Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chapter 5: Revelation

Jenna went to The Perk right after class Monday and peered in the window. She didn’t see Aunt Donna so she waited outside in the April mist. The rain was very light and in the air was the fresh scent of new life brought by spring. She stood by the unused bistro tables outside the coffee shop, frequently checking across the street for signs of Donna in the Enlightened New Age Bookstore doorway. The previous owners of Enlightened sold it to Donna after she had worked there forever. They were only too happy to sell it to Donna upon retirement because they didn’t have any children and knew she shared their same affinity for books. They also knew the business would continue to run as they envisioned. In their words, “It was like keeping it in the family.”

 Soon, the Schnotz sisters emerged from the bookstore, followed by a waving Donna. “Sorry I’m late,” she said as she stepped onto the sidewalk outside the coffee shop.

“No worries,” Jenna replied and hugged Donna, “I was just enjoying the arrival of liquid spring. How is your day going?” They went inside the coffee shop and got in line for their caffeine fix.

“Today wasn’t a bad day. I would have been on time had the Schnotz sisters not showed up with a book order.” Charlene, Chenille, and Cherri Schnotz were triplets who did everything together, which many assumed was because they shared a common brain. “Everything with those three takes triple the time it should.” She chuckled, “Those girls are a real hoot with their continuous nonsensical talk. For some reason they insist on dealing with me exclusively. They say it’s because of our history from high school, but they were three grades ahead of me. I don’t think we even knew each other until well after we had all graduated.”

“I have run into them in the past, but I don’t know them very well,” Jenna admitted. “It’s truly a shame about their father.” The sisters’ father had recently died suddenly, leaving the girls his newspaper, The Chronicle, and the struggle to keep it alive in the digital age. Worse, they had not bothered to learn the newspaper business while he was alive, so they were lost when it came to the nickels and dimes of publishing a daily.

Donna agreed, “The girls are skilled at sniffing out drama and reporting it but they don’t know the first thing about running a successful business. Oh well, enough about them. How is school going?”

“I can’t wait to be finished.” They moved slowly toward the counter because of an unusually long coffee line. “June can’t come soon enough.”

“I’m sure you’re excited. Have you started looking for a job?”

“Not yet. I think it would be better to wait until graduation is closer. And truthfully, I think I would enjoy a mini-vacation before diving headlong into my career.” Jenna recalled dinner from the other night. “You might find this amusing; I used one of Grandma’s old cookbooks for help with my homework the other night.”

Donna laughed, “Good for you! Recycling works! Which one did you use?”

“It’s an old, leather bound book with ornate decorations on the cover that were obviously done by hand. It’s cool! It’s old though. In fact, I can hardly read the title on the cover because most of it has been rubbed off over the years.”

“Oh my.” Donna’s mood suddenly darkened, “What was the recipe called?”

Jenna’s eyes narrowed and she tilter her head to the side, “Athanasia, I think.” The tremor in her hands began as soon as she answered. Startled, she surveyed the coffee shop for visible danger signs, but everything seemed normal. The line in front of them moved slowly and continued to grow behind. A man reeking of old booze got in line behind Jenna. Then two more women, discussing the high price of gas, entered the shop. Despite the innocuous appearance of her surroundings, her personal alarm had triggered, putting her on high alert.

“Oh my,” Donna was visibly concerned, “I was wondering where that book had disappeared to.” She leaned in close to Jenna’s ear and whispered, “I think you may have found a spell book.”

They were next for their coffee order. Jenna gave a half-hearted laugh trying to alleviate the tension, “What are you talking about?”

Still in a muted voice, Donna said, “I looked for that book for weeks in your grandmother’s house after she died. While she was sick, she told me it needed to be protected once she passed. I thought maybe she had just gotten rid of it and forgot.”

Jenna massaged her forehead and eyebrows for a moment, then looked Donna in the eyes and asked, “Okay. So what does all that mean?”

Donna took a quick look around the shop and when she was sure no one was listening she whispered in the quietest voice she could muster, “There are witches in your...in our bloodline,” and then it was their turn to order.

