The Exile Kitchen



The Appetizer Round

Chef Jurg Wagenlehner stood straight and tall, his hands behind his back. His nerves were on end and his stomach was knotted up; it was growling, ferociously growling. How did he get here? Why did he put himself through this? Was this agony worth the $10,000 prize? He wasn’t so sure anymore.

Chef Jurg, of course, had the story that he told the judges. The story about the cancer, now in remission, and how he had had to reinvent himself after his wife’s unexpected death. It worked pretty good when he threw in some other things about kids, lawsuits, and drug addiction. The judges always seemed to be suckers for a good sob-story. It didn’t even matter if it was true.

It was the first round, the appetizer round, and Todd, the host of the show, was poised to unveil, “whose dish was exiled.” Todd lifted the ‘food dome.’ Is that what it’s called, Jurg wondered? Maybe it was a cloche’ or a couverture de plat? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t care. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that his dish wasn’t beneath that silver dome. The chef who had prepared that dish would be exiled and unable to take part in the next round.

With a magnificent flourish, Todd lifted the dome. Chef Heidi’s dish was beneath – her knees buckled and she collapsed to the floor in tears. Three security men came on stage, handcuffed her and bundled her off. She would never cook in this country again.

Chef Heidi had prepared an interesting appetizer, Jurg thought, the mystery ingredients had been: black eye peas, Mascarpone Cheese, wasabi, and Kirschwasser. She had conjured up a ‘Fondue’ of sorts. She made wasabi black eye peas individually and tediously skewered with toothpicks, designed to be dipped into a gelatinous mass of heated Mascarpone and Kirschwasser. She had garnished her creation with gherkins and a sliced baguette.

It must have been horrible.

Once Chef Heidi was removed from the stage the three remaining contestants: Chef Jurg, Chef Mick, and Chef She-Ra received a thirty minute break to prepare for the entrée round. Jurg used his time to shower and change his underwear.

The Entrée Round

“Chef Prep Plate”

“Chef Prep Plate”

Todd introduced the three remaining chefs to the mystery ingredients that they must use in this round. These included: Filet Mignon, summer squash, and something green. Jurg did not recognize it . He did not know the name that Todd used for the green thing , but he knew what he was going to do with it. They each had thirty minutes to prepare their dish.

Chef Jurg wanted to grill the Filet. He wanted to prepare it rare, or bleu, or Englische Art (as his mother would have said). He wanted to julienne the summer squash and do something flamboyant with it, he wasn’t yet sure what. The green thing – well, he would grind that up and make a sausage.

He began with the green thing, grinding it up with cottage cheese and feeding it into a sausage casing. He parboiled the sausage and then set it into a pan to fry in a shallow bath of olive oil. He was still at a loss on how to jazz up the summer squash and he finally decided that he should change the colour. One of the things that the judges always looked for was a ‘transformation’ of the mystery ingredients. He found no food colour in the pantry but he found a can of pickled beets. Draining the beet juice into a saucepan he added his matchsticks of summer squash and set them to simmer on the stove-top. Turning finally to the filet he placed it on the grill and cooked all four sides for about a minute and a half each.

At this point he had only three and a half minutes remaining. He began to plate his dish. A flourish of Au Jus made from an envelope and heated in the microwave decorated the plate. He cut the casing from the green sausage and curled it in the center of the plate. Summer squash matchsticks, now blood-red and curled from cooking in the beet juice, he arranged in three piles around the coiled sausage. He placed three slices of Filet, each about 2cm thick, atop the other ingredients and then spooned more Au Jus over the whole thing.

“Time’s up,” announced Todd, “step away from your workstation.”

Chef Jurg lifted his hands, stepped back and smiled. He felt strong and confident.


Too much fun.

Apocalypse



John leaned his old twelve gauge against the wagon and knelt down behind the worn steel clad wheel to study the land, scan the horizon. It looked placid enough, but John had learned that looks could be deceiving. He remained motionless for the better part of an hour and saw no one, no activity or sign of others.

Feeling confident that he was alone, he stood and ambled to the back of the wagon to relieve himself. Turning to collect his piece when he finished he froze. Two men and two women stood mutely arrayed by the wagon wheel, where had had crouched earlier. The tallest man cradled John’s old scatter gun in the crook of his arm. The two studied each other through squinted eyes.

