Thursday, June 21, 2018

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Back Katherine Roberts, Author of Bone Music



My novel Bone Music tells the story of Genghis Khan’s rise to power in 13th century Mongolia. The book is part legend, but the food and drink in its pages is real enough, and many of the same foodstuffs are still eaten (and drunk) in Mongolia today.

Genghis Khan’s people ate a lot of meat. This would have come both from the herds that travelled with the clans - oxen, horses, camels, yaks, sheep, goats - and also from the wild animals they hunted on the steppes, such as deer, marmots and squirrels.

At the start of the book, the boy Temujin (young Genghis) is living in exile with his family after an ambitious chief stole his dead father's people, and must find a way to feed his little brothers:

I knew we’d be in trouble if we couldn’t hunt for meat. So I struggled to master Father’s huge bow, hidden by the tall pines where the river raged loud enough to hide my grunts of frustration. My arrow-making skills improved (they had to, since I kept breaking the stupid things). But, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t draw that string far enough to send my arrows after a deer – or even, most times I’ll admit, hit the trunk of whatever tree I’d chosen that day to take the place of Chief Fatface. – Bone Music, Temujin’s story.

Meat was often dried to preserve it for longer, and when they were on campaign Genghis Khan’s soldiers would keep a strip of dried beef under their saddle to chew on as they rode. But the young Khan's favourite meaty snack must have been the traditional meal of tough mutton he and his sweetheart Borta chewed on their wedding day:

Our wedding turned into the biggest Red Circle feast I’d seen, with buckets of airag for every family and ten whole oxen roasted for the occasion, as well as the tough old sheep whose meat we had to chew in public to show our marriage would be strong. – Bone Music, Temujin’s story.

As well as meat, all the herd animals provided the clans with milk in the spring when they had their young, and some of this milk was turned into yoghurt, cottage cheese, curds, and other produce. This led to the Mongolian summer being known as “the white season”, because that is when the people of the steppes process soft milky foodstuffs to eat after a long winter of increasingly tough, dried meat.

Fruit and vegetables must have been in short supply on the steppe in Genghis Khan’s time, when the clans led a nomadic existence that meant no farming. But the Khan’s people would have foraged for roots and berries when these were in season, and before Temujin learnt to bend his bow, his mother apparently kept her young family alive by feeding them on wild onions.

Medicines were made from various leaves and roots gathered from the forest. The girls were usually sent out to gather these, no doubt a welcome escape from the smoky yurts. When the Khan’s sweetheart Borta rides into the forest with her half-sisters, she thinks they are going foraging, but it is really an excuse for the other girls to ask her to use her shaman powers to find out who they are going to marry:

We packed food for several days and a rolled-up deer hide to make a shelter at night… It was good to be out in the mountains, away from the shaman’s choking smoke for a few days. Remembering our excuse for the outing, I pulled my digging stick out of my pack and began to search for roots, but my half-sisters showed no rush to get started. ‘So!’ Orbei said brightly. ‘What do you learn in the shaman’s tent, then?’ –  Bone Music, Borta’s story.

No meal is complete without something to drink, so what was Genghis Khan’s favourite tipple?
The most common alcoholic drink on the steppe is 'airag', the Mongolian word for fermented mare’s milk. This was made by filtering the milk through a cloth into a leather bucket or wooden vat and stirring it over a period of several days. It is a fizzy, mildly alcoholic drink of about 2% or 3% proof with a varying taste dependant on the method of production, and can be distilled further to make a fierce milky vodka called ‘Arhi’, which is 16% proof or more. The Khan and his men would have enjoyed airag on feast days, although it was apparently responsible for poisoning his father, Yesugei the Brave, who had stopped at a rival camp on his way home from taking young Temujin to meet his future bride and made the mistake of accepting the traditional bowl of airag offered to travellers on the steppe.

Genghis Khan's men also drank their horses' blood when they needed sustenance on a long march - the wound would heal quickly, and then they would ride on. Here, Temujin drinks blood for the first time on his way across the steppe with a friend to rescue his family’s herd of silver-bay geldings, which were stolen by raiders while he was a captive in the fat Chief Kiriltuk’s camp:

We slept rolled in our blankets under the stars, and on the way Boorchu showed me a warrior’s trick for survival when crossing a barren steppe – how to drink my horse’s blood. You make a small hole in the vein at the throat with your knife, and then suck out the blood before the wound heals. The warm, sweet liquid filled my mouth and coated my tongue. I could feel it clotting on the way down, filling me with strength. – Bone Music, Temujin’s story.

