Eating Authors: Gwendolyn Clare

1 Comment » Written on February 19th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Gwendolyn Clare

My apologies, but as I prepare this week’s EATING AUTHORS post I’m grappling with a fever, chills, aches, cough, mild hallucinations, and the certainty that someone has stuffed ground glass into my throat. So, I’m going to keep this introduction brief.

I’ve said it before and I hope to be get to say many times again, I really like using these blog posts to promote a writer’s first book. Why am I telling you this now? Because Gwendolyn Clare’s debut novel, Ink, Iron, and Glass, comes out tomorrow. It has mad scientists in it, what else could you possibly need to know?

Gwen lives in Central Pennsylvania and possesses a doctorate in Mycology (that’s the study of fungi, in case you weren’t sure). This strikes me as beyond cool (and not just because I recently wrote a story with algae). I’d tell you more about her but, 1) I can barely see to type, and 2) I really want you to get right into her most memorable meal because it is beyond awesome.

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

GC: Since my debut novel takes place in Italy and stars a bunch of mad scientists, here’s an unforgettable meal involving both Italian food and Italian science.

One summer in college, I went on a field course to Italy through the Geophysical Sciences department at my university. We spent the majority of the trip in the Umbria-Marche region of central Italy; our home base was an old villa converted into a field station by an Italian geologist who seemed inordinately fond of yelling “Andiamo!” at American students.

One of our scheduled field trips was to visit a roadcut outside the small town of Gubbio. The strata of sedimentary rock exposed by that roadcut includes the boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods, when dinosaurs went extinct. While the K-T boundary can be found in places all over the world, this particular inch-thick layer of clay yielded the samples which led rockstar-geologist Walter Alvarez to theorize that an astroid impact killed the dinosaurs.

Ink, Iron, and Glass

So we’re riding in our borrowed vans along the twisty, unlined country roads. We’re excited because we’re giant nerds, and for geologists seeing the Gubbio Layer is a bit like a film afficionado winning passes to visit a historic movie studio — this is where it all happened. We pull over to the side of the road and pile out of the vans only to find that there are people already visiting the site. An older Italian gentleman with a couple of grad students.

The gentleman, we quickly learn, is none other than Walter Alvarez.

He knows our host from the field station, and before any of us Americans can really believe what’s happening, we’re making lunch plans with the dude who discovered how the dinosaurs went extinct. While standing at the historic location that made the discovery possible. So many people have wanted to take a piece of the Gubbio Layer that the exposed rockface is deeply indented above and below the stratum — the sign of scientists and collectors chipping away at it over the years.

For the better portion of midday, we effectively colonize a nearby restaurant, sitting around one long chain of pushed-together tables so Alvarez can regale us with a firsthand account of his now-famous research.

The food itself was probably excellent. (All the food we ate in Italy was excellent. By that time we’d been spoiled by our nightly dinners, which were long multi-course meals served family style with the requisite local wine.) I believe the lunch was pizza, but I wouldn’t swear on it — when you’re at lunch with your hero, you’d hardly notice if they served you sawdust.

Alvarez made scientific discovery sound wonderous — even magical. And the magic of science is what the Ink, Iron, and Glass universe is all about.

Thanks, Gwen. You now tie with Gregory Benford for having the most nerdgasmic meal story in the history of this blog.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


Eating Authors: Jane Lindskold

No Comments » Written on February 12th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Jane Lindskold

One of the things I like most about the internet is how it can bring people together. I first became acquainted with this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Jane Lindskold, because of her work completing two novels by one of my favorite authors, the late, great Roger Zelazny. Then my wife discovered Jane’s Firekeeper Saga, which in turn led to her Breaking the Wall series, and soon the house was full of her other books as well.

Yet despite this, Jane and I had never met, never shared a panel at a convention, never spoken or corresponded. Not until the day she showed up with a comment on my Twitter feed. Then it happened again. Then I commented on hers. And soon we were trading remarks and then email and naturally I then invited her to this blog and here we are.

Jane lives in New Mexico, land of green chiles and phenomenal authors. There’s a mythic quality to much of her fiction, particularly when she compares and contrasts the lives and societies of talking animals and legendary creatures with our own. And hey, talking animals! Okay, so I’m a little biased.

She self-published her latest book, Asphodel, less than a month ago. It’s a bit hard to describe in a few words, other than to sqy that I think you’ll really like it.

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

JL: Trying to single out my most memorable meal would be pretty much impossible. Why? Because both my parents were talented cooks who loved to experiment in the kitchen. They passed on their love for cooking to me, and I brought that love with me when I moved to New Mexico to live with Roger Zelazny back in 1994.


When Roger and I moved in together, he was already suffering the effects of the cancer that would kill him not quite a year later. He’d lost a lot of weight – not a great thing for a man who started out rail-thin. He also had a fair amount of anemia. My natural reaction to this was to roll up my sleeves and start cooking. What I never anticipated was that Roger would decide that learning more about cooking could be fun.

Before I moved to New Mexico, Roger tended to eat most of his meals out. In Santa Fe, this is not a hardship. There’s a wide variety of excellent, healthy food. Still… honestly, I’d rather cook than eat out. I don’t remember what we started making: steaks and green veggies to deal with the anemia, certainly. Roger remembered having had steaks with bacon around the edges, so we figured out how to attach thick strips from the deli with toothpicks.

Then, one day, probably on one of our trips, we dined at a restaurant that bragged on its crepes. I had some but was underwhelmed. Sure they were good, but they didn’t match up to the delicate Russian version we called “Baba’s pancakes” that my dad made us for breakfast almost every weekend.

Through Wolf's Eyes

I offered to make some at home. Roger was fascinated. Before long, he wanted to give cooking them a try. Once he had learned the trick of getting the batter to spread evenly yet paper thin, he decided that nothing would do but learn to flip the crepes. I’d never done this, but soon I was making batter by the bowlful. Side by side at the range in our narrow kitchen, we took turns until both of us could pull it off.
Some we ate fresh out of the pan, but others we filled with chocolate mousse (I make a very good one) or asparagus. It was great. Also, all that fresh dairy, egg, and all put weight back on Roger. At that time, I didn’t realize that this was close to miraculous.

My dad lived in Colorado. Eventually, he drove down to stay with us. In his luggage he brought a bag of Key Limes he’d picked from a tree in my great-uncle Svenn’s garden on a recent visit. Now he and Roger decided they’d make Key Lime pie. Since I’ve never been a fan of the stuff, I left the guys to it and prepared the rest of the meal.

They found a recipe in one of my cookbooks and set to work. Thing is, Key Lime pie is tricky because it relies on how the acid in the limes reacts to the other ingredients to set properly. No matter what they did, it wouldn’t set. Did this beat them? Nope. They carefully placed the pie in the freezer and, when cold did the rest of the job, decided they liked their frozen version better than the original.

Artemis Invaded

They’re both gone now, but in my recipe file, I have a card with John and Roger’s Key Lime pie on it.

Then there was the time that I’d made sixteen bean soup with ham. Roger, very pleased that these things were being made in his own kitchen, offered some to his son Trent and his friend Matt when they dropped by for a visit. I’ll always remember the look on those two teenagers’ faces as they asked, “Are you sure there’s enough?”

Sixteen beans, you see…

These days, I’m lucky to be married to a great guy who enjoys experimenting with cooking. Together we make my family’s traditional recipes for sausage, homemade pasta, his mother’s lemon bars. Right now, Jim has me teaching him how to bake but, even as I appreciate how lucky I am to live with someone who shares my interest in cooking, still I’ll always keep a warm spot for my memories of Roger’s joy as he learned to flip crepes or his pleasure in that frozen Key Lime pie.

Thanks, Jane. My wife and I have fond memories of exploring Santa Fe’s dining options. Just thinking about it has me longing for green chiles.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Richard Baker

No Comments » Written on February 5th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Richard Baker

February has begun, which means it’s time to settle into 2018 and get on with it. I’m preparing this post two days earlier than you’re reading it, which means it’s quite possible that I’ve been killed by last night’s riots or celebrations, depending on how the Super Ball went. Though, as I’m not in Philadelphia proper, the odds are pretty good that any chaos won’t reach me (but my DayJob venue may have been burned to the ground). What can I say? Philly’s sportsfans are an exuberant bunch.

From football games I need to segue to role playing games, because this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest is none other than Richard Baker. If you grew up playing D&D (or AD&D for those who came along a bit later), then you’ve probably been swept up in his work for Forgotten Realms, Planetscape, Ravenloft, and many other Dungeons & Dragons adventures and source books. Not to mention his work with Alternity and Axis & Allies.

You might think that’s enough, but Rich wasn’t content to stop there. No, he’s also written numerous novels set in the Forgotten Realms universe and beyond. Last November he branched out with an original science fiction novel. Valiant Dust, volume one of his proposed Breaker of Empires series, has been described as an action-packed military SF adventure that combines the best of Horatio Hornblower and Honor Harrington. Right? Got you attention there, didn’t I? So, go read his most memorable meal and than go forth and read this book!

LMS: Welcome, Rich. Assuming you haven’t succumbed to the Superbowl, please talk to me about your most memorable meal.

RB: My most memorable meal? That’s a tough one! I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to partake of many wonderful meals—family celebrations, visits to outstanding restaurants, romantic dates with my wife—but to my surprise choosing a single standout is turning out to be pretty hard. I can’t really point to any brushes with celebrity or greatness at the dinner table. I’m sure that, for some readers, gatherings of Forgotten Realms authors or noted game designers would be considered pretty memorable, but to be honest, most of these folks are friends and colleagues. They’re good company, but I just don’t recall any of these occasions as the sort of once-in-a-lifetime experience you’d expect for your most memorable meal.

