Memorable Meals, plus #Giveaway

Breaking news: our August Thankful Thursday winner is Brian Frauenknecht! Congrats, Brian! Also, our three additional winners who will receive a copy of one of Jessie’s books are Catherine Larkland, Janet Lomba, and robeader. Jessie will be in touch with you all. Please message her your emails.

Edith/Maddie here, bringing an old series new life.

Last month on the Jungle Red Writers blog, Hallie Ephron hosted a group post called “Frogs legs, artichokes, and buffalo milk… memorables on the menu.” I’m a regular commenter over there, and the topic brought up so many food memories for me. I write foodie mysteries, and I have traveled and lived abroad quite a lot in my past.

Also, my first and third mysteries, originally written as Tace Baker, have re-released as Edith Maxwell books with fresh editing and new covers. Speaking of Murder and Murder on the Bluffs feature Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau, who is also a world traveler and, like me, loves to eat.

To celebrate, please come along with me today on a little chronological international tour of some of the best and most unusual foods I’ve eaten in my sixty-seven years. Bear in mind that my upbringing included no more exotic foods than canned and packaged Mexican foods like tamales and tacos, and the occasional can of chop suey. I don’t think an actual bulb of garlic ever crossed the threshold of my childhood home, so this history was quite the journey. Read down for a giveaway.

Note: All my early travels were, of course, recorded with a real camera and printed on paper. I basically never took pictures of food back then, so we don’t have a lot of documentation of the actual meals and foods in this post.

Mexico, Roasted Goat. The first time I left the US was on a school camping trip to Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico. I was a young sixth grader, but I had an adventurous palate. A local organization put on a goat roast for us. I still remember the flavor of that tender meat.

California, escargot. My high school French teacher, Mr. Grindell, was almost more interested in teaching us French culture than the language. Once he took French Club to a French restaurant, where yes, I ate escargot. With enough butter, anything is palatable! No wine to wash it down with in ninth grade, alas.

Brazil, everything. In 1970 I went off at a young seventeen for a year as an exchange student in southern Brazil. OMG. Churrasco. Feijoada (black bean stew heavy with pork feet and other meats). Delicate sweet desserts of coconut, egg yolk, and sugar. My first beer. My first Caipirinha (like a mojito, sort of). And excellent coffee. All of it opened my eyes to the possibilities of new foods.

Feijoada by Andre Rebeiro / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Balboa Island, mushrooms, etc. During my college years at UC Irvine, I lived at the beach in a house with three housemates (we all became vegetarians). The food discoveries (see prev note on my culinary upbringing)! Nani sauteed a pound of mushrooms slowly in a lot of butter. We joined a food coop in Laguna Beach and cooked leeks, bulgur wheat, soybeans. We made spinach souffle, miso soup, and our own tofu. My taste horizons widened further.

Mexico, fish tacos. Back to Baja in 1974, on spring break during my last year of college. We ate fish tacos decades before US restaurants were offering them on menus. My friends and I bought them from a street vendor who roasted the uber-fresh fish, added local tomatoes and cabbage and probably some kind of hot salsa, and wrapped it in flour tortillas. With a Tecate beer on the side. To die for.

Japan, everything. I taught English conversation to engineers for two years in the Tokyo area. I ate truly fresh sushi (and please, NO avocados…). Hot roasted sweet potatoes sold from a cart at night (and warm sake from a vending machine at the train station, which was next to the condom vending machine…). Teriyaki chicken and eel skewers, also street food. Shabu-shabu, a broth you swish vegetables and thinly sliced raw beef through in a pot at the table – and then drink the broth. Ryokan breakfasts of grilled fish, rice, and miso soup. Spicy kimchee and crunchy dried anchovies as drinking snacks. And so much more. I’ve used those experiences (and foods) in two published short stories: “Yatsuhashi for Lance” and “Sushi Lessons.”

Edith in 1977 near Tokyo

Southern Indiana. Then I was off to southern Indiana to grad school, where I learned to make sopapillas from a New Mexican friend, West African leaf stew from the other Edith in the linguistics doctoral program, and whole-wheat banana walnut pancakes from my friends who ran the Story General Store (pancakes now offered in Robbie Jordan’s Country Store).