Sometimes the blood was mixed with water or milk... so how about a cup of blood mixed with airag to finish your 13th century Mongolian meal?


Thanks for stopping by to share more food for thought, Katherine!


You can find Katherine here:







More about modern day Mongolian food and drink can be found here:
www.toursmongolia.com/mongolian-food-and-drinks

BONE MUSIC: The Legend of Genghis Khan by Katherine Roberts
is published by Greystones Press:
http://www.katherineroberts.co.uk/the-legend-of-genghis-khan

Thursday, June 14, 2018

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Back Nancy Lynn Jarvis, Author of The Two-Faced Triplex



Regan McHenry and her husband, Tom Kiley, will eat anything, and in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series, they’ve had a variety of in-home and in-restaurant meals. Regan even cooked an authentic Columbian meal to try and catch a killer in A Neighborly Killing and has been known to burn dinner because a clue occurred to her as she cooked.

In her most recent adventure, The Two-Faced Triplex, Regan explains her plan for getting information about a possible killer out of a reluctant witness to Tom over samosa avocado chat at an Indian restaurant, using her fork to punctuate her thoughts.

Fortunately for Regan and Tom, Santa Cruz, California, where they live and work, is a tourist community and has excellent restaurants that run from upscale French to vegan Mexican with everything in between. And there are as many Thai restaurants in the community as there are Starbucks in most urban settings.

Regan likes to cook and even has an herb garden so exotic ingredients are ready for the picking. Tom is an accomplished griller, especially of beer chicken, but other times when he cooks, it’s frozen pizza for him.

As Realtors, Regan and Tom keep frozen mysterious chocolate chip cookie dough in their freezer ready to be thawed out and baked at open houses to make properties smell “homey.” You can pick up a copy of it at goodreadmysteries.com/recipe.htm.


Thanks for stopping by to share more food for thought, Nancy!



You can find Nancy here:





Thursday, May 24, 2018

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Gwen Mayo, Author and Short Story Writer




Looking at the cover of Strangely Funny you might think that knowing what’s on my character’s plate could make you ill. So, let me assure you that I’m not writing a monster.

In A Proper Job for a Lady, Atalanta Wilde is an attractive monster hunter with a keen fashion sense. Above all she is a lady. After all, one doesn’t have to look or smell like a monster to catch one.

In truth, Atalanta doesn’t have a lot to eat in the story. She is at the Wilde-Woods Inn because there is danger afoot. She believes a monster from long ago has returned and nobody will be safe until she finishes the work her ancestors began.

A nice cup of spiced tea and some of her cousin’s fresh baked bread do restore her spirits after a long dangerous trip.
 
Cousin Constance also provides her with trail rations before she sets out to find the monster. She doesn’t specify what those rations are, but knowing her cousin, they will be a delightful surprise for Atalanta.

Nothing bad comes from the kitchen at Wilde Wood Inn. Tall, stunning, Atalanta might turn every head in the room but they won’t stay turned when Constance fills the room with the aroma of her cooking.


Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Gwen!


You can find Gwen here:





Thursday, May 17, 2018

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Ashley Sweeney, Author of Eliza Waite



If cooking on a 19th century woodstove isn’t your cup of tea, how about adding living alone for three years on an almost uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest? In 1898? Eliza Waite, our hearty protagonist, is largely self sufficient, although she rows (yes, rows) four miles across a strait to another island once a month for supplies.

Eliza’s a baker, first by avocation, and later by vocation. She measures by teacups and uses what she has on hand to create sweet and savory concoctions. All the 33 authentic pioneer recipes imbedded in the novel were gleaned from 19th century newspapers. Good thing I had friends vet them all; errors in six of the recipes rendered them unpalatable.

Here’s what one reader wrote about Eliza’s Johnny Cakes:

I grew up with grandparents who called cornbread "Johnny Cake" and who served it with black-eyed peas, sautéed greens, grits and hominy. This was NOT my grandma's Johnny Cake.

