Posts Tagged ‘Eating Authors’

Eating Authors: Sara King

No Comments » Written on December 11th, 2017 by
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Sara King

Last week about this time, I was on a plane coming back from Hangzhou, China. It’s one of the longest trips I’ve ever taken, particularly when you factor in that I was only in China for four days. Crazy. But it’s why I’ve selected Sara King to be this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest because the meal she writes about below is predicated on travel to foreign lands and speaks to the expectations one has about food. That, and because I think I may have flown over her house.

Sara, as she’ll be quit to inform you, is from Alaska. She writes SF. She writes Fantasy. She writes Romance. And she does this in a remote part of America where outdoor plumbing, grizzlies, and firearms are all just a part of daily life.

She’s an indie author extraordinaire, with multiple series running, though you most likely know her wrok from her Legend of ZERO series. And if you don’t, well, after reading her meal you’ll want to. Fortunately, I’ve provided some links for you.

LMS: Welcome, Sara. Please share a few words about your most memorable meal.

SK: So I’m pretty much a country bumpkin from Alaska, except maybe a little more uncivilized. (Outhouses, generators, community mail day, bears, Breakup, and honeybuckets anyone?) Alaskans are pretty much the least civilized people in the USA—ask any of my friends in the Lower 48. We’re kind of crazy.

I do, however, really enjoy a good burger. Pretty much like every other American out there, slap a burger on my plate and I’m gonna wolf it down (though mine were often made of moose meat when I was a kid). I’ve probably eaten close to three thousand burgers in my lifetime. McDonald’s was my go-to fast food joint in my youth, mainly because it was the only affordable ‘restaurant’ our town had for about a decade. I’m definitely not saying that McDonalds is the ideal example of burgerdom, but I ate a lot of them because fast food was considered a treat to my lower-middle-class family.

Fast forward 20 years. I was still living in the Bush, Alaska, but we now had internet [read: hamster-powered satellite cup-and-strings], and I was falling madly in love with a Scot that I’d never met in person. I decided to remedy that and fly, alone, from Bush, Alaska to Edinburgh, UK. It was a big step, because the most I’d seen of another country up until that point was traveling through Canada at eighty miles an hour on a road trip. Everything I knew of Scotland I had basically read in romance novels.

Let me tell you right now: Romance novels are wrong.

Alaskan Fire

Before boarding that first international flight, I thought maybe I’d learn that men in Scotland have big calves that they like to show off with a well-placed kilt. Those book covers of Fabio posing with his huge sword and bulging muscles had me picturing all sorts of hunky guys wandering around, showing off for the ladies. Hear me, ladies: romance novel covers are grossly misleading. Grossly. Misleading.

On average, Scots are stick-skinny in skintight tube jeans, with fugly faces ground up from a lifetime of fistfighting and barroom brawls. The slow, sexy Sean Connery accent is a myth—you’ll be lucky if you can understand your cabbie as he’s telling you about his passion for punching asshole Americans in the face in an incomprehensible brogue as he’s weaving the taxi through death-defying stunts on tiny, half-lane roads. About the only enormous, burly Scots you’ll see are the ones dripping with gold, waiting to ambush you in a dark alley or trying to trick you into handing them your cell phone. The mystique of buying handmade ‘Celtic’ silver designs will quickly wear off, once you see that every stand on the entire street is selling the exact same stuff, as are a bunch of sellers on Ebay, direct from India. They don’t tip over there, and when Americans do it, they nod and smile and take your cash and behind your back will give you that pitying look like you’re a little slow in the head. You kind of end up feeling like a rube, the dumb townie that walks into a camp of carnies.

But in the end, despite the false advertising of an entire youth of bad romance novels, it was actually the food that shocked me the most. Sausages are mostly bread inside. Lamb was as cheap as chicken. Most restaurants in Scotland pan-fried their steaks to a nice gray color (imagine my horror). Blood is an acceptable ingredient in Scottish cuisine, and if anything black appears on your plate, it’s probably made of it. Kebabs are a kind of taco sandwich. Chips are homefries. Crisps are potato chips. Bacon is ham, and if you want real bacon, you have to ask for ‘crispy bacon’. Prawns are tiny shrimp. ‘Rocket’ on a menu is a delicious leafy green, not a type of missile. Entrails, when properly boiled in a sheep’s stomach, are delicious. ‘Nachos’ are a can of boiled beans dumped on top of tortilla chips with some cold cheddar cheese grated on top. They use too many forks/knives/spoons for the task at hand. And lemonade is Sprite, and the waiter will look at you funny if you look at them funny and say you wanted lemonade, not Sprite.

It was the burgers, though, that really impressed on me why it is good to live in the USA.

