Eating Authors: Sara M. Harvey

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Sara Harvey

My wife is traveling this week, having left me and the dog far behind to frolic with an old friend in the wilds of Montréal, Canada. In past times, she would buy her readmittance to our home with gifts of that city’s famed “smoked meat,” but alas, as both of us have forsworn land-based proteins, that won’t be happening.

I’ve been using some of this time alone to double down on some projects. The new Amazing Conroy novella has been completed and shipped off to my editor. I hope to read from it in September when I attend the Baltimore Book Festival (I’ll be there on the 23rd).

I’m also trying to get a bit ahead on write ups and invitations to the EATING AUTHORS blog. I’m doing quite a bit of travel this summer, and past experience has shown that if I don’t get a jump on this now, I’ll end up with gaps and no time to fill them right about the time I’m heading to out of the country.

Which is about as good a segue as I’m going to manage for this week’s guest, Sara M. Harvey. I actually don’t know much more about Sara than you might find on her wikipedia page, details like her expertise as an award-winning costume designer and a peripatetic life that has taken up and down the west coast, to the east coast, and finally down south to Nashville (which probably goes a long way to explaining the setting for her novel Music City, a blend of Irish myth, southern charm, and the music industry).

But two things made me want to have her here. First, she’s an alumna of UC Santa Cruz, a magical place that still haunts my dreams. And second, the pitch she used for her novel The Convent of the Pure, which was “Half-angel, lesbian demon-hunters in a steampunk universe.” Seriously, don’t you want to rush right out and buy that book?

LMS: Welcome, Sara. Tell me of your most memorable meal.

SMH: I have had some pretty spectacular food in some really amazing places, some of the best establishments in San Francisco, NYC, and Nashville. I have had amazing dishes at dives and holes-in-the-walls and gas-stations-turned-taco-stands (always a sign of really authentic and delicious food!).

But after really thinking about it, my most memorable, most favorite meal was in Ireland, at what basically amounted to a tourist trap.

Music City

My husband and I were travelling Ireland in a rented Ford Prefect (*squee!*) and ended up staying the night in the town of Bunratty on our way to Cork. Bunratty is known for exactly two things: a castle set up as sort of a quasi-Medieval Times/Ren Faire thingy and a local pub which has risen to fame and has a chain of locations in the US called Durty Nelly’s. I had not heard of this place beforehand, so I took the locals at their word that visiting the original was a must-see on the trip.

And, it was nice. The interior is covered with patches from various police departments the world over and the ambiance was to be expected for an old but incredibly touristy sort of place.

It was late September, still warm on most days, and sunny, if you can believe it. We’d been driving all day, coming down from Galway and the Cliffs of Moher (aka The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride). We opted for a seat outside, even though it was getting chilly. The sun had just set and half the sky was still reddish and purple and lighting up the castle walls beside us while the other half was already showing stars.

Overwhelmed by the variety (and prices!) of the usual pub fare, and being more tired than hungry, my husband and I ordered the simplest (and cheapest) thing on the menu: salmon and brown bread with butter.

This was a transcendent meal.

The Convent of the Pure

I have had Pacific salmon and salmon from Nova Scotia and Norway and all the usually places. But someone had told me (and I don’t remember who, but bless them!) that the salmon in Ireland was really special. And we hadn’t gotten the opportunity to try any until that night.

This wasn’t as deeply colored as salmon from Alaska, or as rich and fatty as other North Atlantic salmon. It was somewhat lean, but so very tender. Smoked, not cooked, of course. It was soft, so soft you hardly needed to chew it, but it didn’t fall apart when you tried to eat it. It tasted of cold ocean water and peat smoke and mythology (look up “The Salmon of Knowledge”/bradán feasa). It sat perched atop a frosting-like layer of Irish butter (which is the platonic ideal of butter: golden and rich and the envy of all other butter the world over) that covered a still-warm inch-thick slice of house-made brown bread.

And I understood in that moment how this simple slice of fish could evoke larger than life stories and connect millennia of humans across culture and class. This was more than just food, it was true nourishment for body and spirit. We know now about the health benefits of salmon, all the omegas and stuff, but it was as if you could literally taste every mineral, every fat, every molecule of goodness that this food held in store for you. And by consuming it, you took in more than just those things, you took in every story, every legend, every old wives’ tale and they all became a part of you. A part that would never, ever leave you, marking you as one forever changed by eating this sacred thing.

Seven Times A Woman

We ate it slowly, savoring every bite of flesh and butter and bread, drinking big pints of Guinness (it really is better over there) under the stars.

I have never tasted salmon that good again, even elsewhere in Ireland. We bought some locally smoked salmon and brown bread outside of Cork and it was good, very good, but it never quite met with the experience of that first time.

If I close my eyes and think about it, I can recall with utmost clarity the damp night air settling in over us, the hum of people all around us, the brilliant patchwork of stars gleaming between treetops and castle walls, the flavors and scents of that dinner: flesh and cream and salt and grain and sea and pasture and sunshine and rain and myth and promises and all of Ireland in three incredibly simple ingredients.

The waitress brought us a third plate to share and it never made it to our check.

We walked back up the hill that curved around behind Bunratty Castle, to our bed and breakfast. And I couldn’t stop smelling my fingertips, savoring that last lingering trace of perfect salmon that had imbued my skin with the scent of smoke and sea.

Thanks, Sara, that sounds truly magical. But all the while I kept thinking, my kingdom for bagel!

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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