Chef Tom – More Short Stories and Pork Chops!

Light Beneath the Door

I step up to the door of her lab. Three short knocks is what she wants to hear when dinner is ready. Nothing more, nothing less. Just like every other evening at this time.

I raise my fist to wrap on the metal three times and notice the light from inside the lab sneaking out from under the door to illuminate the toes of my shoes.  Just as I draw back my fist, I hear from behind the barrier a loud Crackle! Buzz! Pop! and watch the light on my shoes flash from yellow to blue to white and back again.

Silence.

The Lab

Please, never call through the door at me. Never ask me if I’m all right, or if everything is ok. Just the three knocks, and I’ll come out. That’s all.

So I knock. Three rapid percussive bangs, and back away to the dining room. I sit in my place and examine the settings on the table to make sure everything is in its proper place. I hear the door open.

She sits across me, just like every dinner before. Takes a second to look at everything on the table, then at me. A slight smile. With her right hand she removes the napkin to her lap.

I can see the curled ends of the hairs on her left arm where they’d be scorched. There’s a black smudge of soot on her coat over her left breast. She keeps her left hand in her lap and proceeds to saw through the meat with her right hand. She isn’t…she can’t…she does not take her knife. I notice a red blotch on her left cheek and her eyes are wetter than usual.

I made your favorite, I say.

Shortcut Through the Fields

White Gate

Meet me at the White Gate. The most dreaded words to a sixth grader. It meant you’d just been called out and were in for some violence at the hand of a bully, or some bruiser that nature allowed to develop early and therefore had something like muscles and was a good inch or two taller.  The white gate was a small fence and gate at the far end of the schoolyard that provided a short cut to some of the neighborhood where a lot of the kids lived. It’s where boys went to fight.

It also meant guaranteed humiliation in front of the class. Both from being called out, which was usually on the playground in front of everyone (at least it seemed like everyone), and again once the fisticuffs began (there were always plenty of onlookers).

No one would dare call it fisticuffs, though. That was MY word. Which was part of the problem. As a baby queer, not even close to stepping out of the closet, I was painfully shy towards girls, and had begun to look out the corner of my eye at the boys. The rough and tumble. The tanned skin tough guys who shared a language I could barely comprehend. Mostly based on competition or one-up-manship; a sensibility that was foreign to me as a young, sensitive lad, stumbling headlong into adolescence. Something inside me had begun to stir.

I was called out twice during that over-heated year at the end of elementary school, but I never showed. I was more willing to risk the ding in my reputation for being a chicken, than being pummeled by some brat. I could survive the reputation, because even at eleven, I knew I could get by on my boyish charm. For the most part, the kids liked me. I was friendly and nice – and funny.

I had attracted the attention of the prettiest girl in class, and her self-appointed boyfriend kept coming after me. Guess he was jealous, even though, unbeknownst to him, to her, and even to me, there really was zero threat.

Way High

Jasper was painfully, breath-losing high. The world had turned to terrycloth. Everything around him wore a thick coat of fuzz. Sounds were warped; muffled, like yelling from the bottom of a pool. Colors were cartoons. He had something like a thought that this trip will be remembered. He’d done a lot of acid trips, but those were babies. This was the Big Bad Mother of all trips.

Way, WAY, High

Way back in his mind, he heard someone softly speak from the farthest row away from the stage; a tinny, disembodied voice. Someone somewhere was reciting rules. Rules to live by. Rules to remember when the world has gone off its hinges. Rules to keep one grounded when the immediate atmosphere had obviously come from another dimension.

Behind his little farm up near Ferndale, Jasper discovered something in the dense redwoods. He’d been tripping through the immensity, as he’d done many times, bathing in the primordial ooze of giant trees, oversized ferns, and the no-one-has-ever-set-foot-here-ness of it all. He’d spied a small shiny-yellow ball at the foot of one of the bigger trees, barely visible beneath a thorny tangle of briar. As he got closer, he thought, disappointedly, someone had been here after all – some kid had lost a toy.

The shiny-yellow ball was not a toy, nor was it made of plastic. It was a mushroom, with roots that went into the loam a good six inches. It was one of about a dozen or so in a great fairy ring that circled under the canopy of towering green.

He dared not eat the mushroom. As an amateur mycologist, he knew the local shrooms well, but he’d never seen these before. About three months ago, he decided to grind them all into a mulch which he scattered beneath his test group of ganja. When he walked into his greenhouse a few weeks later, he was astonished to see that the leaves on most of the plants had grown to nearly two feet in length.

He snipped off one leaf, dried it in his dehydrator overnight, crumbled it into a bowl, and rolled a big doob. What harm could one toke do?

Now he was flying – way, way, way above the stratosphere, over a fuzzed out world where colors were alive and breathing. He’d been in orbit for three days and nights.

The rulebook voice said something about eating and drinking.

Jasper wasn’t sure what that meant.

===========

Pork Chops

Roasted Pork Chops with Apples and Onions
Serves 3-6

Ingredients:

6 boneless pork chops (4-ounce)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1 large onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges

3 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges

¼-pound sliced bacon, cut into bite size pieces

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425°. Brine the pork chops for one hour.

Pound the chops lightly with a meat mallet. Sprinkle the chops with half of salt and half of black pepper.

In a large cast iron pan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. Add the pork to pan and cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the pork from the pan.

In the pan add the remaining olive oil, apple and onion wedges and bacon. Sprinkle with thyme and remaining salt and black pepper and toss to coat. Put in the oven and bake for 25 minutes then arrange the pork chops over apples and onion and bake for 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper and serve with your favorite salad.

=CTH=

Chef Tom is currently transitioning from Personal Chef to Private Chef. He also teaches cooking classes, caters small parties and leads overseas culinary tours. His specialty for the last twelve years has been cooking for people with food allergies and sensitivities. His motto is “Food should give you pleasure, not pressure.”

Check him out at www.hippkitchen.com

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