Eating Authors: Vina Prasad (Campbell Award nominee)

No Comments » Written on April 23rd, 2018 by
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Vina Prasad

Here in the USA, the deadline for filing one’s federal taxes has come and gone. Lots of stress this year in my household as we shifted over to a new form of record keeping and experienced more than our share of delays and distractions. On the other hand, less stressful than most years, as the critical date got bumped to the 17th, whereas two days before, April 15th, marked the 18th anniversary of my father’s passing. Yeah, death and taxes, he’d have found that really funny.

On a less somber or macabre note, today’s EATING AUTHORS features another of the nominees for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, Vina Jie-Min Prasad. She’s a Singaporean writer who describes herself as “working against the world-machine” (which I think surely means she probably knows where they keep it) and in addition to being up for the Campbell, her short story, “Fandom for Robots” has also garnered her Nebula, Sturgeon, and Hugo nominations this year. But wait, there’s more: Her novelette, “A Series of Steaks” is also nominated for the same three awards. That’s right, she’s up for seven different awards this year (well, six, because the Sturgeon only has the one category). Anyway, go read her!

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

VP: One of the best meals I’ve ever had was in Vietnam. I was travelling with my partner on a very ambitious itinerary that we had planned earlier that year, and we got to our homestay in Dong Hoi after spending most of the day at the limestone caves. There are two things I remember very clearly about that part of the trip. The first was that there was a shallow fishpond on the first floor–some of the fish in it had outgrown the pond, and were carefully swimming sideways so they didn’t splash out.

The second was the noodles.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 18

For a little more context, the homestay was pretty far from any restaurant. Our previous itinerary-planning selves had assumed we’d be able to go into town and grab some dinner. However, our previous itinerary-planning selves were possessed by what I call the Vacation Demon. The Vacation Demon, in case you aren’t familiar with it, does things like make you pack your swimsuit when you aren’t going anywhere near a body of water because “there might be a pool somewhere”, pack extra shoes for a weekend trip “just in case the sole falls off”, and plan five separate things for one afternoon because “they’re so near to each other, and I’m sure we’ll have energy, we’re on vacation”.

Anyway. Reluctant to forsake the Vacation Demon’s itinerary and dash the hopes and dreams of our past selves, we were at the point of the trip where we were hauling our shambling carcasses from place to place while secretly hoping our past selves had left a gap in their meticulous plans so we could get some rest. As the itinerary didn’t say anything about dinner that night, all our determination spontaneously evaporated the moment we took off our shoes.

At some point of rolling around trying to motivate ourselves to get dinner, I remembered that the homestay had advertised breakfast in the listing, and went to check if we could pay extra and get some kind of meal, even if it was just bread. The host was pretty accommodating, and she offered us the choice of toast and scrambled eggs, or noodles. I picked noodles as it seemed like the most filling option.

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 124

A few minutes later, we were served two steaming-hot plates of instant noodles–they were boiled and drained, dry-style, with bits of eggs and finely-chopped spring onion greens on top.

The taste was an experience. The noodles were perfectly cooked, al dente with that hint of give, and were tossed so that just the right amount of sauce coated every strand. Hints of white pepper deepened the noodles’ soy-scented fragrance, and the clouds and wisps of scrambled eggs added to the richness. The occasional bit of spring onion added a pop of freshness every few bites.

I looked at my partner. He looked at me.

“Is it just me, or–“

“No. These noodles are godly.”

We got second helpings, just to check if hunger had skewed our judgement. They were still incredible. We complimented the chef multiple times, and had more noodles for breakfast the next morning. (Still good.)

It’s been years since my Vietnam trip. I’ve had many great meals since then, but I’ll never forget those noodles–how sheer skill and technique elevated a basic-seeming meal into something truly amazing.

