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.