Eating Authors: Mary E. Lowd

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Mary E. Lowd

As you know, Bob, my novel, Barsk, is anthropomorphic science fiction. And while I bristle when people attempt to describe it as “Babar in space,” the intention behind it is a fair one. It’s drawing on what they already know. After all, people have been reading about talking animals for a very long time. Somewhere along the line the animals started doing more previously human-only things (e.g., using tools, building cities, baking cakes, writing literary criticism), and this inevitable slide turned into what in today’s market constitutes “anthropomorphic” fiction.

This week’s EATING AUTHOR guest, Mary E. Lowd, is a popular writer and editor in a subgenre ghetto that gets very little attention from the daily reader of more traditional science fiction and fantasy. It’s arguably something of a niche market, and primarily served by a handful of very focused small presses. But for all that, it’s a thriving market and Mary’s done quite well there. She’s won the Ursa Major Award as well as two Cóyotl Awards for her own work, and has edited several of the best anthologies in the field. She also put otters in space long before I did.

LMS: WELCOME AND QUESTION

MEL: When asked about the best, most memorable meal I’ve had, my mind goes first to the meals I’ve had in unusual or fancy restaurants — crawfish popcorn in The Palace, Santa Barbara; rose petal soup in the Butchart Gardens, Victoria — but beyond those standout dishes, I can’t actually remember the rest of the meals. I remember that they were good… but no details. And that means they weren’t really memorable.

Then I think about the times I’ve had my favorite comfort foods — my mom bringing her chicken enchiladas to me in the hospital after my son was born; my mom making my three favorite kinds of cake (New York Chocolate Cheesecake, 86 Proof Chocolate Cake, and Queen Mother’s Cake) for my 30th birthday. These are closer, but they don’t seem right either. They all center on foods that my mom makes — foods that are wonderful but that I’ve had a million times.

Otters in Space

Then I think about my favorite restaurants — The New Morning Bakery’s chicken salad croissant sandwich; Sanamlaung’s red curry — each of which sent me on many-year-long quests to find acceptable substitutes when I moved away from them. But there is one restaurant that I’ve never found a substitute for: the Rheinlander.

When I was about seven, I remember my cousins talking about my birthday present in front of me — in German. I knew they were talking about my birthday present, but I didn’t know what they were saying. This created in me a very deep belief that German was a language worth knowing. So, when I got to high school, I signed up for German with Herr Curtis right away. Herr Curtis advertised his classes all over the school with posters saying, “Take German, the language you already know!” and showing pictures labelled with words that were the same in both English and German. Hand. Finger. So German appealed to the kids who only took easy classes, but it also appealed to the kids who were overloaded with AP classes and needed an easy class to balance their schedule out. It led to an eclectic bunch. And Herr Curtis himself was a short, round, white-haired man with thick glasses (he was legally blind) and more exuberance than any other teacher I ever had. His class and his room became a sanctuary for misfits and the shy. It was the one place at school where I ever really felt like I belonged.

In A Dog's World

Every year, Herr Curtis took his classes on a two-hour bus ride up to Portland. We sang German drinking songs all the way up, and when we got there, we filed into a building that looks like a cottage from a small village in a Disney movie. Inside, an accordion player serenaded us and led a rowdy roomful of high school students in cheerfully singing, “More Bier!” while they brought us course after course of amazing food. Cheese fondue. Lentil soup. At least three kinds of sausage. Saurkraut. Red cabbage. Roasted cauliflower. All of it wonderful — especially the cheese fondue. No one does cheese fondue like the Rheinlander.

Herr Curtis gave us all copies of a recipe for the Rheinlander’s cheese fondue, but my mom never had any luck replicating it. However, we started going to the Rheinlander every time we were in Portland. Decades later, we’re still doing it. Up in Portland for Orycon? Go to the Rheinlander. Up in Portland to take the kids to the zoo? Rheinlander. Going to Furlandia? Rheinlander two days in a row. It’s my favorite restaurant. Where else will I be serenaded by an accordion player singing an eclectic mix of German drinking songs and Disney hits while eating the best cheese fondue anywhere? And at this point, it’s a place that’s steeped in years and years of memories — stretching all the way back to when I was a kid too shy to talk to my classmates, but somehow Herr Curtis got me to sing with them, “Eins, zwei, g’suffa!”

Thanks, Mary. A good cheese fondue could cure most of the world’s problems.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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