When last we looked at spring flowers, it was a lot of whites and pinks. Then suddenly, life bursts into songs of purples, reds and pinks.
And if my allergies weren’t going nuts, I would be enjoying spring a lot more.
When last we looked at spring flowers, it was a lot of whites and pinks. Then suddenly, life bursts into songs of purples, reds and pinks.
And if my allergies weren’t going nuts, I would be enjoying spring a lot more.
I am all sorts of behind (that seems to be my refrain these days; I think I need to write a song with that as the chorus) so my intended posts about wildflowers, part 2, and about the Nonfiction Retreat will have to wait until I have time to upload photos.
But I only have time today to tell you the most important thing (heh) and that is that this fried chicken meal I got at the Atlanta Airport is the best fried chicken I’ve had in a few years! And even better, the collard greens were AMAZING! I don’t know why I’m so in love with collards greens, but I am. Hubby likes them but usually they are overcooked and mushy which prevents him from loving them. But these were firm and like they were freshly picked and cooked. He would have loved them, too, had he been at the airport with me.
If you’re ever at the Atlanta airport near Concourse B, grab a meal at Paschal’s! I don’t know where the photo on their website was taken, but where I bought my food was just a fast-food counter. And I was so happy to see that the containers were not styrofoam. 🙂
Until next week, friends, eat well!
EDITED TO ADD: my dear friend Pamela Courtney told me that, “You know the original Paschal’s was a major meeting place for the civil rights activists here in Atlanta. The brothers, they tell me, would feed them, give them info on safe places to stay, even gave bail money. You’re eating famous chicken, lady.” and now I’m even more happy that I bought my meal there!
I am SO excited…and not just because my book will be out in 4 months. I have a new lifer bird sighting. This handsome fellow showed up at our feeder and has been hanging out for several days now.
Harris’s Sparrows don’t normally occur in our range (Indiana):
so you can imagine our excitement when it showed up one day like it had always been around and owns the town.
We aren’t the only ones to be excited. After reporting to eBirds, a number of other birders trekked out to our house, with our permission, and were rewarded with a sighting of this obliging bird.
We used to be thrilled about seeing the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks show up during migration, but the Harris’s Sparrow has totally upstaged them. 🙂 Hearing and seeing warblers and vireos return have also been a treat!
Remember when I met with my wonderful editor and she had just come back from Japan armed with goodies?
Well, we have finished eating said goodies and since I had promised my dear friend Shannon that I would share my impression of these funky Japanese KitKats, here we go, from top to bottom:
Like many Japanese things, these KitKats have a delicate subtlety that makes any flavor pleasing. If you took the covers off and served them side-by-side, you’d be hard-pressed to guess which one is what flavor. But they are all very tasty and I’m so tickled my editor likes me enough to share the precious few she bought on vacation with me. Thank you, Rachael!
With apologies to Tennyson. 🙂
Daffodils and tulips are lovely, but the plants endemic to North America have their own special charms that ecologists wish more people would appreciate.
Just check out the glorious serviceberry (a.k.a. Juneberry, Saskatoon Berry) blossoms at my local library:
The flowers are not only as delicately beautiful as any cherry blossoms, but they actually produce tasty fruits for people and wildlife to enjoy!
Then there are the woodland wildflowers that are as magical as faeries: spring beauties with their delicately veined petals and leaves as slender as ballerina limbs.
Yellow trout lilies dance like adorable toddlers with stained-bibs leaves:
Dutchman’s breeches, firm and stiff, stand guard:
There are so, so many more native wildflowers yet to spring (hah) forth. I will try to share some more in a future post.
I spent last weekend in NYC, which is always an adventure. It starts out quietly enough at the Indianapolis International Airport which is a clean, mostly quiet…I want to add “well-lighted” because Hemingway, you know…place.
The first fun part of my adventure after arriving in NYC (besides navigating out of LaGuardia, which is a whole ‘nother kind of adventure that I won’t write about) involved meeting one of my debut group (Notable19s) friends, Hanna Stark, in person. I immediately bonded with her. She is such a lovely and smart person.
Also lovely and smart (and tons of fun!) is my Sterling Publishing editor whom I got to meet the next morning for brunch! She has been delightful to work with and I hope I will work with her again in the future. (Sending that wish out to the universe….!)
Then it was down to business with a Master Class with editor Tiffany Liao. If you ever attend the Kweli conference, I recommend taking the Master Class option.