Thanks, Vina. I’m well acquainted with the Vacation Demon. With its help I’ve amassed a lifetime worth of museums, parks, and restaurants I’ll likely never visit. Sigh.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Rebecca Roanhorse (Campbell Award nominee)

No Comments » Written on April 16th, 2018 by
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Rebecca Roanhorse

If everything has gone as planned, then this morning I should be waking up in Pennsylvania, after having spent four nights in Quebec. But seriously, when do things go as planned? Which is why I prepped this week’s EATING AUTHORS before I skipped town, so you wouldn’t miss out on reading about Rebecca Roanhorse, our second guest this year who (along with Katherine Arden, Sarah Kuhn, Jeannette Ng, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, and Rivers Solomon) was recently nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

I’d be remiss not to mention that in addition to being on this year’s ballot for the Campbell, Rebecca is also on both the Hugo and Nebula Awards ballots for her short story “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™.”

She’s also a Yale grad, a lawyer, and a pug owner (the last of which resonates with me because my dog is half pug, so yeah, that’s all it takes to bias me). Her first novel, Trail of Lightning, comes out from Saga at the end of June, with the next one in the series already slated for release the following spring. Then there’s the new book, an Aansazi-inspired fantasy that we’ll get to see sometime in 2020. So yeah, she’s been busy.

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

RR: It was a chilly March afternoon on the Navajo reservation in Northern Arizona, and an In-law Chaser, a quick heavy snowstorm that doesn’t stick but has enough force to usually scare the uninitiated off the warmer indoor accommodations, had just raced through our tiny camp. A thin blanket of snow coated the ground around us, and we huddled in our coats, hats and scarves, waiting for the sun to return.

Trail of Lightning

We were all there for my niece’s Kinaldaa. A Kinaldaa is a Navajo puberty ceremony for young girls that welcomes them into adulthood. It is a momentous occasion that brings family and friends together to offer advice, ceremony, and company. It is held in a traditional Navajo home, called a hogan, but all the cooking and prep work is done outside.

Despite the blast of winter, the open fire in the middle of the camp still crackled merrily, burning through the pinon wood and smelling like the Southwest version of heaven. The cowboy coffee (strong coffee where the grounds are dumped directly into the stovetop-style pot and placed over the open fire) was bubbling and ready for drinking. My husband had just finished butchering the sheep that would go into the fresh mutton stew that was to be our dinner. I was chopping the stew vegetables – carrots, celery and potatoes – and another relative was busy mixing the dough for our frybread. It was the quintessential Navajo comfort meal – mutton stew, frybread and coffee – made with our own hands and eaten outside among friends and family. It was the best meal I’ve ever had, hands down. Well, there was that one gourmet 5-course meal in Paris once that is a close second, but even that can’t beat outdoor dining around an open fire in the snow.

Thanks, Rebecca. Is it wrong that a part of me wants some Parisian chef to wrangle an invitation to a Kinaldaa so they can be inspired to produce a fusion dish? Yeah, probably. Sorry (not sorry).

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Jeannette Ng (Campbell Award nominee)

No Comments » Written on April 9th, 2018 by
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Jeannette Ng

There are six names on the ballot for this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Katherine Arden, Sarah Kuhn, Jeannette Ng, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Rebecca Roanhorse, and Rivers Solomon. I’ve reached out to all of them and with luck over the next several weeks you’ll get to read about their most memorable meals. And too, I hope you’ll go out of your way and read their fiction, because if you’re not already familiar with their work the odds are pretty good that you’ll be seeing a lot more from them.

First up here at EATING AUTHORS is Jeannette Ng. She’s the author of Under the Pendulum Sun, a novel that can be succinctly described as Victorian missionaries travel to Fairyland. She counts the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and the Brontë sisters among her influences, a combination which was all I needed to compel me to order a copy of her book.

Jeannette hails from Hong Kong and currently lives in Durham, UK. You can see the influence of her master’s degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies in her fiction. It’s also surely fed her interest in both costuming and the LARPs she runs. What more could you ask for?

LMS: Welcome, Jeannette. Please share a memorable meal with us.

JN: Allow me to set a scene: smoky wood fire in a Tudor croft, porridge quietly steaming as it hangs low in the fire, shutters seamed with light, shut against a howling wind.

