‘Shrooms: A Story in 100 Words

A short-short story.

Austin Mystery Writers

Posted by Kathy Waller

I did it again: prepared my piece for November 21 well in advance, set it aside for later revision, forgot to post it.

As we in the writing trade say, AARGH.

As my fourth-grade teacher said, Better late than never, but better never late.

As I say, take what my fourth-grade teacher said, chop off the clause starting with but and read on.

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Because I recently attended Writer Unboxed’sUnConference in Salem, Massachusetts, I planned to write about it this week.

UnCon comprised five full days of sessions heavy with both information and inspiration: not so much how to write, but how to dig deeper, make richer, write better.

The week was intense. I’m going to have to think about it for a while before I can write about it.

So this week, following V. P. Chandler’s lead, I’m sharing a story I wrote…

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Pot Roast Plethora and a Parboiled Goose

Modified rapture!

The pot roast fell apart.

"Pot Roast" is licensed by Kathy Waller under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
“Pot Roast” is licensed by Kathy Waller under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Four hours at 250°, and a three-pound chuck roast falls apart when nudged with a fork.

It has taken me twelve years to relearn that.

Until 1988, I cooked lovely pot roasts, tender and tasty. I followed my mother’s example: no flouring, no searing, just season the meat, put it into a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven, add onions and a little water, turn on the heat, and leave it alone. On top of the stove, in the oven, it doesn’t matter. Later, add potatoes and carrots. Cook until done.

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a clust...
Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But in 1988, I stopped cooking–that’s another story–and didn’t pick it up again on a regular basis until fifteen years later when I acquired David and thought I had to feed him nutritious, well balanced meals. He was polite, ate what was put before him, and said it was good. It wasn’t. Tough beef, tough chicken, tough meat in general. Afraid I would poison him and then have to explain it to his brothers, I cooked meat long enough to kill every possible bacterium and then some.

A modern woman steeped in the traditions of librarianship, I spent years googling pot roast recipes: Michigan Secret Pot Roast, Family Style Pot Roast, Busy Day Pot Roast, Hearty Pot Roast, Easy Pot Roast, Pot Roast in Foil, Perfect Pot Roast, Savory Pot Roast, Paula Deen Pot Roast. A plethora of pot roasts. Not much help, though, because temperatures vary widely and instructions equivocate regarding cooking times. So many read something like, Cook until meat falls apart when touched by fork. Well, d’oh.

Meal preparation is labor-intensive, and there’s little room for error. When I cook, I don’t want wishy-washy estimates. I want answers.

The break-through came with a recipe calling for an oven temperature of 250°. I’d never cooked anything that slowly, but desperate times, etc. Last night (on the theory that everything tastes better on the second day) I floured, seared, added broth–still don’t believe in it, but fifty million roasters can’t be wrong–sautéed and tossed in onion and garlic, secured our prospective entrée in a tepid oven, and went back to binge watching Law and Order. Four hours later, I removed roast from oven, inserted fork, and–voila! Immediate disintegration.

Unfortunately, I’d been so intent on the fate of the meat that I forgot to add potatoes and carrots. This morning I boiled them in the remaining beef broth and tossed them into the pot with the main course.

"Thanksgiving Turkey" is licensed by Danny Murphy under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
“Thanksgiving Turkey” is licensed by Danny Murphy under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Unless history books have it all wrong, pot roast isn’t traditional Thanksgiving fare. So why did we have it?

  1. After years of eating holiday turkey, I realized I don’t like it. I like dressing and gravy, but not turkey.
  2. I cooked a Christmas turkey in 1972 and a Thanksgiving turkey in 1999, and they were delicious. Post-1999, they’ve been flops. And a lot of work.
  3. Since marrying David, I’ve roasted, in addition to turkeys, a duck and a goose. The duck had enough meat on its little bones to last through one dinner and about a half a sandwich. The goose, selected because the Cratchitts serve it every Christmas, had to be parboiled. Without a pot large enough to hold an entire goose, I had to parboil one end at a time. I didn’t enjoy it.
  4. David and I like pot roast.
  5. I am stubborn. I do not give up, nor do I give in. If anyone thinks I’m going to be brought to my knees by some steer’s shoulder, he can think again.
English: uploaded for an infobox
English: uploaded for an infobox (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Released into the public domain by Joe Smack.

Of course, pot roast wasn’t the only dish on our table. We also had dressing, gravy,and brownies. HEB helped with the dressing. Duncan Hines helped with the brownies.

"Brownie" is licensed by Kathy Waller under CC BY NC-SA 2.0.
“Brownie” is licensed by Kathy Waller under CC BY NC-SA 2.0.

I took care of the gravy myself. It’d been eons since I made gravy, and just before adding homemade flour-and-water thickener, I heard a still, small voice say, You’re going to ruin that.  But I didn’t.

So that’s the story of Thanksgiving Dinner 2016: Relatively Perfect Pot Roast. In 2017, I’ll remember to add vegetables.

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The other remarkable thing about Thanksgiving Dinner 2016 is that I cooked it, served it, and cleaned up after it. In the past eleven months, I’ve prepared maybe five meals–maybe–and each time I played out halfway through and left the finishing up to David. Today I stayed the course. I must be feeling better.

Oh. I just remembered–I was going to fix deviled eggs. Darn.  But I’ll do it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day.

And I forgot the cranberry sauce.

###

David’s supper. He found the cranberry sauce.

Turtle brownie and cranberry sauce.
Turtle brownie and cranberry sauce.

 

Quaint and Curious

“Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

“But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him and he at me,
And killed him in his place.

“I shot at him because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so—my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although

“He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.

“Yes; Quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.”

~ Thomas Hardy, “The Man He Killed”

English: poppy Русский: Мак
English: poppy Русский: Мак (Photo credit: Wikipedia); By Moisey (Own work (own photo)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons