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Eating Authors: David Pedreira

No Comments » Written on November 26th, 2018 by
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David Pedreira

I’m writing this from over in Indianapolis where I am a guest of the annual Thanksgiving Weekend convention that is Starbase Indy. Everyone is wonderful here, which you’d expect living in the future, though the qagh in the hotel’s restaurant does leave something to be desired.

And speaking of speaking engagements, a couple months back I was down in Maryland for the annual Baltimore Book Festival. While there I met this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, David Pedreira. David’s novel, Gunpowder Moon, is a science fiction thriller about the first murder on the moon. Cool concept, right? Who needs a locked-room mystery when all your suspects on stuck on an airless world?

David is a journalist turned fiction writer. Gunpowder Moon is his first novel but surely not his last.

LMS: Welcomne, David. Can you tell me about your most memorable meal?

DP: Oh man, this is one of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked. I’m a food junkie and my tastes run from serious cuisine to burgers and brats on the grill. I did a mental checklist of great meals over the years, and thought of everything from my aunt’s leg of lamb stuffed with spinach and feta cheese to my mom’s homemade marinara, cooked all day on the stovetop with meatballs and hot Italian sausage, and served over linguini. But those are regulars, so I suppose they’re disqualified. I’ve also had many memorable restaurant meals in the U.S. and overseas, particularly in Italy, France, Turkey, and Japan.

But if I had to pick a meal that’s seared into my memory, I’ll go with a campsite lunch of brook trout and fiddlehead ferns at Sawyer Pond, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Sawyer is actually a small glacial lake about 50 acres in size, nestled in between three mountains north of the Kancamagus Highway. It’s about a 4.5-mile hike from the trailhead to the camp site, with terrain involved, so you have to be judicious in what you carry in: tent, sleeping bag, skillet, fishing gear, axe, food, long underwear, toothbrush, and a bottle of whiskey.

Gunpowder Moon

The campsite is at about 2,000 feet of elevation, and the lake itself is gin clear, rock-bottomed, and deep. One of the local universities did a survey and found a maximum depth of nearly 100 feet. The indigenous gamefish include brook trout and German browns, but we were fishing from the shoreline so we couldn’t go after the larger “brownies.” They hang out deep.

So the routine is this: you get up when it’s “crackin’” (dawn) and get fishing. By 10 a.m. or so on the first morning, three of us had caught maybe a dozen “brookies”—more than enough lunch for six people. A few of the other campers who weren’t fishing had collected a bunch of fiddlehead ferns. This is a wild mountain vegetable that grows out of the ground like a stalk of asparagus, but with a top shaped like a violin’s headstock. They are delicious; I’d describe them as a combination of broccoli and asparagus, with some artichoke thrown in.

The one camper holding down the campsite had made bacon for breakfast in a cast iron skillet. We cleaned the fish and stuffed them with lemon slices, seasoned them with salt and pepper and a few other spices, and cooked them in bacon fat. Then we sautéed the fiddleheads in the same pan. So, a lunch of freshly caught cold-water trout and wild vegetables, cooked in bacon drippings. It’s hard to describe how good it was. That was about 30 years ago, and my mouth still waters…

Thanks, David. You know, I just like saying “Kancamagus.” Though, it does beg the question, what kind of hocus pocus does a Kancamagus practice?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Gustavo Bondoni

1 Comment » Written on November 19th, 2018 by
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Gustavo Bondoni

Over the weekend I did my third of the four conventions I’d scheduled for this month — and if I ever post here about my intention to do that many events in one month, please shoot me. This was the shortest of them, as I only popped in for Saturday, mostly to socialize with old friends.

It did get me thinking though, about the author community and the many wonderful and talented people I’ve gotten to meet, both in person and virtually. And in this short holiday week (if you’re in the U.S.), it’s a nice reminder of how much I have to be thankful for.

Which is as fine a segue into this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest as I could ask for, as I’ve known Gustavo Bondoni for ages, ever since our paths first crossed when we were both selling short stories to various anthologies from Hadley Rille Books. That’s not so surprising though, because he’s an insanely prolific short story writer and a regular on the anthology circuit.