After retrieving their coffee, they went to the back of The Perk for some privacy. Donna sat in an oversized chair and Jenna sat on the couch. They placed their drinks on the coffee table between them.

Once situated, Jenna asked, “Just what are you talking about?” Her voice quaked.

“Keep your voice down,” Donna cautioned. “Your great-great grandmother, Jennabel, was a witch. That is as far back as I have ever traced our bloodline.” Donna leaned forward, “The book belonged to her.”

“Why have I never heard of this?” Jenna sounded anguished as the bricks that built her reality began showing faults.

“As far as I know, Jennabel had to hide her craft and eventually flee Massachusetts to avoid persecution. She passed the secret on to her daughter, your great grandmother, because of the unique skills that need to be hidden blend with society.” Donna spoke very softly, “Your grandmother, my mother, was the last to actively acknowledge the fact that they were witches. For whatever reason, your grandmother did not tell your mother or me about the craft while we were growing up. I assumed it was because the bloodline had been diluted, diminishing our powers or something like that.”

Jenna was at a loss for words for a spell, she just sat with her eyes closed, massaging her temples. She opened her eyes but looked suddenly tired, “If Grandma didn’t tell you, then how do you know about our ancestry?”

“I know this is a lot to take in all at once,” Donna offered, sensing Jenna’s anxiety. She continued, “Diana and I found the book and some other witch paraphernalia in the attic. Your grandmother caught us examining it and scolded us. She told us to leave it alone, it was only for adults.” She chuckled, “Of course that just made us more curious and we explored more when we were teens.”

“This is too much.” Jenna’s head swam. “Okay. Suppose it is a spell book. So what is athanasia?” Donna furrowed her brow. “I’m not sure.” She pulled out her phone to do a Google search. “Ahh. It means immortality.”

“So you think I cooked up a spell for immortality the other night?” Jenna laughed nervously. The laugh belied her feeling of unease because she had never heard Donna speak like this. She looked at the ceiling and rubbed her chin for a moment, “Come to think of it, both Randy and I felt a jolt of energy a few minutes after we finished the dinner. It was an unusual. A feeling of contentment that neither of us could explain.” She raised her eyebrows and thought some more, then hypothesized, “Maybe it could have been a spell, I guess.”

“Exactly!” Donna was very solemn, “This is serious. There are forces you know nothing about at work here. Using the spell book can only lead to bad fortune, which is the main reason your great-great grandmother had to flee and the family had to quit the craft.”

Jenna was shaken at the revelation. She wanted to go home to digest the information that changed the foundation of who she was. She finished her coffee and stood up, “I had better get home. Randy will be there soon.”

“Of course dear. Be very careful with the book.” They hugged and Jenna turned to leave. “I’ll check on you tomorrow,” Donna called to Jenna, who replied with a wave of her hand without looking back. “Dear Jenna, what have you gotten yourself into?” Donna asked herself under her breath.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chapter 4: The Marketer

Scott Kennison sat in his drab office at his desk, which was overflowing with work he didn’t care about. The phone buzzed with an interoffice call from his boss, Kelly Elias, which he ignored. Once the buzzing ceased, he picked up the receiver and dialed the hotel in Seattle where he would be staying for the next few days to verify they had received his FedEx shipment of marketing materials.

“Mr. Kennison, from San Francisco?” the registration clerk asked.

“Yeah,” Scott replied, like a ton of Kennisons FedExed marketing materials to you yesterday, he thought.

“Yes sir, I'm looking at the box right now.”

“Fantastic,” he offered sarcastically, and then hung up the receiver while the clerk was in mid-sentence. The interoffice buzz from Kelly started again immediately, which he ignored once more. It was likely she just wanted to remind him how much of an idiot he was and not to spend too much company money during the cosmetics conference. Neither thought was of much consequence to him as he opened the bottom desk drawer and reached for the emergency bottle of Jack so he could have a drink before heading home for the night. Kelly was leaning on the doorframe of his office when he sat back upright.

“God you're an idiot,” she informed him. Kelly was in her forties with long brown hair and a thick build that she accentuated with clothes that were too tight, which left nothing to the imagination. Her good looks had faded to rode-hard middle age but her position of PH Cosmetics Marketing Director demanded a certain youthful look, which she painted on with multiple layers of makeup. She traded the dream of marriage long ago for a successful career, besides; she couldn’t think of any man that she could stand on a social basis for more than one night. “Why didn’t you pick up the phone when I called?”

“I didn’t hear it,” he lied.

“Seriously? I could hear the damn thing clear down in my office!”

“Oh?” he said tipping his head sideways. “What did you need?”

“Look moron, the marketing department is being scrutinized by the higher-ups. They say we’re spending too much money so I wanted to remind you to mind your spending during the conference.”

“Right.” He took a pull of the amber liquor. “Always do.” He paused then asked, “Want a drink?” and held the bottle toward her.

She ignored the offer, “Bullshit, you always do! Last time you were on the road, you pulled cash on your corporate card from a casino ATM. A casino ATM! Let’s see, I think it was $600 that time. Is that right?”

“I was entertaining clients,” he rebutted and put the bottle to his lips for another swallow. “We just happened to be at a casino.”

“You were entertaining yourself stupid. Know this: I don’t need you. I could do your job and mine, and still close more deals than you. You need to get yourself together.” She turned to leave, “And watch your spending.”

“Right, right. Got it,” he replied, but she was already down the hallway. He took one more sip before returning the bottle to the drawer. He had heard it a million times before, She doesn’t need me. She could do my job better. Who cares? he thought. Scott made sure the laptop was in his briefcase, and turned off this time, then headed for the door. I care. I need this job, he thought ruefully, eliciting a grimace of distaste.

He pulled out of the parking garage into the San Francisco grayness. He preferred gloomy weather and hoped the fabled Seattle rain lived up to its reputation. Dreary conditions helped him forget how miserable he was, it acted like white noise that countered the murky darkness surrounding his soul. The slight buzz will make the drive home more pleasant. During the drive, he pondered more about weather, particularly about how sunny days actually pissed him off. While people are doing fun things in the sun and enjoying their families, nice weather is taunts Scott. It laughs at him because of his failed marriage, scoffs about his abusive and controlling boss, and heckles him about how everyone else is generally happy. Nice weather serves to remind Scott Kennison that he is not allowed to experience joy. Sunny days suck, he thought, and then, Was that a stop sign? He checked the rear-view but couldn’t be sure. No red and blue lights, so whatever. He did his best to concentrate on the task of driving for the remainder of the trip.

In his apartment, he tossed his briefcase on the chair by the coffee table, on top of a rumpled pair of slacks and two wadded up dress shirts, which reminded him, for the third day in a row, that he needed to drop off his dry cleaning. He loosened his tie on the way to the kitchen and kicked off his shoes by his dining room set, which was a card table found at a garage sale. Once in the kitchen, he picked up a glass from the sink, smelled it, and shrugged his shoulders in acknowledgement that it passed the test. From the refrigerator, he withdrew an ice tray and wrestled it for its bounty. The klink tink of ice hitting glass was the signal that reward was close at hand. He filled the glass with the dark amber liquid to just under the brim and raised it to his lips, uttering a satisfied ahhh after a long pull.

He set the glass on the counter after another sip, and then opened the refrigerator to forage for food. In one of the drawers was an opened, half-empty package of bologna that had dried out long ago and was ready for carbon dating. The next contender was a Chinese restaurant leftover box from one of the shelves, which he opened to find what appeared to be sweet and sour pork and noted no fuzz or strange growth. A quick sniff test did not raise any red flags, so he took a fork from the sink and, after a quick exam of the utensil, dug in for his dinner.