I fit in a trip to Sweden and London during my grad school years, but mostly remember the pubs. A more memorable trip was visiting my Greek friend Marios in Thessaloniki, Greece. We sat outside eating exquisitely flavored fish and eggplant. We dipped bread in the sauce, talking politics all the way and sipped Metaxa late into the night. Then I spent six weeks in Salzburg, where I remember eating a stunning Hungarian goulash filled with whole black peppercorns.

Portugal, everything. After I moved to Boston, I traveled to Portugal three times to see Amalia, a Portuguese friend who is half English. We ate just-caught fish in a seaside restaurant in the south and sipped true Port wine in Oporto. At the end of a fabulous meal in Lisboa with Dao red wine, we drank little espressos and sipped bagaceiro, a liqueur made from the lees of wine. Stepping out into the sunshine after that combo was stunning.

Quebec, poutine. My sister Janet settled in the Quebec countryside with a Quebecois beekeeper in the late 1970s, and I visited as often as I could. At that time, every village had its own bakery and its own poutine (pronounced “pu-TSIN) stand. I loved (still do) the crispy fries with tender cheese curds and meat gravy served in a little open box. Jannie and Pierrot were vegetarians, so they made their own fries from home-grown potatoes and a miso gravy. Also yummy.

Poutine: (WT-shared) Jpatokal at wts wikivoyage / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Grenoble, wine and bread and cheese and…. After I moved to Boston and had my first child, my husband and I took baby Allan to live in France for a semester. We discovered the wine cask store, where you bring your own bottle to get refilled. And the superb permanent open market a block away. Breads and cheeses to die for. Peaches from Provence. Pastries, OMG…

French cheeses. Photo by Julietvbarbara via Wikidmeia Commons

Mali, Tigedigena, rose papayas. A few years later we lived in Mali for a year with our three- and five-year old sons. Most foreigners hire a local man to cook, clean, and do laundry. Doumbia was so talented in the kitchen, and often prepared Tigedigena – peanut stew – redolent with chicken and all kinds of vegetables in a thick nutty sauce, spiced by foronto, a Scotch bonnet/habanero type of pepper. We also savored small rose-fleshed papayas in season, and tiny bananas sold by a woman on the side of the road.

Visiting my grad school friend Edith Bedou on a vacation to Togo.

California, fruit and candy. I’m a California native but haven’t lived there since I went off to Japan. Taking my sons to visit my mother in Ventura during February vacation every year was always a fruit fest. Eating local oranges and strawberries when snow is still on the ground back in Massachusetts was a huge treat. And to pick up a box of my beloved Sees peanut brittle? Heavenly.

Ventura 1998 – Allan, Marilyn, John David, Edith

Burkina Faso, Thieboudienne. We also had a cook during our year in Ouagadougou seven years later. Compaore made the most fabulous Thieboudienne, a Senegalese broken-rice dish cooked with tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, carrots, and fish, either tiep or another fresh-water fish, even tilapia.

Thieboudienne (Dormeroom1 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0))

Barcelona, paella. We depressurized with a week in Barcelona and Costa Brava on our way back from Burkina in June, 1999. Our sons, then ten and twelve, hadn’t had American fast food in a year. My husband and I wanted to eat good Spanish food. So we found a small family restaurant next door to a Burger King. The boys got their fill of burgers and shakes while we ate amazing paella and drank Spanish wine. All were happy!

I haven’t lived anywhere exotic since that year. We’ve had some lovely vacation trips, though, with excellent food. When my younger son JD spent a semester in Morocco ten years ago, Hugh and I went for visit. We ate amazing fresh seafood in Essouira, a delicious ground-meat sandwich in the mysterious enormous maze that is the market in Fez, tea with JD’s host family, and a delicious tagine dinner in Rabat.

JD and tagine in Rabat

Mystery conferences have taken me plenty of delicious places. Most memorable has to be Bouchercon in New Orleans. Leslie Budewitz and I set out for beignets at Café du Monde one morning, and they were everything I wanted them to be. I also dined on a big greasy po-boy and ate all the other typical dishes.