Gustavo was born in Argentina, but spent a chunk of his childhood in the U.S. (with a stopover in Switzerland) before returning. He considers himself one of the few Argentinian authors publishing primarily in English. I can only hope that his work is also available locally in Spanish. It would be a shame if it weren’t.

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

GB: I’m from Argentina, so I’ve been a part of many epic meals involving large chunks of animals roasting on nearby spits, but my most memorable meal didn’t take place in the country, but half a world away.

In 2005, Syria was one of the most peaceful places one could visit. I was in the south of the country in a city called Bosra near the Jordanian border because there is a brilliantly preserved Roman amphitheater there complete with a lot of dust in the parking lot and a guy with a single camel standing in front of the amphitheater and offering rides for a few dollars.

he Malakiad

But that wasn’t the part of the trip that stood out most. Since this was a work trip, we actually drove north from Bosra to meet with the food supply manager at a military camp who, it turned out, didn’t have time to meet us. This meant that, by lunchtime, my contact and I were free to do as we pleased. My contact in this case was the general manager of the distributor who worked with us, and he was a middle-aged Syrian who well and truly knew his way around the country.

He said he was going to take me to a restaurant that I would like. I nodded. The man had proven time and again that he knew the kind of food I liked.

We took an empty two-lane running through an empty-looking landscape. On the way there, he pointed to the right, to the east. “Over there,” he said, “is the UN.”

“The UN?”

“Blue Helmets.”

Branch

“Oh.” He was referring to the UN peacekeeping force. I didn’t know they were in Syria.

“Beyond the UN is the Israeli Army. On the other side of the road,” he pointed west, “is the Syrian Army.”

Ah, we were driving past the Israeli border. Nice. It looked like any road in any arid countryside anywhere, not a place where CNN would have mounted its cameras if there was a heat-up, but, just out of sight, to the left and right, were three armies, all on reasonably high alert. If WWIII started on that day, I hoped any ordnance would fly over the road…

As usual, he was correct about the food. The place he took me to was a semi-abandoned concrete structure by a pond at the end of a wooded road in the middle of nowhere. Literally in the middle of nowhere, as there was not one other structure visible when we parked our minivan. I have no clue how that restaurant could have survived; most people in Syria didn’t drive in 2005.

We walked up the steps onto a tiled terrace where a couple of long plastic-covered tables had been set up, and sat at one of them. I sat right next to the railing and looked down into the pond, which was maybe fifty yards in diameter.

Siege

The meal consisted of the typical Syrian salad of chopped vegetables followed by fish, fried and delicious. I had a couple of them. To this day I have absolutely no idea what kind of fish they were, but when the meal ended, my contact urged me to throw a piece of the bread off the balcony and into the pond a couple of stories below.

As soon as the first chunk of bread hit the water, it was snapped up by a fish that looked suspiciously like the ones I’d just consumed. Delightful, and a sign that it was probably the freshest meat I’d ever eaten in my entire life. The fish were probably alive ten minutes before landing on my plate. We spent a peaceful couple of hours talking about life and tossing bread into the pond on a warm, sunny afternoon. With the length of the drive back to Damascus, there was no point in hurrying as we would get back after closing hours.

Every time I see images of the current war in Syria, I’m transported back to that place on that day… a peaceful interlude in the middle of a powder keg.

I’m not likely to forget it.

Thanks, Gustavo. Now I’m going to be haunted not only by the question of how that restaureant stayed in business, but how those fish even got to that pond in the first place!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Andrea G. Stewart

No Comments » Written on November 12th, 2018 by
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Andrea Stewart

I’m catching my breath today. If all goes well (this post being written in advance) then I’ll have just returned from the second of two back to back conventions. It began with World Fantasy running from November 1st through the 4th in Baltimore, which was followed by a flight out to Las Vegas on the 5th, for a business dinner and then the 20Booksto50K conference from the 6th to the 8th. Tack on an extra day to hang around Vegas and add in a redeye flight and I finally arrived home on 10th, and spent all of the 11th playing catch-up with projects and correspondence.

I should also mention that before heading off on ten days of travel, I started the month by launching my new Patreon page (literally seconds before jumping in the car to drive to Baltimore). So, yeah, I’m a little wiped out today, and I still have two more conventions to do this month. What was I thinking?

