Thursday, December 28, 2017

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Tricia Shiu, Author of Please Hold

About four years ago, on a searing Southern California afternoon, I came out to Tricia Stewart Shiu. It was a workday. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the event except for one small detail, which I’ll get to in a second.

She was driving on Pico Blvd. and making a left-hand turn into the Fox Studios Lot, when I sent out the news flash. As the information settled in, she managed to make her way to her parking spot, plod through the echoing NEB (New Executive Building) lobby and up to her reflecting fishbowl of an office. Wandering into the makeshift kitchen, her mind still abuzz, she filled the stainless steel electric kettle from the water cooler, pressed the button and waited for the rumbling boil.

Coffee had always been our ritual. In fact, it might have been one of the first things we did together. Every high-level executive assistant needs her “outlet” and that was ours. We’d chat for hours about all things work-related. It was during such conversations that her most prolific writing occurred. This time, though, she had no words.

Maybe I should have been more compassionate about my timing.

She silently grabbed a small coffee grinder, a bag of French roast beans, unfastened the clip, stuck her nose right into the bag’s opening and took a deep breath. Aside from the aroma of coffee, this was her favorite scent. The beans bounced into the grinder as she poured the oily darkness into the grinders container and held the button down, shattering the administrative quiet for exactly twenty seconds.

I’d noticed that Sarah had been a bit upset. It was probably because she sensed that I was holding something back, and well, I was. But from my perspective, timing is everything and Tricia just wasn’t ready for the information. Which brings me to the small, miniscule really, detail about my coming out to her. I, Sarah Marks, am the main character in her book, PLEASE HOLD. The coffee thing was our thing and this thing…I mean, finally telling her the truth…was a long, long time coming. Eight years to be exact.

She wiped the coffee grounds into the trash, then moved to the sink to meticulously wash and rinse the glass carafe and mesh plunger.

Damn, still no words! I hope I didn’t break her. I’m sure it’s happened before with other authors, why not Tricia? Maybe she thinks it’s all in her head? If that’s true, she will have sorely missed the point of “truth telling.” Within each of us we have a core Truth. As we uncover the layers, we slowly open up to our own knowing and, eventually, by telling those closest to us, we encourage others to uncover their own Truth.

After all these years of friendship and hard work invested, I can’t imagine she’d scrap the book.

She slowly counted the scoops as she inhaled in the nutty brown scent. Then, in a perfectly timed, “pop,” she grabbed the kettle and poured the steaming water into the french press. With a loud exhale, she stirred the mixture with a metal spoon before placing the plunger into the press and pushing it down. The remainder of the boiling water went into her usual white mug.

Ten minutes can be excruciating when you can’t read someone’s thoughts.

No timer needed. Tricia tossed the water out of the mug and poured the steamy brew into her pre-heated mug. During my wait, I had a lot of time to think. Screw her if she was blind to my Truth! Just because she is heterosexual doesn’t preclude her from kindness, understanding and acceptance.

Holding the mug up to her face, she inhaled the warmth and took her first sip. Savoring the experience, she exhaled and whispered, ever so gently, “I’m so proud of you, Sarah.”

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

You can find Tricia here:

Thursday, December 14, 2017

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Jean Knight Pace, Author of Grey Lore

Grey Lore is really not at all about baking. It’s about a girl whose mother dies so she’s whisked away to live with an aunt she’s never met. It’s about a boy who’s lived in fourteen states in the last three years. It’s about wanting to fit in and not fitting in at all. It’s about trying to find your place with people who care. Also, it’s about werewolves (because you were totally getting that from the rest of my description, right?) It’s about a sleepy little town buried in secrets--a town that starts to wake up as Ella and Sam discover things about their pasts and themselves.

But a lot of cookies get baked, too. That’s because one of the main characters, Zinnie, seems to subsist only on cookies and herbal tea. In my first book, Grey Stone, she brought us some amazing Cinnamon Oatmeal Crispies. Here's that snippet from the book:

She got up and hobbled to what looked like a very old stove to retrieve the next batch of cookies. “You may call me Zinnie,” she said, even though Sam hadn’t tried to call her anything. “Now, what is your name?”

“Sam,” he said, clearing a spot for the cookies she was carrying.