The recipe went together easily though I questioned the exclusion of fat such as lard or butter and thought it seemed a little heavy on the corn meal ratio. I "soured" some milk with lemon and added the mixed ingredients to an oiled cast iron skillet, which went into the stove for 20 minutes.

The result was . . . interesting. My husband called it “Johnny Particle Board.” 

It looked nice and rustic in the pan, smelled good in the oven, but was dry as dust in the mouth. The first thing my husband asked was: "Didn't you add yogurt or chilis or creamed corn?" which are ingredients commonly used in our corn bread. I responded (hands on hips): “WOULD ELIZA HAVE HAD THOSE ITEMS IN HER CUPBOARD?!”

In this example, I amended the recipe to use lard, and my, what a difference! Delish. My favs are the Pecan Tarts, Country Apple Pie, and Marionberry Coffee Cake. But I’ll let you off the hook—you can use your gas or electric oven.

Bonus points for using a woodstove!


Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Ashley!



You can find Ashley here:







Photo Credit: Karen Mullen Photography

Friday, May 11, 2018

FOODFIC: Luckiest Girl Alive - Jessica Knoll



I immediately connected with heroine Ani FaNelli for the same reason I snort/cry-laugh at certain comedians* – her/their observations are just so true.

Ani gets me right away by sharing her contempt for her future wedding china. No bride wants to hear the ugly truth that she is going to end up with six bread plates, four salad plates, and eight dinner plates and then one day will take it upon herself to complete the set, only to discover the pattern will have been discontinued years ago. (Trust me, if not for Replacements.com, I would’ve quit searching Lenox warehouses, smashed one of my perfect little saucers, and used it to cut myself to stop the madness.

But back to Ani, who keeps me with her decision to snap out of this dreary future montage by going for a slice of the Patsy’s pizza she’s been fantasizing about since last Thursday – the comfort-food craving certainly exacerbated by the restrictive pre-wedding diet she, like any proper bride-to-be, has been enslaved by.

Her fiancé, Luke, on the other hand, turns me off instantly by announcing that he is not even hungry. Huh? What kind of guy isn’t hungry for pizza? From Patsy’s? I’m quickly seeing why Ani had to fight off the urge to stab him with the Shun back at Williams-Sonoma!

And then – then! – he goes on to criticize her drink choice (Montepulciano)! He’s not hungry for pizza, he thinks it’s too hot for red wine…at this point, I’m ready to red Sharpie the next page and wave it in Ani’s face. We’re only on page 3 and all I want is an invitation to this imaginary wedding so that I can jump up and object at the “forever hold your peace” part.

Okay, maybe I’m being a tad extreme. Perhaps Luke does have some (though probably not food-related) redeeming qualities. And perhaps this pizza-loving, wine-guzzling heroine isn’t all that perfect herself. I mean, if she really is like me, she’ll turn out to have a list of flaws longer than a Jersey diner menu. But my gut tells me I’ll be much forgiving of her faults than his. It also tells me to take this book and catch the next train to 69th Street…


*Do not read into this observation that Ani is funny. Or that this novel is. Neither is true. Trust me.

Friday, May 4, 2018

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Beverley Jones, Author of Where She Went



You might never look at family mealtimes the same way again once you’ve witnessed what goes on at the kitchen table in Where She Went.

The ‘heroine’ of the book is news reporter Melanie Black who just happens to wake up dead one morning. Yes, that’s right, she wakes up dead in bed, next to a man she doesn’t recognise and realises no one can see or hear her. Trapped in the house with Peter and his family she has to piece together the story of her own disappearance and death.

As you can imagine, career girl Mel is more than a bit annoyed at being bumped off and at being forced to endure the dull day-to-day domestic routine of Peter, his wife and their little boy Adam. Mel couldn’t be more different to obedient Eve and watching the little homemaker behave like the perfect 1950s housewife is a sort of cruel and unusual torture in itself.

Some of the key action takes place around the kitchen table where Peter exercises his own type of unpleasant control over his eager-to-please wife. For him, mealtimes aren’t just an opportunity to eat, they enforce his idea of how an ideal family should behave and how a devoted wife should act. Mel, of course, has nothing but scorn for Eve’s carefully prepared breakfasts with their perfectly boiled eggs and loose-leaf tea in a teapot, or for Eve’s beautifully made sponge cakes and brightly hosted lamb shank dinners.

