom, with a collage comprised of hundreds of representations of every facet of my life in Texas up to that point -- favorite restaurants, quotes, favorite foods, vacations, photocopied photographs -- everything that had to do with anything related to my life and work in the Lone Star state. It was (is) amazing. I use it to store photographs that have yet to make it into an album (feel free to complete the phrase: "...and never will").

When I moved form Texas to Colorado and back to Texas again, Susan's box moved in its own box on the back seat, next to the jewelry box in which I pack the heart on top of the photographs.

Now comes a new and wonderful box. Remember the Infant of Prague friend, the one I've know for multiple decades? She took the cover from her edition of my Molly Ivins book and decoupaged it onto a metal box, covering it top to bottom with the dust jacket and flaps. Rose didn't just laboriously cut and arrange pieces to fit; she then filled the box with hand-made truffles dusted with cocoa powder.

When I shared the contents at a dinner party for six, I graciously set out a bowl of Clementines and a small dessert plate of 12 of the truffles on a bed of Marcona almonds. Guests who thought I had been clever enough to launch my own marketing strategy to further promote the book. asked where they could buy one. It too will have a place on the back seat should I get crazy enough to move again.

I can see it now: state trooper pulls me over, looks in the back seat and says "what's in the boxes?"

And I'll say, "Love."

So remember -- Feb. 14 isn't necessarily about romance, fancy meals, flowers and chocolate: its real value rests in the joy borne of having a special person care enough to do something super-special for you.

Have a nice Valentine's Day.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Day To Remember

Weird, how memory works. Ask people of a certain age where they were when Kennedy was shot and they can tell you. Ask some younger folks what they were doing when they heard the World Trade Center Towers had fallen, and they too can cite time and place. Ask folks in Austin what they were doing when word reached them that Molly Ivins had died, and they can do the same.

When I learned of Molly's death on Jan. 31, 2007,I was sitting at my desk at The Denver Post, putting the finishing touches on a cover story for the food section. It was to run while I was away and I wanted to make sure all the pieces were in the right place.

I was going to be away because, as I had in years past, I would travel to Austin to be with Molly on my birthday. It had become a running joke -- I would come for my birthday dinner, she would whip out her credit card and buy whatever goodness was to comprise the appetizer, salad, entree, dessert and drinks. And in a grandiose gensture of magnamity, she would sit, sip Chardonnay and keep me company while I prepared the meal.

Only this time the meal would be no joke. I had last seen her after Christmas. I had just missed her Elvis tree trimming party, but came anyway to say 'hi'. We knew, though, it was more like a farewell. So yes, I was coming to Austin for my birthday, but I knew I would just make soup and hope that she had the strength to swallow it. It would be my last with her.

So there I sat, that January 31st day five years ago, editing what I had typed, watching the clock, knowing I still had to go home, do laundry, pack and be up at the crack of dawn to catch my flight. At aboug 4:30 the phone rang. I snatched it up, not wanting to waste a moment talking to somebody wanting to pitch a story or complain about a story or to ask whether a story had been scheduled yet.

But the call didn't address any of those issues.

It was Lou Dubose, co-author on the last three of Molly's six books. At first there was no response when I barked "Sweets!" into the receiver. Then a man, his voice, audibly cracking just said, "Ellen, it's Lou. She's gone. It's over." That was it. I thanked him and said I would be there the next day.

For whatever reason, I thought about that conversation when I was in San Antonio last weekend. Some guy sat down in the circle of chairs that had been arranged for my reading and signing at the Twig bookstore. He picked up the book on display, regarded it with disdain and huffed, "Hrumph. Molly Ivins. What new junk is she writing now?" Before I could take a deep breath and tell him he needn't fret on account of how she had been dead for five years, a woman who had bought two books snapped, "She didn't write junk and if you think she wrote junk, why are you sitting here?"

And with that he regarded the eyes now all on him, got up, broke eye contact and walked away. I signed a few more books, chatted with a few more Molly fans and thanked them for coming.

On the 90-minute drive back to Austin I recalled that brief exchange, remembered Lou's call and thought to myself: No, as long as there are bigots and mean-spirited people and writers who challenge their narrow-minded world view it's not over. Molly lives on through them and the publications with the courage to print what they write.

And Jan. 31 still remains a day to remember.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On The Road Again

Well, here it is, all of not-quite 20 days worth of 2012, and I'm about head north on Interstate 35 to Big D, where the good folks at the Dallas Market Center's Gourmet Food Show invited me to do a cooking demonstration, and (I hope) a lot of book signing. It should make for an interesting outing.

Because I am pretty much a kitchen coward in public, I'm sticking to an easy recipe -- my beloved Kick-Ass Tuna Salad. It came about years ago when I was first invited to one of Molly's Final Friday events -- that's when like-minded political progressives gather on, yes the last Friday of the month, to whimper and whine about whatever topic is up for grabs. If the weather's nice they sing or recite home-grown political poetry and talk about how nice the weather is.

All this Friday night socializing is accompanied by food and booze. My first time out of the gate I didn't know what to bring. Beer seemed too unimaginative, but the budget wouldn't allow for anything beyond the price of a six-pack.

So I looked in my pantry. That was depressing. Campbell's soup was well represented, as were spaghetti, rice and saltines. The fridge wasn't exactly a cheery sight either. I did, however, have a couple of cans of tuna packed in water.

Then I remembered: I had a small jar of capers.

And a little can of chopped black olives.

And a tablespoonful of anchovy paste.

And part of a red onion that was only a day or two old and a few stalks of celery and eggs.

It came to me: a tuna salad with enough ingredients to take it past mayo and celery, paprika and hard-boiled eggs.

I dumped it all together, threw in a little dill weed for good measure, some mayonnaise, a pinch of savory and a bit of dried chopped parsley, a dash of Dijon mustard and prayed for a good result. I made it the night before I was to make the drive from Dallas to Austin, so the flavors had a chance to meld.

Well, long story short, that evening someone who dug a Ritz cracker into the bowl was heard to exclaim, "Damn; this is tuna salad? This is one kick-ass tuna salad."

And voila, a star was born.

It was even a hit in Washington, D.C. at the National Press Club's Author's Night when it didn't have a chance to sit overnight. I made it in the Press Club's kitchen and put it out so people could nosh as they perused the book. They came, they snacked, they bought. A couple of people didn't even believe it was tuna salad, so three cheers for capers, chopped black olives, anchovy paste, dill weed, et al.

Anyway, I'm demonstrating the how to assemble this culinary masterpiece in Dallas. , in the fervent hope that it won't go the way of any of the faux pas from Julia Child's kitchen. If I could, I'd invite you all to come see me make a spectacle of myself, but alas, it's open only to folks attending the food show.

On the other hand, if you're planning to be in San Antonio on Jan. 28, and you find your way to The Twig Bookstore between 11 am and 1 pm, I'll be there too, only sans tuna salad.

Or, if you find your self in Seattle on Feb. 5 and snow hasn't paralyzed the city, come to the Elliott Bay Bookstore.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for future signings in Texas and elsewhere.

I've been alerted that there might be mimosas before the demo.

Oh dear.