Fortune's Rising

Which brings me back to me arriving in Scotland after my very first trans-Atlantic flight. Imagine my awe, wonder, and general Twilight-Zone feeling when, after having spent my entire life in the land of guns, wilderness, and grizzly bears, I found myself in one of the biggest, most civilized cities in Scotland after a 36-hour international, 3-layover journey. Even before I got out of the airport, I was gaping at everything around me like a hillbilly seeing a big city for the first time—which, of course, didn’t go unnoticed by the UK customs agents. Apparently, a lone woman from the U.S. doesn’t usually travel from Nowhereville, Alaska to Edinburgh, Scotland with absolutely no stamps on her passport, because the gate agent grilled me like I was ferrying drugs. And she, like just about every other Scottish person I was to run across from that point onward, had a multiple-time broken nose and missing, twisted teeth. I couldn’t stop staring. It was pretty obvious she’d spent her life brawling and was proud of it, and was hoping I’d give her the excuse to do the same to me. By the time I got my bags and found my Scot waiting for me, I was pretty damn stressed out. My Scot wanted to know where I wanted to eat. Already aching for a taste of home, I suggested a burger. He gave me a look like I was goddamn crazy and took me to a fancy restaurant, instead.

It became a theme. The first ten times or so I wanted to get a burger, I got pretty much the same reaction. “What are you in the mood for?” “Ooh, how about a burger?!” [Look of pity] “How about lasagna instead? I’ll get you lasagna.” [Orders lasagna for the lady.] “There. You get lasagna. So much better than a burger.” Thus began my saga of trying to find a burger in Scotland. I was there for six weeks. It wasn’t until about a week and a half into my journey that my beau finally relented and let me order a burger. He warned me repeatedly beforehand, however. “Burgers suck. Burgers are disgusting. You Americans are disgusting. I must show you what good food tastes like. Burgers are like vomit on a bun. Only heathens and drunkards eat burgers. Burgers are only fit for dogs. Etc. Etc. Etc.” Of course, as an American, I laughed as the Italian waiter sat a huge, delicious-looking burger in front of me and said something to the effect of, “Pffft. You idiot Scots have no idea what’s good.” Then I took a bite.

I stopped laughing as the unmistakable taste of cat food permeated my mouth. I gagged. I had trouble swallowing. I forced it down, somewhat in shock, as my beau watched with rapt attention. Knowing I was only proving his ridiculous point for him, I thought, “This can’t be right. Surely that was just my sinus infection from my trans-Atlantic flight. Burgers can not be that bad.” So I took another bite.

Cat food. The damn thing tasted like cat food. I actually spat it out this time and sat there, staring at my burger in horror. Of course, my Scot was laughing at me now. “See? They’re horrible. Point made. Eat good food from now on. We’ll train you dumb Americans to appreciate fine cuisine.”

Forging Zero

I’m not sure if I ever acknowledged his glee, because I was still staring at my ‘burger’, dumbstruck. It was everything I could do not to call the waiter over to my table and demand that he taste the burger and tell me if they had cut it with cat food. I decided to find out, right then and there, what the hell was wrong with this country that they could screw up something as simple as a burger. With a little detective work, I discovered that meat in Scotland is often cut with bread or other fillers to make it cheaper. Further, because nobody in an Italian restaurant ever orders a burger, the burger meat perhaps sits around a lot longer than it should. Yay.

I refused to believe this was the norm, however. Thus began my quest to find a good burger, any burger, in Scotland. I started insisting on going to every ‘American’ restaurant available, and must have ordered two dozen burgers in the next five weeks. Every one of them sucked. A lot. They were dry. They were stale. They tasted rancid. They were burned. They had a bready consistency. But, overwhelmingly, they tasted like shit. Much like the majority of Scots’ faces and teeth, they were just totally screwed up.

Now, before I alienate an entire country of people, I married my Scot. He proofread this. He laughed. He agrees. The Scots pick too many fights and have shit for burgers, and American burgers are better. (He literally could not believe that people in Alaska carry guns all the time and we rarely have anyone die of a gunfight until he saw it himself—apparently, the Scots do not have the self-control not to kill each other if given access to firepower, another cultural difference that I found astounding but will not go into here.) How does he know this? I brought him back to Alaska with me and made him swear beforehand that he would try one burger made in the USA before he cemented his opinion that burgers were shit. He agreed, and I fed him a bona-fide handmade burger grilled to perfection—barbecuing is something else the Scots abhor, mainly because they get food poisoning 2 times out of 3, so it was really difficult to get him to agree to eat a grilled burger—and slapped it on his plate with all the fixings.

My Scot is a picky eater, so he started with a tiny bite, pinkies extended in civilized pride, face all scrunched up in Scottish disdain, fully intending to take a single bite, then set it aside and eat something cultured instead, like Italian takeout. He ended up finishing the entire thing, wiping the grease off his face, and asking for another. Now, four years later, burgers are his favorite food here. He hasn’t gotten food poisoning once, despite at least fifty barbecues since.

Thanks, Sara. I’m tempted to ask how you know what cat food tastes like to have made the comparison, but I’m really afraid of the answer.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Sam Sykes

No Comments » Written on December 4th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
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Sam Sykes

If it’s Monday, I’m probably jetlagged. The plan is that I will have spent the previous 23 hours and change traveling home from Hangzhou. Obviously, for the purpose of ensuring the continuity of this blog I’m preparing today’s entry well in advance. But in theory, as you read this I should be exhausted, very pleased with my experiences half a world away, and, well, home.

