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September 26, 2022

The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining

By Sand Pilarski

"Who eats this stuff, anyway?"

Margot the Troll and I headed along the coastal road south of the lands of Ur, peaceably sampling beaches and spas. We'd met at Promontory Hot Springs, and found that we had some mutual interests, namely seafood and lounging around to finish out the summer. A long day's walk got us to Elvenwood Creek, where a small sign advertised a market and craft fair being held at the Elvenwood Creek Club and Spa, a gated resort. Margot and I fished out a silver piece for the entry fee, and as food is right up there on the list of priorities when you've been walking all day, we decided to stop and watch a cooking exhibition. Gaily colored tents were set up with tables of dishes and ingredients, and in front of the tents, grills burned evenly for the chefs to prepare their culinary artwork. We made our way to the front of the small crowd, which was easy, as people tend to get the hell out of a troll's way with no argument.

The afternoon specialties were prepared for the appreciative crowd to buy, and the recipes generously available so that participants could duplicate the gourmet fare in their own kitchens. The center table showcased a "Savory Beef Stew," another "Summer Pancakes" and a third, "Lemon Ice Granita."

I looked at Margot, and she raised her eyebrows at me dubiously. The cooking smells were a bit strange. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," I told her, and purchased a small bowl of the Savory Beef Stew, with its complimentary recipe card.

Now as a hedge shaman, I have been able to subsist on some of the most basic calories that humans can eat -- for instance, bits of seed heads plucked from grasses, maybe the occasional roast frog. But there are dishes that just defy my imagination and outrage my digestion. This beef stew was one of them. There is a picture in my mind that includes taste of a hearty beef stew, maybe served with hot crusty bread and a cold beer. My mind doesn't have such a limited experience in the world, not really, but it was unable to recognize the taste of the bowl of stuff as being beef stew. The beef was there, visible, and some onion, some tomatoes, and then a sweet pepper, and some very hot peppers, some pickled peppers, and a lot of hulled nuts; the recipe card listed these things, plus cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, and -- molasses.

Aser and Margot the troll visit a food festivalThey say that the recipe can be found nowhere else on the coast. I can understand why.

Being polite, I offered the bowl to Margot, who said. "No thanks. Nobody should have to pay to have theirself poisoned."

"I don't think it's poisonous. At least not two or three bites worth."

"People use cloves to disguise gone-over meat," she groused.

"No, wait. That I would be able to tell, even with the spices." I put the bowl of alleged food on a side table.

Perhaps if I was hungry enough, I wouldn't mind all the spices disguising the flavor of the meat. Maybe the stew was concocted by someone who didn't care for the taste of beef. "More like some vegetarian jerk figured out a way to put customers off eating anything but rice and fresh vegetables," observed Margot cynically.

We walked through the throng, and among the pieces of detritus scattered on the grass were discarded recipes for the other tables. I picked them up to see if the other foods were more promising.

"Summer Pancakes" -- well, it called for grated carrot, zucchini, and potato with chopped basil, and a topping of rice vinegar and soy sauce. You think I'm kidding, but that really was the recipe. Well, they added a beaten egg to act as a glue while frying them.

The "Lemon Ice" was flavored with lemon peel and pesto. I tossed the recipe cards over my shoulder. Margot pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to me. "How about this one?" she asked, looking sly.

"Fish soup? You keep a recipe for fish soup with you while you're traveling?"

"Not just any fish soup. That is the Promontory Hot Springs Fish Soup Official Recipe." "I love that soup! This is really it? That's all the ingredients? How did you get this?" The very thought of that soup made me think of cool shore breezes and sitting on the terrace with a thick blanket wrapped around me, sipping at a hot bowl and watching the seabirds swoop along the shore.

"Made special friends with the cook," she smirked. "I got some pans in my pack. We can get all the ingredients right here at this market, and cook some back on the road. Unless you want some apple pie with zesty salsa topping, I bet they have that on the menu here."

"No, no, no," I declined. "The road, by all means."

I had a last look around at the folks watching the chefs fling about their cinnamon and basil. Most of the plates that people were holding still had the better part (or the worst part) of the servings on them. I watched an elegant lady take a tiny, tiny bite of her pestoed ice. She nodded enthusiastically at the lordly man with her, and then put her fork on her plate and conversed with a few other nobles. I didn't see her take another bite. I shook my head and turned away with Margot to the market booths.

I know that creative cookery is all about combining tastes and textures in new and exciting ways. Ketchup probably got started that way, and tartar sauce, and Reuben sandwiches. I can honor experimentation -- as long as I'm not being charged to be the guinea pig.

"Margot! We need a fresh loaf of bread to go with the soup!" ####

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-07-16

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