© Harekosh
© Harekosh

The tall man stood probably six feet six. He was thin and weathered; his hair was the color of the yellow grasses in which he stood. He wore a pressed white dress shirt beneath a faded, dusty black overcoat that had brown leather shoulders. His baggy black trousers rippled with the breeze.

With his free hand the man pushed his flat, broad brimmed hat back from his forehead. The fading light illuminated his eyes and he stared at John through, a pale shade of blue.

The man spoke, “What are your intentions here, Brother?” the man asked. “Who are you? And, from whence do you hail?”

“Uhm, I’m John, John Patmos. I come from the other side of those mountains.” He pointed vaguely towards the horizon and waited; watching them, trying to read their faces, “I’ve been wandering and searching, seemingly for years. You’re the first people I have seen since the Apocalypse. I wonder if perhaps you could tell me what has happened here. Maybe spare some water, and some food.”

The tall man glanced at the woman standing crookedly to his right. She wore a simple white dress that shone in the sunlight. Her blonde hair formed a halo around her head. She nodded, turned and began to walk away.

“You call it ‘Apocalypse’,” the man said. “Why do you call it such, and how were you able to survive if it were so?”

“I’m not sure,” John said, “it seemed appropriate to call it that. The carnage was fierce.”

The tall man thumbed the lever on John’s gun, broke it open and removed the two cartridges that had been ready for use. He turned the weapon and handed it back to John.

“I’ll thank you not to be reloading this piece while you are here.” he intoned. “Come with us.”

The tall man led the way and John followed two steps behind cradling his fowling piece like a lover. The others fell in about six steps behind. “My name is Daniel,” the tall man said, “behind you are Hezekiah and Ruth. Adina has gone ahead to alert the others that we are bringing you back.”

John could think of nothing to say and so remained silent; walking until the group melted into the tree line and the ground began a slow rise. They climbed for no more than ten minutes before entering a clearing. In the center several small shacks had been erected. Vegetables had been planted around the perimeter. Fifty yards of open space lay between, making the settlement easily defendable against a modest attack. A crowd of about twenty people stood at the edge of the settlement and vigilantly watched John approach. John saw Adina standing apart from the others.

All eyes were on John until Daniel spoke up, “Stand easy, brothers and sisters. This man is named John and I believe that he means us no harm. He brings news from beyond the mountains. He has agreed to recount for us, the end of the world.” Daniel reached beneath the folds of his coat and removed a lupara that had been concealed there. He handed the vicious firearm to Adina and she wordlessly carried it into a nearby shack, where she faded at the doorway into the darkness within. Daniel turned and smiled at John.

“Apologies, Brother, but you have yet to earn my trust.”

John steeled his jaw and stared at Daniel.

“Am I a guest or a prisoner here, Daniel?” he asked.

“That remains to be seen, Brother. Come, sit, and enjoy a modest meal. It isn’t much but we will gladly share it with you.”

From above the trees rang the echo of a loud screech. Adina appeared and guided John to safety.


This wore me out. I don’t think it’s my best work but I’m going to submit it anyway.
Happy to see The Mutant 750 back!

Letters To and From the Front



My Darling Andrew,

We had some excitement here at the hospital the other day. It was nothing big really, but I did get a “time out” due to my involvement in the situation. That was somewhat unpleasant, as I’m sure you can imagine.

On the plus side, they took my picture. I managed to get my hands on a copy of the photo, which I am enclosing. I want you to have something to remember me by; even though our time together, so far, has been far too short.

The story even made The Gazette, so I guess I might be famous now. It’s almost light’s out so I have to go. One of the orderlies has promised to sneak this out and post it for me.

All my love,

Philomena


 

© Lario Tus
Photo courtesy of Grammar Ghoul Press


Dearest Philomena,

I’m sorry it has been so long since my last letter. I have been thinking of you constantly ever since our night together at the asylum in Charleston and if the good lord allows me to return from this war I plan on coming to you first. I don’t have a lot of time to write today as we are on the move, heading back to base, but I’ll be on the island this afternoon and the island is where I can drop outgoing mail. I hope to have a few moments tomorrow to pen a proper letter and will post it to you straightaway.

