Isn’t it just the berries when with no planning at all, things just come together? Everything about our 1920’s serial is unplanned “panster” fun — even the timing of when you all send ingredients. So I was tickled when I learned that the next set of ingredients coincided with something important for the reader who is featured this weekend.
Mary J McCoy-Dressel, who sent the ingredients for this episode, just happens to have just released a new cowboy romance novel — and you are among the first to know! Sheiks and Shebas in Mary’s books are “Gentlemen cowboys (with a touch of bad) and their feisty heroines,” as the author describes them. So get ready for the sequel to Howdy Ma’am, the long awaited Hey Cowboy.
Furthering the synchronicity, the fourth Saturday of every July is the National Day of the American Cowboy. I know this is unnecessary, but indulge me. With ghosts in the story, and the cowboy references… I just can’t resist.
Right up to the very last minute, I didn’t know what I was going to do with this set of ingredients. I’m not sure what had me scratching my head more, barbecue sauce or baby bok choy. Oddly enough, I wasn’t worried about aluminium foil. So I started writing this introduction rather than the story… Then, after I went to bed, I remembered the Jar of Spooky Things. Naturally, with Ghost Riders in the Sky still playing in my head, I took a random ghostly ingredient from the song, rather than from the jar.
Now, hang on tight. Here we go by the seats of our pants again! Bon appétit!
7. Baby Bok Choy, Barbecue Sauce, Aluminum Foil
“So Andy, tell me all about Hollywood! All the crazy stuff with the haunted wine bottle from the old factory and the ghost chef… All that started up before we ever got to talk about your new home,” I said to my old friend, Andy the Astronaute-man.
Andy Avis was one of my group of friends back in a tiny town near Santa Rosa Sound, Florida. I nicknamed him the Astronaute-man because he wrote science fiction stories and even screenplays. I expected him to begin by telling me about his work at the movie studio, but apparently food was on his mind. He told me about his favorite restaurant, a Chinese place.
“They really put on the Ritz! It’s an amazing looking restaurant. And they make this baby bok choy dish, with garlic. I had never had it before, but it’s turned into one of my favorite foods,” he said enthusiastically.
I told him about Alastair and Arabella Wong and their restaurant, Wong’s Chinese. “Oh yeah, he said. “That’s the lady you said owns Wriggles, the little pug dog. Mrs. Peabody is just dog-sitting until she gets back from vacation, right?”
“Yes, that’s the one. Funny isn’t it, the way this kind of thing seems to happen?” I commented. “Alastair and Arabella leave here to visit California, while you come from California to here.”
Andy chuckled. “Yeah, it’s like the hand of Fate making sure things stay in balance. If one thing or person leaves a realm, then another must take its place,” he said, talking like he would in one of the science fiction stories he wrote.
The black Dodge Roadster puttered along toward the abandoned factory. Andy had put the tan colored ragtop down when we started out, but he looked up at the clouding sky in concern. “Do you think we should stop and put the top up?”
The old factory that Andy had bought on behalf of a studio executive was only a little further down the road. “We’re almost there. Why don’t we just take our chances?” I suggested, knowing Andy was probably more concerned about me getting rained on than himself or the automobile.
“So why in the world would Manny Mayer the Movie Maker want an abandoned factory in Savannah, Georgia?” I asked Andy about the executive.
Andy Avis gave an exaggerated shrug. “I sorta wondered that myself. I was bragging. Goading him a little you know. He can be kind of a blowhard. So I was telling him about how much better the barbecue sauce is here in the south, and how much better it is than anything he’s ever tasted. So maybe he wants to open a huge barbecue place,” Andy said jokingly, which earned him a look from me. “Okay, so maybe not. To be honest, I didn’t want to ask too many questions, since he — or the studio was paying for my trip. To me, it was as much for pleasure, for rest and relaxation, as for business,” he said and gave me a quick one-armed hug while he drove.
Something about his tone and a sad look in his eyes made me concerned. “Are you okay? Out there all the way across the country, by yourself?” I asked.
Andy grinned like his old self. “Hollywood is the cat’s pajamas!” he said, though his smile waivered a little. “But I admit it’s a big adjustment. Everything is so different, whether I’m at the studio or just walking down the street.”
The sun came back out, clearing away the clouds. Soon we were at the abandoned building. It predated the Civil War. The factory-warehouse was a sort of hideout for blockade runners back then. We knew there might be all kinds of interesting stuff still inside because it was supposed to be haunted, and that would have kept away many thieves and vandals.
However, there wasn’t much of anything within plain sight. There were plenty of crates
and even old trunks. Plus the windows didn’t let in much light. We had our work cut out for us, but we were armed with flashlights and dust-rags, and Andy had a crowbar for opening crates.
After a few minutes of stirring up dust, we spotted an old document lying on top of a tall crate. We moved sturdy looking smaller crates to stand on, so we could see the top of the tall wooden box. The paper was crumbling with age. We were afraid it would fall apart into useless bits if we picked it up. “If we just had something to put it in,” I muttered half to myself.
“It’s probably just a shipping manifest, but you never know. Heck, even that could be interesting. Oh!” Andy exclaimed. “Granny is always determined to send food back with me, so I bought some aluminum foil… but I forgot to give it to her. It’s out in the roadster. That would work. We can make a foil envelope around this paper. If we’re real careful, it should hold together,” Andy said and headed back to the Dodge.
As I watched my friend’s form disappear into the dank building, I gulped. Knowing I was alone in the abandoned factory gave me a creepy feeling, even though I knew Andy was only a shout away and would be back quickly. Then a long roll of thunder filled the building. It sounded close. I realized Andy would be a little longer, since he’d need to put the top up on the ragtop two-seater. I wondered if I should go help him.
“Just stay there, Pip!” I heard him call back to me, though he was out of sight. “Sounds like the rain’s coming back. There’s no point in you getting wet too. I can put the top up on the roadster,” he said, voice fading into the distance.
A low whistle caused me to turn with a start.
“Well now, ain’t you a pretty little filly,” said a man wearing a Stetson hat.
He looked like he’d walked out of a Tom Mix movie. Actually, he was tall, well-built, and a real looker.
“You startled me,” I gasped, stating the obvious.
He looked abashed and removed the Stetson with a sort of bow. “Howdy, ma’am. Pardon me. I seem to have forgotten my manners. It’s been awhile since…” he began but his words trailed away as thunder rumbled again.
The room shook and it felt like the thunder was right beside me. I felt the man’s hand around my waist, and he roughly pulled me against him. My breath caught in my throat as I gazed up at his bright eyes, which shone with an emotion that I couldn’t define or even describe. Suddenly a couple of huge red-eyed cows careened past. They had long shiny black horns that missed me by an inch. I realized that one of those horns would have gored me if the cowboy hadn’t pulled me aside.
“What… was that?” I said, pulling away from him.
Then I noticed a large lariat was in his hands. I was sure it hadn’t been there before.
“Dang it all…” he muttered and then sighed with frustration. “I wouldn’t have caught them anyway,” he spoke words that rang of defeat.
He shook his head, looking after the longhorn cows, which disappeared as suddenly as they appeared. Then he turned back to me. “Caleb Colman, ma’am,” the cowboy said and put out his hand to shake mine.
I might have giggled about the name Caleb Colman the Cowboy, but I didn’t. Because the moment I shook his hand was when I realized how cold his touch really was. I’d felt it all the way through my dress too, when he pulled me out of the way of the cattle. I knew what he was. By then, you’d think I’d have been used to meeting ghosts, but I introduced myself awkwardly. He finished what he had been about to say before the red-eyed cows interrupted us.
“It’s my curse. Me and all the riders. We chase that herd of red-eyed cattle, but we never get any closer to catching ‘em. And we’ll chase them ‘til the end of time,” The ghost-rider said seeing the expression on my face.
Caleb bowed his head, Stetson hat in hand. I didn’t know what to say. Nothing seemed sufficient compared to the thought of an unwilling and futile chase that went on forever. There was deep sadness and regret in the ghost-rider’s eyes.
“I know I did some bad things during my life. Some truly horrible things,” he said, shaking his head remorsefully. “I only wish I could be allowed to make up for it, to redeem myself somehow.”
That was when everything started to happen at once. I heard a distant rumble like thunder. I felt Caleb’s cold hand at my waist again. Andy called my name. He had just come back into view, at the far end of the poorly lighted factory floor. The room began to shake violently. A dozen red-eyed cattle with long sharply pointed black horns charged past. The Devil’s Herd was headed straight for Andy.
Caleb yelled at Andy to take cover, as he pulled me to the floor and out of the way. Even if Andy hadn’t been frozen in shock, he wouldn’t have had time to move. Immediately behind the cattle were two more ghost-riders, their horses snorting fire.
Their lariats spun circles of burning light as they tried to lasso the cattle. One cowboy’s lariat went around a set of shiny black horns, but the beast managed to shake it off before the ghost-rider could tighten the rope. The lasso went back into the air — and landed around Andy!
As if by magic, a fire-snorting horse appeared and Caleb leapt into the saddle in a single motion. He charged after the other ghost-riders, yelling at them to stop. However, the lasso tightened around Andy, lifting him into the air as the riders thundered past.
Then with the sound of a thunderclap and a flash of fire, they all disappeared.
Recipe: Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy with Garlic
by Lillian Chou on Epicurious.com
Recipe and Photo Credit: Epicurious.com
Yield: 8 servings
Active time: 35 min
Total time: 35 min
1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic (about 8 cloves)
2 pounds baby or Shanghai bok choy, halved lengthwise
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
Equipment: a well-seasoned 14-inch flat-bottomed wok with a lid
Stir together broth, soy sauce, cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon salt until cornstarch has dissolved.
Heat wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates instantly. Pour peanut oil down side of wok, then swirl oil, tilting wok to coat side. Add garlic and stir-fry until pale golden, 5 to 10 seconds. Add half of bok choy and stir-fry until leaves wilt, about 2 minutes, then add remaining bok choy and stir-fry until all leaves are bright green and limp, 2 to 3 minutes total. Stir broth mixture, then pour into wok and stir-fry 15 seconds. Cover with lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in sesame oil, then transfer to a serving dish.
Baby bok choy can be washed, dried, and halved one day ahead. Chill wrapped in paper towels, in a sealed bag.
Copyright © 2014 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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