After that, it was off to a fabulous dinner at Pondicheri with some writer friends!
The Kweli Conference was the main reason I went to NYC. It kicked off with a keynote from amazing author Samira Ahmed:
And ended with a wonderful speech from THE Jacqueline Woodson:
The weekend was filled with meeting up with friends, some of whom I’d only met online previously. The superlatively talented Rajani LaRocca was the one who got me to go to Kweli:
Joanna Ho Bradshaw is a Twitter friend whom I was delighted to meet at the Master Class. She is beautiful inside and out.
Carole Lindstom is a long time Facebook friend. I knew she would be wonderful but I wasn’t prepared for just how exuberant and flowing with love she would be. I hope to see her again very soon!
Before my NYC adventure was over, I had to meet up with my sci-fi besties from the Minnows Literary Group. I’ve known Janet and Belinda for 9 years now ever since we took the Gotham Writers Workshop speculative fiction class together.
And all too soon, it was over and I was on my way back home. Until next time, NYC!
On recent rounds of submissions, I received feedback from a couple of editors that they thought my writing was a bit dry, “a bit too instructional for a picture book.” Granted, some of the other feedback were quite complimentary but you can’t help but focus on the negatives sometimes.
I admit to feeling rather miffed at the thought of my writing being considered dry or prescriptive. As I licked my wounds (or the inside of a quart of tub of gelato), I pulled out an old rejection letter from a literary magazine that thought my writing was actually good.
I had also received feedback from the editor of Glimmer Train, another literary magazine, that praised my writing style. (But it was in email at an account I have since deleted so I can’t share.) Two well-known adult literary publications can’t be so wrong, could they?
And then this, while not a literary magazine, was also quite a boost to my ego:
Okay, I guess the pity party is over for now…especially since the gelato is all eaten.
If you missed part 1, just read the the previous post! 🙂
McTavish and I were having a…discussion, let’s call it…about Hawking radiation one morning. I told him he couldn’t use the energy of quantized states since that would treat black body radiation particles too much like an element, which wouldn’t corroborate with the theory that negative particles would cause the eventual collapse of a small black hole when enough of them fall into it. How this man ever got a job at UC San Diego was beyond me, and I may have insinuated as much. Things were a little tense, so I went home and baked, since baking was the one activity that relaxed me. Focusing on the details that went into each creation was as good as meditating; better, in fact, because I could eat it afterwards.
Surveying what I had in my kitchen, I decided to whip up a pomegranate meringue topped with sanding sugar and a ganache sculpture that looked like an armature of a black hole “skeleton,” if one could see a black hole, and if black holes had skeletons.
Normally, I’d slip into zen mode right away, but I was still annoyed by the squabble with my boss. While I was gathering the ingredients and separating the yolks from the whites, I ran my conversation with McT-Rex over and over in my mind, getting angrier and angrier. I whipped the meringue with such vigor that I almost made it weep, literally and figuratively. So much for thinking baking would relax me.
But, by the time I tempered the chocolate, my own temper simmered down. I drizzled the chocolaty goodness following the lines of a drawn grid that I’d placed under the silicon mat. As the chocolate started to harden, I draped the mat over the bottom of a brotform that I use for bread-making, then over a chinois sieve to achieve the conical shape that a black hole was normally depicted as. Peeling the mat off was slightly tricky, but only one of the thin “arms” snapped off.
As I stood back to admire my handiwork, I was feeling much less angry and negative. It turned out rather beautifully if I did say so myself. The meringue had browned to perfection and the chocolate form was artistic. Feynman was napping on the windowsill, but I shook him awake.
“How awesome is this?” I said, pointing to the pastry on the table. He didn’t appear particularly impressed, but what do cats know about dessert anyway?
A noise, like a cross between the sound of an old house settling and a mouse squeal, creaked behind me. I looked over my shoulder, but there was only Amaterasu smiling her angelic manga-like smile (Mike was right about her being a modern thing). Odd.
I turned back to admire my creation. “It might be the most beautiful thing I have ever created, don’t you think, Feynman?”
Maybe it was the sunlight hitting it at just the right angle, or maybe it was merely a false creation, proceeding from my frustration-oppressed brain (thank you, Macbeth), but I swore that, for a second, I saw little flashes of light around the chocolate sculpture. Feynman must have seen it too because he did an asynchronous blink and sneezed. Then, his eyelids drooped back down and he was snoring again as though nothing happened. Since I couldn’t interrogate him, I won’t know if both of us really saw the light or if I’d dreamed the whole thing.
