Eating Authors: Jon Skovron

No Comments » Written on November 27th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Jon Skovron

The year is winding down. Just the other day, my wife and I gathered with family for Thanksgiving, my first ever without eating meat, which was… well, odd. Tomorrow I fly off to Hangzhou, China, for an adventure that promises to both croggle my brain and wrack my body. But this morning I can feel the year waning around me. It’s like the first stirrings of next year are trying to catch my attention. Seems like a set-up for a segue to me.

That frisson of endings and beginnings is nicely captured by Jon Skovron, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, whose adventure fantasy series, The Empire of Storms, comes to its conclusion with book three, Blood and Tempest, coming out tomorrow.

I first met Jon just under two months ago. We were on a panel together. He was clever and articulate and wry, and if he was fairly new to the whole experience of being on that side of the convention table, it certainly didn’t show.

In addition to his adult fiction, Jon also writes YA, so check out some of his other titles like
Misfit and Man Made Boy.

LMS: Welcome, Jon. So what stands out as your most memorable meal?

JS: I don’t think it would be ungenerous of me to say that Columbus, Ohio in the 1980’s was a cultural wasteland, especially when it came to food. Taco Bell was considered Mexican food, and I can’t remember name of the Chinese restaurant we went to because we always referred to it simply as “the Chinese restaurant”. I didn’t even know that Thai, Ethiopian, or Burmese food could be obtained in America. So it should come as no surprise that when people said “ramen”, the only kind I knew came in a square shape with a packet of powder flavoring. In fact, it wasn’t until my late thirties that this grotesque hole in my culinary education was filled.

I was finally introduced to the bliss of proper ramen on a chilly October day in 2015, when my editor took me to Ippudo on 51st Street in Manhattan. I was in New York to record the audio book for my fourth Young Adult novel, This Broken Wondrous World, at the Random House offices. Ever on the lookout for a free meal, I suggested to my editor that we meet up for lunch somewhere nearby while I was taking a break from recording. When she asked if I liked ramen, I didn’t know what she meant exactly, but said of course I did, because, again, free meal.

Blood and Tempest

Ippudo was small, crowded, and raucous. When we entered, everyone shouted some sort of greeting to us in Japanese. We were seated in a cramped corner with a table barely big enough for the two of us. The menu baffled me and I was too self-conscious to ask questions, so I just ordered the same thing as my editor. And when the giant bowl of shoyu ramen arrived a short time later, it launched what might very well be a lifelong obsession.

There is nothing “instant” about true ramen. In fact, to do it right takes a few days to prepare. Ideally the noodles should be on the thick side, fresh and hand cut. The broth is usually a pork and/or chicken base, with a bass note provided by kombu (a thick seaweed). It’s always rich and salty, although every chef prepares it slightly differently. Some use sake and/or mirin (sweetened sake), while others make their broth spicy with curry, wasabi, or peppers. Typical toppings include pork, bamboo shoots, seaweed, or egg, with any number of other toppings included or extra. I have sampled just about every ramen joint in the greater DC area, several in New York, London, and a few other cities as well. I love ramen so much that I’ve learned how to prepare it myself, and I make it regularly during the colder months. You can find my recipe over on Fran Wilde’s “Book Bites” blog series. But none of it will ever compare to that sublime moment I first slurped some freshly made ramen noodles on 51st Street.

Thanks, Jon. A meal is always better when an editor picks up the bill (and if mine is reading this, I’ve never had a NYC ramen experience — hint, hint).

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Theodora Goss

No Comments » Written on November 20th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Theodora Goss

I’d like to be sleeping in this morning, having only just returned from most of a week in Toronto, but the DayJob beckoned and there were all those lost hours to make up for. It’s times like these that I’m reminded what a fine thing it is to be able to schedule EATING AUTHORS posts in advance. Technology, I love it!

This week’s guest, Theodora Goss, knows all about traveling. Born in Hungary, she grew up in an assortment of European countries before her family came to the US. She has a J.D. from Harvard Law and more recently picked up a Ph.D in English.

I first met Dora by accident, some years back at a convention when I wandered into the room where she was giving a reading. It was incredible and I’ve been following her compelling short fiction and incredible poetry ever since. She’s been nominated for major awards including the Nebula, Locus, and Seiun, and won the World Fantasy award for Best Short Fiction and the Rhysling Award for Best Long Poem.

Earlier this year Saga Press published her first novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. More, please.

