by D.C. Logan
Take 3 pounds cubed beef, brown on all sides; add 4 cloves crushed garlic, 2 medium onions, chopped fine; and 6 stalks celery, chopped coarse. Cook seven minutes or so to blend flavors.
The cabin was dark and crisp with a hovering early winter chill. It was the first peaceful Saturday Duo had experienced in longer than he cared to remember. Perched up on the edge of a lake in the mountains, distant from the village below, it was the perfect safe place to hide out for the week until they were to meet up with Heero and Quatre and travel to the base. He hadn't spent much time with the quiet L3 pilot, but Quatre had spoken about Trowa quite frequently during Duo's stay in the desert months ago. He was looking forward to finding out more about him; Quatre would thank him later for whatever information he could gather.
Trowa was laying out a stack of bowls, a large deep pot, a cutting board, and assorted other goods on the wide kitchen table when Duo sauntered into the kitchen. He seemed to be working from a memorized recipe of some sort, and Duo paused in the doorway to watch him for a moment before casually moving further into the room. Duo picked up one of the tired chairs that had been seated under an equally battered table and spun it around on one of its feet. He straddled it and sat heavily, crossing his arms over the back of the chair and resting his chin on them. In his experience, he'd noticed that if he stayed on the periphery of anyone working, they'd eventually start talking to him. Heero had been the sole exception; Trowa was, as yet, an unknown quantity.
He hadn't had the occasion to watch much food being prepared in his life, and he was fascinated with both the process and the fact that Trowa handled the task so professionally and matter-of-factly. He moved around the table as if equally at home in any kitchen. A grace and skill Duo envied. It always took him few days to feel comfortable in a new place. And even if he was the one who sorted out all the cabinetry and found the plates and silver, a week later he'd still find mugs behind the third door he opened. He'd never lived in a place long enough to get past that point. Sometimes he wondered if it was a fixed part of his intelligence, and if he'd always be that way regardless of the number of years things stayed the same.
Trowa pulled a package wrapped in brown plastic from the counter and unceremoniously dumped it onto the table, unwrapping the ends and turning a large filet of beef onto a cutting surface. Duo eyed the red mass suspiciously, and actually shifted his chair back when Trowa pulled a wide-bladed knife from a nearby drawer and proceeded to briskly sharpen it against a flat steel. He looked over the ingredients on the table, seemingly building his recipe from memory and past experience. Duo grimaced at the speed of the knife, and the apparent ease with which it was wielded. He had an appreciation for knives, and for those who knew how to use and care for them. His opinion of Trowa was increasing.
Trowa placed the sharpening steel back in the drawer, wiped the blade down with a clean towel, and turned the meat over for no apparent reason Duo could see.
He proceeded to use his knife. It was almost like dancing. There was a rhythm and a way of grace about the way Trowa sliced and cut. In less time than Duo would have thought possible, the large cut of meat had been reduced to a small mountain of bite-sized pieces. Pieces that Trowa double-handed into a bowl with a small measure of oil at the bottom, and then proceeded to turn over and over again. Again for no apparent reason Duo could discern.
Trowa looked across the table at Duo, thinking to himself that he'd been unusually silent so far today. Few people respected his appreciation of quiet space—that Duo had been sensitive enough to notice and respond to it surprised him. But he caught the gleam of curiosity in Duo's expression, and so he began to speak to him in a manner he usually reserved for training young recruits. He started to talk over his work, explaining his actions more to himself in a running expository, slowing down some of his movements so Duo could see the skill behind it. Speed came later and with much familiarity and practice. Duo watched avidly, fascinated by the foreign process. Pleased that his subtle strategy for drawing Trowa out had met with some small degree/measure of success.
"Duo, here, come stir this."
"Stir what?" And Trowa upturned the bowl of meat into a large heated pot on the stove, where the oil-coated cubes hit the bottom of the pot with a crackling sizzle. He demonstrated the quick turning of the meat from the bottom up and looked up to see if Duo had caught the trick to it. Duo nodded, and, taking the long wooden spoon, took over the task of browning the beef.
Trowa left the kitchen for the small pantry, and returned a few moments later with produce. Onions, carrots, and potatoes Duo recognized, one other he did not.
Trowa walked over next to Duo and peered into the pot. "It's done browning. Go ahead and take it off the heat for a moment and help cut up the rest of the vegetables."
Normally Duo would have resented even the hint of being ordered around, but he was also smart enough to recognize that he was the neo here. Curiosity kept his mouth closed, and his hands willing to work.