Unrelated to any of this (because I’m too tired to provide you with a decent segue) is this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Andrea G. Stewart. Andrea is a fantasist, and expresses this both as a painter and a writer. Back in the day, she took first place in the Writers of the Future contest.

Her Changeling Wars series revolves around a young woman who discovers she’s not human at all, but a changeling left behind by the Fae. Add in that her existence is illegal and you’re off and running through what is currently two novels (the second one, Spare Changeling, came out just last month) and a novella. I’m hoping there’s more to come.

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

AGS: My most memorable meal was actually quite recent. It was a year ago at Thanksgiving. I’m half-Chinese, and big family meals are an event on my mom’s side of the family. Thanksgiving is just a good excuse to spend the day in the kitchen chopping, pan-frying, grilling, and gossiping. That year we’d chosen to cook Indian food.

The food was great, but that was only half of what made it so memorable.

Loose Changeling

It was the first big family function I was bringing my boyfriend, John, to, and I really, really liked him. My mom tends to be an exacting judge of boyfriends. Before I met John, when I’d been dating a car salesman, my mom had paused in our conversation to tell me, “Car salesmen…are not good people.”

“She’ll ask you how much money you make,” my brother-in-law and sister-in-law warned John. “Offer to help out,” my siblings told him, “and when she says she doesn’t need help, offer again. If she still tells you to relax, find something to do.” I reminded him, a couple times, “Never eat until everyone is seated and ready.”

I like to tell people my mom asked John two questions when she first met him: “Do you know how to cook?” and then, the inevitable, “How much money do you make?”

Spare Changeling

Forewarned, John took it all in stride. We ended up making chicken tikka masala; he prepared the chicken while I made the sauce. John was the newcomer to this elaborate kitchen dance–where we traded off cooking stations and asked where the kosher salt was. Despite his confession that he was a mediocre cook, the chicken came out perfectly–juicy, fragrant, and spicy. After a long day, we finally sat down to eat (and yes, he waited). I watched for my family’s reaction and relaxed when they proclaimed the chicken tikka masala “amazing.”

A year later, we’re married, and my parents send him precautionary, parental emails, just like the rest of us. Yes, he too gets to be warned about garage door wires and fish parasites.

And my mom recently paused in our conversation to tell me, “I’m glad you met John.”

I’m glad too.

Thanks, Andrea. Bringing one’s intended to Thanksgiving with the future in-laws is perilous indeed. Been there, done that, and ate the pies. Speaking of which, I hope you had pie at your Thanksgiving. Nothing better with chicken tikka masala than some pecan pie and a little whipped topping. Trust me.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Josiah Bancroft

No Comments » Written on November 5th, 2018 by
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Josiah Bancroft

As you know, Bob, I’m co-curator of the Galactic Philadelpia reading series, a program which every other month presents two authors. We like to always have a local author, which in turn has led me to discover just how much amazing talent we have here in the greater Philadelphia area. It also, indirectly led me to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Josiah Bancroft, and in the classic tradition of two birds with a single stone, I set out to secure him not just for the reading series but this blog as well.

It’s been a fraught adventure trying to get him here. There were always deadlines and conflicts and then he and his wife went and had a baby! I tried not to take any of it personally, and lo, I have successfully waited him out and here he is (though it should be noted, I’ve still not been able to lock him down for a date with the reading series).

Josiah is the author of The Books of Babel, a series that revolves around the Tower of Babel, but not quite the one you might be thinking of. This one still stands, big as a mountain, lined with seemingly endless “ringdoms” full of people, both geniuses and madmen, odd animals and odder machines. The range of creativity on display here is breathtaking. I encourage you to check it out.

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

JB: I’m bad at remembering dates, details, and when i comes before e. My talent is for recalling vivid, though often insignificant, tableaus. I stitch together these sensory flashes of recollection to form what passes for a memory. Consider this a sort of disclaimer.

Sometime between 2003 and 2005, during an autumnal month, which feels as if it could’ve been October, I embarked upon a weekend excursion with my wife, Sharon, to Barboursville Vineyards in the piedmont of Virginia. We were going as guests of our friend, Jason Tesauro, who in addition to being an author and a troubadour, also worked to promote Barboursville wines.