Such a trip offers up meals that draw on all three themes that regularly show up in the accounts on EATING AUTHORS: amazing food, incredible company, and a unique event. This week’s guest, Sam Sykes, understands that a memorable meal often relies more upon what happened than what was eaten. That’s a distinction that makes particular sense coming from a writer of epic fantasy. And unless you’ve been living under a rock you already know Sam as the author of the celebrated Aeons’ Gate series and more recently, the Bring Down Heaven series. The third book of the latter, God’s Last Breath, comes out tomorrow from Orbit.

Full disclosure: although we have a lot of friends in common, I’ve only met Sam once. It was about four years ago at a convention in Michigan. We were on a panel together, my last one of a long and wonderful weekend. Curiously, Brian McClellan was also on the panel. And no, the three of us did not go out for a bite together afterwards.

LMS: Welcome, Sam. What’s your most memorable meal?

SS: I feel like the “correct” response to this is to recall some exceptional taste or exquisite ingredient. Those are cool and all, but for me, food has always only been as good as the memories linked to it. Your grandmother’s pasta might not be the most stunning dish in the world, for example, but you can’t smell it and not think about being a child again.

The City Stained Red

So I guess the best meal I ever had was at Phoenix Comicon about two years ago at City Pizza. It was a little shop outside the convention center and I had just gone to get lunch with fellow author, Brian McClellan. I ordered pepperoni and jalapeno, Brian got meat lover’s. Now, again, the pizza itself was fine, if unremarkable, but I’ll never forget the emotions attached to that meal. Because it was just after Brian had finished his first slice that a fan–a well-groomed fellow of about five foot nine–came up and nervously asked: “Mr. McClellan?”

“Just wanted to say,” he continued, after being given a positive indication by Brian, “that I love your work. You probably don’t remember me, but I’ve been here every year you’ve come. I own all your books and I’ve gotten them signed and I don’t have anything new for you to sign, but…I just…I think I might be your biggest fan.”

“Oh yeah?” Brian smiled congenially, then took the shaker of crushed red pepper, unscrewed the cap and slid it over. “Eat that whole jar of red pepper.”

“W-what?” the fan stammered.

“My biggest fan would eat that whole jar of red pepper.”

Tome of the Undergates

“Will…will that make you happy?” he asked, looking nervously at the jar.

“I don’t know,” Brian responded. “Eat it and let’s see.”

So I don’t know exactly how long the internal debate raged within that guy, but eventually he decided to be brave and upended the whole thing into his mouth. I could smell the fiery reek of the peppers all the way across the table. I made a move to say something, but Brian, without looking away, waved me down. I watched tears slide down that guy’s face as he continued to empty red peppers into his mouth before he collapsed on his knees, gagging and wheezing.

“Did…did that make you happy?” he asked.

Brian stared at him flatly for a moment, then picked up the remnants of his pizza and dropped them on the floor. Without saying another word, he walked over them and out the restaurant.

I got the rest of mine to go. It was the first time I ever felt like I had really made it.

Thanks, Sam. There’s a moral here. I’m not sure what it is, but I suspect it’s back at that restaurant, on the floor with the remnants of Brian’s pizza.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Libbi Rich

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Eating Authors: Jon Skovron

No Comments » Written on November 27th, 2017 by
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Jon Skovron

The year is winding down. Just the other day, my wife and I gathered with family for Thanksgiving, my first ever without eating meat, which was… well, odd. Tomorrow I fly off to Hangzhou, China, for an adventure that promises to both croggle my brain and wrack my body. But this morning I can feel the year waning around me. It’s like the first stirrings of next year are trying to catch my attention. Seems like a set-up for a segue to me.

That frisson of endings and beginnings is nicely captured by Jon Skovron, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, whose adventure fantasy series, The Empire of Storms, comes to its conclusion with book three, Blood and Tempest, coming out tomorrow.

I first met Jon just under two months ago. We were on a panel together. He was clever and articulate and wry, and if he was fairly new to the whole experience of being on that side of the convention table, it certainly didn’t show.

In addition to his adult fiction, Jon also writes YA, so check out some of his other titles like
Misfit and Man Made Boy.

LMS: Welcome, Jon. So what stands out as your most memorable meal?

JS: I don’t think it would be ungenerous of me to say that Columbus, Ohio in the 1980’s was a cultural wasteland, especially when it came to food. Taco Bell was considered Mexican food, and I can’t remember name of the Chinese restaurant we went to because we always referred to it simply as “the Chinese restaurant”. I didn’t even know that Thai, Ethiopian, or Burmese food could be obtained in America. So it should come as no surprise that when people said “ramen”, the only kind I knew came in a square shape with a packet of powder flavoring. In fact, it wasn’t until my late thirties that this grotesque hole in my culinary education was filled.

I was finally introduced to the bliss of proper ramen on a chilly October day in 2015, when my editor took me to Ippudo on 51st Street in Manhattan. I was in New York to record the audio book for my fourth Young Adult novel, This Broken Wondrous World, at the Random House offices. Ever on the lookout for a free meal, I suggested to my editor that we meet up for lunch somewhere nearby while I was taking a break from recording. When she asked if I liked ramen, I didn’t know what she meant exactly, but said of course I did, because, again, free meal.

Blood and Tempest

Ippudo was small, crowded, and raucous. When we entered, everyone shouted some sort of greeting to us in Japanese. We were seated in a cramped corner with a table barely big enough for the two of us. The menu baffled me and I was too self-conscious to ask questions, so I just ordered the same thing as my editor. And when the giant bowl of shoyu ramen arrived a short time later, it launched what might very well be a lifelong obsession.