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

TG: When I was a child, one of my favorite foods was Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta. (Try saying that fast — or at all, if you’re not Hungarian! Remember to roll your r’s.) Palacsinta is the Hungarian version of a crêpe, but a little thicker. You can roll it up around all sorts of things, like apricot jam or a mixture of sugar and cocoa. But you can also use it for savory dishes. Húsos means with meat, and Hortobágyi may refer to Hortobágy, either a village or a steppe near the Alföld, the Great Plain of Hungary where herds of cattle still roam.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

Basically, you cook shredded meat (my mother usually used chicken) with onions and garlic in a paprika sauce. Then, you wrap it up in the palacsinta: meat-filled pancakes, we called them. Then you pour more paprika sauce on top, heat through, and serve with sour cream. My mother usually assembled it for special occasions, like parties for colleagues, where we children would have to carry around hors d’oeuvres and make small talk. I never got enough.

That’s one of my favorite foods. But my favorite meal took place in a restaurant called the Építész Pince, which is located in the basement of the Chamber of Hungarian Architects. You can also sit out in the courtyard near the Art Nouveau entrance, surrounded by ivy-covered walls, neoclassical statues, and people speaking all sorts of different of languages while eating their lunch or dinner. That’s what I was doing.

Songs for Ophelia

It was my first time back in Hungary by myself, after the fall of the Berlin wall, staying in what had once been my grandparents’ apartment — now it belonged to my mother. It had not been updated since the 1960s, and still had the old gas stove you lit with a match. I was a little scared to use it, and anyway it was my first day in Budapest, so I had no food in the refrigerator. The apartment was across the street from the Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum, the Hungarian National Museum, and right around the corner was the Építész Pince. Guess what was on the menu? That’s right — Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta. It was listed as an appetizer. (Unless you are really, really hungry, don’t try to have it as an appetizer. You will be full afterward.) For once, I actually got as much húsos palacsinta as I wanted!

There I was, sitting in that courtyard back in Budapest, eating a food I remembered so well from my childhood. I was so far away from my adult life in the United States, and yet I felt as though I had come home. That is the power food has, I think. Taste and smell can remind us of the past and bring us back to selves we thought we had left behind. I’ve been back to Budapest many times since then, and I usually try to eat at least one lunch or dinner in that courtyard. Yes, the restaurant still serves Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta, and it’s still listed as (but isn’t really) an appetizer.

Thanks, Dora. Two of my favorite things are memory and food, and nothing brings them together so hauntingly and breathlessly as those things we ate as children.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Tracy Townsend

No Comments » Written on November 13th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Tracy Townsend

The world of social media is a crazy place. I’ve been a part of one online world or another since before there was a web. Who remembers Portal and Plink? And the obscene prices of Compu$erve or and the gasps of freedom that AOL offered? Whole tribes coming together, often in relative anonymity, and building communities unhampered by distance and physicality. Such places set the stage for the even stranger groupings that now exist on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.

All of which is to set up the segue for how I met Tracy Townsend, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. She found me on Twitter last Spring (or maybe I found her, it’s a blur) and we hit it off, trading posts and direct messages. She told me she had a book coming out in the fall and I sent her an invitation to share a meal on the blog. A few months later, we actually met at the Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh where she regaled me with stories of her brilliant students, listened to me prattle on about BARSK, and introduced me to her husband (who was a pretty cool guy in his own right).

Tracy’s first novel, The Nine, comes out tomorrow.

LMS: Welcome, Tracy. So what stands out as your most memorable meal?

XX: Most writers pay the bills with more than the occasional advance check. As for me, I teach English at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, a public STEM boarding school for gifted students. (Imagine something like Professor Xavier’s school for the gifted, but everyone’s super-power is calculating derivatives and subsisting on a diet of caffeine and memes.) Students are often surprised to learn I came to teaching Bradbury and Shakespeare and Tiptree by way of teaching martial arts.

There was a joke among the masters in my training organization that in order to get a black belt, you had to like three things: beer, push-ups, and kimchi. As my first dan test approached, those criteria seemed more impossible than any of the actual testing criteria. I hate beer, have the same relationship to push-ups as most people have to parallel parking, and hadn’t yet eaten kimchi, which (depending on who you ask) is either a side dish, a condiment, or a way of life.

The Nine

This is a good time to pause and set the scene.

It’s mid-summer in northern Kentucky, back in the early aughts. I’m at Tae Kwon Do training camp, a three day weekend where long endurance drills, forms practice, sparring conditioning, and running combine into a kind sublime haze of pain and exhaustion. Daily drills include toughening the hands by knife-hand chopping split rail fences (with the attendant splinters, bruising, and swollen fingers) and practicing the three most basic kicks “until your breath smells like chicken piss.” (My master’s words, and remarkably apt. Ketosis is crazy stuff.) Most attendees sleep in tents. Those who can afford a bit more get a bunk in a longhouse next to a cold-water communal bathroom. I’m four months from my black belt exam. My instructor drills me and my training partner with a level of dedication I’d call obsessive, if I didn’t know him so well.

It’s not obsessive. It’s maniacal.