So let’s try a different kind of memorable—say, a disaster. And that definitely suggests a very memorable meal. The place: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The time: the last night of GenCon, 1992 or so. The restaurant: Let’s just say it’s a Chinese restaurant not far from the downtown convention center.

Valiant Dust

GenCon in the early ‘90s was a very busy show for me and my colleagues at TSR, Inc. We routinely worked 12- and 14-hour days to cover everything we knew we needed to do for the show, so by Saturday night we were pretty well punch-drunk from sheer fatigue. Back in those days, our spouses often took a few days off from their own jobs and pitched in to help out—my wife Kim actually helped out with the costume contest for a couple of years, for no other reason than the fact that she was at the show and she was willing to lend a hand.

Anyway, on this particular Saturday night, Kim and I join a large group of friends and co-workers heading out for a late dinner: Thomas Reid and his wife Teresa, David Wise and his wife Sue, and a couple of Thomas’s buddies from back home. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few others, because I know our party was at least a dozen or so. My apologies to those I’m overlooking now.

Well, the restaurant is also at the end of their rope. They’ve been swamped by convention crowds for three straight days, they’re running out of popular entrees, their staff is beat too, and they’re tired of loud, obnoxious gamers storming the place in giant parties and staying way past normal dining hours. (Every year it seemed that GenCon ambushed this place; you’d think that after a year or two they would have started to watch the calendar and get ready, but they never did.)

Dinner starts off badly with mixed-up drink orders and several trips back and forth to the kitchen as one by one we learn that something we ordered is no longer available. We’re tired and hungry and really we just want something to eat . . . but instead of being cranky about it, we go through this weird transformation of misery into comedy. Each misplaced drink, each dropped order, just strikes us as funnier and funnier, until we’re laughing out loud at each mistake our servers make or new “we don’t have that now” announcement. It’s like we’re now seeing our dining experience as a brilliantly performed parody of a bad meal in a Chinese restaurant, and it strikes us as hilarious. I know, it sounds kind of callous now, but like I said, we’re silly with fatigue and we just don’t care anymore.

Prince of Ravens

At one point, Thomas’s friend Jerry tells an absolutely hilarious story about his experience living in Alaska. It goes like this: one cold winter morning Jerry and his family wake up, look outside, and notice that their swing set is missing—gone altogether. Puzzled, they bundle up and go outside to investigate. There’s no sign of the swing set, but drag marks in the snow lead off into the woods. They follow the tracks, wondering who in the hell would drag off a backyard swing set, and half a mile on they encounter a bull moose with the whole damned swing set entangled in its antlers. A moose just walked off with their swing set, because they live in Alaska and stuff like that just happens there. Well, we all think this is pretty funny, and we have a great laugh about it.

Then dinner is served.

I have no idea what I ordered, but I can tell you what Dave Wise got. He ordered the Volcano Chicken with Lava Sauce. None of us, not even Dave, have any idea what this will turn out to be, so we’re all watching with some interest. The waiter sets before Dave a wooden plank with a big metal spike on it—and on the spike is impaled a whole roast chicken, butt-end down, headless neck up. If you were a medieval warlord trying to scare other chickens away from your lands, that’s exactly how you would display a chicken as a gruesome warning to the rest of its feathered kind. Well, we all think this is about the funniest thing we’ve ever seen. (Punch-drunk with fatigue, remember?)

Then the waiter upends a bottle of brandy over the chicken, and the mystery of the Lava Sauce is revealed. This is some sort of chicken flambé! Well, you don’t usually see that in Chinese restaurants, but why the hell not? The only problem is that the waiter doesn’t have any matches or a lighter handy. He pats through every pocket he has, then wanders off to find something with which to set fire to the chicken. The whole time, the brandy is continuing to soak into the chicken. Minutes later, he finally returns, and ignites the chicken.

It goes up like a bonfire.

The Last Mythal

Seriously, flames two feet tall leap from the impaled poultry on the wooden plank (which fortunately had been removed to a serving tray beside the table, and not left sitting directly in front of Dave Wise). I think the waiter might have lost his eyebrows, but I couldn’t say for sure because I didn’t really make an effort to study his eyebrows for later comparison before the whole presentation began. Needless to say, this is hilarious to us, and we’re just about falling out of our chairs with laughter. And the best part is that the waiter has no idea how to extinguish the Volcano Chicken, because once you let the brandy soak into whatever you’re trying to flambé, it’s not just going to burn off the surface—you’ve made the chicken itself into a fuel source for the fire.

I think the waiter picked up the serving tray, flaming chicken and all, and hurried back into the kitchen to deal with the problem there. Amazingly enough, he brought the now very crisped chicken back to the table and served it to Dave anyway. Dave reported that it was the booziest dish he’d ever eaten and not really edible, which I suppose is about what you’d expect from this whole poultry auto-da-fé. But I’m sure that heretical chickens throughout Wisconsin got the message loud and clear, and watched their step after that.