The meringue and chocolate smells were making me drool. I could have devoured that thing in one twentieth of the time it took me to make it. But it occurred to me that I could use it as a peace offering to McTavish. My argument was right and I knew it, but it didn’t hurt to be on his good side, or at least better side. I wasn’t sure the man had a good side.
I reluctantly packaged it up inside a soft cooler, so the chocolate wouldn’t get too hot or cold, and headed back to work. Peace in the lab was just a tiny bit more important than my getting a major sugar fix.
McTavish was in his office.
“What do you want?” he said, barely looking up when I knocked.
“I, uh, am sorry we were arguing earlier, and I made a special dessert for you. I’m quite a good baker.”
“Hmph. I accept your apology”
I bit my tongue…twice…before setting the box down on his desk. He opened the lid and peered inside.
“Hmph,” he said again. Grumpy much, dude?
“Well, uh, enjoy,” I said. Not really sure what else to say, I turned to leave.
“It looks like a – ”
“A black hole, right?” I said, whipping around, my enthusiasm for my creation overcoming my aversion to conversing with the guy. “I think I’ll name it The Event Horizon! Maybe one day, I’ll open up a little café for scientists and make all these cool science-themed desserts, and – ” I stopped. McTavish was giving me a decidedly dour glare.
“I was going to say it looks like a fattening dessert, and I’m trying to watch my weight.”
“Oh.” Damn. “It’s not really fattening, sir. The meringue is only egg whites, a smidgeon of sugar, and fresh pomegranate juice, which is chock full of vitamins A and C, plus iron and antioxidants. I also used dark chocolate which has many health benefits.” The expression on his face could make a plant wither. “Just try one bite, sir; I think you’ll like it.”
Bolting out the door, I ran right into Beth and knocked papers out of her hands.
She smiled and whispered, “Did McTavish put on his extra scary mask?”
“Does he have a non-scary one?”
“I’m going to give him a draft of the grant proposal we’re working on, and then Rob and I will head out for a drink. Want to join us?”
“Why the hell not?” One of the joys of a job like this was that as long as the work got done, nobody cared if you work eight to five or one a.m. to ten a.m. I’d make up for taking the afternoon off later.
Beth met Rob and me by the main office door.
“Diane, that was one amazing looking dessert!”
“Did McTavish show it to you?”
“He was opening up the box and asked me if I had a fork in my desk, so I asked him where he got it, and he said you made it because you were sorry you were wrong about Hawking radiation.”
“That sonuva…I was just trying to be nice. I was not wrong!”
Beth put an arm around my waist. “Don’t worry about it, Diane. But, you, girl, are wasting your talents. You really should be a chef!”
It was nice to be appreciated and to have friends to get rip-roaring drunk with, even though I’m really too old to get so plastered anymore.
When news of McTavish’s disappearance became departmental gossip the next day, I was too fuzzy-headed to react or feel anything. Or maybe I would have shrugged and said “whatever” anyway, even if I hadn’t been hosting a hangover the size of the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t think anyone else showed great angst about him going missing.
McTavish vanished without a trace. The last person to see him was Doris, the department secretary, a sweet woman a year away from retirement. She had brought him a plastic fork from the main office.
“He was going to eat that gorgeous dessert that he said you made, Diane. I teased him about not sharing it, but you know him. Not even a smile.”
Odd thing was, vanished along with McTavish was the plate that I had the dessert on, and the cake box. Not that I cared about a cardboard cake box, but I rather liked the plate. It was an antique Candlewick piece I found at a yard sale. I even asked the janitorial staff, but no one ever found it.
There was a police investigation that led nowhere. While plenty of people detested McTavish, no one cared enough to kill him – this was real life, after all, not some goofy TV show – and there were no signs of a struggle in his office. The only thing extraordinary about the whole case was the incredible lack of clues as to where he may have gone or been taken – no suicide or ransom notes, nothing. It was as if he had never existed, aside from the trail of disgruntled employees and postdocs he left behind.
Poor Doris suffered extra interrogation since she was the last person to see the old goat before he disappeared, which was kind of funny since, with her patience of a saint, she would be the least likely person to knock off McT-Rex.