The first Jack on the rocks went down smoothly with dinner, so Scott decided another would make a fine dessert. The thought of going to the casino crossed his mind briefly, but Kelly’s words echoed in his mind and he knew she would blow a gasket if a withdrawal appeared on his corporate card from a San Francisco gaming facility. Beshides, I gotta pack. Probably shouldn’t drive anyway ‘cuz even my thoughts are slurred, which made him laugh. He decided it would be best if he packed while he was still partially coherent, after which, it was time for a nightcap and then to pass out in the chair in front of the television while Hardcore Pawn droned.

Scott was rudely awakened by the bbbrrrriiingg of the old-style phone ringtone on his cell. It would ring, stop for a few moments, likely sending the caller to voicemail, and then the process would repeat. This pattern happened several times before he was fully aware of it. Although willing to answer the phone, primarily to silence the din, he wasn’t able to immediately because he didn’t know its location. It seemed that somehow between passed out and present, he managed to shed his pants and move to the couch, the latter suffering a fist sized puddle of drool as evidence. The rub was that the pants were now rendered invisible somehow, along with the contents of the pockets, which included his cell phone. “Shut up!” he commanded the invisible phone, the uttering of which hurt his head worse that the incessant reiteration of ringing. After an eternity of searching, he found the slacks shoved under the couch, extracted them, and then dug the phone out of the pocket to answer it.

“Christ! What?” he said to the persistent caller.

“Well good morning idiot,” Kelly sarcastically greeted from the other end. “I knew you would be passed put. Your flight is in two hours and you probably haven’t even packed yet."

“Ha! That’s where you’re wrong! I packed last night!” any victory over Kelly, no matter the size, was satisfying. “At least I’m pretty sure I remember packing.”

“Amazing confidence this morning. Get your shit together and don’t miss your flight. I’m gonna check on you in a half hour to make sure you didn’t just roll over. M’kay Pumpkin?”

“Right. Sure I won’t,” and he pressed the end button. He smacked his dry tongue against the roof of his mouth a couple of times and looked at his watch. Holy crap! Two hours? He ran to the bathroom and brushed his teeth while he ran the electric razor over his face. There was no time to shower so once finished, Scott ran to the bedroom to find something suitable to wear for the flight. Why didn't I lay this shit out last night? he thought as he played clean, dirty, or good enough with the pile of clothes on the bed. The sniff testing finally revealed a clean shirt and good enough pair of pants. He elected to buy socks when he got to Seattle and took a pair out of his packed suitcase to save time. The wake-up call to out-the-door time was 13 minutes, which he thought should be some kind of record.

Traffic wasn’t bad and Scott pulled into the parking garage ten minutes later, confident that he could still make the flight. However, there was a tradeoff because his head was still throbbing and there hadn’t been any time for coffee during the whirlwind of getting ready. He hoped there would be time for a cup before boarding, but at the very least he would be able to get one during the flight. Check in was smooth once the ticket agent was able to ascertain he was not the Scott Kennison on the no-fly list. That took some time and people in line behind him bore a hole through the back of his head with their glares, wondering what he did to take so long.

Finally, he passed through security and arrived at his gate just in time to hear the gate agent announce that people needing assistance boarding his flight are welcome to come forward. Scott looked at the boarding pass and noted he was in the third group. Not enough time for coffee. Since he was no longer rushing to make the flight and just waiting for his group, he was again acutely aware of his throbbing cranium, which felt like a series of tiny TNT explosions timed with the beat of his heart. He longed for a cup of coffee to wash down a couple Tylenol to hopefully disable the demolition crew.

The gate agent called his group forward and he followed the procession of fellow travelers onto the aircraft. He felt fortunate that he was in a window seat and there was only one other person in his row, who sat in the aisle seat. The plane taxied to the end of the runway and then opened up the engines to accelerate to climbing speed. They passed through the grey layer of cloud cover during their assent that always provided a bumpy ride, which Scott hated and gutted through by keeping his eyes tightly shut. The craft reached cruising altitude and the flight attendants started their refreshment service. Scott already had the pills out when they reached his aisle and, when asked what he would like to drink, he replied, “Jack and Coke please. Better make it two; it’s gonna be a pretty long flight.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Chapter 3: Inspiration

     The following morning, Jenna had a late class schedule. She woke still thinking about how to improve the previous night’s glaze and she decided she would thumb through some of the cookbooks in her extensive collection for inspiration. She dressed for class in a white kitchen shirt, white chef's pants, and black Crocs. While air-drying her hair, she set a stack of cookbooks on the granite bar, turned up Elvis Costello, and pulled up a barstool.