Great food, no. Scintillating conversation or glamorous company, not really. Memorable? Hell yes.

Thanks, Rich. Though, I think you should have known you were tempting fate ordering something called “Volcano Chicken” during a gaming convention. This is why we have saving throws!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Indrapramit Das

No Comments » Written on January 29th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Indrapramit Das

On the one hand, as the first month of the year winds down, I’ve finished a new short story and a collaborative novella (the first of three). On the other hand, I’m way behind on a couple of other projects and most of the past five days have been sacrificed to the flu (despite getting a shot this year).

But on the gripping hand, EATING AUTHORS doesn’t care about any of that, and so I bring you this week’s guest, Indrapramit Das. You probably know him for his short fiction which has been in a wide range of venues, but his debut novel, The Devourers, was nominated for both the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and the Tata Live! Literature First Book Award in his native India, as well as being short-listed for the Crawford Award. Oh, and it won the Lambda Award

Indra himself is an Octavia E. Butler Scholar and a graduate of the Clarion West. Keep an eye on him.

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

ID: Late afternoon lunch years and years ago with my (late) maternal grandparents at our extended family’s house (Ballygunge Place, Calcutta), where I would go after school sometimes because my parents were at work. Somewhere in my early teens, tired and hungry after a hot summer day at school.

The Devourers

On my plate, the Bengali delicacy of hilsa (a most revered fish around the Gangetic delta) and chunks of hilsa eggs fried in mustard oil with dried red chillies, eaten with steamed rice (you crush the fried whole chillies into the rice, which sops up the oil that the cuts of fish were fried in) and a pinch of salt. My grandmother told me how to eat the bony piece, cut out of the fish’s midsection, watching me eat the pale, bone-prickled flesh (golden and slightly crisp on the outside, white on the inside, except the skin, which is dark, silvery black like the sea, and tastes like it too) so an arrowhead-shaped piece of skin, fat and bone remains like a riverine wishbone (a segment of the spine, with ribs arching out from it) at the end of the meal. Using the bony morsel on her own plate, she showed me with her greased fingers how to splay this ‘wishbone’ by bending the miniature ribs, so you can then pop that sharp bit in your mouth and suck out the thick layer of fat and oil clinging under the stretched bow of de-scaled fish-skin and slick bone.

My grandparents are now dead, but since that lunch, with them both watching proudly as I drained the skeletal remains of that hilsa of omega-rich fatty oils, I have never once forgotten to dismantle a piece of hilsa so I can drain that little reservoir of fishy bacon grease from under the arch of its needle-sharp spine.

Thanks, Indra. I’ve never had hilsa, and now I’m afraid to try it for fear of eating it wrong. Hmmm, I wonder if there are instructional videos available online…

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Wendy Nikel

No Comments » Written on January 22nd, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Wendy Nikel

Yesterday, I was in Detroit. And, to be honest, I might still be there, because I’ve written this a couple days early and for all I know the weather there or here (here being Philadelphia) may have prevented my flight home on Sunday. Or it didn’t, but the plane crashed. Or I was in an accident on the way to the airport in Detroit, or maybe on the way home from the airport in Philly. Or aliens. Yeah, it could have been aliens, scooping me up because they’re bored (hard to do crop circles in this weather). Or, most likley, time travelers. By which I mean, time travelers again (because, duh, time travel). Seriously, what is with you time cops and time thieves and time accountants? Why do you always hassle SF authors? I’d think you’d be on our side, right? But I digress…

Whether I’m here, or not, what you need to focus on is that you have a shiny, new installment of EATING AUTHORS before you, featuring Wendy Nikel, whose first book, The Continuum, comes out tomorrow from World Weaver Press (and is probably the reason I’ve been thinking about time travel, in case you were wondering).

Prior to this book, Wendy’s been writing short stories, including an ongoing series about Juliet Silver, a tea shop server who becomes a fearsome airship pilot, and eventually a fearsome airship pirate! What more could you possibly want?

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

WN: I didn’t realize when asked this question how difficult it would be to come up with an answer. Although cooking isn’t one of my favorite things to do around the house (we probably eat more pizza around here than we ought to), I have a huge appreciation for a good meal, especially when I don’t have to make it or do the dishes afterward.

The Continuum

Because of this, my mind immediately went to some of my favorite restaurants and dinners at friends’ houses, because even an excellent meal can be ruined if the company is bad, and even an awful meal can be improved with good friends. I thought of the times when I was a kid and my grandpa would take us out to eat to celebrate good report cards. I considered the time we piled into my college friend’s car in the middle of the night and drove half an hour to the nearest 24-hour Wendy’s and then ate our cheap fries and Frosties beneath the buffalo sculpture in the park. I remembered the New Year’s Eve parties at my parents’ house, pigging out on leftover Christmas cookies and Lil’ Smokeys mini sausages and nachos.

