SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 22: In Which I Do Some Cooking

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“I’m hungry!” I declared to no one in particular. 

“You may pause for your afternoon meal,” declared Miss Carol T. Cat, “but I shall require you to resume scratching that sensitive place at the base of my left ear once you have finished. You have five minutes. You may thank me, if you wish, for this charitable accommodation of your personal needs.”

“Nertz to that,” I replied, my hunger causing me to engage in riskier behavior than usual. “I been eatin’ nothin’ but stuff outa cans an’ take out food for weeks now. I’m sick of it. Today I’m gonna cook something!”

“I shall take shelter at once,” Miss Carol declared, thumping gracefully off the couch to the floor. “I find the inhalation of smoke to be distasteful and unpleasant. Advise me when you have completed the incineration of your meal.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Be funny. But this time it ain’t gonna be like that. Today I dine in style. I know exactly what I’m gonna make.”

I rooted around in the cubbyhole shelf in my pantry, and pulled out a couple of dust-covered cookbooks, obtained by my grandmother during the first half of the previous century in exchange for box tops or soap coupons. “Ah!” I said, holding up a tattered booklet and wiping off the dust. “Here’s the ticket. This is what I’m gonna make. Hungarian Goulash!”

“Your attempt at gustatory appropriation is offensive,” declared Miss Carol, pausing to wipe a fleck of cobweb off her cheek. “You are not of Hungarian ancestry, and know nothing of the subtleties of the cuisine.”

I gave her a look just chancy enough to generate a frown in return. “I may not be *from* Hungary,” I replied, lapsing into full snark mode, “but I certainly *am* Hungry!”

Miss Carol just glowered. “If this is the level of comedy material you intend to include in future radio broadcasts,” she sniffed, “I shall tune elsewhere for my entertainment.”

I ignored her riposte. “Look, you know what I had for supper last night? Matzo with mozzarella cheese on it. I’m all about ethnic fusion here. Besides, this is great. It’s cheap to make, it’s hearty, an’ it’s fillin’. What more could you want?”

“I would relish a can of Friskies Turkey With Giblets and gravy,” she replied. “This talk of food has caused my own hunger to rear up and make known its desire for satisfaction. Prepare my meal at once. I shall dine while you dither.”

I did as I was told because, hey, I’m not stupid, and then resumed my own food-preparation tasks. I rooted around in the refrigerator, pausing to consider again that headless Easter rabbit, and pulled out a small package of meat. “See, this is exactly what I need ,” I declared. “Stew beef! It’s the only meat I can afford with prices what they are right now – I should pay ten dollars of a package of hamburger? I don’t THINK so! – an’ it don’t really matter what kind of meat you use for this – beef, pork, chicken, whatever you got on hand. You don’t even need to use meat at all – you can use chunks of tofu if that’s what you want. The whole point of this meal is that it’s cheap an’ cheerful!”

Other than a continuous smacking sound as she licked the gravy from her own meal, Miss Carol made no reply.

I grabbed a heavy saucepan out of the cupboard, and slapped it down on a stove burner. “You start off meltin’ two tablespoons of fat on a medium heat…”

That got Miss Carol’s attention. “You could afford to melt more than two tablespoons,” she muttered without looking up. It’s quite a skill to snap off sarcastic asides with your mouth full of Friskies Turkey With Giblets and gravy, but Miss Carol possesses many rare talents. 

“You take the meat,” I continued, “an’ roll it in some flour, pushin’ as much flour into it as you can. An’ then, when the fat is sizzlin’, you throw it in the pot. Then throw in a coupla tablespoons of paprika, a little garlic, an’ whatever else you wanna throw in. An’ then add a cup of hot water, stir it up, reduce the heat, put a cover on th’ pot,  an’ let it simmer for forty-five minutes or so.  While you’re waitin’ cook up some egg noodles or some rice, or somethin’ to serve it on, an’ you’ll be all set.”

Miss Carol continued, to munch, oblivious to it all. I took advantage of her distraction to flop down in the living room chair with a magazine to pass the time. She finished her meal, saw me in Her Chair, and slapped her open-clawed paw down on my thigh in a marked manner.  Chastised and avoiding her condemnatory glare, I slunk over to the far corner of the couch.

Forty-five minutes passed, and the timer bell dinged its ding.  I jumped up with enthusiasm. “The time has come, the walrus said,” I exulted, “to eat my supper!”  I drained the noodles into a soup plate, set them aside, and pulled the lid off the simmering pot. Steam gushed out and a not-quite-right odor assaulted my nostrils.

“This don’t smell quite right,” I murmured. Miss Carol thumped into the kitchen, sitting in the doorway to closely observe the unfolding events.  I stuck a wooden spoon in the pot and took a sip of the contents.

Miss Carol’s eyes narrowed, and I swear, in that last instant before the spoon touched my lips, I saw her smirk.

I tasted. “Hey,” I began, “this doesn’t….”

But that was all I got out before a burst of blazing red fire surged thru my mouth, up my sinuses, and out my ears and nose. “OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!” I screamed.

Miss Carol’s ears went back.

“OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!” I screamed again, to emphasize the point. I grabbed for the jug of water on the kitchen table, and swallowed a deep draught. The fire sizzled slightly but did not go out. I emptied the jug down my throat, and stood there, breathing heavily, glaring with an accusatory stare at the feline whose eyes now sparkled like Christmas morning. “WHAT DID YOU DO????” I choked. “WHAT DID YOU DO?????”

“I did nothing,” Miss Carol replied, with a delicate lick of her paw. “The events that have just transpired were entirely your own doing. If you carefully examine the spice bottles on the shelf before you will note that you made a simple error in your selection of ingredients. Note that the bottle of paprika and the bottle of powdered cayenne pepper occupy adjacent positions on the shelf. Hampered no doubt by your deteriorating vision, you merely selected the wrong bottle in seasoning your meal.”

“And you didn’t TELL me?” I fumed, as wisps of smoke curled about my head.

“I concluded that there would be no advantage in my doing so,” she replied. “It was inevitable that you would make the discovery for yourself.”

She licked her paw again and walked over to her bowl. “It is nearly the hour for my evening meal,” she said. “Please exercise care in the selection of menu items. As you know, I do not care for highly seasoned foods.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“Accelerate your pace,” she advised.  “I am – Hungary.”

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