I wish I could tell you what I have been doing here these months, but that is strictly against regulations. They remind us of this constantly. They say, “loose lips, sink ships,” and they say, “Mum’s the word.” They probably have a thousand other slogans that they drum into our heads every day. I often think I cannot  hear the messages any more as I have heard the slogans so many times. Today my Lieutenant hinted that my work has been noticed by the “Brass” and if I maintain the positive attitude that I have exhibited to date; a field commission could easily be coming my way soon. He said that men with my feral nature and propensity for violence are highly prized as soldiers and that he values the time he has been able to spend with me.

(This paragraph deleted by censors.)

I received the letter you sent last month and want to thank you for the photograph you included. In that white frock, you are a vision of loveliness, more beautiful even than the stars. I have taped your picture over my bunk so it is the last thing I see before sleep and the first thing I see when I wake. It looks like you have been doing some remodeling in the bathroom, and I wish desperately that I could be there to help you, work with you, see you, and hold you in my arms. Is that hatchet you are holding in the photo the one I sent you for your birthday? I truly hope that it is not too heavy for you to swing effectively. I was worried that it might be a bit large for your delicate frame, but I used it once here as a test before I sent it. I must say that it did an excellent job mangling the skull of that unfortunate sailor who had the misfortune to cross my path near the beach in (deleted by censors).

I do not want to be overly forward but I have given “us” a lot of thought and feel that now may be the right time to ask. I am not asking lightly as I had ample opportunity to think on my way to this island, I have decided that I would like to bring back a ring for your finger and ask for your hand in marriage when, and if, I get home. Please don’t answer immediately, but think about it right now. Let the idea settle in. Consider it. That is all I ask, and when you are ready you can let me know. You would make me the happiest man in the world if you agreed. Perhaps the doctors could see their way to releasing you into my custody if you were my wife. We could be together, at last.

Philomena, I must close this short note as it appears we are almost back to the island and, I will be expected topside to handle lines when we dock.

Wishing I were near you.

Love always,
Andrew

 


🙂

The Way of the Wolf



“There is a legend in these woods about a white wolf. A wolf who has lived here for hundreds of years; a wolf that most men cannot see. Who will wait on high ground and observe all that happens in the forest. The story says that he can divine the courage of all those who pass through the forest.

“This wolf will attack only the bravest of the brave to impart a vicious bite, then retreat, like smoke, back into the trees.

“Those bitten will suffer with a fever for three days, or they will die. Most die. If they survive; they will carry  the courage, the strength, the endurance, the power, and the wisdom of the wolf. They will rise to be leaders of their people. All others will treat them with deference and respect.”

“That’s a lovely story, John, but it’s just a story. I’m certain you don’t…”

Pulling back his sleeve and uncoiling the makeshift bandage he showed her the wound on his arm.

“Will you cool my brow and fetch me water for the next few days, Sarah. I’d be most grateful. I have nowhere else to go.”


I’m Just a Messenger



Gunnar sat alone in a waterfront bar in Tunis. He sat waiting at an old, scarred, wooden table, with a glass and an open bottle of gin in front of him.

He had been coming here every night for the last three. He would arrive at 10pm and wait until midnight. Ingrid had told him that he would be contacted and he was being well paid so, he could wait. If his contact did not show then he should return to the hotel and avoid attracting attention. When the contact shows he should lay out the deal, get the up-front money, and leave. He could feel the H&K tucked in his waistband, pressed against his lower back. It comforted him.

When she came in he knew who she was. She was playing spy and looked like she had just stepped out of a Bogart movie; a dark trench coat, dark fedora with her hair tucked underneath, and sunglasses. She threaded her way across the bar, through the cat calls and past the drunks, taking a seat across the table from him.

“You Gunnar?”

He nodded and got straight to the point, “When do you need this done?”

“As soon as possible; he’s in Vienna until the eighteenth. Can you do it there?”

“Listen, doll; first of all I don’t do it. I’m just a messenger. Understand? I need a photograph and seventy-five thousand, US, or it’ll never happen. The balance will be due when the job is completed.”

She slid a manila envelope across the table and tapped it twice as she pulled her hand away, like she was reluctant to give it up.

He looked inside and liked what he saw, he smiled as he re-closed the envelope and tucked it inside his jacket.

“You can still change your mind you know. You can still reject the whole deal,” he told her, “but once I walk out of here it’ll be done. There’s no backing out. You’ll have no way to contact me.”

“I understand,” she said.

