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Eating Authors: Alex Shvartsman

No Comments » Written on October 19th, 2020 by
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Alex Shvartsman

I spent the weekend virtually attending a convention, giving a reading, answering questions at a Kaffeeklatsch, and holding forth on panels at Capclave. In other years, this is my favorite regional con, and only in small part to the opportunity to stop at a Waffle House on the way there. I also typically put together a dinner party one night at La Canela, an incredible Peruvian restaurant a short drive from the convention hotel. Alas, an online event meant I was foraging for my meals at home rather than the usual haunts, but even so I had a fine time at Capclave, checking in with fans and friends and colleagues whom I have not seen for a year or more, which is often how things go at the in-person version of the convention.

It’s only fitting then that this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is Alex Shvartsman, who has not only joined me for Peruvian cuisine in the course of the convention, but has on several occasions been my roommate. I am here to tell you that Alex is a terrible person to share a room with. After a long night of schmoozing and socializing and party-hopping at the convention, every time I have shared a hotel room with Alex we have wound up talking for hours — literally, hours — despite our best intention to get some sleep and regardless of how exhausted we were from the day’s events. Good times.

Nowadays, Alex is well known as the editor and publisher of the Unidentified Funny Objects series of anthologies. In recent years he’s also applied his editorial skills to running the online magazine Future Science Fiction Digest which (full disclosure) published my own work in their #1 issue. That would surely be enough bonafides for anyone, but there’s more. Back in the day Alex was a professional Magic: The Gathering player, and at one time held the record for the most top eights on the Grand Prix (21!).

He also owns and operates Kings Games, an internet cafe and gaming store in Brooklyn, NY, is renowned for his expertise in crafting Kickstarter campaigns, frequently works as a translator, and despite all of that somehow also finds time to write fiction of his own. His short stories have graced the usual range of magazines and markets, and last year he self-published the novel Eridani’s Crown.

This tine of year, before making the drive down to Capclave, Alex would usually stop and pick up a nice assortment of fine New York bagels to share with friends at the convention. Alas, that treat has been another victim of the current pandemic.

LMS: Welcome, Alex. I’ve been waiting a long time to have you tell me the tale of your most memorable meal. What is it?

AS: I used to travel extensively when I was younger, having visited over thirty countries and every inhabited continent. I’ve dined on fresh vegetables grown on site at an Israeli kibbutz, and exotic fruits from the Amazon River basin; chicken satay at the Kuala Lumpur night market in Malaysia and springbok steak in South Africa. In those travels I’d learned the golden rule of gastronomic tourism: get away from the tourist traps and ask the locals to direct you to their favorite eating establishments. But it wasn’t this plethora of fancy dishes that is evoked when thinking of my most memorable meal; it was a humble burger with fries from McDonald’s.

Before you foodies boo me off this virtual stage and pelt me with rotten chicken nuggets, hear me out, for I’m with you. As a resident of Brooklyn I’m surrounded by amazing food and could dine in (or order out in these pandemic days) at a different great restaurant every day for a year without ever running out of quality options. The only times I recall eating at McD’s in the past two decades were in Japan, where fast food actually looks like what’s displayed on the menu photos. But this meal predates that by another decade, and there’s a story to it besides.

Eridani's Crown

The year was 1990, and I was a fourteen-year-old kid growing up in the port city of Odessa, USSR. The past few years had been an amazing time. I watched as the newfangled policies of perestroika and glasnost literally transformed Soviet society. It was suddenly possible to say controversial things without the risk of being questioned or arrested by the KGB. It was permissible to attend a church or a synagogue. It was okay to open a business—or, as it was phrased back then, “join a cooperative.” My father, an engineer who earned a meager salary until then, had done so and we were suddenly on the upward financial trajectory from lower middle class well into its center. We could afford a VCR and were even dreaming about possibly buying a car (but really, that was upper middle class talk!)

The most important change for me personally was the sudden influx of books. With new independent small presses flourishing, there were suddenly far more than a handful of science fiction translations published each year, and I gorged on Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton.

While I largely experienced the positive aspects of the changes, my parents were far more concerned. The Soviet Union began breaking apart. Several Baltic states had already seceded, and many other republics and even smaller regions were also planning to. There was plenty of separatist talk even in the Russian-speaking Odessa, let alone other parts of Ukraine. As ever, the rising nationalism stirred up the racist and Anti-Semitic elements of society. There was much speculation of various civil wars brewing across the vast territory once under the firm grasp of Russian communists. Popular wisdom was that the country would be engulfed in war or multiple smaller wars in the next five years.

Worse yet, I was a few years away from becoming of age to enter military service. Draft was mandatory then for anyone who didn’t get into a university. Higher education institutions had strict and racist quotas, making it difficult for Jewish kids to enroll, even if their grades warranted it. So the odds were I would have to serve in the military, and possibly go to war.

We had distant relatives in America, but even a few years prior, it was impossible to legally move from the USSR to the United States. A complex process had to be followed by anyone who desired to do so.

Unidentified Funny Objects

A Jewish person could apply to immigrate to Israel—it was difficult but not outright impossible to receive government permission for this. At the time the USSR did not have diplomatic relationships with Israel, so anyone leaving the country for Israel would travel to neutral Austria first. In Austria, one would request political asylum and refugee status at the American embassy and then travel by train to Italy where they awaited the American government’s decision. People lived in Italy for many months, and sometimes over a year, as stateless refugees. Ultimately though, most gained access to the preferred promised land of their choice.

