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Deal 286: Caught up in the show

“There are always strings you know.”

I looked around. Nope, no one there. I was alone in the town square.

“I’m a puppet. I know there are strings.”

Interesting. I knew that deal must have been too good to be true. Some stranger met in a tavern sells me his bags and vanishes without a trace. Now, I’m hearing voices. The larger trunk is of a peculiar design, that was clearly intended to be stood on end and opened up to be a stage for a puppet theatre. I’m not a puppeteer, I just got sweet talked into doing what I thought was a good deed.

I tipped the box up onto its end.

“You’re getting warmer. Flip down its legs and open the back and you’ll see.”

Now that it mentioned it, the box clearly had legs that would lift the stage up to eye level. I fiddled with that for a minute while I considered the wisdom of following directions issued by a disembodied voice. But what else was I to do? I had no actual plans for the morning anyway.

With the legs down, the back of the box opened up to reveal a surprisingly roomy backstage area for the puppet theatre. A good sized cast of puppets were hanging below the stage, along with an array of props and a few painted scenery backdrops. The curtains were closed. I reached for the puppet that seemed to be making the most noise. As I did so, he turned and looked me right in the eye.

“You’re a live one alright,” he said. “Most run away screaming, and you’ve assembled the whole theatre.”

“You don’t seem all that scary or dangerous,” I said.

“Looks can be deceiving,” was all he said in reply.

I poked around at the rest of the box. I clearly had stumbled into an itinerant Punch and Judy show. The more I handled the props, the more it just felt right. Peaceful. Easy.

Punch led me to a box of scripts, all set up to be easily attached behind the stage for easy reference. Although I was beginning to realized that my job was just to follow the stage directions, and that the puppets would take care of their lines themselves. As I read, I methodically ate my usual breakfast: an orange, peel and all.

Through all of this, Judy was quiet. At least until I went to pick her up.

“Hey there, why not ask a girl before running your hand—”

“Judy!” yelled Punch. “He’s our new professor. Don’t give him any trouble. You’ve made him turn as red as an apple already!”

“Hmph.” was all Judy had to say to that.

I was a little more careful picking her up, and soon lost myself in the world of their strange petty little battles which they treated as seriously as any war. The Baby was produced, sat, then sat upon, whereupon Judy was incensed. Punch’s stick found plenty of victims in need of its slap. The Constable joined the fray, but was beaten back by the stick. The Crocodile made a few tries at Mr. Punch and the Baby, but was beaten soundly each time. I still don’t know what the Camel was going to do, or where that mysterious Penguin came from who turned into a chicken when I was looking the other way, then vanished without leaving even an egg.

The last thing that Punch said to me before socking me unconscious was “I told you there were strings.”

When I came to, the box was folded back up, and the old hat was sitting in my lap full of silver.

Strings or no strings, it seemed like I could be their Professor for a time.

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Deal 285: Raven’s Quill

As I watch, the cat rolls slowly into a ball and continues with its attempt to be someone else, or barring that, look like someone else. Which ultimately fails because it is a cat. Even so, it seems to consider the likelihood that without any visible evidence, that it can act as if it really was reborn as something other than a cat.

And reborn is what is required.

Stories breaks periodically on the shores of a decent typewriter, crashing across the machine and disrupting whatever is in the platen. They must be told, or the machine is toast. At the heart of it all, of course, likes the old trickster Raven, who planned to beat the typewriter at its own game. Raven expected to be able to rig the game, starting with a quill from his own left wing. But if Raven had paid any attention to the great contests, he would know that for the machine to triumph is nearly inevitable. Even the greatest trickster cannot change the ebb and flow of story.

Rewritten would work better than reborn.

By setting up the grand contest, the machine has to win, yet Raven’s quill is a powerful talisman.

In days of yore, when ships were tall and, well, ships were tall, the quill might have meant something. Today, the quill is supplanted by the office machine, and new generations of these arrive almost daily. Machines age quickly and not exactly neatly. The new machines break over the old offices and wash them out, to whatever passes for an afterlife for office machines.

The quill, however, was never really given a chance, as the quill, the fountain pen, ball point, felt, roller ball supplanted it but only replaced it in the hands of those too busy to care for a proper quill. The idea of the quill never died. And it isn’t that uncommon to find a quill alongside a modern office machine.

So the ball of cat quietly dreams of other forms, possibly even dreams of a brief try at being a dog. As a dog, it could guard the quill and protect it from the onslaught of the machines. But deep down, even the dream of a dog knows that is ultimately futile.

And Raven never did get his contest.