Gunnar stood and pulled his cap low over his eyes, “I’ll come see you in about a week.” He patted the envelope in his jacket pocket, “for the rest of this. Wait five minutes before you leave.” At the door he looked back. She was sitting with her elbows on the ancient table, her chin resting on her hands, and a faraway stare in her eyes. He didn’t think she would be any trouble. He went straight to the airport.

Ingrid was waiting for him when he got to Stockholm. She invited him in and took the envelope. Sliding the money in a desk drawer, she studied the photo.

“This looks like a serious and determined man. I might even speculate that he had a cruel streak.” she said. “But I don’t ask them why, I don’t care why.” She held the photo up to Gunnar even though he had already seen it. “Let’s go pick one.”

They made their way to her workroom at the back of the apartment. It was filled with dolls, mostly dead dolls; worn and broken dolls; some without eyes, some without hair, or legs or arms; this room always creeped him out. Arranged on a table against the far wall were four complete dolls, looking new. Their faces were intact; their clothes new and clean. They looked like something a child would delight in. Gunnar knew better.

Ingrid picked up one of the dolls. She had a pleasant countenance, dark hair and wore a plain white blouse, a blue skirt and a colorful shawl. A gold beaded necklace completed her ensemble. Ingrid found a box and some packing material for the doll.

“Maddie just sent me this beauty from Guayaquil,” Ingrid said. “You deliver her to his room but you must be back there before dawn. She’ll kill him in his sleep and make her way downstairs. If there’s an alley behind the hotel you’ll find her there. If not then she’ll be in the nearest park. Pluck her eyes out, burn her clothes, and bring her back here.” She handed him the box.

At the door she added, “After you bring her back to me it’s off to Vermont for you to collect the balance of the cash. I envy you that, New England is beautiful this time of year.

“Safe travels Gunnar.” She stood on her toes to kiss him then backed into the apartment and shut the door.

Meeting Mama



We had parked the car at the curb and run across the neatly trimmed lawn, “Are you sure this is OK?” I asked Emma.

She grabbed my hand and dragged me across the stoop to the front door of the pink suburban bungalow where her mother lived. “Of course it’s OK,” she said, “We’re expected.” She turned the knob and pushed the door open. “Hey Mom, it’s me. I mean it’s us. We’re here.”

There was no reply. In fact there was no noise at all in the house. The phrase silent as a tomb ran through my mind and I tried to dismiss it right away.

I squeezed Emma’s hand, “Maybe we have the wrong day,” I whispered. “Maybe she has a new boyfriend. We wouldn’t want to interrupt her. Maybe she’s shopping, or out of town. We should come back later. I’m not sure it’s a good time for me to meet your mother anyway.”

Emma stopped and gave me that look, the one that could freeze a dog to a fire hydrant. It got cold in there.

“Listen, David,” she said. “We’ve been dating for over a year. We’ve been engaged for three months and the wedding is less than two months away. You’re gonna have to meet her sometime, might as well be tonight. Besides, I think you’ll like her.” She turned her head back to the silent house and said, “Mama; es ist Emma. Wo du bist?“

Nothing, no response, we walked deeper into the silence. As we walked Emma continued her lecture, “Besides this is a good night to meet her. She’s Swiss remember, and tonight she’s serving raclette, which is like one of the three national dishes of Switzerland. She loves raclette and she’ll be in a great mood.”

“What’s raclette?” I asked.

“Basically, it’s melted cheese and you serve it with bread, gherkins, pickled onions, olives, new potatoes and pretty much anything else you like. I like small red potatoes the best with mine.”

“Like a fondue?” I ask. “That’s Swiss too, isn’t it?”

She considered my question and then said, “Yeah, I guess it’s a little like a fondue but you don’t have a pot of melted cheese. You put the edge of a half wheel of cheese near a fire or a heating element until it gets soft, or even toasty, then you use a knife to scrape it onto your plate or your bread. It’s really good – Orgasmically good. You have to drink white wine or tea with your meal to keep the cheese soft and then, if you want, you can finish it off with a taste of Kirsch.”

“What’s that?” I asked as we stepped through the door into a large eat-in kitchen where six people were sitting around the table staring at us. A middle aged blonde woman was holding a large chunk of cheese and wielding a knife. She set the knife on the table and handed the cheese to a red faced man sitting next to her. She came around the table and hugged Emma, “so, Ihr Freund hat kommen?” she asked.

“English Mama, please.” Emma replied.

