369: Currying Favor

on April 8, 2009 in Book 13

In Which Mackenzie Visualizes Whirled Peas

Amaranth went over to the door and opened and then closed it.

“I bought a couple of pairs of socks,” she said. “Just, you know, so we wouldn’t have to use yours as door signs.”

The fact that a single pair of socks included an unnecessary level of redundancy for this task did not escape me, but I didn’t say anything. Amaranth knew the dictates of her mother goddess better than I did… her decision about what to do with them was hers. I personally wouldn’t have guessed that the no clothing rule was the one that Mother Khaele would care the most about… especially if Amaranth really was planning on standing up to her about me.

If Mother Khaele decided to split us up and Amaranth defied her, I suspected that a couple socks would be the least of her worries.

“Close your eyes, baby,” Amaranth said as she locked the door. “I’ve got you a little surprise.”

I murmured a “yes, ma’am,” and obeyed. I heard Amaranth’s soft footfalls on the rug and then some rustling and crinkling.

“Okay, you can… um, I mean, open your eyes.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, and I did so.

I felt the floor of my stomach rising up to meet the roof of my mouth when I saw take-out trays with steamy plastic domes over them, just like the ones Tender Mercy’s had used to deliver their evil menu offerings in… but as I realized a moment later, if Amaranth had really for some reason procured another such meal I would have known it before I opened my eyes.

I wasn’t smelling human flesh… I was smelling spices and stuff, maybe garlic.

“Baby, are you okay?” Amaranth asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry… just a bad memory.”

I didn’t want to tell her what I’d been thinking. I could tell she’d gone through some trouble to arrange a nice meal… there was no reason for me to ruin it by letting her know about an accidental association that she couldn’t have known about or predicted.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought maybe the smell was too strong. I like a bit of garlic, but I didn’t know if your sense of smell would be more sensitive to it or not.”

“I don’t think my senses are actually all that sensitive,” I said. “I mean, to things that aren’t… that wouldn’t be prey to a demon.”

Amaranth popped the top off one of the dishes.

“This is garlic and herb potatoes,” she said. “Oh, they smell heavenly… red potatoes chopped into cubes and tossed with olive oil, garlic pieces, rosemary, and other seasonings.” She tipped the dish up to show me, then opened the next one. “Caramel glazed baby carrots… I was so glad to find they didn’t use butter in the glaze.”

Caramel glazed carrots?” I repeated.

“Oh, baby, I’m going to insist you try a little of everything but I really think you’ll like them,” she said. “I mean, carrots are a sweet root to begin with, and you know you’ve got a sweet tooth.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean for that to sound bad… it just sounds weird,” I said. “Candy and vegetables.”

“Candied vegetables aren’t really that bizarre,” Amaranth said. “And the sugar that caramel is made from is extracted from plants in the first place, so… well, if you think it’s that weird you can just skip this one,” she said, smirking at me as she covered them back up.

“I’ll try them!” I said.

“Good,” she said, giving a throaty little purr. She opened another container. “Now, this one is hummus…”

Hummus?” I repeated. I didn’t actually go “Ew, hummus!” or “Yuck, hummus!”, but from the scathing look Amaranth gave me over the top of her glasses, I might as well have.

“Baby, if you can tell me one thing that’s in hummus, you don’t have to eat it,” she said.

I looked at the nasty brownish-reddish glop, praying to no one in particular for some flash of inspiration or long-buried memory. Hummus was just one of those things… I’d never eaten it, never seen it, and only heard of it as a sort of cultural punchline about grody foreign food and health food nuts. Seeing it in person, it looked about as appetizing as it had always sounded. But Amaranth was looking at me with steel in her eyes and I knew that she’d make good her promise.

“Um… hummus?” I said finally.

“Nice try,” she said. “As I was saying, this is hummus with sun-dried tomatoes. I thought you might appreciate the added flavor and texture. I have some lovely dried flatbread crackers to spread it on. You know, Mack… I spent a lot of time running around today on your behalf and I still found time to find a little vegetarian place that delivers and the absolute least you could do is look like you appreciate it.”

“I’m not vegetarian,” I said, and instantly knew that I’d missed the point.

“I’m trying to share something of myself with you,” Amaranth said.

I wondered why she couldn’t have just got me a salad or something if she wanted us to have a vegetarian meal together, but I bit my tongue. That would not be a helpful thing to say.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I… the last time I ate on a regular basis I was still at the picky eater stage. I don’t know a lot of things that I like for sure.”

“Well, that’s why I got a lot of different things,” Amaranth said. “So we could find out… some tame things like the sweet carrots and some more adventurous like the hummus, but… it’s not like there’s anything bad in them.”