With my boss mysteriously gone, along with my favorite plate, it occurred to me that it might be a good time to make a career change, even though I agreed with Rob’s sign over his desk that omens were coincidences for dummies. I guess I was looking for an excuse, any excuse, to leave. I mean, on the one hand, working there would be so much better without that rat bastard. On the other hand, that bastard was the raison d’être for the lab. With him gone, there was no one there to renew the grant that supported the research, and we were going to be out of a job anyway once the current funding ran out.
I could have looked for another research scientist position or maybe even a faculty position, but riding on my pastry high, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to make a career change.
“So, you going to quit cheffing and go back to physics?” asks Mom. “More udon?”
“No and no. Just because I had a bad day yesterday,” well, okay, a bad half a year, but I wasn’t about to say so, “doesn’t mean I am calling it quits.”
I had barely entered the culinary world and I am not about to give it up just yet. I still like the idea I had told McTavish about – the science-themed café. It would combine my two loves. But for now, I’m getting some experience in running a restaurant business and some street cred, even if it was from working for Bulldog, the incompetent bozo. Just as importantly, I’ve also been building up my savings.
“You look tired. Why don’t you take a nice, long nap?” Dad suggests.
“It’s late already, Dad. I’ll go home and get some sleep so I can make a nice dessert for my boss before I go to work tomorrow.”
“That’s good you want to make peace with your boss,” says Mom. “Maybe he’ll promote you to head chef.”
“He’s already head chef, Mom. But, I’m second in command.” I don’t want to work for him forever, but I decide not to tell her about my café plan yet. She’ll have a million and one reasons why I shouldn’t do it or tell me to pray to Amaterasu again, and I don’t need that kind of so-called support right now.
I want to make a dessert that would knock Bulldog’s socks off. I want to show him that I am twice the chef he is, which is probably not the smartest thing to do. But, I’ll mask it as a peace-offering for contradicting him about onions yesterday. I thought about making something unique, but when I get to the store, I see some great-looking pomegranates on sale, which reminds me of the meringue creation I made for McT-Rex. So, I grab that, a dozen eggs, and Valrhona chocolate. A killer combination of flavors, if there ever was one.
I re-create The Event Horizon the next morning. As I melt the chocolate for the black hole armature, I think about the last time I made this dessert, about how pissed I was at McTavish, and how I’ve managed to find yet another boss from hell.
“Honestly, I don’t care if Bulldog disappeared from the face of the Earth just like McTavish,” I growl.
“Meeeerow?” Feynman lifts his head, startled by my sudden outburst.
Hand-whipping meringue not only gets the egg whites all frothy, it also gets my emotions all frothy.
“Sorry, Feynman; I’m just dying of oppression here, but you go back to your all important mid-morning nap.”
He’s asleep again before I even finish speaking. That’s the life. If I’m praying to Amaterasu, the only thing I’ll ask her for is to let me reincarnate as a pampered house pet.
“I just need to save up a bit more money as a safety net before I quit,” I explain to my uncaring, comatosed pet. I take a deep breath and continue to assemble the two parts.
Now that I’ve had lots of experience making desserts, my second attempt at this thing is even more spectacular, in my humble opinion. I’ve definitely improved my pastry skills.
I nudge Feynman awake. He opens one eye unenthusiastically.
“So, do you think that this is just as good as the first, or better?” I ask.
Feynman yawns, then smacks his mouth a couple of times before sticking a tongue out at me. Of course I don’t expect him to remember the previous time I made this since it was a few years ago. I’m sure cat memories are reserved for useful things, like when they last ate, anyway. And did I really expect him to answer?
The dumb cat suddenly pricks his ears…a second before that same odd, squealing-creaking noise I heard several years ago – in a different apartment – resounds in the room. I look over at Amaterasu instinctively, but the flash of light from the Event Horizon pulls my gaze back. It’s exactly like the sparkly fairy dust explosion from last time. And it’s gone before I can yelp.
I rub my eyes. I think I’ll ask a chemist friend if too much caffeine has been shown to cause hallucinations.
Benson and Rosalez are already at work when I arrive.
“Boss was looking for you,” says Rosalez. “I had to start prepping your vegetables.”
“Sorry, man. I’ll buy you a beer.”
Rosalez shrugs. “S’OK. You covered for me before.”
“I’ll still buy you a beer. Hey, I’ll be right back; I’ve got something for Bulldog.”
He snickers. “Don’t let him catch you calling him that to his face.”
“You sucking up to the boss, Diane?” says Benson.
“Yeah, but I’ll be sure to suck up for all of us.”