     While Elvis crooned about Allison, Jenna thumbed through some of her more contemporary books, skipping to the sauces and glazes section of each, looking mainly at the ingredients for the different recipes. She searched for divine inspiration and, as such, did not look for a specific recipe per se. Rather, she sought an idea for an additive or combination of ingredients that would bring the glaze recipe to life. Her dilemma was that none of the books provided any inkling of fresh ideas.

     She needed to leave for class and was fairly frustrated. One more, she thought. The next in the pile was a very old book she inherited from her grandmother. Jenna received all of her grandma's cookbooks because of her affinity for the culinary craft. However, Jenna did not remember seeing this particular book in the box Donna packed for her when she cleaned out her grandmother’s house. It must have been buried in the box with the rest of the cookbooks and that strange amulet, which seemed out of place when she found it. She always meant to ask Aunt Donna about the amulet but never remembered while they were talking.

     The book showed its age. Handcrafted ornate patterns decorated the edges of the dark brown leather cover. Lighter patches of tan dotted the front from years of wear and the gold lettering of the title was almost completely smudged off: Th- ----h's Co-kboo-. Inside, the pages were discolored from age and several spots from archaic kitchen spills intermingled with the ancient text. One of the first recipes in the book was Athanasia and Jenna noted it was very similar the glaze recipe she used with the pork medallions. It seemed the major difference was the addition of cumin. Perhaps this could be the answer to making the glaze pop. She decided to give it a try after school.

     After class, Jenna hurried home excited to take another stab at the apricot glazed pork medallions armed with new information. Athanasia was a sauce, so she marinated the medallions the same way as the previous night and then, once the meat was in the refrigerator, focused on the glaze. The old book was very specific about the measurement of ingredients, so she exercised dutiful precision while combining recipe items in a metal mixing bowl. Upon completing the glaze, she noted it to be extremely eye appealing because of its translucent, dark-peach color and velvety smooth texture, which had an almost glowing quality coming from within. Impressed with herself, Jenna placed the athanasia next to the meat in the refrigerator to serve time once again.

     While waiting for the marinade to do its bidding, Jenna needed to find something else to occupy her time. There were dried flower arrangements in the craft room that needed attention, but, because of her busy school schedule, she had not had time to complete. She decided to occupy her mind with them. She clicked on her iPod and Jewel asked Who Will Save Your Soul while she added lilac to the edges of the dark blue orchid-centered arrangement. She continued working on the piece and a good bit later, she finished it. Sheryl Crow was Leaving Las Vegas, as Jenna began working on another. Time slipped away from her while she toiled with the flowers and was surprised when the DJ told her it was 5:45. She quickly came to a stopping point then jumped into the shower.

     While toweling off, she heard Randy open the front door. “Hi. How was your day?” she asked when he walked into the bedroom.

     “Good. Nothing exciting to report.” He liked when nothing exciting happened because excitement was invariably code for extra work. “What's for dinner?”

     “We’re going to redo the pork medallions. I found an old cookbook that belonged to my grandmother and found a recipe in it which was similar to last night's glaze.”

     “You know there was nothing wrong with last night’s dinner right?” Randy knew trying to talk her down once she focused on something was futile, but he honestly could find any fault with the meal.

     Jenna chuckled, “You’ll see. These medallions will be infinitely better than last night’s, or my name isn’t Jenna Sims.” She was not sure if she was trying to convince Randy or herself. She moved to the kitchen to finish preparing dinner. She opened the refrigerator, pulled out the glaze, and thought it looked even better than when it was deposited in the refrigerator.

     “Cool. What should I call you then?” he joked and sat down at the dark-stained oak dining room table, ready for a second showing of the previous night’s dinner. He couldn’t help thinking how appetizing the medallions looked when Jenna put them on the table. “Is it just my imagination, or do those look like they're glowing?”