Senlin Ascends

At the time, I was a quasi-hipster. I was only “quasi’ because I never cared enough about fashion to go shopping and was I never any good at affecting cool. But I did enjoy the music, the scene, and the cynicism that passed for philosophy. This was before being a white, urban hipster required that one also be a gourmand. Neither I nor my cohorts had the money for indulging in downtown fine dining. Richmond, Virginia had yet to fully develop what has since become a robust community of restaurants and cafes in its historic Fan District, the near-suburb where we lived, which was lousy with college students. We tended to sup upon cardboard-flavored veggie burgers and beans and rice and spent the fat of our paychecks at the record store buying the latest indie gem—Godspeed You Black Emperor or Bright Eyes—or rediscovering the genius of the underappreciated bands of the past, e.g. Captain Beefheart or Television.

We were snooty about which cheap beer we drank, but my knowledge of wine was largely a weekend lark. I couldn’t tell a Chablis from a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Sharon and I kept a wine journal in which we wrote reviews of cheap bottles of wine such as, and I quote:

Merlot, Alterra, Napa Valley, CA – 1998. A cheeky romp through fungus land! Tart and overpowering, this wine then disappears smoothly like a frog in space. Hints of champagne and orange peel. A ruckus encounter, lucky in love!

I can easily discern Sharon’s contribution to the review in the phrase “hints of champagne and orange peel” because she had (and still has) a remarkable palate, whereas I only understood wine by color and opacity. I was able to discern a Pinot Noir from a Petite Sirah based largely upon the fact that one was garnet colored and the other was inky.

Arm of the Sphinx

We had met Jason through a mutual friend, and he had quickly endeavored to introduce us to rare spirits and the sort of wines that weren’t available on the end-cap of a grocery store. While entertaining us at his house, Jason familiarized us with several novel varieties of grapes: Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc, and Viogner. He spoke with eloquent passion about the nuances of flavor profiles and general tasting etiquette, which I came to learn, did not include zestful gargling. Later, he would teach me how to behead a bottle of champagne, a pseudo-circus act that I would go on to perform (to disastrous results) using a fry pan instead of a saber. Though this abuse of knowledge was not to Jason’s deficit. He was an enriching force in our life, and slowly, slowly, my palate began to improve.

Our visit to the vineyard began with a tour of the Barboursville Mansion, what remained of it, which had been designed by Thomas Jefferson. As is the case with all ruins, its charm resided as much in its absences as its presence, but it featured a prominent and still-discernable octagonal room, which was the inspiration for one Barboursville’s premier wines called “Octagon.”

Jason took us on a winemaking tour, through Tuscany-inspired tasting areas and woody barrel rooms, and along the verge of the vineyard, where the rows of vines stretched, tidy as corduroy, up the rolling hills. The trunk and stems of the vines were bare, stripped by the recent harvest. He told us of how the vineyard had in the past been compelled to employ helicopters to fly low over the vulnerable fruit in the event of an early cold snap. The helicopter blades blew off the frost and warmed the ground enough to save the vintage. I could hardly think of anything more romantic than preserving a harvest with a helicopter, and if I were in a position to, I would recommend more agricultural industries consider instigating similar practices. I say, let’s launch submarines to break the ice from our cranberry bogs and have our almond groves patrolled for thieves via monster truck.

The Hod King.

We sampled the wine at the start and throughout the tour. While Sharon distinguished herself by discerning the subtleties of each (flint, moss, ripe pear), I outed myself as a reforming philistine by suggesting hints of peanut butter and banana. But despite my gauche notes, Jason’s wit and knack for anecdote carried us all along quite happily. The mood of the day was ebullient, though it’s hard not to be a bit high when you eschew the spit bucket.

At some point in our bacchanal education, food was mentioned, and quickly became a necessity. We caught Palladio, the vineyard’s fabulous restaurant, amid its afternoon closure. But our charismatic guide plied the delightful chef to prepare something simple for our ravenous troop. In short order, we were presented with a rustic pasta that was an education in itself. The freshly made noodles were served with cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, lemon juice and a luminous olive oil—a rustic dish which was revelatory in its simplicity, and delicious in its entirety. The pasta was further seasoned by the open air, the charming view, and lively talk. It would become a dish that I would often prepare in the years to come and never quite replicate.