My mother was the driving force behind our family’s efforts to emigrate. My father reluctantly agreed, only because of looming potential danger they perceived for me in the coming years. We were prepared to follow the complicated path described above when the game changed and it was suddenly possible to apply for refugee status at the American embassy in Moscow. No more months spent in uncertainty, but instead the potential to board the plane at Sheremetyevo Airport for a direct flight to New York!

And so, our family booked an appointment at the embassy and boarded an overnight train to Moscow.

Prior to and during this trip my mother drilled us on how and what to say to our interviewer. This person literally held our future in their hands; they would decide whether we experienced sufficient hardship and qualified for refugee status, so there could be no mistakes.

I never understood the need for this preparation. The idea of being a persecuted minority was not hypothetical to us. In first grade I had my nose broken by a bully for the crime of being Jewish. My father’s colleagues in Western Ukraine, where he frequently traveled for work, had unironically said to him on numerous occasions, “You’re one of the good ones. When the pogroms start, we’ll hide you.” The way I saw it, all we had to do during this interview was tell the truth.

The interview itself was anti-climactic. It lasted less than ten minutes and we were asked a few standard questions by a bored clerk who must’ve had asked them, and heard the same or very similar answers, many times each day. To be honest, I don’t remember that much about it, but I remember what happened afterward.

Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma

We went to McDonald’s.

At the time, this was the first and only McDonald’s in all of the Soviet Union. It opened its doors in January of that year, and people—Muscovites and visitors alike—lined up to sample exotic American food.

Soviet citizens were not exposed to a wide range of international cuisines. Although I grew up in a multicultural port city, by the time we left the USSR I had never tried Chinese food, not eaten a bowl of cereal. Bananas were imported by ship once or twice a year and everyone had queued up and bought green bananas, then enjoyed them as they ripened and really made them last for the next few weeks; it was a big deal. The concept of pizza was very new, and what enterprising restaurateurs served would likely never be mistaken for pizza elsewhere.

No one we knew had ever tried burgers.

The concept of meat patties was, of course, familiar. Cutlets of all kinds are a staple of Russian cuisine. But an actual burger, prepared and served the way you think of it, that was altogether new.

Even after several months, the interest hadn’t died down. We spent upward of an hour in line before we could get inside the McDonald’s. What few tables the place had were occupied—we got the food to go, which was also a rather novel concept for prepared food in Russia (at least to my teenage self!). We bought various burgers and fries, and we bought ketchup packets—the sauce wasn’t free the way it is in American restaurants. Like most things, ketchup was difficult to get in stores and most customers purchased extras to use at home.

We returned to the apartment we were staying at and unwrapped the food. I remember the meal vividly. The rich, unfamiliar flavor of Big Mac sauce. The texture of French Fries—so unlike the commonplace potatoes fried on a skillet. I remember it not because it was necessarily better than other meals, but because of how different it was from anything I was used to. It was the glimpse at the wide range of possibilities that were about to open up to me. It was my first taste of America.

Thanks, Alex. There’s something both disturbing and perfect about a Big Mac as a metaphor for America. Special sauce indeed.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

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Eating Authors: Robert J. Sawyer

No Comments » Written on October 12th, 2020 by
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Robert J. Sawyer

October has not exactly been kind to me thus far. First I gavorched my back, and just as that was healing I somehow managed to wrench my left arm. I can only assume that I have a dissociative disorder and late at night when I should be sleeping I enter into a fugue state and put in a shift on the docks as a longshoreman. This might also explain why I’m always tired. Though I suppose the extra money is nice…

The big news is that the EATING AUTHORS Kickstarter is doing quite well. We hit the initial funding before the end of the third day, guaranteeing there will be an ebook. We’ve unlocked the first two Stretch Goals and are closing in on the third, and there’s more than two weeks left so I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll reach the fourth goal, which will mean a trade paperback of the book.

I’m going to call that a segue, because one of the last meals that’s going in to the book is the one you’re about to read from none other than Robert J. Sawyer, whom some have called the hardest working SF author in Canada. That may be so, but I prefer to just call him my friend.

Rob hasn’t just won the Hugo and the Nebula, he’s taken home the Seium, the Prix Aurora, the Campbell, the Smith, and the Heinlein awards too, as well as others too numerous to mention here. His fiction has been adapted for television. He’s taught science fiction writing at several universities and colleges, taken on the post of writer-in-residence multiple times, and done frequent television commentary and public speaking. He has received two honorary doctorates and served time as the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Oh, and there’s the small matter of his having been awarded both the Order of Canada (the highest honor given in the country) and the Order of Ontario (the highest honor given by his province). And he’s the only other author I know who owns a replica Neanderthal skull.

Rob is also generous with his time, always supportive of newer authors, and writes one heck of a blurb. It’s inconceivable to me that you might not have read his fiction, but if that’s the case I’m confident that reading his most memorable meal will inspire you to click a link and correct that oversight.

I confess, I’ve been waxing a bit nostalgic writing up this introduction. One of the last conventions I appeared at had me sitting next to Rob on a panel. It was a glorious time, and a room full of people heard him repeatedly threaten to kill me, but that’s another story…

LMS: Welcome, Rob. You’ve been a difficult man to wrangle for a meal, but my dogged persistence has paid off. Please tell me about the dinner that stands out in your memory.

