Eating Authors: Delia Sherman

No Comments » Written on January 1st, 2018 by
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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.

Changeling

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

Eating Authors: Thomas K. Carpenter

No Comments » Written on December 25th, 2017 by
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Thomas K. Carpenter

Welcome to the last EATING AUTHORS post of 2017. It’s been a turbulent year, on so many levels, but we’ve made it. I like to think having a weekly retreat into the lives and meals of all of the authors who have stopped by here has in some small way been of service. Thanks for your continued interest, for reading their works, and for supporting speculative fiction (and meals!) throughout the year.

We close out the year with this week’s guest, Thomas K. Carpenter. He’s something of a full service SFF author. Tom writes everything from YA dystopia to historical fantasy, from steampunk to post-cyberpunk, and has been known to wander off into alternate history as well. Seriously, whatever your tastes are, Tom has a book for you. Whether it’s a hundred different halls of magic or the library at Alexandria or every aspect of your life coming down to points in a game, he’ll keep you turning the pages.

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

TKC: Golden Dandelion Tempura Blooms can cure loneliness.

You may not know this, but it’s true.

Fires of Alexandria

When I was twenty-five, I took a job with Toyota and they sent me to Japan for six weeks. Not to an exciting metropolis like the Godzilla-less Tokyo, or even the more subdued Nagoya with its dancing Elvis park (skinny-greaser Elvis rather than sequined Vegas Elvis), but the rural town of Tahara in the Aichi prefecture. A place, that I’m sure, literally nothing has happened. Ever.

Adding to my Lost in Translation experience was that I’d just gotten engaged before I left, and my fiancée had barely moved into our apartment. Between my curiosity challenged co-workers and the lack of fine dining outside of a three-story McDonald’s, I was getting stir-crazy, so I left for Kyoto one weekend—alone.

The city of Kyoto is filled with shrines. Small shrines, big shrines. Shrines that felt like they’d been built for giants. I got up early in the morning and moved from shrine to shrine. I would either sit and bask in the noisy silence of the city, or wander around the pathways between the sea-wave rocks. When I had enough, I would walk to the next shrine.

I recall a certain dislocation that carried me through the day. I was thousands of miles away from my fiancée wishing either she was with me, or I was back home, but mostly that she was with me, so we could enjoy the city together.

You can walk a long time when you’re trying to fill a hole.

Trials of Magic

Eventually, I had to eat, and at this point, even after a couple of weeks in Japan, I was still intimidated about trying new things. It wasn’t the food that scared me, I’m an adventurous eater, but the worry that I would make some horrible faux-pas, thus reinforcing the horrible image of Americans abroad.

But eventually, I found a little restaurant, no bigger than a counter and two booths, and run by a father and son. The father spoke only Japanese, while the son could piece together enough English that I wasn’t going to embarrass myself. They specialized in tempura. I ordered what essentially was the chef’s choice meal.

I was served tempura, one piece at a time. The batter was so light it was almost translucent and with a slight peppery flavor. It served mostly as a crisp outer shell.

I ate nothing twice.

Each piece came with its own dipping sauce: sea salt, or squeezed lemon, or ginger soy. The father would craft my bite of food, while the son would explain how I was meant to eat it. We started off easy—shrimp in lemon squeezings, asparagus in chunky pepper—hitting the foods people think of when they hear tempura. Then we moved onto non-traditional tempura items like crispy shrimp shells, or leafy chard.

Revolutionary Magic

Between the servings, I chatted with the son. He had questions about America, while I had questions about Japan. The father would chime in, translated through his son, and we had a round robin conversation.

The final serving of the meal was a golden dandelion tempura bloom. I’d never thought of a flower bud as something to eat, but it was delightful.

When I was finished, I bid them farewell (which included lots of awkward bowing on my part, since I hadn’t yet learned the rules) and went in search of some green tea mochi ball ice cream. It’d grown dark during our meal, and bright lanterns lit the pathways. Sometime afterwards, I realized I wasn’t lonely any more. I still missed my fiancée, but at least for the time being, I wasn’t lonely, and I’d gotten over intruding into strange restaurants. For the rest of the trip, I ate like a local and had many more interesting conversations.

P.S. – About five years later, I had the opportunity to take my wife to Kyoto to visit the temples. I couldn’t find that tempura shop, but that didn’t stop us from having a lot of great meals.

Thanks, Tom. I’ve always loved tempura. For me, it’s one of the few “bottom up” taste experiences left in the world.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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BARSK Bits

No Comments » Written on December 23rd, 2017 by
Categories: News

As has been chronicled elsewhere, I started writing Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard back in the late 80’s. Fresh out graduate school, ink still wet on my doctorate, I was 27. A few months later I had my first teaching gig. I was “the boy professor,” teaching psychology, beginning Japanese, and home (dorm) winemaking. Naturally, I decided to write my first novel.