There is nothing “instant” about true ramen. In fact, to do it right takes a few days to prepare. Ideally the noodles should be on the thick side, fresh and hand cut. The broth is usually a pork and/or chicken base, with a bass note provided by kombu (a thick seaweed). It’s always rich and salty, although every chef prepares it slightly differently. Some use sake and/or mirin (sweetened sake), while others make their broth spicy with curry, wasabi, or peppers. Typical toppings include pork, bamboo shoots, seaweed, or egg, with any number of other toppings included or extra. I have sampled just about every ramen joint in the greater DC area, several in New York, London, and a few other cities as well. I love ramen so much that I’ve learned how to prepare it myself, and I make it regularly during the colder months. You can find my recipe over on Fran Wilde’s “Book Bites” blog series. But none of it will ever compare to that sublime moment I first slurped some freshly made ramen noodles on 51st Street.

Thanks, Jon. A meal is always better when an editor picks up the bill (and if mine is reading this, I’ve never had a NYC ramen experience — hint, hint).

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Theodora Goss

No Comments » Written on November 20th, 2017 by
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Theodora Goss

I’d like to be sleeping in this morning, having only just returned from most of a week in Toronto, but the DayJob beckoned and there were all those lost hours to make up for. It’s times like these that I’m reminded what a fine thing it is to be able to schedule EATING AUTHORS posts in advance. Technology, I love it!

This week’s guest, Theodora Goss, knows all about traveling. Born in Hungary, she grew up in an assortment of European countries before her family came to the US. She has a J.D. from Harvard Law and more recently picked up a Ph.D in English.

I first met Dora by accident, some years back at a convention when I wandered into the room where she was giving a reading. It was incredible and I’ve been following her compelling short fiction and incredible poetry ever since. She’s been nominated for major awards including the Nebula, Locus, and Seiun, and won the World Fantasy award for Best Short Fiction and the Rhysling Award for Best Long Poem.

Earlier this year Saga Press published her first novel, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. More, please.

LMS: Welcome, Dora. Please, tell me about your most memorable meal.

TG: When I was a child, one of my favorite foods was Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta. (Try saying that fast — or at all, if you’re not Hungarian! Remember to roll your r’s.) Palacsinta is the Hungarian version of a crêpe, but a little thicker. You can roll it up around all sorts of things, like apricot jam or a mixture of sugar and cocoa. But you can also use it for savory dishes. Húsos means with meat, and Hortobágyi may refer to Hortobágy, either a village or a steppe near the Alföld, the Great Plain of Hungary where herds of cattle still roam.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

Basically, you cook shredded meat (my mother usually used chicken) with onions and garlic in a paprika sauce. Then, you wrap it up in the palacsinta: meat-filled pancakes, we called them. Then you pour more paprika sauce on top, heat through, and serve with sour cream. My mother usually assembled it for special occasions, like parties for colleagues, where we children would have to carry around hors d’oeuvres and make small talk. I never got enough.

That’s one of my favorite foods. But my favorite meal took place in a restaurant called the Építész Pince, which is located in the basement of the Chamber of Hungarian Architects. You can also sit out in the courtyard near the Art Nouveau entrance, surrounded by ivy-covered walls, neoclassical statues, and people speaking all sorts of different of languages while eating their lunch or dinner. That’s what I was doing.

Songs for Ophelia

It was my first time back in Hungary by myself, after the fall of the Berlin wall, staying in what had once been my grandparents’ apartment — now it belonged to my mother. It had not been updated since the 1960s, and still had the old gas stove you lit with a match. I was a little scared to use it, and anyway it was my first day in Budapest, so I had no food in the refrigerator. The apartment was across the street from the Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum, the Hungarian National Museum, and right around the corner was the Építész Pince. Guess what was on the menu? That’s right — Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta. It was listed as an appetizer. (Unless you are really, really hungry, don’t try to have it as an appetizer. You will be full afterward.) For once, I actually got as much húsos palacsinta as I wanted!

There I was, sitting in that courtyard back in Budapest, eating a food I remembered so well from my childhood. I was so far away from my adult life in the United States, and yet I felt as though I had come home. That is the power food has, I think. Taste and smell can remind us of the past and bring us back to selves we thought we had left behind. I’ve been back to Budapest many times since then, and I usually try to eat at least one lunch or dinner in that courtyard. Yes, the restaurant still serves Hortobágyi húsos palacsinta, and it’s still listed as (but isn’t really) an appetizer.

Thanks, Dora. Two of my favorite things are memory and food, and nothing brings them together so hauntingly and breathlessly as those things we ate as children.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Tracy Townsend

No Comments » Written on November 13th, 2017 by
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Tracy Townsend

The world of social media is a crazy place. I’ve been a part of one online world or another since before there was a web. Who remembers Portal and Plink? And the obscene prices of Compu$erve or and the gasps of freedom that AOL offered? Whole tribes coming together, often in relative anonymity, and building communities unhampered by distance and physicality. Such places set the stage for the even stranger groupings that now exist on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.