“What is in hummus, anyway?” I asked.

“Chick peas,” she said. “Blended with sesame seeds, oil, and a little lemon juice.”

“Who looks at that kind of stuff and says, ‘I wonder what it taste like all whirled up together?'” I asked. “You’d have to be crazy.”

“Or you’d have to be a creative person who has a lot of chick peas,” she said. “What kind of crazy person do you think came up with something like ice cream the first time?”

“Some kind of crazy genius,” I said. “Not like the chick pea guy.”

“If you don’t want to think of it as hummus, just think of it as a nice spread to put on crackers,” she said. “Like a kind of cream cheese. If you want to think about bizarre food origins, try to imagine that chain of events that led humanity from nursing babies on milk to taking cow’s milk and turning it into a tub of spreadable cheese.”

“Yeah, other races wish they’d thought up cheese,” I said. “Anyway, milk’s a natural part of the mammalian diet. If we were meant to eat chick peas, we’d have nipples for them, too.”

“So are you going to refuse to eat anything that doesn’t come out of a nipple now?” Amaranth asked, tilting her head forward to let me know she was done joking around.

“No, ma’am.”

“The thing is, baby… I’ve been eating salads and rice dishes and I just wanted one time to get a nice meal like I’d have back home, and to share it with you,” she said. “I could have gone with something perfectly safe like a salad for you, but that would have been defeating the purpose. Now, I did get us little side salads because I didn’t know how much you’d want of the other stuff and they’re a nice way to round out a meal, but I want you to understand that I mean it when I say I want you to try some of everything. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “I’m getting hungry describing these, so I’m going to go through the rest quickly.” She began opening the rest of the containers. “Now, here’s some tempeh and noodles with pine nuts… that’s a little peppery, so just try a little bit first, and this is vegetable curry and rice, and these are vegetable summer rolls, and this is cucumber salad… and here are the garden salads…. the plainer one’s yours, I wanted to give you something filling if you tried the rest and didn’t like it.”

“That’s a lot of food,” I said, looking over it all. It didn’t look all bad… the carrots and potatoes, in particular, looked downright appetizing and the salad seemed pretty safe, even if the lettuce looked a little off. I didn’t know what “tempeh” was, but it didn’t sound as bad as hummus on the name alone and I saw no reason to risk finding out it was whipped beets or something like that.

At least there was no tofu in sight. That seemed like an even bigger vegetarian stereotype than hummus, and it sounded just about as gross.

“Well, you’re a big eater and this is as much a treat for myself as anything else,” Amaranth said. “There’s one more thing for dessert, but that’s another surprise.”

When I really thought about it, I realized that a vegan meal was better than the alternative, when the alternative was what I’d been contemplating when I first opened my eyes. I’d take a bunch of hippy stuff picked out by Amaranth over another meal catered by the gray elf assassin any day.

Also, while Amaranth hadn’t said why she’d decided to splurge on a treat out of the blue, I had a pretty good idea what the whole thing was about. She was putting on a brave face, but there was still room for things to go wrong on Saturday… she swore she wouldn’t give up on me, but she was a non-human student who was arguably property herself.

Her legal options would be limited, and I had no faith whatsoever in the idea of Mother Khaele staging a divine intervention on my behalf.

Moreover, in putting together a vegan meal, Amaranth was trying to share her nymphly roots with me, no pun intended, and that was about as far away from my demonic ones as I could get. That was a good thing, I decided, something that I should embrace… even if it meant eating hummus. Better hummus than human.

Not hummus, I thought. Sun-dried tomato spread.

Amaranth pulled out a plate and started dishing out a little of each thing onto it. When she finished, she took a point of the dry flatbread and daubed a dainty little bit of the reddish-brown paste on it and handed it to me.

“Try this first,” she said. “And then have at least a bite of everything on the plate, and then I’ll give you your salad.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, accepting the cracker from her. I didn’t look at it as I raised it to my mouth. The spread was a lot tangier than I’d expected. I didn’t know what chick peas tasted like, but I’d been picturing something more like… well, mushy’s not really a flavor, but had it been one, I was pretty certain that was what hummus was supposed to taste like. I decided it was probably the influence of the tomatoes that saved it.

The rest of it wasn’t bad. The noodles might have been better on their own… I still wasn’t sure what tempeh was after eating it, but the stuff they were cooked with or mixed with was more than “a little peppery”. There were actually red and green pepper bits mixed in, but they weren’t the hot parts… that was the innocent looking tiny white seeds. I bit down on one of those and regretted it.

Fortunately, Amaranth had a whole pitcher of Two’s too-much-sugar lemonade stashed away in her wherever.