RJS: Twenty years ago, in the summer of 2000, my twelfth novel, Calculating God, had just come out. The publisher was Tor, headquartered in New York, but they contracted out their Canadian distribution to a wonderful firm called H.B. Fenn and Company, based just north of Toronto, where I live. The fine folk at Fenn very much took me under their wing: as distributor of foreign-published books, they rarely had a local author to work with, and I became part of their family.

And when family calls and asks a favor, you say yes. So when Heidi Winter, my publicist there, called to say she had an author coming in from out of town who had nothing to do the evening before his public event, and she hoped I wouldn’t mind taking him out to dinner, I agreed at once. She hastened to add that, of course, I should send the bill to Fenn for reimbursement.

The Oppenheimer Alternative

No problem, I said. Happy to help. And who might the author be?

Heidi and I were talking on the phone, but I can just picture the grin she must’ve had on her face when she told me: Buzz Aldrin.

We didn’t say OMG back then; we said all three words and we sometimes threw a fourth that started with F in there for emphasis. I can’t remember for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s precisely what my response had been.

The man born Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., was the second human being to walk on the moon, and, as Heidi told me, he’d collaborated on a new Tor novel with my pal John Barnes: The Return, about the future of human spaceflight, particularly space tourism, a topic, as I learned over that dinner, that Buzz was very much an advocate of.

Although John had done the lion’s share of the actual writing, Buzz was the one Tor sent on tour — and not only was I to wine and dine him on his first night in town, but the next night I myself was to be the on-stage interviewer for his appearance at the Indigo bookstore in Toronto’s Eaton Centre.

Hominids

Toronto is a vastly multicultural city — there really is no cuisine you can’t get here — and, despite my own pedestrian taste in food, I would have been more than content to take Buzz anywhere he might have wished to go. But even a space travelers gets jet-lag, apparently: he said he just wanted to eat in the hotel restaurant, and so Carolyn and I had an amazing two-and-a-half-hour dinner with him at Accents, the steakhouse at the Sutton Place Hotel, sadly now defunct.

Buzz is a real raconteur, and he regaled us with stories. But he’s also a real salesperson, and spent a lot of time on his pitch for a modular space-vehicle design geared to bring average citizens into orbit. At seventy years old, the guy had more energy than I, just forty then, had.

I asked him if the rumor was true that he’d performed Holy Communion at Tranquility Base, and he, a devout Roman Catholic, said absolutely yes.

Although Buzz noted that he loved visiting Canada, he was pissed that he couldn’t use the airport lounge he’d wanted to. He thought all airport lounges everywhere should welcome astronauts, but the airlines had apparently balked, saying there were too many astronauts now. Buzz had an answer, though: fine, he said, limit it to real astronauts: those who had undergone TLI. A lifelong space buff, I knew that this was trans-lunar injection — leaving Earth’s orbit and blasting off to our neighboring world. Apparently, though, Buzz said, John Glenn, who had spent more time in space than Buzz had, but only had made it to low Earth orbit, rejected this distinction.

Calculating God

When I said John Barnes and I are pals, Buzz pulled out his flip cell and called up John, saying to him, by way of hello, “I’m having dinner with an illegal alien” – a little reference to my then-recent novel Illegal Alien. John and I chatted for a bit — always a pleasure — but I’m sure I rushed him off the phone, eager to get back to Buzz. Even so, Buzz’s phone, well, buzzed a fair bit during dinner — there were negotiations going on about trying to place the movie rights to The Return. This was long before our current era of cheap international roaming, but I suspect such trifles didn’t occur to a man who’d taken a call from the White House while on the surface of another world.

The bill for the three of us came to Cdn$221.59, including tip. I sent the receipt to H.B. Fenn, but, really, I’d have gladly paid for this opportunity. A writer hopes for a certain immortality — that his or her books will live on — but Buzz has real immortality. At Tranquility Base, on the lower stage of the Lunar Module, is a plaque that says, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon,” along with his John Hancock. I didn’t ask Buzz for an autograph that night, but whenever I look up and see the Mare Tranquillitatis, I know his signature is there and always will be. That knowledge, and my memories of that wonderful dinner, are all I need.

Thanks, Rob. One of the perks of our business is the occasional opportunity to meet and chat with people who have gone into space. I’ve met three astronauts, and even dined with one myself — and I count myself incredibly fortunate for that meal. But dinner with Buzz? I’m just agog. Seriously.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

author photo by Carolyn Clink

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Mary Fan

No Comments » Written on October 5th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
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Mary Fan

For the past several days a lot of my focus has been on my first ever Kickstarter campaign, an attempt to raise funds to allow the publication of an an EATING AUTHORS book, a selection of 100 meals from the ten years I have been running this weekly blog feature. The project launched last Wednesday, and hit its basic funding level in less than three days, which ensures that there will be an ebook at the very least and that all backers will also receive a *bonus* ebook of short stories by some of the authors who are featured in the main book.

That leaves several weeks to keep raising funds that in turn will open up additional stretch goals of free novelettes, novellas, and novels for all backers, as well as firming up the likelihood for trade paperback and even hardcover versions of the book. Best of all, once the campaign ends and the book becomes available for purchase (regardless of the format), 100% all profits from sales will be donated: half to Cancer Research and half to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund.

