Elizabeth Bear on All Things Culinary

One of the more amusing interviews that I have done in my many years here.

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. Among her works are two White Space novels, Ancestral Nights and Machine, and two near future mysteries, her Sub-Inspector Ferron series.

Read on for all the details…

We here at Green Man remember the winter afternoon that Elizabeth carefully tended a pot of turkey stock that many hours later would become one of the most tasty turkey veggie soups ever encountered by anyone ‘ere. Later that week, I got to interview about all things culinarily that interested here ranging from her ideas picnic basket and what make a great winter hearty meal to the perfect brownie.

First, what would you put in your ideal picnic basket?

Fried chicken, watermelon, and lemonade. Or sushi and iced green tea and sake. But probably not both.

So what makes for great sushi?

The rice. Salty, sweet, savory, chewy. And of course, super-fresh vegetables and fish.

Second, one staffer says ‘Ask for her recipe for Miso Soup. She gave it to me verbally at Viable Paradise, where she made it, but I can’t remember the ingredients. It was really really good, with tofu, and I can’t seem to find the kind of seaweed she used.’

It’s not my recipe: it’s my friend Lisa’s recipe. Boil water, sprinkle in a little dashi (which is powdered bonito fish), turn off the heat, whisk in red or white miso (to taste), and add a little wakame seaweed and some diced firm tofu. Do not boil the tofu or miso. Eat!

What is for you a great winter hearty meal?

I eat the same thing year-round, with the exception of the fresh vegetables and fruit I can’t get in wintertime. Right now, I’m eating brown and wild rice pilaf with wheat berries, chicken stock, green and black olives, garlic, preserved lemons, and sun dried tomatoes. I forgot to put in the almonds, though.

As The Winter Queen, what would be on the menu for Your Banquet?

Isn’t that the cook’s department? I just approve these things.

Mrs. Ware, the Head Cook ‘ere, always asks our honoured guests what they want to eat and drink. She tries to comply even if it means getting The Fey members of our staff to lend a hand.

It should involve pomegranates, though. My favorite thing about Las Vegas was the fresh locally-grown pomegranates in winter. And marzipan. And tangerines, which are still a winter food to me, though you can get them year-round now.

Maybe a spinach salad with pears and blue cheese for a starter, and caramelized walnuts. The soup should be cream of mustard, my favorite winter soup — very simple: it’s just brown mustard, eggs, flour, butter, and milk, and I think I will make some tonight. Lobster for the fish, with lemon and drawn butter, but otherwise served very simple (I am a New England girl, after all): just boiled or flash-steamed, and not for too long, then cracked out of the shell for convenience.

Roast duck for the main course, butterflied and cooked very hot over rosemary sprigs and garlic so the fat runs down into the bottom of the broiler pan and fries the sliced potatoes you hid there. A good red wine with that: duck can stand up to it. Dessert should be a custard tart with tangerines and pomegranates, and marzipan to nibble on with the whisky and rye and tea and coffee, after.

If I were the Summer Queen, I’d call for sushi.

It’s been a very long day of copy edits and Mrs. Ware, the Head Cook here, a generally understanding person about writers (though musicians driver her nuts), says she’s happy to make you your favourite dessert. What shall she and her staff prepare? No treat is beyond her doing!

I stick with the brownies. Perfect food.

Is there a perfect brownie in your estimation? Consensus ‘ere at Green Man is a dark chocolate brownie that is moist but not too moist — no nuts or other junk, just overwhelmingly chocolatey!

I go for chewy, not too sweet. Walnuts, mint, or pecans are acceptable, though they adulterate the quality–all that other crap is not. And no frosting.

In honour of your status as Winter Queen, you drink free in the Green Man Pub. Name your poison. We have everything known to man and elf.

I’m a simple girl. Laphroiag quarter-cask, please, straight up.

What makes for the perfect chocolate experience?

I am a serious chocolate snob. Fortunately, I don’t eat much of it. But I have an absolute weakness, a jones — if you will — for candied ginger (the horribly expensive tender baby kind) enrobed in dark chocolate, and also for bittersweet truffles with an Aztec twist: I like them with a touch of red pepper and cinnamon in the ganache.

Really good hot cocoa and chocolate ice cream also make me happy, and I consider the unadulterated fudgy brownie to be one of nature’s two perfect foods. (The other is bacon.)

Have you tried any of the dark chocolates with bacon in them?

Thanks, I think I’ll pass.

We ‘ere at Green Man tried one during a chocolate sampling. Most ‘ere felt it was not terribly good as neither the chocolate or the bacon worked. Not bad, just blah.

It seemed to me like it would be gimmicky and awful.

Chocolate with salt, though? Oh. My God!

Which is more perfect food? Chocolate or peanut butter?

Dude. Peanuts are gross. (I will eat peanut butter, as long as it’s the kind with enough molasses in it that you can’t taste the damned peanuts.) But neither is the perfect food. the perfect food is bacon. Or brownies. Or pomegranates.

Coffee or tea? And what makes for a perfect cuppa?

I shall respond with a quote from Blues Traveller, because I can:

I know no matter what the waitress brings
I shall drink in and always be full
Oh I like coffee And I like tea. . . .

I like good mellow unburned drip coffee with a little cardamom in the grind, or vanilla, or just plain — black, or sometimes with a little sugar and/or. I also like cappuccino and Vietnamese coffee. I generally avoid anything from Starbucks.

As for tea, I like many kinds — green and black, mostly. Favorites include rose pouchong, bancha, jasmine green tea, green tea with mint, Stash’s Green Ginger Peach and all of their chais, and Upton Tea’s Russian Caravan and Vanilla Black teas. Also, Twining’s Earl Grey, but it has to be Twining’s. People keep trying to convert me to Harney and Sons, and I find it nasty. Also, Kusmi tea’s Prince Vladimir blend.

I usually prefer Chinese teas to Indian, because I mostly don’t adulterate my tea, but sometimes a little Darjeeling with milk and sugar is nice.

I do not recommend people try to buy me tea, because I am fussy and particular about it.

Once The Cat gets you out of bed, what is breakfast? And when you do something special for breakfast, what is it?

I’m not big on special breakfast foods. Leftovers, toast, a handful of almonds, some carrot juice, pasta, whatever’s lying around.

Speakin’ of breakfast matters, we ‘ere at Green Man are very fond of cheese, particularly well-aged Cheddars. Which cheeses make you lustful?

Really, really good sharp white Vermont cheddar is one of my favorite foods. Especially with pears or apples. Or apple pie. I also love goat cheese. But really, I love most cheeses, except brie, which tastes like diesel fuel smells, and limberger, and those flavorless American varieties like mild cheddar and Monterey jack.

So any last thoughts on food and drink? Anything our readers should really know?

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!

Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.

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