Barsk

The result was Barsk (no subtitle back then) and I had no clue what I was doing. Worse still, I had no clue that I had no clue. The result was horrible. The story was good, the underlying concepts worked, but back then I lacked the skills to do any of that justice and made use of of a lot trite stuff. Among other clunkers, I used a painful exposition device at the start of each and every one of the book’s fifty chapters (as well as the prologue and epilogue). I reasoned that since my protagonist was a scholar, it’d be cool to include excerpts from his various papers and peer-reviewed journal articles (remember, I was the boy professor?). In hindsight, I was probably inspired by Frank Herbert’s excerpts from The Encyclopedia Galactica in Dune. But let’s be clear, I’m not Frank Herbert (and I certainly wasn’t back then either). The result? Epic failure. Eventually I tucked the manuscript away in a drawer and put it out of my mind, focusing instead on learning to be a better writer.

TITLE

Decades (and several hundreds of thousands of words later) an editor put me on the spot, asking me to pitch some book ideas to him. One of those was Barsk and he said “That one!” and here we are several years later with the first book having received critical acclaim, award nominations, and even a win, and the sequel slated for a release this summer.

Readers of the book that actually came out on the penultimate date of 2015 will know that there are no excerpts introducing the chapters. In a couple cases I did find ways to work the exposition into actual chapters, but though the experience of writing them did wonders to solidify Jorl’s voice in my head, for the most part the dozens and dozens of bits were abandoned completely.

Until now.

I’ll be going through them, tidying up the writing here and there, and releasing them as bonus material to those folks who subscribe to my newsletter.

And who knows, perhaps if The Moons of Barsk is some kind of runaway hit, the good folks at Tor will ask me to gather up all these “Barsk Bits” and publish them as a chapbook. After all, stranger things have already happened or you’d never have seen that first book.

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Eating Authors: Lawrence C. Connolly

No Comments » Written on December 18th, 2017 by
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Lawrence C. Connolly

Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, winter has arrived though the solstice is still most of a week away. Temperatures have dipped into the teens some nights and we’ve had three separate snowfalls by my count. I’ve had to do some light shoveling and yesterday I bought some rock salt. That ritual, buying rock salt, is what convinces me we’re really into winter.

None of which has anything to do with Lawrence C. Connolly, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, but you know, these blog posts have to start somehow, and as he’s from western PA this seemed like a plausible opening.

As you may infer from his photo, Lawrence is a musician. But space is tight so I’m going to focus on his fiction (though some of his compositions do that as well). He started out writing SF but soon found that horror let him do more of what he wanted. He’s perhaps best known as the author of the Veins cycle of novels (Veins, Vipers, and Vortex). I think it’s fair to say he’s found his niche, and Hollywood agrees. His story, This Way To Egress, has been adapted for the big screen by director David Slade (of Hannibal and American Gods fame). You’ll be able to see it in 2018 as one of five shorts in Nightmare Cinema .

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

LCC: It’s March 1990, the last month of the last winter of the cold war. And I’m in Russia.
I’m part of a group of writers, musicians, and performers who are taking part in a cultural exchange with a music school in Leningrad, and tonight one of our hosts has invited us to dinner at her flat in the city.

The apartment is on the sixth floor of a Khrushchev-era housing unit, a massive concrete structure with labyrinthian corridors and echoing stairwells. It’s intimidating. But the apartment, when we finally reach it, is warm and bright.

The dining area is a multi-functional space, living-room furniture pushed aside to make way for a large table. It’s already set for us – plates, silverware, pickles, vodka. Lots of vodka.

Veins

My place is next to the host’s grandfather, an amiable man with an infectious smile.

My Russian is limited to a few badly pronounced phrases. Things that are supposed to mean Hello, Thank you, and Where is the toilet? The grandfather knows about as much English. His favorite word is More, which he repeats each time he fills my glass with vodka. I will learn later that in Russia one never lets a guest’s glass stand empty.

“More!”

“No. I’m fine.”

He pours.

It’s been said that words constitute seven-percent of what we say, far less than vocal tone, body language, and facial expression. More might be the only English we have in common, but that infectious smile reaches me all the same.

Dinner features kholodets, cold meat suspended in gelatin. The dish is served during winter celebrations, and we are certainly celebrating on that cold March night – breaking bread, breaking barriers. Decades of cold war have made us strangers, but one hour at that table changes everything.

Voices

An upright piano stands in a corner, packed in among the living-room furniture.

