Category Archives: Food
If you don’t “got chai”, I have been playing with recipes and variations for a few months and have settled on a recipe that I really enjoy. Maybe you’ll enjoy it too — you might want to start with half quantities if you’re not used to highly spiced food and drink. This version makes my tongue tingle.
A couple of notes: “copious milk” means about half milk for my wife, and about 1/4 milk to 3/4 chai for me. Your mileage may vary.
I’m told my version is a “masala chai” – a lot of people like to add ginger, so you might want to grate or crush a bit of ginger, maybe a half inch or inch of root, or add dried ginger from powder or cut some off the dried root if you have it. Don’t roast fresh ginger, just put it in the tea ball with everything else. I’d add powdered ginger straight into the boiling water, or chunks of hard dried (not candied!) ginger in with the 2nd group of spices for roasting. If you haven’t roasted spices before, you just toss them in a dry pan over medium-high heat and give them a shake every fifteen or thirty seconds until they’re giving off a yummy aroma.
I usually love ginger, but it just wasn’t agreeing with me in chai.
If you haven’t made something like this before, it is normal for it to be a bit cloudy, if you refrigerate any it will get cloudier and clarify again when you heat it, and it is normal to have a sediment of spices and tea dust in the bottom of your cup so if you’re bothered by that let it sit for a minute after pouring and stirring, and sip rather than gulp.
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[The folks supporting me over on my Patreon page saw this 3 days before it was posted here — plus they have my seriously big and frequent thankyous for their generosity. Head on over and give a self-published indie author struggling for a break — me, silly! — a little love. Thanks!]
(This post first appeared on my Patreon page on the 10th of this month — that’s right, they get to see posts THREE DAYS EARLY. When I publish an ebook, they get a FREE copy THIRTY DAYS BEFORE NON-PATRONS CAN EVEN BUY THE THING. So you should totally support my efforts by becoming a patron. You’ll even have my very sincere thankyous because times are tough, money’s tight, and my family of five enjoys pricey things like “eating” and “having a roof over our heads.”
Enough of that, here’s the actual post you’re here to read:
I seem to like writing about writing about food. Probably because I REALLY like good food. If I had gotten my head on straight earlier in life, there’s a pretty good chance I would have ended up being a chef instead of a writer. Both careers sound good to me — though I mostly lack the patience to make it through the prep drudgery of chefdom (at least in the early career stages). Maybe in an alternate world there’s an S.A. Barton restaurant. I hope it specializes in science fiction themed food.
But I’m WAAAAY off track of what I had planned to write here today. I’ll just mention that I’ve posted on food and science fiction before, in “Eat Science Fiction” and “Eat MORE Science Fiction“, and move along.
So, I’ve got this work in progress. Like about half of my stories, it started with a title that clicked with me. I’ll be sitting around tweeting, reading, or otherwise minding my own business and all of a sudden a phrase or word will flash into my head and I’ll scramble for a pen and scrap of paper thinking, “man, I have GOT to write a story with that title.”
This time, the title was “And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon”. I know, it’s just a nursery rhyme phrase. But this time it came to me while I was reading about machine learning and artificial intelligence.
So I had this little stub of an idea. A story about AI, and this title. The story gears started grinding away in the writers’ lobe of my brain. I sat down to try to puzzle out what to do with this thing. I picked up my pen and a pad. I stared at the blank paper for fifteen or twenty minutes — some of you may recognize this as the vital part of writing fiction that makes non writers say, “so are you ever going to start working, or what?”
DAMMIT I AM WORKING. JEEZ. SHH.
Finally I started to write. I started to write a menu for an appetizer course. Because the Dish and the Spoon suggest a kitchen, and we all know what comes out of kitchens. Delicious food.
And I like to write about food almost as much as I like eating it. A match made in heaven. So now I have a story about food and AI and a kitchen and does it really have to be a literal spoon and dish? Hmm…
…and it started to really come together in concept. I’d open and close the story with a menu card. Place a menu card in between each scene. For framing the story, for punctuation, to play with foreshadowing and tone-setting with my menu choices. Eating a meal and socializing go together all over the world, so I’ll write a story about relationships.
