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TV Dinners

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When Meredith Walker lived in Manhattan and worked as head of the talent department for Saturday Night Live, she was used to the random, after-hours meetings that producer Lorne Michaels would schedule at, say, one in the morning. On one such occasion, the crew was gathered to meet a potential hire, a perky blonde named Amy Poehler. The laughs came easily that night, and throughout the close-knit, marathon workdays that followed they never really stopped. “During show weeks at SNL, hours are intense and we spend so much time together that it feels somewhere between a slumber party and the reality TV series Deadliest Catch,” Walker says.

She and Poehler quickly became allies. “There was just that base, distinct comfort that comes when you meet someone who will be your best friend,” says Walker. “We make each other laugh, for sure, but there was a deep ability to support each other in a high-stress atmosphere that made us solid then, and continues. We are very much like sisters, and that means we make it through very cranky, grumpy times as well as the funny, lovely times.” To keep themselves busy during lag times on the set, they took a knitting class, and over coils of colored yarn and flying needles, their stories unfolded.

Among the many things they discussed were their audacious and brave girlhood selves. They wondered how gutsy aspirations born in preteen years too often acquiesce into something more compliant around the time mascara emerges. A determination to reclaim and preserve that early indomitable spirit in other girls led to Smart Girls at the Party, the blog they launched in 2008 with their friend Amy Miles. Since then, Smart Girls has become a growing online network and community. Thanks to Poehler’s A-list celeb factor, her name gets the most play, but when it comes to the clever content, Walker is steering the ship.

Smart Girls is also earning industry accolades. Last month it was honored with a Shorty Award for “Tumblr of the Year.” Their traveling road shows (that include motivational talks and empowering panels) provide additional ways for their fan base to engage (as do online initiatives ranging from poetry contests to profiles of gutsy stunt girls).

In 2006, after years in television, Walker was ready for a less frenetic pace. “While I worked for Linda Ellerbee at Nick News, I’d produced several stories in Austin using an outstanding production company called Texas Crew,” she says. “Through the years we’d become close friends, and I knew I could freelance for them. I had such happy memories of Austin, I just knew it was the best place to try a different life.”

For Walker, that translated to a place where people who do entirely different things gather around a table and enjoy great food and conversation. As luck would have it, she found plenty of that. She amassed a group of friends, met her domestic partner, Tom Emery, a tennis coach at the South Austin Tennis Center, and together they started cooking up a storm.

“We don’t have kids, and our relationship has so much to do with our time in the kitchen,” Walker explains. “Tom once spelled I’m sorry on a pita bread as an apology, using peanut butter and a straw. Connecting over food is ever present in our life.”

And once a week or so, she gets together with pal Joel Mozersky, the interior design guru, for their version of TV dinners. These casual meals provide an opportunity to catch up on episodes of Parks and Recreation, in which Poehler stars as Leslie Knope, a midlevel bureaucrat in the parks department of a fictional town in Indiana. “I love the Lou Grant/Mary Richards-ness of Ron and Leslie,” Walker says. “Most of all, I love Leslie Knope’s optimism and determination, and the fact that Amy made Leslie Knope’s birthday the same as mine, January 18th.”

On a recent Saturday evening, Joel simmers meatballs made of ground pork, sirloin, and lamb in a rich tomato sauce. A large round of sourdough is scored, brushed with olive oil, and toasted in the oven. Their friend Elizabeth Winslow (communications director for the Sustainable Food Center, and TRIBEZA contributor) tops spears of blanched asparagus with walnuts, feta, fresh herbs, and lemon vinaigrette. Amarone flows freely. “Once over dinner at Del Posto, Mario Batali told me that Amarone is the wine that inspires conversation,” Meredith says between sips.

Once the meatballs have cooked through and enriched the sauce, they’re ladled over a tangle of noodles. Tom refills wine glasses and everyone heads to the living room to grab a seat under a gallery of vintage dog portraits. Joel’s four real-life dogs—Alfie, Rudy, Peggy, and ChaCha—hop on the couch and settle in suspiciously close to the meatballs.

Forks twirl strands of spaghetti and spear asparagus, crusty bread sops up the rest, and laughs once again come easily. It’s a quick-witted, snarky crew, just the kind of people you want to be with when you’re lobbing one-liners at the television. For dessert, there’s just-baked buttermilk chess pie that Walker learned to make from Linda Ellerbee. The easy joy of the evening makes me think of Walker’s ultimate hope for Smart Girls—that it teaches people that you never look stupid while you’re having fun.

Credits

Photography by Thomas Winslow

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