The cookies were thin little things, like puddles on the pan. If Sam had pulled them out of the oven, he would have thrown them all in the garbage. But the old woman didn’t. She handed Sam a dish towel, which he put on the table so Zinnie could set down the hot, flat cookies.

“Help me out, dear,” she said. Expertly, Zinnie took a cookie and, using the handle of a wooden spoon, she rolled the flat cookie around the handle so that it formed into a small cone while it was warm. She looked at Sam, waiting. “Give it a try,” she said, handing him the spoon. “It’s not that hard once you get used to it. And after we’re done, we’ll fill them with cream.”

In the companion book, Grey Lore (just released December 7th!), Zinnie is back, albeit somewhat changed. Her cookies are back too, although you can see they’ve altered over the years as well.

Some things grow even better with time. :)

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

You can visit Jean here:

Thursday, December 7, 2017

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Assaph Mehr, Author of Murder in Absentia

History, Fantasy, and Food

Take one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen. At its peak it controlled vast swathes of land and many different cultures – and their associated cuisines. But what happens when you add a fantastical element to the mix?

Hi all. I’m Assaph Mehr, and I write historical-urban-fantasy – or, as I like to call them, Stories of Togas, Daggers, and Magic. Though set in a fantasy world, the background tapestry is based on the culture of ancient Rome, and to give this world authenticity and richness I do a lot of research in to ancient daily lives.

This, of course, covers food. My protagonist, cheapskate that he is, never passes on the opportunity for a free meal. And when invited to a feast, he very naturally, notes what delicacies were served – together with his somewhat deadpan reaction to them.

This leads us to the meat of this article (pun intended), namely, Fantastic Beasts and How to Cook Them. The world, being based on ancient Rome and Greece, hosts some mythological beasts.

Apicius et al already mentions dishes with ingredients that may sound strange to us. Patina is a Roman dish, somewhere between an omelette and custard. Asparagus and quails may sound like reasonable toppings, but how many of us would join Lucullus when dined on dined on jellyfish patina? Or join my protagonist when he has his favourite, childhood-memories-inducing, brains-and-pine-nuts sausage?

Drizzled with fish-sauce, of course. I always wanted to explore the production of Roman fish sauce – or garum – and, luckily, in the course of one adventure it so transpired that my protagonist – Felix – had to visit just such a factory. Garum, for the uninitiated, is made from salt-fermented fish-guts. As one modern recreator described it, the smell is akin to nasal napalm. Yet the Romans used it as we use ketchup, sprinkled liberally on everything. I sometimes think that writing is just my excuse to study about a period in history I love, from the olfactory-safe haven of my study.

The Romans also had a very practical outlook on life. What do you do with a captured gryphon? Why, you pit it against a bestiarius in the circus arena, naturally! The crowds were well pleased. It was a show to remember for years to come.

Of course, once the beast was slain, there was still a huge carcass to dispose of. Enter Felix again, with his epicurean tendencies. For reasons we shall not go into here, he required some of the tail feathers and sample internal organs of the gryphon. Being a tad loose in the morals department he ended up conning his way into the kitchens to gain access to the beast. He got what he wanted, but that cost him assisting the cook in the preparation of that night’s feast.

Which featured, you guessed it, the unique delicacy of gryphon meat:

The cook walked in after the beast, carrying his knives, and a train of slaves followed carrying plates. He proceeded to carve out bits of both the bird and animal parts and lay them on the plates. The first plate went to Aulus Paulinus who, after the briefest moment of apprehension, smiled and tasted the meats. He looked pleased, and raised a toast to his guests. I was certain some hapless slave had been force-fed this meat before it got to us though, just to make sure that the cook and I had indeed removed all traces of poison. Our turn came, as well, and a slave girl put down the plate with cuts of meat before us. While my little charmed wine had done the trick and the beast was well roasted, I have to say that the lion part was a bit gamy and the bird parts, while nice, tasted remarkably like chicken.

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

You can find out more about Assaph and his
culinarily curious protagonist Felix here:

Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He also loves to cook, and says he will eat almost anything at least once. Though his family has curtailed some of his more experimental endeavors, he hopes some of dishes – in addition to his books, of course – will go down in the annals of history as an achievement worth repeating.