It was, I believe, the first vineyard I’d ever visited, though it was not the last. There were aspects of the day—the convivial conversation, the pervasive history, the familial geniality of the winemakers, and Jason’s insistence upon paying the wine our full attention—that I would find echoed in wineries across the country. Thanks to Jason and our hosts, I learned how to comport myself in the company of winemakers. The knowledge has, unfortunately, not elevated my humble taste buds, though perhaps that is owed to my continued insistence that savored wines should be swallowed, too.

Thanks, Josiah. Sounds like wine was has been a culinary gateway drug for you. Had I only known, I’d have mentioned long since that 30 years ago I was an amateur winemaker. Perhaps that would have gotten you here sooner or maybe caused you to flee further. Who can say?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Christopher Kastensmidt

No Comments » Written on October 29th, 2018 by
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I keep telling myself that I’m going to cut back on travel, that I need to cut back, both because of the expense involved and the time away from writing. And yet… somehow, I find myself looking at four, yes, four, conventions in November. Each of them made perfect sense at the time that I signed up, but in every case I did so without giving much thought to what else I had going on other weekends.

Conventions are a good segue to introducing this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest because it’s the only place I can reasonably expect to encounter my friend Christopher Kastensmidt, for the very simple reason that he makes his home in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Although he’s probably most well known for his work in gaming (everything from a technical consultant for LucasArts to the creative director for Southlogic Studios and later the Brazilian offices of Ubisoft), Chris’s fiction has also brought him some serious recognition. He’s been a finalist for the Argos Prize as well as the AGES Award. He also received a Nebula Award nomination for his 2010 novelette “The Fortuitous Encounter of Gerard van Oost and Oludara,” the first in a series of stories involving a Dutch explorer and a Yoruban warrior traveling the wilderness of sixteenth century Brazil. At long last these tales have been compiled into a single novel, The Elephant and Macaw Banner, which comes out from Guardbridge Books in one week.

LMS: Welcome, Christopher. I’ve waited a long time to ask you, what’s your most memorable meal?

CK: Brazil isn’t known as a culinary paradise. The meat is excellent (thus, the proliferation of Brazilian churracurias around the world), but beyond that, there aren’t a lot of well-known dishes.

That being said, I consider Brazil’s finest dish to be the moqueca de camarão (which roughly translates to “shrimp stew”). This is a slow-cooked dish made with palm oil, coconut milk, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and coriander. It is traditionally served in a clay pot and accompanied by pirão (a thick fish sauce), white rice and manioc flour. Just writing about it makes me hungry…

The Elephant and Macaw Banner

I ate my most memorable moqueca in an unlikely place: the 400 year-old São Marcelo Fort in Salvador.

My wife Fernanda and I visited Salvador way back in 2007, in a trip which combined relaxation and research for my Elephant and Macaw Banner books. We spent about half our time enjoying beaches and restaurants and the other half visiting museums and historical sites. One of those sites happened to be São Marcelo Fort, a rarity for its offshore construction.

We took a boat out to the fort and were surprised to discover a restaurant inside. Although I admittedly had low culinary expectations for a restaurant located inside a fort, the food looked tasty and we decided to give it a try. We weren’t disappointed, as the moqueca was legendary!

If you ever visit Salvador, don’t miss the historical downtown, the beaches, the street-sold acarajé, lobster on Itaparica Island, and the moqueca at São Marcelo Fort!

Thanks, Christopher. Despite the counter examples for November, I really am cutting back on travel and don’t see myself ever getting to Brazil. That said, on your next trip back to the states, please pack some moqueca (or at least some pirão). For my wife, of course.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: David Demchuk

No Comments » Written on October 22nd, 2018 by
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David Demchuk

In addition to working on the new novel, October has been my month for buckling down and delving into the arcane sorcery of Amazon ads and promotions. How this affects you (to the extent that it does) depends on how closely you follow me on social media. I’ll be posting notices of sales and discounts regularly, but to ensure you don’t miss anything I encourage you to subscribe to my newsletter. In addition to the weekly links to EATING AUTHORS, you’ll be kept current on all the shiny bargains.