Perhaps my favorite meal of all, though, was one that I actually did make. In the fall of 2007, my husband and I moved to Ottawa, Ontario for a year-long internship, and we celebrated not only our first Canadian Thanksgiving, but also the first Thanksgiving on our own. Up until this point, we’d always lived near family, and the most I’d brought to the table had been some pumpkin pies. But that year, we knew we wouldn’t be able to make the trip back for the holidays, so when October rolled around, I started plotting the ultimate Canadian Thanksgiving. It was my first time making a turkey, and I planned for weeks to make sure that we’d have all of our favorite Thanksgiving foods, right down to the chocolate and mint pies that my siblings and I usually made.

018 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide

I bought the ingredients and spent all day cooking and baking — with a few long-distance phone calls to my mom to check to make sure I was doing it right. And when it was done, it was perfect. The turkey was golden, the potatoes were fluffy and buttery and delicious, and the pies were just right. It was like a little bit of home, despite being far away. Just that ritual of setting the table and sitting down to enjoy all that delicious, familiar food made our new home feel not so far away from our loved ones.

I didn’t know at the time, but this would be good practice for years later when we moved out west and once again had the holidays to ourselves. This year, for the first time since we moved here, my sister and her family are coming to visit for Thanksgiving, and I’m looking forward to once again gathering around the table with dishes made from the same recipes we’ve enjoyed since we were children, passing down this tradition to the next generation.

Thanks, Wendy. Thanksgiving seems to be one of those holidays where everything is perfect or the napalm is flying. I don’t think there’s any middle ground. I’m still a little shaken from the one just passed, my first without turkey. Seemed so wrong.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Russ Colchamiro

No Comments » Written on January 15th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Russ Colchamiro

On Thursday, the low temperature here was about nine degrees. The next day, we hit sixty-five and it rained. Saturday, we dropped back to twelve. Yesterday’s high was all of twenty-six. Well, at least all of the previous snow melted and washed away in the warm rain.

Sorry, no segue for this week; sometimes that’s just how it goes. Our EATING AUTHORS guest is Russ Colchamiro, whom I have always known as a short story writer (primarily because we were both in Pangaea, an anthology from Crazy 8 Press). But we were chatting in the Dealers’ Room at Philcon a couple months back, and I discovered I didn’t know the half of it. Russ has a string of novels to his credit, most notably the zany Finders Keepers series.

He lives just over the river in New Jersey, but he’s backpacked throughout Europe and New Zealand, the former figures in what he’ll tell you in a moment, but both experiences provide a context for a lot of his fiction. It’s not enough to say that Russ writes SFF. He actually writes humor and adventure and mystery. It just so happens that he does all that while writing SFF.

LMS: Welcome, Russ. Speak to me of your most memorable meal.

RC: I originally shared a version of this anecdote in my scifi backpacking comedy novel, Finders Keepers, through the POV of my alter ego, Jason Medley. The details below—this time through my own POV—are based on actual events I experienced late August of 1994 when I was 23 years old. At this point in the story—beginning in the Gare du Nord, the main train hub in Paris—I was mentally, emotionally, and physically fatigued, having endured approximately 36 consecutive hours of non-stop hustling between planes, cars, buses, subways, trains, hovercrafts, and more trains, on what was the initial leg of a month-long backpacking trip I took through Europe—my first trip of consequence anywhere. I was traveling alone, and spoke no languages other than English.

The direct train from Paris—where I was—to Rome—where I was headed—was due to depart in less than two minutes. It was also the last train to Rome for the night and I literally had nowhere to sleep—I didn’t know a soul in the entire city—if I missed it. But for reasons unclear to me the track number changed at the last minute, which left me running full bore, a loaded rucksack on my back.

Finders Keepers

I stumbled upon an information booth.

“Excuse me,” I said to the attendant. “Train to Rome. It was supposed to be on track nine, but it’s not. Do you know which track? Do you know where it is?”

He winged his newspaper, creating a distinct barrier between us, preventing eye contact. Smoke floated up from behind the paper.

“Sir! Train to Rome. It leaves in …,” I checked my watch, “… in less than three minutes. Train to Rome. Which track? Do you know which track?”

The cigarette grumbler winged his paper again. He turned his back on me.

“Excuse me, sir. Please. Can you help me? Train to Rome …”

I fantasized about jumping over the counter and clubbing him with a baguette until the right answer popped loose, but instead the clock in my head clanged away like an ancient gong.

10:54:03 … Clang!
10:54:04 … Clang!
10:54:05 … Clang!

The cigarette grumbler looked over his shoulder. “Three,” he said finally, then stormed into the back room. Slam!

Sprinting along the platform I strained to see through the train windows. Compartment after compartment was filled with passengers. Not an empty seat to be found.

