"You don't need a silver spoon to eat good food."
-Paul Prudhomme

Thursday, April 16, 2015


From the fridge she grabs a basket of mushrooms, six giant shiitakes.  She snatches a handful of thyme and a few heads of garlic from the shelf.  Her hands full, she wraps her elbow around a huge carton of heavy cream, hugging it close to her as she leaves the fridge and kicks the door shut behind her.
She sharpens her best knife, not her favorite butcher's knife, but her chopping knife, and gives the garlic cloves a whack with the flat side.  She pulls the peels away and begins chopping, the aroma of fresh garlic making its familiar way up to her nostrils.  She scrapes the garlic from the board and into a pan with bubbling butter.  Next she moves to the thyme, stripping the leaves from the stems and giving them a chop as well.  She reaches for pasta dough, picking a freshly chilled spinach dough and running it through the press.  She tosses the strips of pappardelle into a pot of boiling water and gives it a stir to separate the noodles.  She returns to her pan of garlic, stirring that as well, the pieces beginning to brown and pop with a rich aroma.  She slices her mushrooms, delicately thin, and adds them to the garlic, letting them wilt just barely.  A splash of white wine deglazes the pan, producing a satisfying hiss and a light blue flame that lingers for a moment.  Ann gives the burner a little more gas, and the flame in the pan lights up even more, barely grazing her face with intense heat.  A generous amount of heavy cream puts out the flame, and she watches as the yellow butter, slivers of mushroom, and bits of herbs swirl together in creamy perfection.
Suddenly, without a hint of warning, the top of her head feels hot, hotter than the pan in front of her.  She throws a flaming chef hat across the room and into the sink, then reaches for her hair which, too, is in flames.  Desperately flapping a dish towel at her head she rushes towards the sink, but stubs her toe on a drain and sends herself- on fire- flailing through the air towards the tiled floor where she-

Wakes up, hyperventilating, feverish, and sweaty.  Ann reaches to her head, making sure all her hair is still there.  The sheets next to her are damp from her own sweat.  She gets out of bed and walks to her bathroom sink, bracing herself on the counter, still out of breath from her nightmare.  She decides to take a shower, leaving the water cold to reassure herself that she is no longer on fire.  

After her rude awakening, she decides to take the truck the next town over to stock up on spices and olive oil while it's still early.  She heads down her usual route, East on Main Street towards the highway entrance, when a woman steps off the sidewalk and into the middle of the street- in front of the truck.  Ann slams on the brakes, but can't stop her momentum in time.  She hits the woman who stepped into the street.  In utter shock, she pulls over and gets out...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


It'd been a week since Ann worked the kitchen.  She had no idea how to deal with her ever-too-aware son, Archie.  After six days of moping around the house, eating cheeze-its and drinking lemon LaCroix, she concluded that it was time to tell him the truth about her father's murder. She didn't know where to find him, or even what she'd say.  She figured cooking would give her some insight, like it always did.  Flooding her sinuses with rich tastes and smells usually cleared her mind, and recipes, rather than humans, were much easier to understand.

A rush of soapy steam from the freshly opened dishwasher greets her face as she opens the door to the kitchen.  Her sous chef is busy spitting off orders to her meager staff, his thick Italian accent ringing, like delicious music, in their ears.  Ann floats through her usual circle, making her way from station to station, tasting spoonfuls here and there.  She comes to a stop at the kitchen door window, peering through to see almost a full house waiting for her food.

"Hey Ann!" she hears from behind her.  "I think front of house might need your help more than we do back here tonight.  We're down a server.  Tables four through eight."

"Sure, of course.  Everything looks under control back here." She trades her chef button-down for a waitress' apron and heads through the kitchen doors.  Her three waiters on staff hustle back and forth, trying to accommodate for the tables unaccounted for, pouring wine and snatching finished plates.  Ann rushes to the unattended hostess station where two parties stand, waiting for a table.

"Right this way please," she says with a genuine and hospitable smile, grabbing menus and leading them to a set table.
"I apologize for the wait.  Someone will be along in a moment to take your drink orders."  She makes her way back to the hostess station, where her brand new, and very dirty, puppy sits on the freshly vacuumed carpet, held on the end of an improvised leash by a stranger.
"I'm looking for Ann," he says, "I have her dog."
"Oh my goodness, he must have gotten out the back once I came into work... Thank you so much." She grabs the dog and lifts him up over the counter, setting him in the nook of the station where he promptly lays down for a nap.  With a smile she moves onto the next customer waiting, reaching for three menus when-

"MOTHER WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?!" Archie bursts through the front of the restaurant, startling customers and instigating a rattle of forks crashing onto plates and wine sloshing out of glasses and onto pristine white tablecloths.
"DO THEY KNOW YOU'RE OUT?! HOW DID YOU GET OUT?!"  Ann's new puppy starts barking at the chaos; all of a sudden Ann's sweet, elegant restaurant becomes a madhouse, with tomato sauce and a parmesan garnish.  Ann looks around desperately for the man who brought in her puppy, begging him to take the dog outside so as not to disturb her customers any further.  Meanwhile Archie rushes through the sea of white tablecloths towards Ann, leaving behind a wake of astonished faces.  Ann briskly turns around and pushes her way back through the kitchen doors in an attempt to relocate the turmoil.