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Deal 284: Tasting Menu

Amuse Bouche: Herbed tomato water soaked fresh buffalo mozzarella. Chef has made cheese curds from happy buffalo milked this morning, stretched and salted them by hand, and marinated them in the water of hand picked heirloom tomatoes along with a selection of spring herbs. The bodies of the tomatoes were flash frozen and microplaned as the dust on top.

First: Terrine of pate de foie gras, tapenade, twice baked toasted sourdough. Chef has prepared an extraordinary terrine of fatty goose liver and chestnuts, gooseberries, and just enough goose egg to bind it. It is served with a tapenade made from three varieties of olives, along with toast points of extra sour bread.

Second: Duck confit en croute, with parsnip puree and wine reduction. Chef has prepared the leg and thighs of the duck, slow cooked in its own fat, then guarded it in a pastry crust along with goat cheese and dried cranberries. It is served along with a parsnip puree and a white wine reduction.

Third: Museau de porc, avec queue de porc, et diverses pièces du porc. Chef is a firm believer in nose to tail dining, and has prepared for you the snout, tail, and assorted other unusual cuts of a whole pig. This is served with pickled red cabbage and a rustic applesauce made from slightly fermented apples and apple brandy.

Fourth: Painted plate of baby beets, bitter greens, spring onions, mustard blossoms, and medallions of lamb. Chef knows that we eat with our eyes and other senses as much as our palettes. This course offers a personal touch in the form of an edible mosaic of a photograph, painting or other artwork you provided us earlier, made from beets, berries, greens, flowers, and other suitably colored ingredients. Nestled in the mosaic are medallions of lamb seasoned with rosemary and cooked to a perfect medium rare.

Interlude: A carelessly selected cheese plate. Chef knows that a dinner needs to be paced, and that both the mind and the palette need to be refreshed. To achieve that, some cheeses, fruits, and sorbets will be snatched from the kitchen by the blindfolded server that draws the short straw.

Dessert: A trompe l’oeil fish cake. Ending the meal on a whimsical note, we have a cake presented as a filet of copper river salmon on a cedar plank. It is dusted with crushed cocoa nibs and coarse sugar, with pats of butter creme frosting, over a burnt caramel glaze.

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Deal 283: Got Orange?

Fruit. It started with fruit, and I swear, fruit is going to be the end of me. In the early days, it was all apples. Red Delicious aren’t as good as they sound, but they sure are red. Granny Smith’s are only good in pies, possibly with a few Golden Delicious for flavor. But after living with an orchard, you get rather tired of apples.

Even apple wood is too close to home, even if it does make for nice smelling fires.

But it all started with apples. They were everywhere, growing up. And in everything. Living on twenty acres of mixed apple varieties was probably part of that. The other twenty acres tended to get rotated among whatever seemed like a good cash crop last year, which meant that we were always just behind the trend, and flush with something that was no longer selling. I spent a lot of time among the apples.

Moving to town for school was the safe thing to do, and despite a definite tendency to avoid the safe thing, getting as far away as possible from the orchard was a big motivating factor. So when the only fruit available was apples, and when the only pies available were apple, and when dried apple blossoms started turning up pressed where I know I had put pansies, I began to wonder who was pulling such horrible pranks.

Then the apple turned up in my purse where I expected to find a wallet. Not actually my wallet, mind you, but that is another story altogether. But the apple did not serve as an adequate substitute for the wallet that was supposed to be there.

That was the first step on the path.

I decided that day that if apples were going to be my personal plague, then I was going to have to embrace them fully, and find the dark side of the fruit.

I sought out apples from then on. I looked for records of old apple varieties. I looked for apple music. I looked for ways that apples could drive pets mad. I set out to solve all my problems with apples. And I found my true calling. Apples did my bidding.

An apple a day in the right hands can change the world.

And in the right living hands, well. Again, another story, aside from the observation that people don’t worry enough about fruit just handed to them, and will eat anything that is shiny and smells good. And in the right time and place, that can be an easy way to solve a problem best solved by some living hands no longer living.

That does sound cruel, cavalier, and perhaps thoughtless. But let me tell you, a lot of thought and effort goes into crafting a poisoned apple that remains attractive, appealing, and tasty. And I take pride in my apples.

And then I encountered an orange.

Definitely not an apple, can’t pass for an apple, and too thick skinned to be coerced into the wide range of roles I needed my fruit to play.

But after a lifetime of apples, so darn tasty!

I feel just a little guilty from time to time, but after a lifetime devoted to crafting and delivering some of the finest poisoned apples to the right princesses at exactly the right moments, it is a relief to find a fruit that I can just enjoy for itself.

No more apples for me!