Thursday, June 26, 2014

FOODFIC: Please Welcome St. John Karp, Author of Radium Baby

My favorite ice-breaker on a first date is, "If you could travel back in time to any period, when would you go?" You can tell a lot about a person by how they answer. A lot of people seem to want to meet Jesus, which is legit, although they conveniently forget to set aside time to learn Aramaic first. My own choice would be the 1920s. They were in the middle of a post-war cultural revolution — it was the golden age of the silver screen, Dadaism was turning into Surrealism, you couldn't sneeze without hitting ten radioactive consumer products, and they spoke English. The sheer amount of cool stuff going down made it a great place to set Radium Baby. The only problem for an aspiring alcoholic like me is that it's also boom-smack in the middle of the American Prohibition.

But the characters in Radium Baby don't let that stop them. You could always throw a fuzz junket on bathtub moonshine, or else get a bit squiffy on giggle water at the blind tiger. My favorite Prohibition-era cocktail has to be the Sidecar — an intoxicating mix of two parts Cognac, one part Cointreau, and one part lemon juice, served with sugar on the rim. I drank at least four of these (I lost count) as research for this article, and I can confirm that by the end of the night I'd completely forgotten that it wasn't actually 1927.

The Sidecar may have been a bit frou-frou for Prohibition tastes, though, especially as it was a European cocktail and all those fancy brandies were hard to come by. Herbie Wise would have liked them, I think, because he has a taste for the finer things in life. What really fuels a public drunk like Adrian Ember, though, is gin. This makes the Martini the cocktail of choice for the adults in Radium Baby. You take your vermouth, shake it up in the cocktail shaker enough to coat the ice, then pour it out. Then you pour in your gin, shake it again, and pour. Garnish with green olives. I have a passionate love for salt, so the dirtier the Martini the better. Also, don't let any unlicked rube tell you it's one part vermouth to six parts gin — too much vermouth is the quickest way to ruin a perfectly good Martini. Winston Churchill said the best way to add vermouth to your Martini was simply to raise your glass in the direction of France.

While Ember and Wise like a tipple, Mrs. Cholmondeley is a die-hard teetotaler. Even she, however, seems to have her own unwitting crutch in the form of June Kennedy's Prune Remedy. This Prune Remedy was inspired by a few real health tonics from the time, but particularly Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound. Pinkham's Compound contained a good wallop of "medicinal" alcohol, which garnered it an unexpected level of popularity in the Prohibition. There are endless testimonies in Mrs. Pinkham's advertising from housewives whose kids are driving them nuts, but after a bottle or nine of Vegetable Compound they feel right as rain. Pinkham's Compound still turns up in pop culture from time to time, in songs like "Lily the Pink", or as Ephraim's Extract in a recent episode of Quick Draw.

If your blood runs more towards the healthy side of things (and if it does, I can't think why you're reading anything I've written), then your 1920s self might have downed a few radioactive health tonics. Yes, people in the '20s were drinking radioactive water, often every day under the misapprehension that it would cure them of wambling trot or the strong fives. In Radium Baby Gloria drinks from a Revigator — a household radioactive tank which you'd fill with water to be steeped in healthy radioactive rays. For good measure these things would also leech arsenic, lead, and uranium into the water. Over three years one man in real life drank 1,400 bottles of a radioactive tonic called Radithor, and he swore it did wonders for his health right up until the day his face fell off. He had to be buried in a lead coffin.

Valerie and Alexander Pepperpot also partake of a goodly dose of radium in the form of a radioactive duck. The dish is a party piece that, when prepared properly, will create a chemical reaction that expels air through the duck's throat and makes it quack as it's being carved. There was a little truth-bending here on my part, but the recipe is real — only the recipe was medieval and the secret ingredient was mercury instead of radium. As far as I know there aren't any records of people dying from eating these mercury birds, but then I don't imagine they fared much better than the Pepperpots did.

For those who want to throw their own radium-themed wingding, I'd recommend against irradiating the local poultry. Instead, let me take this back to where it began — booze. A great radium-themed drink is the Grasshopper, a mix of one part cream, one part Crème de menthe, and one part white Crème de cacao. You wind up with a lurid green cocktail that is absolutely delicious. Here's mud in your eye, fly-boy.

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, St. John!

Connect with the author here:


Thursday, June 19, 2014

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Heather Grace Stewart, Author of Strangely, Incredibly Good

Strangely, Incredibly Good…Food!

Can your relationship with others affect your relationship with food?