"Archie listen to me," she says, faced forward, making a beeline to the walk-in refrigerator.
"You don't know the full story.  I never murdered your father," she explains, slamming the refrigerator door behind the two of them.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


The morning air is especially bitter to Ann as she leaves the restaurant.  The taste of beer lingers in the back of her throat from the night before.  She hadn't been able to sleep; she couldn't stop thinking about what could go wrong as a dog owner.  She headed to O'Harley's, thinking the alcohol would clear her head.  Instead it filled her stomach with foamy remorse for having never owned a pet as a child.  Why hadn't she gotten a dog when her son still lived with her?  Well, things were different.  That was before they took her away from him- before they accused her of murdering her husband.  Before the jury ruled that she was mentally unstable and threw her in the asylum.  Thankfully she'd only been there for six months before DNA evidence proved her innocence.  Her husband's mistress had killed him- sliced him to pieces when he refused to marry her.

Still, Ann had never found her son to tell him the truth, nor did she attempt to.  She couldn't bring herself to dishonor Archie's father in order to exonerate herself.  She remembered Archie's miserable face when he looked down on her from the witness stand.  She figured it was better for her to remain a villain than for the father he admired to be diminished to a mistress-keeping sleaze.  She had no plans to find her son to tell him the truth.

As the sun lingers higher into the brisk sky, Ann heads down the road to the grocery store, intending to stock up before her theoretical new dog takes up all her spare time.  She blows past the medicine aisle, intending to grab a bottle of Advil for the headache that is beginning to accompany her bloated stomach.  Just as her slender fingers pull the little blue bottle from the shelf, her eyes meet Archie's.  Her beautiful little boy, grown into the spitting image of his father, stares straight at her, through her really.  She drops her K. Roger's basket to the ground and floats, like smoke, towards the automatic doors at the front of the store.  She doesn't want him to see her.  Not like this.  Not when she hasn't thought out what she'll say to him, how she'll explain herself and her deceased husband.

She hurries, grocery-less, across the parking lot to the corner of Blue and Main, turning the corner and continuing towards the pet store on Boulevard Boulevard.  Maybe he hadn't seen her?  She figures that because she hadn't said anything, he'll most likely convince himself that it in fact had not been her in the store.  Maybe he'll assume she's still locked up in that asylum on Herbert Johnson.  The chances of him making that mistake are about as slim as the chance that a puppy could fill the void of the family that was taken from Ann so many years ago.  Nevertheless she's going to buy that damn puppy.

Roaming around the pet store, Ann grabs the necessities: food bowl, red leash and collar, and a dog bed.  She checks out and makes her way back towards the front of the store where the adoption center is, smacking heads and just about everything else with a cinder block of a man just outside the door.  They exchange a few words, mostly about dogs, while Ann paces back and forth beside the cages filled with longing eyes and wagging tails.  He says he has to get home to feed his own dog, although he seems to have more on his mind than canines.  She smiles and lets the man go, although something makes her want him to continue talking to her.  His pet owner advice is comforting, and his muscly figure makes her feel safe, like he could leap to protect her if one of the mangier dogs were to get out of its cage and attack someone.  She watches him walk away, and so does a little white pit bull in the cage next to her.  Though she may not be the biggest fan of dogs, Ann does believe them to be a good judge of character.

"I'll take this one, please."

Sunday, February 1, 2015


Ann's Monday mornings are her days of solace.  For that one day a week, the restaurant is closed, her apartment is spotless, her laundry is clean, and, most importantly, she doesn't have to work.

Ever since that woman came into the restaurant to pick up her dog, Ann hasn't been able to stop thinking about the little animal.  She'd actually warmed up to it.  Everything made more sense once the dog's owner explained that Jackie had gotten out of her apartment and into the hallway, where somebody was smoking an ungodly amount of pot that made the dog stoned and discombobulated.  Ann missed the scruffy thing.

She decides to walk down the block to the park, thinking that maybe she'd see the woman and her dog.