They both grin.
“You’re late,” says Bulldog when I enter his office. It isn’t so much an office as a pantry. Fusion Confusion is small and his office has to double as food storage.
“Only by 3 minutes, but I have something to make up for it. I baked you a special dessert. If you like it, I can make it again for the restaurant.”
“I’m the creative mind here, Sato. I’ll tell you when I want something made. Don’t be an upstart.”
Someone had too much Alpha-Male soup today? “Yes, sir. Of course, sir. But try it anyway. It’s a pomegranate meringue with a ganache sculpture.” I set it down in front of him.
He opens the lid and peers in. “Hmph.”
Well, that sounds familiar.
“Valrhona chocolate, sir.” I know he has a weakness for those.
“You need to get started on prep work. Rosalez has been doing your stuff.”
“I know, sir; I’ll get right on it.”
“Tell Benson to bring me a fork.”
I leave the office. “Yo, Benson. He’d like you to bring him a dessert fork.”
Benson grabs one and heads to Bulldog’s office.
“Wow, you made that thing?” he says when he comes back.
“You should be a pastry chef.”
“Oh, and boss man says to get back in there. He wants to talk to you about specialty vegetables to get for tomorrow.”
“Sheesh, does he want me to prep or chit chat about tomorrow?” I pull back my waist-length hair, which has white streaks among the black already, and snap a rubber band around it. I take my time to finish tying the apron around my waist before returning to his office. I knock…because he insists we always knock. No answer. I knock again. Still no answer.
So I let myself in…just in time to see one of Bulldog’s wide feet sticking out of the opening of the ganache black hole. Before I have a chance to blink, his foot disappeared, sucked inward, with the rest of the dessert, plate, and box, imploding on itself, all vanishing in a little singularity that ends in a wisp of something gaseous.
Of all the unlikely places to get proof, I now have evidence that small black holes do dissipate when they absorb enough negative energy. And I know that no one will ever believe me. Hell, I wouldn’t believe myself if I’d not seen it. So much for writing a paper on it that could win me a Nobel Prize.
I back out of the room.
“Benson! Rosalez!” I yell. They come running.
It takes several weeks for the police to sort through everything. They grill both Benson and me, but the three of us had each other for alibis, and there was, like with McTavish, not a sign of foul play, so, in the end, they have no one to press charges against.
Strangely enough, there are checks written out to the three of us for several months’ pay each, which they release to us once the investigation closed.
We stand outside the police station, our checks in hand.
“So, what will you do now?” I ask Benson and Rosalez.
“I dunno,” says Benson. “Go back to flipping burgers?”
I take a deep breath. “What do you think of the three of us opening a place together? I’ve been dreaming for years to open a café with science-themed desserts.”
“You do make nice desserts, Diane,” says Benson.
“Running a business is risky,” says Rosalez.
“Oh, come on,” I say. “If Bulldog could do it, we can too! We were the ones who made Fusion Confusion happen.”
They look at each other.
“Tell you what: if you don’t want to take the risk, I’ll open a place myself. But I want both of you to work for me.”
“Yeah,” says Benson after a pause. “I’ll totally work for you.”
Rosalez scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, count me in. It’s only because I believe in your skills, Diane.”
I grin and high-five them, but my mind is already wandering, trying to think of a cool name and picturing a prominent spot in the café in which to place the statue of Amaterasu.
# # #
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short story. More of my stories can be found in the Minnows Literary Group‘s anthologies where all the profits are donated to Doctors Without Borders.
I love speculative fiction. I have since as far back as I can remember. My favorite stories always involved fantastical elements, from Chinese mythology to Star Trek: The Original Series.
As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, in 2010, I decided that I should learn how to write my own spec fic. So I took a class at Gotham Writers Workshop. It was easily one of the best writing classes I’d ever taken. My instructor Michaela Roessner is as brilliant a teacher as she is a writer, and the nicest human being on top of that. I learned so much from the class that I took the SFII advance course with her. Best use of my money, I swear!
But a great teacher is only part of the experience. My classmates were also way more enthusiastic than the average student. We had regular lively online chats and everyone gave helpful feedback. One of my classmates, Russell James, asked a handful of us to join him to form a critique group. The Minnows Literary Group has been together ever since!
Being with the Minnows has pushed me to write and submit my speculative fiction stories. I’m sharing the first half of a story that won an Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future in 2015. I had an absolute blast writing this story and I hope you’ll have fun reading it, too.
