As I get to know each reader, all of you manage to become my heroes and sheroes. I hope you’re able to step outside yourselves and see the obstacles you’ve overcome and the things you’ve achieved the way I see them. I’m proud to know each and every one of you.
During the relatively brief time I’ve been acquainted with Olga Núñez Miret, I’ve seen her be incredibly prolific as a writer. I’ve said that I can’t even read books as fast as she seems to write them!
One of her most recent novels is Family, Lust and Cameras. Olga contemplates the thought, “What would happen if your life became the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window?” I just got this novel for my Nook, and can’t wait to take a peek (pardon the pun)!
Olga supplied the “ingredients” for today’s episode. I’ve also given you a short video and a recipe.
Now, what do you get when you combine delicious food, the 1920’s, and a ghost? Let’s find out. Bon appétit!
2. Stilton Cheese, Rum, Pine Nuts
The fizzy purple vapor dissipated and I found that my eyes had not deceived me. A strange, semi-solid man bowed before me. I was too stunned to think. It seemed like the purple mist befuddled my head. I gradually became aware of one other thing, a shrill unpleasant sound that went on and on…
“Andy!” I cried, suddenly becoming aware again.
My dear old friend Andy Avis, was screaming like a school girl. I grabbed his arm and shook him. He stopped screaming. For five seconds. Then he screamed right into my face.
I felt like slapping him, and only partly to bring him to his senses. However, riotous giggling shocked both of us to silence. The ghost stood in the kitchen bent double with laughter. Apparently he found Andy’s reaction most amusing.
As seems to happen to me in times of stress, one detail stood out to me more than anything else. I turned to Andy but pointed to the apparition. “You can see him?” I said, and I wasn’t sure if it was a question or an accusation.
Daisy, the ghost woman, told me that though I hadn’t known it, I had the gift for seeing spirits. She said Granny Fanny could too, but my grandmother had suppressed the
ability. However, as you might expect, not everyone could see ghosts. So I was surprised that Andy was able to see the spirit sitting sprawled at Granny’s kitchen table.
Before I took another breath I whirled on the ghost and demanded, “How can he see you?”
The apparition who had materialized from the gaudy bottle of spirits sobered. He stuck out his lower lip in an exaggerated expression of consideration that I had a feeling was a habit with him.
“Well, I am one powerful poltergeist, Signorina!” he said between hiccupping giggles. “It’s no effort for me to let anyone see me, and sometimes they do whether or not I’m intending it,” the ghost told me.
I thought poor Andy’s eyes were going to pop right out of his head.
The spirit looked longingly at the food on the table. Andy and I hadn’t even started our meal.
He licked his lips and sighed. “Signorina, a nice Stilton Cheese would be beautiful with that,” he said wistfully.
“Err… Would you care for anything?” I asked, knowing that after all, Granny would expect me to be a good hostess. Then I gave my head a shake. Had I really said that?
“I rarely partake. Sometimes that doesn’t turn out so well,” he said, but his eyes never strayed from the food. “But if I could just take a whiff,” he said leaning toward the table — and closer to Andy.
With a blanched face and panicked eyes Andy staggered backward. There was nowhere for him to go, so he bumped hard against the table. The ornate wine bottle wobbled precariously at the edge for a moment, and then it crashed to the blue and white tile floor. It shattered into dozens of pieces.
The ghost shrieked.
Andy shrieked when the ghost did.
I shrieked at both of them to stop their shrieking!
“Yes! No! Both!” he replied, rapid fire in his strange accent. Then he gave a giddy giggle. “Thank God that gaudy bottle is no more! Can you imagine making your home in such an ugly vessel?” he commented. “However I must have something, or there will be… consequences. Ah! Symbol of the wisdom I should have had in life!” he exclaimed when he saw the carved wooden owl clock. “This will do,” he said even as he held the clock to his chest and then disappeared.
The clock dropped the short distance to the counter, landing with a wobble and a clunk. Andy and I looked at each other in stunned silence. A moment later the spirit remerged from the owl clock. He sprawled into one of the white ladder back chairs my grandfather had made. That was when I noticed the Renaissance era garb beneath his apron.