The reward for making it to the end of the long weekend in one battered, sweaty, mosquito-bitten piece is the Korean feast. Madame Choi, wife of my organization’s grandmaster, takes over the commissary the night before the feast, shooing away all the usual volunteer cooks. The building transforms into a chamber of secrets where rice cookers large enough to steam kindergarteners whole start in the wee hours of the morning and trays of bulgogi and japchae roll out of the kitchen in endless succession, suggesting some non-Euclidian space for storing all their ingredients. And there is kimchi, of course.

I’ve been warned about kimchi by this time. Black belts speak of its wonders in darkened tents the night before the feast, faces poised over glowing flashlights, delighting in ghoulish half-truths about its production. It’s napa cabbage and radishes and hot peppers in brine, they whisper. It’s sealed in clay jars and buried — no, seriously, actually BURIED UNDERGROUND, for like, months, and then, she digs it up and we eat it. Perhaps there are still places where you plant your kimchi in the dirt and take a hike, but northern Kentucky isn’t one of them. Madame Choi has an industrial-sized tub of it prepared, and unless she just arrived from an archaeological dig, there’s no way she’s got the acreage to have stowed it all underground.

If you google “what is kimchi” one of the first entries under “people also ask” is “What do you do with kimchi?” It’s almost touching in its existential undertones. What do you do with pickled, spicy doom-cabbage?

Well. If you’re in the company of almost-black-belts, you feed it to them. You feed a lot of it to them.

The Nine

It should be understood I’m a notoriously picky eater. There’s much more I won’t eat than will, and if you look down a list of my “won’ts,” a predictable pattern emerges. Anything with vinegar. Anything pickled. Anything in brine. Anything with a respectable amount of spice. Most condiments. Salad dressing. Cold side dishes. Slimy stuff. Kimchi is perfectly engineered to hit all my “no” buttons. The night before the feast, haunted by visions of canopic jars of pickled cabbage, all my dreams coalesce around kimchi. I see myself executing my final forms so crisply, my dobak sleeves snap like sheets in the wind. I break stacks of boards as tall as myself with anime-esque ease. And then a small plate of kimchi appears before me as I sit in seiza, and I wake in a cold sweat, utterly defeated.

Feast night arrives, and the commissary is abuzz with chatter. Upper belts beg to have their picnic plates heaped as high as styrofoam structural engineering will permit. White belts look cautiously at foods that, to children of the midwest with tastes to match, look as foreign as can be imagined — translucent rice noodles and whisper-thin onions sauteed with mung bean and tamari and bright flecks of carrot. I stand over a tremendous Tupperware container of kimchi, one of Madame Choi’s sober-looking assistants waiting for my request. My instructor stands beside me, grinning.

The kimchi smells of red pepper and bitter radish and something I can’t quite place that might be rice vinegar. It looks like someone couldn’t decide whether to use their kitchen trimmings in a recipe or take them out to the compost and so let time and neglect decide the matter. It glistens a little, but that might just be my imagination.

“Um,” I say.

“She’ll take some,” my instructor says.

The server gives me a dainty, ginger helping. I am immediately convinced she is a good and sensible person.

“No way, more than that.”

I am somewhat less convinced of my instructor’s goodness and sense.

By the time he’s done urging the server on, my plate is close to one-third kimchi. I slump along beside him to the table set aside for our group, hunch over my plate, and contemplate failure with a self-awareness worthy of someone who has read Hagakure as many times I have.

I don’t like beer. I don’t like push-ups. I’m sure I won’t like kimchi. But I have something to prove, and an audience to prove it to, and I’m nothing if not susceptible to a challenge. Starting with the fearsome part of the meal is the only way to protect my would-be black belt dignity.

I choose chopsticks over a fork, because dammit, I have to get something right.

I snap up a bite of bulgogi and kimchi together, looking to soften the blow. And I eat.

The bulgogi warms the kimchi, its tender, grill-blackened edges muting the kimchi’s surprising snappiness. One crunch, and then everything begins to smooth out. The flare of heat subsides. Somewhere in the middle of the sugary-sweet bulgogi coating my tongue and the piquant kimchi stripping it astringently clean, I notice the looks on my training partners’ faces. I catch my instructor’s watchful, eager eyes. My friends aren’t chewing yet, but it’s not because they’re waiting for my comic spit-take. They’re hopeful, waiting for my Sam-I-Am moment. I do like weird cabbage from a can, I do, I do, black belt man!

They’re waiting to welcome me among them, because that’s what food does. It feeds the body, yes — a body covered with contusions, breathless from running uphill in ninety degree heat. But it also feeds the sense of community. It’s as much a mark of membership as the bruises and lactic burn and sweat saturating your clothes. Sharing the food of a place or group tells you you’ve arrived. It’s the place at the table and the plate set before it that binds it and seals your arrival.

