Thursday, April 15, 2021

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Nicki Chen, Author of When in Vanuatu



No matter where you travel, you’re bound to return with memories of what you ate. Some of those memories will stay with you for years and years. You’ll tell friends about the pizza in Naples or the Spotted Dick in Canterbury or the generous bowl of lime wedges that came with your rum-and-Cokes in Puerto Vallarta. 

I used to smile at the obsession my late husband and his colleagues seemed to have with food. While we were living in Asia, we attended many wine dinners—festive meals served around large round tables with a Lazy Susan in the middle. While we ate, the conversation would touch on politics and shop talk. But the main topic was always food. As each of the eight or ten courses was set on the table, it would be quickly praised. Then, my husband’s colleagues, who all did a lot of business travel, would start discussing the best place to eat crab in Bangkok or grilled freshwater eel in Seoul or night street food in Kuala Lumpur.

My new novel, When in Vanuatu, is about living in a foreign land and marriage and infertility. It begins in Manila, moves to Vanuatu, and ends up in Seattle. It is not about food. And yet, food is everywhere in it.

In the opening pages, Diana and her husband take a brisk morning walk along Manila Bay. Before turning back, they stop at McDonald’s, where, over eggs and pancakes, Jays breaks the news about his upcoming trip to Korea. “I’ll be leaving Thursday morning,” he says, sliding a pat of butter between his pancakes and slapping another on top. Diana stabs her egg and watches the sticky golden yolk bleed into the white and then down the sides of her pancakes and onto the plastic plate. Didn’t he remember that Thursday was supposed to be the start of her fertile period?

McDonald’s? you say. The food starts at McDonald’s?

But wait.

A few days later, Diana is pulling up at Dulcinea, a Spanish bakery where she is meeting friends for midafternoon churros y chocolate. As she opens the heavy glass door, leaving behind the stink of diesel, sweat and roadside garbage, she steps into a room smelling of toasted sugar, melted butter and coffee. The ladies, talk and laugh, they share their concerns and make plans for Christmas. All the while, they’re sprinkling sugar on their freshly deep-fried churros, dipping them in little cups of thick Spanish chocolate, and licking their lips.

With the novel set in the Philippines, it’s inevitable that Filipino dishes would make an appearance: pancit, pork adobo, ginataang, and Jollybee’s Amazing Aloha Burger for a start. Like most of the world’s cities, though, Manila and Port Vila offer an international selection of restaurants.

When Diana and Jay lose electricity in their apartment, they eat tempura and steak teppanyaki at the Westin Plaza. At Jay’s Executive Dining Room, they opt for the daily special: tom yum soup, crystal noodles with prawns, Thai basil with chicken, and mango ice cream. When they take a visiting colleague and his girlfriend out to a Spanish restaurant, Jay and Diana order sangria and paella Valenciana. At the girlfriend’s insistence, she and her date share black paella, a tasty dish made black by the squid’s ink.

In Vanuatu, fish and fresh fruit are readily available. Diana and Jay dine out on seafood and pastries, French and Chinese food. Though McDonald’s hasn’t made it to Vanuatu yet, Cheerios has. Looking out over a blue lagoon on her first morning in Vanuatu, Diana eats Cheerios on the hotel’s patio. It’s a touch of normality for her amidst the exotic landscape and her still unknown future.

I can’t imagine inventing characters who don’t cook and eat and talk about their food.


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


You can find Nicki here:




Friday, April 9, 2021

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Susanne Gervay, Author of Heroes of the Secret Underground



Food is a delicious way to draw readers into the nurture, love and hospitality of relationships, culture and tradition in Heroes of the Secret Underground.

Even without context, the paragraph extracted from the Heroes of the Secret Underground reveals how the abundance of food equates to love and protection. This is the early part of the book:


There’s too much food like always. Cabbage and dumplings. Cabbage in sweet and sour vinegar. Cabbage and mince-meat pancakes. Hungarians love their cabbage. Poppy-seed rolls, sour cherries in sweet juice, melt-in-your-mouth angel wing biscuits, strudel with the flakiest pastry, and Louie’s favourite, kuglof, which looks like a rocky mountain with drippy chocolate, twirled between twists of dry-sweet vanilla cake.


Revelations of food entice readers to join the family table in the summer of the International Year of Peace, Sydney, 2000.

The main characters, Louie and her brothers live in the Majestic Hotel run by their Hungarian grandparents where food and hospitality are in abundance. However there are dark secrets hidden from them by their grandparents. Louie and her brothers climb higher and higher to the top of the Majestic Hotel in search of answers. It is there, that they time slip into the winter of the Nazi occupation in Budapest, 1944, where they meet their grandparents as children. Together in a thrilling race for survival, they uncover the secrets of the past to bring justice to the present and future.