Trowa handed him an onion and picked up the same—demonstrating with a sure hand how to strip the outer skin, halve the globe, and carefully slice it into narrow arcs before turning them sideways and dicing them into smaller pieces. The each did one more and turned to the celery. Odd, tough, fibrous stuff; but cutting it into small pieces was ridiculously simple, and quite fun once he became accustomed to the feel of the wide blade in his right hand, and the pushing motion of his left. Trowa even handed him half of the garlic—and demonstrated how to smack the side of the blade firmly against the clove, and then peel off the papery skin before mincing it. Duo crushed his portion rather severely—hitting it with far more force than was necessary. He looked up at Trowa's face to check his reaction, and caught be what looked to be a rare smile quickly fading from his face. "Well, you don't need to mince that now." was Trowa's only comment.
Trowa turned back to the stove and, after transferring the meat to a nearby bowl on the counter, turned the flame back on. Duo looked at the pile of diced produce on the table. Pleased that his looked comparable (although not as uniform) as Trowa's. Maybe this wasn't so difficult after all. He smiled to himself in private success and waited for Trowa to move to the next step, watching carefully and taking mental notes.
Trowa added a small measure of oil to the reheated pan and transferred the onion, celery, and garlic to the pot using the flat of his cleaver blade. Duo watched his every move, and walked over to the stove again and motioned for Trowa to hand the wooden spoon back to him.
Peel and cut into bite-sized pieces: 3 pounds potatoes; 1 pound large carrots; one turnip. Set aside.
Trowa turned back to the table and emptied a small bag of potatoes onto it, and reached into the cool cabinet for a handful of carrots as well. A medium turnip added variety to the spread. He busied himself with peeling the potatoes one by one, using a smaller curved knife he'd found in the back of a drawer. It hadn't required sharpening. From his seated position at the table, he directed Duo's next steps.
"Okay, turn down the flame a bit—that's good—and add the meat back into the vegetables. Good. Now grab the following jars from that spice rack on the wall behind you all right?"
Add spices and seasonings; add can of processed tomatoes and water to cover.
The list seemed endless: paprika (both hot and sweet), bay leaf, thyme, oregano, cumin, sage, cloves, mustard, and an unlabeled jar that Trowa pointed out with the end of his knife that turned out to be allspice. "Okay, you'll need a small portion of everything but the paprika, so pour a small bit into the palm of your hand, a bit more. Okay, that's good. Do that for all the rest of the jars and just dump the measured portions into the pot in turn."
Duo was doubtful, but did as he was told. He took a moment to sniff each bottle experimentally before dusting his hands over the pot. "Okay, how much of the red stuff?"
"Triple what you did for the others, and a bit more."
Duo was getting into the adventure of it now. This was interesting. "What next?"
"Hmm... some lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, beef bouillon, and a small bit of sugar."
Duo pushed the bottled spices to the back of the counter and rummaged in the cabinets for the rest of the ingredients Trowa had mentioned. And stood to the side as he measured directly into the pot so Trowa could direct him. Duo held up his portions for approval, and once the nod had been received, added the new seasonings to the pot. He stirred the resulting mass. It didn't look at all appetizing to him. Trowa caught his look of disappointment and smothered another grin. It was all too obvious that this was new to Duo.
Still peeling his pile of potatoes, he pointed out a large can of tomatoes to Duo. "Pureed was all they had, but it will do. Open the can, pour it into the pot, and add two more cans of water. Then turn up the heat a bit again and come help me finish the rest of these. Okay?"
The resulting mix was a bit watery, very red, and at least to Duo's nose, it was beginning to smell more like food.
Simmer 2 hours.
It wasn't long before Duo was back at the table, carefully dicing the already peeled potatoes. After nearly cutting himself attempting Trowa's dexterous peeling technique, Trowa had taken on the task of finishing the peeling and had assigned other tasks to Duo.
"Duo, hand me that turnip. No, not that one, that's a potato—the one other there. Trowa said, gesturing with his deadly looking knife."
Ah, so that's what the odd one was. He'd done that intentionally in order to force the question. Carrots went much faster, as they were easier to cut into the round coin shapes that Trowa preferred. He checked his watch, and Trowa caught the covert glance.
"Only another hour, then we add the rest of the vegetables."
"But it's already been an hour."
"Yes, but it takes two."
The conversation moved from polite pleasantries and light conversation into the darker side of the conflict while they waited and the clock moved on.
Trowa put on a pot of coffee after Duo confessed his addiction to him, and the kitchen filled with the intermingled scents of the slowly cooking stew and the rich Indian coffee Trowa had brought along with him. Duo inhaled deeply and caught the overtones of a spice he didn't recognize and the undertones of familiar cinnamon. Yum.
Add remaining vegetables and cook until tender.