So now I’m fifteen hundred words into my story about AI and relationships and food. I have an AI relationship developing along with a human relationship to make the whole thing more, at the risk of becoming too repetitive here, relatable.
I’m in the middle of soup and salad now, and looking forward to the entree. I already know what dessert will be, and I think it will surprise and please the diners. Readers. Whichever.
Now, I’m sorry to say this one won’t be appearing in public for a little while. Once I finish it and bounce it off a couple of readers, I’m going to see if I can’t sell it, and I think it has a place in a new collection I’m working on. But don’t worry.
Anticipation and hunger are the best sauces a meal can have, they say.
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Oh, look. A tray of raw beef garnished with… a sprig of juniper for some reason? Who eats raw beef with juniper? What the hell is going on here?
Less than two years ago, laboratory-grown beef made a big splash in the news. The scientists who grew the first hamburger not carved from the flank of a steer munched on quarter-pound burgers that were also quarter-million-dollar burgers, and pronounced them, if not the most delicious ever, acceptably beefy.
The burgers, at that cost, were a curiosity at best. But the price of growing meat by the cell has been dropping steadily and sharply since then. The same quarter-pound patty now costs about ten bucks to grow. At this rate, we may see commercially viable laboratory-gown meat very soon (one expert says twenty years, this writer hopes for much sooner)—and that means you’ll be seeing it in your grocery store by-and-by.
It will be up to the consumers to decide whether or not they want to eat something grown in a lab as opposed to carved out of an animal. Many meat-eaters are skeptical of the idea, but on the other hand, there are a lot of current vegetarians and even carnivores who are skeptical about the level of cruelty involved in factory farms. Personally (I’m a meat-eater), I’ll take the laboratory. Look at it from the cow’s point of view: would you rather have a muscle biopsy so a bunch of people can eat food grown from a few of your cells, or be carved apart with knives and saws and consumed directly? I know which I’d prefer. Also, producing animal flesh in a lab involves a whole lot less water consumption than raising an animal the traditional way, it certainly means less grain going to animal feed rather than feeding hungry humans, and, of course, there’s WAY less animal poop to dispose of. That sounds like a joke, but it’s really not. Have you ever heard of a ‘livestock waste lagoon’? Yes, lagoon. As in, enormous pool of rotting poop that covers several acres, causes various contamination problems, and nobody really knows how to deal with. Yuck.
Those are all important concerns, and all good reasons to look forward to getting our meat out of the laboratory rather than off the hoof.
But, as usual, there’s more here than meets the eye. There’s the potential to do a whole lot of things with meat that are impractical, impossible, or even illegal to do with meat as we know it now.
At present, most people in the USA eat beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, and a few basic fish like tuna and salmon and whiting. Even less-popular meats like lamb can be hard to come by and pricey, because a grocery store has to buy large ‘primal cuts,’ whole portions of an animal, for sale—and that means waste for an unpopular meat: low demand and a requirement to take on a large supply if they want to offer it.
But if it’s grown in the lab, grocery stores have the opportunity to order only what they need, and to order small batches of less common meats to see if consumers are interested in trying them out. The supplier to the store isn’t slaughtering a large animal, they’re growing to order as well. And that means variety becomes easier to offer. Have you ever thought of trying game meats, like caribou or wild boar? You won’t find either in the supermarket. You can order them online—if you don’t mind paying fifty bucks or more per pound.
With a simple muscle biopsy, a meat-growing lab could produce caribou and boar just as cheaply as it produces beef. Or other meats. Have you ever thought you might like to try an elephant steak, or panda or eagle or Galapagos tortoise, if only you could do it without, you know, killing an endangered animal and breaking the law? Well, it’s probably not against the law to buy a small cell sample from the local zoo and grow elephant steaks to sell. Have you seen how many people have been protesting the slaughter of dolphins and whales in Japan lately? Would there be a need for protest if they could take cell samples, let the animals go, and eat as much cruelty-free dolphin and whale as they’d like? And speaking of aquatic creatures, how about fish without overfishing disrupting the oceans’ ecosystems? Who knows what this technology might yield as producers begin to try new things? The possibilities are endless. Here are some pie-in-the-sky imaginings that seem possible, even likely:
You’ve noticed, of course, that bigger shrimp cost more—but if you’re just growing shrimp tissue, there’s no reason you couldn’t just grow it in any size you wanted, for the same price per pound. Imagine picking up a 3-lb chub of solid shrimp, and slicing it into easy-to-sear shrimp patties for the grill. Or quarter-pound chunks in the familiar comma shape.