Here’a link so you can check it out: kickstarter.com/projects/schoen/eating-authors. Oh, and did I mention there are some incredibly cool rewards you can lock in, like one-on-one Zoom chats, online Kaffeeklatsches with assorted authors, autographed books, and more? Many of these are available in limited quantities and going fast so don’t delay!

And speaking of delays, I’ve been holding on to this week’s guest’s meal for a while now, because I wanted to focus on the recent string of authors I’ve featured who are contributing to the Hellcats anthology. But Mary Fran has waited long enough, particularly when you consider that I invited her back around the time that Pangaea: Book III: Redemption came out (we both have stories in it).

Mary currently resides in New Jersey, but she got there by way of North Carolina, Hong Kong, and Beijing. She has a B.A. in Music from Princeton and a day job in financial marketing. In addition to her own fiction, she’s co-edited the excellent Brave New Girls series, five volumes of stories featuring heroines who fix robots, build super suits, hack interstellar corporations, mess with alien chemicals, and work on time machines. And in keeping with this week’s theme of charity projects, all revenues from this series are donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineers, cause that’s just how Mary rolls.

LMS: Welcome, Mary. At long last I can ask you to talk about your most memorable meal.

MF: When I was 24, I took my kid sister, Angel, on a vacation to Universal Studios Orlando to celebrate her 17th birthday. This was back in 2012, when the Harry Potter attraction was still novel and before JK Rowling devastated countless fans with her offensive attitudes toward marginalized communities. I don’t recall exactly how I got it in my head that I was going to take the two of us on a parents-free sister trip — our first ever — but I remember I’d initially hoped to do so for Angel’s Sweet Sixteen.

A Girl Called Firedragon

However, graduating college on the heels of a recession meant that jobs were scarce, and I was desperate enough to take one all the way in Beijing, a city where I knew nobody. Having grown up Chinese American, I felt as much a foreigner as if I’d just arrived from Mars. After over a year, I made it back to the US feeling adultier than I had any right to. I had actual money in my bank account—enough to pay for plane tickets and hotel rooms, not just a few bucks from working at the campus café. When I got back to my home country, I wanted to celebrate in the most American way possible: by going to a theme park in Florida. Angel’s 17th birthday was the perfect excuse to jet off to a tacky resort and blow all my savings.

Even though there’s a nearly eight-year age gap between us, we’ve always had a lot of fun together. I think it’s because I never outgrew the “kid stuff.” Stories of magic and adventure and daring quests. Stories like Harry Potter. It took me no effort at all to relate to a little kid’s whimsies when I was a teen, and just as little to relate to a teen when I hit my mid-twenties.

“What are you going on about, Mary?” you might be thinking at this point. “Wasn’t this supposed to be about a meal?”

I promise, I’m getting to that.

By this point in her life, Angel had developed a very adventurous palate and self-identified as a foodie. In fact, we briefly tried to start a lifestyle blog together, and her nickname was Foodie Fish (“Fish” was — and still is — my nickname for her… originally it was “Angelfish”). We’d spend hours watching Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain eat their way around the world on TV, fascinated and envious.

Starswept

When we arrived in Orlando, we were filled with exuberant, almost manic energy. We were staying at the park’s resort, which was full of themed restaurants and other fun ways to part you from your money. We’d chosen a long weekend known unofficially as “New Jersey week” at the Orlando theme parks. This was the week that the NJ teachers’ associations met, thereby giving the kids Thursday and Friday off from school — and families an opportune timeframe to go on vacation in November, after the summer rush and ahead of the holiday madness. Hurricane Sandy had also recently hit, and all of us Jerseyans in town were relieved to get away from that mess.

It was in this enthusiastic spirit that we entered the Central American-themed restaurant at the resort. I don’t remember what it was called or much of what it looked like. Only that it was dark with blue-tinted lighting. Because it was the off season, we were among the very, very few guests at the resort. In fact, when we entered the restaurant, there was only one other occupied table: a couple having an elegant meal.

When the menu arrived, we wanted to try everything on it. Especially since the offerings went beyond the usual tacos and burritos and resembled some of the amazing dishes that Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain got to eat on TV. Though Angel’s actual birthday had passed a month earlier, this was to be her celebration dinner. I was feeling rich and generous now that I had my first year’s income in my bank account, and I was more than ready to splurge. So I told Angel to order anything and everything she wanted. All she had to do was show the mildest interest in a dish, and I’d say, “Yeah, let’s get that too.”

Artificial Absolutes

Reader, we ordered enough food for 10 people. I don’t remember the exact number of appetizers and entrées, or even what they were — I recall there was a ceviche in there, which at the time was novel to us. But we amused the waiter with our unending list of orders.

When the food arrived, it took half the waitstaff to bring it. The food almost literally overflowed off the table. Everyone was laughing — including the elegant couple at the other table, who glanced briefly at our foods’ arrival, did a double take, and grinned widely. I don’t think anyone expected two small-ish Asian girls to order enough food to feed a large family.

Or to finish most of it.

And when the waiter said, “Are you ready for dessert?” with a joking tone, clearly expecting us to say we were full, we instead said, “Yeah!” and proceeded to order two. I think his eyes were about two millimeters from popping out of his head.