Trowa checked the stew periodically, stirring it and adding some additional water once, and eventually pronounced it ready for the rest of the contents. Duo happily dumped the remainder in, and stirred energetically until Trowa mentioned that it would be another half-hour or more before it would be ready.
Wow, he'd had no idea that this much effort was behind stew. The anticipation was eating him whole—almost three hours of building up expectations. If it tasted awful after all this effort, he'd cry.
Trowa proceeded to wash the dishes and cutlery they'd dirtied and placed in the sink. There was something incongruous about seeing Trowa, an experienced mobile suit pilot and seasoned soldier, up to his elbows in sudsy water that smelled like lemon. Weird. Stranger still that he looked so normal and relaxed performing the small household task.
When the dishes were overturned and drying on a spread out disk towel, they resumed their seats and cradled their hands companionably around fresh cups of coffee, Colombian this time. It was stronger than Duo usually liked his, so he'd added an unusual amount of sugar to it, and even some cream—much to Trowa's amusement. Trowa didn't even bother to hide the minor glee he felt from making fun of Duo's doctored drink. He was more relaxed and at ease with him than Duo had expected. Quatre had told him how stressed Trowa had seemed while in the desert. Hmm. Maybe it was the company and not the setting. He'd mention it to Quatre later.
At last, Trowa moved to the pot of stew and pronounced it fit for consumption—moving it off of the heating element and extinguishing the flame. He brought two large bowls down from the cupboard above, and ladled a generous portion into each. When Duo walked over to claim his, he was waved to the side. "What?"
"It's not done yet, wait a moment."
"What do you mean? It's been almost three hours!"
Cool slightly. Add sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and freshly cracked pepper to taste, add more cheese for garnish if desired. Serve.
Trowa pulled more containers from the refrigerated cabinet and a spoon from the adjacent drawer. "Sour cream," he explained of the first, and dropped a generous spoonful on the top of each bowl before snapping the lid shut. "And sharp cheddar," he added of the second, while sprinkling a handful of the shredded cheese over the surface of the stew. This container he left out on the table, "I love cheese," he admitted wistfully. And motioning Duo to take both bowls, he carried the cheese, a loaf of fresh bread, and a thick bar of sweet butter to the table where Duo waited patiently, spoon hovering over his bowl.
"Go ahead, stir it all together and add more cheese to the top. You might want to add some black pepper as well—it's over to your right." But his words were wasted; Duo was already tucking into his bowl of stew. Savoring the subtle combination of spices and flavors, the textures of the beef—spoon tender with long cooking, and sinking his teeth into the dense potatoes and carrots. His eyes were closed with pleasure; his face soft and relaxed with approval. Trowa made a small noise, as if to speak, and Duo interrupted him. "Don't say a word, I'm having an epiphany."
Trowa chuckled in response and, after stirring and dropping another generous portion of cheese over the surface, started making inroads on his own meal.
Duo was warm and satisfied as he'd rarely been in his life. He considered that the meal tasted better, coming as it did from the labor of his hands over the course of the afternoon. And within the shared and welcome company of new friendship. His mouth happy with the mix of flavors such as he'd never experienced; he'd remember the taste of this for a long time to come.
"Thanks Trowa. This is really good." It seemed inadequate to describe the experience, but Trowa looked pleased at the complement and smiled in return. They both turned to their respective bowls, and nothing was heard except for the subtle scrape of spoons against bowls for the interminable future.
Deep-Autumn Stew Recipe
An old housemate of mine developed this, and I've added a few touches over the years. I was thinking about making it, and wrote the fiction piece instead.
2 tbs shortening/oil
2 1/2 pounds beef cubes
Heat fat to 300 degrees. Brown beef on all sides.
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped or sliced
Add garlic, onion, and celery. Saute 5-7 minutes or so.
1 (29oz.) can of tomato puree
3/4 cup red wine (optional - but better with)
1-2 tbs dry vermouth (optional - develops flavour of tomatoes)
2 tbs sweet Hungarian paprika
1-2 tbs hot Hungarian paprika (to taste)
3 tsp beef bouillon
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/4 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp each: sugar, thyme, oregano, cumin, sage
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Add tomato puree, wine, and all seasonings. Add water to cover (and more if stew dries out while cooking). Cook on medium-low heat for about 2 hours.
2 1/2 pounds potatoes, cubed
1 pound carrots
(can add others as desired, a turnip adds flavour)
3-4 cups hot water
Add potatoes, carrots, and water. Cook until tender (about 30 minutes or so).
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
Just before serving, add sour cream and cheese.
Stir to thicken. Garnish with more cheese if desired.