Eating Authors: Karina Sumner-Smith

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Karina Sumner-Smith

I’m preparing this week’s post from the road, as I am “touring” with Barsk, which in this instance means I’ve traded in the cold snow drifts of Philadelphia for the warmer climes of North Carolina (though there has been some good bit of rain). This has been a new piece of the writer’s life for me to experience, and I’m coming to appreciate it as being equal parts exhilarating and exhausting.

But less about me and more about this week’s EATING AUTHOR guest, Karina Sumner-Smith, who should perhaps first be identified as one of that class of talented authors who call Toronto home (or rather, she did before moving to a more rural site in Ontario). She’s a Clarion graduate, as well as a past Nebula Award nominee for best short story. But the odds are good that you know her already for her novel-length fiction, specifically her Towers Trilogy.

LMS: Welcome, Karina, and thanks for taking a brief break from the splendors of Lake Huron to share your most memorable meal.

KSS: For many years, food was not my friend. For reasons that eluded an array of specialists, everything I ate made me feel ill—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. While I ate, of course, much eating was approached with a feeling of necessity. “Enjoyment” was mostly for things like cookies or muffins, little treats that could be eaten in small quantities and with a minimum of digestive upheaval.

Radiant

Then one day, everything changed. I eliminated whole food groups from my diet, changed how I approached food and eating in every aspect of my life—and rediscovered the joy of eating.

The juicy crunch of a fresh-picked apple. Bacon, fried crisp. Scrambled eggs with pepper and green onions. Grilled peaches drizzled with honey and dusted with cinnamon. O glory of glories, butter.

Then there was my rediscovery of steak. For about a two-year period following the massive change in my diet, I simply destroyed food. I went from being someone who could barely pick at dinner to someone who ate four meals a day and was still hungry. My healing body, it seemed, had a lot of nutrition to catch up on, and I craved nothing so much as I craved steak.

Imagine my joy when some friends invited me to join them for the Steak Festival at Allen’s Restaurant in Toronto. Allen’s looks like a cross between a pub and a slightly kitschy hole-in-the-wall restaurant, dim lighting, plaid tablecloths and all; but what it lacks in highbrow ambiance it makes up for in pure flavor.

Defiant

“There’s a steak festival?” I asked. Surely, I thought, it couldn’t live up to my expectations. It might be nice steak, but probably not amazing steak.

“Just you wait,” I was told.

The steak menu—a whole menu just for steak!—was the size of a legal sheet of paper, double sided, with headings for each cut. There, choices were listed by the farm that raised the animal, breed, what the cow ate, number of days the meat had been aged, and the minimum steak size. If you wanted a bigger steak? No problem, they’d cut one to order.

Then there were the listings for sides: asparagus with garlic butter, stuffed tomatoes, Caesar salad with fresh-made dressing and huge shavings of parmesan cheese, grilled mushrooms and caramelized onions—the list went on.

Towers Fall

I wanted all of it. Instead, I settled for a nice 18 oz steak and about four sides to share. Another lovely thing about Allen’s? They take a request for rare steak very, very seriously. Heaven.

I think the only thing better than that buttery, perfect steak was the server’s expression when he came to clear my plate away. I’m not the largest person, and there had been a lot of steak on that plate. But unlike the next table, where the group of loud men was having to get take-away bags for the remainder of their steaks, all that was left on my plate was the pale curve of a bone stripped clean.

But the thing I remember most about that meal? Sitting back, happy and healthy and full for the first time in years.

Thanks, Karina, and double bonus points for knowing that rare is the one true way to enjoy a good steak. I’m wondering now if the whole Brazilian churrascaria steakhouse phenomenon ever reached Canada. If not, you and I (and anyone brave enough to join us) need to seek one out together.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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