I ate the whole plate, laughing and shrugging and relying on japchae to cool the burn. Even now, I’m not sure if I truly like kimchi. But I do keep an eye out for Korean restaurants. I make sure to try their kimchi. I hold it in my mouth and think about the faces that waited to welcome me to the table. I eat it and count the scars on my knuckles, the marks where fences and trees made me earn my seat at the feast. I think about kimchi when my right hip aches, every time it rains.

I’m afraid still I don’t like beer. I’m getting better about push-ups. Nothing’s ever perfect. But the memory of kimchi comes close.

Thanks, Tracy. It’s good to know that as I am a lifetime (or more) away from acquiring any kind of martial arts belt,
I won’t have to give up my own aversion to kimchee. If we’re ever at a Korean restaurant together, you can have my share.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Madeline Ashby

No Comments » Written on November 6th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Madeline Ashby

In just over a week I’ll be heading to Toronto, Canada, to give a reading at the famed Merril Collection and do a stint as the GoH at SFContario. So, naturally, this has had me thinking about SF authors who make their home in Toronto, many of whom have appeared here in EATING AUTHORS, and some who haven’t. This seemed like a good excuse to add to the list of Torontonians, which brings us to this week’s guest, Madeline Ashby.

Madeline works as a strategic foresight consultant, which she describes as “the best job in the world,” and basically seems to be, in large part, writing science fiction stories to suit the needs of people on the cutting edge of science and industry who want someone to help shape their narrative or show them some of the possibilities they’re missing. So, yeah, she might well be right.

When she’s not doing that (and seriously, getting paid for it!), she also writes science fiction for the reading public. You probably already know her for The Machine Dynasty trilogy (vN, iD, and reV), all from Angry Robot. More recently her novel Company Town was published by Tor Books, and went on to be a finalist for the Locus, Sunburst, and Aurora awards. More, it was shortisted for Canada Reads 2017, a reality show in which celebrities battle one another (sort of) as champions for different books, until they’re eliminated one by one, and along the way everyone (kind of) in Canada reads the books as well. That’s just cool.

LMS: Welcome, Madeline. What meal really stands out for you?

MA: It all started at Deception Pass.

Why my dad wanted to camp there, I don’t know. We’d had great trips to other spots throughout Western Washington: Mount Baker, Penrose Point, Lake Crescent, Baker Lake, the Dungeness Spit, even a trip to Lake Quinault and the Hoh Rainforest, with its cathedral of ancient mosses. I suspect it had something to do with the goal of the trip: namely, to camp with two other families, both of whom had young children. According to my mother, Deception Pass was simply the best location for all three families, and a place we’d never camped, besides, which meant it held some novelty. Its proximity to towns like LaConner and Anacortes, and local beaches, meant that the first weekend in August would be a delightful one no matter what we decided to do.

Company Town

Little did we know, when we crossed that nauseatingly high bridge, the same one that later featured so prominently in the English-language adaptaion of THE RING, was that Deception Pass was once the site of human trafficking and murder. White people smuggling vulnerable Chinese workers to lay the railway would “hide” them in burlap sacks so that they could easily be thrown overboard upon encountering other craft. And between 1910 and 1914, the Fidalgo side of the Pass was the location of a prison rock quarry, with about forty workers from the Walla-Walla State Penitentiary literally breaking rocks as punishment. In fact the whole area, the tricksy waters joining what are now known as the Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca, historically belongs to the Coast Salish tribes, the only people who knew how to navigate those shallow, rocky waters and traverse those verdant islands.

What I’m saying is, the place is cursed as shit.

But we had no idea of the region’s history when we crossed that bridge. That Friday afternoon in August, we were simply intent on finding one of the few campsites with enough space for three families, including five kids and a dog. And find one we did! Up went the tents and the rain flies, and down went the tarps and stakes. The air mattresses were pumped. The fire was lit. Being around eleven, I suspect my job was to keep two of the younger children — about three years old and a year-and-a-half — busy and entertained. I probably shared some snacks with them: Goldfish crackers, or apple slices, or something like that. And in all likelihood, the parents made something easy like hot dogs, or maybe my dad’s beer can chicken. I don’t remember being hungry. But I do remember what happened next.

Night fell. I remember that it was fully dark, when the other family came. They were late, but that wasn’t unusual. They’d left late, which also wasn’t unusual. The whole afternoon and evening, we’d craned our necks each time we heard the approach of a vehicle, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes when it wasn’t the third family’s ancient VW Westfalia. Finally, around 9pm, headlights swept across the campground and the van lumbered up into the remaining parking spot. Out poured our friends: a husband and wife, a tweenage girl, and a pre-school boy.


“Sorry we’re late,” the husband said. “I couldn’t leave the house until I’d finished practising my trumpet.”

Reader, this was not a euphemism.