     She laughed. “I thought the same thing. I think is just because of the bright orange from the apricot preserves. Dig in.”

     He obeyed and there was not much conversation during the meal. They both ate the medallions as if they had not seen food for very long time. It was as if the athanasia put them in a trance while they ate. Randy was the first to speak after they finished, “That was one of the best, if not the best meal you have ever prepared.”

     “Well thank you sir!” She did her best version of a curtsy. “I told you there was something missing from last night's meal,” she joked. In her mind though, Jenna thought how spectacular the meal was. She could not believe that simply adding cumin put this dish over the top. It was almost magical. She looked forward to telling Aunt Donna about the book and the dish the next time they met at The Perk.

     “Okay, you are still Jenna Sims,” and then he felt it, “Whoa! What is that?” He felt a burst of energy, not nervous energy though. More like a blast youthful vigor that washed over him leaving a feeling of contentment in its wake.

     “What are you talking about?” Jenna asked. Then she felt it too, “Oh…oh my! That is amazing!”

     Curious, Randy asked, “Just what did you add to the recipe?” He was feeling good, “ Not that I’m complaining.”

     “Nothing out of the ordinary,” content Jenna replied. “Just cumin, but it was good.” The two finished the evening in an aura of indescribable contentment. Once in bed, Jenna reflected on the feeling they experienced. Where on earth did that come from, she thought, Just cumin. Hmmm...This lingering thought and feeling was followed by a thoroughly restful night of sleep.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chapter 2: Shaping the Girl

While showering, Jenna pondered possible reasons for The Dream. Maybe it is because of school, she thought. It's been a long road and I'm ready to be done. Not that she didn't enjoy culinary arts training, she thoroughly took pleasure in learning the skill of cooking at a higher level. It was more of a feeling of wanting to turn the page and start practicing her craft. Jenna had always enjoyed cooking, but was not always sure it was her calling as a career.

After high school she just stumbled along for a few years. She continued working at The Perk for some time after graduation because of the shellshock from losing her close friends and she just didn’t know what else to do. The Perk was also convenient because it was across the street from the Enlightened New Age Bookstore where Aunt Donna worked and eventually owned. Donna was happy to have Jenna nearby and, just like when she lost her mother, she was there to support Jenna through the grieving process.

When Jenna was young, Donna did her best to make sure Jenna knew who her parents were, and that they loved her. She told Jenna stories of how happy Diana and David were when they were dating and what a happy couple they made on their wedding day. She talked about how exited the two of them were when Diana found out she was pregnant, but nothing compared with the pride of the new parents when they brought their new baby, Jenna, home.

David died in an Army training accident when Jenna was only a little over a year old, which made her sad because she only knew him through Donna’s stories, but she was sure he was a good man. Diana died a year-and-a-half later, after battling cancer for six months. Many believed the cancer was borne from the broken heart of losing her soul mate. She knew her mother would have been proud to see her graduate from culinary arts school. A few nights before her mother died was the first time Jenna recalled ever having The Dream.

After The Perk, she worked at the BuildRite Home Improvement Store, which didn’t last much more than a month. Working with hardware, wood, cement, and such was dirty and most of the stuff was heavy, which she did not appreciate. The garden department was not bad though, and she was especially drawn to the wide variety of herb starts they sold because they seemed to give her a sense of peace. She also liked watching some of the ripped guys with whom she worked because the heavy lifting gave them fantastic muscle tone.

Jenna’s last job before starting cooking school was at Mike & Dave’s, a franchised family restaurant. She worked first as a server then moved into the kitchen. Three years at the restaurant culminated with experience as a kitchen manager before she quit so she could attend the culinary arts program at the Art Institute. The kitchen at Mike & Dave’s was fun except for limitations placed on food preparation. She frequently saw ways the menu items could be enhanced but the GM shot down each and every idea because “it’s not the company way.” When she submitted her two-week notice, the GM told her he was proud and wanted her back after graduation, but there was slim chance of that happening. “I want the freedom of being a chef and don’t want to manage or cook in the kitchen of a franchised restaurant,” she told him.  However, Jenna was thankful for the experience in the kitchen because it led to the discovery of her calling and subsequent enrollment in college to become a chef.