An awesome clang! echoed in my head at the tick of 10:55:27. With the train about to pull out of the station, I heaved my rucksack onto the next car, jumped on the metal stairs, but tripped over my bag, denting my shin on the doorframe. Leg now throbbing, I pulled myself up and limped along the narrow hallway. Light came in through the windows. The first compartment was full. Same with the second, the third, and the fourth. I was getting anxious, covered in a film of sweat and anxiety that soaked through my clothes, afraid I would have to stand the entire fourteen-hour trip to Rome.


The final compartment was fitted with two padded benches, facing each other. There was just enough room for six passengers, three to a bench. There was one spot available, the middle to my right. “Train to Rome?” I looked to a twentyish brunette in a white ruffled blouse. “Sí,” she said.

I forced my rucksack between the other bags on the overhead rack, then squeezed myself between two strangers. Six sets of interlocking knees now occupied the small common ground between the two sides.

Shrouded in darkness, I ached head to toe, and didn’t care. I hadn’t eaten a solid meal in nearly two days, and didn’t care. I hadn’t showered in just as long, and didn’t care.

I was grateful just to have reached the end of one of the longest days of my life, one that spanned three nations, two oceans, and thousands of miles, a day whose beginning I could no longer remember or even care to recall. I was sitting down. That was good enough for me.

And yet the sleep never came. I pinned my shoulders against the seat back so I wouldn’t invade the personal space of my fellow travelers. But I wanted to feel like a whole person again, to make a connection. “Hi,” I finally said to the guy sitting next to me.

He rubbed his scraggly beard, adjusted his glasses, and then swept the long hair from his face. “Uh … sí, hello, yes. You America, no?”

“Yeah, America. From New York.”

“Ah! New York! Sí, sí. Antonio, Antonio.” Antonio then introduced Sonja, the black-haired beauty to my left, and then facing me Christi, René and Angelina, three twentyish girls, pretty and without makeup, dressed in jeans and ragged shirts, backpackers all.

We then took turns in the bathroom, a tiny closet at the end of the car.

As I stared at myself in the mirror, it was impossible not to notice that my complexion was sickly yellow; I had dark bags under my eyes. But I managed to wash my face, brush my teeth, gargle with peppermint Listerine, and then spritz each armpit with deodorant. The spray was cool. It stung.

Genius de Milo

Perked, but not perky, I walked in on my new friends. They were using their knees as tables, sharing a box of crackers, a brick of chocolate, and passed around a water bottle.

As if drop kicked in the face, I couldn’t believe my stupidity. Among my forty pounds of gear I hadn’t packed the most important item of all—food. Not a cookie, not a sandwich. No candy, no fruit, no drinks. Nothing. Not even a breath mint.

I all but collapsed into the fetal position and started to weep—when Christi smiled at me. “Hungry, yes? Eat. You receive good deed, you do for someone else. Is the traveler’s karma. You’ll see.”

It took all I had from hugging her senseless. You’re an angel. But gratitude aside, the starving coyote in me was ready to rip the throats from anyone who came between me and the sesame crackers. I surveyed the food, let out a short sigh. “Thanks,” I said. “I could eat.”

Bellies satisfied and with the overhead light switched off again, my new friends and I tried to sleep, a jumble of limbs strewn about. The train made several stops, and as the eyelids of the morning sky began to open, we crossed the French border into Italy.

In my mind I thanked my now-slumbering mates for their generosity of spirit. For treating that compartment as their home and for making me their most welcome guest. And as I thought about the days ahead, I wondered if I would meet anyone even half as kind as they were, or share another meal that would ever mean as much.

Thanks, Russ. I have to say, I don’t understand how you can be carrying 40 lbs. of backpack (which presumably includes cooking gear) and not have any food. We clearly have different priorities in life.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Catherine Schaff-Stump

No Comments » Written on January 8th, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Catherine Schaff-Stump

We’re warming up again, but in the past week Philadelphia broke a twenty-three year record of not dropping below zero degrees. I foolishly spent too much time shoveling snow in single digit weather but the less said of that the better. Instead, let’s segue over to EATING AUTHORS and this week’s guest, Catherine Schaff-Stump. It’s fair to say that I’ve long been a fan of Cath’s short fiction, having acquired stories for various Paper Golem projects.

Cath’s a graduate of both the Viable Paradise workshop and the Taos Toolbox master class. And if you don’t already know her for her fiction, you’ve likely heard her voice, as she’s is one of the hosts of Unreliable Narrators, one of the funnest podcasts out there.

Her most recent book, published last September, is The Vessel of Ra, a YA Gothic fantasy and the the first volume of a proposed Klaereon Scroll series. I encourage you to check it out.