They explained all the delays in great and amusing detail, as beers were opened and catching-up was done. The kids stretched their legs. Our dog sniffed everyone dutifully and thoroughly. Speculation was made about the weather, and the stars, and the possibility of hikes. The kids started asking about dinner.

Eventually the wife — the one doing all the unpacking — said to her husband: “Honey? Where’s the food?”

Silence settled over the campsite.

“The food?” he asked. “Oh. Yeah. I didn’t bring any.”

That weekend was surprisingly cold — it hit record low temperatures for the first weekend in August. But this was the moment the mercury began to drop. And it didn’t stop falling. Not that night, and not the next, and not really until these two divorced years later.

“You didn’t bring the food?”

“Well… No.”

“I was at work all day, and you didn’t do any shopping?”

She had a full-time job. He was an artist.

“I did the packing! I just didn’t pack any food!”

“So…” You could see her trying to rationalize it. Trying to understand. What was his logic? What was he thinking would happen? How had he envisioned this scenario unfolding? “When were you going to get food?”




“Tonight. I was going to go shopping here, at the Albertson’s on the way.”

“If you wanted to go shopping on the way, why didn’t you say so?”

“I didn’t want to go shopping on the way. I wanted to go shopping after we got here.”

“But we’re already here! And we have no dinner! We have nothing to eat! Do you understand how embarrassing this is?”

He might not have, but the rest of us did. We shifted uncomfortably in our camping chairs, and pretended to be very interested in the fire.

“Fine,” he huffed. “I’m going shopping. I’m going shopping right now. See?”

He stalked off to the van. He reached to close the sliding door. As he slammed it shut, the whole door fell into the mud below. It slid right off the tracks with a groan and fell off, like a gangrenous limb, into the dirt.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“That keeps happening,” their daughter said. “It happened on the way to school, the other day.”

And that is the story not of my most memorable meal, or the best one I ever ate, but a meal that was simply never eaten, at a place called Deception Pass.

Thanks, Madeline. So, what happened next? How many of the campers survived, and who did you eat? And what about the dog?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Kayleigh McCollum


Eating Authors: Jonathan P. Brazee

2 comments Written on October 30th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Jonathan Brazee

One of the odd things about this year’s NASFiC (waaay back in July) was that there were so few authors present. As it turned out, that worked out really well for me because it meant I got to spend much more time hanging out with Jonathan Brazee, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest.

Jonathon’s a retired marine colonel (the ubiquitous cap he wears is a big clue). He’s also a bit of renaissance man, having ridden and raised prize-winning horses, mastered gourmet cooking, earned a doctorate in business, and traveled to more than a 100 countries around the world. So while we were in San Juan I put him to the test and off we went (with my chef-wife) to do some fine dining. It was a great experience, so naturally I had to invite him here.

The other thing you need to know about Jonathan is he’s one of that growing number of extremely successful Indie authors, making a good living via his fiction. The secret, as most Indies will tell you, comes down to two things: volume and speed. Maybe it’s that military discipline, but in eight years he’s produced multiple series (including The United Federation Marine Corps, Women of the United Federation Marines, and Werewolf of Marines, and yes, you may be sensing a theme) and more than forty titles.

He released his latest effort, Alliance (volume one of The United Federation Marine Corps’ Grub Wars) one week ago today.

Semper Fidelis!

LMS: Welcome, Jonathan. Given all your travels, I’m especially curious to learn what stands out as your most memorable meal.

JPB: As a dedicated foodie, I’ve probably had more than my fair share of memorable meals. They range the gamut from fruit bat cooked in a section of bamboo (my first solid food after three days in the Philippine jungle), a Saigon hole-in-the-wall with the most amazing grilled pork, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Dijon where I had oeuf bourguignon (eggs in burgundy), to three tiny mounds of simple soba made by one of Japan’s eleven master noodle makers ($75 in 1978). Memorable all, but when I had to think of it, one meal kept coming to mind.


I was in Iraq during 2006 as the military liaison to USAID. This was before the Awakening, and we had to continually deal with the Sunni sheiks, men who were afraid to meet with us in Al Anbar, so we had to travel to Amman. During one week-long meeting, we had one night free from the formal dinners. My Marine boss, a brigadier general, was told to arrange for dinner for the American contingent. He didn’t know where to go, so I told him I had the place: The Greater Amman Restaurant, just half-a-mile from the US embassy. Our party was about 20-strong and included the US ambassadors to Iraq and Jordan as well as the USAID director for Iraq.

Now, The Greater Amman Restaurant is not particularly impressive. It is small, the cooking counter greets you as you come in, and the seats are simple white plastic. When our august group entered, the general about had an attack, asking me to where the heck I’d just dragged everyone. I kept trying to calm him, but he was almost in a state of panic. The ambassador to Jordan looked skeptical, but he put on a brave face and made some jokes about the place as he took a seat.

