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Eating Authors: Peng Shepherd

Written on June 4th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Peng Shepherd

Ah, June. The month has always felt like a bit of a tease, thirty days when you think you have plenty of time to do whatever, but you blink and suddenly you’re out of time.

I have the feeling this is going to be a volatile month for me. Lots of changes and new possibilities are on the horizon. Ask me about them when we hit July, and maybe I’ll know how it worked out. Or not.

Speaking of changes and new possibilities, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Peng Shepherd, has her first book coming out tomorrow. Peng is a recent arrival in Philadelphia. We met on Twitter prior to her move, and as I have a soft spot for new and local authors, naturally I invited her to drop in and share her thoughts on a meal.

Peng was actually born in Phoenix, but she’s lived in L.A., Beijing, London, New York, and D.C. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing and won the Elizabeth George Foundation’s emerging writers grant.

If you’re in the area, you can also catch her live on June 12th at Galactic Philadelphia, where she’ll be reading.

LMS: Welcome, Peng. So, what’s your most memorable meal?

PS: My most memorable meal is the tiny bowl of macaroni I ate with my brother Zach in Tunis, Tunisia in January 2008—a simple lunch that turned into an almost supernatural quest.

We arrived in Tunis at night, and stumbled groggily out of our hostel into the roar and bustle of the medina early the next morning, hoping to find breakfast. Just down the road, a chef leaned out of his café and waved, smiling. He spoke no English, and none of the languages we speak are French or Arabic, so he didn’t spend much time explaining his menu. He simply plopped us down at a table, returned with two bowls of steaming hot macaroni and stewed lamb, and disappeared again.

The Book of M

Now, I know macaroni is nothing special. And lamb is also not exactly rare. So I understand what I’m about to say next sounds a little hyperbolic, but I kid you not: it was the best thing I’ve ever tasted. In my life.

Describing the ingredients will not do the meal justice. Yes, the noodles were firm yet chewy, the lamb rich and tender and falling from the bone the minute my spoon touched it, the harissa perfectly tempered to give a fiery kick but not overwhelm. But it was so much more than that. It was so delicious it was like sorcery. We devoured our servings as if starving to death, then mopped up the scraps with our baguettes, then licked the bowls until they gleamed. I felt possessed. The chef was so pleased he couldn’t stop laughing when he returned. Food-drunk, I kept murmuring “merci, merci,” prayer-like, as we drifted back out into the crisp sun.

A few hours later, after the cloud of our food coma had cleared, I turned to my brother as we browsed Souk En-Nhas’ glittering aisles and said, “I know we’re supposed to try new places, but I just want that macaroni again for dinner.”

“Me too,” he admitted eagerly.

It was settled. Except we couldn’t find the café again once we returned to our hostel.

We hadn’t thought to check the name or address on our first visit, so we couldn’t ask for directions to it. And we learned that half the cafés in the medina served some type of macaroni dish, so describing what we’d eaten to other shopkeepers wasn’t useful. All we had to go on were two photographs on my digital camera I’d taken while there: one that showed some of the café itself, and one of the macaroni. We used the one that showed the café as a guide: a yellow awning with red Arabic writing, green doors, and chili pepper tablecloths.

TITLE

Seven hours later, with the medina emptying for the evening and shops pulling down their rolling metal doors, we gave up—hungry, but not defeated. The center of Tunis’ medina is large and winding, but not impossibly so, we thought. We’d already walked the entirety of it several times over in those seven hours. Surely if we just kept circling, we’d find the macaroni again.

We repeated our mission every day for the next week.

With each failure, the hunt became more eerie. The first day, we had easily found the café just minutes after leaving our hostel, so it had to be within walking distance and on a main road, but the place was nowhere to be found, no matter how hard we looked. Three days in, I started showing every shopkeeper and passerby our picture of the café, sure one would recognize it. Most shook their heads, and some tried to point out places that seemed like a good match, but they were all dead ends. The café had completely vanished, as if it had never been there at all.

The experience reminds me a little of the world of my novel, The Book of M, which is all about memories, and a magic that changes reality itself as the characters begin to forget. Zach and I started to think that maybe we’d dreamed the whole thing up—that there was actually no such café, that we’d not actually eaten any macaroni. But my camera argued otherwise, the evidence trapped in its preview pane. Each night, we stared at the two images again, still hopelessly macaroni-less, and starting to question our sanity. The café had to be real. Didn’t it?