All of which is to set up the segue for how I met Tracy Townsend, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. She found me on Twitter last Spring (or maybe I found her, it’s a blur) and we hit it off, trading posts and direct messages. She told me she had a book coming out in the fall and I sent her an invitation to share a meal on the blog. A few months later, we actually met at the Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh where she regaled me with stories of her brilliant students, listened to me prattle on about BARSK, and introduced me to her husband (who was a pretty cool guy in his own right).

Tracy’s first novel, The Nine, comes out tomorrow.

LMS: Welcome, Tracy. So what stands out as your most memorable meal?

XX: Most writers pay the bills with more than the occasional advance check. As for me, I teach English at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, a public STEM boarding school for gifted students. (Imagine something like Professor Xavier’s school for the gifted, but everyone’s super-power is calculating derivatives and subsisting on a diet of caffeine and memes.) Students are often surprised to learn I came to teaching Bradbury and Shakespeare and Tiptree by way of teaching martial arts.

There was a joke among the masters in my training organization that in order to get a black belt, you had to like three things: beer, push-ups, and kimchi. As my first dan test approached, those criteria seemed more impossible than any of the actual testing criteria. I hate beer, have the same relationship to push-ups as most people have to parallel parking, and hadn’t yet eaten kimchi, which (depending on who you ask) is either a side dish, a condiment, or a way of life.

The Nine

This is a good time to pause and set the scene.

It’s mid-summer in northern Kentucky, back in the early aughts. I’m at Tae Kwon Do training camp, a three day weekend where long endurance drills, forms practice, sparring conditioning, and running combine into a kind sublime haze of pain and exhaustion. Daily drills include toughening the hands by knife-hand chopping split rail fences (with the attendant splinters, bruising, and swollen fingers) and practicing the three most basic kicks “until your breath smells like chicken piss.” (My master’s words, and remarkably apt. Ketosis is crazy stuff.) Most attendees sleep in tents. Those who can afford a bit more get a bunk in a longhouse next to a cold-water communal bathroom. I’m four months from my black belt exam. My instructor drills me and my training partner with a level of dedication I’d call obsessive, if I didn’t know him so well.

It’s not obsessive. It’s maniacal.

The reward for making it to the end of the long weekend in one battered, sweaty, mosquito-bitten piece is the Korean feast. Madame Choi, wife of my organization’s grandmaster, takes over the commissary the night before the feast, shooing away all the usual volunteer cooks. The building transforms into a chamber of secrets where rice cookers large enough to steam kindergarteners whole start in the wee hours of the morning and trays of bulgogi and japchae roll out of the kitchen in endless succession, suggesting some non-Euclidian space for storing all their ingredients. And there is kimchi, of course.

I’ve been warned about kimchi by this time. Black belts speak of its wonders in darkened tents the night before the feast, faces poised over glowing flashlights, delighting in ghoulish half-truths about its production. It’s napa cabbage and radishes and hot peppers in brine, they whisper. It’s sealed in clay jars and buried — no, seriously, actually BURIED UNDERGROUND, for like, months, and then, she digs it up and we eat it. Perhaps there are still places where you plant your kimchi in the dirt and take a hike, but northern Kentucky isn’t one of them. Madame Choi has an industrial-sized tub of it prepared, and unless she just arrived from an archaeological dig, there’s no way she’s got the acreage to have stowed it all underground.

If you google “what is kimchi” one of the first entries under “people also ask” is “What do you do with kimchi?” It’s almost touching in its existential undertones. What do you do with pickled, spicy doom-cabbage?

Well. If you’re in the company of almost-black-belts, you feed it to them. You feed a lot of it to them.

The Nine

It should be understood I’m a notoriously picky eater. There’s much more I won’t eat than will, and if you look down a list of my “won’ts,” a predictable pattern emerges. Anything with vinegar. Anything pickled. Anything in brine. Anything with a respectable amount of spice. Most condiments. Salad dressing. Cold side dishes. Slimy stuff. Kimchi is perfectly engineered to hit all my “no” buttons. The night before the feast, haunted by visions of canopic jars of pickled cabbage, all my dreams coalesce around kimchi. I see myself executing my final forms so crisply, my dobak sleeves snap like sheets in the wind. I break stacks of boards as tall as myself with anime-esque ease. And then a small plate of kimchi appears before me as I sit in seiza, and I wake in a cold sweat, utterly defeated.

Feast night arrives, and the commissary is abuzz with chatter. Upper belts beg to have their picnic plates heaped as high as styrofoam structural engineering will permit. White belts look cautiously at foods that, to children of the midwest with tastes to match, look as foreign as can be imagined — translucent rice noodles and whisper-thin onions sauteed with mung bean and tamari and bright flecks of carrot. I stand over a tremendous Tupperware container of kimchi, one of Madame Choi’s sober-looking assistants waiting for my request. My instructor stands beside me, grinning.

The kimchi smells of red pepper and bitter radish and something I can’t quite place that might be rice vinegar. It looks like someone couldn’t decide whether to use their kitchen trimmings in a recipe or take them out to the compost and so let time and neglect decide the matter. It glistens a little, but that might just be my imagination.

“Um,” I say.

“She’ll take some,” my instructor says.

The server gives me a dainty, ginger helping. I am immediately convinced she is a good and sensible person.

“No way, more than that.”