Absolutely. For better, and for worse.

In my novel, Strangely Incredibly Good, the main character Katherine “Cat” Glamour is an emotional eater. Now, don’t assume that the book is all about women dealing with weight issues - no way. It’s one of the subjects the book covers, but it’s by no means its only theme.

By the time you’ve hit 40, I believe you’ve read & seen enough messages about how to eat and exercise right to last you three lifetimes. Enough, already! This book is meant as a fun escape for men and women of all ages. Okay. Glad we cleared that up.

At the beginning of the novel, Cat is unhappy with her life, and her weight, and the two - pardon the pun - feed off eachother. Cheesies and chocolate milk are her favorite snack.

Why did I choose those? They are my nine-year-old daughter’s favorite snack, besides candy. When I’m writing, I write what I know, and then make it about ten times larger than life.

So, Cat has been up snacking the night before, and when she decides to try to pull herself and her life together and start exercising on a Wii, it’s only natural a genie would appear from out of the Wii, right? Told you I like to make my stories larger than life.

Once Cat and Genie become acquainted (I’m not sharing that part, you’ll have to read the book!) the Genie, Eugene, criticizes her food choices:

“These are awful for you, you know.” He holds up a cheesie, carefully inspecting it. “I can’t believe you eat this crap. I lived on a farm when I was a boy, and one of my chores was making cheese. This is not even remotely close to how that tasted. This is so full of artificial, I think it could fly to Mars, visit the surface on one of those fancy rovers, return to Earth, and still look and taste the same as it did the year before.”

Eugene, as you’ll discover, is sweet, charming and funny. He’s no jerk. In that scene, however, I wanted to underscore how even nice people who “mean well” can make people who are struggling to lose weight feel small. Cat had just begun an exercise routine. She’d begun. That’s what matters, and yet, she was still met with criticism. When all that criticism builds up, it can immobilize and damage a person like clogged arteries.

Thankfully, Eugene soon realizes how he can help Cat, and becomes one of her greatest allies in her journey of self-discovery. Too bad he didn’t show up before her series of very bad dates, and very bad shakes. Cat is set up by her sister, Cici, on one of those dates, but the date is a total bust. I’ll let Cat explain the rest:

I didn’t think dating could go downhill after that. How much more hill was left bottom at that point, right? Wrong. Later that night, Cici apologized profusely by text.

<So sorry. Jeezus. Didn’t know he was such a jerk? Forgive me? xo>

<Know you meant well. Pls dnt bring anyone else 2our Cosmo dates. Want to drink in misery of being old and fat with sister.>

<Hey, I’m not fat! Or old! Bitch.>

I laughed out loud. I could handle talking about my weight with her, and it was never a competition. Though she was at a healthy weight, she’d been supportive, a participant, in fact, of all my attempts to lose weight, including the week I asked her to follow the latest craze and drink Spinach and Chick Pea Shakes with me for two whole weeks. She was such a sport, even buying the groceries for our little adventure, because I couldn’t afford everything. Such a sport, until 3 p.m. on Day Three, when I received this text from her:

<In crucial business meeting. Boss making presentation. Am filling up room with atrocious fart smell. Do I stay or do I leave?>

< Be heroic. Tell them to get out while they’re still breathing!>

I put my phone down on the kitchen table, threw my head back, and had the biggest belly laugh I’d had in ages. Tears were streaming down my face. Then Gram came in.

“What’s the joke?” she stood at the counter, making tea.

“Oh God, Cici and I have the farts. It appears these shakes make us fart.”

“I coulda told you that. Shit Shakes. That’s how they taste, and that’s what they make you do.”

“You think we’re actually going to lose weight on these?” I push my half-empty green shake glass away, feeling a little nauseous.

“I think you’re gonna poop a lot, get sick of the Shit Shakes, and fill up on all your favourite foods next week. That’s what I think.”

I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

“Yea. I hate to say it but you’re probably …Ewww.” I’d let another big one out. They just kept coming and coming. I’d lost all control!

“I’m outta here, Fartsy. You’d better get a handle on that before you bed another man,” she raised her tea mug and nodded, as if to wish me luck.

This scene is one of my favorites from the book, and was inspired by some of the crazy diets I’ve tried with my sister. No, I’ve never had a Spinach and Chick Pea shake, and I never will. “Diet” is a four letter word for me now. I try to limit sugar and desserts instead of dieting. You’ll probably notice, though, that my characters have a love for milkshakes, and ice cream with sprinkles. Now you know my dessert weaknesses. Add some hot fudge, and I’m yours! 