A few days later, we took a train to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said, and then another train deep into the desert, where we visited Gabes, Matmata, and the beautiful, austere Tamezret, but the macaroni still haunted us. We circled back to Tunis to continue our search.

On the last afternoon of our trip, hours before we had to check out of our hostel and head for the airport, we were combing a street we’d already walked at least twenty times, and knew by heart. Vendors shook their heads and chuckled. They’d seen us every day by then, and knew about our hopeless quest.

Then impossibly, right in front of us, all of a sudden there it was. The yellow awning, the green doors. Inside, the same chef was whistling happily behind the counter.

TITLE

“Macaroni!” We cried in unison as we ran. It was here! It was real! We were giddy with victory. “Macaroni! Macaroni!”

“Demain,” the chef shrugged, smiling.

“Macaroni!” We cried again.

“Demain,” he repeated, but we didn’t understand. Finally, he held up one finger. “Aujourd’hui,” he said, pointing at the ground, indicating something like “now” or “here”. “Demain,” he continued, looping his hand through the air and pointing to the side, like how one might indicate an animal somersaulting over a fence. “Aujourd’hui,” pointing down—“demain,” somersaulting over. It finally clicked that “aujourd’hui” meant “today.”

I froze.

If “aujourd’hui” meant “today,” then that could only mean that “demain” meant “tomorrow.”

We stared at the chef in horror. Zach might have sunk to his knees. At last, I pointed to myself, made the shape of a plane taking off with my hands, and added “aujourd’hui.” The chef looked stricken as well then, but there was nothing he could do. He didn’t have the ingredients, perhaps. There was no macaroni. The quest was over.

Once we returned home, I tried to make the dish myself, but it was never close to the same. I went to as many Middle Eastern and North African grocery stores as I could find to try different brands of ingredients, googled recipe variations, posted on forums, and even recorded evaluations of my attempts to keep track of what I’d tried and what I’d do differently next time. After several months of exhaustive experimentation, I finally gave up.

I haven’t been back to Tunisia since that trip, but I think about that macaroni at least once a month, without fail. It seems crazy—it was just pasta, tomato, harissa, and some lamb. I still don’t understand how it could be as delicious as it was, or how I could never recreate it, or how it was possible for the café to have vanished into thin air after our first taste, and reappeared only to say goodbye. Sometimes, it seems more like a dream than something that truly happened.

But like in my novel, as long as you remember it, then it’s real.

Thanks, Peng. This blog is full of accounts of such Brigadoon-like eateries. I’m still haunted by one in New Orleans I took three students to. But hey, at least you got to say goodbye to yours.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Rachel Crittenden

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Eating Authors: Henry Lien

Written on May 28th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Henry Lien

Returning from a week away always carries a lot of doubling up of tasks as you get back up to speed. When that week away involves a conference filled with business meetings and new opportunities, the resulting follow up email always takes its toll. In actuality, I’m still not caught up, and because a portion of my brain is back at the Nebula Awards Conference (now nearly two weeks in the past), it seemed only appropriate to feature a fellow past Nebula Award nominee, which is why this week’s EATING AUTHOR guest is none other than Henry Lien. Henry received Nebula noms for best Novelette in 2014 for “Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters” and again in 2016 for “The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society.”

Some of you may also be familiar with him by another name. In his guise as Emperor Stardust, he was the writer and producer of Radio SFWA (and seriously, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, pause right now and click that link!).

Henry is mostly known for his short fiction, having placed stories in F&SF, Asimov’s, and Analog. His first novel, Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, came out last month from Henry Holt. A sequel is already slated for release in 2019.

LMS: Welcome, Henry. Tell me about your most memorable meal.

HL: The scene is my father’s wedding banquet about fifteen years ago. I gave a speech in Mandarin about how meeting his new wife stunned my father with joy at a stage in life when he was hoping for only quiet; how she helped him become the person that he was always meant to be; and how with this union, my father’s good fortune, long delayed and deserved, had finally arrived. All were moved. It was an auspicious beginning to one of the most important days of my father’s life.