I am somewhat less convinced of my instructor’s goodness and sense.

By the time he’s done urging the server on, my plate is close to one-third kimchi. I slump along beside him to the table set aside for our group, hunch over my plate, and contemplate failure with a self-awareness worthy of someone who has read Hagakure as many times I have.

I don’t like beer. I don’t like push-ups. I’m sure I won’t like kimchi. But I have something to prove, and an audience to prove it to, and I’m nothing if not susceptible to a challenge. Starting with the fearsome part of the meal is the only way to protect my would-be black belt dignity.

I choose chopsticks over a fork, because dammit, I have to get something right.

I snap up a bite of bulgogi and kimchi together, looking to soften the blow. And I eat.

The bulgogi warms the kimchi, its tender, grill-blackened edges muting the kimchi’s surprising snappiness. One crunch, and then everything begins to smooth out. The flare of heat subsides. Somewhere in the middle of the sugary-sweet bulgogi coating my tongue and the piquant kimchi stripping it astringently clean, I notice the looks on my training partners’ faces. I catch my instructor’s watchful, eager eyes. My friends aren’t chewing yet, but it’s not because they’re waiting for my comic spit-take. They’re hopeful, waiting for my Sam-I-Am moment. I do like weird cabbage from a can, I do, I do, black belt man!

They’re waiting to welcome me among them, because that’s what food does. It feeds the body, yes — a body covered with contusions, breathless from running uphill in ninety degree heat. But it also feeds the sense of community. It’s as much a mark of membership as the bruises and lactic burn and sweat saturating your clothes. Sharing the food of a place or group tells you you’ve arrived. It’s the place at the table and the plate set before it that binds it and seals your arrival.

I ate the whole plate, laughing and shrugging and relying on japchae to cool the burn. Even now, I’m not sure if I truly like kimchi. But I do keep an eye out for Korean restaurants. I make sure to try their kimchi. I hold it in my mouth and think about the faces that waited to welcome me to the table. I eat it and count the scars on my knuckles, the marks where fences and trees made me earn my seat at the feast. I think about kimchi when my right hip aches, every time it rains.

I’m afraid still I don’t like beer. I’m getting better about push-ups. Nothing’s ever perfect. But the memory of kimchi comes close.

Thanks, Tracy. It’s good to know that as I am a lifetime (or more) away from acquiring any kind of martial arts belt,
I won’t have to give up my own aversion to kimchee. If we’re ever at a Korean restaurant together, you can have my share.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Madeline Ashby

No Comments » Written on November 6th, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
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Madeline Ashby

In just over a week I’ll be heading to Toronto, Canada, to give a reading at the famed Merril Collection and do a stint as the GoH at SFContario. So, naturally, this has had me thinking about SF authors who make their home in Toronto, many of whom have appeared here in EATING AUTHORS, and some who haven’t. This seemed like a good excuse to add to the list of Torontonians, which brings us to this week’s guest, Madeline Ashby.

Madeline works as a strategic foresight consultant, which she describes as “the best job in the world,” and basically seems to be, in large part, writing science fiction stories to suit the needs of people on the cutting edge of science and industry who want someone to help shape their narrative or show them some of the possibilities they’re missing. So, yeah, she might well be right.

When she’s not doing that (and seriously, getting paid for it!), she also writes science fiction for the reading public. You probably already know her for The Machine Dynasty trilogy (vN, iD, and reV), all from Angry Robot. More recently her novel Company Town was published by Tor Books, and went on to be a finalist for the Locus, Sunburst, and Aurora awards. More, it was shortisted for Canada Reads 2017, a reality show in which celebrities battle one another (sort of) as champions for different books, until they’re eliminated one by one, and along the way everyone (kind of) in Canada reads the books as well. That’s just cool.

LMS: Welcome, Madeline. What meal really stands out for you?

MA: It all started at Deception Pass.

Why my dad wanted to camp there, I don’t know. We’d had great trips to other spots throughout Western Washington: Mount Baker, Penrose Point, Lake Crescent, Baker Lake, the Dungeness Spit, even a trip to Lake Quinault and the Hoh Rainforest, with its cathedral of ancient mosses. I suspect it had something to do with the goal of the trip: namely, to camp with two other families, both of whom had young children. According to my mother, Deception Pass was simply the best location for all three families, and a place we’d never camped, besides, which meant it held some novelty. Its proximity to towns like LaConner and Anacortes, and local beaches, meant that the first weekend in August would be a delightful one no matter what we decided to do.

Company Town

Little did we know, when we crossed that nauseatingly high bridge, the same one that later featured so prominently in the English-language adaptaion of THE RING, was that Deception Pass was once the site of human trafficking and murder. White people smuggling vulnerable Chinese workers to lay the railway would “hide” them in burlap sacks so that they could easily be thrown overboard upon encountering other craft. And between 1910 and 1914, the Fidalgo side of the Pass was the location of a prison rock quarry, with about forty workers from the Walla-Walla State Penitentiary literally breaking rocks as punishment. In fact the whole area, the tricksy waters joining what are now known as the Puget Sound and the Straits of Juan de Fuca, historically belongs to the Coast Salish tribes, the only people who knew how to navigate those shallow, rocky waters and traverse those verdant islands.

