One of the ingredients for Episode-11, red currants, caused me to add a merman to our serial. Later I had the thought that Andrea Stephenson might like that character. You see, she has written about mythical water beings like selkies.
So I am very pleased to tell you that the ingredients for this episode are from the marvelous magical mind of Andrea Stephenson at Harvesting Hecate: Thoughts on life, writing, creativity and magic. Andrea’s blog is captivating. Charming and well written, it covers a wide range of things in a very organized, easy to navigate way. I always enjoy my visits there.
Last time we all wondered about the mysterious relationship between Daisy and Mattie Maddox. Will anything be revealed? What turn will the “spooky ingredient” cause the story to take? Most importantly, we left Pip with Granny Fanny very angry, and exclaiming that she was sending our flapper back to live with her father! Granny is a formidable woman and Pip has been through an awful ordeal. What will Pip do? Find out now. Bon appétit!
13. Chickpeas, Winkles, Rice Pudding
With Unnatural Cold
In the past twenty-four hours I had fallen overboard from a ferry, nearly drowned, been kissed by a merman, rescued by a ghost-rider (on a giant seahorse no less), and reduced to wearing a borrowed old-lady dress. Add Granny Fanny’s eloquent outrage — and mind you Granny ranting on her soapbox could strike terror in the heart of a revival preacher… I refuse to accept the label of emotional young girl, but hoserfeathers! It was more than even a flapper could take.
Andy Avis, my old friend gave me a sheepish glance and prudently retreated behind Vicar Vance Varley. Good ole Andy wasn’t going to be any help. Not that I could blame him. Granny Fanny in a tirade was enough to frighten any man. However, I couldn’t help feeling a little betrayed when my friend looked away without saying a word in my defense.
The thought flashed into my distraught mind and I wondered if that was why our friend Mona “the movie star” was never interested in Andy, despite the torch he carried for her. I remembered the time, back at the building where I lived with all my friends. Boris’ apartment was burglarized. The Russian had a painful limp from a bad injury that ended his ballet career, but he charged after the burglar nonetheless. When Andy and Mona arrived a moment later, Andy went after Boris and the thief. But he hesitated noticeably, even though Boris had a head start and would catch up with the man first. Andy wanted to impress Mona, so he gave chase, even though he was afraid.
At the time I had thought the fact that Andy rose above that fear made his action truly courageous. However, as I stood outside the church on Tybee Island, with my grandmother ranting at me, I wondered if I had been right. Mona never said an unkind word about Andy, but did she see something in him I had missed? Something that told her Andy was a wuss?
Anybody would have thought Andy Avis didn’t even know me. Unconsciously I stretched my hand toward him, but he studiously did not look at me. I burst into tears, turned on my heel and ran.
I wasn’t paying any attention to where I was going. The sound of the double doors closing behind me and cool air against my face told the functioning part of my brain that I had gone inside the church. But I didn’t stop there. I ran straight through the sanctuary and out the back door.
My shoes were still wet from my dunk in the Atlantic, and my feet slid around inside them as I ran tearfully through a carefully laid out garden. My kitten-heels clicked on the brick pavers. Shrubs, flowers and statues outlined the curving path. Mulch surrounded colorful impatiens that circled the base of an ancient oak tree. Tiny beige gravel that looked like chickpeas bordered a row of sculpted planters. I pushed my way through ornamental grasses, some of which were taller than me. Pink pampas and fountaingrass whispered drily at my passage as if accusing me.
Accusing me of what? I hadn’t done anything, yet even the grass criticized me.
Then I was alone on a stretch of beach. One of my shoes caught in the sand. I stumbled when it came off my foot. Not stopping, I kicked off the other shoe and continued my flight barefooted. I saw a sand dune ahead, crowned by swaying cattails. There was no clear way around it, so I just kept going. I skirted the cattails and mostly slid down the other side of the dune. The sound of waves lapping against the shore met my ears. The ocean was about a hundred yards away.
I slowed to a staggering walk as I approached the sore. Several large boulders dotted a haphazard path out into the Atlantic, and my feet moved toward them. Sunlight shimmered in a small tide pool. Little shells that were broadly ovate and sharply pointed were abundant in the pool. Some of them crawled. Winkles. The sea snails moved as they fed on algae and barnacle larvae.
In the distance I heard a slap, like a large fish hitting the water. I glanced out to sea and wondered if it might even be a dolphin. However, it was too near the shore for a dolphin, unless the ocean floor dropped off sharply near those big rocks. Some parts of the shore did that. It could be dangerous for beachgoers.
A sunbeam glinted off one of the shells, and I stood and looked at the winkles. My racing thoughts gradually slowed as I watched the measured movements of the sea snails. There was something almost hypnotic about it. The salt breeze brought a snatch of song to my ears. Or was it an instrument, rather than a voice? The slow cadence matched the movements of the winkles and it soothed my troubled mind.
The music became more insistent. The melody pulled me closer to the shore. I wandered aimlessly, letting my feet choose the way. I climbed onto the rocky path made by the boulders. Perhaps mankind had lent a hand, because they were arranged in a way that made it easy to skip along from one to the next as they stretched out into the ocean. The sun soaked rocks were comfortingly warm against my bare feet, and I skipped to the furthest one.
I sat down and dangled my feet from the rock. The ocean didn’t reach that high except when a wave came in, but now and then the sea spray misted my toes. I heard another big splash, followed by the sound of something large surging up from the water.
Abruptly the bright green eyes of the merman were locked with mine. His long pale green hair tickled my shoulder as he leaned in and kissed me.
Now I want you to know that while I wasn’t a prude, neither was I in the habit necking with strangers. No matter how exotically beautiful they might be… and the merman truly was stunning, both graceful and virile, and handsome as Valentino. At the time I didn’t realize that he had an innate hypnotic ability. He could lull the mind without having any intention of doing so.
So I kissed him back. Come on… what else would a flapper do? And I kissed him again. His arm dropped from my shoulders to my hips as he wordlessly urged me to go back to the ocean with him. I wondered foggily how I could understand him so well when he didn’t speak a word.
A large wave crashed against the rock, splashing both of us. He smiled and I relaxed against him. His arm around my hips held me tighter. Then an unnatural cold touched the back of my neck and I shivered. He mistook it for pleasure and his bright green eyes started to glow in response. I didn’t pay any attention to a tiny pop-fizz noise that blended into the sound of the waves caressing the boulder.
“I remember this place. A few times I came out here to think,” Daisy said.
The ghost woman appeared on the other side of me, and I pulled away from the merman’s kiss, turning to her in surprise.
“But I became too weak to hop across the rocks,” she added as if she described a distant memory.
The merman’s eyes widened when he saw the spirit. He snarled then hissed. There wasn’t so much as a splash as he dove into the ocean, cleanly cutting the water like a knife. A broad green tailfin broached the surface and gave the water an angry slap. Daisy looked at it with a derisive expression.
After I thought about it, I realized that Daisy had more of an accent when she spoke of times before her marriage. I supposed that being around different people, hearing different ways of speaking caused her country manner to fade.
“After that… that place,” she said, sounding more her sophisticated self. “I was hurt, bleeding. Somebody brought me here. I think it was Henry. Yes,” she exclaimed as part of the memory became clear to her. “My husband brought me here after that horrible hospital. But I didn’t get better, and he went back to Savannah. He came often, but I kept getting weaker. I wasn’t able to be vivacious enough to make him stay,” she spoke softly and I could hear the self-blame in her tone.
What hospital, I wondered. I thought whatever the horrid thing was that Daisy couldn’t remember had happened at the abandoned warehouse. Then I remembered Andy’s title research on the building showed that it had been used as some sort of hospital at one time, during a war. It was possible that it had some medical purpose again later.
A newer puzzle came to me. “Daisy,” I began but wasn’t sure how to phrase the question. “The old woman on the beach? Mattie Maddox? You stood behind her on the beach last night and you seemed very unhappy. Did you know her?”
Daisy looked at me uncomprehendingly for a second. Finally she seemed to remember the moment. “Oh yes, that woman. She seemed familiar to me. Mattie, you say? Mattie was the name of my personal maid! Could that old woman have been my Mattie? I believe you’re right Pip!”
“You seemed sad, maybe even angry when you looked at her,” I said rather cautiously. “You had such a frown when you watched her. Did Mattie do something to you? Was she part of the horrible thing that happened?”
“Yes,” Daisy said then stopped. “No. No, she wasn’t part of it, I don’t think,” the spirit stammered. “No, Mattie took care of me afterward. I remember now. Mattie stayed. She refused to leave my side, even when Henry had to go back to town. Why, her fiancé broke off their betrothal because she wouldn’t go back to Savannah. I was so hurt for her sake. I was upset with her too. I felt she was ruining her life, to take care of me,” Daisy said sadly.