The main wedding party table included my father, his wife, my sister, and me, along with an 80 year old man who was sort of the revered patriarch of their Taiwanese-American community. My dad had even come to terms enough with my being gay to invite my then partner, although he was seated at a different table.

Shortly after the meal was served, I noticed that the patriarch was grabbing his chest. He was trying to cough out something stuck in his throat. People around him were uselessly patting his shoulder and telling him to drink water. 10 seconds passed. 20. 30. From the color on his face, it became clear to me that he was choking to death.

Peasprout Chen

I didn’t want this man to die, but I particularly didn’t want him to die at my father’s wedding banquet. That would have been universally agreed upon as a cursed omen for the marriage by my father’s somewhat old-fashioned and superstitious social circle.

One problem was that I couldn’t let anyone see me trying to save the patriarch because he would be mortified in front of his community. And I didn’t have time to eyeroll about antiquated notions of saving face, etc.

The bigger problem was that I never learned to do the Heimlich maneuver. And from the inaction of everyone else, neither had they. However, I had watched television as a kid. I rummaged deep in my memory and somewhere in there, some handsome actor playing a cop or fireman on some show that I watched when I was a hormonal gay teenager was instructing someone about pushing “in and up, in and up!”

I motioned my former partner over to our table. He saw from my face that something was very wrong and strode over. I whispered to him, “Unbutton your jacket and reach over the table as if you’re reaching for the wine to give a toast, so that your jacket covers this guy.” He did so.

I then went behind the patriarch, who was by that point in full panic. I reached around him and made a rock fist and covered it with a paper hand. I placed my hands below the man’s rib page. He felt as frail and delicate as a bird. I then pushed in and up. He was so light, I felt like I could have lifted him up with the motion.

Nothing happened. He was going blue. But if I pushed harder, I’d break his ribs.

I pushed harder, in and up. Still nothing.

Then one more time, in and up.

He then swatted my arms away, and made a sort of sound like when someone chokes awake on their own snore.

Then he ejected a medallion of beef out of his mouth as big as a hockey puck onto his plate. Whole and unchewed. He had tried to swallow the whole thing.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2015

Everyone at our immediate table of course saw what happened but thanks to my partner’s jacket, no one beyond our table saw anything. The patriarch was so embarrassed that he tried to make light of nearly dying. He took up his fork and knife and began to cut his medallion of beef, which was now sitting in the plate in a shallow pool of his collected saliva and mucous. The waiter took the plate away and came back with a plate of chicken breast. My memory is a little fuzzy about the details after the beef puck ejection, but I seem to recall that the chicken breast was brought out already cut into strips for him.

Afterward, my father thanked me emotionally for my quick action. He explained that the patriarch was a very successful businessman who had lifted himself out of stark poverty to great wealth. He was known to be generous with others, but very frugal with himself because he had known what starvation was. When he saw the generous cut of beef, he freaked out and tried to literally inhale it. I also think he might have been unaccustomed with having to carve up his own meal with a fork and knife, since Chinese food is not served that way, but was too embarrassed to ask for help.

Christmas came soon after that. I received a bottle of Hennessy XO cognac, in a complex luxe box. It was from the patriarch. And every Christmas thereafter, I received another bottle of XO. I didn’t drink cognac, but I would keep the bottles and savor their emotional flavor, since they were in one very real sense worth a man’s life.

Thanks, Henry. So, the going rate for saving the life of a patriarch is an annual bottle of cognac. This is good to know (not that I’m planning anything, just saying).

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Craig Martelle

Written on May 21st, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Craig Martelle

It’s a recovery day for me. I’ve been away most of the past week at the Nebula Awards Conference. I only returned last night. It’s not usually this long an event, but the SFWA Board added an extra day for an amazing strategic visioning session (in addition to the regular day of Board meetings). In fact, this trip was all about meetings. I was off at dinner every night doing business with different parties on different projects and all I can say about any of that right now is the coming year is going to be jam packed and very interesting.

Not all of the dinners were all business, some merely set the stage for later business (and a good meal can go a long way toward such) and included other people. One of these meals allowed me to get to know Craig Martelle a bit better, which is pretty convenient as he’s this weeks EATING AUTHORS guest.

Craig is a former marine turned lawyer turned author. He currently lives in Alaska. He’s been having phenomenal success as an indie author, to the tune of some fifty-three books spread out over twelve different series. It’s a wonder the man has time to eat.