Jackie and her owner aren't there, but there is a group of folks huddled around a campfire.  Ann meanders towards them, noticing how the smoke from the fire goes straight up in the still air, almost like a reverse beam of light.

Ann strikes up conversation with a woman by the fire, talking about nothing in particular.  The woman seems to have something on her mind.  She keeps pacing, a few steps here, a few steps there, and she twirls her yellow spaghetti hair around her fingers as she listens to Ann talk about the restaurant.

After a while, Ann decides she isn't going to run into Jackie the dog today, so she leaves the jittery woman by the campfire and heads home.
"Maybe I'll go adopt a dog next weekend," she thinks.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Three - Apartment in the back of Ann's Restaurant

With the cold and the snow, lunchtime at Ann's restaurant was dead.  Only a few hours after she opened, she tells her staff to go home and stay warm, assuming that all of her customers are doing the same.  She flips the hanging "OPEN" sign to "CLOSED," and heads out back for a cigarette.

She stands on the steps outside the backdoor, her rubber chef shoes crushing the rock salt that she put out this morning.  Taking a deep drag on her cigarette, she is mesmerized by the falling snowflakes, dainty and dreamy as they float down to the ground, then heavy and wet as they meet the dirty slush of urban wintertime.  Beyond the dumpster lot of the restaurant, she sees Dreamwood Avenue, covered in a slick blanket of ice, unfrozen and re-frozen by the friction of car tires and the bitter cold, respectively.  Across the white ice blanket, Ann sees a dog leap out the front door of Dreamwood Terrace, its little paws meeting the hostile ice without welcome.  The poor animal slips and slides as it tries to regain its balance.  In a somewhat-comical and somewhat-pathetic spectacle, the dog makes it across the street, and meets Ann's gaze from across the lot.  
"It's a small dog," she thinks, "not capable of any real harm."  The dog holds Ann's gaze and cocks her head to one side.  In doing so, the dog throws off her own balance and goes toppling into the slush beside her.  
"Do I help it?" Ann says to herself.  "What if it attacks me? What if when I pick it up it claws me with its razor-sharp claws and bites my hands?  I need my hands to cook.  I can't help that dog.  It's just going to have to figure its own shit out.  Dumb dog."  The dog shakes off the dirty slush and begins to make her way towards Ann.  
"Why is it coming towards me?  Why do its eyes look so weird?" She thinks, tossing her cigarette into the slush.  She puts her hand behind her back to grab the doorknob, only half sure about whether or not she's going to go back inside and leave the dog in the snow to freeze.  
"Glossy eyes, that's a sign of rabies I bet," she rationalizes.  "Better leave it alone to be safe."  She goes back inside and locks the door- both locks, just in case the dog is tricky with doors.  

A few minutes later she hears a scratching at the door, and a whimpering to follow.  She walks over to the door and, very carefully, peers out the window.  The dog is sitting on the doorstep, wet and shivering.  It's big glossy eyes meet Ann's, and for a minute or so, her fear vanishes.  She stares at the odd dog through the glass for a while, and then turns away towards the kitchen.  She grabs two oven mits for protection and returns to open the door for the pitiful animal.  The dog topples through the doorway and lays down, right in the middle of her apartment living room.  With one mitted hand, she leans over to pet the dog on its back.  Its stomach growls, making Ann jump.  
"I guess you're my only hungry customer today, huh?" she chuckles.  She disappears into the kitchen and returns with a bowl of ground beef and pepperoni.  She sets the bowl a few feet from the dog.  Immediately the dog stumbles towards the bowl and practically inhales the meat before laying back down and closing it's glossy red eyes.  
"You know pup, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you look high as a kite! Stumbling through the snow, eating all my food, and then passing out in my living room? I'll call you Mary-Jane."

Ann hears a knocking at the front door of the restaurant and hops up to see who it is, praying for the dog's owner.

Monday, January 12, 2015


It's 1am when Ann sets the last clean dish back on its shelf.  Her wake-up alarm for the next morning is already set for 5, when she'll begin the prep cooking for the day.
"Four hours of sleep?" she thinks, "I might as well stay up."  
Tossing her chef jacket aside, she heads out the back of the restaurant, through the kitchen, through her tiny apartment, and out the back door.  

A meteor shower, or meteor downpour rather, greets her eyes when she steps out into the balmy air.  The lights flicker and propel across the sky, then slow as they dither away behind the silhouettes of stocky buildings.  Ann heads down Main Street to O'Harley's tavern, passing the leaky fountain that she usually only sees from behind a restaurant window.  