“Bene! What a relief!” he said and lifted his brimless toque to mop his brow, or at least I thought the hat was called a toque.
I leaned closer, wondering if ghosts could sweat. “If you didn’t like the bottle…” I began, but wasn’t sure how to ask what I wanted to know. “Well, how come you’re — ” my words failed me so I pointed to the shards of the purple bottle.
“Ah Signorina,” the ghost began. “It is a poignant tale. I was chef to the Patriarch of Aquileia at the Vatican. I always preferred the pun as a form of humor, and the Pope, he shared this with me. However, one evening we served dinner to a plethora of patrons, speaking Punjabi, Parsi, and Philippine. I presented a perfect prawn pasta… Perhaps something went awry with the translations… But — you see, the short of it is that I pissed off the Pope! And this predicament is my fate,” the ghost said with a mournful expression.
I marveled at the poltergeist’s capacity to use the letter “P” so many times in one sentence. I gave a hard blink to clear my mind. Then I looked from him to Andy, with no idea what to say or do next. However, Andy found his voice.
“You’re not a genie then? You really are a ghost?” Andy asked. “Too bad. Granting wishes would have been a great ice breaker,” he joked, abruptly loosening up to my surprised relief. “We don’t have to rub the owl clock’s belly to get you to come out, do we?”
The poltergeist gave Andy that pursed lip expression, but then laughed heartily slapping his knee. “No, young patron. I can come and go as I please, so long as I bind myself to an object. And mind you, I can’t be without one for more than a moment. However, I tend to lose track of the time. When I went into that gaudy bottle, I was in a great hurry, but that’s another story. Anyhow, I think I was intoxicated on the noxious potion, so I did not wake for some little while. Then you uncorked the bottle, and the rest, as you say, is history,” he said with a hiccup.
My nose wrinkled at the thought of being inside a bottle that smelled like that one had. I said it must have been awful. The apparition burped, blushed, and excused himself, making me think he might have become intoxicated from being cooped up in the wine bottle.
“Ah, one gets accustomed to the aroma,” he said affably. “But now you speak of such… do you have any rum? I do have a preference for the spirit, tee-hee!” he said with a giggle, inordinately pleased with his joke that a spirit would like spirits.
When I explained prohibition, he looked very downcast. He somehow hiccupped and burped at the same time. Then he made a shocked comment about the state of things that would allow such a law. Andy and I agreed enthusiastically.
I finally found my manners and thought to introduce myself and Andy. The ghost bowed again, with a slight wobble. “My great pleasure, Signorina o Signore. I present myself, Maestro Martino. Please do me the honor of calling me Maestro,” he said with a flourish.
Even as I wondered if I should curtsey or something, Andy tried to return the bow. But he must have still felt as disoriented as I, because he stumbled back against the counter. His elbow caught a small jar, overturning it.
“Oh gosh, Pip. I’m sorry,” he said nervously, though I realized the jumpiness was because of the ghost, not the jar.
Andy righted the jar and peered through the glass. “What are these?” he asked.
“They’re pine nuts,” I sighed.
The pine nuts were tied to something that had me feeling a little blue. “I got them as a treat for Cracker,” I said but both Andy and the ghost looked askance. “Cracker is a beautiful parrot I’ve been looking after. And she’s smart as all get-out too. Anyway Cracker got really attached to a Federal marshal. The marshal got badly wounded. And now Cracker hardly leaves his side,” I said, and sighed again before I could stop myself.
My friend nodded, but I could tell that Andy didn’t really get it. However, Maestro pursed his lower lip and inclined his head in a very understanding way. “And now you wonder if the pretty bird will return to you,” he said. “The parrots, they are clever and devoted creatures, no? If this marshal, you say? A law man of some sort?” he asked and I affirmed. “If this marshal has claimed her heart, perhaps she will still be your friend sometimes too.”
I tried to smile, but it only got halfway to my mouth. “I don’t see how he can take care of Cracker… not in his line of work. He travels sometimes for weeks at a time,” I complained, worried about the parrot’s welfare.