Peter punctuates mealtimes with subtle acts of psychological abuse, his little ‘pass or fail’ tests where a soft-boiled egg that’s just a little bit too hard for a toast soldier dip is a careless symbol of a wifely failure that deserves punishment.

Anxious Eve is forced to smile through these endurance events while, out in the world, the news of Mel’s disappearance has made the headlines and a police search gets underway.

As Mel’s memory returns, and she begins to remember the last night of her life, it becomes clear that Peter’s capable of much more than petty acts of emotional violence. But Mel herself is no angel and she’s not above playing a few little games herself, while she kills time before she decides on her method of revenge. Imagine an invisible and uninvited guest at your kitchen table with an axe to grind– that’s Melanie – and she likes to whisper things in your ear, even if you don’t realise it. Now that’s probably enough to make anyone lose their appetite!


Thanks for stopping by to share you food for thought, Beverley!

And look for her new ebook - HALFWAY - out May 10th. 



You can find Beverley here:





Friday, April 27, 2018

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Dana Griffin, Author of COERCED



Kyle Masters, the protagonist in my airliner thriller, Coerced, loves food, but his tastes are simpler. A burger and fries would satisfy him as much as filet wellington with mixed vegetables.

Since he has to travel a lot in his occupation as the training manager for his airline, he often eats whatever the airport hotel he’s staying at has to offer.

Being divorced and sharing custody of his teenage son, Travis, with his ex-wife, he and Travis usually have dinner at Scrimp’s, the restaurant I created in his hometown, The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston.

I described it as having a family atmosphere, which I pictured similar to an Applebee’s or Chili’s, but a locally owned restaurant. A place where one could get a decent steak, a salad, or mac and cheese for their children. Where the wait-staff knows the regulars’ names and their usual drink. The kind of place when you walk in you can smell the meat cooking on the grill, the grease from the fryer, and the aroma of the vegetables being cut.

Later in the novel Kyle, Travis, and Kyle’s love interest, Lori Almond, an NTSB investigator, end up on the run from some bad guys and hole up in a hotel and have to order room service. They might not have minded eating with a tray in their laps while stretched out on the bed watching TV, except they were worried the waiter delivering the food might be a goon sent to silence them.

You’ll have to read the book to see if Kyle and Travis got to eat their eggs and bacon, and Lori enjoyed her oatmeal and fruit.


Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Dana!



You can find Dana here




Thursday, April 19, 2018

FOODFIC: Please Welcome David J. Kirk, Author of Stone Signs



In the 3070s the world is certainly a much different place. Centuries before a global natural disaster had reduced the population to nearly 10% of its former number. This led to two-thirds of the United States being left uninhabited.

In this setting main character Dan Kelley, a young history professor, unintentionally discovers prehistoric cave symbols carved into the back of a uniquely crafted paving stone. The stone was created by a mysterious mason who years earlier buried similar stones mapping a peculiar course across the unpopulated prairie. Following these clues Dan was able to retrace his parents path and uncover details of their disappearance, which had left him orphaned at age four.

Does this new discovery offer any insight into his parents’ demise? What do these symbols mean? Does the stone map lead to their interpretation? What is the message?

To follow this buried stone path, Dan and his colleagues must venture out into the uninhabited prairie. In order to sustain themselves, they must hunt, gather and prepare their food out on the trail. The expedition members hunt for meat, gather roots and gather fruit to cook all on an open wood fire. They even discover stone ovens, left by indigenous peoples, to roast whole turkeys. It was your basic campfire cooking.

The role of food in Stone Signs is not what they ate, but the manner in which they did. The evening meal was not only a bonding experience, but a time to make decisions for the next day such as route of travel and possible hazards they would encounter, all leading to the exciting conclusion. Therefore, I frequently described their meals and mealtime conversations in detail in the story. Gathering, preparing and eating were communal and social activities. One might describe them as tribal. The expedition was dealing with ice age symbols and their meaning. This activity supported the metaphor of stepping back in time, to solve an ancient mystery by living and thinking like an ancient.


Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, David!


You can find David here:






Thursday, April 12, 2018

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Richard Gazala, Author of Blood of the Moon



This is an interesting exercise, to write about how food impacted the writing or characters in my international conspiracy thriller, Blood of the Moon. I’ve thought about it a lot since I was graciously invited to contribute to this blog. I’m a good cook and an adventurous foodie. So it puzzled me all the more that in the exquisite mayhem I’ve forced upon characters in Blood of the Moon and my other writing, none of it has been comestible. After due contemplation, I deem this was more than simple oversight. It was error.