The bar is far from empty.  Bar stools and pool tables are occupied by a plethora of characters, from community college fraternity kids to drunken motorcycle men with grey, stringy beards.  For as many years as she's lived and worked in this town, the only people she's truly gotten to know were the butcher at the market and regulars at the restaurant, so fresh faces are a pleasant change.  One face, however, is not so pleasant.  A man sits wedged in the corner of the room, scanning every single person as if he was searching for a murderer.  Three sips of chilly beer later, a woman sits in the vacant stool next to Ann.  The man across the room moves his gaze towards Ann and the stranger.  The woman's bright red hair twists, curls and whips every which-way, orange freckles dapple her cheeks and nose, and her voice is that of a leprechaun, distracting enough for Ann to forget for a moment about the man staring them down.  
"Do ye mind if I set with ye?" she asks Ann with a crooked smile.
"Not at all," she replies quickly.
"What breengs ye teh the bar this leht in the evenin'?"
"Just needed a change of scenery, I guess, and you?"
"Well, teh be quite honest with ye, I'd much like teh have a smook, but I've told mehself I'll only be a soocial smohker, that wehy I don't do it too often ye know, so I came luhkin' fer someone to smook with- so it becomes a soocial event, ye know.  Does that mek sense?"
"Oh sure.  Would you like to go outside for a smoke?" she says, beer in one hand and her own pack in the other.
"I'd like that very mooch!" the redheaded woman replied.  

Out on the patio, the two stood, gazing at the falling stars, sipping their cigarettes and chatting about nothing in particular.  Unbeknownst to Ann, a little boy, no more than five years old, creeps out from behind an empty discarded keg and tip-toes towards Ann's purse.  For only a fraction of a second, the redheaded woman's eyes dart to the boy and back to Ann's, locking eye contact with her, holding her in an inescapable gaze.  The boy delicately reaches into her bag, fiddles only for a moment, and retrieves her wallet- without a blink, without a sound.  At that exact moment, the back door opens from the inside, and a man, the one that was staring at Ann from across the bar earlier, literally catches the boy red-handed.  He grabs the boy's skinny, freckled arm and yells in his own leprechaun voice,
"Winsley, me oown nephew, what on earth are ye dooin'?"

Monday, December 8, 2014


            The restaurant truck, with paint peeling and a broken headlight, chugs down highway 77 in the early hours of the morning.  Its driver balances her coffee mug in between her legs, sipping at red lights to avoid spilling it on the ratty upholstery like she’s done so many times before.  She’s on her way to Meadowbrook, the better side of town where there’s a decent market.  All the top rated chefs in the city shop there for their ingredients, but none of them have ever heard of Ann’s Italian restaurant on the corner of Dreamwood and Shellac. 
            “Use your blinker, damnit,” she mutters under her breath as she slams on the brakes.  She’s running late this morning, and the fogginess and poor visibility make her anxious.  She pulls into her usual alleyway parking spot, yanks the keys out of the ignition, and hops down from the truck to begin her day. 
            It hits her, like it does every day, the smell of fresh produce, of ground spices, of fresh fish on ice.  They’re like adrenaline to her; they surge through her veins as she hurries to the meat.  She mutters to herself, “Salmon… Halibut… Beef ribs, oh those look decent… Filet mignon, more expensive than usual… Turkey cutlets… Ah pork chops.”  The butcher behind the counter finishes arranging a line of pork roasts before looking up at Ann.  His freckled face brightens at the sight of her.  “The usual?” he asks with a cheerful smirk. 
            “Yes,” she replies, “and 35 of the chops.” 
            “You’re late today,” he says, stacking pork chops on the scale.
            “Traffic worse than usual.  I’ve got to get going or all the good tomatoes will be gone.” She says, smiling, because she knows that’s how she’ll get her way with the butcher.
            “Can’t have an Italian place without tomatoes, can you?” He smiles, hands her a sagging bag of meat, and turns to help another customer.
            She floats across the market, from vegetables, to spices, to breads.  She manages to make up for lost time, and it’s a good thing too, because she has hours of prep work waiting for her back in the kitchen. 
            All day long she slaves away, chopping vegetables, stewing tomato sauce, marinating meats, and stoking the pizza oven.  The hours pass by… 1, 2, 3, suddenly her humbly small staff shows up for dinnertime.  “Alright folks, let’s have a good night tonight.  I want flavors, I want hospitality, and for God’s sake I want al dente pasta.”  Customers come and go, a few couples, a family or two.  It’s 6:45 and business picks up.  Pork chop specials are a hit.  At 7:00, the smoke detector screeches as all the power- the lights, the refrigerators, the appliances turn off.  Only the glow of the brick pizza oven lights the kitchen.
            “Shit.  The generator won’t be delivered until next week.”