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Eating Authors: Rati Mehrotra

No Comments » Written on July 15th, 2019 by
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Rati Mehrotra

I’ve been running the EATING AUTHORS blog every Monday since June of 2011, there are well over 300 meals awaiting binge readers over on the Master List. I tend to send out invitations in waves, typically after returning home from a convention, and authors being authors some people respond eagerly, others express interest and desire but request I contact them again in a few months because they’re under deadline, and some never reply. These are all valid responses, especially the “I’m too busy just now” answer. I’m usually in similar straits. But apparently, on at least one occasion, I was so busy that an author responded with a meal and I forgot that she’d done so. And so it sat in my mailbox for some 17 months before I stumbled across it.

Which is how this week’s guest, Rati Mehrotra, comes to be here today, after accepting my most heartfelt apologies.

Born in India, Rati has traveled the world working a DayJob in Environmental Policy. She settled in Toronto, Canada, where her love of mythology ultimately led her to write about a group of women worshipping Kali in a post-apocalyptic world. You know, that old trope.

LMS: Welcome, Rati. What stands out as your most memorable meal?

RM: Ooo, what a delicious question. Food is very important to me. It’s also an important part of worldbuilding when I write, which is why you will find mention of several dishes in my novel Markswoman.

I cook every day for my family, and each winter I return to India to sample both street food and my grandmother’s cooking. Okay, that’s not the only reason I visit India, but sampling local cuisine is definitely a big part of holidaying anywhere. I can remember so many delightful trips through the food I have enjoyed there: pizza in Rome, rosti in Zurich, fish and chips in London, dimsum in Beijing, curry in New York’s Jackson Heights, caviar in Stockholm, mofongo in Puerto Rico, golgappas in Delhi. And of course, the famed Mughlai cuisine of my hometown, Lucknow. And I happen to live in Toronto, which is no pushover in the food department.

Markswoman

But my most memorable meal was one that I cooked myself, many years ago. At the time, I was working at IUCN in Switzerland, and I had called my friends over to make samosas. I loved cooking with friends, sharing my recipes and learning new ones. Samosas seemed ideal: such an ancient dish, and well-liked by everyone.

We were a group of eight, and everyone was hungry and eager to begin. They arrived at around 6 pm, and after some chitchat we got down to it.

Now, making samosas is not easy, unless you are experienced at it. I knew this, intellectually speaking, but I had never actually made them before. Haha, I thought, many hands make light work. And I allocated the tasks, full of anticipation. Danielle, who was an excellent bread-maker, kneaded the dough. Patricia peeled the potatoes, Margo chopped coriander, and I prepared the filling. Another friend rolled small balls of dough into flat rounds, and we all filled them with the potato mixture – very fiddly work, trying to close the edges and give them a somewhat samosa-like shape.

All this took about a minute to write, but around two hours of real time to accomplish. I was astonished to look up at the clock and see that it was over 8 pm. But the prep was done; sixteen small samosas stood ready. All that was needed was to fry them. That wouldn’t take too long, would it?

Now, here’s the thing: samosas have to be deep fried on a low flame, otherwise they’ll just puff up with air and look really funny. Also, they won’t cook well through to the center.

Mahimata

I had a wok for frying, but not a very large one. I could do it in batches of four or five. And so I stood there in the kitchen, surrounded by my hungry friends, and slowly deep fried the samosas in four batches. Once they were done, we had to let them cool slightly.

At around 10.30 pm, we finally got to eat two samosas each. They were so delicious. Crispy, flaky, golden-brown samosas that melted in my mouth. They must be the tastiest (definitely the most hard-won) samosas I have ever eaten. And they were gone in seconds.

We all stared at each other. I could practically hear stomachs grumbling. Danielle ventured, “I hope there’s something else to eat?”

And so I got up and made lentils and rice to feed us all. My friends left at midnight, late, but happily full.

That is the last time I have ever made samosas. I love eating them, and I know some pretty good places to buy them in Toronto. But I’m not attempting to make them from scratch again!