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

CS-S: My husband Bryon and I are Disney people. We were brainwashed by consumer culture as children, and as both of us grew up poor, Disney was this Holy Grail of vacation for us, much touted on television in living color. We wanted to live in that Disney magic, just like Uncle Walt spoon-fed it to us. As adults, we recognize rampant consumerism when we see it, but dang if we still didn’t want to go to the Disney theme parks and try to revel in the dream that was sold to us several console televisions ago in the past.

So we did. The first time Bryon and I went to Disney was 1996. It was splendid. We rode the Haunted Mansion three times in a row. We discovered that not only were the various theme parks wonderful, but also fantastic was Disney food.

The Vessel of Ra

You, gentle reader are probably thinking about corn dogs right now, but I am here to tell you that with some planning (reservations six months ahead kind of planning) you too can sample the pretzel rolls of the Canada pavilion, quiche cooked by Remy from Ratatouille, the tangine of Morocco, and even the flank steak of the Liberty Tavern. If you are truly romantic, maybe your husband will roll you a meatball with his nose at Tony’s Town Square while you are sitting by the Lady and the Tramp statue.

However, it is not Disney who is responsible for the most delicious meal I have ever had, although it was in Orlando, and I was there because of Disney. Sometimes you eat outside of the park. I’ve always been intrigued by the giant pineapple at Disney Springs (kind of a mall for Orlando tourists who want a little Disney, but aren’t lining up for the e-tickets). There is a restaurant with a giant Tyrannosaurus outside of it (aptly titled The T-Rex Café) and there is a giant silver pineapple. Hey? Who wouldn’t want to eat in a giant silver pineapple? So, reservations were made, and my culinary life was irrevocably changed.

Now, with apologies to Nickelodeon: Who cooks in a pineapple under the sea?

Hulk Hercules Professional Wrestler

The answer might surprise you…Gloria Estefan!

Yes, people from the Eighties, Gloria Estefan. She of the Miami Sound Machine. And yes, Miami Sound Machine does, in fact, belt out a very good tune. However, it turns out that Gloria Estefan has a second career as well—a delicious, crunchy second career. Gloria and her husband Emilio are restaurateurs who celebrate Cuban food and culture. The first Bongos was opened in 1992 in Miami, and one opened at Disney Springs in 1997. Bryon and I wandered in there one night, beginning our love affair with Cuban cuisine, which may now be my favorite kind.

As is often the wisest thing to do with an awarding winning restaurant, we decided to put ourselves in the hands of the wait staff. The young lady who helped us out told us the things we had to try that they were most famous for: Croquetas de Jamin Tradicionales and Vaca Frita.

The croquetas were tasty, a concoction of a case of mashed potato blended with spices enveloping a lively ham covered by a creamy bechamel sauce. As an appetizer they were tasty, but I’ve had food that good before in other establishments.

Cucurbital 2

Vaca Frita on the other hand? This terrific dish was skirt steak soaked in the citrusy goodness of delicious Cuban mojo, then rendered crispy so it had a sort of breaking point as you crunched into it, an interplay between chewy jerky and al dente pasta. Each mouthful sang and danced in our mouths. There was a giant platter of it, and like the red shoes of cuisine, you wanted to stop eating as you were satisfied, but you couldn’t stop yourself. One plate would have been enough for the two of us. We were heartbroken not to finish all of it.

Seeking Cuban food became a quest for us after that. We do have a Cuban restaurant in Cedar Rapids and the food is fine. There is a passable Ropa Vieja, good plantains, and solid Cubanos. And in Minneapolis, that scion city of the North where one would be amazed to find Cuban food, there is Victor’s 1959 Café, where the crab cakes are divine.

But we know, the husband and I, that the best place to find Cuban food is where we started enjoying it at Bongo’s. In my dreams I envision heaping platters of picadillo, lechon asada, and flan. Oh yeah. I can enjoy all that. But in my heart I’ll be thinking about vaca frita.

Thanks, Catherine. I’m of that same age, having grown up in southern California with a kitchen drawer full of unused B-tickets. A few years back I interviewed several executive chefs from the collection of Disney’s Orlando parks. Not a corn dog among them.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Delia Sherman

No Comments » Written on January 1st, 2018 by
Categories: Plugs
Delia Sherman

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to 2018. I’m happy to put the past year in the past, to focus on a shiny new year full of potential and renewed purpose. I invite you to come along for the ride.

We begin this new year of EATING AUTHORS with Delia Sherman as the first guest of 2018. Delia writes for both adults and children. She’s published three novels for the former (one co-written with her spouse, Ellen Kushner), all in the Fantasy of Manners vein, receiving a Mythopoeic Award for her troubles. Her middle-grade stories and books have earned her a Norton Award, a Prometheus Award, as well as a second Mythopoeic Award. She’s also a past nominee for the Crawford Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

In addition to her own writing, Delia is one of the founding members of the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Delia’s a teacher and lecturer (Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies from Brown). She’s also an experienced editor of both anthologies and webzines. And she regularly pays it forward, sharing her expertise by teaching at Clarion and Odyssey and Alpha, and plenty of other workshops throughout the world (which fits in nicely with her self-professed love of travel).