In the winter of 1944, Budapest, starvation haunts the city. Thousands of people hide from capture by the Nazis and the fascist Arrow Cross in The Glass House. Food takes on a powerful new meaning here:  


Louie’s quiet as they enter the inner courtyard.  Girls are chattering, ladling out cabbage soup without any meat. Endless queues wait for them. Girls are washing dishes and boys are preparing more food. Hundreds of people pile into the brick and glass courtyard. There are hundreds more waiting inside for their turn at the thin cabbage soup. Bert’s stomach rumbles. He remembers the salami. He’s hungry and reaches into his pocket, then he sees a boy and girl waiting for cabbage soup. Their eyes are hollow and faces so thin. Bert looks at the salami for  a long time. Then he gives it to them.

‘I love you, Bert,’ Louie whispers. ‘You lighten the burdens of others.’

He pulls a face. ‘Right, Louie. It’s just salami.’


Food tranforms into courage as Bert is faced with the choice. Keep the salami for his family or give to another. When he sees the desperate children lining up for thin cabbage soup in The Glass House, he gives the precious salami to a starving girl and boy. Food has made Bert a hero to me.

By the end of the novel, the secrets of the past are unlocked. Louie and her brothers return to The Majestic. Order is reimposed, but there is change as the young people have fought evil to become heroes of justice. The community is invited to join the family with a feast of food:  


Rugs and umbrellas are dotted over the grass. Grandma, with the help of the chef and housekeeper, has prepared a table overflowing with cabbage rolls, bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, dill pickles, chocolate walnut pancakes, poppy seed cake, strudel,  and kuglof, that looks like a rocky mountain with drippy chocolate, twirled between twists of dry-sweet vanilla cake. Everything’s ready.


Enjoy the Hungarian food and how food integrates with the great journey of life.


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



You can find Susanne here:

SGervay.com

Twitter @SGervay

Facebook Fan Page

Books on Amazon



Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominee, you'll find Susanne in Istanbul speaking to 1000s of kids about NO bullying; advocating for the United Nations Vision2020 in a campaign for sight, recording The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses for Vision Australia; in remote indigenous schools bringing literacy to kids from pre-schoolers to young adults. Susanne Gervay’s loved books include her anti-bullying I Am Jack books; YA books Butterflies (disability), Shadows of Olive Trees (feminism); picture books Elephants Have Wings (Harmony Day), The Boy in the Big Blue Glasses (Vision2020) and Heroes of the Secret Underground empowering kids to become warriors of change.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Andrew Geyer, Author of Siren Songs from the Heart of Austin


The twenty-two first person narratives in Siren Songs from the Heart of Austin connect through common settings, recurring characters, continuing themes, shared imagery, and intertwined plots.  Aqua Vitae Café, in turn-of-the-millennium Austin, Texas, is the central connection for this short-story cycle; but the settings range from Austin to New Mexico to Guatemala and Honduras.  

One of the main elements that links the characters who inhabit the cycle is food.  All of the characters either work at, or patronize, the Aqua Vitae Café, for which the real-life model was Magnolia Café on South Congress (all the way down to the purple pterodactyl suspended from the main dining room ceiling).  I waited tables at Magnolia Café in the late 1990s, and I absolutely fell in love with their menu.  My personal favorites were the gingerbread blueberry pancakes and the fish tacos.  They also serve a delicious special coffee blend that you can only get on the premises.  Lots of customers come in and buy the beans in bulk to brew at home.  Harry the Hippy is one of those fictional folks in the book.  Interestingly, Harry (who lives down in the funky heart of South Austin not far from the Aqua Vitae Café) is also quite the cook himself.  Two of his best dishes are bean and potato tacos with homegrown garlic and onions and fiery red chilipitins stir-fried in, and tacos de sesos (a specialty of Colima province in Mexico).  In many ways, the element of food interconnects with the struggle of all the characters to find and share love.

Magical realism also adds its rainbow colors to the recipe in Siren Songs.  In the six main narrative threads, a young Latina hunts her mother’s killer while her grandfather tries to win the love of the murderer’s grandmother in a case of love at first sight delayed for decades.  A young mother named Annie deals with autism, and the difficulties of the food and beverage business, and finds love along the way.  Dr. Joseph Jasmine, a down-on-his-luck young professor, moonlights as a waiter and tries to hold his marriage together.  All of the stories in the collection follow the lives of people who achieve, amid their daily struggles, the miracles of ordinary love—yes, through the struggles, always the little offices of love—while the Prophet Mudcat sings his siren songs, trying to usher in the Age of Aquarius by returning humankind to the water…


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



You can find Andrew here:

AndrewGeyer.org

Books on Amazon