Thanks, Rati. That sounds like a great evening with friends (though I can appreciate why once is enough). Sounds like I need to add samosas to my dinner plans the next time I’m in Toronto.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Chen Qiufan

1 Comment » Written on July 8th, 2019 by
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Chen Qiufan

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve had the privilege of visiting China three times in as many years. Each trip has involved seeing amazing places and things, as well as meeting some of China’s best SF authors. Which is how I came to know this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Chen Qiufan, as part of a group of writers from the US, Canada, England, Australia, and China, exploring the R&D division of Ant Financial. Like many Chinese who work with Americans, he has another name he uses, and so I know him as Stanley Chan.

His short fiction has appeared in translation in markets like Lightspeed, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Clarkesworld. Two months ago, English readers got the chance to experience his longer work with the release of the translation of Waste Tide (translated by Ken Liu). What you may not know is that Stanley has been celebrated in his native language for years! He’s won Taiwan’s Dragon Fantasy Award, as well as China’s Galaxy and Nebula Awards.

In addition to his award winning short and long fiction, Stanley is also a screenwriter and an evangelist for the growing wave of Chinese science fiction throughout the world. It keeps him pretty busy. I don’t know how he finds the time for it all, but I was very pleased last May when he came by to visit with me while I was in Beijing. Naturally, I invited him to share a meal that stood out in his mind, in this case one that haunts him still.

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

CQ: It was almost ten years ago while I was working for Google. We had small NGO groups in the company organizing employees to participate in charity or social activities such as public education on the search engine, donations for poverty children, etc. And Google matched an equal share of money as we donated as part of our culture benefit, which was quite encouraging.

One sunny weekday, we were organized to visit a orphanage named “Golden Sun” founded by a private sector. The founder was a 50 year old lady with a warm smile on her face. Everyone called her “Granny Zhang.” She used to be a government staffer working in the prison. There are many children whose parents were in jail and had no other family or relatives to take care of them. They didn’t fit into the category defined by the terms of the orphan adoption policy, and so could not be received by the official orphanage. Thus Granny Zhang founded the organization, to raise and take care of all these children, and got funding from all over the world.

Waste Tide

We played with the kids, bringing them books, clothes and toys. They seemed to be very happy in a understandable way but also I realized they all looked very pale and thin. At lunch time, Granny Zhang told us all the food was prepared by the kids. The vegetables and fruits were grown in the yard, the eggs were given by the hens, and the kids had baked the bread themselves. The kids served the food to the table, and then stood still, in a line, head down, just like servants or something worse. This made me really uncomfortable. I suggested that we could all have lunch together. But Granny Zhang rejected, saying “The kids shall not eat before the performance.” One boy looked up, peeking at the food on the table. I could tell he was really hungry. But we were the guests, so we obeyed the rules.

The performance began with kids singing and dancing. It was poorly designed, off the key, mostly about praising the happy life and their protector, Granny Zhang. The kids smiled so hard that I felt they had to befaking. We applauded after the show. The kids couldn’t wait to rush to the tables. Granny Zhang yelled at them, “Behave, your bad manner was from your parents. You shall behave before our honored guests!” We were kind of shocked but no one said anything since she’s Granny Zhang, the savior of all these kids.

I couldn’t quite recall the taste of that simple meal. I believed the vegetables were fresh and the bread was soft and sweet. But the whole atmosphere was weird enough. All the kids swallowed food like they’d been starved for quite a time. The boy who peeked at the food choked on an egg. Something was wrong here, very different from the media reports, not to mention all those celebrities’ picture on the wall. But we said nothing. Everyone just keep chewing and thinking about getting out as soon as possible.

Not long after our visit, the scandal was revealed. Granny Zhang used the kids to raise funds that she put into her own pocket. The food and other resources donated for the kids were sold or left to rot in a warehouse. She never fulfilled the needs of those children. She’d used the same methods she’d used in the prison, training and restricting the kids as they were prisoners just like their parents. Even worse, some sexual abuse happened in the orphanage.

Too many thoughts rushed into my mind after reading the shocking news. The memory of that bizarre lunch emerged. It all makes sense to me now. Why did none of us said anything and accepted it as some kind of rule? Where will all those kids be sent? Is there anything we can do to avoid this from happening in the future? There are more questions than answers I can come out with. And there is always a choking boy in my mind, reminding me about that meal, about the blindness and indifference among us.

