Eating Authors: Julia Huni

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Julia Huni

If you’re reading this in the USA, then the odds are good that you’re emerging from a four day weekend of culinary overindulgence, credit card abuse, and too much televised sports and/or Netflix bingeing. Somewhere in there, I hope you took a few minutes for self-examination and reflected on the good things in life and appreciated all that you’ve got. There was probably a spare moment to do that, somewhere in between reaching for another slice of pie and discovering the third can of spray whipping cream was empty and getting the fourth can out of the fridge.

As for me, I had lots to be thankful about, including your tolerance for what I laughingly refer to as segues on this blog. Oh, look, there’s one now. Ahem. Last month while attending the 20Books conference in Las Vegas I met Julia Huni in person. She was in the company of A.M. Scott who also recently shared a meal here, and that’s when I discovered the two women were sisters. Sneaky.

Julia’s done a little bit of everything: nine years in the US Air Force, worked at both NASA and NATO, done IT, been a professor, and even a stint as a stay-at-home mom. As for her fiction, she’s probably best known for her Funny Sci-Fi Mystery Space Janitor series. On a more serious note, there’s also her Recycled World books, set on an abandoned Earth.

LMS: Welcome, Julia. What stands out for you as your most memorable meal?

JH: When I was in my late twenties, I served in the US Air Force. After four and a half years on active duty, I was transferred from smoggy Southern California to Sembach Air Base in Germany.

I was assigned to a NATO air operations centre, along with military folks from the US, the UK, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. According to the organization chart I worked for a German, but in reality I reported to the senior US officer, a Vietnam veteran and fighter pilot named Colonel M.

The Vacuum of Space

The colonel had been a POW at the end of the Vietnam war, spending ten months in captivity before being liberated. He didn’t care much what others thought of him, he didn’t worry about the future, and he loved good food. He was a foodie before the term was coined. Although he rarely referred to his experience in Southeast Asia, the occasional comment about pumpkin and rat soup gave me a good idea why he savored every meal. He thought nothing of driving across the border into France for a $300 meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant, but he also didn’t hesitate to say yes when a co-worker invited him home for dinner.

One day at work, Col. M. asked if my fiancé and I would like to go on an adventure for lunch—in Luxembourg. It’s not often you drive to a foreign country for lunch, but that was exactly what he had in mind. At some point during his seventeen years in Europe, he and his wife had discovered a little place that served prawns. Only fifty Deutsch Marks for lunch. Each.

For a junior captain back in the day, that was a lot of money. Hell, for a science fiction author today that’s a lot of money for lunch. 50 DM in the mid-nineties is about $52 today. For lunch.

Saying no to Colonel M. was difficult. After all, it was just money. What was that compared to an adventure with friends and excellent food?

Recycled World

So a few weeks later, six of us climbed into two cars and drove to Luxembourg. The morning was sunny and cool, with the promise of warmer temperatures ahead. The drive—about two hours on well-maintained autobahn—was delightful. Luxembourg, a city of about 90,000 people, is situated in a network of deep gorges, and is famous for its medieval fortifications. But we didn’t tour them on this trip. This trip was about the food.

We parked a half block up from one of the rivers, and crossed a busy street. The narrow sidewalk fronted a row of unremarkable buildings. We found the correct door and walked into a small room. Two square windows looked out at the street. The tiny space was crammed with four rows of wooden picnic tables covered with strips of white paper. You can imagine my thoughts. Fifty marks for this?

It looked like an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, European style.

The six of us, Col M, his wife, another couple, my fiancé and I sat at the end of a table against a roughly plastered wall. The colonel ordered a couple bottles of Spanish white. The waitress brought the wine and we toasted. We sat and chatted, while others filtered in, filling the long tables, sliding in next to strangers. As the wine went down, the volume went up.

The Dust of Kaku

I don’t remember what else they served. I believe there was bread—there’s always bread. And perhaps a salad. But the piece de resistance—the reason we’d driven 175 kilometers—was the prawns. The waitress brought out a heavy pan for each pair of diners. The scent of garlic roasted in butter filled the air, and the sizzle could be heard over the conversation. The pans were about four inches deep and the size of an iPad. Inside, resting in what was probably an entire stick of bubbling, melted butter, were six enormous shrimp.

To this day, I’ve never seen prawns that size again. Each was the size of my hand—larger than the “rock lobsters” at the Red Lobster. (It’s an insult to even mention them in the same sentence.) I don’t know where they came from, or exactly how they were cooked, but they were ah-mazing. Buttery, garlicky, sweet and salty at the same time. Nothing short of fantastic. With the Spanish wine, the crusty bread and the company of good friends, they were the most incredible meal I’ve ever eaten.

After lunch, we took a walk through a German cemetery, then stopped in a pub for a beer. I don’t remember the drive home. I’m a bit of a light-weight. But I will never forget that meal. I only wish I could find that restaurant again. Or maybe not. Sometimes, it’s better not to revisit the past. It can live on in glory in my memory.

Thanks, Julia. Oxymorons of “enormous shrimp” not withstanding, it’s hard to go wrong with giant prawns. Except when they’re so big that they threaten to take over the city, mostly because of how much butter you need to really take them down.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

NB: links to authors and books here are included as part of an Amazon Affiliate account. If you follow any of them and ultimately make a purchase Amazon rewards me with a few pennies of every dollar.

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