I am curled up by the fireplace, voices of various colourful characters discuss turnips and orc armies and slashed sleeve fashion above me. I wedge another block of wood under the grate. I nudge the dripping candle closer to the pan as it is underlit by the fire. I flip the bubbling flatbread.

These are the meals I helped cook whilst pretending to be a fantasy medieval peasant.

Under the Pendulum Sun

I’ve often written about my partner’s medieval cooking hobby and every meal Serve It Forth produces is memorable. However, this particular weekend sticks in my mind as we had very limited access to modern amenities. The game’s organisers had rented out the Anglo Saxon village and normally we work in the modern kitchen of the visitor’s centre. However, this weekend it was not available and we were stuck in the back room of the Tudor Croft.

Now we had brought frozen stew to reheat, as well as bread and Ember Day tart. We weren’t cooking everything from scratch in that kitchen.

But we were still catering an eighty-or-so person weekend-long event off two camping stoves and the fireplace in the front room. We had a sneaky hidden pipe that brought running water into the kitchen area, but there was no drainage so every bucket used had to be thrown into the ditch outside. We had a shining tower of tea urn that gave us hot water as long as we kept it filled with water. Never have I loved a kitchen appliance more. Hot water is the lifeblood of a catering kitchen.

And of course we were still making flatbread and porridge over the fire. Wearing my woolen kirtle, I tended the fire and stirred porridge. I rolled thin blob after blob of flatbread which I fried over a pan I oiled with a rag.

It was all my ridiculous childhood fantasies of being Cinderella come true, right down to the snuffling critters scampering about in the thatch above us at night. We slept on a straw mattress in the attic room. We woke up each morning to the song of the birds nesting there.

Thanks, Jeannette. When I think of Cinderella it’s usually the Disney film that comes to mind. Now I need to add flatbread, turnips, and orcs to my memory.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Liz Colter

No Comments » Written on April 2nd, 2018 by
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Liz Colter

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, April 2nd is my personal academic holiday, or rather, it has been since 1987. For the past thirty-one years I’ve celebrated Doctoral Day, the anniversary of the successful defense of my dissertation. It was a major life-goal for me, or so it seemed at the time, but now it’s more than half of my lifetime in the past, and while its importance hasn’t dimmed, I see it now in the context of the bigger picture more as a stepping stone in the journey that’s been my life. Still, traditions are important, so please, celebrate with me. Salute those friends and colleagues (and yourself, if applicable) who have achieved terminal degrees. Bloviate. If you’re in academia and have tenure, bask in it. And if you’re still paying back those loans from grad school, well, try not to think about them, today at least.

Another, and much rarer, life event worth celebrating is winning the Writers of the Future contest, which is my clever segue for introducing you to Liz Colter (who did that very thing back in 2014), this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest.

Liz writes dark/weird/magic realism as well as contemporary fantasy under the name L. D. Colter, and uses L. Deni Colter for her epic fantasies. A novel-length example of the latter, The Halfblood War, is coming soon from WordFire Press. She recently saw her first book, A Borrowed Hell, re-released. That’s got to feel good.

LMS: Welcome, Liz. Can you share a few words about a memorable meal?

LC: Food lover that I am, it’s odd I can’t remember more specific meals than I do. There are a few that stand out, but on the whole when I try to conjure a favorite it’s the circumstances surrounding the meal combined with the food that makes it stick in my memory.

A Borrowed Hell

Surprisingly, one of my favorites was an unassuming cabbage dish (and, no, cabbage doesn’t normally top my list of preferred foods). I only remember red cabbage and a lot of butter, and that it was superb. Mushrooms and cheese were involved as well, but even though it sounds simple, I’m a dismal cook and I’ve never been able to duplicate the recipe. It was one of the tastiest meals I’ve had, but what makes it memorable is that the meal was enjoyed in England with my favorite uncle in his favorite pub. My husband, mother, and brother were there as well, and my mother had taken us all on the trip so that my husband could see England for the first time and meet my relatives, most especially my uncle. He was in his mid-nineties at the time, a retired doctor, still spry and in good health despite some long-term issues from having been a prisoner of war in WWII. Along with the excellent food, I remember the beautiful green pastures around Maidensgrove and the atmospheric 16th century pub with its low ceilings and dark furnishings. That night at the Five Horseshoes turned out to be the last time I enjoyed a meal with my uncle, as he passed away quite suddenly a few months later. I’ll always be glad that my husband got the chance to meet him, and for the memorable evening we all spent together.

Thanks, Liz. That sounds like the perfect snapshot of a meal, one that evokes flavorful food, extraordinary company, and an exquisite setting.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Jasmine Gower

No Comments » Written on March 26th, 2018 by
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Jasmine Gower

Yet another snowstorm has come and gone, the fourth in as many weeks, reminding me of that classic SNL skit about March coming in like a lion. That said, I’ll be happy to get to April in another week, because surely then we can all agree that winter is over and get on with the vernal weather. Meanwhile, I’m awaiting (like so many others) the release of the Hugo Awards short list so I can reach out to this year’s Campbell Award nominees and lure them here to talk about some of their meals.

But before any of that can happen, we need to continue on with the final EATING AUTHORS installment of this month, which is segue enough to introduce you to Jasmine Gower. She’s one of the many speculative fiction authors who call Portland, Oregon home (seriously, what’s in the water there?). Her work frequently explores themes of disability, gender, and sexuality. Moreover, her website includes a page detailing trigger warnings and specifies areas such as sex, violence, health, and general phobias that are to be found in her books.

Her latest novel, Moonshine, came out last month. It’s a mash-up of 1920’s Chicago and forbidden magic. What’s a young woman who’s only trying to make her way in the big city to do when magical bounty hunters come looking for her, just because she inherited some old fashioned power from her grandmother?

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

JG: In the autumn after I earned my Bachelor’s degree in English, my mother and I took a trip celebrating my graduation to the United Kingdom, spending two weeks between the London area, Edinburgh, and Cardiff. (We had hoped to swing by the Gower Peninsula but decided to stay an extra day in Cardiff.) Being Americans from well-assimilated families, most of our connection to the UK came from extensive genealogy research done by my uncle and a lingering family penchant for traditional British food, which seems to be hugely unpopular with Americans who did not grow up eating it. We spent the majority of our trip in Edinburgh, and on our first night there (after being warned about the highly suspect quality of Scotland’s take on Mexican food) decided to get dinner at a pub near our hotel called the Arthur Conan Doyle. We been eating at pubs all week so far, but that had been down in Amersham–now that we were in Scotland, it was time to try Scottish pubs.

Moonshine

The menu, then, wasn’t terribly surprising. One of their most prominent dinner entrees was haggis. In America, of course, haggis is derided as the most disgusting of all British foods, fit only for uncivilized highland barbarians. I don’t get a lot of chances to reconnect to my family’s Scottish roots and I couldn’t remember ever having seen haggis on a menu back home, so I put aside my American hang-ups and ordered the haggis, just to say I’d given it a try. The American vision of haggis is admittedly a bit nebulous–something about sheep intestines, no real concept of the flavor, and it’s maybe slimy or chewy or something. No one really puts much thought into their disgust toward haggis before declaring it, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

I was surprised, then, when the dish brought out was effectively just ground sausage, not terribly different in texture and seasoning from the pork-based dish in the US, with a pile of mashed sweet potatoes and mashed parsnips each on the side. But I tend to favor miscellaneous sheep parts to miscellaneous pig parts, and although I like sausage, I found that the flavor of haggis suited my tastes much better. Had the only reason I had never sampled this delicious dish been haggis’ negative reputation in the US?

Well, it turns out, no. There was one other significant reason, which I only found out a few years later thinking back on the dinner I had had in the Arthur Conan Doyle. I was back home in the US, wondering where I might be able to find a restaurant that served the elusive, unfairly maligned Scottish dish. In Portland, Oregon, we have plenty of British-style pubs, including ones with a specifically Celtic bent, and yet I couldn’t find one that included haggis on the menu. When Google Maps was no help in my search, I turned then to regular Google and discovered the true reason why I couldn’t find this legendary Scottish meal.