I also traveled on vacation twice to Costa Rica and twice to Puerto Rico, the latter in early March at the last possible moment before the lockdown. Costa Rica was more about the views and being warm in January, although there was that swim-up hot-springs bar in Arenal. In Puerto Rico, I cherished watching my sons cut down a coconut at Plenitud PR, the eco-farm where my younger son JD lives and works. You can’t beat fresh coconut milk. And then JD picked and cut open a star fruit and a mango. Yummy!

Allan and JD at Penitud PR with star fruit and mango – just picked.

Is it any wonder I write two series with recipes in them?

Readers and Wickeds: What has been your most memorable meal, whether abroad or closer to home? Did you read the Lauren Rousseau mysteries first time around or are they new stories to you? I’ll send one of you an ebook of Speaking of Murder and another Murder on the Bluffs.

55 Thoughts

  1. I’m not a very adventurous eater. I’m mostly vegan, so it’s difficult to walk into a restaurant and order without asking questions first. My last most memorable meal would probably be one my sister cooked for me. It was Japanese eggplant and tofu. I don’t know how she made it, but it was delicious!

    Like

  2. Edith,

    Wow, that is certainly a global world tour of edibles. I can imagine you hosting a show on The Food Network.

    As for the Lauren Rousseau mysteries, I did not read them the first time around but I’ve bought both the Tace Baker and Edith Maxwell editions of the books. Whenever we get back to in-person book signings I’ll have plenty of stuff to bring for you to sign.

    Like

  3. I think I’d have to say haggus and blood pudding…there were a few meals in Germany that I wasn’t entirely sure what they were though! The Lauren Rousseau series is totally new to me – looking forward to reading them!

    What a world tour of food you’ve had!

    Like

  4. I’m with Jay – the Food Network could definitely learn a lot from you and you’d be a huge asset!

    I remember reading the Lauren Rousseau stories when they were initially released. Congratulations on re-releasing them. I’m looking forward to seeing her again.

    My mother was a gourmet cook. Nothing was too difficult or adventurous for her to attempt and she had few failures. I remember the police at the door in the mid-1960s when a neighbor reported we had something hanging in the kitchen window that looked suspicious. It was a store bought duck she was preparing for Peking Duck. No charges were filed! As a result of my early training, I am an adventurous eater. Alligator, bear, rattlesnake, and moose have all graced my plate at one time or another. Most memorable was curry goat on my first trip to Jamaica. It was cooked over an open fire and the best I have ever tasted.

    Like

  5. One of my first memorable meals was when an Italian neighbor taught Mom to make “real” lasagna. Being an Army brat and although never stationed overseas, we were blessed to live by just about every nationality on bases and exchanging recipe and meals with so many of them.

    Dad was stationed at Fort Ord, CA for nine years. So I very well understand being able to get all the fruit you wanted year round. It was the one thing I dearly missed when he retired moving his family back to the south.

    As an adult the most unusual thing I’ve eaten was rattlesnake which is very delicious. The most unusual food I’ve heard about in the south was possum cooked in it’s hide. A trapper friend had a standing order for as many possums as he could bring them providing that he froze them whole – hide and internal organs intact. They went to a restaurant in Shreveport, LA. He was told they roast them whole.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    Like

  6. Probably my most memorable meal was when a Chinese coworker brought me an authentic Chinese seafood dish for lunch one day. It was really good but it was the first time I’d ever had a dish with chunks of octopus tentacles in it.

    I’ve read Murder on the Bluffs but still need to go back and read the first book.

    Like

    1. I bet that was tasty! Once an Indian coworker took several of us to a family-style restaurant where she said the food tasted like home. It was tucked away in a little industrial park, and the lunch was so very delicious.All the Indian hi-tech workers ate there.

      Like

  7. That’s quite the world food tour, Edith. I haven’t been nearly as many places, but NOLA and the paella I had in San Juan, PR – where the shrimp were literally half as big as my fist – would top my list.

