Topic #2: A Rider's Turn At The Cookstove
A Cake and Baseball Biscuits
|Where's The Beef?
||To Souffle Or Not
||Just Follow The Directions by: Lori|
The Way The Brownie Crumbles
|Stirrin' Up Trouble
“Lou, you’re gonna have to learn how to cook someday. With you and Jimmy getting married, how do you two intend to eat?” Rachel asked.
“Well…I guess I hadn’t thought that far ahead.” Lou confessed.
“Well you better start thinkin’ about it, young lady. Jimmy’s skills are limited in the kitchen, but you need some serious help in the cookin’ department.” Rachel playfully elbowed Lou to make sure she knew she was joking.
“I’ve got a couple of cookbooks you can use. You might want to make a practice meal first before you make dinner for the boys. Me and Teaspoon will be eating at the restaurant in town, so you’ll just have the boys and you to cook for. Of course you’ve got to remember Cody eats enough for four people. If you need any help before I go I’ll be glad to lend you a hand.”
Lou had found the recipe for something called a soufflé and it didn’t sound like it would be too hard to make. In case that didn’t go well she was also going to make a large batch of corn chowder and for dessert she was going to top it off with two chocolate cakes. She figured Cody would eat one whole cake by himself.
An hour later, she wasn’t sure the soufflé was such a good idea and definitely not easy to cook. The cookbook said it was to rise when cooking to be ‘light and fluffy’. Her soufflé started to rise and her spirits rose along with it, but then Cody came in to tease her about cooking and slammed the door behind him. After she finished yelling at him for picking on her, she again checked on the soufflé and found it flat and drooping over the side of the pan. She had no idea what had happened to it.
Still, she needed someone’s opinion on her soufflé – she planned on volunteering Jimmy since he’d most likely tell her the truth.
She went outside and saw him working on the fence with Buck.
“Oh Jimmy!” She called to him sweetly, her words dripping with honey.
“Uh oh. Looks like she wants a taste tester, Jimmy. I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.” Buck teased.
“We’re all gonna have to eat her cookin’ later on.” Jimmy pointed out.
“Yeah, but you’re the one who’s gonna be eatin’ it for the rest of your life! We only have to suffer through tonight.” Buck started chuckling at the expression on his friend’s face when Jimmy realized the truth behind what he said.
Jimmy tossed his gloves to the ground and reluctantly trudged into the kitchen.
“Lou, what’s that supposed to be?” Jimmy indicated the strange blob in a pan sitting on the table.
“A soufflé. I know it doesn’t look very good, but maybe it won’t be so bad. I followed the directions exactly, but instead of rising it just kind of flopped over. Maybe it’ll still be alright. Would you try it for me?” She nervously twisted her hands into Rachel’s apron.
“Are you supposed to eat it with a fork or a spoon?”
“I…well…I guess it doesn’t matter. Here.” She handed Jimmy a spoon.
He scooped up some of the peculiar goo onto his spoon and quickly ate it. It tasted…well, it tasted awful!
“So how is it?” Her brown eyes looked into his expectantly.
‘Great, Hickok, how do you tell her it’s one of the most awful things you’ve ever eaten without hurting her feelings?’ He questioned himself. He must have paused too long because her face suddenly fell and tears were rimming in her eyes.
“That bad, huh?” Lou asked in a shaky voice.
“No!” He said quickly – maybe a little too quickly. ‘Perfect, just perfect! Now you’re lying to her.’ He scolded himself.
“Are you making anything else? I mean that’s not gonna be enough to feed all of us.” ‘Good one. Dodge the question. Maybe she won’t notice.’ He thought.
No such luck.
“But how did it taste? And I want the truth, James Hickok.” Lou insisted.
“Well I’ve never tasted soufflé before so I’m not sure what’s it’s supposed to taste like.” He hedged.
Lou impatiently grabbed the spoon from Jimmy and tasted it for herself.
“Blah! Oh, Jimmy, this is absolutely horrible! Why didn’t you just say so?” She quickly pumped some water into a cup and drank greedily.
“Lou, maybe you can make something different.” Jimmy suggested, trying to be helpful.
“Well I was gonna make some corn chowder with biscuits and some cake.”
Jimmy put his arm around her. “That sounds just fine. Why don’t you get started on it and I’ll go back to working on that fence. Teaspoon wanted us to have it finished before him and Rachel left.”
Jimmy left her and went outside to join Buck.
“So?” Buck asked.
“It was absolutely horrible. And those are her words, not mine.” Jimmy told him.
Buck shrieked with laughter. Jimmy socked him in the arm. “Keep it down! Do you want her to hear you? She already feels bad enough.”
“Sorry.” He said between fits of giggles. “I’m just picturing you in five years – so skinny you’ll blow away in the breeze!” Buck doubled over in laughter.
“Cut it out. We need to get the fence finished.”
Two hours passed and she finally had supper finished. Rachel and Teaspoon had already left for their night out. Lou sat everything out on the table in the bunkhouse and called the boys to supper.
They were slow coming to the table. All of them had a look like this was going to be their last meal – especially Cody.
They took their time before trying her food. One by one they took turns vigorously shaking salt and pepper onto the chowder. Cody reached for a biscuit, took a small bite and promptly knocked it against the side of the table.
Lou’s eyes shot daggers at him. “I get the idea already, Cody.”
“Hey, we could use these the next time Teaspoon makes us play baseball!”
Lou kicked Cody under the table.
She didn’t think the chowder tasted too bad after she poured salt and pepper into her helping. The others must have not minded it too much either because they had seconds.
When it came time for the cake, Cody had eaten four servings of corn chowder and everyone else had three – Lou included. Of course the salt and peppershakers were nearly empty.
“Lou! This cake! It’s delicious!” Cody exclaimed incredulously in between shoveling mouthfuls of the moist dessert into his mouth.
“Wow! Thanks Cody.” Lou’s self-esteem was boosted a notch.
The rest of the boys quickly dug into their pieces of cake.