Part 2 next week!
A tear slides to the tip of my nose as I lean over to scoop the minced onions off the cutting board and into a bowl. I dab the offending secretion with my left sleeve. Vidalia, my ass. If Bulldog spends as much time checking his vendors’ wares as he does getting on my case, I wouldn’t be shedding tears on the food. Or maybe he wants to make me cry. It wouldn’t be the first time. These are cooking onions if I ever chopped one, and I’ve chopped a billion.
“Sato!” Bulldog spits my last name out like it was some disgusting bit of the previous week’s trash. Now what?
Bulldog isn’t his actual name, but he has the face of an unfortunate canine that had had a close encounter with a door and is the only person I know who could do a human equivalent of a bark. Everyone else knows him as Charles Bullock, executive chef and owner of Fusion Confusion.
Yeah, I know, right? Confusion? So it rhymed, big whoop. Rhyming doesn’t make it a good restaurant name. It reminds me of the Overwaitea food distribution company. Which marketing genius said, “Since we’re delivering food to the masses, we’ll name it something that sounds like an obesity problem”?
Bullock strides toward me in his bow-legged way, jowls jiggling. “You call that mincing? Those bits could choke a horse. It has to be so finely minced that it goes down like cotton candy in the ‘Mahi-tartare On a Cloud’ appetizer.”
“Then why don’t you just use cotton candy?”
“What?” says Bulldog, narrowing his eyes.
It was a perfectly valid suggestion to me – the best fusion foods are sometimes born of the most unexpected pairings – but I wasn’t going to push it. “The onions are not Vidalia. They’re going to make people cry when they eat the tartare,” I say.
“The only reason they’ll be crying is because you don’t know how to mince.” He takes a bite out of one of the onions I hadn’t chopped yet. “See? You think I could do that if it wasn’t a Vidalia?” He chews the mouthful in a slow exaggerated motion with his face about a foot from mine.
I wait for it. Sure enough, I see tears forming in his already rheumy eyes. I hold his gaze. Chew that, sucker.
“Your incompetence brings tears to my eyes,” he says loudly for the other kitchen help to hear, as if he ever spoke in a decibel that didn’t register on the Richter Scale.
There’s no need for dramatics anyway since the “kitchen help” consists of me, Benson, and Rosalez, the go-to guy who does everything else that isn’t in my job description or Benson’s (he really should be paid more).
“Formally trained, indeed. What a joke.” He turns and stalks off to his office.
Right. Score one for me.
A win for me doesn’t actually translate into a Win for me. As long as he is the quote exec chef unquote, every win for me just makes my life more miserable. Fusion Confusion isn’t nearly grand enough of a restaurant to have an executive chef, but he calls himself what he wants since he’s the chef-owner.
He had hired me as the sous chef, which sounds great, but in reality means that, in this small eatery-that-wants-to-be-rated, I am responsible for 90% of the chef work and get none of the credit. On the bright side, I could put Sous Chef on my resume, and use my time here to hone my saucier, pastry chef, and even sommelier skills. Pastry cheffing is my favorite, though. I was born with an extra large sweet tooth, and begging the dentist to pull it out along with my wisdom teeth hadn’t worked.
I dab another tear off my face as I continue to mince, without pulverizing, the onions. Sad. That’s what my mom would say, even though I am not. “Oh, Diane, so sad that you spent all those years getting a Ph.D. and are wasting your life as a cook,” she says every time I visit my folks. She had finally pared down to repeating that once a month. Then again, that’s how much I pared down visiting them.
“Your co-workers and boss were nice, too – doing your little research together in that department. So cozy,” she says almost verbatim every time.
I don’t remind her about McTavish, or McT-Rex as the rest of the lab called him.
Then she would continue with, “Oh, but he is gone now, isn’t he? Your supervisor? Is that why you left? You don’t want to work there without him?”
As if. Work was wonderful without that nit-picking, soul-eating sonuva pretentious tyrant. Everyone’s morale improved and if I hadn’t heard the call of the wild foodie in me, I would have stayed at the research lab and had a comfy enough life. Well, I would have stayed until the grant funding ran out anyway.
“No, Mom; that’s not it. I really want to make a career change and be a chef.” That is my rote answer to her predictable badgering on those visits.
At least once a week, my mind will play back the scene when I told my parents that I wanted to become a professional chef.
