As the book progresses, it becomes clear that cooking means much more to Ivins and Sweets than just filling bellies. For Ivins, whom Sweets portrays as perhaps more than a little out of touch with her emotions, cooking for friends and family seems to have been a way of showing love. But it was also a method of working through writers block for her syndicated columns. Sweets recalls one Sunday breakfast:
Slicing tomatoes, grating cheese, sniping and chopping chives, toasting brioche, and scrambling eggs helped clear the cobwebs and free the mind to receive an idea. When Molly worked in the kitchen she occasionally talked to herself. Not as if she was having a complete conversation, though. More like she was rearranging thoughts in her head.
For Sweets, also, the reader gets the sense that there is a strong connection between food, cooking, family, friends and happy memories. She describes her own family and the bonds formed over food, including one summer she was unemployed and spent time with her daughter (who eventually became a chef) baking bread and shopping at farmers markets.
The recipes are a nice touch and include a vast range of cuisines, from duck a la’orange to gumbo to Hungarian paprika mushrooms. Vegetarians and anyone adverse to bacon grease should steer clear, however; simply reading about the bacon-spaghetti casserole may be enough to induce a mild heart attack.
As a portrait of a friendship, Stirring It Up is a poignant work that travels beyond the public view of a writer’s life. But for a more contextualized, rounded picture of Ivins, one might be best advised to begin with more general biography, or perhaps one of her many collected volumes of columns.
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