LMS: Welcome, Craig. Having just shared an incredible dinner with you mere days ago, I’m wondering what else stands out for you as a memorable meal?

CM: 9/11 happened in the twentieth year of my Marine Corps career. I was stationed in Washington D.C. at the time so the impact was near and dear, both in the lives of those I knew and the impact on the nation. Within five days, I was deployed to US Central Command in Florida. I wanted to go forward, but that wasn’t meant to be. I was a staff puke, so they put me up in a condo-like residence with a rental car for three months. The hours were long, but as far as a deployment went, it wasn’t bad at all. After a couple months, my wife flew down to join me since I wasn’t going to be home for our anniversary.

The Free Trader of Warren Deep

In Tampa, there is a five-star steakhouse called Bern’s. I made reservations and off we went. The place has fuzzy wallpaper and looks like a recovering brothel. They claim to have 30,000 bottles of wine and they give the diners tours of the kitchen and the wine cellar. When you order your meal, you also decide at that time to make reservations at the desert bar upstairs.

We did all that. I believe they have that much wine. Everything they cook is from their own farms, livestock, and fields. To be a server, the person starts at the farms and it takes a year or two to work your way into the restaurant. Every part of the process is managed, up until the best cut of steak you’ll ever taste is delivered to you.

Happy anniversary, sorry I’m deployed to a war, but glad you could join me.

Endure

Upstairs, there are separate cubicles with their own ventillation because out of a seventy-page menu, only one had food. All the rest were cigars and dessert drinks. There was a slight hint of cigar smoke upstairs, but that was it.

A memorable meal to be certain. My wife had to leave shortly after our anniversary because she had to return to Moscow to finish her first master’s degree in Russian philology.

For me? I can still taste the Bern’s steak. I don’t remember the dessert, as I was half way into a food coma.

Eventually, I too returned home, only to be sent to the Ukraine on a different mission. And then I retired from the Marine Corps because one can only spend so much time away from home.

Thanks, Craig. Anniversary dinners make for memorable meals. But now I’m wondering, did you and your wife indulge in cigars?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Kate Heartfield

Written on May 14th, 2018 by
Categories: News
Kate Heartfield

I’m in full on packing mode. The Nebula Awards Conference is this week. I’m actually heading there tomorrow because the SFWA Board has two full days of meetings to get through and so we’re starting a day early, and in order to start that bright and early Wednesday morning I need to drive there (Pittsburgh) on Tuesday. It should be a great week of planning for the next year, welcoming new members to the Board, seeing lots of old friends, meeting lots of new people, sneaking in time for some professional development, and celebrating some great fiction. And a few fortunate people will go home with lovely paperweights.

Out of deference to the Nebs, I won’t even pretend to offer you a segue to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest and simply tell you that it’s the remarkable Kate Heartfield. She lives in rural Ottawa, teaches journalism at Carleton University, and has been a newspaper editor.

Kate’s first novel, Armed in Her Fashion, comes out in paperback tomorrow (the ebook came out last month). She’s also written an interactive novel, The Road to Canterbury for Choice of Games, and she has two time-travel novellas coming out soon from Tor.com. No stranger to history herself, she’s now on her way to making some.

LMS: Welcome, Kate. What was your most memorable meal?

KH: I don’t really remember what was in the soup. But eight years later, I can still see the covered dish it was in, on the light layer of snow on my front porch. I remember how it allowed me to believe that everything might be OK.

It was early February, in Ottawa, Canada. My partner and I had just come home from the hospital with our newborn boy.

The labour was long and difficult but without incident – until about an hour after the birth, when I complained about continued abdominal pain. My midwife’s smile vanished, and she said something along the lines of, “That’s not right.”

It quickly became apparent how not-right it was. The pain got worse. My pulse went wild and I became very cold.

Armed in Her Fashion

Post-partum hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide. I was lucky; I was in a very good hospital, where a surgeon saved my life.

But I’d lost two litres of blood, and had to stay in the hospital for a few days while the doctors monitored me and decided whether to give me a transfusion. They decided against the transfusion, but the blood loss left me severely anemic.