But enough about me, let’s get to this week’s guest. While primarily a playwright, this past summer David Demchuk committed novel, and as a result received the best blurb I’ve seen all year. The Globe & Mail has referred to him as “a master of bowel-loosening terror.” Seriously, does it get any better? I won’t even try to tell you anything more, other than his novel, The Bone Mother, was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Sunburst Award, and the Toronto Book Award. Yeah, all that and loose bowels. Order a copy today and get ready for Halloween.

LMS: Welcome, David. Spin me a one act play of your most memorable meal.

DD: In spring of 2004, my (now ex-) boyfriend Asif and I arrived in Hong Kong after a 13-hour flight from Vancouver. While we had flown on standby, we had lucked out and had gotten an entire row to ourselves, so we could put up the armrests and stretch out and sleep for large parts of the flight. Even so, we were exhausted when we arrived, and took a short nap once we checked into our hotel in Kowloon. We woke up around 10 p.m. to find ourselves famished. The night market was about two blocks away from our hotel, so naturally that was the first place we went.

Shanghai Street, one block east of Temple Street, is lined with tea houses, salons, food shops, jewellers and seafood restaurants. We quickly learned that restaurant proprietors would entice tourists by standing out in front of their establishments yelling “English! English!” to passersby.

In our case, this tactic worked perfectly. I pointed a restaurant out to Asif and asked “How about this one?” It had a large glass window, through which we could see a number of patrons seated, all seemingly happy as they ate. The manager, an enthusiastic older man, smiled and repeated “English?” I nodded. Asif shrugged and agreed. The old man ushered us in and then stopped us at a large and somewhat murky glass tank at the front near the cash.

“You like fish?” Yes, we liked fish. The manager grinned, picked up a net at the end of a long wire pole, ducked it into the water and slammed something against the glass beside us. “You like this fish?”

We both looked and saw that a large flat yellow and white fish was pinned to the glass, its eye looking right into mine. Great. However we were both tired and hungry, and so we nodded: Yes, we liked this fish. “This a good fish,” the man replied and scooped it out of the water and into a large white plastic bucket. I looked at Asif, he looked at me. Well, this is what we signed on for. The manager directed us to a large round table at the front window–probably to attract even more tourists–and he bustled off into the kitchen with the bucket.

The Bone Mother

“We should probably order something besides fish,” Asif said.

“I hope he’s not going to serve us the head,” I said.

“The head’s the best part,” Asif said.

“I’ve already looked this fish in the eye once tonight,” I said.

The manager tottered back out of the kitchen, still holding the large white bucket. I could hear the flopping and sloshing inside it. What is he doing? I wondered.

He came up to me. To me. “This your fish,” he said.

I peered down into the bucket. “Yes,” I said, “this is our fish.”

“Bok choy?” Asif asked. “Rice? Tea?”

The manager smiled. “Bok choy, rice, tea,” he replied. “This your fish,” he said to me, and then promptly dropped the bucket down on the floor beside me, turned on his heel and hurried back into the kitchen.

I looked back down at the gasping dying creature beside me. “Hello, fish,” I said sadly.

The manager burst back into the room with a pot of tea, rushed over to me, placed the teapot down in front of us, picked up the bucket. I held up my hand to stop him. “No head,” I said.

“No head?” he asked.

I made a slashing motion across my throat. “No head,” I said.

He nodded sadly. “No head,” he said, and then went back into the kitchen, a little less exuberantly than before.

“The head’s the best part,” Asif said.

“Then the kitchen staff can eat it and enjoy it,” I said.

A few minutes later–literally a few minutes–a younger man came out with a large plate of steamed rice and another heaped with bok choy fried in oil and garlic. Hot on his heels was the manager with our fish, cleaned and filleted and pan-fried and, yes, with no head.

“This your fish,” he said proudly, and set it down before us. “No head.”

“Thank you very much,” I replied. He stood by and watched as we spooned the rice and bok choy onto our plates, then each took half of the fish. I took the first bite, raised it to my mouth, chewed and swallowed.

Even now, I remember it as the best fish I’ve ever tasted–buttery and crisp on the outside, tender and flavourful on the inside.

I gave the manager a thumbs-up, and so did Asif. The manager beamed. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, then hurried off to another table.

I don’t know, maybe it’s because we were starving. The rice was delicious, the bok choy was delicious. Bite after bite, the fish was perfect.

“This your fish,” Asif said to me as we ate.