Esther's Story: Special Duty

The staff immediately brought out a few types of hummus, pita, and some veggies, and people started grazing while lost in conversations. I gave them our order: two kgs of rayshish (lamb chops) and one each of two kinds of kebabs along with assorted sides. Ten minutes later, the food came out and was plopped on our tables family style. I was with the underlings at the kids’ table, and I looked up at the two ambassadors. The ambassador to Iraq was an Iraqi-American, and he immediately stabbed a lamb chop and transferred it to his plate, but the ambassador to Jordan was more hesitant. Conversation barely paused as people began to serve themselves. Quickly, though, that conversation petered out as people began to eat faster and grab more food from the plates. Within two minutes, not a word was being spoken. Everyone seemed to have one goal in mind: eat fast and eat a lot.

I was no different. I had discovered this place late one night while preparing a presentation, and this was my fourth or fifth time there. The lamb chops were simply the best I’ve ever had, and I wanted my fair share.

I was interrupted, however, when the ambassador to Jordan called out, “Colonel, do you think it would be possible to order some more?” as a general groundswell of approval rose up at his words.

Werewolf of Marines: Semper Lycanus

I ordered another round of meats, pita, and their signature salad. Twenty minutes later, I had to order yet another couple of kg of lamb chops. All told, we ate 12 kg of meat, more than a pound per person. When we finally finished, several people ordered more to go, and the ambassador came up to me wondering how he’d never heard of the place when it was just down the road from the embassy. He was soon asking the staff about catering at embassy functions.

The Greater Amman Restaurant is not the best restaurant at which I’ve ever dined. The lamb chops were the best I’ve eaten, but the place is just a neighborhood cafe that serves a good meal. I think what made this memorable for me was the old looks can be deceiving trope. We’d been eating at grand events complete with dancers, music, and tuxedoed waiters bringing the best food the country’s greatest chefs could prepare, but when it got down to it, the food was better at a more down-to-earth place.

Thanks, Jonathan. I have to wonder if the ensuing decade of inevitable attention from the nearby embassy has changed the experience and the quality. When are you heading back to find out?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Ruthanna Emrys

No Comments » Written on October 23rd, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Ruthanna Emrys

About a month ago when I was down for the day at the Baltimore Book Festival, I participated in two panels. One of the things I like most about the festival is meeting new people, especially when we’re on program together. Ruthanna Emrys was on both of mine. Naturally, this was a sign to invite her to be a guest on EATING AUTHORS.

You might know Ruthanna from the H. P. Lovecraft reread series of articles she’s being doing on with Anne M. Pillsworth, which they describe as “two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox.”

All of this scholarship is reflected in her own fiction, her novelette The Litany of Earth and first novel Winter Tide. I’m hoping for more of the same in next summer’s sequel Deep Roots, because she, as one reviewer put it,”subverts Lovecraft’s notorious racism by making his monsters — which were often thinly veiled stand-ins for people of color — sympathetic protagonists.” How could you not want more of this?

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

RE: On July 16, 2005, I came downstairs wearing a cloak, with every watch in the house dangling from my wrists, and announced to my wife: “Look, my muggle disguise is perfect!”

Winter Tide

It was release day for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and we and our friend Nora were on our way to Oak Park’s giant launch party. The Chicago suburb takes its literary celebrations seriously: the town green had transformed into Quiddich field surrounded by a fairy market, and all Oak Park Avenue was done up as Diagon Alley. Every store on the alley held an appropriately themed event; every restaurant competed to produce the best butterbeer.

After a long day of cheering on Quiddich players, mooning over holly wands, and mocking each others’ houses, we decided it was time for dinner. Looking around for someplace not completely jam-packed, we spotted a brand new French restaurant on the corner of the alley. Nora, a French teacher just returned from an exchange in Paris, was dubious but willing to give it a shot.

About half an hour later, she admitted that this was, in fact, the best French food she’d had in her life. There were the simplest possible steak frites, perfectly cooked and seasoned. There was kobe beef burger topped with foie gras and aioli. There was a trio of crème brulées: thin layers of lavender, chocolate, and vanilla custard beneath exquisitely crispy burnt sugar crust. Our wild speculations about Snape were punctuated by moments of eyes-closed blissful meditation—and because some Ravenclaws are also New Yorkers at heart, a lot of mutual congratulations for having found a new favorite restaurant.

The Litany of Earth

Wandering back out into the night, we heard church bells ringing. After a moment we realized they were playing Hedwig’s Theme from the movies. Following their siren lure, we found the church’s inner sanctum lit with floating candles down the center aisle, and the priest herself playing court with the sorting hat.

A few weeks later, we attempted to return to our new favorite restaurant. You can probably guess what happened. The storefront was closed without explanation, the kobe burgers gone as if they had never been–as if the world’s best French food had never truly been part of Oak Park at all.

There are plenty of people looking for Platform 9¾. When I find it, I know exactly where I’m going first—and it isn’t Hogwart’s.

Thanks, Ruthanna. You just can’t sustain that kind of bliss, both fine French dining and a kick-ass Harry Potter festival. Something had to give.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Vivian Shaw

1 Comment » Written on October 16th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Vivian Shaw

Last month I marked the autumnal equinox by once again participating in the Baltimore Book Fesitval, or at least a day of it anyway. It’s a glorious event and well worth the two hour drive to get there (and not because it gives me an excuse to stop at a Waffle House on the way down). Books, books, books, and lots of authors. It’s grand to see old friends and meet some new faces. One of those new faces this time around is this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Vivian Shaw, with whom I shared a panel. Her novel Strange Practice came out back in July and I confess I hadn’t read it yet. But hearing her talk about secondary worlds on the panel we shared convinced me that I had to invite her to come around and talk about her most memorable meal.

To my credit, I was able to restrain myself until the end of the panel. Fortunately for all of us, she said “yes.”

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

VS: If you’d asked me this two years ago, I would have had no difficulty whatsoever in coming up with the best meal I’d ever eaten. That was in 2004, in Chicago, the same day I met Scott McNeil and George Romero: I was at a Transformers convention and decided to take myself to an actual steakhouse for an actual steak, and I can still so clearly remember the gorgeous rich mineral taste of that first-ever filet mignon, the way it almost dissolved in my mouth. The vivid greenness of the two asparagus spears on the plate, the peppery kick of the Shiraz that accompanied it — even thirteen years later it’s incredibly easy to recall.

(The most memorable, however, was the time on British Airways in the 1990s where for reasons known only to themselves somebody had decided to add bits of squid to the fruit salad. Memorable doesn’t equal pleasant.)

Strange Practice

And then I met my wife, and going out to dinner became a kind of constantly evolving, unfolding pleasure. There was the pizza that was the apotheosis of all pizza, from a restaurant in New York that has since vanished — we had that sitting on the floor of the hotel room the night before we got married, telling each other stories, pausing to make helpless appreciative noises at how incredibly good it was. (The fact that the restaurant is no more seems somehow fitting, as if the universe decided it was going to give us perfect pizza one time in our lives, and had picked that particularly apposite moment to do so.)

Wherever we went, we found amazing things — always, from the very beginning. There was the two-course brunch at Marea, with the most flavorful chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life, after the courthouse ceremony. Steak at the Prime Rib, at Salt, at the Wine Market, at Brewer’s Art, at Cinghiale, in the restaurant of the Hotel Diplomat in Stockholm. Extraordinary steak at Bar Vasquez with spicy chimichurri, following a salmon ceviche of brilliant clarity and delicate balance. Mussels in coconut-curry broth at Lobo’s in Fells Point, and chicken-with-broccoli at Empire Szechuan Kyoto at 67th and Columbus. Pizza from Zella’s and pan-seared sea bass from NTL. Saffron fried rice and fino at Huertas. Earl Grey ice cream at the Lafayette and green tea gelato at the Met’s Balcony Cafe. Cold sesame noodles and scalding-hot gyoza. And everywhere, sushi, sushi, sushi.

It’s not just one meal, or one dish, that’s the focus of my memory now. It’s a huge, rich, delicious library-collection of memories, all of them lovely for different reasons. There are places I absolutely want to go back to and try the rest of their menu, dish by dish; there are places I want to go back to and order exactly the same thing I had the first time, because it was amazing. But it’s really the experience of going out to dinner with my wife that makes it more than just a somatic response to somebody’s culinary artwork.

I don’t often have much of an opportunity to describe food in my writing — yet, anyway — and I am looking forward to playing with that when the chance does arise. Over the past two years I’ve collected so many dishes I want my characters to experience, and that kind of intense visceral description is both challenging and exhilarating for me. One day, perhaps, I might even find the right place for the fruit-salad-with-squid — but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Thanks, Vivian. Having given up meat some seven months ago, all this talk of steak has my head spinning. Vicarious meals may be what saves me.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!


Eating Authors: Lee French

No Comments » Written on October 9th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
Lee French

Though this blog series appears bright and early every Monday morning, I often put the individual pieces to bed days before they’ll post. Not so today’s installment. Rather, I’ve just returned from a phenomenal weekend at Capclave, one that began early Friday morning and only ended when I arrived back home, weary but quite contented on Sunday afternoon.

And it was at just such a time and in just such a state, that I realized “whoops, I hadn’t prepared the next EATING AUTHORS. Fortunately, this week’s guest, Lee French, had already long since sent me her most memorable meal.

