BLUE AUTHOR NEEDS
The room was, quite naturally, spotless.
Elves were very clean by nature, in the sense that their bodies neither accumulated nor produced as much of the detritus of life as those of truly mortal mortals. A golem… at least a living golem of flesh and blood… was not so blessed, but Two was also clean by nature, in the sense that it was in her nature to clean up after herself.
That was not to say that it didn’t look lived in. The furnishings were the standard dorm equipment, including a set of bunk beds, a pair of desks, and a single dresser, but there were personal touches. For instance, the window had been covered over completely with a heavy sheet of black velvet… not a curtain, just a cloth that had been stretched taut across the entire portal and then tacked down tightly.
The original curtains, thin things in that shade of dingy off-white that comes of something being washed too often with too little care, were still there.
Two opened them every morning and closed them every night. Dee never questioned this.
If there was one thing that both roommates understood, it was the importance of ritual.
This was why Two waited for Dee to complete her morning meditation, cleansing rituals, and prayers before she said the “good morning” that her manners demanded of her.
“Good morning,” Dee returned, rising to her feet. “Are you still determined to do this thing?”
“Yes,” Two said, nodding. “You need to learn how to cook.”
“I fail to see why this would be true,” Dee said. “I have never needed to know how to cook before. While I am here, I take my meals in either of the dining halls. In the event that both prove unavailable, there is such an abundance of packaged food requiring little or no preparation available that I could not have starved to death if I tried. When we lived in Harlowe Hall, I could descend to the ground floor, go out a door, and purchase a very nearly fresh apple or a banana with only a little brown. What need have I of cookery in a world where fruit can be had by swiping a wand over a card?”
“What about at home?”
“In the outpost at Ceilos and at home, household staff prepares them. I had never seen a kitchen before my first time in a dorm lounge. I did not even know they existed until I was nearly an adult,” Dee said. “I would certainly not be allowed in a kitchen.”
“Even if you become Low Priestess or House Matriarch?” Two asked.
“Especially then. It would be even more improper,” Dee said. “And you know I do not like to speculate about what plans my goddess holds for me. If I am wrong, it would make me seem ungracious and dissatisfied with the path she has set for me to descend by. Also… it is unlucky.”
“If you don’t know what the future holds, then how can you know that you won’t need to cook in it?” Two asked.
“The odds seem bottomlessly against that.”
“But you don’t know,” Two insisted.
“I do not,” Dee said. “But it does not seem an efficient use of my time.”
“Oh,” Two said. “If there’s something else you need to be doing now, then I will leave you alone to do it and we can talk more about this after that.”
“There… is not, in fact, anything that I need to do,” Dee said. “I was speaking in the general case. The web of fate has many strands, but if I have never had need of this knowledge before, then it seems unlikely I will need it in the future.”
“Now you sound like Mack,” Two said. “Except for the part about the web and strands.”
“Very well, then I shall go along with this farce,” she said, as she began to put on her robe and outer cloak. “But be advised: I speak five languages fluently, I am skilled in multiple forms of combat, and I have committed numerous complex rites completely to memory. I do not expect that anything you have to teach me about the art of cookery will tax me.”
“Then you have nothing to be afraid of,” Two said.
“Afraid?” Dee said. “I have no fear of the kitchen.”
“No,” Two agreed cheerfully. “You fear looking foolish or ignorant. You have been good at everything you do for so long that you are afraid to try something new, in case you are not as good at it as you think you should be.”
“You know me well,” Dee said. “But do not presume that you know everything there is to know about me.”
“I don’t,” Two said, cheer intact. “But I do know this thing about you.”
“…yes, I suppose you do,” Dee said. She sighed again. “Lead on.”
There were few students in the floor lounge on Saturday morning, and the two who had been eating cereal at the kitchen counter moved to the TV seating area when Two came in. It wasn’t from dislike of her… few people ever minded her company, except when she was singing.
But as so few others ever used the kitchen as much as she and her friend Hazel did, and as both of them were fond of cooking in large quantities and then sharing the results, the rest of the floor had quickly and quietly ceded it as their terrain.
