The Holidays Are Coming: "Grandma's Cooking"

>> Saturday, October 28, 2017

If you are thinking of hosting a holiday get together shortly or if someone is trying to push you into one, just know there are ways to get out of things like that like a boss. If you want to do it, I have no idea what to tell you. But, if you don't, take some notes because Dotty is a Grand Master.

This is "Grandma's Cooking" from my anthology Legacy and you can find her as a side character in Saving Tessa.

Grandma's Cooking

"Detention? This is a culinary school!" Chef Ramon Sharif tried to hand back the file in his hands and bent it when the director refused to take it. 

 His watch said 4:30 here in Seattle, just after the last classes at the Sharif Culinary Institute, but Sharif was still on European time where it was a good deal after midnight. He had never learned to sleep on a plane. 

If only he hadn't had to come back to his office to retrieve his omelette pan. Damn it, Hans! If Hans wasn't always scratching up his favorite pans, Sharif could have left it at home. But who would have expected the director and three teaching chefs to ambush him in his own office?

"We're calling it 'special classes,'" said Chef Bray.

"We were at wits' end. We had to do something!" said Chef White.

"Can't put the other students at physical risk!" said Chef Icchan.

Sharif, head already swimming from fatigue, snapped up at that. "Physical risk? What the hell do you mean by that?"

The director shook his head. "She has already destroyed the kitchens on three floors." The school director looked distinctly sheepish.

"Destroyed? In my culinary school?" Sharif was aghast. "Throw her out!"

"Well, she is a special case, sir. She's a beginner."

"Beginner? This is a school for accomplished chefs!" 

The director coughed. "We had a special request by a Mr. Chroz to let her attend. He offered a significant incentive over and above the normal fee." 

Sharif stopped trying to shove the crumpled file into the director's hands. "A Mr. Chroz?"


"Of Chroz Industries? That Mr. Chroz?"


"Hmm." Sharif paused to smooth the file in his hands. "What was the incentive?"

"He's got us a television show to showcase our top students," said Bray.

"And the damages were paid, too," said White. 

"Oh." Sharif held the folder a little more closely. "Cable?"

"Network. Primetime," said Icchan.

"Still, detention seems ludicrous and, even if it's not, why should I be involved? I only teach the master chef class." He sighed. "I'm not even over my jet lag. Why can't one of you do it?"

"We tried to stay firm," said Bray, "but she's so…"

"It didn't take well," Icchan sighed, "not that Dotty doesn't give her all…"

"Well, with all the bounties at stake, one doesn't want to be overly harsh," the director confided. "She is quite the charming old girl."

"That's right, Sharif. No one quite has the heart for it." White said. 

"Given this difficulty, we were confident you could do it," the director said, with another polite cough. "You do pride yourself on kitchen discipline."

Sharif preened. Then sighed. He was so tired. "As you will. Best bring me some coffee and I shall deal with Ms. Miller. Where is she waiting?"

"Practice Kitchen #5," the director said, regarding Sharif with sympathy as he stumbled from the room.

"Going one on one with Dotty?" Bray shook his head. 

"He's going to need more than coffee," White agreed. 

"He'd do better with cognac, the good stuff," said Icchan.

The director sighed. "I'll fetch the bottle."

Chef Sharif was reading Ms. Miller's file as he came in. "Ms. Miller," he said without looking up. "You are sixty-two years old? While I admire your initiative, doesn't it seem late in the game…" He looked up from the file and then just stopped talking.

"But I must!" The apparition before him, tiny and willowy, clasped her hands soulfully, and rattled with dozens of chains, bangles, and earrings as she sprang from her stool. Her sundress and some sort of gauzy jacket were a brilliant mix of pinks and oranges, peeping at him from the open white tunic. Her hair, floating about her head despite the white hat, was somehow orange with pink highlights. Her impossibly large cerulean eyes brimmed with unshed tears in a face that looked half its age. When she traipsed toward him, he half expected her to drift. She couldn't be real. But the drama in her voice was very real. "I must cook or die!"

"Really, Ms. Miller, there's no need for such, er, passion." 

"Oh, call me Dotty," she said, offering him a hand emblazoned on the back with a lamb. "I just know you'll be able to help me."

Sharif steeled himself to the wistful smile. Kitchen discipline required authority to be clear from the beginning. "Now, Ms. Miller…"


"Ms. Miller, there is no reason to be so melodramatic. Cooking is not a life or death proposition."

The blue eyes were suspicious. "What do you know of my motivation to learn cooking?"

"Me? Well, nothing."

"See?" she said triumphantly. "So you'll just have to trust me."

Unsure if the dizziness were due to exhaustion or Ms. Miller, Sharif tore his eyes away from her and back to the file, and then gasped at her amazing list of catastrophes, given she'd only been there three days. "You blew a hole through the west wing wall?"

"A pressure cooker seemed a perfectly reasonable way to cook sauce," Dotty explained, the picture of contrition. "Maybe, if it hadn't been quite so full, it wouldn't have clogged the relief valve."

"You were lucky no one was hurt, Ms. Miller," he said in his most withering tones.

She hung her head, her easy tears at work again. "Yes. I'm so glad the class was empty. And it's Dotty."

"The stove was on after you left?" Sharif had to forcibly keep himself from gaping at her.