“Thank you, fish,” I replied.

Thanks, David. It’s nice that you took a moment to say thanks to the fish. Though, without a head, it’s unlikely it heard you.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Leigh Grossman

No Comments » Written on October 15th, 2018 by
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Leigh Grossman

Time is doing that thing again (at least for me) where the days blur together and I have to pause a moment to consider if I was away at convention last weekend or was it the weekend before, or more regularly wonder just what day of the week it is anyway. This is probably a good thing, but let’s keep an eye on it just in case.

And speaking of temporal slip sliding, whenever I think of this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, my mind always goes back to various incarnations of an annual convention and the evening party there where Leigh Grossman would showcase some of his students. Leigh, it should be acknowledged, teaches in the English Department of the University of Connecticut.

He’s the author of the fantasy novels The Green Lion and The Golden Thorne, as well as the editor of Sense of Wonder, this last title being arguably the most comprehensive teaching anthology of science fiction ever attempted, comprising more than 200 stories, poems, and bibliographic essays. Considering the current cost of textbooks, this volume is a godsend.

Leigh’s latest fantasy novel, The Lost Daughters, come out from Wildeside Press on Halloween. It’s packed with returning gods, magic, battles, and betrayal, which is to say, business as usual.

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

LG: When I was a kid, any time I showed poor table manners, my mother would say to me what I heard as, “That’s why I never take you to the Belby Stratford for Sunday brunch.” I had no idea what she was talking about. By the time I was in high school, I realized that she meant the Bellevue Stratford, long the most prestigious hotel in Philadelphia, the city where my mother had grown up. I found out that her mother had said the same thing to her when my mom was a kid, and that she never had gotten to go (my grandmother had died very young, and in fact I am named for her). I also learned that the luxury hotel had fallen on hard times, largely because a hotel designed as a palace for traveling Gilded Age robber barons felt like an embarrassing excess in the 1970s. The decline was accelerated when 29 American Legion members died after a hotel function and it went from being synonymous with sybaritic luxury to the example high school biology classes use to explain disease vectors. The irony was lost on me: To me, the Bellevue Stratford stood for unfulfilled dreams, for the things your parents promise will happen if you’re good but, because life isn’t fair, often never happen. Which seemed to be the case: The Bellevue Stratford staggered through several owners and promised restorations before, just as I arrived in Philly to attend college, closing for what seemed like the last time.

The Lost Daughters

You can see where this is going. Just about the time I’m getting ready to leave Philly, the Bellevue Stratford reopens. It’s the late 1980s, and excess is back in style again. I save up: I was poor, and this place was priced for Gilded Age robber barons. By that spring I’ve saved up enough money to take my mom to Sunday Brunch at the Bellevue Stratford for Mother’s Day.

My stepfather had been a chef at some pretty luxurious places, but I’d never been to a restaurant like this before. None of the fanciness felt forced. Everyone looked comfortable in their tuxedos. This was way out of my league, but what made it most memorable was seeing my mom go all fangirl walking through the Barrymore Room, chattering about features I’d never heard of that she’d idolized since she had been a Philly kid in the 1940s, when the Bellevue Stratford was synonymous with magic. It was like seeing my mom as a kid who believed in magic, before this had become one of her unfulfilled dreams.

And the food was magical. Mostly I remember the oysters, because while I’d had oysters before, apparently what I’d eaten in the past had been only a pale shadow of what real oysters tasted like. And it was all like that: dish after dish that tasted as if I was only now experiencing what it was supposed to taste like all along.

The Green Lion

I went back another year and it was good, but the magic of that first fulfilled dream had faded. Years later I tried to capture it when I was writing The Lost Daughters, and a neglected girl who is the same age my daughter is now is brought to a feast by the mother she will soon lose: “From there things turned into a whirlwind. Dinner was in a huge, glittering room filled with thick red carpets. Chandeliers of cut glass, each piece glowing with channeled magic, slowly revolved above us. We sat at the longest table I had ever seen, surrounded by strangers who all seemed to know my mother. By that time my head was spinning, and I’m not sure I even made it through dinner awake. I remember course after course, each one fancier than the one before, and I think the last few I may have dreamed.”

