Eating Authors: Leona Wisoker

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Leona Wisoker

What is it with Mondays? They keep happening. I feel like the guy who in a moment of weak judgment puts a saucer of milk out on the porch and now finds that damn cat showing up like clockwork. Trust me when I tell you that I’d be quite content to skip a few Mondays here and there. But no, the calendar lobbyists are too powerful. Or something like that.

Since it is another Monday, let’s make the best of it. Here to help with that is Leona Wisoker, an author who knows the value of a strong cup of coffee — note to self: do not leave a cup of coffee out on the porch, it will only attract writers . Her (four books and counting) science fantasy series Children of the Desert has been published by Mercury Retrograde Press. Leona is also the force behind The Scribbling Lion, a consortium of sorts that promotes the music and fiction of Danny Birt, Tom Doyle, Jonah Knight, Gail Z. Martin, Devo Spice, and of course her own work as well.

LMS: Welcome, Leona. Your coffee cup is freshly filled, so let’s get to it. What was the best meal you remember having, when and where and why?

LW: This question is actually really, really tough for me–I love food, and in my years of traveling from one end of America to the other (including Alaska) I’ve eaten so many wonderful meals that they’ve begun to blur in my mind. I can remember individual elements: the first time I had a Cornish game hen–at a family wedding, long ago. I was probably around ten, maybe less, but I still recall the crispy, crackly, golden brown skin and the unbelievably tender, moist meat. It was a revelation; I’d never tasted anything remotely like it. I remember wanting to grab the hens from the people on either side of me, who weren’t really appreciating them the way I was! As one of my table neighbors was my mother, however, I wisely refrained from such catastrophic rudeness.

Secrets of the Sands

When I was in middle school, one of my sisters introduced me to havarti cheese, and I was instantly addicted to that utterly unique, creamy, buttery richness. Back then, I used to ride my bike on long, meandering journeys, and after that introduction I made a point of finding a cheese shop I could bike to. It generally took me between half an hour and an hour to reach the store, depending on the weather and the traffic, and I usually only had about two dollars on me. God only knows why I didn’t just ask my mom to get some havarti at the store. I think making that long ride to the shop made me feel as though I’d somehow earned the treat; I certainly enjoyed it, and havarti is still one of my favorite cheeses to this day.

As I grew up and traveled further afield, I encountered an incredible version of calamari at a Mexican restaurant in Kodiak, Alaska–not the usual thin circles, but planks. I had trouble believing it wasn’t a thick slice of fish rather than squid. And their flan, made in-house, was absolutely divine–syrupy and golden and rich, entirely avoiding the barbarism of whipped cream and cherries.

Guardians of the Desert

On the other side of the country, in Florida, there used to be a restaurant called Shells that served the most amazingly delicious New England clam chowder–huge chunks of clam, not the more typical teeny slivers lost amongst potato chunks. I have often gone to restaurants just for their soup and salad (especially in the days when I was dangerously broke), and while Shells’ salad was nothing remarkable, their soup was most definitely a dish I went out of my way for. I was deeply sad when they closed, and I still miss them.

On my one trip to Italy, I left the tour group as often as I could and discovered a tiny back-alley shop that served an utterly simple and completely astounding canellini bean soup which, despite many efforts, I have never quite been able to duplicate. Another small restaurant introduced me to gnocchi, which I’d always been leery of before–my god, those were good! Drenched in pesto, as I recall, and meltingly tender. That’s another dish I’ve never managed to master, much to my annoyance.

Bells of the Kingdom

I have had remarkable versions of so many dishes in so many places: in Miami, black bean soup at a Cuban restaurant, incredible pasta at an Italian restaurant; in Atlanta, I found the most astoundingly delicious doughnuts I’ve ever tasted; in Williamsburg, outstanding sushi, barbeque, prime rib, and crêpes. I can probably think of at least one wonderful meal in every place I’ve ever visited or lived. Whenever possible, I wheedle recipes out of the chefs (not sushi–I know my limits!), and fruitlessly but stubbornly try to duplicate the dish in question. I have failed more often than I care to think of. The only recipe I consider a successful transfer to my kitchen is a banana bread recipe from the B&B where my husband and I stayed on our honeymoon. It took me years of tinkering, despite the simple recipe, to get the same finely textured, flavorful banana bread that we remember. (I suspect the chef deliberately left key points out of the recipe!)

I tried to think of just one answer to the question. I swear I did. But I just can’t focus on one excellent meal experience without thinking of a dozen others. I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have been able to experience so many, many different wonderful meals across so many cuisines and places, and even more fortunate that for many of the meals, I had terrific company to highlight the enjoyment of the moment even further.

Thanks, Leona. How is it we can both love Havarti, but have such radically different views on coffee? Truly, it is a puzzle, inside an enigma, wrapped in a jelly donut.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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