Thanks, Stanley. A meal like that would stay with a long time. I suspect it also served to fuel some of your writing and that Granny Zhang will show up, in some form, in your fiction.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Stephanie L. Weippert

No Comments » Written on July 1st, 2019 by
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Stephanie L. Weippert

I’m a bit saddened this week, because my plans to travel to Utah recently derailed and I will not be in attendance at this year’s NASFiC (aka SpikeCon), and as I think I indicated earlier, I won’t be in Dublin for the Worldcon either. But it’s probably just as well, the travel I did in May resulted in major disruptions in my writing process, and while I did manage to get back on that horse midway through June, I have lots of lost time to make up for.

Which is no kind of segue at all to introduce you to Stephanie L. Weippert, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. Like many writers who are trying to make ends meet (at least until that big movie deal comes a-knocking), Stephanie has a Patreon page. I have one too, and last month, out of the blue, Stephanie put up a post on Twitter listing several authors’ Patreons and encouraged her followers to show some love/support. And she included me in that list. Well, I was blown away, and it seemed only right to return the favor and ask her to show up here and talk about her most memorable meal.

I don’t know much about Stephanie, though we have a common origin. If she is to be believed, her writing began with a story about a slug, for a convention whose mascot was a slug. Whereas, back in 8th grade, one of the very first things I wrote (this would have been for Mrs. Brunk’s English class, for any Culver City Junior High alums) was a short story entitled something like “When Slugs Took Over of the World.” To Mrs. Brunk’s horror, I followed it with “Return of When Slugs Took Over of the World” and even “Son of When Slugs Took Over of the World.” And, a few years later, at UC Santa Cruz’s (now vanished) College Five, I was the editor of the Graphic Stories Guild, which put out All Slug Comics. And I tell you these things because the world is really a small place, and coincidence is just the universe’s way of laughing at us.

LMS: Welcome, Stephanie. What do you remember as your best meal?

SLW: The best meal I remember, isn’t really one meal; it’s my birthday dinners. I grew up in Eastern Washington cattle country, which means my parents bought a whole beef every year and we had steaks regularly growing up. Dad got into grilling the steaks during the summer and he got damn good at it.

Road to Chaos

Anyway, my family lets the person pick out what they want for dinner as their ‘birthday meal’ and every year I ask Dad to barbeque T-bone steaks for me. He’s happy to do it, too. Mom makes salad and baked potatoes to go with it so we get our vegetables; it’s one of my favorite memories growing up.

As usual, on my birthday this year I asked for the same thing, so when I parked in my parent’s driveway I could smell the mouth-watering scent of steaks cooking on my dad’s grill. That delicious smell of fire cooked marbled beef can make your mouth water from a block away. Most times, I’ve noticed that not long after Dad starts grilling, neighbors start up their grills, too. It’s got to be that deliciousness wafting over the fence. Right?

Everyone’s on the back deck, so I walk in the open door and through the house to the sliding glass door. Dad gives me a hug when I step out on the deck. “Got T-bones like you wanted.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I reply. “They smell wonderful.”

Sweet Secrets

I get a Pepsi and find a seat out on the deck with everybody else. We catch up on family gossip and funny anecdotes since we saw each other last. Not long after this the steaks are done, so we gather in the kitchen for squeaky-clean plates to bring to Dad next to the grill. After we receive the ‘blessings’ from the grill, we return to the kitchen to fill up the rest of our plate. Mom cuts one of the huge baked potatoes in half, and asks me if I want the other half as I pile two or three types of fresh crisp lettuce, shaved carrots, tiny chunks of turnips, and shredded cheese into my salad bowl. Hungry, I shake my head and answer, “No thanks, I want a whole one.” When Mom moves over to the butter dish I stab a whole potato from the platter with my fork and move it to my plate.

Our plates full, we gather around the glass top ‘outside’ table to eat. Jokes and funny stories fill the deck with laughter and happy voices. About the time I’m ready to take my plate back inside, Mom asks “Who’s ready for birthday cake?”

“What kind?” my son asks.

“Chocolate ice cream, of course,” I tell him. “The best kind.”

“At least it’s chocolate,” Mom declares. “Not white or yellow. Birthday cakes are supposed to be chocolate.”

Desperation

“As long at it’s cake,” my uncle declares. “It’s all good.”

Mom goes inside to cut the cake, while her younger sister helps.