I had to look it up: The Bellevue Stratford has since been through several more declines and revivals. But they do still offer Sunday brunch at their top-floor luxury restaurant with its Gilded Age ornamentation, vaulted ceilings, and panoramic views. And that’s important, because I have a daughter who believes in magic, and when her table manners slip I tell her, “That’s why I never take you to the Bellevue Stratford for Sunday brunch.” And while I’m sure that in this unfair world she will have many unfulfilled dreams, this is one that I want to see come true.

Thanks, Leigh. Wow, I’ve lived and worked in the greater Philadelphia area for more than twenty-five years and I’ve never before heard of the Bellevue Stratford. What does that say about my table manners?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Sarah Kuhn

No Comments » Written on October 8th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
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Sarah Kuhn

Long time readers of this blog will know that each year as soon as the list of Campbell Award nominees are announced I make it my mission to promote the award by inviting them to share the tales of their most memorable meals. Alas, I don’t always succeed and some of the nominees don’t get showcased. Sometimes, it’s because a writer has previously appeared here, in which case they only get mentioned in passing with a link to that earlier entry. Sometimes an author just can’t be contacted or doesn’y respond. And sometimes, because this the way life is for writers, they’re just too busy with higher priorities to get back to me.

Earlier in the year, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest year, Sarah Kuhn, was a finalist for the Campbell Award and other obligations kept her from a timely appearance on this blog. But she’s here now and I am pleased as the proverbial punch to have her. She writes non-fiction, she writes short stories, she writes comics and graphic novels. Oh, and she’s also done this pretty amazing series of books, the Heroine Complex (the third came out this past July). If you’ve not encountered them before, just run with the elevator pitch of “The Devil Wears Prada with superheroes” and you’re good to go. Because if you like hot romance, supernatural karaoke battles, and evil cupcakes, Sarah has you covered.

And just in case that’s not enough, look for her YA debut next June, I Love You So Mochi, a romantic comedy set in Japan.

LMS: Welcome, Sarah. What’s your most memorable meal?

SK: There’s nothing better than coming in from the rain to stuff your face with a hot, decadent meal. Even better if you’ve just emerged from a long, treacherous road trip. Even better if said road trip culminated in a slippery drive over the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the miracle of a parking spot on one of those narrow, hilly streets that are one hundred percent not built for parking spots.

Heroine Complex

That was the build-up for my most memorable meal. My friend Amber and I drove up to the Bay Area from Los Angeles to participate in a reading. We got a late start because we pretty much always get a late start and skipped stopping for food in the middle because we’d “be there soon.”

Of course the drive turned trafficky, of course it started raining, of course we were caught in a full-on storm by the time we edged our way into Oakland and onto the bridge. The rain pounded so forcefully against our car windows, I was sure it was going to bust right through and drown us and then we’d never get to eat and even if we didn’t drown, we’d probably combust from hangry-ness.

Luckily none of these mishaps befell us, and we made it to Cordon Bleu, a tiny Vietnamese restaurant on California Street. (I think it’s no relation to that other Cordon Bleu, but I remain kind of fuzzy on that point.)

Heroine's Journey

It must have been almost 10 pm at that point. The wonderful Aunties who own the place plopped giant, steaming plates of meat and rice and crackly fried imperial rolls in front of us. We did not waste any time talking during that meal. We inhaled. But it wasn’t the kind of inhaling where you don’t register what you’re eating. We love every single goddamn bite.

The real star for me was the meat sauce, which is just what it sounds like—bits of meat in a gloriously savory, gravy-like sauce dumped over a pile of rice. I scraped my plate clean and when Auntie asked if I wanted more meat sauce, I almost cried.

The rain was still pouring down, gushing like it was being dumped out of gigantic sky buckets, but we were safe and warm and full.

Whenever I go back to San Francisco, I hike up one of the massive hills to go to Cordon Bleu. I get there right when they open because otherwise it gets packed, everyone jostling for one of the few seats at the tiny counter. I order the same thing I ordered that night, meat on rice and imperial roll fresh from the fryer. I eat until I’m full to the point of bursting, savoring every bit of it.

And when Auntie asks if I want more meat sauce, I always say yes.

Thanks, Sarah. It’s oft been said that hunger is the best sauce. That may be, but a cold rain surely comes in as a close second.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: CapozKnows Photography

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