A Study of Fiber and Demons

Haggis is outlawed in the United States.

As it turned out, the United States banned the import of beef and sheep product from the UK back in the late 1980s during a mad cow disease scare, and one of haggis’ primary ingredients–sheep lung–remains banned to this day. And while you could still make haggis in the US with local sheep or by replacing the lung with some other ingredient, apparently few in the US seem inclined to try. Some Scottish ranchers and chefs seem to believe the US government is complicit in perpetuating targeted anti-Celtic legislation, and maybe this is true (historically, the US loves assimilationist legislation), but it’s probably more likely the result of some pork lobby in the US with a surprising amount of political clout trying to wedge out the competition. Whatever the reason, finding out that the delicious cultural dish I had sampled in Edinburgh was contraband in my home country was both a bit ridiculous and a bit outrageous.

And while I could certainly use any excuse available to me to go back to Scotland, I do wish I didn’t have to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to get another taste of this savory and tragically underappreciated meal.

Thanks, Jasmine. And now I know to blame the vast US pork lobby when conspiracy theories pop up. Perfect!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Jason Franks

2 comments Written on March 19th, 2018 by
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Jason Franks

Please pardon me for saying so, but Real Life has been kicking my ass of late. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but suffice to say that I’d really like things to calm down and let me catch my breath, maybe even get a little writing done.

In times of stress, most people tend to retreat into familiar routines. Fortunately, after more than 350 authors coming by to share tales of their meals, EATING AUTHORS is as welcome a diversion as comfort food. And so by way segue let me introduce this week’s guest, Jason Franks.

Jason writes a range of things, from comics to novels to code. His first book, Bloody Waters, was a finalist for the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel. And he’s never looked back.

He started the year releasing Faerie Apocalypse, telling stories of 21st century crossovers to and from the Faerie realm. It’s a long way from reading Edmund Spencer.

Jason’s next project is a graphic novella tentatively entitled “Gourmand Go,” which he describes as the ongoing adventures of a starship crew on a mission to boldly go; to seek out new life —and eat it. Basically, Star Trek cannibalism. Yeah, it’s like he’s writing it just for me!

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

JF: Tough question. I am tempted to talk about some meals I had where something funny happened, like the time I went for an early dinner in Istanbul. Because I was alone and the weather was awesome, I found a seat on the end of a long empty table on the terrace, so I could look at the Blue Mosque as dusk fell. It was a beautiful evening and I was enjoying the quiet when four police cars screeched up. A dozen cops climbed out and crowded into the restaurant. I was the only patron there but of course they came and sat down at my table, which was the only one big enough for all of them. The staff brought out glasses of tea for everyone, including me. The cops drank theirs and five minutes later, just as suddenly as they arrived, they got up, jumped back in their cars and drove away. I guess it was an emergency tea stop. If it was a regular event I think the restaurant staff would have moved me to another table. Or maybe they thought they just wanted to see what I would do.

Faerie Apocalypse

But the problem with that anecdote is that I don’t even remember what I ate.

Another fine meal that springs to mind one is the time my late great Aunt Celia Franca took me to La Strada on Bank Street in Ottawa, where I ate a moose fillet. It was a lovely dinner, but there’s not much meat on a story about dining out with an elderly relative.

So I guess I’m going to talk about hamburgers.

In 2011 I quit my job and I went to Japan with plans to propose to my girlfriend Yuriko (now my wife). I rented a furnished apartment in Yuri’s town in northern Japan for a few months, which I spent improving my language skills and writing fiction. On weekends, when Yuri was off work, we’d go on road trips, which usually involved seeing a gallery or a museum and eating at some off-the-beaten path restaurant, cafe or road station.

Now, I love Japanese food but I’m quite a big eater and I just don’t find it very filling. I think I’d been in-country for a good couple of months when the meal in question took place and I was hungry.

Bloody Waters

We were on the road and it was lunch time when we arrived at our destination: a cafe up in the woods that was kind of like a two-level tree house. We went in through the door and down the narrow, knotty staircase. Low ceilings. Everything made out of handcut wood. It was gorgeous and the food smelled amazing. The staff found us a tiny table and gave us menus and… there wasn’t a single dish that didn’t have pork in it. I’m Jewish and, while I’m not especially observant (see earlier comment about eating moose), I am phobic about eating pork. I felt a little bit of my soul break off and flutter away as we left the restaurant with empty bellies. No treehouse dining for you, Mr Franks!

Yuri and I got back in the car and drove back the way we’d come, passing through a town called Obihiro, which Yuri told me was famous for its beef. Yuri had heard about a place there so we pulled into a parking lot near the race track, where a pair of white-gloved senior citizens, who directed up to a parking spot, even though the lot was 3/4 empty. There was a horse race in progress, although few people were there to see it because the weather had turned bad. We trudged across the gravel through the drizzle to a micro-mall called Tokachimura, which contained a souvenir shop, a produce market, and a couple of cafes and restaurants. I was hungry and probably sulking about the tree house incident.

Sixsmiths

The place Yuri had heard about in the micro-mall was called Bistro Komni. Despite its name it was not a bistro, it was a kind of retro American diner at 3/4 scale. We sat at the counter. The menu was as you’d expect in such a place, so I ordered a hamburger, fries, and a coke. I wasn’t expecting anything much better than Mosburger takeaway fare, but, man alive, they served up an amazing meal.

I’m sure that my appetite on the day, coupled with a craving for some dirty Western food partly account for it, but I am also certain that they served me a perfect burger. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked and garnished. That burger was assembled with the painstaking craftsmanship for which Japan is famous, from the finest, freshest local ingredients. I had forgotten that Yuri told me that Obihiro was famous for its beef. It wasn’t a huge meal and I left the diner hungry for more–but blissfully sated on some existential level.

I have wanted to go back to Obihiro and eat there again ever since, but Yuri tells me that Bistro Komni has closed down. And so it has passed from memory into legend.

Thanks, Jason. You’re braver than me for ordering a burger at a horse track. And what’s this about moose not being kosher? Is it a hoof thing?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Kelly Robson

No Comments » Written on March 12th, 2018 by
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Kelly Robson

And now for something completely different. Or, not. Well, kinda. You see, one of the policies I’ve always embraced on EATING AUTHORS has been a “one and done” that meant writers only got to come by once, to share the details of one meal. The focus has also been on authors of books (as opposed to those writing short stories for magazines or anthologies). The exception has been the annual round up (coming soon!) of Campbell Award nominees, many of whom had never had a novel or (more recently) standalone novella published, because it’s been my personal mission to see more attention given to that award. As such, it was bound to happen, a former Campbell nominee known for her short work has her first “book” coming out. And because it’s my blog I get to bend the rules and invite her back to share a second meal (and boost the signal for her new work).

Last month, Kelly’s novelette “A Human Stain” was nominated for a Nebula Award. Tomorrow, her novella Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach debuts from Tor.com. Friends and neighbors, humanoids of all flavors, please welcome Kelly Robson back to this blog.

LMS: Welcome back, Kelly. Tell me about another memorable meal.

KR: For Eating Authors last year, I told you about my most embarrassingly memorable meal. This time, I’ll go a bit more gourmet.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Alyx and I had just gotten off the overnight ferry from Athens to Crete, landing in Heraklion, which is nobody’s favorite Greek town. Heraklion was bombed to bits in World War II, and was rebuilt in the 50s as a warren of concrete low-rises. It’s not beautiful, but it’s a wonderful, vibrant, busy city. I adored Heraklion from the moment my feet hit the ground.

We were only there for one night. Like every other tourist, we visited the spectacular Minoan palace of Knossos and the Archaeological Museum, then it was time for a late lunch.

In Greece, eating is easy. There’s none of the constrained opening hours of Italy, where it’s impossible to get a meal between 3:00 and 8:00 PM. I adore Italy, but for Alyx and me, the perfect meal is served at 5:00 PM at the latest. This is not a problem in Greece. Sure, the locals eat after 10:00 PM, but they’re happy to feed tourists at whatever weird time they walk in.