They bring out slices on saucers and when Mom hands me mine I get my birthday card too. I open it to read sweet mushy sentiments that make me feel loved.

“Thanks,” I say, trying not to choke up on reading things I wish I had heard growing up.

“Welcome,” Mom answers. “I made sure to get a mushy one instead of a funny one like everyone else.”

“Count your blessings,” my aunt declares. “At least she didn’t dress as death for your birthday and give you a older than the hills card like she did for me.”

“That’s because you are older than the hills,” I reply with a smirk.

“Your turn is coming, y’know!” she replies with a laugh.

I stick my tongue out at her. “But you’ll always be older than me. So there!”

We laugh.

Thanks, Stephanie. After reading this, I think I want your uncle’s quote “As long as it’s cake” on a button.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Shannon Eichorn

No Comments » Written on June 24th, 2019 by
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Shannon Eichorn

Last November, as part of my folly of doing four conventions in one month, I traveled to Indianapolis to be a guest at Starbase Indy. Inbetween my talks and panels and posing with a horta in the Dealers’ Room, I wandered through other presentations and chatted with some authors who were manning fan tables. One of these was this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Shannon Eichorn. In addition to talking to her about her book, I got to listen to Shannon during portions of the Astrophysics track at the convention, where she held forth on topics such as women in STEM and the fun of engineering.

In fact it’s her background as an aerospace engineer that informs her debut novel, Rights of Use, at least metaphorically. I’m pretty sure her day job doesn’t deal with actual flying saucers, alien abduction, or mind-erasure. But then again, you never know.

LMS: Welcome, Shannon. What comes to mind when I ask you about your most memorable meal?

SE: “If we made our vegetables like that,” I told the folks traveling with me, “American families wouldn’t have to cajole their kids into eating veggies.”

We’d travelled to the other side of the world, to a country I’d never heard of until our pastor visited two years before. When they asked for volunteers, I felt like I needed to go not only as an expression of faith but also as a writer who needed to see and understand more of the world. I had already seen travel change me for the better during my temporary work in Puerto Rico and even during my book research trip to Montana. But as a scifi writer, I also wanted to go for the newness of it.

Rights of Use

A lot of scifi draws from other cultures. Stargate draws from Egyptian and Norse lore, among others. There’s Roman- and Chicago-inspired Star Trek, and the Dresden Files features Chichen Itza. In several series, I’ve lapped up urban fantasy’s Native American influences. Speculative fiction is rich with reflections of cultures around the world.

In daily life, I’ve had pen pals in England and Germany and learned more through studying German. Just speaking English brings its own influence from its Germanic and French/Latin roots, and that informs a lot of how we connect to the world. With all that exposure, it’s easy to imagine I know something about the world.

But Cambodia was new.

With the Khmer language unrelated to any I’d known or studied, a history apart from anything I’d ever learned, and its most prominent religions ones I’d barely studied, Cambodia could test my acceptance of language, culture, and even food that wasn’t my own.

If I wanted to be the kind of person I could respect, I had to be able to appreciate people with whom I had very little in common.

That’s how I found myself sitting shoeless at a table on a church patio in Cambodia (in January), staring into the eyes of a whole, fried fish.

Swamp Cabbage

The churches in the north had come together to exchange details about their ministries with each other and with us, along with some of their best food. And it was a spread: large, roasted fish; tiny, fried fish; steamed vegetables we’d never seen before; fruit we’d never heard of before. I kind of remembered starfruit, but who’d heard of milk fruit? It was all fantastic, bursting with flavor and spices like the cuisine in nearby Thailand. I even tried almost the whole fried fish as soon as someone volunteered to relieve me of the head.

But the steamed vegetables stand out most to me. Morning glory, they told us when we asked. It looked like boiled spinach with thicker stalks. It must have been spiced with something and tasted delicious every time we encountered it. Best of all, we caught its nickname: swamp cabbage.

I fell in love with Cambodia and its kind, gracious people the same way I did with Puerto Rico. I came home humbler, with a better idea of when to check my assumptions about culture and a better idea of what things really are universal. And someday soon, it will be time to see more of the world and add to my list of memorable meals.