The curry didn’t seem as spicy, but it gave me the hiccups and made my eyes water. The potatoes were awesome, the carrots were tasty, and the summer rolls… well, it was only the knowledge that this was a scrupulously vegan meal that kept me from believing they were wrapped in some kind of skin.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s just rice paper,” Amaranth said when I shared that observation with her.

“Are we supposed to unwrap them before we eat them?” I asked.

“It’s rice paper,” she said.

“Oh,” I said, like that explained everything. I ate the filling out of one and left most of the skin on my plate. Amaranth seemed to like them a lot, so I left the rest of them for her.

Either the potatoes had been cheap or she’d had a pretty good idea what I’d go for, because there were a lot of them, which was good because they were filling and I wasn’t too thrilled with my salad. She’d left the weird shrively brown olive-looking things off of mine and the tiny shriveled berries, but I wasn’t too impressed with the lettuce. Not only was it dark and unusually leafy looking, but some of it tasted… well… dirty. Like, dirt. I knew that lettuce came from the ground, but I thought it was customary to wash it.

“A lot better than that plain iceberg lettuce they fill the salad bar with, huh, baby?” Amaranth asked. “There’s spinach, and a little radicchio…”

“I think I’d rather save room for the potatoes,” I said, though I plucked all the little grape-like tomatoes off and ate them. Really, the salad just made me think how much better it would have been with a bunch of cheese and bacon bits and maybe some chicken. I did eat more of the tomato spread, though. It was pretty good, especially with the dry cracker to kind of moderate the texture a little.

“So next time, more potatoes and carrots, less spicy entrees, and skip the fancy salad,” Amaranth said, her eyes flicking back as she made a mental note. “And maybe more kinds of flavored hummus.”

“Sorry,” I said. I should have known better than to think I could hide my distaste for the salad.

“You tried it all,” she said. “That’s what I asked… you liked some of the stuff you didn’t think you would, which tells me you kept an open mind. I don’t want to subject you to things you don’t like just to prove a point, so next time we’ll build on what we learned tonight. I was thinking maybe next weekend, if it doesn’t end up all crazy?” She giggled. “I mean, if you don’t end up booking dates on all the nights. I’d like to start sharing a vegetarian meal together once a week, when it’s possible.”

The realization that Amaranth was planning for the future… our future… was a bit of a surprise. I’d been thinking of this as our last real night together, our last meal, before things came to a head… whether it was the deal with Caron or Mother Khaele’s decision. Amaranth was determined to get through those things, and she was showing it by making plans. Not just big, overblown plans for the far-off future, but for next week and the week after.

“That sounds… nice,” I said, giving her what I hoped was a sexy smile… my lack of confidence in it meant it probably came out more shy than anything else, but Amaranth certainly found that sexy.

“Wonderful,” Amaranth said. “Now… I hope you remembered to save room for dessert. You did hear me mentioning another surprise, didn’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“I think you’re going to enjoy this,” she said. “I wanted this meal to be special, after all… like I said, I wanted it to be a chance to share something of myself with you, and I think I’ve figured out the perfect way to do it.” She giggled. “So, for dessert… to cap off our vegetarian feast… we’re going to have a little bit of, well… me.”

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6 Responses to “369: Currying Favor”

  1. Eris Harmony says:

    “…stashed away in her wherever.”

    Out of context, that could sound really dirty.

    Current score: 3
  2. pedestrian says:

    I think that I have tried if not most, at least a majority of the worlds cuisines. Just about the only things that have defeated my gluttony are perfumed foods, I love Persian and Japanese cuisine but please spare me the rosewater. And stinky tofu which surprised me because I enjoyed lutfisk and kimchi and rancid shark and ripe blubber and hung pheasant and the stinkier the cheese the better.

    Current score: 1
  3. D. D. Webb says:

    Speaking as a confirmed meatavore, hummus is delicious. People should keep an open mind.

    Current score: 3
    • Athena says:

      I did; it was awful πŸ˜› Then again, while part of that was taste, more of it was texture.

      Current score: 0
  4. Jechtael says:

    Khersis Dei, Amaranth! BLACKLIST! BAD Amaranth! …wait, she’s probably talking about honey-amaranth cakes. Never mind! False alarm, brain! Let’s wait until the next chapter to condemn her!

    Current score: 8
  5. Mike says:

    β€œAre we supposed to unwrap them before we eat them?” I asked.

    β€œIt’s rice paper,” she said.

    β€œOh,” I said, like that explained everything.

    Heh, reminds of the first time I had an enchilada at a real Mexican place. It was wrapped in paper and all my mom would say was “It’s paper!” If you’re not supposed to eat it then why the hell is it wrapped in it? She never would give me an answer so I didn’t eat it. Waste of food.

    Current score: 0