“My name is Katerine,” she said to me and she smiled as she shook my hand. “Welcome.”

Everyone at the table started moving their chairs closer together and Emma left the room. “I’m David,” I said.

“We know,” the red faced man with the cheese interjected. Sporadic chuckling from the others punctuated his statement.

Emma returned with two folding chairs and set them in the newly opened space at the table. Plates and glasses appeared from nowhere.

“These other people are my family,” Emma said, “Mostly aunts and uncles but that young girl over there is my cousin, Anna.” We all nodded at one another and tucked into our food. I was eating one of the finest meals I’d ever eaten and in my reverie, with the molten cheese, I spoke up and asked of no one in particular, “Emma tells me that this is one of three national Swiss dishes. What are the other two?”

Everyone said in unison, “Geschnetzeltes mit rösti, and chocolate.”

Thanks to the Pinot gris the rest of the evening is mostly a blur. I learned that Kirsh is a kind of Schnapps made from cherries and I let Emma drive home. When we pulled into the drive Emma pushed my elbow to wake me up, “You passed the test,” she said, “they like you.”


The Walkers



The Walker boys were twins, fraternal twins, they didn’t look much alike. When they were born; their daddy, John Walker, accused their mama, Miriam Walker, of infidelity because one of the boys was pudgy and fair skinned with thick curly red hair. The other was seriously underweight with a thatch of thin dark hair. John took his suspicions to the doctor, and the doctor set him straight, but to make sure no one else in town got the wrong idea he named both boys John Walker Jr. Difficulties in delivery prompted the doctor to also inform the Walkers that Miriam was unlikely to ever bear more children.

John Walker Sr. was a brewer, a beer maker but not a very good one. When his boys were born, he delivered a free beer to everyone in town. He even pulled his truck in front of the school and was handing out free beers to the third graders until Mr. Dancer, the headmaster, put a stop to it. Most of the beers that he handed out that week were poured down the sinks; but the bottles, all but one, were taken back to the brewery for the two cent bounty Walker Beers paid for return of the glass. It was assumed that the lost bottle found its way onto the train and was probably tossed from a window somewhere between here and Lordsburg.

Walker Beers really had only one good customer, The Bucket. The Bucket had been operated for as long as anyone could remember by Miss Terry. It was a rundown place not far from the train station. She had a couple of working girls there who, when they weren’t entertaining customers, would serve bad beer and watered down whiskey in the bar. The clientele was mostly travelers who would come in when the train stopped and order a beer. Nothing could knock the dust down in a traveler’s throat better than a nice cold beer. They wouldn’t find nice beer at The Bucket though, Miss Terry would always serve them a Walker Beer first. Most of her customers would then order a whiskey to wash the taste of the Walker Beer out of their mouths. So she sold two drinks, instead of just one.

Meanwhile the boys grew up. Birthdays came and went, presents were opened and cakes were consumed. Nicknames developed and one was called Ginger; his brother went by John.

About the time when the boys started school, Miss Terry passed and The Bucket went out of business which sent the brewery into a spiral of decline; coincidentally, at that same time Miriam found herself with child again. John Sr. and Miriam were ecstatic and looked forward to having another boy toddling around the house. That never happened. On the day before Christmas, that year, Miriam gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. This possibility had never occurred to the Walkers and they were stumped for a name to give their new daughter. When John Sr. had to fill in the birth certificate he simply wrote Miriam Walker Junior in the space for her name. This approach had, after all, worked when his boys were born.

He told his wife that he had named the baby Olivia and no one checked the birth certificate till she started school. The school administrators insisted she go by her proper name and tried to call her Miriam but her mother objected. A compromise was reached and everyone called her Junior.

Years passed and the boys announced a desire to go into the family business, but not the business of beer. The Walker name could never be associated with good beer so the boys decided to learn the whiskey business. They worked their way east, to the coast, and then signed onto a freighter as able bodied seamen. When they reached land in Scotland they managed to be taken on as apprentices with a whiskey maker in the highlands. They learned the trade and after seven years, each with his own recipe, John and Ginger made their way back to the states to find that their parents had passed on and Junior had run off with a traveling salesman that she met on the train.

They set up shop in the old brewery that their father had used. Each brother refused to compromise, or merge, his recipe so they both distilled their own, two separate batches, in the same building. Together, yet separate – black and red.