Thanks, Shannon. I’m a player for the fish, but swamp cabbage? Nyah, that wouldn’t have gotten me to eat my veggies as a kid, and it’s not going to work now either.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

No Comments » Written on June 17th, 2019 by
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Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Last month I was in Los Angeles for the annual Nebula Conference. Without a doubt, the highlight of the week was getting to meet face to face with a writer I’d been introduced to a couple months earlier via first one and then a second Slack channel. We’d really hit it off, though we had very little in common, to the point where we’d begun bouncing off ideas for multiple collaborative novel projects.

I had some real concern that our budding “bromance” was all a product of online chats and would not survive our actual meeting. As it turned out, he had the same worry. In the end, we meshed even better in person. So much so that, despite both of us being stupidly busy with too many other projects, we laid plans for our first collaboration, an epistolary first contact novel based on faulty translation software.

All of the above is by way of introducing this week’s EATING AUTHOR guest, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. When he’s not writing Nebula-nominated fiction, Yudha applies high level economic and sociological data analysis to political commentary. He’s been a tech journalist, a blogger, a TEDx Speaker. Lately, he’s been responsible for an A.I. poet that writes in old Tang dynasty style (follow the poems on Twitter). Unsurprisingly, his dayjob is at a Think Tank.

He’s currently negotiating foreign sales for several books, fielding movie options, and writing, writing, writing. If you’re not familiar with his work, go out and get it now. This is an author that is going to burn brightly.

LMS: Welcome, Yudha. Talk to me about your most memorable meal.

YW: I’ve never been what you might call a food connoisseur. If I am, it’s as an aficionado of the dark alleys and cheap, late-night stalls. For much of my formative years (2000-2011) we never had much money for food, so whatever instincts I have are fine-tuned to getting the most amount of fried rice per rupee. There was a certain science to it – if you found a place just the right distance away from a junction, and hit it about twenty minutes before lunchtime, you’d get a generously mangled knock-off fried rice that was neither Chinese nor Sri Lankan but some generic Asian lovechild born from the cheapest possible components of both.

Numbercaste

And you could pay twenty rupees more for a polythene bag full of the horribly oily chilli paste you found only in shops like that; the chilli paste set your mouth on fire and slowed down the eating so you ended up rationing out of reflex, rather than any conscious choice. A good “full buth packet”, laced thus with enough chilli could feed two of us, or last two meals for one.

My family never connected over these meals – we ate in silence, as apart from each other as possible. My mother would watch the TV, my father would sit outside the house with a cigarette pack ready, and I would stare at yet another half-finished manuscript on the clunky secondhand Pentium II computer I’d bought. That blinking cursor and those cheap, fiery meals became as much a part of my identity as anything else.

My most memorable meal was somewhere in 2015. I was in London, in Piccadilly Circus, and I was miserable.

On paper, I was doing fine. I had left poverty behind; in fact, I had a very cushy job and a very startup-ish company; they paid me far more than people my age made – and with the job came plenty of international travel. I had rented a proper house for myself and my mother, and I could afford whatever I wanted, three meals a day. I knew that all I had to do was hang on – do my duty, do it well, and eventually all the things I never dared dream of might be mine. Long before I hit thirty.

The Inhuman Race

But this comfort came at the expense of my identity. Not just as a writer, but as a person. These aspirations weren’t mine; these social clubs weren’t what I was built for. I stumbled around like a drunk – or worse, someone who’d woken up in a skin-suit not his own and was fumbling around with the controls. The conference I had come here for was done, the company so gratingly competitive that I’d left them behind and traded the fancy hotel room for cheap lodgings in Tottenham. I’d bought fish and chips, only to discover that the British preferred their food to taste like soggy cardboard.

So I sat there in the gray rain with tasteless fish and my oversized backpack and watched a man scrawl a poem from one pavement to another, building a zebra crossing made of politics and prose. Right next to me a man was selling drugs to a group of inebriated women from a hen party. I wondered, not for the first time in my life, why I should bother waking up the next morning. Surely it was easier to fall back into the old pattern, the quick vertical cut down the right wrist; and this time, unlike the last, I would do the job right, instead of just cutting slightly to the left of the vein.

Somewhere inside me the buth-packet-seeker woke. I passed the fish on to someone who needed it more and began walking.

