Chef Tom – Amira Part 2 and Roast Fish

I am nearly done with my advanced Short Story Fiction class. Been working on this story for a few weeks now. So much fun. Here is the second half.

The exercise was to choose two photos from a number of cutouts from old National Geographic magazine – one person and one place. This photo was my “who” and the place ended up being Tel Aviv. Enjoy.

Amira

Amira, Part 2

While she slept in my bed upstairs, I prayed. I reverently placed my prayer rug into its drawer, slid back the door to the balcony, and stepped into the cool morning air. The view of the Mediterranean was spectacular. The pink morning sky announced the new dawn over Tel Aviv. Looking out over the sea, I remembered early morning walks to the shore in Jabaliya with my grandmother to watch the sunrise. It was our time together. Jida would hold my hand and tell me stories of growing up in Beit Hanoun.

It was early evening when it happened. She would have been preparing coffee for my parents and my grandfather (her Prince she called him). My brother and sister would have been clearing the table after supper – when the Israeli bombs hit. Our apartment building collapsed. The entire structure flattened and killed thirteen people. Six of them my family.

I walked to the bookcase next to the prayer chest and bowed three times to the carved head of Buddha, a parting gift to me from my Krav Maga master. In sha’Allah, a Muslim can love the Buddha. People care about form, God does not.

“Habibi!” Tamar called from above. These past few weeks before the show, she’s spent every night in my apartment.

“Yes, my darling?” I called back.

“Please tell me you are making coffee.”

“Of course!”

With both hands I embraced the face of the Buddha. Gently turning the statuette a quarter turn counterclockwise, I heard the satisfying click from behind the shelves. The case soundlessly pulled out to reveal the door to my kill room. The retinal scan-lock took two seconds and the latch popped open. Stepping inside, I felt the familiar shiver shoot through me; an electric thrill I began to crave more and more once the kill missions began.

I had installed a set of small black-lacquered shelves on one wall. The top shelf is tightly filled with exactly one hundred spent .338 Lapua Magnum bronze casings. The second shelf is nearly half full. The third shelf has yet to be filled.

A single casing lay at the bottom of the right pocket of my robe. I fished it out and said the number silently to myself as I put the empty shell into its correct position on the second shelf. Sixty-seven.

My Ones.

Each casing on the first shelf represents an exact bullseye. They earn their position on the first shelf when their bullet finds its way into the direct center of a range target. Not a partial bullseye, but a precise bullseye. No ragged edges. It does not earn a place unless I make the shot in one try. On the second shelf are also Ones. Each deserves its place on the second shelf if my human target never gets up again. Single shot kills. Zero ragged edges.

I have been called an artist by my peers. The rack on the opposite wall holds my medium, the Arctic Warfare Magnum, the Israeli army’s sniper rifle of choice. I ran my fingers down the length of the scope and the barrel, then closed the kill room door, pushed back the bookcase, reset the Buddha, and walked into the kitchen to make coffee.

A wolf-whistle from the audience pierces through the loud applause. I am halfway down the runway. Peering towards the VIP table, I see Tamar’s mother sitting upright in her chair, her radiant smile a reminder that Tamar is her daughter. Their likeness stops me cold. Ayelet looks at me smiling, but she notices my stare and turns away. My body slowly revolves  through a full spin to show off the splendor of my caftan, but I cannot feel it. My mind is with Tamar. My heart aches. I spin again, as if I might spin forever. This morning would likely be our last together.

I began the ritual I’ve performed a thousand times since I was a girl. Moving smoothly through the kitchen, I took down two cobalt porcelain demitasses with gold-leafed olive blossoms and an ornate silver tray from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, the one thing I have left to remind me of my grandmother.

Jida taught me how to make coffee the correct way; to place each cup with the design facing outwards towards whoever’s being served, so they can appreciate its beauty. To give the best coffee from the top of the pot, I poured a bit into each cup, back and forth, until they were nearly full, then uniformly stacked sweet dates into a small blue-glass bowl and placed them on the tray at the midpoint between the cups. Always serve something sweet with coffee, Jida would say.

I removed the shears from the knife block, clipped a scarlet rosebud from the vase in the window, and positioned the flower into a silver filigreed bud vase equidistant to the coffee and the fruit. As I moved to the suspended staircase leading up to the bedroom, I passed the dining table and my phone buzzed. The Count appeared in white letters on the screen. I sat the tray down, swiped to answer, and ascended the staircase.

“Amira, we need to meet immediately. This is important.“

I was just made coffee for me and Tamar, who was upstairs in my bed, so I said, “I’m just up. I need two hours.”

“Make it one. I’ll see you at the café at 8:30.”

I take my time making my way down the carpet, smiling at the adulating executives before noticing a large Japanese man half smiling up at me while chewing his food. Bald, fat, his gut hangs over his belt. He barely fits in his chair. He looks like a Buddha sitting there in a tie and suit, his wide face reminiscent of my Krav Maga master. I hear his voice repeating his central precept as he taught me one of the deadliest hand-to-hand fighting arts on the planet: “Buddha says to avoid killing or harming any living thing.” Then he’d show me how to execute someone with one blow.

To reconcile this double standard I had made a promise to myself: each kill would be an act of service, as well as retribution for my family. Many good lives have been saved because I ended bad ones. Every kill has been clean and precise, and because no target ever suffered, compassionate. Like flipping a light switch. One moment the light is on, then click, the next moment it’s off. Easy, exact, final. On. Off.

Moving past the suit-and-tie Buddha, I realize how close I have come to the end of the runway. Tamar’s mother is looking directly at me. As I approach their table my stomach lurches. Her face, her brow, the slight tilt of her head – in the dim light of the ballroom, the spotlight in my face, I see my Tamar in twenty years.

I cannot do this. I’ll lose her. But if I don’t, I’m dead. I owe Martin my life anyway, but he will take me out himself. Ayelet takes her husband’s hand and smiles. Tamar told me before the show she is ready to finally introduce me to her family.

Tamar. My love. What do I do?

This morning I laid the coffee tray carefully on the table next to our bed. I slipped under the sheet, feeling the heat of Tamar’s skin next to mine. She had fallen back asleep.

“Time to wake up, habibi. It is nearly eight. Wake, my darling. I have made coffee.” She moaned, turning towards me and moved more deeply into our embrace. I brushed a loose wave of deep-black hair away from her eyes. Sometimes chaos can be beautiful.

She reached past me and removed one of the cups, took a sip, and smiled. With her other hand, she pressed my palm against her face. “I feel so nervous. This show is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. And my parents will be there.”

“You don’t need to be, my love. You’ve been working very hard for just this moment.”

“Thank you for saying that. How did you get to be so strong?” She leaned in to kiss me and I slid my hand beneath her nightgown until it rested on her breast. She turned in towards me and we pressed into each other, deeply kissing, melding ourselves together, as if we could never get close enough.

My body flushes with guilt and dread for what I am about to do. Tamar’s final kiss now feels more like an accusation. Mine, a betrayal.

“Over here!” shouts one of the paparazzi. I turn to pose and present my dress. Closing in on the VIP table, John Lennon sings Nothing is Real. Security is stationed on all sides. As I advance, the two guards in front of the parents sit up like large dogs on point. This is my only chance. Martin is watching. Tamar is watching. The PSS have eyes in the room. If I do not do this, the police will find me dead, The Count’s fancy gold cravat wound tightly around my neck.

I stop at the end of the ramp and force a wide smile for the prime minister and his charming wife, then whirl in place, carefully removing the lethal earring. As I turn, I peer back to the curtains, hoping to see Tamar one last time, though she seems miles away. She’s not there. I can do this.

I make a motion for Ayelet to ‘catch’ as I gently toss the earring high into the air over her head. “This is for Jida.” I say under my breath. In the same moment I hear a faint whisper from deep within; a small voice of hope telling me that this moment could mean the end to decades of suffering and be the beginning of a brand-new life. I hear, “And for Tamar.”

On.

The dazzling jewels arch over their table. All eyes turn upwards to the gems twinkling almost magically in the spotlight. Still smiling, I quickly move backwards out of range. Tamar’s father, laughing at my playful gesture, stands up to catch the jewel.

Off.

Roasted Fish with White Beans and Olives

Roast Fish with White Beans and Olives (alternatives in parenthesis)

Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 Tablespoon fresh oregano (1 Tablespoon dried)

2 cans white beans (15.5 oz.) rinsed (cannellini, navy, lima)

1/4 box chicken bone broth (reg. chicken broth)

1/2 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted, torn (jarred olives, rinsed well)

Kosher salt

1 1/2 pounds whole skinless whitefish fillet (such as cod, haddock, or halibut)

2 small shallots, thinly sliced into rings (small onion)

1 Fresno chile, very thinly sliced into rings (1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes)

2 lemons, divided (any citrus)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (any good cooking fat)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 300°. Combine oregano, beans, olives, and 2 cups broth in a shallow 3-qt. baking dish; season lightly with salt. Place fish on top and nestle into beans; season fish generously with salt. Scatter shallots and chile over fish and beans.

Very thinly slice 1 lemon and wriggle out seeds. Arrange slices, slightly overlapping, over surface of fish. Drizzle everything with oil and roast until fish is opaque throughout and flesh in the center flakes when gently pressed, 25–35 minutes, depending on the type and thickness of the fish.

Let rest, occasionally pressing beans down into the liquid so they don’t dry out, 5–10 minutes.

Cut remaining lemon into wedges and serve alongside fish and beans for squeezing over.

=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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