I don’t know if that was the best meal I’ve ever had, but it was certainly the happiest.

Thanks, Mary. It sounds like a memory as much of joy as it is of food. Which is to say, perfect!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Rebecca Gomez Farrell

1 Comment » Written on September 28th, 2020 by
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Rebecca Gomez Farrell

The Autumnal Equinox as well as National Elephant Appreciation Day fell on the same day this year and I hope you remembered to celebrate both. For unrelated reasons, I’ve been under stupid amounts of stress this past week and it’s likely that I will continue in that vein for another week or more, but the specifics are not my story to tell. Suffice it to say I have not been sleeping well, or exercising, or getting as much work done as I’d like.

Fortunately, things that I had set in motion are coming to fruition despite my stress levels. I refer of course to my first-ever Kickstarter, which was approved just the other day and will be going live on Wednesday. This is a bit of crowfunding to allow me to publish a book of one hundred of the best meals from the ten years of this very EATING AUTHORS blog. I promise I’ll be posting about it far and wide and sharing a link so you can get in on some of the amazing swag being offered.

Meanwhile, let me introduce you to this week’s guest, Rebecca Gomez Farrell, who resides out on the west coast of California where, when she’s not writings short stories or novels, she fills her time with a variety of author-adjacent activities. She co-organizes the East Bay Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Meetup Group, as well as heading up her local chapter of the national Women Who Submit Lit organization, which encourages all writers who identify as women and/or genderqueer to submit their work out for publication. As if that wasn’t enough, she recently stepped up and took on the responsibility of being the new Communications Manager for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)!

Having spent years myself in service to SFWA and seeing how the sausage gets made, I was impressed and immediately reached out to invite her to share a meal with all of you.

LMS: Welcome, Becca. Please talk to me about your most memorable meal.

RGF: In addition to writing fiction, I’m what the kids call an influencer, particularly of food and drink. So I’ve had a ton of memorable meals, from maple-walnut pie served a la mode with horchata ice cream to manhattans made with smoked bourbon. It’s a hobby that absolutely contributes to the sensual aspects of my writing. What’s most powerful to me, however, is the emotional memories a meal can trigger.

chilaquiles

Which is why my favorite meal is not the near perfect Dungeness crab roll I had last week on a dock in Sausalito, though I admit, it comes close. My favorite meal is chilaquiles, something of a tortilla casserole that originated in Mexico but can be found in much of the Americas.

I didn’t know it as chilaquiles growing up. My family called it shipwreck, and they taught my mother how to cook it when she married into our particular Gomez branch. My burgeoning horror-writer heart reveled in the gruesome details of shipwreck, for this was a dish with a story. We cut corn tortilla chips into strips and fried them for the wooden planks of the wrecked ship. We drizzled canned tomato sauce over the chips in a casserole dish to recreate the blood, or the ocean, depending on whom you asked. Diced onion stood in for the poor sailors’ bones. Finally, we rained down flames of cheddar cheese on top. Two layers fit in a pan. Bake at the universal 350° for about 30 minutes. Then slather sour cream and guacamole on top, the true signs of a properly assimilated Mexican American dish. My family may loudly proclaim us to be Spanish, despite the first of my ancestors making that Atlantic trip over half a millennium ago, but we’ve been proudly Americans since Mexico ceded the Southwest.

Wings Unseen

Imagine the surprise of my college self, when in Santa Cruz, CA, I ordered a strange-sounding dish called chilaquiles for brunch. Out came a bowl of tomato salsa-dipped tortilla chips topped with scrambled eggs, salsa verde, and yes, crema and avocado. One bite, and I knew I’d met shipwreck’s true ancestor. Like my Gomez predecessors, its origins had been obscured to me. And sure, maybe it lost some of its flavor along the way. It certainly had morphed into a dinner meal rather than a breakfast feast sometime during our centuries in New Mexico and Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Yet it’s just as delightful both ways.

The last time I ordered chilaquiles was a few weeks ago from a local joint here in Oakland named Chica. They dip their chips in homemade enchilada sauce and top them with carnitas hash, cotija, salsa roja, chimichurri, and two fried eggs. Each bite triggers delight for me, in the freshness of their ingredients and the heartiness of homestyle Chicana cooking. A bite takes me back to my childhood love of shipwreck and its macabre ingredients, cherished memories and flavors I’ll never forget.

But if I ever write a seafaring tale and name the ship the SS Chilaquiles, well, I think you can guess what that poor vessel’s fate will be.

Thanks, Becca. I’ve been living on the east coast for too long, and I miss the authentic cuisine I grew up with in southern California. I don’t think I’ve ever had chilaquiles though, I’m pretty sure I’d remember the screams of those shipwrecked sailors as I consumed them.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Bokerah Brumley

No Comments » Written on September 21st, 2020 by
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Bokerah Brumley

As often happens, I’m prepping this week’s EATING AUTHORS installment in advance, which could be seen as the act of a very responsible person or an exercise in cat vacuuming because I don’t want to work on some other thing I’m supposed to be doing. I’m pretty sure it’s one or other.

