Book Bites is Cooking the Books more easygoing cousin. Authors talk about their book and share a recipe, all in one tasty bite.
A.M. Dellamonica‘s The Heroine Question numbers among my favorite reads on the web right now. Moreover, A.M Is a delight to visit with, despite living far too far away (and farther still sometimes when she gets kidnapped to Stormwrack, the setting of two novels, Child of a Hidden Sea and Daughter of No Nation.)
Today, A.M. Dellamonica joins Book Bites with a particular delicacy or two…
What? You’re saying no to my pickled moths?
“Stop having tea and conversation!” I remember thinking this at some point in the middle of my first novel, INDIGO SPRINGS, as the main characters were trying to puzzle out the nature of the toxic wellspring of magic they’d found in the basement. What better way to deal with a burgeoning eco-mystical crisis than to brew up a pot of tea and break out the cookies, am I right? But how many tea scenes can one book sustain?
Fast forward to the present, where I’m writing novels that take two San Francisco scientists to a world called Stormwrack, where there are hundreds of island nations, each with their own microclimate, magic system and food culture. There are no big continents; Stormwrack is a seafaring society, whose world capital is a city composed of ships.
Transporting fresh food from place to place and ensuring that sailors can eat is an ongoing societal challenge.
Food is always crucial when you’re on the move. Can you get something you consider edible? Even if it’s something you like, what are the chances it’ll make you sick? Is there any meal out there with enough of a comfort factor to offset hard beds, weird weather, culture shock and the other stresses of being away from home? Sophie and Bram, the U.S. visitors, are constantly running up against food concerns. The first place Sophie ends up, in CHILD OF A HIDDEN SEA, is a scrap of an island so poverty-stricken that one of their staples in times of want is pickled moths. Caviar they are not. Later, when one of their party dies on the Isle of Erinth, she and Bram discover the Erinthian custom of serving mourning fare: pallid, cool, colorless foods intended to help the bereaved avoid too much sensation. There’s a cultural expectation that you’ll want this stuff; ask for some salt and they might assume you don’t care at all about the deceased. What are you, heartless?
In the shiny new sequel, A DAUGHTER OF NO NATION, Sophie goes on what is essentially a hunger strike.
She’s bound somewhere with one of the other characters, see, separated from both of her siblings and the friends she’s made aboard the sailing vessel Nightjar. All’s well until she learns her destination is an island where all the food is produced in a way she finds reprehensible. Not being a people pleaser, she flat-out refuses to eat, giving away her first meal to a homeless woman. This has the fabulous effect of offending just about everyone in two distinct ways. Refusing the gift of food is a dicey proposition in almost every human culture, after all. As a bonus, her hosts don’t much care to have their attention drawn to the fact that there are homeless people mooching after coins in their public parks.
As tensions rise, Sophie has to scrape by on an assortment of protein bars she brought from home and whatever fruit can be picked off volunteer trees. Meanwhile, her mightily pissed off hosts work on getting her some imported food from the embassy of another nation.
But eventually that visit winds to an end. She gets back to the sailing vessel Nightjar, where the coffee is imported from Earth and the ship’s cook comes from a nation where ginger and peppers are culinary keystones. For Cook, every meal’s proper end is a bread course of savory scones with spices like mustard or turmeric. As for what comes before… well, at sea, you eat a lot of fish, and this recipe for plantains is a rich side dish that goes nicely with any white fish: sole, cod, or tilapia. Enjoy!
Plantains with green chiles and coconut milk
1. Chop up a jalapeno pepper, removing the seeds if you want no heat or leaving in a few/more/all of them, as you please, for spice.
2. Fry the pepper in light oil with chopped ginger and garlic.
3. Add a tablespoon of curry powder and a teaspoon of sugar, stirring until well mixed, and then add two chopped plaintains, cut into 1/4 inch slices.
4. Fry the plantains until golden on both sides.
5. Add a cup of coconut milk (light’s okay) and a quarter cup of lime juice.
6. Cover, and simmer until plantains are done–supposedly 20 minutes, but I found this variable depending on the thickness of the slices and the freshness of the plantain. If you go for thinner slices, they come out a bit more like chips.
7. Grate a little lime zest atop and serve over a bed of salad leaves.
This is a heavy dish. A little goes a long way. As it cools the coconut milk separates, leaving somewhat oily leftovers, so it doesn’t make for great reheats. Make small batches, serve fresh and hot, and if you have less of a sweet tooth, the sugar is entirely optional.
A. M. Dellamonica‘s first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her most fourth, A Daughter of No Nation, is the sequel of Lambda Award finalist Child of a Hidden Sea. She is the author of over thirty-five short stories in a variety of genres; these can be found on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed and in numerous print magazines and anthologies, most recently the barely-legal James Bond anthology License Expired.
Dellamonica recently moved to Toronto, Canada, after 22 years in Vancouver. In addition to writing, she studies yoga and takes thousands of digital photographs. She is a graduate of Clarion West and teaches writing in person at the University of Toronto and online through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Her website is at http://alyxdellamonica.com.