We humans use the iron in our food to make hemoglobin, which transports the oxygen from our lungs. Normal hemoglobin levels for someone with my body type are between 120 g/L and 160 g/L. Blood loss temporarily reduces hemoglobin, and it can take a while for our bodies to build it back up. Canadian Blood Services won’t take donations from people with levels lower than 125 g/L, because even that much of a drop from those levels could be dangerous.

As a long-time vegetarian, I was already aware of the importance of dietary iron. When I went into the hospital, my hemoglobin level was a healthy 157 g/L.

My hemoglobin level when I left the hospital with my newborn was 72 g/L.

In addition to the standard recovery issues after childbirth, the paucity of oxygen reaching my cells made me weak and confused. I had a few hallucinations, and could barely get out of bed at first. The worst of it, from my perspective, was that the hemorrhage delayed the onset of breast milk. I desperately wanted to nurse my baby, and I did, but it was a long, difficult and painful process to make it work.

When we arrived home to see that covered dish in the snow, with a little note about its origins, it was a sign that I had more support than I realized. I had friends who cared. Friends who lived in the city, but who made the 45-minute drive out to our rural home in February just to leave some soup on our porch.

The Course of True Love

We brought it into the kitchen, and lifted the lid. I wish I could remember the ingredients, but all I remember was realizing that (a) it was vegetarian and (b) it was full of iron-rich foods, like spinach, lentils, beans and chickpeas. My friends were thoughtful enough both to respect my vegetarianism and to make me food that would bring up my hemoglobin.

I ate it eagerly over the next few days. With the help of iron supplements and good food, my hemoglobin levels recovered in a few weeks – faster than my doctors had expected.

That humble vegetarian soup has stuck in my memory because it meant life for me (and for the hungry baby at my breast). My friends (who were then new parents themselves) left it for me in such a kind, quiet way that wouldn’t impose on me for anything, not even thanks or small talk. It was food without fuss. Food as offering. Food as help.

We writers who draw on medieval Europe for our settings often use a pottage of vegetables or perpetual stew — the pot sitting on the fire for days, with new scraps going in as needed — to signal humble surroundings. We might not think about the fact that humble or not, those nutrients allow our characters to fight, talk or think.

The main character in my novel Armed in Her Fashion is a wetnurse in medieval Bruges. In the opening scene, she sneaks out of a city under siege because she’s desperate to gather herbs she thinks might help her maintain her milk supply. I know exactly how she feels.

Thanks, Kate. What a generous and perfect gift. Soup is a miracle and a marvel in so many ways. And, by total coincidence, I just finished a novella about it. 🙂

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Jessica Reisman

Written on May 7th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Jessica Reisman

The return of spring has also meant a return to geocaching. If you’re not acquainted with it, geocaching involves following GPS coordinates to a location where someone has hidden a container. Typically, at a minimum, this “cache’ contains a log which you sign and date to prove you were there. It mays also contain trinkets and swag of wide description. The size of the caches range from something as small as the tip of your finger to enormous ammo boxes. They can be hidden in plain sight in parking lots or secreted along woodland trails. It’s oddly fun, and it gets me out into the world, seeing parks and preserves in and around Philadelphia that I never knew existed.

And speaking of Philadelphia (he said by way of segue), Jessica Reisman, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, hails from here. I feel an odd kinship with Jessica. I dropped out of college yet ended up with a doctorate; she dropped out of high school and nonetheless has a master’s degree. I like to think that such experiences shapes a writer’s perspective in unique ways. This certainly seems to be true of Jessica, whether she’s writing about haunted space stations or economically abandoned mining colonies, there is the touch of a different mind, a foreign presence, that alters and informs the way we experience the world. I think we’d all do better with a bit more of that.

LMS: Welcome, Jessica. Would you tell me about your most memorable meal?

JR: When I was 11, I went from Philadelphia to San Antonio to visit my mother for a month. It was summer, 1974, and my mother, who left when I was seven to “find herself,” was living at a commune called the City of Love and Light that took up two floors of an old, once elegant hotel in downtown San Antonio.

Substrate Phantoms

Mostly we ate in the communal dining room. My mother was one of the cooks and the food buyer. My main memory of the dining room is one of the other cooks talking about having a nightmare in which they ran out of Tobasco sauce and all the men pounded the tables in revolt.

Sometimes we ate in the hotel restaurant, though—my first exposure to grits for breakfast took place there—and once at a restaurant in the city.