One of a novelist’s critical tasks is making fictional characters resonate with fleshly readers. Characters are people. Real people eat, or they die. Sometimes they die because they eat. If a picture tells a thousand words so does a person’s favorite dish, or the one he’d rather starve than eat. Whether it’s in survival or pleasure, food is refuge. Without it there’d be neither writers nor readers. Accordingly, it’s due more respect than I’ve afforded it in my work.

This is particularly so given what food sustains. Everyone’s relationship with food, whether healthy or otherwise, is fraught with meaning far deeper than mere mastication. I’m not the only one of us perpetually umpiring internal infernal battles between eating to live and living to eat. And I’m not just writing about my daily bread in this instance, so the symbolism is potent. Food is not just fuel to propel us from station to station in the mundane world. Like any other power or privilege, food is as dangerous as it is divine.

Though the movie was but a loose adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novel of the same title, a scene at the end of the 1971 film Diamonds Are Forever sprang to mind when I was approached to write a piece for this blog. After he saves the world from another of Blofeld’s abominable plots, James Bond relaxes with Tiffany Case in post-coital déshabillé in their suite on board the SS Canberra cruise liner. Posing as ship’s stewards, assassins Kidd and Wint wheel into Bond’s suite an opulent meal—Oysters Andaluz, shashlik, tidbits, prime rib au jus, and Salade Utopia. The wine is a bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild ’55. And for dessert, says Mr. Wint, “…the pièce de résistance… La Bombe Surprise.”

     “Mmm! That looks fantastic. What's in it?” asks Case.
     Wint replies, “Ah, but then there would be no surprise, Madame.”

The surprise was the dessert’s secret ingredient—an actual bomb. Murder, concealed beneath a luscious coating of creamy custard ice cream.

Food is temptation. It’s luxury. It’s power. And it’s danger.

I’m currently working on Blood of the Earth, the sequel to Blood of the Moon. Beneath all the conspiracies, throbbing under the action and the chaos and the vengeance, the heart of Blood of the Moon is about faith and betrayal. It’s about the lies that hide in truth, and vice-versa. So too is its sequel, and much else of what I write.

Thanks to this exercise, as I write Blood of the Earth I’ll be mindful of the truth and lies in every morsel we eat. I’ll remember that every chef can charm with a fork as easily as he can kill with a spoon. That food giveth, and food taketh away. Primal stuff.

After all, Eve wasn’t evicted from the Garden until she bit the forbidden fruit.


Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Richard!



You can find Richard here:







Copyright 2018, Richard Gazala


Friday, March 30, 2018

FOODFIC: Discovering Vintage New Orleans - Bonnye Stuart




Because I lived in NOLA for so many years, I can never pass up a chance to read what others recommend that visitors see and do in The Big Easy. Must-sees, must-dos, must-eats; I have to know each compiler’s picks. Of course, I’m most interested in which restaurants and bars top each list. #FoodFact. Or #FoodOpinion? Hmm. I’ll leave that here for digestion. ;)

Anyway, this guide points out all the old favorites, which makes sense as Stuart has chosen to focus on the “vintage” spots. Not surprisingly, I found I’d been to most (if not all) of the eateries and drinkeries and visitories she describes. I checked off everything from lunch at Commander’s to climbing Monkey Hill to drinks at the Old Absinthe House.

I’ve not, however, actually had absinthe. Yes, the popular depictions of “the green fairy” as “psychoactive” and “hallucinogenic” seem reason enough not to imbibe,  but the bigger issue was its illegality. Since I hadn’t been actively following absinthe’s “status,” it came as a surprise to me to read here that the Old Absinthe House is indeed now selling its namesake drink.

Now, it’s not exactly the same stuff – thujone, a naturally-occuring chemical in wormwood, must now be strictly limited, leading many folks to call it “absinthe refined.” But the essence of the spirit remains the same, as, apparently, does its flavor. “Anise” and “fennel” are not my usual go-tos for cocktails, so you won’t find me rushing out for a bottle, but the next time I’m in NOLA, I might have to make my way down to Bourbon Street to give it a shot. ;)