Hello and welcome to another taste-tantalizing treatment of one author’s recollections of her most memorable meal. Our guest today is Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee N. K. Jemisin. More specifically, she was nominated for all three of those award for her first novel from 2010, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Most writers would be stunned into insensibility by such a debut, but she followed it up with the brilliant sequel The Broken Kingdoms later that same year, and polished off the trilogy in 2011 with The Kingdom of the Gods.
You’d think that would be enough for a bit, but no. With that trilogy out of the way, she contracted for the two book Dreamblood series consisting of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun, the latter of which came out last month. So now, if you’re like the rest of us, you’re asking yourself, “wowza, what’s she going to do next?”
And, if that wasn’t enough to recommend her to you, I’ll add that her undergraduate major in college was psychology (okay, so I’m biased, but the membership of the psychologists-writing-speculative-fiction club is pretty sparse).
LMS: Welcome, Nora. What springs to mind as your most memorable meal?
NKJ: This story will not be exciting for vegetarians.
I went to Paris with my father when I was sixteen. There are few things more frustrating than Paris with your father when you’re a teenage girl; every time I looked away from the landmarks and spotted oh, say, an attractive young Parisian man, the Daddy Death Glare sent a clear message despite the language gap. ::sigh:: I was beginning to chafe at doing things he wanted to do, and I wanted to go off exploring on my own. Paris is no more dangerous than New York; I’d figured out the Metro and was pretty sure I could handle it. But this was my first time in another country, and Dad wasn’t having that.
So we got into an argument about something I don’t even remember, and spent an hour yelling at each other as we walked along the Seine. So much for the romance of Paris. Anyway, then we got peckish and decided to call a truce for dinner. But by that point we were lost, and Dad was too stubborn to admit it. It was up to me to get us home — and note that my French pretty much amounted to “where is the bathroom” and “I would like an orange juice.” It’s a wonder we didn’t end up in the Seine.
Still, with some continued arguing, I got us back to the neighborhood where we were staying, upon which we spotted the sign for a restaurant called “Le Canard au Pot” (The Duck in a Pot). Nothing else seemed to be open given that it was so late, and we both got worried, because in New York the last restaurant standing on any given night is either excellent or desperate for business (and awful). There was no menu posted, which made us more nervous. The place looked a little sketchy, to be honest. “We’ll get the duck in a pot,” I said finally. “They can’t mess up their signature dish, can they?”
It turned out to be superb. It’s a really simple dish — I know because I’ve learned to make it since — but simple, non-fancy food is one of the things French cooking does best, although most Americans never get to experience this. Most French restaurants in the US emphasize the complexity of French cooking. But this was a duck in a pot — an old male duck, most likely — that had been stewed with vegetables, herbs, and wine until it was tender. They hadn’t bothered removing the head or feet, which I was quite surprised to discover when I moved a piece of potato and saw the duck looking at me! (Figuratively.) But the waitress laughed and said the head was the best part. (We poked at it, then looked at each other and said, “Naaah.”)
I’d never had duck before; always thought of it as a fancy, expensive thing. That meal changed my whole way of thinking about it, and about cooking in general. Before that I’d been a little intimidated by the idea of cooking, because I thought it was all fancy techniques and expertise. My mother and grandmother had tried to teach me, but I’d despaired of ever being as good at it as they were. But all you really need for good cooking is fresh ingredients, time, and a sense of adventure. If you enjoy what you’re doing and just relax a little, the expertise and techniques will eventually come.
And it turns out the place was still open because it was a local hangout; we heard old men telling each other stories and arguing over politics ’til the wee hours. The food was the cheapest we’d seen yet because we were the only tourists in there; it wasn’t meant for us. But they didn’t mind sharing their space, thankfully, and we tried to be good visitors. And better still, Dad and I got over our anger at each other, because it’s hard to stay pissed off when you’re pretending to attack each other with duck feet.
Thanks, Nora. I’ve always been a big fan of duck, but I was ignorant of the pacifying properties of duck feet. This changes everything!.
Next Monday: Another author and another meal!
Tags: Eating Authors