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...

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