Story Plot

I can’t tell you how long I walked for – it might have been only fifteen or thirty minutes, but it felt like a cross between an eternity and no time at all. Something led me to the side alleys and the places that well-dressed people skirted around. And at last I stood before my Grail: a cheap restaurant that smacked of the kind of generic Asianness that I knew well. And there I found a fried rice that was cheap, and asked for more chilli paste than the waiters were comfortable serving me, and I ate like I hadn’t seen food in years.

Outside, two drunks started whacking each other. One of them had a cricket bat, which I later hefted as it lay on the pavement: good English Willow, heavy, the kind of thing you want on your side in a fight. But right then I paid them no heed. I ate until I could barely move and I was bleeding chilli tears from the paste and the waiter had warned me I might get ulcers if I ate more chilli. I didn’t care. I pulled out my laptop and stared at the manuscript I’d abandoned when I joined the company. I decided right there that I would finish this thing, no matter how many cheap rices it took.

For better or for worse, I was back in my own skin. And if I wasn’t happy – well, at least I had a reason to get up the next morning.

Thanks, Yudha. Forever after, I fear I will find myself assessing my meals by asking if there’s a drunk with a cricket bat nearby.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Ushan Gunasekara

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Eating Authors: Elizabeth Crowens

No Comments » Written on June 10th, 2019 by
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Elizabeth Crowens

It’s taken far too much of the past week, but I’m finally over the jet lag from my visit to Beijing last month. I know this because it’s been replaced by the return of my more ordinary insomnia, which has me waking up after only a few hours of sleep, to putter around the house in the pre-dawn dark while my wife and dog blissfully slumber on.

The worst part of all of May’s travel has been the disruption to my writing regimen. I’ve still managed to write every day, but not with the same verve and vigor. I like to think this is only a temporary hiccough and I’ll soon be back on track with my long range plans for releasing multiple titles this year.

Speaking of book releases (see what I did there?), in just two days this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Elizabeth Crowens, is seeing the re-release of Silent Meridian, book one in her alternate history series of a time traveling professor (yeah, that hooked me at once!) that includes Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Harry Houdini, and Carl Jung, just to name a few. But wait, there’s more! The second book in the series, A Pocketful of Lodestones, comes out from Atomic Alchemist Productions LLC on August 1st.

If you’ve not read her fiction, you may know Elizabeth from her wildly popular interviews for John ONeill’s Blackgate Magazine, many of which have been collected in The Poison Apple. She also writes in the Hollywood suspenese subgenre, which until encountering her work I didn’t even know was a thing!

LMS: Welcome, Elizabeth. What stands out as your most memorable or favorite meal?

EC: It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite meal, and I hate to disappoint you by not knowing the name of the restaurant or exactly what I ate, but it was the whole experience… or gestalt that was superior to anything that I’ve ever experienced.

Silent Meridian

Where was it? In Plovdiv, Bulgaria of all places near the Greek border. I had been part of a film crew shooting a martial arts film in Sophia, the capital of Bulgaria, and on one of our day’s off one of the Bulgarian producers took a large van full of cast and crew out to the countryside. When we stopped for lunch, he took us to the back patio of a restaurant, ordered wine and Ouzo, and all of us sat under flowering trees and enjoyed sublime spring weather considering we had snow in the city the week before.

This was the first time I participated in one of those legendary, multi-course Greek-style, three-hour meals with a group of friends, and on movie sets since you tend to work ridiculously long hours, you tend to make friends and bond with your co-workers. Between the ambiance, the exotic location, perfect weather, the camaraderie, food to die for, and way too much of it including alcohol, that was probably the best meal experience I ever had.

Thanks, Elizabeth. There’s something surreal about an account of making martial arts films in Bulgaria, but it could just be all that ouzo.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Jim Meeks-Johnson

No Comments » Written on June 3rd, 2019 by
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Jim Meeks-Johnson

In theory, I have returned successfully from being a GoH at APSFcon and staying on for a few days to explore Beijing. It’s only a theory because I’m using the internet as my personal time machine to write this post in advance because I anticipate being swamped when I get home (not to mention severely jetlagged).

Speaking of time machines (he said, segue-ishly), I’ve been reflecting on certain events in my past, among them the two weeks I spent at 10,000 feet under the tutelage of Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress as part of the 2010 Taos Toolbox masterclass. In addition to teaching me the value of hydration at high altitudes, that workshop gave me the skills of plotting and storytelling that made it possible for me to write Barsk and I’ll be forever grateful.

Which is why that as soon as I learned that another graduate of the Toolbox had just published his first novel my immediate reaction was to invite him to EATING AUTHORS. Please say hello to Jim Meeks-Johnson. He lives in Indianapolis, and as I’ll be there next month for the annual KLI conference, maybe I can lure him over to learn a little Klingon.

Like so many of us, Jim got sucked into reading SF courtesy of the works of Robert A. Heinlein. He’s used his degrees in psychology and mathematics to write software for medical research and for the past decade has been taking curious ideas from contemporary science to spin SF short stories. About five weeks ago he released Enemy Immortal, and if you like ten-ton blobs, immortal aliens, equine dance communication, sapient plantlife with laser vision, or superpowered heroes with their own rock band, then this is the novel you’ve been waiting for.

LMS: Welcome, Jim. Congratulations on your first novel. Let’s celebrate by you telling me about your most memorable meal.

JMJ: I like to travel and try new food. I’ve had many great dishes–from Fettuccine ai Frutti di Mare in Venice, to Cowboy Beans at the Flying W Ranch in Colorado Springs, to fresh-from-the-oven Crème Brule at Binkley’s in Indianapolis—but the best meal I’ve ever had? Nothing has ever surpassed Thanksgiving dinner on my grandparents’ Iowa farm.

Looking back, I can see that the preparation for Thanksgiving began before the snow thawed in March, when seed catalogs flooded the mail and farmers selected the varieties of each vegetable most loved by their family. Spring, summer, and fall, they watered and weeded the garden until the vegetables were picked at peak ripeness and canned the same day.

Enemy Immortal

Grandpa raised chickens, pigs, and cattle mostly, but he would fatten a turkey or two every year. And on Thanksgiving morning their house was rich with the steamy, mouth-watering goodness of roasting turkey and homemade sage dressing.

After everyone sang the doxology together, we sat down, and grandma sliced the juicy turkey and distributed it according to everyone’s preference–light or dark meat. I chose the dark. It always seemed to me to have more flavor and a smoother texture than the breast, and I was more likely to get a generous portion of the crispy brown skin.

The vegetables were from the garden outside. Heirloom gardeners understand more than most of us how much difference in flavor the variety of potatoes, corn, and green beans makes. The mashed potatoes were served lumpy, hearty, and flavorful, with a dollop of cream and butter from the cows in the barn stirred in. The gravy from the turkey drippings had a delightful roast turkey flavor. Acorn squash baked golden brown with butter and brown sugar was mashed and served beside the potatoes.

The salad consisted of the old Midwestern favorite, 7-layer Jello. The medley of colors and flavors was fun, as was the contrasting flavor and texture of the alternating transparent and creamy layers. Even more though, I loved the tart, crispy deliciousness of limed pickles, a rare treat because they were labor intensive even for our clan, requiring multiple baths of pickling solution.

Dessert was pumpkin pie, of course, with a heady clove smell and topped with plenty of homemade whipped cream from the cows outside.

I suspect all great chefs know this, but a lot of the goodness in food comes from selecting the perfect ingredients. Nothing beats great farm food prepared simply.

Thanks, Jim. Thanksgiving on the farm sounds like the perfect meal. Well, maybe not for the turkeys, but maybe they got to sample some practice pies before the big day.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Neal Asher

No Comments » Written on May 27th, 2019 by
Categories: Plugs
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Neal Asher

As has been the case with the last few posts, this one is being prepared in advance because on the date it goes live, I’ll be traveling. Specifically, I should be recovering from my time as a GoH at APSFcon in Beijing. That ended yesterday, and I need to rest up because now it’s time to play tourist and tomorrow the plan is to visit the Great Wall, something which I suspect this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Neal Asher, could certainly appreciate.

Neal is probably most known for his Polity Universe and the multiple novels and series he’s set there (some sixteen books, to date), including his Agent Cormac series, his Spatterjay trilogy, and the Transformation books.

Much of his shorter fiction (including many novellas) can be found in six collections. He also has several fantasy novels and series that he’s still tinkering with, which we can but hope will surface in bookstores soon.