My mother said, “You’re joining the CIA? I didn’t know the government hired quirky physicists.”
I corrected her. “That’s quantum physicists, Mom.”
“She was referring to your personality,” my brother, Mike, said, munching through what was probably his fifth bag of potato chips of the day.
“Like yours is so great that employers are fighting to hire you?”
“Hey! I can’t help it if there’s a surplus of engineers in this area,” he snapped.
“Who on earth has heard of quantum physics anyway?” Mom asked.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Anyone who’s ever taken a physics course has heard of quantum physics.”
“Well,” said Mom with a sniff, “at least you’re a doctor.”
“She’s not a real doctor,” said Mike, again helpfully clarifying the situation.
I ignored him, which wasn’t easy, but I’d been practicing for the past three decades. “CIA stands for Culinary Institute of America, Mom. It’s the school to attend if you want to be a chef. Having CIA credentials will get you into nice restaurants!”
“You can make a reservation and get into a nice restaurant. Why do you want to go back to school when you’ve already spent most of your life in it?”
“You’ve made onion soup!” Bulldog yells right next to my ear. Nothing snaps me out of my flashbacks like a good heart attack. Damn. I need to pay attention to the galumphing of his flat feet so he can’t surprise me. But chopping vegetables, with its rhythmic repetitiveness, tends to put me in a trance.
“Look at Benson; he’s chopping better than you and he didn’t go to no fancy cooking school.”
Benson gives me a nervous, apologetic twitch out the side of his mouth. His only experience with cooking was summers spent flipping burgers at the local fast food hell. His onion pieces are all uneven chunks that really could choke a horse.
Bulldog jabs a stubby finger at me. “You could learn a thing or two from Benson.” Then he throws his head back and laughs.
Benson and I glance at each other. I wonder if he’s thinking the same thing I am: which one of us is Bulldog making fun of?
Bulldog stops laughing as abruptly as he started. “Quit gawking. Shop opens in 10 minutes. You’ll be plating appies tonight, Sato.”
As if I’d been standing around scratching my butt. I always plate the freakin’ appies, and entrees, and pretty much everything else.
“Sorry,” says Benson after Bulldog was out of earshot.
“I dunno.” He glances down so he wouldn’t cut his finger.
“Remember, always curve the fingers of the hand holding the meat or vegetable.”
He puts down his knife. “I’m so in over my head. But the pay is better than what I could get anywhere else and I like working with food, even if I’m not very good at it.”
“You’re doing fine, kid. You’re a pretty quick learner and you’re fun to work with. He…we couldn’t ask for a better commis.”
“Thanks. I’m just sorry that he uses me to make fun of you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “If it weren’t you, it’d be someone else. Besides, he makes fun of you too.” Nobody ever said I don’t know how to cheer people up.
I knew, going in, it’d be tough trying to make it in the culinary world, especially as a woman. I suspect Bulldog was trying to perpetuate every one of the horror stories about chefs who are just starting out. And I play his willing victim well because I’ve had a lot of training living with my family.
As I knew would happen, the first customer who ordered the Mahi Tartare complained about the onions. I send Benson out in search of real Vidalias, and we, even Rosalez, frantically chop onions for what seems like the entire evening. This was on top of my having to do most of the cooking and plating. Thank goodness tomorrow is Tuesday, the one day a week Fusion Confusion is closed.
I graduated from CIA, not the top of the class, but With Honors, so I was pretty hopeful that I could get a decent job somewhere. My dream was to work in Paris, building my credentials doing anything at a Michelin starred restaurant…cleaning bathrooms or even tutoring someone in quantum physics, on the slim chance that anyone in the culinary world wanted to learn physics. Nathan Myhrvold and I might be the only physicist-chefs in the world. He’s the one who inspired me to become a chef. I sleep with my autographed copy of Modernist Cuisine, which I gave up a vacation to Cancun to buy.
What stopped me from going to Paris? Guilt. It’s the foundation of all traditional families, as well as the glue that binds them together. My friends of Jewish, Chinese, and Bengali heritage confirm this.
When I mentioned thinking about spending time in France, my Mom pulled out the guilt drawer and threw every weapon in it at me.
“I’ll be worried sick about you.” “Who will take me and your dad to the doctor if we get food poisoning?”(What? Why was Mom even thinking about getting food poisoning?) “We’re not used to you being far away.” “You’re our oldest child. The oldest child always cares for the parents.” “Who’ll look after your cat; you know Feynman will miss you. Why do you give your cats such strange names?”