“Ah, you see!” the ghost exclaimed. “There you have it! You can take care of the parrot whenever he is away, keeping your friendship intact.”
That was something that had not occurred to me. I guess I had been too preoccupied with feeling blue over everything. First I couldn’t get anywhere with finding out who killed Daisy, the dainty dish. Then I learned that I wouldn’t get to keep Cracker. So I had been a real sad sack the past few weeks.
I heard the front door open and Granny’s muffled voice talking to Arabella Wong on the front porch. “Oh now don’t you fret, Arabella. It’s no trouble at all. He’s such a cute little rascal. You and Alastair have a good time, and get reacquainted with your cousins out west. Don’t you worry about a thing,” Granny’s voice drifted to us in the kitchen.
The first thing that came to my mind was the fact that there was a sloshed spirit in Granny Fanny’s kitchen! How was I going to explain that? I probably should have told him to hide or get inside that owl clock to which he had “bound” himself a few minutes before.
Scrabbling sounds distracted me and a second later Wriggles the pug raced excitedly into the kitchen. The little dog skidded to a stop at Maestro’s feet. He sniffed the strange Renaissance era boots, and then stretched up to investigate the white apron. The pug scooted back a step and looked up inquisitively at the tall rippled white hat that sat jauntily on the ghost chef’s head.
The pug’s large eyes squinted as he took in the hat. Enthusiastic yapping ensued. Wriggles barked so hard that every yap pushed him backward a few inches. I had a horrific sudden thought. What would the ghost do, confronted with a barking little dog? Instinctively I took a protective step toward Wriggles, but the dog barked all the more. I supposed he was over-excited by then.
Granny’s voice grew closer and I heard her footsteps in the hallway, moving toward the kitchen. First the rambunctious dog, and now my grandmother… How would the intoxicated ghost react? After all, I had just met him. I couldn’t predict what the spirit would do when sober, let alone zozzled as he was. Maestro even described himself as a “powerful poltergeist.” Could I trust him to continue to be as affable as he had so far been toward Andy and me — amid the dog’s yapping and the shock I expected my grandmother to display. What if Granny started screaming like Andy had done?
Applesauce! What was I going to do?
My grandmother was talking to us from the hallway as she walked, explaining that she was going to look after Wriggles while the Wongs went to California. She said something about the food and asked if we needed anything else. I knew she’d be in the room with us in about a second. Before my over-worked noodle could think of anything to do, Granny Fanny walked into the kitchen.
She crossed the threshold and abruptly stopped and stood in mute astonishment. Her brow knitted when she took in the chef’s old fashioned attire.
The ghost gasped, and I was afraid he would shriek the way he did when the antique bottle broke. I saw a look of open mouthed astonishment on his face.
“Che bella sorpresa!” he murmured on an exhaled breath.
For a moment I thought he’d been rendered speechless, but he quickly found his tongue. “Such radiance, such unaffected beauty! Please forgive my surprise,” Maestro said while Granny looked more puzzled than ever.
The ghost swept off his white toque, and the dog finally stopped barking. Wriggles seemed afraid to get any closer, but he stretched as close to the hat as his short legs and body would allow. His twitching black nose sniffed the brimless white hat.
Harvesting Pine Nuts as a Food Source
Recipe: Stilton Dip with Red Pears and Carr’s Table Water Crackers
Recipe and Photo Credit: StiltonCheese.co.uk
Preparation Time: 5 Minutes
10g/4oz Stilton blue cheese
3 tablespoons whipping cream
25g/1oz chopped walnuts, toasted
1 ripe red pear, thinly sliced
Carr’s Table Water Crackers with Cracked Pepper
1. Lightly blend cheese and whipping cream
2. Stir in walnuts, Chill
3. Spread 2 teaspoons cheese mixture on Carr’s Table Water Crackers with Cracked Pepper
4. Top cheese mixture with pear slices
Makes 12 crackers
Copyright © 2014 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
All images from Pinterest unless otherwise noted.