Lee’s the author of assorted books, likely most known for the Maze Beset Trilogy, and The Greatest Sin series (the fifth book of which, A Curse of Memories, came out last summer), but has also written other works, some set in her fantasy world of Ilauri.

Right about now I suspect she’s organizing and preparing for the madness of NaNoWriMo, some three weeks away, because she generously serves as a Municipal Liaison for the Olympia region in Washington state.

Oh, and she also bikes.

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

LF: A slice of berry pie, a scoop of ice cream, and a banana at 7am. The banana made it a respectable breakfast. I sat alone on a hilltop, surrounded by a thousand people, in bright, warm sunshine and a light breeze. Thin plastic sheets covered a herd of aluminum picnic tables assembled to accommodate the endlessly shifting crowd inside a volunteer fire department station. Others nearby enjoyed more traditional breakfast fare in the form of pancakes, eggs, sausages, and fruit. The view beyond the horde, the tractors, and the haybales revealed the bumpy, hilly terrain of northeast Iowa, thick with trees and stubbornly terraced fields, sprawling houses, and winding roads. The small town with a name I don’t remember had collected a small army of friendly residents to serve and sell us the food.

The Fallen

The best meal ever happened on the final day of Ragbrai XLVI, the 44th iteration of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Every year in late July, as many as twenty thousand cyclists descend upon Iowa. Like a plague of locusts, we sweep across the state, from the Missouri to the Mississippi in seven days, and devour every kind of food and drink we can find, leaving a trail of money and memories in our wake. The ride is a carnival on two wheels. Beer, pie, bacon, and corn fill the air and our bellies. Water rains from sprinklers and temporary fountains set up for us. Sometimes, it’s over 100 degrees. Sometimes, it’s under 30. Every day is a minimum of fifty miles.

This meal, though, wasn’t just a meal. It was a Moment. Number 44 was my fifth time riding. Thousands of miles of training led to it. Hundreds of hours of sweat and aching muscles led to it. Dozens of mad, endorphin-incited grins led to it. It’s the best worst vacation I’ve ever taken. Like thousands of other lunatics, I keep going back for more punishment.

Ragbrai is awful. I camp, which I hate. I ride, which is grueling and painful because it takes six to eight hours to get from one town to the next. I train, which takes time away from things I like doing more. I eat, which involves shoving copious quantities of food into my food-hole to avoid exhaustion, not the more pleasant savoring of delicious things. I sunburn, which happens because I’m fair-skinned and sometimes miss spots or forget to reapply in a timely fashion.

Girls Can't Be Knights

I’ve battled heat exhaustion and hypothermia, ridden through rain, hail, tornado warnings, and clouds of flying bugs. I’ve evaded disastrous crashes by pure luck. I’ve leaned against my bike and cried for how hard it was that day. I’ve been insulted for my girth while wearing my Ragbrai XL jersey (Extra Large, get it? Hilarious.). I’ve put on wet clothes at 5:30am in 40 degree weather because I had nothing dry to wear. I’ve had to stop because suncreen ran into my eyes and temporarily blinded me. I’ve gotten food poisoning.

Once, I blacked out while assembling my tent. Another time, I fell over because my pedal clip got stuck and scraped the heck out of my hand, knee, and elbow. There are no words for the peculiar pain of the posterior caused by prolonged contact with a bicycle seat.

At least one person dies on the ride every year, and it could be me. And we use porta-potties for a week straight.

But then, I’ve also seen the orange and pink of sunrise on my bike with no excuse not to stop and enjoy it. Strangers talk to strangers and we remind each other that, no matter what we see on the news or internet, people are mostly decent and kind. Libraries in small towns have excellent people. Nothing beats the joy of conquering a steep hill without getting off the bike to walk. I make jokes and we’re all too tired and spent not to laugh. Some of the landscape in Iowa is amazing. The sheer volume of endorphins is the most amazing high imaginable. The simple joy of an unexpected real toilet takes you by surprise the first time you feel it.

Dragons In Pieces

Also, you can eat things like a slice of chocolate covered frozen cheesecake on a stick and feel no remorse. Biking requires calories. Lots of calories.

Many people bring friends or family with them and ride together. My first year, I went with a group of people I had nothing in common with. Every subsequent year, I’ve gone alone. Which is why I had a Moment that morning on that hill.

Knowing that Ragbrai would probably be my last — chronic knee problems plus increasing professional obligations have made it more and more challenging every year — I paused to savor the last morning, covered from head to toe in UV clothing and sunscreen. The pie tasted like freedom and victory. I did a thing for me and me alone. No one else got a say in whether I did the thing or not. No one else trained for me. No one else climbed the hills for me. No one else took care of my bike for me. No one else drove me out there, and no one else would drive me back.

Thanks, Lee. There is no pie, no taste, as exquisite as embracing the power of your own choices.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!