What I’m saying is, the place is cursed as shit.

But we had no idea of the region’s history when we crossed that bridge. That Friday afternoon in August, we were simply intent on finding one of the few campsites with enough space for three families, including five kids and a dog. And find one we did! Up went the tents and the rain flies, and down went the tarps and stakes. The air mattresses were pumped. The fire was lit. Being around eleven, I suspect my job was to keep two of the younger children — about three years old and a year-and-a-half — busy and entertained. I probably shared some snacks with them: Goldfish crackers, or apple slices, or something like that. And in all likelihood, the parents made something easy like hot dogs, or maybe my dad’s beer can chicken. I don’t remember being hungry. But I do remember what happened next.

Night fell. I remember that it was fully dark, when the other family came. They were late, but that wasn’t unusual. They’d left late, which also wasn’t unusual. The whole afternoon and evening, we’d craned our necks each time we heard the approach of a vehicle, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes when it wasn’t the third family’s ancient VW Westfalia. Finally, around 9pm, headlights swept across the campground and the van lumbered up into the remaining parking spot. Out poured our friends: a husband and wife, a tweenage girl, and a pre-school boy.

vN

“Sorry we’re late,” the husband said. “I couldn’t leave the house until I’d finished practising my trumpet.”

Reader, this was not a euphemism.

They explained all the delays in great and amusing detail, as beers were opened and catching-up was done. The kids stretched their legs. Our dog sniffed everyone dutifully and thoroughly. Speculation was made about the weather, and the stars, and the possibility of hikes. The kids started asking about dinner.

Eventually the wife — the one doing all the unpacking — said to her husband: “Honey? Where’s the food?”

Silence settled over the campsite.

“The food?” he asked. “Oh. Yeah. I didn’t bring any.”

That weekend was surprisingly cold — it hit record low temperatures for the first weekend in August. But this was the moment the mercury began to drop. And it didn’t stop falling. Not that night, and not the next, and not really until these two divorced years later.

“You didn’t bring the food?”

“Well… No.”

“I was at work all day, and you didn’t do any shopping?”

She had a full-time job. He was an artist.

“I did the packing! I just didn’t pack any food!”

“So…” You could see her trying to rationalize it. Trying to understand. What was his logic? What was he thinking would happen? How had he envisioned this scenario unfolding? “When were you going to get food?”

iD

“Tonight.”

“Tonight?”

“Tonight. I was going to go shopping here, at the Albertson’s on the way.”

“If you wanted to go shopping on the way, why didn’t you say so?”

“I didn’t want to go shopping on the way. I wanted to go shopping after we got here.”

“But we’re already here! And we have no dinner! We have nothing to eat! Do you understand how embarrassing this is?”

He might not have, but the rest of us did. We shifted uncomfortably in our camping chairs, and pretended to be very interested in the fire.

“Fine,” he huffed. “I’m going shopping. I’m going shopping right now. See?”

He stalked off to the van. He reached to close the sliding door. As he slammed it shut, the whole door fell into the mud below. It slid right off the tracks with a groan and fell off, like a gangrenous limb, into the dirt.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“That keeps happening,” their daughter said. “It happened on the way to school, the other day.”

And that is the story not of my most memorable meal, or the best one I ever ate, but a meal that was simply never eaten, at a place called Deception Pass.

Thanks, Madeline. So, what happened next? How many of the campers survived, and who did you eat? And what about the dog?

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Kayleigh McCollum

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Eating Authors: Ruthanna Emrys

No Comments » Written on October 23rd, 2017 by
Categories: Plugs
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Ruthanna Emrys

About a month ago when I was down for the day at the Baltimore Book Festival, I participated in two panels. One of the things I like most about the festival is meeting new people, especially when we’re on program together. Ruthanna Emrys was on both of mine. Naturally, this was a sign to invite her to be a guest on EATING AUTHORS.

You might know Ruthanna from the H. P. Lovecraft reread series of articles she’s being doing on Tor.com with Anne M. Pillsworth, which they describe as “two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox.”

All of this scholarship is reflected in her own fiction, her novelette The Litany of Earth and first novel Winter Tide. I’m hoping for more of the same in next summer’s sequel Deep Roots, because she, as one reviewer put it,”subverts Lovecraft’s notorious racism by making his monsters — which were often thinly veiled stand-ins for people of color — sympathetic protagonists.” How could you not want more of this?

LMS: Welcome, Ruthanna. What’s your most memorable meal?

RE: On July 16, 2005, I came downstairs wearing a cloak, with every watch in the house dangling from my wrists, and announced to my wife: “Look, my muggle disguise is perfect!”

Winter Tide

It was release day for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and we and our friend Nora were on our way to Oak Park’s giant launch party. The Chicago suburb takes its literary celebrations seriously: the town green had transformed into Quiddich field surrounded by a fairy market, and all Oak Park Avenue was done up as Diagon Alley. Every store on the alley held an appropriately themed event; every restaurant competed to produce the best butterbeer.

After a long day of cheering on Quiddich players, mooning over holly wands, and mocking each others’ houses, we decided it was time for dinner. Looking around for someplace not completely jam-packed, we spotted a brand new French restaurant on the corner of the alley. Nora, a French teacher just returned from an exchange in Paris, was dubious but willing to give it a shot.