It was a family-owned and run restaurant on the ground floor of an old city building. Cool tiled floors, a deep stone fountain against one wall, massive palms and other greenery—a secret grotto, lush and lovely in the city’s heat. A child of the northeast, I had never had Tex-Mex or Mexican food at all. I already knew I didn’t like jalapenos—or Tabasco sauce. The owners, an older couple who made the food, came out and talked to my mother and her current beau about what I might enjoy. What they produced for me was a simple plate of nachos. Just large triangles of house-made corn and lime chips, a dollop of the best refried beans I would ever taste on each, and just the right amount of melted white cheese like a see-through veil across it all.

Bourbon, Sugar, Grace

Nothing had ever tasted so good. For dessert, the woman brought me a cup of Mexican hot chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, gorgeous. To this day, I remember that plate of nachos as one of the most wonderful things I have ever eaten. And that hot chocolate as the perfect, kind-hearted end to the perfect meal in a setting of real, everyday magic. As an adult, I’ve had many memorable meals, and by the grace of fabulous friends, some truly magnificent ones. But the meal that remains most memorable, still numinous, is this one.

Why does this meal retain such indelible savor in my memory? The combination of elements, my mother being with me, the welcome of the couple who owned the restaurant, the adventure—summer in a different city—in which the evening was couched, the beauty of the restaurant’s tile, stone, water, and greenery…it felt like all the good things, both home and journey, earthly support and magic. For a kid who felt unsafe and insecure in the world, longing for some sense of home and welcome, who was also a rabid reader, and already writer, of fantasy and science fiction—it was everything. I’m pretty sure the memory of that meal has at least a little to do with how I ended up coming to Austin, Texas for grad school, and maybe even why I’m still here—though the nachos of that memory have never been matched. Local El Chilito makes a pretty good cup of Mexican hot chocolate, though.

Thanks, Jessica. The phrase, the nachos of memory, is going to haunt me now.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Michael Anderle

Written on April 30th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Michael Anderle

How has April gone by so fast? I blame the winter. Seriously, there was still snow falling well into the month. And then, a day or two of high temperatures, just to fool all the trees into budding, then cold again. Well, fine. Spring is finally here, and if we had to sacrifice most of this month to get there, I’ll take it. Just, enough with snow already. Let’s get on with the vernal stuff. If I wanted white powder, trust me, I know a guy.

Ahem.

Sorry, that’s all the segue I have in me today, so let’s get right to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, none other than Michael Anderle. In case you don’t know, Michael is an indie author whose personal story is the exception that proves the rule. He published his first book about two and half years ago. Within the next ninety days he had published four more books and was suddenly generating royalties — royalties, mind you, not sales — of over $10,000 a month.

I’m not sure how many titles he’s up to now. Depending on how you view it, his Kutherian Gambit series is up to at least 21 books allone. And then there’re the dozens of books, many of them spin-off series, that he’s co-written with authors like Craig Martelle, Ell Leigh Clarke, Paul C. Middleton, T. S. Paul, and others. If you’re like me, you’re already out of breath.

In a perfect world, Michael would reveal the mystic secrets of his success for this blog. Alas, we have to settle for a meal. Unless of course you think he’s encoded those secrets into his description of the event. I hear he’s sneaky that way, so… maybe.

LMS: Welcome, Michael. So, tell me about your most memorable meal.

MA: Now, I’m a Texan by birth, and I’ve lived in the state most of my fifty years so I have a penchant for enjoying steak. Especially a tender filet mignon (medium, pink with only a small line of red.)

Death Becomes Her

So, in 2009 myself and my three boys had a house we were living in up in the Lake Arrowhead area of California. For those who don’t know it, picture a scenic, beautiful clear lake about a mile up in the mountains with tall pine trees and beautiful lakeshore homes.

Now picture that they didn’t have a real steakhouse to speak of (that I knew about) and you see the issue.

It takes about thirty to forty-five minutes to come down the mountain and I didn’t have a CLUE where anything was once I got down, especially not a steak place I could trust. Fast forward a few months and I was dating a woman (who later became my wife, Judith) who lived in Orange County, California. For our first date, we found a restaurant that was in between our homes.

But for this particular date I had driven all the way over to OC. She asked me if I was missing any particular type of food, and I had to admit I was seriously jonesing for a steak.

The Dark Messiah

She knew the OC area very well, and suggested we try Maestro’s Steakhouse in Costa Mesa. I was game, but didn’t have a clue where Costa Mesa was. Judith is a more traditional woman, so I was driving which we have since learned is not the best solution for continued married bliss.

She drives now. Especially if I don’t have a clue about the area, or where we are going.

We drive from Coto de Caza (think Housewives of Orange County) over to Costa Mesa, driving for a while up the PCH 1 – idyllic. However, I was not paying too much attention to the scenery as I was 1) CLUELESS and 2) HUNGRY.

I recall having trouble finding parking once we arrived, as well. To set this up, this date was an early in our relationship and I was trying to impress her. It would have been nice if future me and come back to tell past me not to worry, “She is already into you.”

But, I apparently don’t walk timelines.

Payback Is A Bitch

The restaurant was near the water, everything was white linen, candles on the tables and we sat next to each other at a table for four instead of across from each other.

Like we were teenagers.

The food comes out, and they have my filet mignon on a hot, searing plate. It was blackened, the juices coming out of the steak… the aroma… I took a bite, the explosion of tender beef goodness covering my tastebuds and I turn to this lady… Who was staring at me with a bemused expression on her face. (I was obviously ignoring her at that moment.)

“Do you need some time with the meat? Just the two of you?” Judith asks me.

Without missing a beat, I smile and reply. “Yes, yes I do.”

Sometimes, the truth is written on your face and you have no option left but to confirm it.

Thanks Michael. Few things compare with a fine steak. I’ve since given up meat, but were I back in Japan and offered some properly prepared kobe, I’d be chowing down in no time.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Vina Prasad (Campbell Award nominee)

Written on April 23rd, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Vina Prasad

Here in the USA, the deadline for filing one’s federal taxes has come and gone. Lots of stress this year in my household as we shifted over to a new form of record keeping and experienced more than our share of delays and distractions. On the other hand, less stressful than most years, as the critical date got bumped to the 17th, whereas two days before, April 15th, marked the 18th anniversary of my father’s passing. Yeah, death and taxes, he’d have found that really funny.

On a less somber or macabre note, today’s EATING AUTHORS features another of the nominees for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, Vina Jie-Min Prasad. She’s a Singaporean writer who describes herself as “working against the world-machine” (which I think surely means she probably knows where they keep it) and in addition to being up for the Campbell, her short story, “Fandom for Robots” has also garnered her Nebula, Sturgeon, and Hugo nominations this year. But wait, there’s more: Her novelette, “A Series of Steaks” is also nominated for the same three awards. That’s right, she’s up for seven different awards this year (well, six, because the Sturgeon only has the one category). Anyway, go read her!

LMS: Welcome, Vina. What meal stands out in your memory?

VP: One of the best meals I’ve ever had was in Vietnam. I was travelling with my partner on a very ambitious itinerary that we had planned earlier that year, and we got to our homestay in Dong Hoi after spending most of the day at the limestone caves. There are two things I remember very clearly about that part of the trip. The first was that there was a shallow fishpond on the first floor–some of the fish in it had outgrown the pond, and were carefully swimming sideways so they didn’t splash out.

The second was the noodles.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 18

For a little more context, the homestay was pretty far from any restaurant. Our previous itinerary-planning selves had assumed we’d be able to go into town and grab some dinner. However, our previous itinerary-planning selves were possessed by what I call the Vacation Demon. The Vacation Demon, in case you aren’t familiar with it, does things like make you pack your swimsuit when you aren’t going anywhere near a body of water because “there might be a pool somewhere”, pack extra shoes for a weekend trip “just in case the sole falls off”, and plan five separate things for one afternoon because “they’re so near to each other, and I’m sure we’ll have energy, we’re on vacation”.

Anyway. Reluctant to forsake the Vacation Demon’s itinerary and dash the hopes and dreams of our past selves, we were at the point of the trip where we were hauling our shambling carcasses from place to place while secretly hoping our past selves had left a gap in their meticulous plans so we could get some rest. As the itinerary didn’t say anything about dinner that night, all our determination spontaneously evaporated the moment we took off our shoes.