“I felt like Mattie was my only friend then. I was too weak to go out and do much. I remember that I lost a lot of blood, and there was infection… But Mattie was always there. She’d take me in a wheelchair outside into the pretty garden. There were beautiful roses. One day she upset everybody by planting daisies amid those prize roses. She said that I was as fine and good as any rose. Kind Mattie — she knew I never thought as highly of myself as I should. And she’d even get the kitchen staff to make my favorite rice pudding. She made sure I had it whenever I wanted. But I suppose I reached a point where I wouldn’t eat much of anything,” Daisy told me.
I felt like I had pieces of a puzzle spread out around me. It seemed like the parts of it should fit together, but they just weren’t quite right, they wouldn’t lock into place. I tried to sort through all the things we had learned about Daisy and the warehouse.
My jumbled thoughts centered on that big old photograph back at the Kingston mansion — the one of all the young men. Daisy had made it clear that it held important information, even if she couldn’t say what it was. Andy and I figured out that two of the boys were the Binghamton brothers. One of whom owned the Bijou theatre, and the other became a high ranking bishop. But who were the others? The photo was of a large group and as far as I could remember it was mostly boys of about the same age. There might have been a couple of older men. If only I could remember all the faces. Suddenly inspiration struck.
“Daisy, I know you can’t remember what happened to you. And it’s okay that you don’t understand why the photograph you showed me is important,” I said. “But can you remember the photo itself? It was obviously a special occasion. Can you tell me who was in it?” I asked imploringly.
Her eyes took on an unfocused look as she dredged up the memory. Daisy jumped as if startled. I asked what was wrong and she gave a rueful chuckle.
“I just remembered the big flash when the photograph was taken,” she answered. “Yes, Pip. I remember the picture now. All those boys. Of course Henry’s son was in it the photograph, and the Binghamton brothers. Those three were thick as thieves. Bradley was a nice enough boy. But that Byron — I just didn’t feel right about that boy. He was so self-centered. I was afraid he’d be a bad influence on young Henry. I hate to say it, but my stepson had a tendency to be greedy,” Daisy remembered.
“Anyhow, it was a sort of mentoring group for future businessmen. Henry and his friend Alastair coached all those boys along with their regular schooling, grooming them to be Savannah’s future, as Henry liked to say. My Henry had the photograph taken after all the boys graduated from school.”
“His friend Alastair?” I asked as something tickled at the back of my mind.
It wasn’t a name I heard often. The only Alastair I knew was my friend whose family owned Wong’s Chinese. Granny was dog sitting their little pug while most of the family was on vacation in California. Then I remembered Granny Fanny saying the words “Alastair the elder.”
My thoughts returned to Granny’s cottage and a time not too long ago (Cookbook-1, Episode-2) when she talked about her tea set. Granny had given me a downright wicked, mischievous smile and even wriggled her eyebrows. Then her expression turned fond and she chuckled as she told me how she came to have the set.
“They were a gift — when I was a very young woman. They were actually from Mrs. Wong’s grandfather,” Granny Fanny had told me. “He was a widower. Yes, he was interested in me. Oh Pip, are you surprised that a man besides Grandpa was interested in your Granny?” she’d said with a smile. “If ever I was going to be attracted to an older man, it would have been Alastair Wong the elder. He was a fine man.”
I tried to remember seeing an Asian man in the old picture. But the faces were all so small that nothing stirred in my memory. However, I did remember an odd shape about one man. I had thought maybe it was a flaw in the photo. Yet as I concentrated I realized it was a thing, not a defect.
“So Alastair’s great-grandfather was in the picture,” I voiced the thought. “Which one was he, Daisy?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” the ghost said with a smile. “He’s the one with the parrot on his shoulder.”
Recipe: Creamy Rice Pudding with Brandied Cherry Sauce
Recipe and Photo Credit: Betty Crocker.com
Prep time: 15 mins
Total time: 4 hours, 20 mins
4 cups milk
¾ cup uncooked regular long-grain rice
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup whipping (heavy) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Brandied Cherry Sauce
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup orange juice
1 ½ cups frozen unsweetened tart red cherries (from 1-lb bag)
2 tablespoons brandy or orange juice
In a 2-quart saucepan, heat milk, rice, 1/3 cup sugar and the salt to boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered 40 to 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until rice is tender and mixture is thickened.
Stir a small amount of the hot rice mixture into eggs, then stir eggs back into mixture in saucepan. Continue cooking over medium heat about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until heated through. Cool for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In chilled large serving bowl, beat whipping cream and vanilla with electric mixer on high speed until thickened. Fold in cooled rice mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours until well chilled.
In a 1-quart saucepan, mix 1/2 cup sugar and the cornstarch. Stir in orange juice and frozen cherries. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils and thickens slightly. Stir in brandy. Serve sauce warm or chilled with pudding.
Copyright © 2014 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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