Eating Authors: Mishell Baker

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Mishell Baker

Online venues like Twitter and Facebook allow me an expanded community of authors whom I’ve never met, nor have much expectation to. Now and then, some international conference or convention provides an exception to that, as is the case with this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Mishell Baker.

We’d been trading tweets and I discovered she basically lives in my old stomping grounds in southern California. That led to more conversation and eventually an invitation to be a guest here. She sent in the meal below many weeks ago and it’s been working its way up the calendar. Meanwhile, we were both in Columbus, Ohio last month for World Fantasy and we shared a meal and wiled away several very enjoyable hours together. And in a hotel dedicated to Pepsi product, she graciously provided me with a bottle of Diet Coke!

Mishell writes strictly fantasy. She’s a Clarion graduate and has placed short stories with several of the list of well known magazines. Back in March, Saga Press published Borderline , the first volume of The Arcadia Project series, which features a protagonist who’s a double-amputee with borderline personality disorder and works with a secret border patrol responsible for the flow of traffic between our world and a magical one right next door. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “That? Again?” The sequel, Phantom Pains is coming your way next March. Go read the first and put in your order for the second.

LMS: Welcome, Mishell. So, let’s talk about your most memorable meal.

MB: Whenever someone asks me where I’d like to eat, I usually cover my panic with a breezy, “Wherever you like.” It’s true; it’s all the same to me, but not in the low-maintenance way I try to make it sound. Wherever we go, I know I’ll have to choke down a few bites and then tell the waiter “It was wonderful, I’m just not very hungry.” Then I’ll go home afterward and gorge myself on something you’d only ever find on a kids’ menu.

To judge by my eating habits, you’d assume that I have no taste, but if we’re speaking in a strictly literal sense my problem is the exact opposite.

Borderline

I’m what you’d call a “supertaster” to an extreme degree. I can tell you not only if the soda in a cup was poured from a glass or plastic bottle, but whether the plastic bottle was 20 oz. or 2-liter. Tap water tastes like liquefied plumbing to me, and I’ve been driven to a teetotaler’s life because even the wimpiest of cocktails might as well be pure turpentine. Even worse, some things taste completely wrong, as in, different to me than to anyone else. Put one flake of cilantro in a dish, and suddenly the whole thing tastes like a mouthful of pennies. I have never found another instance of this precise mutation even among others with the Bad Cilantro Gene.

Ironically, the lower the price point on a restaurant, the more likely it is that the flavors will be tolerable to me, because most cheap foods are bland. Foods that are boring to most people — potatoes, cheese, whitefish, apples — unfold to me a hidden world of subtle variety and stimulation. But once you get to mid-priced restaurants, they start using actual spices, and for me anything other than a light dusting of a handful of pre-approved favorites is like being punched repeatedly in the sinuses. So of course gourmet restaurants, given their penchant for creativity and intensity, are a straight-up nightmare.

All this buildup is to help you understand the horror I felt when my parents announced they’d be taking me to Erna’s Elderberry House, an elegant place where you pay $112 a person to eat whatever they decide to serve you. It wasn’t my money, but it still pained me to think of someone setting a match to it. I didn’t want to be difficult, though, so I decided to dress up and enjoy the exquisite ambiance, with a backup plan to furtively stuff my face afterwards with French fries.

Phantom Pains

Was I ever in for a surprise! It was as though they knew I was coming.

All five of the courses they served, from the cold squash bisque to the steaming venison steak, achieved my optimal level of culinary subtlety, while still also managing to delight my adventurous foodie parents. I enjoyed raw fish for the first time, because they served a particularly dulcet little slice of ahi tuna that melted in my mouth without making me think even once of beached dead things.

I can’t even remember what was for dessert; I just know that I was full by then and still resisting the urge to bend over and lick the elegant curlicues of sauce off my plate. I ate every bite of all five courses, and at least a third of it consisted of foods I had never even dared to put in my mouth before.

So perhaps once you get past a certain price point, food becomes edible to me again? I don’t know if I’ll ever have $112 of my own I’d dare to spend on a single dinner, but if I ever do, I know exactly where I’ll be taking it.

Thanks, Mishell. Your heavenly meal reminds me of the $100, real-deal Kobe steak I enjoyed in Tokyo. It was so perfect, you’d think it could never happen again. Except, several days later, on the last night of the trip, I had a second one. Pure magic!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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