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

Heather Grace Stewart is best known for her poetry, which includes: Three Spaces, Carry on Dancing, Leap, and Where the Butterflies Go.

In 2012, she published the screenplay, The Friends I’ve Never Met, which has been well received on both Kindle and Kobo.

Her two non-fiction books for youth are part of the Warts & All educational series on Canada’s Prime Ministers.

She has written for a wide range of magazines, including Reader’s Digest and Canadian Wildlife magazine. Her regular column in the Queen’s Alumni Review magazine, Grace’s Grads, was created in September 2005.

Heather’s poems have been published in Canadian literary journals, newspapers, and magazines, Canadian, British and South African school textbooks, audio CD's, online journals, international print anthologies,
and in the British small presses.

You can visit Heather here:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Neil McGarry, Author of The Duchess of the Shallows

Food, like water, is life, but how many eat simply to stay alive? Food does more for us than simply sustain life, and in fantasy fiction it can do the same.

When my coauthor and I set out to write The Duchess of the Shallows, we knew instantly that Duchess' past life as a baker was important. She is a baker by trade, because bread is food that is enjoyed by both commoners and high born, even if the food itself isn't any different. The "presence" of that food gave Duchess an air of being in two worlds at once, which factored heavily into the outcome of both that novel and the series in general. As bread is a food eaten throughout the real world we know, so it is eaten throughout the fantasy, fog-bound city of Rodaas. The selling of that bread took Duchess all along its winding streets and alleys, setting up a potential network of allies and contacts she would need to help her with the heist she planned. Finally, but how better to help readers connect with the hero than to have her triumph by the small knowledge of flour and yeast?

An unwritten rule of fantasy is that the details of the world-building must be "realistic", which among other things means that the food the characters eat must be something you'd expect to find in medieval Europe. I have never quite understood why it's "realistic" for a medieval-style world to contain dragons but not, say, coffee. Yes, yes, I know that particular beverage didn't make its way to Europe until the 16th century at the earliest, but dragons never got there at all and no one complains about that. So I ignore that rule because why not.

In my second novel, The Fall of Ventaris, two characters who are anything but wealthy buy and share an orange. Although one could argue that such a fruit was an unaffordable treat in their world, I liked the idea of two people walking through a crowded marketplace, tearing wedges from an orange they passed back and forth. There was a certain camaradarie inherent in that image, one that trumped any sense of "realism."

Food is an experience we all share, and there is something comforting about both the way food is prepared and the way it is served. Duchess uses bread-making to calm her nerves and clear her mind before braving the dangers of the estate of Baron Eusbius. Later in the series, a feast is a welcome interlude before the climactic events in the imperial palace, events Duchess herself has secretly engineered. Some of the food she eats there – ripe pears and spicy sausage – is familiar, and the some – like the exotic bataya – is beyond her experience, but all of it helps ground her before the dangers to come. She eats this meal with persons of power, and yet the ritual of eating together makes her feel a part of a group that, under normal circumstances, would not deign to be in the same room with something they think so ignobly born.

Fiction, to me, is as necessary to life as food, and food is as much of an adventure as fiction. The two together – well, for me they make something truly fantastic.

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

You can find Neil and his books here:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Lorraine Beaumont, Author of The Briarcliff Series

What do my characters eat?

That is a good question. Well they certainly all have an appetite but food is not what they are really after.

They have a deeper hunger, one that drives them to do the unthinkable, the impossible… what they must to survive.

This kind of hunger gnaws at your belly, a constant reminder of something you crave that is just out of reach.

Yes within each of us, there is hunger, but is this hunger ever satiated with mere food?

That is the case with the Gargoyles in my book…they hunger as well but it is a different kind of hunger, one that fuels a need for vengeance, spurred by a centuries old betrayal. The hunger they hold inside torments them, shapes them into the creatures that they have become, and inevitably drives them to do the unimaginable to satisfy that very hunger.

If I were a Gargoyle, what would I eat? Interestingly enough I am sure that very same question has been asked for centuries. Unfortunately, it would seem there is still no accurate answer. But if I were a Gargoyle, awakened for a short amount of time, I guess I would eat whatever I could get my hands on. And in my Gargoyles' cases, since they are residing/awakening in New England they would probably enjoy the local fare, such as lobster rolls, clam chowder, or maybe even a Fluffernutters sandwich before they turned back to stone.

That’s what I would be doing. ;)

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

You can find Lorraine and ALL of her books here: