Chef Tom- 3 New Short Stories and Beautiful Lemon Roasted Potatoes

A Reminder: These short stories are from a writing program called Round Robin. Write something every day, set the timer for 12 minutes, the title of each piece is the daily prompt. Stop writing once the alarm goes off.

I am nearly done with my advanced Short Story Fiction class.

Here’s the latest ….

Memory Palace

Distant sound

Shane let his mind wander through the rooms of his log cabin on the lake. His effort was to recall the details of each room. The bookshelf in the hallway that held his high school football trophies and his Dean’s List certificate in the cheap wooden frame. The bookends were spaniels. Flat, black. Little metal silhouettes that his mom got him after Oscar died. He loved that dog.

Down the hall to the TV room. The 49er shirt in the plastic box-frame signed by Joe Montana himself.  The mounted forked horn he bagged on the long weekend with his dad and his brother. They were so jealous, but they raised their glasses to his success anyway with lots of beer and games of pool down at Marty’s Place next to the train station. What a dive. He loved that place.

Into the living room and sitting in his grandfather’s old leather recliner, his beautiful wife, Ranita. Her dark eyes and brown skin and that breathless smile full of too-white teeth that beamed at him from across the kitchen table, or from the passenger seat when they took that long country drive circling all around the lake. He loved that woman.

The thoughts kept him warm. Little pieces of memory kept a light on inside, distracting him from the intensity of the pressure from the rocks and dirt that held him like a giant’s hand, pressing him down into the depth of the cave. The weight was a thick blanket of lead. The burning stab radiating from his left leg was a pulsing bolt of lightning in the dark. His leg broke when the first big rock fell from above, crushing him, followed by ten thousand shovels of dirt and gravel.

How long has he been here? How much air is left? How can he move? His breath, a cloud of dust. His mouth tasted of deep down and empty. Then something…far off. Someone was calling his name.  Or was it just another piece of memory?

Coat of Arms

Everyone laughed

My mother was a thief. Not jewels, or cash. No precious heirlooms. On our frequent road trips, she stole stuff like ashtrays and coffee cups. Her five wide-eyed tots watched in wonder as she’d discretely pop a dark souvenir into her purse or pluck a framed print off the wall over the coin TV to tuck under her black sweater in her blue suitcase. An illusionist, she’d let out a conspiratorial chuckle, wink at us, and slide glass and silver salt and pepper shakers off the side of a café table into her coat pocket. We were her accomplices, her unwitting crime family. Giggling as a cover-up for her petty pranks, we were lucky to have front row seats.

Our house was a collection of criminal artifacts: a silver, cat-shaped ashtray crammed with unfiltered Camel cigarette butts sat on the side table next to Pop’s chair. Two worn-out orange and aqua bath towels from our weekend at Lake Havasu were used as protective hot pads against scorching cement, for sunbaking poolside.  She even wrestled away a trendy long-necked wine bottle in a straw casing that had stood guard near the entrance of a lousy Italian restaurant up near Centerville. That lift was a real heart-pounder.

Her coolest confiscation, though, was a coat of arms that had adorned the wall of our bedroom at the Imperial Motel, a shabby respite on the old highway near Reno. It was a wall plaque, a piece of brass-wannabe; a shield of fleur-de-lis topped by the head of a knight, a battle ax, and a spear. Compared to the other trinkets it looked expensive. Was she counting on a coffee and cigarette gabfest with Nellie, our European neighbor, to talk of royal lineage and inheritance tax? Was she trying to class the place up?

The coat of arms loomed large over our living room throughout most of my middle school years; a dusty symbol of derring-do; a mysterious whisper of far-off lands – our tchotchke with an accent. It hung there, proudly defying us to disclose its shady provenance.

Her wanton disregard for social niceties instilled in us a naughty pride. Yes, sometimes mom was bad, and we loved her for it.


What the hell is going on here?

At thirteen Linda met Carl, who was all of fifteen. They found each other, groping in a shared darkness at the murky edge of a naïve, desperate kind of love. Two kids were having a moment together, each feeling a vague sense of being rescued. This fantasy allowed them to breathe, if only briefly, free of the toxic fumes from their exquisitely dysfunctional families.

Carl lived across town in a giant Victorian; a former college frat house with eight bedrooms. He shared this massive home with his mom and his little brother. Out back in their sprawling yard, they had a real bomb shelter. The kind with shelves and bunk beds and extra rooms to store supplies, for when the big one hit. It was on one of those bunk beds that Linda and Carl gave up their virginity to each other. By that time Linda was fifteen and Carl seventeen. Protection wasn’t a thought for either of them.

Afterwards, Linda, though feeling somewhat sated, was anxious at the thought that even though she knew she had to, she really didn’t want to tell her mom. As awkward and unfamiliar as it was, Carl was proud of himself for having done the deed. He wanted to be the cool guy who just got laid by a fox, but he felt guilty and afraid. Neither of them wanted a kid. Uneasy, they laid back in bed. With a tinge of teenage cockiness disguised as confidence, Carl confided in Linda something his gramma had told him. If a girl thinks she might get pregnant and wants to do something about it, she needs to cut up a lemon and stick the pieces in her hoo-hoo. The lemon juice would kill the sperm.

Linda completely trusted Carl and was sure that grammas always knew exactly what to do, so she returned home that evening, found a lemon in the vegetable drawer of the fridge, and took a steak knife with her to the bathroom. On the pink tile of the bathroom sink counter, she clumsily cut the lemon into rough quarters. It wasn’t long before she couldn’t stand the acidic tickling of the lemons and went back to the bathroom.

Linda’s period arrived a couple of weeks later. Thank god. Carl’s gramma was right. This comforting thought was despite the long lecture she had to endure. Carl was sitting next to her on the couch and her mom was looking back and forth between the two of them, asking heated questions about sex and protection, and the pair of lemon-scented panties she’d found when she did the weekend laundry.

Speaking of lemons. This is a surprising delicious and VERY easy side dish. I know everyone hates potatoes these days (except for the millions of closet cases that sneak fries and mashers when they think no one’s watching). Works best with Yukon Gold, but I’ve done it with both Russets and Sweet Potatoes. If you don’t have fresh rosemary, use thyme or marjoram.

Lemon-Roasted Potatoes

Lemon-Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4-6


10 medium yukon gold potato

1 large yellow onion

2 ripe lemons, preferably Meyer

1 1/3 teaspoons olive oil

1/3 cup ghee or butter

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

Fine sea salt

Preheat the oven to 425°F (225°C).

Set a stovetop steamer over medium heat. Add the potatoes. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and steam the potatoes until tender when pierced with a cake tester, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, halve the onion through the root end so that there is a piece of core at the end of both halves holding the layers together. Cut off a small slice at one end of each lemon so that you just expose the inner fruit. Use a mandolin or sharp chef’s knife to thinly slice the onion and lemons,  discarding the uncut end of the lemon, any seeds, and onion cores when you are done. Mix them together with your hands in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Once the potatoes are cooked, transfer them to a large plate to cool slightly and (optional, I leave the skins on) then use a paring knife to peel off the skins and discard. Cut each potato in half.

Put the olive oil in a heavy 9×13-inch roasting pan and rub it around the inside of the pan to coat it thoroughly. Layer the onions and lemons in the bottom of the dish. Lay the potatoes cut side down on top of them. Melt the ghee or butter and drizzle evenly over the potatoes.

Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the dish and bake until the potatoes are a deep golden brown, about 10 more minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and scatter the rosemary over the potatoes. Let the dish rest for 5 minutes before serving so that the herb can permeate the dish. Serve from the roasting pan so the potatoes will remain crisp.


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

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