EATING AUTHORS: Shannon Page

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Shannon Page

As I prepare this week’s EATING AUTHORS post, I am deep in the throes of the copyedits for Barsk: The Elephants Graveyard (though the book itself doesn’t come out until December). It’s distracting work, but “the blog must go on,” as I’m sure someone has paraphrased, and so here we are.

This week’s guest is Shannon Page, who, in addition to authoring her own fiction, has co-authored a number of works with the late Jay Lake, and more recently completed some of his posthumous projects. Last month saw the release of Our Lady of the Islands (from Seattle-based Per Aspera Press), which landed on Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014 list. Not a bad way to end an otherwise difficult year.

Her own first novel, Eel River, comes out from Book View Cafe in April, and by autumn you’ll be able to read The Queen and The Tower, the first volume in a new urban fantasy series.

LMS: Welcome, Shannon. Thanks for stopping by. Ready to share your most memorable meal?

SP: I love food. I love cooking, and baking, and barbecuing. I love going out to fabulous restaurants, and growing tomatoes and eggplant and zucchini and berries in my garden. Many of my friends are amazing, creative cooks; my husband makes astonishingly good homemade chicken soup when I’m sick, and we’ve just finished a batch of his famous homemade ravioli—learned from his grandmother, who grew up herding goats in the mountains outside Genoa.

So, this was a hard question. Best meal ever? Wow.

Our Lady of the Islands

I wasn’t always a gourmand. I grew up with, shall we say, a simpler palate. My parents were back-to-the-land vegetarian hippies. It was the 1970s, when vegetarianism meant cheese, brown rice, broccoli, cheese, tofu, and more cheese.

When I left home and ventured into the wider world, I had so many opportunities to taste much more widely. I traveled, a lot, in my late twenties and thirties. I’ve eaten horse sausage in southern Italy, ploughman’s lunches in England, “bugs” in Australia, and meze in Cyprus. I once had a crème brulee in a fancy restaurant in Coral Gables, Florida, that was so good, I couldn’t eat crème brulee again for two years, because it would ruin the memory. I’ve had purple-hulled peas in Memphis, fresh-caught salmon in Alaska, and tako poke in Hawaii.

Eastlick and other stories

It seems to me, though, that the best meals are situational. They depend at least as much on who you’re with, where you are in your life, and what’s happening, as on the food itself. When I think of memorable meals, I think of the energy bar I ate after climbing Copperstain Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Sitting on the summit, both sweaty and freezing, enormously proud of myself as I gazed down at the valley below, seeing the tiny thread of a trail and thinking, I was there. I did that.

Or the first lamb chop I ate after a bout of vegetarianism as an adult. That first taste of such incredibly delicious, tender meat, seasoned with herbs and dabbed with mint sauce. I picked up the bone with my fingers; knife and fork just couldn’t get it all.

Or the time my husband—then my boyfriend—and I first discovered Tilth, an amazing restaurant in Seattle. Tilth is a sustainable, local-source place, and we just stumbled across it one night as we were out walking, looking for dinner. Our meal started with figs stuffed with blue cheese and marcona almonds, and ended with chocolate sorbet and glasses of house-made limoncello; in between was such a magnificent array of flavors and ingredients, it boggles the imagination (and bewilders the memory).

Eel River

But if I had to name my most memorable meal… it would have to be when I was seventeen years old, newly away from home, at college in Berkeley. A group of friends wanted to go to this little Italian place north of campus; we piled there in two cars. Nobody was old enough to order wine (I didn’t understand about wine yet, anyway.) But I understood Italian food, sure: spaghetti, lasagne, pizza. No problem.

At the urging of one of my friends, I ordered something innocuous-sounding… some kind of pasta… and was taken aback when it arrived. It looked all wrong. It was bright green! But, mmm, it smelled good. And I didn’t want to look stupid in front of my friends. So, being a good sport, I took a bite.

When the first taste of pesto exploded across my tongue, I was changed forever. I still to this day remember my astonished delight. That was the first time I ate long past when I was full, because it was just… so… delicious.

That was the moment when I realized there was a world of things I didn’t know about food. That simple meal, in a long-since-closed Italian restaurant in north Berkeley, is the one that sticks with me to this day.

Thanks, Shannon. A meal like that, the kind that transform you from the person you were before you ate it, is magical indeed. Or as the conjurer gourmand might say, “Pesto, Change-o!”

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

#SFWApro

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