“Wash your hands first,” Two said as she scrubbed her own hands and forearms with an impressive amount of soap.
“I have no intention of using my hands,” Dee said.
“You always wash your hands before you cook,” Two said.
“Very well,” Dee said, because she did understand ritual cleansing.
“And it would be better for you to do things by hand so you can get a feel for what you are doing,” Two said. She held out a frilly apron. “You’ll want to put this on.”
“This is an erotic garment,” Dee said.
“It is an apron. It’s for cooking,” Two said.
“I have never seen anyone wearing clothing of this type outside of amorous displays in erotic media,” Dee said.
“You’ve seen me wearing it.”
“I assumed you had absorbed a mistaken notion as to its nature and purpose and no one had managed to correct you,” Dee said.
“It’s to keep your clothes from getting messy when you cook,” Two said.
“Protecting my robes is one of the functions of my cloak,” Dee pointed out. “And it is colorless. I never wear anything without color.”
“Think of it as a necessary tool, not clothes,” Two said.
“If it’s necessary, why don’t you wear it?”
“I do not have an extra one in human size. But it’s okay. You’ll need it more,” Two said.
“Are you suggesting that I am less graceful than you are?”
“No, but I have more experience,” Two said. “Plus, I was used to mix potions and handle volatile substances. I don’t spill or splash things. Also, your garments are very loose. Tying the apron around them will help keep them out of the way.”
“Very well,” Dee said. She accepted the garment from Two. After briefly fumbling with the ties in back, she resorted to psychokinesis to knot them before Two could offer to help. “Shall we begin, or must I also don a silly hat?”
“The first thing you need to know,” Two said, “is that cooking times and temperatures aren’t arbitrary, and they aren’t directly proportional to each other.”
“Why is it necessary to point that out?” Dee asked.
“Because otherwise if you see a recipe that says to cook for twenty minutes over medium heat or heat in the oven for an hour at two hundred and fifty degrees, you might try it for ten minutes over high heat or thirty minutes at five hundred degrees.”
“It would seem more efficient… but you say that won’t work?”
“No,” Two said.
“Pity,” Dee said. “I suppose the whole process could likely be sped up if instead of an indirect heat source, some form of pure elemental flame could be infused into…”
“That’s what Mack said, too,” Two said. “Cooking takes time.”
“I’ve seen you produce food through the application of magic.”
“Only because I know how to do it the long way,” Two said. “If I did not know not only each step but the purpose and intermediate result of each step, then trying to produce the finished product by magic would be like trying to produce a finished product by magic without knowing each step and the purpose and intermediate result of each step.”
“What?” Dee said.
“It’s called a simile,” Two said. “It’s how my friend Hazel explains things to me.”
“That wasn’t a simile,” Dee said. “You simply stated the same thing twice.”
“It was like a simile,” Two said.
“Please, let us get on with the task before us.”
“Yes, Dee. To make pancakes, we need to crack eggs,” Two said. She turned to the refrigerator and opened it, removing a bowl labeled “Two’s Eggs”. She then removed a mixing bowl from the cupboard under the counter.
“I have often wondered what manner of lizard lays an egg like this,” Dee said, removing one from the bowl.
“They are chicken eggs,” Two said, and Dee dropped it and jumped back like it was going to explode. The egg hit the tiled floor and splattered.
“I apologize,” Dee said. “Birds… make me nervous.”
“There aren’t any birds in these eggs. They’re unfertilized. If we left them alone, they would just go bad, not hatch.”
“It has been noted,” Dee said. She bowed. “Please, allow me to clean up my mess and we will resume the lesson.”
When the floor had been cleaned and Dee had washed her hands again, Two showed Dee how to rap the eggs to crack the shell and then split them over the bowl.
“Beat it lightly,” she instructed when all the eggs had been broken.
“Does it matter how hard it is beaten?”
“You don’t want it scrambled,” Two said. “That fills it up with air. While you do that, I’ll mix the dry ingredients.”
“You are not using wheat flour, are you?” Dee asked.
“No,” Two said. “Rice flour, potato starch, and ground almonds. Then we’ll add milk to the eggs, and mix them together to form batter.”