The Archaeological Museum is surrounded by restaurants, but we were savvy tourists and knew to avoid the obvious choices. We entered the littlest alley off the square and five minutes of hiking through a residential district brought us to a quiet little family restaurant. Five tables served by the twelve year-old daughter of the family, with mom and dad in the kitchen. The only other customer was an ancient fellow dressed in black who looked like he’s just stepped out of the Middle Ages.

A Human Stain

Nobody spoke English, but a helpful customer had written up an English version of their menu on a piece of foolscap. We ordered snails, sardines, and beets. If you think that might not sound like the most inspiring meal, you’d be wrong. It was heaven.

The snails were brought to the table still simmering in a rosemary-lemon broth, dusted with some type of flour that didn’t dissolve in the broth, but added just the tiniest hint of crispy texture to the tender gastropod flesh. The juicy, caught-that-morning sardines had been grilled over an open flame that charred the skin crispy. The boiled beets were washed in olive oil, lemon, and herbs. All this served with warm, fluffy pita bread to soak up the juices.

To this day, even after having eaten gourmet meals in fancy restaurants around the world, this modest little meal of snails, sardines, and beets remains my one of most treasured memories.

Thanks, Kelly. While you and my wife may agree that “tender gastropod flesh” could ever be anything better than a good band name, in your place I’d have eaten the sardines and fed the beets to the snails.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Sue Burke

No Comments » Written on March 5th, 2018 by
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Sue Burke

Whoosh, and it’s already March. Seriously? I’d have thought my cutting back on convention travel this year would have meant that time passed more slowly. Nope. Clearly a flawed premise. And as proof of the ol’ time and tide line, here’s another installment of EATING AUTHORS.

This weeks guest is Sue Burke, a journalist for forty years, translator, poet, and short story writer. Sue currently lives in Chicago and last month saw the publication of her first novel. Semiosis is a tale of first contact, alien plants, and language in all its vastness. This is my favorite kind of science fiction (okay, so I’m biased). It’s going to change the way you think about meaning and communication.

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

SB: My most memorable meal is a mere snack – memorable for what it proved.

In the mid-1990s, my husband and I visited Paris, where we had a delightful time enjoying the art and history, two of our favorite things. Of course, one of the first stops we had to make was to visit the Eiffel Tower – to see for ourselves its astonishing size, understand more deeply its architectural and cultural importance, and enjoy the view. And we needed to be able to say we’d been there and done that. Who could visit Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower?

We were there in fall, though, and the weather was … autumnal. We spotted a little pastry café while we were up in the tower and thought we could get a snack there and brief shelter from the drizzle and wind. On the level just below, however, we had seen a souvenir stand with some disturbingly third-rate offerings, so we expected the food and hospitality to be on a par with a yellow foam-rubber replica of the tower. We were at a tourist trap, n’est-ce pas?

Semiosis

Instead, the café offered stereotypical French charm with a staff that welcomed a pair of slightly befuddled non-French-speaking tourists. I had arguably the finest cup of coffee and the finest apple pastry of my life, so good that I still remember them a couple of decades later: fragrant fresh coffee and especially flaky pastry surrounding not-too-sweet spiced apple slices, commonplace food made to standards of uncommon quality. It was not what I expected. (Sometimes it’s a relief to be proven wrong.)

Part of the duty of a good tourist is to be attentive and learn. We had heard, as everyone does, that the French put pride and care into their food. It turned out to be true. Even when they didn’t have to, they served a superb little repast. What did that tell us about the culture and the character? Why were they selling crappy souvenirs and perfect pastries almost side by side?

We puzzled over that as we ate, and we could reach no conclusion, which was part of the fun. We had done what tourists long to do: we had caught a glimpse of the real France. We’ll always have Paris – and the memory of a small perfect snack at a grand iconic place in a city that made sure it lived up to one of the best parts of its reputation.

Thanks, Sue. So much of human perception is defined by contrast. I wonder, perhaps the placement of that souvenir stand was deliberate, just to heighten the experience of the pastry?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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