“Mmmm. Cody’s right, Lou, this is really good.” Buck commented.
Lou was amazed. They truly liked something she had made. She snuck a glance at Jimmy and he grinned broadly at her and nodded.
*You can’t make biscuits, but you sure do bake a good cake* Ike told her.
“Thanks, Ike. I’m glad something came out good.” She smiled.
Maybe she wasn’t such a bad cook after all. She’d just make sure she never made another soufflé for the rest of her life!
“Boys, in three days, Emma is going to visit her friend for a few days,” said Teaspoon. “Jimmy’s going on a special run for me. That leaves one of you boys to do the cooking for the next few days. I’ll leave it to you to figure out who our new cook will be.” With that, he turned and left the bunkhouse.
The riders all looked at each other. They knew from past experience that they didn’t want to try and talk Teaspoon into cooking for them. They’d nearly died from the smoke the last time he’d tried – not to mention being hungry since nothing was edible.
“How long did Teaspoon say she’d be gone?” asked Kid.
“A few days,” said Lou. “I think she’s planning on staying there three days, and it takes at least a day to get there.”
“Let’s see, that means. . .” Cody sat figuring.
*Five days,* Ike said.
“Five days!” exclaimed Cody. “That’s 15 meals!”
*You don’t have to worry,* Ike pointed out. *You leave on a run the day before Emma leaves. You won’t be here while she’s gone.*
“Thank you, Lord,” sighed Cody in relief. “That means I’m safe. You boys have fun without me,” he laughed as he stood and left the bunkhouse wondering how he had gotten so lucky. Then deciding it was due to his natural charm and good looks. Things just went right for such special people.
After a few seconds, Lou asked, “So, how do we decide?”
The four stood looking at each other. Kid shrugged and went to sit down at the dinner table. Lou went and sat next to him. Buck and Ike soon joined them at the table. “We could draw straws,” Kid finally suggested.
*Or we could just take turns,* suggested Ike.
“What?” asked Lou.
*We could take turns,* Ike repeated slowly. The other three looked at him, intrigued.
“Go on,” said Buck.
Ike sighed. *What do you fix when you have to camp out on a run?” he asked.
“Why?” asked Kid.
*Just tell me what you fix,* Ike signed. From the look on his face, the others figured that if he could talk they wouldn’t be pleased by the tone of his voice.
They sat thinking, wondering what Ike was up to. Then Buck smiled as he figured it out, “I fix a pretty good stew when I’m lucky enough to catch a rabbit,” he said. “You’ve all had it before.”
The others nodded. “That’s right,” said Lou. “And it was tasty.”
Buck looked at Kid, “What about you?”
Kid shrugged, “I usually just warm up some beans, but I can whip up a pretty good omelet when I have the right ingredients.”
“Lou?” asked Buck.
Lou smiled. “I usually make some type of stew or soup using the jerky we all carry and whatever edible plants I can find.”
*See,* signed Ike. *We can all make something worth eating. Not something we want to eat 15 meals in a row, but something worth eating. So, if we take turns we not only get to eat different things no one person is stuck doing all the cooking.*
“I think Kid should get all 5 breakfasts because he said he can make good omelets,” said Lou.
Kid nodded, “That’s okay with me. It would be basically the same thing each morning, but they do change.”
The others agreed. “That leaves 10 meals to divide between the three of us,” said Buck.
*I think we should each take three,* suggested Ike. *Kid and Teaspoon get to pick who makes the leftover meal. Whoever gets picked cooks the meal and the other two do the clean up.*
“Deal,” said Buck, Lou, and Kid.
They stood. *Let’s go tell Teaspoon. I think he’ll be pleasantly surprised to know we are developing some hidden talents.*
The others all nodded. “At least, he’ll be surprised that this didn’t cause a fight,” said Kid.
“That’s for sure,” laughed Lou.
Ike just smiled, *That’s the talent I meant. Being able to solve a problem ourselves, and peacefully yet.*
Lou stared at the large piece of beef as it sat on the counter in Rachel's kitchen. She still couldn't believe she picked the short straw and now it was her responsibility to make dinner for the boys. Teaspoon had taken Rachel on an overnight trip to Seneca to celebrate her birthday by taking her out to the fancy new restaurant that had just opened there. The boys and Lou had drawn straws before they left to see who would be responsible for making breakfast, lunch and dinner and, of course, Lou had to get the biggest meal of the day, the meal where everyone would be present and starving!
Rachel had had pity on her and without the boys knowing, had helped Lou plan the meal by getting everything she would need out for her. So now Lou was looking back and forth between the beef and the pan. How hard can it be to make a roast, she thought, I've seen Rachel do it at least a dozen times. Also, ever since she and Kid had gotten back together again, Rachel had gotten it in her head to give Lou cooking lessons again. Unfortunately, they never tackled a roast.
Lou took a deep breath, put the chunk of beef in the pan then put the pan in the oven. Well, that wasn't so hard, she thought with a smile. Now, for the potatoes. She sat at the table and started peeling. It was warm inside and she would have preferred peeling them out on the front porch but that would make her vulnerable to any comments the boys might have, if they were even around, which she doubted. When they found out Lou had to make dinner, all of a sudden they all had important things to do as far away from the house as possible. Like I'm going to cause an explosion or something, Lou thought wryly.
She got mad for a moment when she recalled Kid being all too eager to ride into town with Jimmy to pick up some supplies Rachel had ordered. I can't even get support from him! she thought. Just wait till he tries to get a goodnight kiss from me! And, he better come back absolutely starving because he's eating every last drop I put in front of him or it'll be weeks before I sneak out to meet him in the barn in the middle of the night again!!
She put the potatoes in a pot of water to boil then started to peel and slice carrots. The heat in the room was starting to get to her. She put the knife down along with the carrot she was slicing. I'll just rest my eyes for a minute, she thought. The next thing she remembered was a smell like she'd never smelled before. Her eyes flew open and looking around, couldn't remember what she was doing there. There's that smell again.
