Eating Authors: Jennifer R. Donohue

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Some weeks back, I was a day away from finishing a draft of a new Amazing Conroy story to round out a collection. I needed it to be between eight and ten thousand words, but it was coming in longer, a lot longer. I realized I might have a new novella on my hands. And just like that an idea for a separate story popped into my head, as if my unconscious mind was saying “Yeah, baby, novella time! Oh, and here, you can use this to write a different story.” Ultimately, that’s what I ended up doing, but before I put in that final day finishing the draft, before I started on the new piece, I shared this odd predicament with social media.

In response, over on Twitter, Jennifer R. Donohue, this week’s EATING AUTHOR guest, responded with support for the strategy of doing both stories even before I’d mentioned that solution online. That reminded me that Jennifer was a member of Codex, the online writing community, and that in turn led me to realizing that she’d published a book late last year. So, clearly, the obvious thing to do was to send her an invitation and find out what she considered her most memorable meal.

Jennifer grew up in New Jersey and now lives in central New York with her husband and a Doberman named Ulrike. Her short fiction has appeared in venues such as Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, and Mythic Delirum. She’s hoping to release a sequel to her first book before the end of 2019. She works at her local library and also facilitates a writing workshop there.

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

JRD: One of the best meals I’ve ever had, I cooked myself. It wasn’t the “best” because I’m a chef (I’m not), but because of the experience that went into it. See, historically I’ve been a very picky eater. Like, a pasta with butter on it kid. Or American cheese, as cheddar was too much for my palate. Boxed mac and cheese, hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly, pierogies. Chicken fingers at restaurants (okay I still do this). But as I got older, I started to branch out, and by a teen, I was pretty cool with Chinese food in general. The ubiquitous takeout style, just to be clear.

My family, though, edges into foodie territory. A lot of us have traveled, a lot of us have just branched out into other culinary cultures to see what things were like, and this latter is where my best meal came from.

Run With The Hunted

I think it was my fifteenth birthday or sixteenth birthday. My Uncle Tim and Aunt Lisa lived near Philly, so they’re the ones who had to travel a little to the New Jersey party, gave me both a physical birthday gift, and also the gift of an experience. They gave me a little wok (to this day I’m not sure of the exact size. Eight inch, I guess? Ten inch?), a three-tool bundle of Joyce Chen bamboo cooking utensils, a Chinese food cookbook, and a hand-drawn certificate for one cooking lesson! They brought me back to their house, and we went into Philadelphia to go to the market there and get the ingredients for the meal that I would cook.

I chose fried wontons and pork stir fry, with carrots and snow peas. Vegetable pickiness still plagues me, and I do not like onions or mushrooms, things that tend to figure in dishes without actually being listed on menus. Under their watchful eye, I did my first meat cutting of any kind, and learned the pro tip: put meat in the freezer for a little bit, to make it easier to handle. I used the ingredients we purchased to make a marinade. I learned how to blanch vegetables. I saw my first rice cooker (and as an adult, I bought my own, though still mostly just cook rice on the stove). I learned how to fold wontons. I minced garlic and ginger, using the ulu knife that every household in my family has after my grandparents’ first Alaskan cruise.

And then, we heated the wok, and added oil, and I heated the aromatics. I added the pork and stir fried for the very first time. I don’t remember cooking the wontons, though I know we didn’t deep fry them, anyway.

Few things compared to sitting down to a meal you’d followed the steps for so meticulously, and I remember replicating it for my family once I was home, and my husband (then boyfriend) in the college dorm.

Thanks, Jennifer. Those wontons sound pretty tasty. I’m heading to Beijing in a month, my third China trip in three years. I’ve yet to eat anything there that resembles anything I find in “Chinese restaurants” here in the US. I’ll make a point of looking for fried wontons.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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