    Like

  8. It’s no wonder we are friends, Edith! We share a questing spirit for interesting food, among other things. Although I have not been a fraction of the places you’ve been, I have tried many new dishes whenever I have traveled, keeping an open mind.

    Cuy (guinea pig) in Peru, roast kangaroo with plum sauce in Sydney, celery root salad and pureed chestnut creme in Paris, escargot in Houston, Oysters Rockefeller in Orange County, huevos rancheros in Baja, roast moose with chocolate mousse for dessert at a friend’s, Rocky Mountain Oysters in Wyoming, bear meatballs (do not recommend), eels in hot sauce at book club, alligator tail in Florida, goat barbecue (eaten with the fingers) in Tanzania, and also in Tanzania a memorable torch-lit dinner under the stars with so many dishes I was overwhelmed.

    Lots more, but always open to additional new food experiences, for sure.

    Like

  9. I remember those beignets and that cafe au lait and our stroll through the French Quarter fondly! Like you, I love eating the specialties of the city, eating where the locals live, and writing about it later! Congrats on the re-releases — the covers are terrific.

    Like

  10. Hi Edith, I hang out with Dru Anne (yes that one). We are both foodies who enjoy exploring new restaurants here in NYC. At home I keep Kosher so finding the ingredients for some of the foods I want to duplicate can be a bit tricky.

    One of the TV chefs I watch did a recipe for “Reverse Seared Steak with Port Wine Sauce”. Go find kosher Port wine, right? I tracked it down the brand (Porto Quevedo) from Portugal with a Kosher Certification. Luckily my local wine shop knows me very well. I asked if he could get me a bottle. He called his supplier who had it and could deliver it the next day. Eddie decided that if I wanted it so would others who wouldn’t have thought to ask. He bought TWO CASES so I could buy one bottle. I have that bottle on the desk next to me as I write this. When we return from our trip out to Cape Cod I’ll pick up some strip steaks and make this dish. It’s served with Mushrooms with Arugula which looks really delish.

    As to amazing meals…. to many to think about. But we’ll never forget how we found the most amazing Chinese Restaurant on all of Mott St. in Chinatown NY. We were starved and decided the best place would be the one this large Asian family ended up in… Down in the cellar of 17 Mott St. Wo Hop’s was a madhouse… The food was to die for. When we got back to E’s school where she dormed we told everyone on the floor about it. Six months later they were noted in the NY TImes food section and it became harder to get in for a meal. LOL

    Like

  11. Oh my goodness that is a lot of different foods! I have not read those but will remedy that. One of the best things I’ve had besides poutine would be the jerk chicken from the old man on the side of the road in Jamaica. You should host a travelling eats show.

    Like

  12. Congrats on the re-releases, Edith! Your world travels and dining experiences are so cool. The most memorable meal for me is when my wife Nancy and I took a Caribbean cruise and spent a day in the Dominican Republic.We had lunch on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever laid eyes on. I had jerk chicken and plantains. When Nancy ordered fish, the person running the tiny restaurant went out the back and returned with two whole fish and asked her to pick which one she wanted. After they cooked the one she chose, they brought to her, head and all. Despite the unique presentation, the fish was fantastic. Nancy loved every bite! The plantains were amazing, too.

    Like

  13. I am highly upset that Tace BAKER is no more. 🙂

    I’m not a very adventurous eater. Especially compared to you. I did try alligator tail once at a book launch. Hated it!

    Like

    1. I’m not sure I would like alligator either, Mark. Sorry about Tace – just consider that I have moved into her body (or more importantly, her brain and her fingers), or her into mine. We exist.

      Like

  14. Wow! You are so impressive! You are a major traveler and obviously a foodie of the world! I am not too adventurous with food! I am very traditional and stick with the North American Continent more than I thought! Amazing. Heck, I learned how to eat lobster but don’t enjoy the work getting through it! And I am from New England! It is great to see so many sides of you!

    Like

  15. We have enjoyed regional dishes here in the USA, but the best exotic meals we have ever had were prepared by our Brazilian next door neighbor. She could really cook! Your Tace books are new to me. I do love to read books about food and often try the recipes. Good luck with the re-releases!