“Do we now bake this all at once and then cut it into individual cakes afterwards, or are there molds?” Dee asked when they had finished the batter.
“Neither,” Two said, putting a skillet on the stovetop and heating it. “We pour one pancake’s worth of batter into the skillet and cook it until it’s done on one side, then flip it.”
“Why are we making them one at a time?”
“Because it takes more attention than time to make a good pancake,” Two said.
“It seems inefficient.”
“It’s ready,” Two announced. “Slowly pour the batter into the center of the pan until it reaches the proper size.”
“I suppose I know what size a pancake should be,” Dee said. “Unless it expands in cooking?”
“Not noticeably,” Two said.
“Very well,” Dee said.
With a look of intense concentration, she tipped the jug they’d transferred the batter into over the hot skillet and watched with satisfaction as a stream of the thick liquid flowed down and expanded into a rough circle.
“It is not perfectly round,” she said. “Should it be? I have never noticed if pancakes are perfectly round or not before.”
“No,” Two said. “You are being self-conscious because you’ve never made one yourself before. Now, it takes between two and three minutes for a side to be done. The first side usually takes longer than the second side. You will know it’s time to flip when bubbles begin to form.”
“Should I be aiming to flip it the instant I spy a bubble? Or is there an optimum level of bubbling we should achieve?” Dee asked.
“I’ve tried to determine that and there is too much variation to say for certain,” Two said. “Cooking is an orderly process, but fire is a chaotic element. Don’t worry.”
“I’m simply endeavoring to do it correctly,” Dee said. “What if I produce a less than optimal pancake?”
“You probably will at least once,” Two said. “There is a wide range of acceptable outcomes to cooking pancakes, and we are making a lot of them.”
“One at a time,” Dee said.
“Yes,” Two said. “You should be good at this. You’re so very patient.”
“Patience is my chief virtue,” Dee said. “But I prefer to engage in it by waiting, not repeating the same tedious and uncertain task.”
“If it’s uncertain, how is it tedious?” Two asked. “It’s ready to flip. I’ll show you how, and then you can do the next one.”
“If it’s time, then cease delaying and do it before it’s too late!” Dee said as Two leisurely picked up the slotted turner and flipped the pancake over.
“See? Like that,” Two said. She let it cook for another couple of minutes, and then removed it from the pan in a similar fashion. “Some people prefer to do it by lifting the pan and flicking it upwards, making the pancake flip over in the air and catching it again, or aiming it towards a plate, but that is showy and unnecessary.”
“It seems a more efficient way of accomplishing the same thing than taking one’s attention from one’s work to take up another tool,” Dee said as she poured the next pancake out. “I’m certain I have the dexterity and coordination required for such a task. Is this a feat that human chefs perform?”
“Yes,” Two said. “But, Dee, you were worried about messing up even one pancake. Don’t you think it would take several tries for you to get it down right?”
“I suppose you are right,” Dee said. “This would be a skill to master in privacy, when none but myself are depending on the outcome of the endeavor. And I suppose that my attention would best be devoted to learning the timing at this point. When I have mastered that, then I can move on to a challenge more suited to my abilities.”
“Hey, Two, whatcha doing?” someone called from the lounge entrance.
“Making pancakes!” Two shouted back, louder than was strictly necessary. She had basically three volumes, so any time she needed to speak louder than normal, she yelled as loudly as she could.
“You say it so prosaically,” Dee said, as she prepared to flip her first pancake. “Through fire and alchemy, we are transforming a mere mass of shattered seeds and the rejected life-stuff of chickens into something far more palatable than a simple agglomeration of ingredients would suggest to be possible.”
“…cool. Save me some!”
“I’m glad you like cooking, Dee,” Two said.
“Quiet!” Dee said. “The moment approaches!”
Help keep me writing! Tales of MU depends on the support of readers like you. Ongoing support is especially appreciated, but even one-time contributions help. Your readership is appreciated!
Corrections Submitted By: Alex, Brenda, x, Zukira Phaera Thank you! Credit goes to the first person to report a typo or error.