Family size scallops—one to a pie plate.
A ten-foot roll of bacon. Cut to the strip size you like with your kitchen shears. “The doctor said to hold it down to one strip of bacon with breakfast… mine is three feet long.”
Any meat you’d like, grown in sheets like pie dough, so you can enclose other food with it. Great for Thanksgiving—individual turkey and stuffing pockets! Make a turducken as easily as folding a pillowcase. Or think of delicious shepherd’s pie made in a ‘pie crust’ composed entirely of tender, succulent beef.
Eat quail and trout without having to pick out a million little bones.
3-D dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets for the kids. Like, one that could stand up on the plate like a regular action figure.
3-D dinosaur-shaped dinosaur nuggets for the kids—just need to find a few cells in amber, Jurassic Park style. This one might be a bit of a long shot, but it’s fun to dream, isn’t it?
And wouldn’t it be nice if the few people struck by the creepy desire to eat other humans could go ahead and do so—without murdering anyone? (I’ve already played with this concept a little in a flash story entitled All Flesh Is Grass.)
Lab-grown meat is coming. It has the potential to eliminate the enormous loads that raising animals for consumption places on the environment in terms of demands for water, land, feed, and disposal of waste. And it also has the potential to allow people to indulge in a wider range of culinary exploration than ever before—and no dead animals (or people, for the cannibals in the audience) to show for it.
In my last post, EAT SCIENCE FICTION (link opens in new tab), I discussed the role of food in fiction, especially science fiction. I focused on the social element of eating meals and the way food and smells of food can evoke memories and feelings in us and in our readers when we include food in our fiction.
There’s another important aspect of food in fiction, too. One that’s very important to the writer. Food is a good element to use to evoke and to flesh out characters and settings. Just as describing the warm kitchen-filling smell of a hot and gooey baked macaroni and cheese can evoke cozy feelings of family and friendship in your readers, it can also be the touch that nails down a character’s nurturing trait (who doesn’t feel cared for with a slab of baked macaroni and cheese set before them?) or makes the scene of a family get-together feel real.
Think about the role that food plays in real life settings. If we travel to Maine, we look for a lobster roll. In New Orleans, you have to try the jambalaya, the beignets, seek out an oyster po’boy. A trip to Chicago calls for a deep dish pizza, or at least a Chicago dog. If you traveled abroad, wouldn’t you seek out the local cuisines? Or maybe you’re someone who craves a reminder of home in a strange land, and in the middle of Beijing you’d seek out a handy McDonalds. Foods are part of places for us, and how we relate to them says something about us as people. Consider that last example, an American in Beijing. The McDonalds seeker might be prone to homesickness, might be timid in the face of the different, or might be stuck on notions of cultural superiority, thinking that an American burger must be better than whatever these different people think is good food.
Your story and dialogue (internal and external) sort out those differences in character traits. Food can be a good way to introduce or emphasize them. Same goes with settings. Maybe your story is set in Chicago. You name the city. Maybe the action touches on the Loop, Lake Michigan and Navy Pier, the river running through the middle of the city, the tall buildings, the traffic, the sprawling suburbs, the harsh consonants of the natives, the snowy winters. Great! All of that says Chicago. Fiction is about details, and the details can make the difference between a good story and a great, engaging story. If your Chesapeake Bay native bemoans the difficulty of finding fresh soft shell crab in Chicago, that can be a valuable detail that makes that character live for the reader. And if you’re writing SciFi, maybe your Earthling character misses cheesy, crusty deep dish pizza on a world full of carnivores. Maybe, like in Niven’s Ringworld books, your carnivores complain a bit about having to microwave their meat to make it blood-warm, instead of consuming it still living. Think of the way that the differences between klingons and Federation humans are outlined by a scene where the humans are offered klingon delicacies. We know they’re different—just look at those foreheads and costumes. But the food really drives the differences home, doesn’t it? As another example, I’m also reminded of William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, in which noodles eaten with chopsticks become food shorthand for ‘look at all of the Japanese and Chinese influence going on around this place, huh?’ It’s hardly the only detail that says that, but it’s a good one, and it delivers its message well when it appears. Often, it also says ‘these guys are pretty poor, they end up eating cheap noodles a lot.’ Food is a complex thing; it can deliver multiple messages simultaneously.