"The roast!" Lou screamed, running to the stove. She grabbed a towel off the counter, opened the door and took out a black lump of what she didn't know but it sure didn't look like anything edible. She then remembered her pot of potatoes, which had boiled down to nothing but white mush. She removed that from the stove.
Lou looked at the clock and almost had a heartattack when she saw the time - she'd been asleep for over two hours! That meant dinner was in a half hour and she had nothing but carrots to serve. She looked at the roast and started chopping away at the burntness. When she was done, she had a small rectangle of beef left. That's not even enough to feed Cody, she thought.
She started frying the carrots in a little oil then looked at the few potatoes that she hadn't used. She quickly peeled and sliced them as small as she could. She then sliced the meat and cubed it.
Biscuits! Lou quickly prepared biscuits and put them in the oven, determined not to forget about them! The carrots looked done so she put them aside and put the beef and potato pieces into some oil to fry. She decided to get creative, or was she just desperate, she couldn't decide, but she added chopped onion and different spices to the concoction. The only problem was each time she stirred it in the pan to keep it from sticking, the potatoes would break apart so they wound up being mushy looking with hard chunks mixed in, and some of the meat pieces broke in half. Oh well, I can't do anything about that now.
She had to admit it actually didn't smell bad. When the biscuits and beef and potatoes where done, she put everything on a tray with the carrots and headed to the bunkhouse. She had planned on serving dinner in the main house but now it had a burnt odor to it and she didn't want the boys to find out what she'd done.
Lou quickly set the table then carefully dished each plate out. She tried to give extra to those she knew ate the most, mainly Cody, and gave herself the least. If they asked for seconds, first, she would faint from the shock that they liked her cooking and second, she would faint from the knowledge that she had no more to give them.
Lou went outside and rang the dinner bell, knowing the boys were around but had been avoiding the main house and the bunkhouse. They piled in rather tentatively and took their seats. Each looked at their plates in wonder; they recognized the carrots easily enough but never saw the mush of white and brown pieces that were blended together.
Cody scratched his head in confusion. He remembered Rachel telling them they would be having a roast for dinner. "Uh, Lou, where's the beef?"
"It's there," Lou said, defending herself. "It's the brown stuff."
Cody leaned closer to Jimmy. "I thought that was large pieces of pepper."
"It looks real interesting, Lou," Kid offered.
"Will you just try it?" She gave Kid a look that said he better do this for her or he knew he would be in a lot of trouble.
Kid looked at the others then slowly brought his fork up to his mouth. The others all watched as he got a strange expression on his face then his eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Lou, this is delicious!"
"It is? I mean, thanks." Lou gave him an appreciative smile.
The rest of the boys looked at each other. Jimmy shrugged and said, "What have we got to lose? It don't look like Kid is dying."
A few seconds later, the compliments were flying. Lou couldn't take the smug look off her face. That'll teach them to make fun of me again, she thought. Suddenly, she got worried. What if they want her to make it again? I don't know if I can do that good a job burning the beef again next time!
Emma had a cold and each of the riders had to take turns cooking. Tonight’s supper was on Buck. The group was curious what the half-Kiowa would come up with for them to eat. They hoped it wasn’t beans and oatmeal – Jimmy’s choice cuisine from last night. Cody was the only one who hadn’t complained, eating four bowls of oatmeal and a very large plate of beans.
Buck took off shortly after breakfast and no one, not even Ike, knew where he had gotten off to. Silently they were all worried he was trying to get out of kitchen duty.
Apparently, Buck had told Teaspoon where he was going because at dusk Teaspoon announced if they wanted to eat they were to meet down at the pond.
When the group arrived they saw Buck removing a roasted quail from a spit over the fire. There was a row of plates on the ground, each holding a quail. There was also a large stack of what looked like thin pancakes, but different.
They all sat down and eagerly dug into the deliciously juicy bird. Buck poured them all a glass of lemonade. Cody reached over and grabbed the pancake looking food and examined it carefully.
“Uh, Buck, exactly what is this?” Cody turned the food over from side to side. “It kinda looks like a pancake.” Cody told him as if conveying some kind of wisdom to the Indian.
“It’s fry bread. It’s an Indian food. I learned how to make it by watching my mother. She was concerned that because I was a half-breed there would come a time when I was no longer wanted in the tribe and she wanted me to be able to take care of myself so she secretly taught me how to cook.” Buck explained.
Cody tentatively took a bite of the fry bread. Nodding, he said, “Mmm, this is good.”
“Buck, if you’ve known how to cook all this time, how come you let us suffer through Lou’s cooking?” Jimmy asked.
Lou shot Jimmy a warning glance. “Oh, like beans and oatmeal is a feast!” She exclaimed.
“Well at least I didn’t burn it!” Jimmy countered.
She decided to leave that remark go and continued to eat.
“That was a right good meal you made, son.” Teaspoon complimented Buck. “You’ll have to teach Emma how to make this here fry bread.”
“Well unless she wants to cook outside, she’ll have to leave it to me.”
Teaspoon looked at him quizzically.
“See, I only know how to cook outside. That’s how I learned from my mother. I’m pretty much lost in a kitchen.” Buck admitted. “That’s why I had you all come out here to eat. Otherwise I’m afraid my meal would have been worse than Lou’s.” When Lou quickly looked up, Buck added, “No offense, Lou. Just tellin’ the truth.”
Lou shrugged. “Well the least we can do to thank you for the great meal is to clean up. C’mon on boys.” She looked at her fellow riders and one by one they took their plates down to the pond to clean. All of them except Cody of course. He was still too busy eating the dwindling stack of fry bread. When Lou came back she stood over Cody with her hands on her hips and cleared her throat.
“What? I ain’t done eatin’ yet.” He whined. “This is the best fry bread I’ve ever eaten.”
Buck grinned. “Cody, you’ve never had fry bread before tonight.” He cleverly pointed out.