    Like

  16. Great post, Edith. I had no idea you’d lived in so many different countries and experienced such a diverse set of cultures. I’m not an adventurous eater, so my most “out there” food experience was chitlins at Bob the Chef’s in the South End of Boston. I didn’t like them and the two southern women who’d taken me there laughed and said, “didn’t you notice there aren’t any of our plates?” Still, I tried them!

    Good luck with the rereleases. I have both from the original run and think it’s great you’ve got them back under your belt. Maybe another Lauren Rousseau story will worm its way into your brain.

    Like

  17. Loved reading about your travels and the food you discovered. You certainly have lived in some interesting places. It was also fun seeing photos of a much younger you.

    Like

  18. Wow! What a fantastic bunch of adventures. I must say, I do envy you the experiences.
    I’ve only been to Canada, Vancouver Island once, many years ago. No interesting food that I recall. It was a day trip.
    The most memorable meal that comes to mind, was a gigantic fresh crab sandwich I had at a beach cafe in San Francisco. My Mother and I were stuck there when we were bumped off a plane. My Father worked for United Air Lines and we flew on standby passes. So I came to know several airports rather well. This was the early 70s. We stayed with friends and they took us to the beach. I had never seem the ocean before. Cold, rainy, gray day and I was delighted. They took us to a local Cafe, I had no clue what to order but knew I liked crab. The sandwich was at least 3 -4 inchs thick with fresh crab. Wonderful! I couldn’t begin to finish it. I’ll never forget it tho….

    Like

  19. My dad was a “try it, you’ll like it” guy so I tried most everything when I traveled. Haggis wasn’t bad but like alligator, probably wouldn’t try again. Pineapple, chicken, and macadamia nuts in Hawaii were wonderful. I had empanadas in Argentina and cactus fruit in Mexico. Liked the poutin in Quebec and loved the fresh bread with maple butter that we had outside of Quebec. The food is what I miss the most about not traveling anymore but now we have more diversified restaurants in our area. Stay safe and well.

    Like

  20. Wow, you have traveled! And you’re making my mouth water. I’ve only been barely into Mexico for an afternoon (didn’t eat, but should have) and traveled a little in Canada as a child, so no food really stands out there. We went to a place in Houston where they put on a show and it was the most expensive place at which I’ve ever eaten. We had veal and it was just fabulous. I’ve always wanted to go back there. legallyblonde1961@yahoo.com

    Like

  21. Edith, I envy you with all your traveling. I’ve done my share, but you have me by a mile (or make that many thousands of miles). I’ve had lots of memorable meals because I am an adventurous eater. I had monkey while being nuzzled by a fawn deep in the Bolivian rain forest; Japanese food with a Frenchman in La Paz, Bolivia; cuy (whole roasted guinea pig – which I love) and pig’s cajones (which was a failure), llama steak, and peccary caught by the house dog of where I was staying in northern Peru. I’ve had alligator (which I do like), octopus, rattlesnake, goat and ostrich. I used to work on the edge of Chinatown in Boston and had a Chinese coworker who would take me into the Chinatown and order off-menu. I never was sure what I was eating (once I know it was chicken feet) but it was always delicious. Oh, and I discovered I love emu burgers from Fuddruckers right here in Lancaster, PA!

    I’m waiting to discover Lauren Rousseau. Love new series even if they have been around a while.

    Like

  22. I loved reading about your travels and food adventures. I am a semi-adventurous eater…I will try a lot of things, especially if I don’t know what it is first. I’ve tried fried alligator—it was okay. I tried escargot—not a fan. My first favorite meal was jagerschnitzel in a small, neighborhood restaurant in Budingen, Germany (I was visiting my cousin who was stationed there with her husband). The second one was at a small roadside stand outside of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We had the freshest and most delicious seafood I have ever had…grilled shrimp, scallops, fish, and octopus.

    I haven’t read the Laura Rousseau books yet but plan to.

    Like

  23. I have not read your republished books but I own them. I admire your fearless eating i am not near that adventurous. I have had curried goat and haggis. The haggis was better with less organ meat taste and more oats. Hope to win.

    Like

Comments are closed.