About half an hour later, she admitted that this was, in fact, the best French food she’d had in her life. There were the simplest possible steak frites, perfectly cooked and seasoned. There was kobe beef burger topped with foie gras and aioli. There was a trio of crème brulées: thin layers of lavender, chocolate, and vanilla custard beneath exquisitely crispy burnt sugar crust. Our wild speculations about Snape were punctuated by moments of eyes-closed blissful meditation—and because some Ravenclaws are also New Yorkers at heart, a lot of mutual congratulations for having found a new favorite restaurant.

The Litany of Earth

Wandering back out into the night, we heard church bells ringing. After a moment we realized they were playing Hedwig’s Theme from the movies. Following their siren lure, we found the church’s inner sanctum lit with floating candles down the center aisle, and the priest herself playing court with the sorting hat.

A few weeks later, we attempted to return to our new favorite restaurant. You can probably guess what happened. The storefront was closed without explanation, the kobe burgers gone as if they had never been–as if the world’s best French food had never truly been part of Oak Park at all.

There are plenty of people looking for Platform 9¾. When I find it, I know exactly where I’m going first—and it isn’t Hogwart’s.

Thanks, Ruthanna. You just can’t sustain that kind of bliss, both fine French dining and a kick-ass Harry Potter festival. Something had to give.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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Eating Authors: Vivian Shaw

1 Comment » Written on October 16th, 2017 by
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Vivian Shaw

Last month I marked the autumnal equinox by once again participating in the Baltimore Book Fesitval, or at least a day of it anyway. It’s a glorious event and well worth the two hour drive to get there (and not because it gives me an excuse to stop at a Waffle House on the way down). Books, books, books, and lots of authors. It’s grand to see old friends and meet some new faces. One of those new faces this time around is this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Vivian Shaw, with whom I shared a panel. Her novel Strange Practice came out back in July and I confess I hadn’t read it yet. But hearing her talk about secondary worlds on the panel we shared convinced me that I had to invite her to come around and talk about her most memorable meal.

To my credit, I was able to restrain myself until the end of the panel. Fortunately for all of us, she said “yes.”

LMS: Welcome, Vivian. What’s your most memorable meal?

VS: If you’d asked me this two years ago, I would have had no difficulty whatsoever in coming up with the best meal I’d ever eaten. That was in 2004, in Chicago, the same day I met Scott McNeil and George Romero: I was at a Transformers convention and decided to take myself to an actual steakhouse for an actual steak, and I can still so clearly remember the gorgeous rich mineral taste of that first-ever filet mignon, the way it almost dissolved in my mouth. The vivid greenness of the two asparagus spears on the plate, the peppery kick of the Shiraz that accompanied it — even thirteen years later it’s incredibly easy to recall.

(The most memorable, however, was the time on British Airways in the 1990s where for reasons known only to themselves somebody had decided to add bits of squid to the fruit salad. Memorable doesn’t equal pleasant.)

Strange Practice

And then I met my wife, and going out to dinner became a kind of constantly evolving, unfolding pleasure. There was the pizza that was the apotheosis of all pizza, from a restaurant in New York that has since vanished — we had that sitting on the floor of the hotel room the night before we got married, telling each other stories, pausing to make helpless appreciative noises at how incredibly good it was. (The fact that the restaurant is no more seems somehow fitting, as if the universe decided it was going to give us perfect pizza one time in our lives, and had picked that particularly apposite moment to do so.)

Wherever we went, we found amazing things — always, from the very beginning. There was the two-course brunch at Marea, with the most flavorful chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life, after the courthouse ceremony. Steak at the Prime Rib, at Salt, at the Wine Market, at Brewer’s Art, at Cinghiale, in the restaurant of the Hotel Diplomat in Stockholm. Extraordinary steak at Bar Vasquez with spicy chimichurri, following a salmon ceviche of brilliant clarity and delicate balance. Mussels in coconut-curry broth at Lobo’s in Fells Point, and chicken-with-broccoli at Empire Szechuan Kyoto at 67th and Columbus. Pizza from Zella’s and pan-seared sea bass from NTL. Saffron fried rice and fino at Huertas. Earl Grey ice cream at the Lafayette and green tea gelato at the Met’s Balcony Cafe. Cold sesame noodles and scalding-hot gyoza. And everywhere, sushi, sushi, sushi.

It’s not just one meal, or one dish, that’s the focus of my memory now. It’s a huge, rich, delicious library-collection of memories, all of them lovely for different reasons. There are places I absolutely want to go back to and try the rest of their menu, dish by dish; there are places I want to go back to and order exactly the same thing I had the first time, because it was amazing. But it’s really the experience of going out to dinner with my wife that makes it more than just a somatic response to somebody’s culinary artwork.

I don’t often have much of an opportunity to describe food in my writing — yet, anyway — and I am looking forward to playing with that when the chance does arise. Over the past two years I’ve collected so many dishes I want my characters to experience, and that kind of intense visceral description is both challenging and exhilarating for me. One day, perhaps, I might even find the right place for the fruit-salad-with-squid — but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Thanks, Vivian. Having given up meat some seven months ago, all this talk of steak has my head spinning. Vicarious meals may be what saves me.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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