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

DS: Memory is an odd and selective thing. I know that I’ve eaten a lot of good food—formal meals in restaurants, lunch stops on road trips, picnics off the roof of a car ditto, dinners and lunches and parties in the houses of friends. But mostly I don’t remember what I actually ate. There is, however, one meal—or rather one set of meals—that I remember perfectly, because I’ve cooked it annually for ten years. It’s my wife Ellen’s and my favorite family tradition, and we take it a lot more seriously (for a given value of seriously) than Thanksgiving (for which we often hide and write and maybe fry up a duck breast for two). We hold it on Twelfth Night, traditionally the night when the magi brought the traditional baby gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus. It also—in England, anyway—is a time of feasting, entertainments, music, and plays. And since we’re both enthusiastic about all those things, it seems like the perfect time to throw a Twelfth Night party.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

The feast, to begin with, was an afterthought. The play’s the thing, and the friends we invite to help us read it. Shakespeare, of course, is a favorite. We’ve done Twelfth Night and As You Like It and Winter’s Tale. Ben Jonson was less successful—we didn’t make it all the way through Volpone, although we gave our best shot. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was a real hit, and we almost repeated it a second year, but substituted Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning at the last minute. We’ve done Noel Coward (Private Lives) and Moliere (The Miser) and Liz Duffy Adams (Or,). The core group of readers has always been me, Ellen, and two merry gentlemen she’s known from the 1980’s, when she last lived in New York. Since a lot of what we read is male-heavy, we practice gender-blind casting. Every scene is recast by our Perpetual Stage Manager, Patrick, who is kind enough to give favorite speeches to whoever begs hardest for them. By long tradition, Daniel gets first crack at the ranting elderly ladies and Ellen has a corner on the clever, snarky heroes. I prefer sensible characters of either gender, but will chew scenery when called upon.

We’ve played with the timing of dinner to accommodate both art and hunger. If we try to read the whole play beforehand, we either eat too much cheese or get so hungry the reading becomes a slog instead of a pleasure. If we use dinner as a long intermission, sometimes we don’t get to the second half of the play. We’ve never tried putting off the play until after dinner because that way lies a Twelfth Night without any play, and where would be the fun in that? Of course, everything would be easy if this were just a bowl of potato chips and maybe a steak or burritos kind of party, with ice cream afterwards, or maybe some homemade cookies, if we get ambitious. But it’s not.


You see, I have a thing for goose. It’s probably having read Dickens at an impressionable age, but for me, it’s just not Christmas without a goose. Except that we don’t actually celebrate Christmas, so the goose has moved to Twelfth Night instead. I use a recipe I found in Gourmet magazine in 1977, involving a dried fruit stuffing and port wine gravy and a certain amount of fussing with the hot fat that is the inevitable side-effect of roasting a goose. It is always moist (if I don’t forget to turn the temp down after the first 30 minutes) and usually crisp and tastes very faintly of fruit. I used to make red cabbage with it, but have recently turned to roasted brussels sprouts. Given the size of the oven in our apartment this year, I might go back to the cabbage, or maybe I’ll sautè the brussels sprouts with chutney. Potatoes, of course, and green beans and sweet potatoes mashed with sautéed apples. We carry in the goose (carved, because carving a goose is a greasy, messy affair best achieved without an audience) to The Boar’s Head Carol, because we like to sing. Dessert is a King Cake, a French tradition traditionally supplied by Daniel, to be eaten after we’ve either finished the play or voted unanimously to give up and tell bad jokes instead. Whoever gets the bean (or the little china donkey) in their piece has to wear a gilded cardboard crown. One year, Patrick forgot to take it off when he left and didn’t notice he was still wearing it until Daniel took pity on him before they got on the subway.

Young Woman in a Garden

The evening always ends with a rousing rendition of The King, a traditional Twelfth Night ballad that begins, “Joy, Health, Love, and Peace / Be all here in this place!” It is about a king (which is really a wren, the king of the birds) and is full of hedges and ribbons and cannon and joy in the New Year, and has a rousing good tune, which is the important thing with folk songs.

Like all traditions, our Twelfth Night feasts are both different every year and exactly the same. They exist in a timeless space wherein goose is eaten, songs are sung, toasts are proposed, a play is read, and friends laugh and pull Christmas crackers (bought, this year, in a branch of a Dutch department store) and talk about Shakespeare and comics and life. The cast of characters swells and shrinks, depending on who is in town and is willing to read long speeches aloud, but somehow everyone who has ever been there is always there, wearing a little paper crown, laughing and singing in chorus. It’s that fellowship I remember, and the faces around our table, golden in the candlelight as we raise our glasses and toast the New Year.

Also, the goose.

Thanks, Delia. You had me at Shakespeare. Though, the goose didn’t hurt a bit.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Beth Gwinn