Jenna’s course of study included an element of homework that meant cooking different recipes at home. She loved tweaking the dishes by adding this or that, which resulted in an improvement the majority of the time. Randy was her guinea pig, but he felt more like the benefactor of her efforts because there were many more successes than failures. The current class had her working on sauces, the thought of which got Randy’s mouth watering.

He sat on a bar stool at the end of the dark granite breakfast bar dabbling with some work on his laptop. Although there was a report he needed to review, watching Jenna cook was far more entertaining. “What are you making?”

 “Ginger-apricot pork tenderloin medallions,” she replied while searching the cupboard for toasted sesame oil. Jenna’s kitchen was her domain and everything was organized and stored according to utility. Frequently used utensils and ingredients were stored within easy reach and those used less often were located in deeper recesses of drawers and cupboards.

“That sounds good,” Randy replied. “What are you serving with them?” He thought to himself that Jenna is an artist and pork is one of her best mediums.

“Undecided.” She answered without looking at him. When in the kitchen, she was in the zone. “Probably rice something.” Once she had retrieved all the necessary ingredients for the recipe from their assigned storage places, she lined them up in order of use on the counter, like soldiers in formation. Next, she took a metal mixing bowl from the bottom cupboard and in the same motion retrieved measuring spoons from the drawer just above. Jenna had a knack for accurately estimating measurements, but begrudgingly used measuring devices for precision in her schoolwork. In reality, she planned to dispose of all her measuring cups and spoons on graduation day and dance a happy jig over their grave.

Fascinated by the culinary opus, Randy watched while she deftly added sherry and vinegar to the mixing bowl followed by a strict half-cup of soy sauce. All of her motions were fluid and confident without a hint of hesitation. She added the remaining marinade ingredients to the metal bowl, and then carefully placed the medallions in the brew and placed them in the refrigerator to serve their four-hour sentence.

Without missing a beat, she moved to the glaze. After a quick glance at the recipe, Jenna measured two-thirds of a cup of apricot preserves and dumped it in another metal bowl. The process was repeated with spicy brown mustard, which was added to the preserves. Next, she added toasted sesame oil, a pinch of cayenne pepper, sesame seeds, and then stirred the concoction with a whisk. Watching her cook was reminiscent of a conductor leading a symphony orchestra in playing Beethoven’s Fifth.  Last, she transferred the bowl to the refrigerator to serve concurrent time next to the meat.

Later that evening, once the masterpiece was complete, the two of them dined on the fruits of her labor. Although Jenna followed the recipe from her school cookbook to the letter, she thought the glaze was not quite right, which she voiced to Randy. “What’s missing from the glaze?”

While Jenna was deep in thought about the recipe’s apparent shortcomings, Randy was a stark contrast because he was living in the moment and thoroughly enjoying the meal. As such, he hadn’t really heard let alone understood the question. “Huh?” he replied.

“Focus grasshopper. The glaze. It’s missing something,” she reiterated.

“Not from where I sit,” he replied with a full mouth. He truly thought the medallions were splendid, which was why he ate them as if he had been poisoned and consuming massive quantities of pork medallions was the only antidote.

Jenna wouldn’t concede. “They’re missing something. Maybe more cayenne...” Her way of problem solving was to push the issue to the back of her mind. From there, it tumbled around and was ground into tiny bits, then reassembled in the form of a solution eventually. More than likely the answer would appear when least expected, so they cleaned up the after dinner mess and settled down to watch TV before bed.

After shutting down for the night, she still pondered the dilemma presented by the glaze.
She climbed into bed and tried to push the thoughts to the back of her brain so a solution could develop. Even though she tried to get her mind off of the subject, her last fleeting thought before she drifted away to sleep was, maybe more cayenne...