Eating Authors: Rolf Nelson

1 Comment » Written on June 1st, 2015 by
Categories: News
Rolf Nelson

Hey there. I’m back from BEA/Bookcon (which was insanely glorious, by the by), but I’m just here long enough to do some laundry, repack my suitcase, and post this EATING AUTHORS entry before I fly off to Chicago for the 50th annual Nebula Awards weekend conference where it will be revealed if I have piled up sufficient karma points to come back home with a nice new paperweight. Hey, I can dream, right?

But before any of that happens, we need to continue our presentation of memorable meals by this year’s Campbell Award nominees. Visiting today is Rolf Nelson. He’s most known for his novel, The Stars Came Back, which he describes as “a sci-fi space-western, or maybe military fiction, with a bit of mystery to it, set circa 2655 AD.” So basically a little bit of something for everyone.

I had to wrestle with Rolf a bit to get him here, as the parameters of this blog series didn’t mesh well with his world view (as you’re about to see). Still, he eventually came up with a meal that served his point and met my needs, and so here we are.

LMS: Welcome, Rolf. Please, share your thoughts on your most memorable meal.

RN: Food is fuel. High priced haute cuisine or budget beans and rice, calories and nutritional balance are what really matter. In my opinion, a thirty-seven syllable customized latte delivered with flair in a fancy mug by a pretty barista is no better a caffeine delivery system than a five-gallon tank of army-issue battery acid, brewed by a tired and grouchy private, being poured into a not-so-clean canteen cup with a folding wire handle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I can’t tell the difference between them; I just don’t care. When people spend a lot of time worrying about more than the basics, when they spend more money for a food’s appearance, rarity, or presentation than they are for nutritional value, it means they are far removed from the fundamentals of life.

While I can remember any number of meals, events where food was served, and conversations over meals, it’s never been the details of the food that has been of any significance to me. A nearly silent thanksgiving (because it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full and everyone was busy eating) or a cold MRE on a cold morning in the field to start a rain-soaked day in uniform, the “quality” of the food isn’t a memory-flag for me, even if (with thought) I can often recall many of the details. It is just that they are not of any real consequence. I’ve even eaten MREs and lifeboat rations at my normal day job for lunch simply because they were aging out and needed to be consumed and rotated from emergency supplies. What’s important is did the food do its job of fueling the human machine?

I like venison and home-caught halibut not because they are rare, fancy, elegant, or particularly tasty (though they are tasty), but because it’s cheap, healthy, fun to catch, I can teach the kids biology while butchering / filleting, and I get to kill something in the process. (Humans are predators, you know. And it’s a universal constant that kids like playing with fish eyeballs.) I don’t make my own sourdough whole grain bread (with fresh-ground lentil and quinoa flour, and sometimes bean or soy flour or whatever) because it is so fine on my palate, but because at ~fifty cents a two pound loaf it is a very inexpensive and healthy source of calories. The same can be said for the home-canned jars of low-sugar blackberry jam made from the wild berries I pick literally across the street: it’s also an ongoing exercise in teaching the kids chemistry, history, economy, and food safety when they help. What makes soul-food good for MY soul is not rarity, location, company, any particular spices or fat-to-protein ratio, but knowing that it’s low-cost healthy nutrition, or that I took it trigger-pull to table myself.

The Stars Came Back

But occasionally the reaction of someone else to a meal is slightly more memorable.

Many years ago I was heavily involved in a medieval recreation group called the Society for Creative Anachronisms. After a long weekend of fighting (high-speed full contact battle with rattan weapons wearing ~60 pounds of armor) I realized as I drove home with a friend that I’d not eaten much. I said I was hungry and he agreed; upon spying some generic chain family-style restaurant ahead he pulled in. It was very late at night, or very early in the morning, I forget, but it was dark outside and the place was nearly empty inside. The lone waitress was busy so she just waived us toward a bunch of open spots so we could seat ourselves. We sat down in a deep six-person booth, grabbing the 24-hour breakfast menu because it was cheapest.

When the waitress came over, we started ordering. Each of us ordered four full breakfasts. Eight platters, plus sides. I don’t remember all the details, but I know there were pancakes, French toast, biscuits and gravy, waffles, omelets, hash browns, fruit, various meat products, juice, milk, and coffee. Carbs, proteins, fats, and fluids all covered sufficiently. After writing it all down the waitress looked at us, confused. “Expecting more people?”

“No. Just hungry,” was the tired reply.

She looked rather dubious, but shrugged her shoulders and headed for the kitchen to deliver the order. Twenty minutes or so later she returned with an assistant, carrying platters. She looked at the entire table covered with plates of food, the two of us (both reasonably ordinary sized guys in our twenties), and asked half-joking if there was anything else we wanted.

“Fill these,” my friend said, handing her the wire condiment rack that had four containers of jams and syrup, none of which were more than a third full. Without a word she took it as we set to work.

Riding the Red Horse

When the waitress returned, not more than a minute or two later, we handed her the first pair of totally cleaned-off plates in exchange for the holder with now-full containers. They were omelet plates, I suspect, because omelets don’t normally need syrup or jam. We didn’t say anything, and she didn’t lose any fingers getting between us and our next mouthful. She got busy with other customers, coming back a little while later to see how we were doing. We had finished. All the plates were stacked up neat and orderly by size, with silverware on top (that’s my normal habit, to make the wait-staff’s job easier), excess liquids mopped up with the last bites of pancakes or other carbs, the cups and glasses were empty, the syrup and jam was nearly gone, and there wasn’t a thimble-full of food left on the table. Not even a piece of the decorative leafy green stuff or splayed orange slices were to be found. Her look upon seeing what wasn’t left was one of complete disbelief.

“I said I was hungry,” one of us replied to her expression, very mater-of-fact. I honestly don’t remember who, but the sentiment was obviously shared.

We paid the bill and left, feeling satisfied. We had burned a LOT of calories that weekend, and we’d refilled properly. The restaurant was not memorable. The food was, I’m sure, profoundly ordinary. There wasn’t any unusual conversation, the waitress typical, and I don’t even remember the name of my friend, just a vague face from long ago. Maybe it was Dave – I’ve known a lot of Daves. But the general impression of the young lady at seeing what a couple of active young men refueling can do to a pile of food without exploding or waste was memorable. I sometimes see a similar expression on my wife’s face when she watches my (still single-digit old) son put away food when he’s hungry; hotdogs, pickled herring, or Brussels sprouts, it makes no difference: just believe him when he says he’s still hungry, and keep it coming.

Sometimes I need more food, most times I don’t. I think people should keep it simple, balanced, cheap, in line with energy expenditures, and in perspective: food is fuel, and little else, no matter how much more some people try to make of it.

Rolf, like you, I’ve known a lot of Daves. This definitely sounds like the kind of thing I’d expect of a Dave. Thanks!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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