Only my mother, the Queen of Non Sequiturs, could work my cat and his name into a guilt trip.
“Going to Paris to advance my cooking skills is my life’s dream!” I said.
“I thought quicky physics was your life’s dream. Maybe you should pray to Amaterasu to help you find a better dream.”
“Quantum. Quantum physics. I love quantum physics. You probably don’t know anyone who loves quantum physics more than I do, but I love being a chef even more.”
“I don’t know anyone who loves physics. Our friends’ kids have sensible careers, like lawyers and accountants and dentists. Why do you need to go all the way to France to cook? You can practice cooking right here in this kitchen.”
“Okasan,” I said. She hated it when I address her as okasan; it’s formal yet not formal enough so that she knew I was close to my breaking point. “Remember when I made pan-fried almond-encrusted perch with rémoulade and you asked me why the fish was crunchy and the mayonnaise tasted funny?”
“The mayo did taste funny.”
“That was not mayo; it was rémoulade,” I said, emphasizing each syllable through gritted teeth. “That’s why I can’t just ‘practice cooking right here’. You have no appreciation for the dishes I make. You don’t even know the difference between a sweet potato and a yam.”
“That’s not true,” said Mom.
“You do know the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?”
“No; it’s not true I don’t appreciate your cooking. I thought your meatloaf was very tasty.”
I smacked my forehead. “That’s because I made the meatloaf exactly the way you have always cooked it: with some nishiki rice, peas, and lots of ketchup. That’s not haute cuisine; that’s barely peasant food.”
Dad, who sat silently behind his newspaper during this ping-pong match between Mom and me, cleared his throat. “Your mother is just trying to say that we’re used to having you close by, and we’ll miss you very much if you went somewhere where you wouldn’t be home but once a year, honey. Why don’t you apply for a job at a nice restaurant closer to home? This is So-Cal. There must be lots of nice restaurants that celebrities go to.”
“You really should pray to Amaterasu to help you find a good job,” said Mom.
I started to roll my eyes, but caught myself. I’d gotten very good at internal eye-rolling. “Yes, because old-fashioned superstition will work every time.”
“I brought that statue all the way back from Japan for you – almost broke my back lugging it around–”
“You mean I almost broke my back, Mom,” Mike interrupted. “I carried it. And it’s some stupid modern art thing too. Probably not worth what you paid for it.”
Mom ignored him. “What would it hurt to ask for some help? You have her displayed, don’t you?”
I sighed. “Yes, Mom. You’ve seen it. It’s on the shelf in the kitchen.” I didn’t add, “with a layer of dust.”
“Good. Amaterasu will bring you luck.”
That was six months ago. I was “lucky”, if you wanted to call it that, to find Fusion Confusion the day after that guilt-trip conversation. It was just starting up and Bulldog was willing to give me the fancy title for miniscule pay, as well as for the honor of being subjected to his abuse. Otherwise, even with my CIA diploma, I wouldn’t be able to get anything better than a lowly kitchen assistant position at Melisse or Spago. Kitchen assistant? Hell, Benson gets a commis title at FC.
I do my daughterly duty and pay my monthly visit to my parents on Tuesday, hauling my tired ass on smelly public transit just to get nagged by my mother.
“I told you you wouldn’t be happy with cooking,” Mom says, setting down a bowl of udon in nasty bouillon cube broth in front of me. After last night’s onion fiasco, I am so tired, I would eat even Mom’s lame version of Japanese cooking. Why couldn’t Iron Chef Morimoto be my mother, besides the fact that he’s a man, I mean?
“I am happy cooking, Mom; I’m just not happy cooking for Bullock.”
“He’s not nice like Dr. McTavish was?”
“McTavish wasn’t nice either. You don’t remember my complaining about him?”
“You complained about him?”
“Diane said that he created unnecessary busy work for the research associates,” Dad explains. Evidently Dad eavesdrops behind the newspaper and he remembers our conversations.
“That’s not so bad,” says Mom.
“He also criticized our methodology, no matter how we approached a particular problem. Sometimes he’d choose one of the analytical methods we suggested, one that he had poo-pooed, and then acted like he’d thought of it himself.”
Dad nods sympathetically. “It’s hard to find a perfect boss.”
“Huh,” says Mom, as though this was news to her. “I guess it’s a good thing McTavish is gone, then?”
She has no idea.
To be continued. . .