By the time this goes live, I’d like to think I’ll have turned in (and maybe actually pulled the trigger on) the Kickstarter to fund the 100 Writers’ Most Memorable Meals book — celebrating ten years of this blog. And too, Soup of the Moment will have burst out into the world. I’ll also have had a follow-up visit with my orthopedic oncologist as well as my primary care physician. And with a little luck, I’ll have inched ever closer to finishing a draft of Ace of Saints, the second book in the Freelance Courier series. As you can see, September is an especially busy time.

Other bits since last week’s post have included my appearance on a virtual discussion of “why we love SF” alongside Jody Lynn Nye and Chuck Gannon (both pasts guests on this blog), and pimping two anthologies that have included my work: The Expanding Universe 6 and Hellcats. That last, as you may have guessed given the pattern emerging from the last few weeks, is your segue to this week’s guest, Bokerah Brumley, who is also a contributor to the anthology.

Bokerah lives in Texas where she’s a permaculture farmer on ten acres of land that also includes her husband and five home-educated children. This is not the usual background of most writers who drop by to share meals, nor the string of jobs that often attend authors as they struggle to finish their novels. Instead, Bokerah comes across as an expert multi-tasker, doing a dozen different things at once, making steady progress in all of them.

Her fiction ranges not just between short stories in a host of anthologies but also to novels that cross genres from fantasy to science fiction, paranormal academy to shape shifting romance, Mom adventures to Texas romance. I’d be remiss if I didn’t call special attention to her participation in as unique a themed anthology as I’ve ever seen: CRACKED: An Anthology of Eggsellent Chicken Stories .

LMS: Welcome, Bokerah. I had to look up the term “permaculture,” and now I’m more eager than ever for you to share your most memorable meal.

BB: My answer is different than most, I think. It involves sweat and tears and muck.

It’s not about eating a place out or going away from home.

It’s not even exotic. It was some greens, a chicken leg, and a glass of milk.

Book of Power

Our family has been making movement toward sustainability for years. Not because it’s particularly easy in this sun-scorched, perpetually-droughted, bad-soiled part of West Texas, but because participating in the creation of food brings about a mindfulness that’s hard to get in any other way.

Up until last year, we had five kids at home. Between us, we worked the horrible dirt and mixed chicken/turkey/guinea/peafowl/sheep/goat manure into it. We’ve killed so many plants. I swear, I must have a black thumb. I’ve added lady bugs and praying mantids above ground and composting worms beneath.

It hasn’t been easy.

For instance, a few weeks ago, we had a wildfire on our property. My hubs fought it for fifteen minutes with a broom and a shovel until the volunteer fire department could get out here.

Our county has been hurting for rain. Don’t worry, though. September came and brought five inches of rain and cooler weather (it’s not 105 degrees Fahrenheit now), and I was able to put 700 new composting worms into our soil without them baking away to nothing.

Curse of Aerie

We take our failures, but we’re always building for tomorrow. Adding carbon to lifeless soil, running creatures over the ground… Every time we get a shipment from any place, we break down the box, put it on the ground and put old hay over it.

We’re growing dirt. Not for today, but for next year or the year after.

So, what makes the most memorable meal I’ve ever had? I’m glad you asked.

A couple of years ago, as a family, we ate the first meal that we produced ourselves from start to finish. We had chicken that we grew up from chicks to poults to adult. And then we processed the chickens ourselves.

We cared for the needs of each of the birds, minding what they ate. They received grit and fermented feed with apple cider vinegar in their water. We kept them safe, and we gave them the best existence on fresh pasture that we could. In all of their life, they only had one bad day.

Admission

We drank milk from the goats and water from our well. Then we ate boiled eggs (sloppily peeled) and veggies we’d harvested from our own garden.

There’s something unifying about food. A home-cooked meal has a way of bringing people together, and producing that same food amplifies that tenfold.

It was a hard-earned meal, as each of them are, but it was the most memorable one, I think. It gave every member of our family a sense of pride.

We fail often in this journey, but we’re always trying to fail forward.

“Someday, it’ll be easier,” we sigh. Maybe not. Probably not, if we’re honest.

But EVERY DAY, we leave these acres better than they were yesterday.

It’s never easy. But it is good. It is satisfying, and it makes the best meal.

And we did that. Together.

Thanks, Bokerah. I envy the satisfaction that such a meal must surely bring, though not the effort necessary to achieve it. But that’s probably because I’m just old and lazy. Also, I kept wondering if you make your own cheese. I may have to travel down to Texas to find out.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

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Eating Authors: Efthalia

No Comments » Written on September 14th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
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Efthalia

We’re all but midway through September, and at least here in southeastern Pennsylvania the weather has broken and it is feeling like autumn. Gone (for the most part) are the too warm temperatures, and while the sun is rising a bit later in the morning, I’ve been loving my morning walks again now that I begin them in the mid-50’s and low 60’s.

In other news, this looks to be a busy week for my fiction: The Expanding Universe 6 comes out today, and includes my story “Remora Immortal.” On Thursday, the Barsk prequel novella Soup of the Moment will be released. And of course, we’re two weeks into the campaign for the massive, sixty-nine story Hellcats charity anthology that includes my short story “Cat Futures.” This last book also provides a nice segue into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, as Efthalia is also a contributor to the anthology.

Efthalia is the author of the Phi Athanatoi series (the second volume of which, Phantasia: A Bad Day On Olympus, came out this past May), a blend of modern day police action with demons, Greek gods, and assorted witches, werewolves, and vampires.

She lives in Sydney, Australia, and with luck I can leverage her appearance here to score some violet crumble or tim tams (both of which I became addicted to when I visited Sydney years ago). It should come as no surprise that she’s currently studying Classics and Archaeology at the local university.

LMS: Welcome, Efthalia. Please tell me about your most memorable meal

E: Food for me has always been one of those things that means more than just eating to live. It brings people together, opens up discussions and gives us these perfectly glorious moments that become painted portraits in our mind. Food isn’t always about the plate that arrives at the table, it’s the location, ambience and the people you are with.

Phantasma

I love trying different things and I think one of the most memorable dishes I ever had was one when I was feeling a little adventurous while on vacation in Fiji. We had decided that it would be a good idea to check out one of the other hotel’s restaurants. Why not? We were on holiday and this is something you do, look for new places to eat when you’ve grown tired of what is available at the resort you’re staying at. The restaurant we visited is no longer there, but what I do remember is that when I sat down my eye was drawn to the ‘Lobster Bisque’, for like ten minutes that was all that I could read from the menu. I was in a lobster bisque trance. Hypnotized. Everything else around on the menu was blurry. I had heard people raving about lobster bisque over the years, this was my chance to earn more foodie stripes, by diving straight into bisque territory. I took the plunge and ordered the bisque. While we waited, I contemplated silently, what if my ‘spur of the moment,’ decision had been the wrong choice? Well, my fears were put to rest when a big bowl of aromatic bisque arrived. I took one spoonful and my tastebuds just exploded. This dish was worth every penny. It was perfect and well balanced, the way a good meal should be. It exceeded my expectations and it confirmed my belief that we should all be a little daring when it comes to different types of cuisine.

Food has always been a big part of my life that when I’m writing I tend to put food scenes in my stories or mention food, because I figure our characters have to eat too. Especially if we want them to be well rounded and three dimensional, right?

Thanks, Efthalia. Speaking as a certified hypnotist, I can’t tell you the number of times I have used lobster bisque as a trancing tool. I can’t tell you because it’s never happened. Maybe I should, but I’ll have to swap out “you’re getting sleepy…” for “you’re getting hungry…”

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

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Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

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Eating Authors: Andrew Mackay

No Comments » Written on September 7th, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
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Andrew Mackay

Much of the past week had me focused on medical matters. I received the second round of inoculations for all sorts of pesky ailments that I’d built up immunities to decades ago but since lost with the replacement of my immune system earlier this year. As a consequence, my arms ached for days and I acquired an impressive bruise. I’ve also been grappling with increased fatigue, a cumulative side effect of my chemo meds, which has had me a little frustrated because I want to be doing more more more, whereas my body wants to bump up the hours I spend sleeping each day instead.

Meanwhile I’ve been inspired by the nonstop efforts behind the campaign for the Hellscats anthology, which came out on the first of the month and is chugging along to raise funds to keep an old woman in her home in Armenia. I’m happy to be a part of that effort, and also very pleased to use EATING AUTHORS to turn a spotlight on some of the other writers who are contributing to the project. This week that’s Andrew Mackay.

Andrew used to write screen plays, but has since embraced the world of Indie publishing where he has more control over what becomes of his work and less of the aggravation that production companies so often bring. Like a lot of Indie authors his focus is more on story and less on genre. Whether he’s writing science fiction or horror, thrillers or romances, the common element is the resonance of human emotion. He’s found that regardless of the trappings, telling a story that is compelling and can connect at an emotional level is what writing a successful novel is all about.

LMS: Welcome, Andrew. Please share your most memorable meal.

AM: The most memorable meal I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a few!) would be the one I and three of my colleagues had back in 2003.

I lived in London, UK, at the time, and SKY (the corporation) took me, my girlfriend at the time, and my good friend Lloyd Kaufman (of indy movie studio Troma Entertainment) to Claridge’s in Mayfair to celebrate my selling of a package of Troma movies to their subsidiary TV channel, BRAVO.

Star Cat

For those who don’t know, Claridge’s head chef and owner, at least back then, was Gordon Ramsey. This was before he was a TV star, and right around the time a little movie, written by my late, dear friend Larry Cohen, called Phonebooth was hitting the movie theaters.

The three SKY employees who treated us to dinner were publicists themselves, and one of them was reeling from having seen Phonebooth – a film about a publicist trapped in a phone booth with a sniper threatening to kill him.

I remember at the time marveling at how so many strands of my life and friendships all came crashing together.

The three publicists each had what they referred to as a “Murdoch Card” – that is to say, dinner was on Rupert Murdoch, and we could have whatever we wanted in as much frequency as possible.

Glitch

Needless to say, the food was out of this world. I can’t even remember what I had, but the experience is what has stayed with me, particularly the dessert, which was some sort of banana boat with very, very, very thin slices of caramelized fruit running through the middle. It was a true work of art, and a big shame to have eaten.

The waiters on hand in this grand and lavish room within one of the more expensive hotels were ready to pounce if you needed anything. I remember putting a cigarette in my mouth (you could smoke indoors, back then!) and a hand with a lighter just appeared out of nowhere and lit the end.

The lunch started at around 12:30 in the afternoon, and finished at about 5pm. LOTS of wine, in the main, and before long, most of us were absolutely f**ked to the point where we couldn’t remember why we were there.

