Recently, because of Waldo E. Sexton, I had the rare opportunity to tell my story from the beginning, my first inspirational meals at age two and three, which required many drafts and practice sessions in front of a mirror in my best shoes. He was the vision behind the McKee Botanical Gardens and the enlightened management thought guests would be interested to hear my story about him. I did not want to disappoint a paying crowd. Yes, you read that correctly, the tickets cost $20 or $25 for non-members. I was rewarded with a big turnout and sold quite a few books with the help of Cynthia Callander, Director of Marketing and Publicity, at the Vero Beach Book Center. The McKee Botanical Garden raised over $1,000.
The fabulous crowd that showed up at 2 PM on a beautiful day when they could have been doing something else listened attentively and laughed at all the places I had hoped they might. I rewarded the crowd with Malaysian food bites from recipes in the novel which I hope offered a bewitching introduction into the hot, sweet, spicy, salty cuisine served on both sides of the Strait of Malacca.
Two local news organizations covered the event complete with photography. Like the Wall Street Journal, they charge for subscriptions and do not let any non-subscribers access the online versions of their publications. Thank you L. L. Angell (Lisa) of the Vero Beach Newsweekly and Mary Schenkel of Vero Beach 32963 for attending and getting it all right. Kelly Susino, the McKee Marketing and Events Manager wrote me after the event, "You are gracious and meticulous - two qualities I greatly appreciate! I am thrilled that the lecture was so well-attended and certainly so well received! "
My story, the brief summary version, is my good fortune began by being born into an extended family of enthusiastic eaters and entertainers headed up by my maternal grandfather, Waldo E. Sexton. Papa was a pioneer with huge frontier spirit, ambition and a bold personality that he cultivated. (You can read the longer version I told at the McKee event in a PDF file by clicking here.) I grew up in the 1950s when kids ate whatever was put in front of them, even things they didn't like. So well schooled in my table manners by the time I was three, my only trepidation about eating tongue was, "Whose was it?" That same meal gave me a sensational experience, one of my first taste memories that has haunted me ever since, a hot German potato salad that was sweet and sour. I loved that potato salad and have tried to find it or duplicate it ever since. A few of the photos I shared at the event showed Papa as a young man at Purdue University ready to conquer the world and as a 70-something year old building a mountain in Vero because there was none.
My obsession for cooking, travel and entertaining is practically genetic and the path to my novel, The Cooking Class in Kuala Lumpur, while long, is fairly straight bouncing between one type of food and writing gig or another. It's not all exotic travel and party food, aging and the economy are also part of this culinary fiction about six people invited to dinner in Seattle. Despite equal time and excerpts on each theme of the novel, I was touched to learn after the lecture talking with people that the issues of the economy since 9/11 resonated with the audience. I had numerous people tell me what happened to them since that time. It brought me full circle with my readers at my first event in 2013, a local book club in Everett, WA, home of the second largest building in the world where the Dreamliner is manufactured. I almost cried when a young nurse in the club said, "I liked that the characters were worried, but not debilitated." Living in a Boeing town in a Boeing region, she has observed debilitation over the economy up close. She had grasped an important issue in my book very succinctly. I wasn't sure if it would play the same in other areas of the country, but it does.