“Well, okay, it’s the best bread I’ve ever eaten. How’s that?” Cody asked.
“Just fine, son, just fine.” Teaspoon proclaimed and reached for another piece of fry bread himself.
“Ha! Not me this time!” Jimmy declared triumphantly, holding up the long straw he had just drawn.
While the rest of the riders smiled in relief at Jimmy’s – and their – victory, Buck and Kid just stood next to the table, staring at the last two straws in Teaspoon’s hand. “Well, boys, who’s next?” the stationmaster asked, trying not to laugh out loud at the worried expressions on the two riders’ faces.
“Go ahead,” Kid offered. He really wasn’t feeling lucky today at all.
Buck stared at Teaspoon’s hand, as though trying to see through his fingers and find the other long straw. Finally he took a deep breath, reached out – and pulled the short one.
Kid breathed a sigh of relief, then reached over to pat Buck’s shoulder. “Buck, I just want you to know, the better man for the job won.”
Buck was just staring at the straw that had betrayed him. “I just rode a double run,” he complained. The riders at the next station had all been ill or injured, so he’d been forced to ride the extra route.
“Well, then, you should be extra hungry yourself,” Cody pointed out. He was trying his best not to laugh at the dour expression on Buck’s face. Not making the cook mad was a good rule to follow, he figured.
“Fair’s fair, Buck – and you lost,” Teaspoon said. He turned to the others, who were all grinning at Buck’s predicament. “As for the rest of you, I got a bunch of chores and errands you’ll be doin’ while Buck’s cooking.”
That drew a chorus of groans from everyone except Buck. But right now he’d MUCH rather be doing chores than . . . cooking.
Florence sipped the last of her coffee, then finished the entry she was working on in her journal. She had collected a couple of good local recipes from the restaurant owner here in Rock Creek, and they were now stored in the record of her journey. She had also passed on some tips by means of repayment, and that was also duly noted.
She flipped to the next page, surprised to find only one more leaf left after that. Her trip was truly filled with wonderful experiences.
She gathered her things and decided to go to the general store before heading back to the hotel. Hopefully the shop would have a journal she could purchase for the next set of notes. The trip was far from over, and there would be many more things to record.
Buck slammed the last couple of cupboard doors in frustration. Rachel’s kitchen looked like a tornado had blown through it while he was gone. There were empty containers all over the place, evidence of the riders being on their own while she was visiting her sister – and new niece or nephew – in St. Louis.
Maybe they should make a rule that she couldn’t leave any more . . .
With the cupboards nearly bare, that meant he not only had to cook, he also had to go to the store – and deal with Tompkins.
Oh, his day was just getting better and better.
Buck walked into the store, noting that Tompkins was busy with the Hurleys over near the counter. With any luck, maybe he could gather some supplies in peace. Teaspoon had provided cash for supplies, so he wouldn’t even need to deal with the shopkeeper about credit for the station. He had a few things in his arms already as he reached for a bag of beans – one of the few things he could actually cook and have it be recognizable. But as he pulled the bag from the shelf he wound up juggling what he was already holding, and one of the cans fell, rolling away under a nearby table.
Sighing, he put the bag back down, steadied his grip on the other items he still held, and bent down – only to have his forehead collide with someone else who was also bending down under the table. He jumped back at the startled “Oh!” from the other person, then watched in surprise as a young woman slowly stood up. She had sandy brown hair, worn up in a neat bun, and bright blue eyes – and she was rubbing gently at the spot where he had collided with her.
“Ma’am, I am so sorry,” Buck said. “I didn’t see . . .”
Tompkins cut off any further speech. “Boy, what the hell are you doing?” He glared at Buck, then turned to the woman, softening his look and his voice. “Ma’am, did he hurt you? He knows I don’t want his kind in the store. Them Indians, they just can’t keep their hands off of white women.”
Florence held up her hand to stop him. “I’m fine, really.”
Tompkins shook his head angrily, turning back to Buck. “I want you out of my store.” Then he jumped in surprise as the woman reached for his arm.
“Sir, I assure you, the fact that our foreheads tried to occupy the same space at the same time was purely accidental.” Florence paused, pointing toward the counter. “I believe you still have customers over there to help. And your customers here would just like to finish shopping.”
Tompkins considered his options. He wanted the Indian out of his store, but not at the risk of offending other customers. Eventually, the lure of additional commerce won out. With a grunted “Hmmpf” he turned away and went back toward the counter.
Florence smiled and held out the errant can. “I think this is yours.”
Buck took the can and returned the smile. “Thank you,” he said softly. “And I really am sorry.” Sorry for bumping her head, and sorry she’d had to be a witness to Tompkins’ anger at him.
She brushed her fingers lightly over the collision site on her forehead. “Not life-threatening, I’m sure,” she answered, laughing. Then she gestured at the items he was holding. “That’s an interesting assortment you’re gathering.”
He glanced down at the items, knowing she was teasing. It was a pretty boring list of items. “I work for the Pony Express,” he explained. “The woman who takes care of the station is out of town, and I got elected to cook tonight.”
She glanced at the bag he had laid on the table. “And you’re cooking . . . beans?”
He shrugged. “It’s what I know how to cook,” he admitted.
She laughed again. “Maybe I can help.”
He learned a lot over the next few hours.
He learned that her name was Florence Tyler. She was from San Francisco, where her family had run a large, popular restaurant for many years. She worked for a newspaper, writing columns about restaurants and food. She was currently traveling east on the stage, stopping for a few days here and there to sample local specialties and discover hidden treasures of regional cuisine. And along the way she also worked with the people who ran the restaurants, passing on hints gleaned from the experts and helping to solve the little food emergencies that sometimes arise.
Her destination now was New York, where a publishing company was waiting to put her food and travel observations into a book. By coincidence, the letter confirming their interest in the book deal had been delivered by the Pony Express.