"I knew I'd forgotten something," she said, eyes wide with innocent regret. "I might also have had the heat up a trifle high. The new stove will be here on Friday."

Sharif closed his eyes, wishing he'd asked for cognac instead of coffee. "And a fire destroyed Kitchen Nine?"

"I just assumed when they said, 'Sauté' it was supposed to be flambé. Isn't everything better flambé?"

"Not my kitchen." 

"Well, yes, I can see that. Perhaps I should have used tablespoons of oil, not cups," she mused. "Or something other than ice water to put it out."

"We have fire extinguishers in every kitchen, Ms. Miller."

"Dotty. There are two in mine at home," she said brightly. "It never seems to be enough."

"I don't doubt it." Sharif continued with her file. "And what's this? The oven in Kitchen Three was been completely contaminated?"

"Who knew soufflés exploded at high temperatures?" she explained

"One of my chefs let you make a soufflé on your second day?"

Dotty placed a tiny hand, emblazoned with a tiger on its back, on his sleeve. "Well, no, but it looked so interesting, I wanted to try it," she confided. "It's so tiresome to have others about you making delightful things while you're relegated to prep work. Of course, I might not have had the right ingredients for a chocolate soufflé. I always take the recipe as a starting point."

"What? Marshmallows!?" Sharif closed the file with a snap. "You cannot," Sharif said in his sternest voice, "just strike out on your own. Cooking requires learning the basics. How could you reach an advanced age without…?"

Dotty's face was a study in crestfallen misery. "But I have to learn. When my granddaughter married my lover's son, he was left all alone. I must make something memorable for his birthday in three weeks."

"I don't think memorable is the problem… Wait, if your lover's son was married, why would he be left all alone?"

"Dylan wasn't left alone. Tessa is with him."

"Who is Tessa?

"My granddaughter, weren't you listening?"

"Your granddaughter married Dylan?"

"Why is that so surprising?" Dotty said with a flash of temper. "Are you saying my granddaughter isn't good enough for Dylan Chroz?"

"Good God, no! Why would I say that? I don't even know the man!"

"I should think not!" Dotty huffed.

"So, wait, if Dylan Chroz married your granddaughter, then his father, Hugo Chroz, is your…?"

"My lover." She didn't say, "Duh," but her expression implied it.

"Of Chroz Industries? That Hugo Chroz?" His voice squeaked. He had thought Hugo Chroz might be her son. Good thing he hadn't voiced that notion.


"The one who paid for the damages?"

"I paid for the damages. I am not a pauper. I'm an accomplished author. He arranged for the show as a favor to me." 

Sharif took a moment to try to reorient himself but she seemed to take that as disbelief. 

"I am not a kept woman. You," and Dotty managed to inject a wealth of loathing into the word, "may not believe it, but Hugo knows I love him for himself. That's why I simply must give him something special money can't buy for his birthday." 

Sharif searched himself for a bit of diplomacy. Maybe Dotty could be assuaged without his school being put into mortal danger.

"Clearly, he cares for you. I'm sure anything you cook for him would be…"

Dotty's eyes blazed and her body positively glowed with rage. "Hugo said I couldn't be trusted in a kitchen. He barred me from cooking unless I graduated from cooking school. You see why I must succeed!" 

Her anger evaporated into tears that fell without restraint yet didn't impact her beauty in any way. "Do you think he can thwart me and get away with it? Are you on his side, too?" 

Well, Sharif was, actually, but there was no way he'd say so with her crying like that. Nor could Sharif afford to infuriate her either.

"Well, you're here in detention, er, special class, to learn. What have you worked on today?"

"Pretzels!" She was all smiles again, then gestured at an array of something… that didn't look like pretzels. 

Sharif held up a blackened ball of dough and broke it open to find it gooey on the inside. "Why is it in this shape?"

"Well, wouldn't pretzels be more interesting in different knots? That's a diamond knot!"

"And this?" He held a lumpy pretzel but couldn't bring himself to taste it. 

"That's a sheepshank."

"Yes, well, why is it lumpy?" His fingers began to sting

"Pretzels are so bland. I added habaneros and pineapple!" 

Sharif dropped it and rubbed his tingling fingertips on his shirt. He picked up a large orange pretzel and tried not to image what the black bits were. "And this?"

"The Savoy? Oh, that's cheese!" she exulted and he bit. "And, of course, broccoli."

Manfully, Sharif swallowed, the desiccated broccoli scoring his throat. "When did you say Hugo's—I mean, Mr. Chroz'—birthday was, again?"


As the dessert plates were removed, Hugo Chroz sat back with a satisfied smile. Their guests looked equally sated, and praise for the food was a frequent topic. Even Dylan, who seemed to treat all food not cooked by his bride as so much dust, had noted the quality. "Dotty, my love," Hugo said, "Thank you. Dinner was amazing."


"But how did you get Chef Sharif to cater? He won't do private events. He's turned down the President."

"I can be persuasive," she said sweetly. 

"I can vouch for that. But you didn't have any luck when you tried to get him to cater the kids' wedding, you know. You were so vexed."

"Oh yes, but you know me, darling." She kissed him on the cheek and whispered, "Do you think he can thwart me and get away with it?"


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