“More!”

“Sure. Why not. Can we play the piano?”

He doesn’t understand my words. He doesn’t need to. My gestures make my meaning clear.

The rest of the night is devoted to those other international languages – music and song.

It all ends too soon. We leave the way we arrived, through labyrinthian halls and down echoing stairwells. Behind us, a voice calls out, singing a one-word wish and an open invitation to return.

More!

Thanks, Lawrence. I knew the trick of learning how to ask about the bathroom. It hadn’t occurred to me that knowing how to say “more” could be so practical. Lesson learned.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Sara King

5 comments Written on December 11th, 2017 by
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Sara King

Last week about this time, I was on a plane coming back from Hangzhou, China. It’s one of the longest trips I’ve ever taken, particularly when you factor in that I was only in China for four days. Crazy. But it’s why I’ve selected Sara King to be this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest because the meal she writes about below is predicated on travel to foreign lands and speaks to the expectations one has about food. That, and because I think I may have flown over her house.

Sara, as she’ll be quit to inform you, is from Alaska. She writes SF. She writes Fantasy. She writes Romance. And she does this in a remote part of America where outdoor plumbing, grizzlies, and firearms are all just a part of daily life.

She’s an indie author extraordinaire, with multiple series running, though you most likely know her wrok from her Legend of ZERO series. And if you don’t, well, after reading her meal you’ll want to. Fortunately, I’ve provided some links for you.

LMS: Welcome, Sara. Please share a few words about your most memorable meal.

SK: So I’m pretty much a country bumpkin from Alaska, except maybe a little more uncivilized. (Outhouses, generators, community mail day, bears, Breakup, and honeybuckets anyone?) Alaskans are pretty much the least civilized people in the USA—ask any of my friends in the Lower 48. We’re kind of crazy.

I do, however, really enjoy a good burger. Pretty much like every other American out there, slap a burger on my plate and I’m gonna wolf it down (though mine were often made of moose meat when I was a kid). I’ve probably eaten close to three thousand burgers in my lifetime. McDonald’s was my go-to fast food joint in my youth, mainly because it was the only affordable ‘restaurant’ our town had for about a decade. I’m definitely not saying that McDonalds is the ideal example of burgerdom, but I ate a lot of them because fast food was considered a treat to my lower-middle-class family.

Fast forward 20 years. I was still living in the Bush, Alaska, but we now had internet [read: hamster-powered satellite cup-and-strings], and I was falling madly in love with a Scot that I’d never met in person. I decided to remedy that and fly, alone, from Bush, Alaska to Edinburgh, UK. It was a big step, because the most I’d seen of another country up until that point was traveling through Canada at eighty miles an hour on a road trip. Everything I knew of Scotland I had basically read in romance novels.

Let me tell you right now: Romance novels are wrong.

Alaskan Fire

Before boarding that first international flight, I thought maybe I’d learn that men in Scotland have big calves that they like to show off with a well-placed kilt. Those book covers of Fabio posing with his huge sword and bulging muscles had me picturing all sorts of hunky guys wandering around, showing off for the ladies. Hear me, ladies: romance novel covers are grossly misleading. Grossly. Misleading.

On average, Scots are stick-skinny in skintight tube jeans, with fugly faces ground up from a lifetime of fistfighting and barroom brawls. The slow, sexy Sean Connery accent is a myth—you’ll be lucky if you can understand your cabbie as he’s telling you about his passion for punching asshole Americans in the face in an incomprehensible brogue as he’s weaving the taxi through death-defying stunts on tiny, half-lane roads. About the only enormous, burly Scots you’ll see are the ones dripping with gold, waiting to ambush you in a dark alley or trying to trick you into handing them your cell phone. The mystique of buying handmade ‘Celtic’ silver designs will quickly wear off, once you see that every stand on the entire street is selling the exact same stuff, as are a bunch of sellers on Ebay, direct from India. They don’t tip over there, and when Americans do it, they nod and smile and take your cash and behind your back will give you that pitying look like you’re a little slow in the head. You kind of end up feeling like a rube, the dumb townie that walks into a camp of carnies.

But in the end, despite the false advertising of an entire youth of bad romance novels, it was actually the food that shocked me the most. Sausages are mostly bread inside. Lamb was as cheap as chicken. Most restaurants in Scotland pan-fried their steaks to a nice gray color (imagine my horror). Blood is an acceptable ingredient in Scottish cuisine, and if anything black appears on your plate, it’s probably made of it. Kebabs are a kind of taco sandwich. Chips are homefries. Crisps are potato chips. Bacon is ham, and if you want real bacon, you have to ask for ‘crispy bacon’. Prawns are tiny shrimp. ‘Rocket’ on a menu is a delicious leafy green, not a type of missile. Entrails, when properly boiled in a sheep’s stomach, are delicious. ‘Nachos’ are a can of boiled beans dumped on top of tortilla chips with some cold cheddar cheese grated on top. They use too many forks/knives/spoons for the task at hand. And lemonade is Sprite, and the waiter will look at you funny if you look at them funny and say you wanted lemonade, not Sprite.

It was the burgers, though, that really impressed on me why it is good to live in the USA.

Fortune's Rising

Which brings me back to me arriving in Scotland after my very first trans-Atlantic flight. Imagine my awe, wonder, and general Twilight-Zone feeling when, after having spent my entire life in the land of guns, wilderness, and grizzly bears, I found myself in one of the biggest, most civilized cities in Scotland after a 36-hour international, 3-layover journey. Even before I got out of the airport, I was gaping at everything around me like a hillbilly seeing a big city for the first time—which, of course, didn’t go unnoticed by the UK customs agents. Apparently, a lone woman from the U.S. doesn’t usually travel from Nowhereville, Alaska to Edinburgh, Scotland with absolutely no stamps on her passport, because the gate agent grilled me like I was ferrying drugs. And she, like just about every other Scottish person I was to run across from that point onward, had a multiple-time broken nose and missing, twisted teeth. I couldn’t stop staring. It was pretty obvious she’d spent her life brawling and was proud of it, and was hoping I’d give her the excuse to do the same to me. By the time I got my bags and found my Scot waiting for me, I was pretty damn stressed out. My Scot wanted to know where I wanted to eat. Already aching for a taste of home, I suggested a burger. He gave me a look like I was goddamn crazy and took me to a fancy restaurant, instead.

It became a theme. The first ten times or so I wanted to get a burger, I got pretty much the same reaction. “What are you in the mood for?” “Ooh, how about a burger?!” [Look of pity] “How about lasagna instead? I’ll get you lasagna.” [Orders lasagna for the lady.] “There. You get lasagna. So much better than a burger.” Thus began my saga of trying to find a burger in Scotland. I was there for six weeks. It wasn’t until about a week and a half into my journey that my beau finally relented and let me order a burger. He warned me repeatedly beforehand, however. “Burgers suck. Burgers are disgusting. You Americans are disgusting. I must show you what good food tastes like. Burgers are like vomit on a bun. Only heathens and drunkards eat burgers. Burgers are only fit for dogs. Etc. Etc. Etc.” Of course, as an American, I laughed as the Italian waiter sat a huge, delicious-looking burger in front of me and said something to the effect of, “Pffft. You idiot Scots have no idea what’s good.” Then I took a bite.

I stopped laughing as the unmistakable taste of cat food permeated my mouth. I gagged. I had trouble swallowing. I forced it down, somewhat in shock, as my beau watched with rapt attention. Knowing I was only proving his ridiculous point for him, I thought, “This can’t be right. Surely that was just my sinus infection from my trans-Atlantic flight. Burgers can not be that bad.” So I took another bite.

Cat food. The damn thing tasted like cat food. I actually spat it out this time and sat there, staring at my burger in horror. Of course, my Scot was laughing at me now. “See? They’re horrible. Point made. Eat good food from now on. We’ll train you dumb Americans to appreciate fine cuisine.”

Forging Zero

I’m not sure if I ever acknowledged his glee, because I was still staring at my ‘burger’, dumbstruck. It was everything I could do not to call the waiter over to my table and demand that he taste the burger and tell me if they had cut it with cat food. I decided to find out, right then and there, what the hell was wrong with this country that they could screw up something as simple as a burger. With a little detective work, I discovered that meat in Scotland is often cut with bread or other fillers to make it cheaper. Further, because nobody in an Italian restaurant ever orders a burger, the burger meat perhaps sits around a lot longer than it should. Yay.

I refused to believe this was the norm, however. Thus began my quest to find a good burger, any burger, in Scotland. I started insisting on going to every ‘American’ restaurant available, and must have ordered two dozen burgers in the next five weeks. Every one of them sucked. A lot. They were dry. They were stale. They tasted rancid. They were burned. They had a bready consistency. But, overwhelmingly, they tasted like shit. Much like the majority of Scots’ faces and teeth, they were just totally screwed up.