His latest novel, The Warship (the second book in his Rise of the Jain series) came out from Night Shade Books earlier this month.

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

NA: The meal was memorable not because of wonderful food but circumstances, perspective and background. First the background: It had been decades since I’d dreamed of being a writer, of seeing my name on lurid covers like the copy of A Princess of Mars I held in my hand as a teenager. I had nearly twenty books to my name, had completed to first draft a trilogy before I needed to hand in the first book, and my wife and I were embarking on another extended and enjoyable Summer on Crete. Life was good and, even when she turned round and told me, ‘I’m bleeding, down there,’ this being some years after her menopause, life had yet to descend into a nightmare. The trilogy written was called ‘Transformation’ and to some extent concerned people undergoing nightmarish transformations. Synchronicity I guess.

The Soldier

I’ll be brief, and it was all quite brief considering how these things often run. Steady blows at doctors and in a hospital on Crete: the mass of black blobs under ultrasound, the MRI showing a growth the size of a baby’s head, the Greek oncologist never quite saying the truth, the hideous hospital where relatives cleaned down the beds and all around them before their loved one took that place, and the subsequent escape and flight to the UK. All steps ever down. In the UK: emergency rehydration and feeding through the arm, the massive operation and the news of ‘Bowel cancer, stage four’, vomited green bile measured in a jug, and recorded, another operation and the ileostomy bag, carrying my 5 stone wife to the toilet, the decision to stay at home and that final, ‘Oh no,’ as she threw herself across the bed to escape something, and did not. Seven months from that bleeding, to a coffin sliding into a crematorium.

Dark Intelligence

I came out of the other side of this walking. They say that people try to handle grief in four different ways. They take pills, hit the bottle, work excessively or exercise excessively. I chose the last of these, along with ceasing to drink to excess, as I had before, and having quit smoking using an ecig. I walked every day to try and keep the black dog from my door, starting with just a few miles and getting up to about seven miles every day. I shed weight, helped by the fact that I ate infrequently, and toughened up. Returning to Crete I continued with this, now walking steep paths in the mountains and finally settling on an eight mile walk to a place called Voila (pronounced voy-la). I considered writing a strange book incorporating SF and my experiences called ‘Walking to Viola’ – something I started then found too painful to go through with.

I added swimming to my regimen, often walking in the morning then swimming for a mile in the afternoon from a local beachside bar. How much this had toughened me I only truly realised when I started gorge walking there. Meanwhile, I went through days when my body registered its objection to running on empty. I would wake up feeling incredibly hungry, eat something then fall asleep for a couple of hours, then repeat this sequence all day. Food obviously being a necessity I could not ignore I resorted to the giros. This is pork sliced from a skewer (a giro) and along with salad and chips wrapped in a pitta bread to form a cone. They are a meal in and of themselves.

Prador Moon

One particularly hot day I went on a long gorge walk. I think this might have been ten miles through rough terrain in the mountains. Returning to the coast I swam for a mile, then relaxed. However, a Greek guy I had been joking with at one time about a swimming race, chose that day to challenge me. We raced for a mile and he won (he was 20 years younger). Afterwards, as I cooled down, I decided I really needed food so ordered in two giros. I went for another short swim and on the way back cramp hit me first in one calf and then in the other. It felt like being hit there with a hammer and I finished the swim using arms only, then limped out of the sea up to the bar. My giros had arrived and, after sipping a beer, I dived in. I ate a chip and it just did not taste right. Adding salt improved the next chip, so I added more. At the time I remembered a gym instructor once ranting about how extra salt is unnecessary and we have too much. Laughable in the circumstances. By the time the giros tasted right I could hardly see its contents for the salt, and I could feel my body sucking it up and saying thank you. I enjoyed it immensely.

My memorable meal.

One would have hoped this marked a point of transition, of transformation, as would be the case in any story well told. Perhaps now I would stop pushing myself so hard and make my peace with the past. No. The bar owner introduced a new plot element when he told me he had a kayak I could use, and the story continued in a similar vein for years, and continues still. Life can be a story, but infrequently has a satisfying denouement, I know.

Thank you, Neal. I usually close out these meal posts with some attempt at a clever remark. Not this week though. I think I’ll just sit with this one for a while. Peace.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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