At some point of rolling around trying to motivate ourselves to get dinner, I remembered that the homestay had advertised breakfast in the listing, and went to check if we could pay extra and get some kind of meal, even if it was just bread. The host was pretty accommodating, and she offered us the choice of toast and scrambled eggs, or noodles. I picked noodles as it seemed like the most filling option.

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 124

A few minutes later, we were served two steaming-hot plates of instant noodles–they were boiled and drained, dry-style, with bits of eggs and finely-chopped spring onion greens on top.

The taste was an experience. The noodles were perfectly cooked, al dente with that hint of give, and were tossed so that just the right amount of sauce coated every strand. Hints of white pepper deepened the noodles’ soy-scented fragrance, and the clouds and wisps of scrambled eggs added to the richness. The occasional bit of spring onion added a pop of freshness every few bites.

I looked at my partner. He looked at me.

“Is it just me, or–“

“No. These noodles are godly.”

We got second helpings, just to check if hunger had skewed our judgement. They were still incredible. We complimented the chef multiple times, and had more noodles for breakfast the next morning. (Still good.)

It’s been years since my Vietnam trip. I’ve had many great meals since then, but I’ll never forget those noodles–how sheer skill and technique elevated a basic-seeming meal into something truly amazing.

Thanks, Vina. I’m well acquainted with the Vacation Demon. With its help I’ve amassed a lifetime worth of museums, parks, and restaurants I’ll likely never visit. Sigh.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Rebecca Roanhorse (Campbell Award nominee)

Written on April 16th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Rebecca Roanhorse

If everything has gone as planned, then this morning I should be waking up in Pennsylvania, after having spent four nights in Quebec. But seriously, when do things go as planned? Which is why I prepped this week’s EATING AUTHORS before I skipped town, so you wouldn’t miss out on reading about Rebecca Roanhorse, our second guest this year who (along with Katherine Arden, Sarah Kuhn, Jeannette Ng, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, and Rivers Solomon) was recently nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

I’d be remiss not to mention that in addition to being on this year’s ballot for the Campbell, Rebecca is also on both the Hugo and Nebula Awards ballots for her short story “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™.”

She’s also a Yale grad, a lawyer, and a pug owner (the last of which resonates with me because my dog is half pug, so yeah, that’s all it takes to bias me). Her first novel, Trail of Lightning, comes out from Saga at the end of June, with the next one in the series already slated for release the following spring. Then there’s the new book, an Aansazi-inspired fantasy that we’ll get to see sometime in 2020. So yeah, she’s been busy.

LMS: Welcome, Rebecca. Tell me about your most memorable meal.

RR: It was a chilly March afternoon on the Navajo reservation in Northern Arizona, and an In-law Chaser, a quick heavy snowstorm that doesn’t stick but has enough force to usually scare the uninitiated off the warmer indoor accommodations, had just raced through our tiny camp. A thin blanket of snow coated the ground around us, and we huddled in our coats, hats and scarves, waiting for the sun to return.

Trail of Lightning

We were all there for my niece’s Kinaldaa. A Kinaldaa is a Navajo puberty ceremony for young girls that welcomes them into adulthood. It is a momentous occasion that brings family and friends together to offer advice, ceremony, and company. It is held in a traditional Navajo home, called a hogan, but all the cooking and prep work is done outside.

Despite the blast of winter, the open fire in the middle of the camp still crackled merrily, burning through the pinon wood and smelling like the Southwest version of heaven. The cowboy coffee (strong coffee where the grounds are dumped directly into the stovetop-style pot and placed over the open fire) was bubbling and ready for drinking. My husband had just finished butchering the sheep that would go into the fresh mutton stew that was to be our dinner. I was chopping the stew vegetables – carrots, celery and potatoes – and another relative was busy mixing the dough for our frybread. It was the quintessential Navajo comfort meal – mutton stew, frybread and coffee – made with our own hands and eaten outside among friends and family. It was the best meal I’ve ever had, hands down. Well, there was that one gourmet 5-course meal in Paris once that is a close second, but even that can’t beat outdoor dining around an open fire in the snow.

Thanks, Rebecca. Is it wrong that a part of me wants some Parisian chef to wrangle an invitation to a Kinaldaa so they can be inspired to produce a fusion dish? Yeah, probably. Sorry (not sorry).

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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