My Lockdown

I remember asking one of the SKY publicists why this had lasted such a long time, and he told me he was killing time because he had to meet another client at the bar at 7pm, and continue the merriment. Oh, to have had their job.

My girlfriend and I finally struggled out of the hotel, and went home with the female publicist.

And I think I’ll stop the story, here.

I think it goes without saying that very few meals have lived up to this experience. I’m a big believer in learning and getting to know how industries operate. I was only 24 at the time, but it really opened my eyes to just how exorbitant and indulgent the lives of those way further up the food chain — in all respects — actually live. A complete and utter wanton disregard for money, and debauchery.

And I’d do it again in a heartbeat because I’m a hungry hypocrite.

Thanks, Andrew. Being wined and dined by entertainment executives with unlimited expense accounts is an experience that every writer should have at least once. Not just for the opportunity to bask in raw excess, but also as something to haunt them forever: a time and place that exists in memory but will likely never be experienced again. You can get a lot of good fiction out of that kind thing.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

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Eating Authors: Jamie Davis

No Comments » Written on August 31st, 2020 by
Categories: Plugs
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Jamie Davis

I’m no stranger to the power of community, or the power of the internet as it affects community, but sometimes it still creeps up on me and takes me by surprise. Case in point, a few weeks back when an author I know put out a call for help because an aged relative was in danger of being put out of the house she’d lived in for decades. All at once, a vast list of authors came together and began contributing to an anthology, Hellcats, some sending in reprints and others writing new works just for the anthology. The plan: sell the book for bushels of cash, all of it earmarked to keep an old woman from being turned out onto the street.

I sent in a story, and readily agreed to boost the book’s signal via social media, but then wondered what else I might do. The solution was obvious: feature some of the other contributors here on EATING AUTHORS. That wasn’t quite so easy an idea though, as many of them (including Craig Martell, A.M. Scott, Julia Huni, E.G. Bateman, and R.R. Virdi) had already put in an appearance here.

But I reached out and in classic win-win spirit, authors began reaching back. Which is why I get to introduce you today to Jamie Davis. In addition to being an author, Jamie is also a nurse, a retired paramedic, and a nationally recognized medical educator who started out teaching emergency responders. Among readers, he’s probably best known for his six volume Huntress Clan Saga, his Accidental Traveler trilogy, and his ongoing Extreme Medical Services series (currently up to seven books)

Jamie lives with his wife and three kids in Maryland woods, combining his interests in medicine, gaming, and writing with seamless ease.

LMS: Welcome, Jamie, and thanks for contributing to the Hellcats anthology. Now, tell me about your most memorable meal.

JD: The most memorable meal I ever had has to be the breakfast at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans famous French Quarter. My wife and I were on our honeymoon and this was the one place she wanted to eat so we’d made brunch reservations for our fourth day in the city. Now Brennan’s is fine dining, the full 5-star meal in every way. It was a lot for two young people in their twenties to appreciate. Up until that point, we’d had some wonderful meals consisting of PoBoy sandwiches, raw oysters and fried shrimp brought in that day from the Gulf of Mexico, and beignets fresh from the fryer and dusted with just the right amount of powdered sugar.

So, when the two of us kids dressed up and wandered down to Brennan’s, I don’t know what I was expecting, but given what we’d had so far, I knew it would be a lot fancier. My wife ordered a mimosa to start and Eggs Benedict for her meal. I ordered steak and eggs, a ribeye if I remember correctly, along with two fried eggs over medium. We wrapped it all up with my wife’s order of Bananas Foster, a flambé dish prepared table-side by our waiter.

Cyber's Change

All in all, it was a pretty decent meal. The wait staff attended to our every need, and the chefs prepared everything perfectly. The meal was excellent over all, but it wasn’t the food I remember the most. The most memorable part of the meal was the check. This was 1990. It was breakfast, for God’s sake. Which was why I couldn’t wrap my brain around the bill. It was $115.42 before the tip. My jaw dropped. I don’t think we’d spent that much for two of us over an entire day before. I tried to hide my shock and pulled out my shiny plastic credit card, paying the man with a smile (I think).

Ever since, when asked about our honeymoon in New Orleans, I mention the breakfast at Brennan’s right at the top. It wasn’t to protest the price so much as time went by. I’ve grown accustomed to some pretty expensive fine dining establishments over the last thirty years. No, it’s more to talk about the wide-eyed country kid who had to pay for his first “big-boy” bill as a married man. In the end, I can’t complain. I must’ve done something right. We’re still together thirty years later with three wonderful kids, a grandson, and our health. Oh, and a great story from the beginning of our lives together to kick things off.

Thanks, Jamie. My wife and I had breakfast at Brennan’s once. My wife trained as a chef, so when she said that an ingredient of her meal had come out of a can rather than being fresh I believed her. We complained. They responded with a bullshit song and dance, and then an offer to comp our next meal (in a city with so many amazing restaurants, why would we return to a place that had disappointed?) until in the end, the head chef came out to our table. He apologized, comped the meal, sat with us, told stories about cooking for three presidents, and insisted we enjoy some bananas foster while we chatted.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

Want to never miss an installment of EATING AUTHORS?
Click this link and sign up for a weekly email to bring you here as soon as they post.

#SFWApro