Now, before I alienate an entire country of people, I married my Scot. He proofread this. He laughed. He agrees. The Scots pick too many fights and have shit for burgers, and American burgers are better. (He literally could not believe that people in Alaska carry guns all the time and we rarely have anyone die of a gunfight until he saw it himself—apparently, the Scots do not have the self-control not to kill each other if given access to firepower, another cultural difference that I found astounding but will not go into here.) How does he know this? I brought him back to Alaska with me and made him swear beforehand that he would try one burger made in the USA before he cemented his opinion that burgers were shit. He agreed, and I fed him a bona-fide handmade burger grilled to perfection—barbecuing is something else the Scots abhor, mainly because they get food poisoning 2 times out of 3, so it was really difficult to get him to agree to eat a grilled burger—and slapped it on his plate with all the fixings.

My Scot is a picky eater, so he started with a tiny bite, pinkies extended in civilized pride, face all scrunched up in Scottish disdain, fully intending to take a single bite, then set it aside and eat something cultured instead, like Italian takeout. He ended up finishing the entire thing, wiping the grease off his face, and asking for another. Now, four years later, burgers are his favorite food here. He hasn’t gotten food poisoning once, despite at least fifty barbecues since.

Thanks, Sara. I’m tempted to ask how you know what cat food tastes like to have made the comparison, but I’m really afraid of the answer.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

Eating Authors: Sam Sykes

No Comments » Written on December 4th, 2017 by
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Sam Sykes

If it’s Monday, I’m probably jetlagged. The plan is that I will have spent the previous 23 hours and change traveling home from Hangzhou. Obviously, for the purpose of ensuring the continuity of this blog I’m preparing today’s entry well in advance. But in theory, as you read this I should be exhausted, very pleased with my experiences half a world away, and, well, home.

Such a trip offers up meals that draw on all three themes that regularly show up in the accounts on EATING AUTHORS: amazing food, incredible company, and a unique event. This week’s guest, Sam Sykes, understands that a memorable meal often relies more upon what happened than what was eaten. That’s a distinction that makes particular sense coming from a writer of epic fantasy. And unless you’ve been living under a rock you already know Sam as the author of the celebrated Aeons’ Gate series and more recently, the Bring Down Heaven series. The third book of the latter, God’s Last Breath, comes out tomorrow from Orbit.

Full disclosure: although we have a lot of friends in common, I’ve only met Sam once. It was about four years ago at a convention in Michigan. We were on a panel together, my last one of a long and wonderful weekend. Curiously, Brian McClellan was also on the panel. And no, the three of us did not go out for a bite together afterwards.

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

SS: I feel like the “correct” response to this is to recall some exceptional taste or exquisite ingredient. Those are cool and all, but for me, food has always only been as good as the memories linked to it. Your grandmother’s pasta might not be the most stunning dish in the world, for example, but you can’t smell it and not think about being a child again.

The City Stained Red

So I guess the best meal I ever had was at Phoenix Comicon about two years ago at City Pizza. It was a little shop outside the convention center and I had just gone to get lunch with fellow author, Brian McClellan. I ordered pepperoni and jalapeno, Brian got meat lover’s. Now, again, the pizza itself was fine, if unremarkable, but I’ll never forget the emotions attached to that meal. Because it was just after Brian had finished his first slice that a fan–a well-groomed fellow of about five foot nine–came up and nervously asked: “Mr. McClellan?”

“Just wanted to say,” he continued, after being given a positive indication by Brian, “that I love your work. You probably don’t remember me, but I’ve been here every year you’ve come. I own all your books and I’ve gotten them signed and I don’t have anything new for you to sign, but…I just…I think I might be your biggest fan.”

“Oh yeah?” Brian smiled congenially, then took the shaker of crushed red pepper, unscrewed the cap and slid it over. “Eat that whole jar of red pepper.”

“W-what?” the fan stammered.

“My biggest fan would eat that whole jar of red pepper.”

Tome of the Undergates

“Will…will that make you happy?” he asked, looking nervously at the jar.

“I don’t know,” Brian responded. “Eat it and let’s see.”

So I don’t know exactly how long the internal debate raged within that guy, but eventually he decided to be brave and upended the whole thing into his mouth. I could smell the fiery reek of the peppers all the way across the table. I made a move to say something, but Brian, without looking away, waved me down. I watched tears slide down that guy’s face as he continued to empty red peppers into his mouth before he collapsed on his knees, gagging and wheezing.

“Did…did that make you happy?” he asked.

Brian stared at him flatly for a moment, then picked up the remnants of his pizza and dropped them on the floor. Without saying another word, he walked over them and out the restaurant.

I got the rest of mine to go. It was the first time I ever felt like I had really made it.

Thanks, Sam. There’s a moral here. I’m not sure what it is, but I suspect it’s back at that restaurant, on the floor with the remnants of Brian’s pizza.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Libbi Rich

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Eating Authors: Jon Skovron

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