I’m not saying there has to be food involved in a story to define your characters and settings; good stories have been written in which food makes no appearance at all, and more of them will appear in the future. I’m just saying, food is a good tool to have in your writing toolbox.
Could the future be so cruel?
I love food, and it shows in my fiction. There aren’t many stories I write that go by without the characters having a meal. I’m working on a story now, and my characters just finished a Kazakh-inspired meal of mutton and rice with dried fruit and garlic. In Kitty Itty And The Seawall Broke, mother and son enjoy a lunch of bread with ham-seasoned foraged beans on a North Carolina coast impovershed by the effects of sea level rise. Sudden homelessness does not deter the hero of Isolation from munching down on some hot crispy cuy in an underground kitchen. Even in super-short Labor Of Love, the alcohol-addicted protagonist takes time out from his quest for drink to scarf down a couple of “Kraut and Cheezies” from a fast-food joint.
It’s not that I always write when I’m hungry — though I can just about always find room for a snack. It’s that food is often forgotten in fiction. Food, after all, is not the main part of the story. It’s not the point. It shouldn’t be center stage, except in the rarest of circumstances, as in Pig where the central situation is that the main character’s food begins talking to her, begging her piteously not to consume it — much to her dismay.
But most of the time, the food is an aside, and it’s a challenge to integrate it into a story and not have it stick out like it doesn’t belong. But, for me, writing is about life, just as eating is about life. In the real world, people socialize around food. They think about food. They worry about whether they have enough money to buy groceries that will last until next paycheck, they worry if the meat department will have the right sized rib roast for Easter dinner, they’re afraid they’ve burnt the toast, they invite colleagues to talk business over tapas, they stop for food on the way to the hospital to visit a sick relative, they ask the kids how the school week went over Saturday morning eggs and bacon.
They’ll do all of these things in the future, too. Oh, some details may change. Maybe the kids will go to school via internet instead of taking the bus. Maybe the meat will be grown in a nutrient solution rather than on the hoof. Maybe the pasta will be made in a printer instead of rolled out in a factory. Interstellar colonists may eat alien fruit, or aliens might come to nosh on us, as so many stories have suggested.
But unless something very radical indeed happens, like the whole world up and loading itself into a virtual reality, we’ll always have the social nexus and sensory joy of eating food. And maybe, if we’re all virtual beings, we’ll still choose to do it anyway, even if it’s unnecessary.
Because food is comforting. Eating is primal and elemental to us. Mealtimes, for time immemorial, have cemented families and friendships. So given how vital it has been and is to human society, I like to carry that vitality into the future as I imagine it.
Yes, this is an advertisement. Usually, I’m no fan of advertisements.
However, this one is hilarious and creative… and it made me laugh.
Laughter is precious.
Looking back on my decades of science fiction reading, I realized a terrible thing: there’s not very much bacon in the future we, as science fiction writers, collectively imagine.
A few authors have baconed the future, but not many. It’s as if there’s an assumption that lousy for you fat-laden foods like bacon will simply vanish as we gain in wisdom and/or technological prowess.
Personally, I have a feeling that before too long we will have resident medical nanobot swarms dedicated to squeegie-ing the cholesterol off the insides of our arteries and flushing out the excess fat we humans put on in the course of devouring future (potentially vat-grown and cruelty-free) bacon.
There IS a place for bacon among the stars. Stop pretending there’s not, fellow science fiction writers!