In just that one afternoon he also learned more than he ever thought he’d know about food and cooking. He learned that just chopping the vegetables any old size wasn’t good enough. (“Either the big pieces, will be half-raw, or the little pieces will turn to mush by the time the big pieces have cooked,” she patiently explained.) She showed him how to make easy work of chopping everything to the same size – and he watched in amazement as her knife seemed to fly.
She still had all her fingers, he noted. Well, he wanted to keep his too, so he chopped a little slower.
In short order Florence had a savory stew bubbling away, explaining all about combinations of spices as she worked. Then they worked on the apple pie; he practiced the earlier lessons, keeping all the apple slices neat and thin, even as he paid attention to her tips about making the crust. And as the stew neared completion they made dumplings and biscuits.
Finally, everything was laid out on the counter. The stew looked, smelled, and tasted heavenly. The dumplings floated, light and airy, like little clouds on top of the stew. The piecrusts were flakier than any he’d ever seen. And the cheese biscuits were so light he almost thought they’d fly away in a breeze.
All in all, after the way they’d teased him about cooking, this was WAY too good for the other riders – and he couldn’t wait to see their faces.
“Wonder what Buck came up with for dinner,” Noah mused as he washed the day’s dirt and grime from his arms.
“Probably beans,” Lou remarked as she climbed up and flopped, exhausted, onto her bunk. “I’ve been on some long runs with him. That’s what he cooks.”
“Right now, I’m so hungry I could eat anything,” Kid said.
“Sounds like Cody,” Jimmy teased.
Cody opened his mouth to reply, then stopped, silent, as his nose picked up a whiff of something wonderful. “What is that heavenly aroma?” he asked. His weariness after a day of hard work forgotten, he jumped up off his bunk and headed for the door.
The others smelled it then too, and they all pushed for the door. Cody pulled it open – just in time to find Buck reaching for the handle. In his hand he held the pot of stew.
The others just stared at him, and the pot, until Buck finally had to laugh. “You gonna let me in, or do you just want to eat standing in the doorway?”
They made room then, and he walked into the bunkhouse, putting the pot on the table. Struggling not to laugh out loud at the stunned expressions around him, he said, “Dig in. I have a couple more things to bring down.”
By the time Buck returned a few minutes later carrying the biscuits, Teaspoon had joined the group – and over half the stew was gone. The room was much quieter than usual at mealtime, as everyone wanted to just eat.
Teaspoon looked at the biscuits, his mouth watering anew, then he looked up at Buck. “Son, you been hiding one big talent. This is delicious.”
“Well, I bumped into some help in town,” Buck admitted. He nodded toward the door where Florence was just bringing in the pie. “I told her I had a food emergency, and she came to help.”
Buck waved as the stage pulled out, laughing as Florence leaned out the window to wave back. Then as the coach raced off into the distance, he headed for the bunkhouse. She had left him a copy of a small cooking tips book she’d written earlier, and he intended to read it. He’d also been promised an autographed copy of “Food Emergency” when the book was published.
He grinned. Maybe this cooking thing wasn’t so bad after all!
“Where you going?” Jimmy asked as Kid all but ran him over coming out of the bunkhouse.
“Into town,” the other rider said over his shoulder. “And if you’re smart, you’ll come with me!”
“Rachel’s gone over to Mrs. Schroeder’s for the evening,” Kid replied. “Teaspoon’s cooking.”
“So?” Jimmy was confused. Teaspoon had cooked before. He wasn’t as good as Rachel, but compared to most, he wasn’t half bad.
“He’s trying something new, something he found in one of the books Marie left him,” Kid called back without breaking stride. “He’s calling it a su-flay.”
Jimmy watched as Kid saddled his horse then headed off towards town as fast as Katie would take him. He didn’t know what a “su-flay” was, but it sounded like it might be fun to watch Teaspoon make it.
Besides, the restaurant in town was open until nine.
“You ‘bout done with them yams yet, Cody?” Teaspoon was asking as Jimmy walked into the room. “Jimmy! Glad you made it back. Everything go okay?”
“Bridge washed out near Pikeville,” the rider replied. “But it was easy enough to cross this time of year. What’s going on?”
“Good,” the station manager replied. “You got yourself back here just in time to try the best of all French qwi-zine. It’s called a soufflé.”
“What’s in it,” Jimmy asked cautiously.
“The recipe calls for four cups of sweet potatoes, Teaspoon,” Buck said, looking over the older man’s shoulder to read the book he had propped in front of him. Glancing at the pile of vegetables in front of Cody, he mused. “That looks like a lot more than four cups.”
“The recipe also says ‘feeds six’, Buck,” Teaspoon countered. “Any one of you boys eats enough for two, so I’m gonna double it.”
“Someone can have my share,” Buck muttered. The Kiowa put on his best innocent look as Teaspoon shot him a glare.
“Just for that,” the “cook” intoned, “you can help Cody mash up them yams!”
While he waited for his two “eager” assistants to complete that task, Teaspoon began chopping what appeared to Jimmy to be hickory nuts.
“Nuts?” Jimmy asked suspiciously.
“Yeah, the recipe calls for walnuts, but we don’t have any of them,” Teaspoon explained. “So I figured any kind of nut will work.”
A few minutes later, Teaspoon grabbed the mess of sweet potatoes from Cody and Buck just in time to prevent a real food fight and dumped them into a deep pot.
“Ain’t you going to cook the sweet potatoes first?” Cody asked.
“Recipe don’t call for it,” Teaspoon replied firmly.
“Recipe probably figures you know what you’re doing,” Buck grumbled. “Aren’t you going to measure anything?” he asked as he watched the older man pour ingredients into the pot.
“Real chefs don’t need to measure,” Teaspoon told him as he began to stir furiously
Long minutes passed with the only sound being the click of spoon on the side of the pot. Finally, Teaspoon turned the pot so the others could see into it. “Do you think this looks fluffy?” he asked revealing the gooey mess.
“Looks a little lumpy to me,” Cody offered, earning him another of Teaspoon’s patented glares. “Well it DOES!” he protested.
“You just wait and see boys!” he crowed. “When this little beauty starts to cook, it’s going to rise up all nice and sweet. It’s gonna make your mouth water and your stomach grumble just to look at it and when you take that first bite, well, it’s just gonna just melt in your mouth. You’ll see, you’ll be thanking me for bringing it into your life—when you take the time to talk.”
“If we aren’t throwing up,” Buck muttered under his breath.
With a flourish, Teaspoon dumped the mix into a cooking pot, sprinkled some of the chopped nuts over the top and slid the entire concoction into the heated oven.
“Now what?” Jimmy asked.
“Now we wait,” Teaspoon told him, smugly. “Another hour and you’re going to have the best meal you ever ate. You’re ALL going to be apologizing for ever doubting me!”
“But,” he added, “we gotta be real quiet. Soufflés are kinda like cakes. You make a lot of noise and they fall flatter than a pancake!”
Cody pulled out one of his dime novels and settled back to wait.
“Well boys, eat up!” Teaspoon ordered.
Without hesitation, Cody, Jimmy and Buck attacked their plates as if they hadn’t eaten in a month.
“You were right, Teaspoon,” Buck mumbled around a full mouth. “We do have to apologize to you after all.”
“You sure were, Teaspoon,” Jimmy added. “This IS some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.”
Cody just smiled around another forkful of food.
“You boys just hush up and finish your dinner!” Teaspoon grumbled.
“Are you going to pay for this, Mr. Hunter?” the waitress asked. “Or should I just put it on your bill?”
Cody was in an absolute panic. It was his turn to cook and the only thing he knew how to make was beans in a can. He couldn’t let the others know that Jimmy knew more about cooking than William F. Cody, or that Lou could cook better than him. What was a desperate Pony Express rider to do?
Maybe he should trade rides with Kid – then no one would be the wiser. No, that wouldn’t work. Everyone had been teasing Cody about having to eat his own cooking – they didn’t think he’d be eating as much as he usually did. They definitely had that part right.
He had snuck into Rachel’s kitchen and swiped one of her cookbooks. He spent the better part of yesterday hiding out in the barn, pouring over the different recipes looking for something simple but to no avail. The only thing he accomplished yesterday was getting everyone mad at him for slacking off and not doing his chores. How could he admit to them that in a way he was doing a chore – trying to teach himself to cook. So he suffered in silence through the dirty looks he received last night.
He’d rather have the boys mad at him than have them laughing at him for not knowing how to cook. He didn’t know how Lou put up with it. But then wasn’t he the absolute worst one about teasing her? Maybe he’d better stop doing that. Sure, he did it just to draw attention away from himself so no one would discover his secret. But after tonight his secret would be a secret no longer. Cody didn’t think he could stand the thought of the endless ribbing he knew would be in store for him. Yeah, he was definitely going to stop remarking about Lou’s cooking.
‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’, his mama used to tell him. He wished he’d listened to her. Now there was going to be hell to pay. His fellow riders would never let him live this one down. Yep, he was gonna be nicer from now on, he vowed. If only he could take back all the times in the past he’d made fun of the others.
Cody decided he’d take a trip into Tompkins’ and see if he could get any ideas for supper by looking over the store’s inventory. Not having any luck, he headed over to the sheriff’s office to talk to Teaspoon about his ‘problem’. Teaspoon’s fatherly advice sometimes helped – sometimes it didn’t make a lick of sense. But still it was worth a try – Cody was desperate.
Teaspoon woke up when Cody slammed the door closed. He jerked his chair back on its four legs and pulled his gun and cocked it in one fluid motion. When he saw who it was, Teaspoon swore inwardly and sighed.
“Cody, son, you could scare the skin off a rattler as loud as you are.”
“Sorry, Teaspoon. Um, can I talk to you about somethin’?”
“Sure, sure. Pull up a chair.” Teaspoon told him.
When Cody was done pouring his heart out over his dilemma, Teaspoon scratched his stubbly chin in thought.
“Well Cody, there’s nothin’ wrong with admittin’ you cain’t cook. But I can see what you’re worried about. You’re never gonna hear the end of it from those boys…and Lou. I’ve got an idea though. It’ll at least get you out of cookin’ tonight. I’ve got the payroll from Russell, Majors and Waddell and it needs to get on to the next station. By the way, here’s your pay. I’ll give the others theirs when I get back to the station. How ‘bout I give the ride to you. You could leave right now and take your time getting’ back. Just be back before tomorrow afternoon so you can work on the roof with the others.”
“Thanks, Teaspoon. I’m really obliged to you for givin’ me this run.” Cody took his pay and the payroll and headed out to his horse.
He stopped by the bunkhouse and wrote a note for the others and left half his pay along with it. He tied his bedroll to his horse and rode off toward the next station.
When suppertime came, the riders entered the bunkhouse expecting to see Cody and their supper. Instead they found his note folded around some money on the table.
Noah read the note aloud: “Sorry, had to make a run for Teaspoon. I know it was my turn to cook. Please take this money and treat yourselves to a meal at the restaurant in town. See you tomorrow in time to finish the new roof. Sincerely, William F. Cody.”
They were all speechless. They didn’t know what shocked them more – Cody paying for their meals at the restaurant or the fact he was actually planning to work on the roof tomorrow.
As Cody made camp for the night and ate his beans from the can, he smiled, thinking that at least his friends were eating something decent tonight. And of course his secret was still safe…for now.
“Come on, Hickok, you gotta do it.”
I turn my head, just to make sure that the whining, plaintive voice I heard really did come out of Buck and not Cody. For a minute there, I wasn’t sure. But I shake my head. “Nope, don’t gotta do nothing.”
“How can you say that?” Kid asks from the corner.
“Real easy. I am not cooking.”
“But we’ll starve.”
Okay, that was definitely Cody’s voice. And leave it to him to think about starving.
“You won’t starve, Cody. You can always go down to the hotel restaurant and eat.”
“But Rachel’s gonna be gone five days. I don’t have money for one day at the restaurant, let alone five.”
Then maybe you shouldn’t have spent all your money on that ridiculous outfit you bought the other day, and all those worthless dime novels. That’s what I want to say, but I don’t. I do have to live in this bunkhouse for the next five days, I’d rather it not be completely unbearable.
It’s going to be bad enough with everyone pestering me to make the meals. And I don’t understand that at all. When I do cook all I ever hear is Hickok, don’t you know how to make something besides porridge? Or my personal favorite when I decided to try something new to stop the whining over the porridge, Jimmy, are you trying to kill us? What is this?
“I am not cooking for you bunch of ingrates. Rachel wrote down recipes, she offered to get Mrs. Murty to come cook, but y’all said that you’d handle it.”
“That’s because we meant you’d cook,” Cody said, then ducked when Kid tried to smack him.
“You idiot, you weren’t supposed to tell him that.”
When I walk into the bunkhouse I have to struggle to keep my lips from curling up in disgust. I just mucked out the stalls, and compared to the smell currently assaulting me, the barn was a field of wild flowers. What exactly died in here? And who thought it would be a good idea to cook it for dinner?
But I am not going to say a thing. Because if I complain, they’ll be all over my back to cook. And I am done with cooking for these people. I grab a shirt and tell Noah, who apparently lost the game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ against Lou, that I’m going to take a shower. He looks up briefly from the pot he’s scowling over and waves in acknowledgement, before he looks at the paper Rachel wrote instructions on and mutters under his breath.
Once outside I gulp in a large breath of air. Who knew that dust and dirt would smell so appealing? I head off for the shower and wonder just how long I can stall before I have to go back inside.
When I do head back inside, everyone is gathered around the table. Teaspoon is telling some story about a bobcat hunt he went on, oblivious to everyone eyeing the stove in wariness. With a flourish, Noah carries the pot over and ceremoniously serves everyone. He sits down and there’s a brief moment of everyone looking at the green broth, then at each other.
“Split-pea soup? Noah, how did you know that split-pea soup is my favorite?” Teaspoon asks as he picks up his spoon and brings the steaming liquid to his lips. Unabashedly we all watch him. I just know there’s going to be pandemonium at the first signs of convulsions.
Teaspoon withdraws the spoon from his mouth, and I can see him hold the concoction on his tongue, like he’s savoring it. That’s when I notice the tears forming in our boss’s eyes. His face contorts, and he grabs for the napkin tucked into his shirt and disposes of the offending bite.
“What in tarnation was that?” he asks, after he drains his water glass.
“It’s all Jimmy’s fault,” Noah protests and I shoot him a look. My fault? How did this become my fault? As if reading my mind Noah continues. “He should have just fixed porridge for us or something.”
“So you can all complain about it tasting like paste?”
“At least we’re used to your porridge,” Lou argues. “We’re never going to live if the rest of us take turns trying to follow Rachel’s recipes.”
Logically, that sounds right, but logic and me getting stuck with an apron around my waist for the next four days just don’t go together. We’re prevented from further argument by a soft knock on the bunkhouse door. In a flash Buck’s up off the bench and crossing the floor, taking his medicine pouch into his hand as if he’s sending up a silent plea.
When he turns around, he has a smile like he’s just been delivered. Stepping aside, he reveals the most beautiful sight. Our very own angel come to save us, and my very own devil sent to torment me with sleepless nights reliving our kisses.
“Evenin’,” she says, as she steps through the door, holding a basket on her arm. “Jimmy told me Rachel was headin’ out of town for a few days and I thought maybe I should see if you’d like some dinner?”
I’m not sure who answers the loudest, but Cody grabs the basket from her, sets it down on the table and nearly weeps when the smell of fried chicken and golden biscuits wafts into the room. Just when we’re all stuffed and don’t think we can eat another bite, she pulls out a strawberry pie and a bowl of whipped cream. I know what thoughts run through my mind, but instead I just smile and accept the slice she offers me.
When dinner is over and the dishes are washed and neatly stacked back in her basket by Cody and Kid, she stands and announces with a primness that sends my blood singing that she should be getting back home. Everyone thanks her again for saving their lives, and Teaspoon gives her a big bear hug and asks if there’s any chance she can come back tomorrow. Her smile is like a painting I once saw, small and mysterious, and she says that it would be her pleasure. She loves to cook and hasn’t gotten the hang of cooking for one.
“Well, I guess I should be going,” she says, and turns to pick up the basket.
I have it up and in my hand before she can even reach it. “I think I should walk you home. It’s late, and all.”
Nothing is spoken between us until we reach her front porch. There’s never been a need for words; we always seem to know what the other is thinking. She unlocks her door and reaches for the basket. “Thanks for walking me home.”
I push a stray curl off her face and lean down to kiss her. “You know I’ll always make sure you’re home safely.”
“But what about when I’m all alone, and you go back to a room full of your friends?”
It does bother me that she’s been alone out here ever since her father died. I know that I should insist once again that she move to town, but I know she won’t listen. She’s stubborn just like her pa. It took me a month to convince him to let me court his daughter. The only thing that keeps me from pressing my advantage with her, is I’m not entirely convinced he wouldn’t rise from the grave and shoot me like he promised if I ever compromised her virtue.
With a sigh I turn to look out over the darkened plain. “What do you want from me?”
She steps back and I feel the retreat instantly. “Apparently more than you’re willing to give. I guess I’ve misread this situation entirely. I want to make you happy, but instead I guess I’ll just be making you and your friends dinner tomorrow. I’ll have it there at six. Goodnight, Jimmy.”
Before I can even reply, she’s inside and the door is locked behind her. I can’t even begin to understand what happened, but somehow I know I’ve stepped in it deep. And I can’t help but think that maybe I should just cook dinner tomorrow, that way I won’t have to see those wounded eyes once again.
“Angela, did I ever tell you the time your father tried to cook?” Lou asked her honorary niece. “He volunteered to cook for the group of us when Rachel went away.”
“Lou!” Buck groaned from across the room. Buck, Maria and Angela were at Lou and Kid’s house for dessert and coffee. “Don’t go filling her head with terrible stories about me.”
“Honey, you actually offered to cook?” Maria put a hand on her husband’s knee. “I wish you would at home.”
“No you don’t!” Kid said with a grimace.
“Hey, it wasn’t that bad,” Buck said indignantly.
“Aunt Lou, please tell me the story.” Angela sat at her Aunt’s feet with her plate of pie.
“Well, before you were born, even before your ma knew your pa, we all road for the Pony Express,” Lou began. “Rachel had just gotten a letter from a friend asking her to visit. Rachel packed her things and…”
“I’ll only be gone a few days,” Rachel said as she tied her cloak. “You boys can take care of the meals until I get back.” She smiled at the group gathered on the porch. The horses nickered softly as she got into the buckboard. With a wave she set off for Blue Creek.
“Well, I guess I could take a stab at it,” Jimmy said and rubbed his stomach.
“Oh no, you don’t. We had porridge three times a day the last time you were left in charge,” Cody complained. “My insides will turn to goop if I have to eat that much porridge again.” His face of painful disgust had Jimmy playfully punching him on the arm.
“I’ll do it.” Jimmy and Cody turned quickly to look at Buck. “Come on, I use herbs all the time. This time it’ll be in cookin’” Buck said with a devilish smile.
“Should we trust him?” Noah piped up with a smile. Buck just raised an eyebrow.
“Fine by me. Just means I won’t have to,” Jimmy said as he headed toward the barn with Cody and Noah in tow. Buck headed into the bunkhouse to look in the larder. There were onions, potatoes, carrots, apples.
“Where is the meat?” Buck mumbled to himself. “Hmm.” Not seeing any eat Buck set out of the bunkhouse. He mounted his horse and headed out. The boys at the barn watched him curiously.
“Sure is going to be interesting to see what he comes up with,” Jimmy said as he shook his head.
Buck rode out into the prairie. He worked diligently to create some small game snares. Once he caught his quarry Buck went back to prepare dinner. “Hey Buck, that smells wonderful.” Lou said as she came in.
“Buck, I apologize for teasing you,” Jimmy said and took his seat. “You can cook anytime you want.” The rest of the riders sat and waited patiently. Buck dished up the stew for each rider. Only slurping and appreciative sounds could be heard.
“So, uh, what is the meat?” Noah asked as he wiped his mouth. “It seems vaguely familiar. Have we had it before?”
“I don’t know if you’ve had it before, but I have.” Buck said and finished his bowl. “In fact I wasn’t sure you all would like such a delicacy.”
The riders all looked at each other in surprise and trepidation. Jimmy’s head shot up and looked at Buck with amused suspicion.
“What is it?” Lou croaked.
“I thought you would have figured it out already. It’s … snake .” Buck picked up his dish and put it to the side. “Whose turn is it to wash up?” Buck looked at the stricken riders. Jimmy just started to laugh as Cody ran outside to relieve his stomach in the bushes. “Aw, I though he liked it.” Buck said as he smiled devilishly and lay on his bunk rubbing his full belly.
Angela looked at her father with the biggest grin and said, “Daddy, please don’t ever cook for me.” She made a face. “Blech, snakes.”
Everyone in the room laughed. Buck caught his wife’s eye and winked.
Emma hummed softly to herself as she gathered the ingredients for her special recipe for fudge brownies. It was one of the few things passed down to her from her grandmother, and she treasured the well-worn recipe card like she did her memories of the fine lady. Emma did not often make the treats but she and Sam were planning on a picnic dinner tomorrow, and she thought the event worthy of a batch of those brownies.
She had just measured the cocoa when in wandered Kid.
“Emma, have you seen my blue shirt?” he asked.
“I mended it and put it on your bunk, last I saw,” she replied, mixing a few more ingredients together.
“But I can’t find it,” he insisted.
Emma sighed, a bit vexed at being interrupted from her baking. Reluctant to leave her mixing bowl, she did anyway and headed over to Kid’s bunk.
“Kid, if it was a snake it would have bit you,” Emma sounded exasperated as she discovered the shirt had merely slipped onto the floor.
“Sorry Emma,” Kid smiled sheepishly. “I won’t disturb you again.”
When Emma returned to her kitchen she couldn’t remember if she had added the baking soda. Oh well, she figured, what harm can another teaspoon do?
Soon it was time to mix in the eggs. Just as Emma was about to crack one into the bowl, the door flew open and in came a very forlorn-looking Lou.
“Hi, Emma,” she said sadly. Lou didn’t have too many down days, but today she was feeling the weight and responsibility of a man’s job and disguise.
“Hi, Lou,” she replied back, torn between really wanting to talk to the girl and draw her out, or finishing her task. “How are ya?”
“Havin’ a bad day, I guess. Do you have time to talk, Emma?”
“Can it wait, sweetheart? I’ll be done with these in a while.”
“I-I suppose,” said Lou in a bit of an injured tone. She was not used to Emma turning down any chance to talk and being in a sensitive mood anyway, her feelings were hurt. Lou slunk away to find solace in her horse.
The hurt look in Lou’s eyes only further distracted Emma, for she was beginning to feel a bit guilty about brushing the girl aside. But, as she told herself, she saw Lou every day and time alone with Sam was at a premium. Unfortunately this distraction took the form of several eggshells landing in the batter.
Emma spent a good amount of time delicately picking out those shells. She had just finished when Jimmy and Cody bounded in, having a friendly argument over some girl they had seen in town.
“Betcha she’ll say yes if I ask her to the dance,” taunted Cody.
“Not unless I ask her first,” countered Jimmy.
“But I saw her first!” was Cody’s reasoning.
“Oh yeah?” asked Jimmy, making a lunge for the blonde rider.
Emma was used to this kind of activity. She didn’t mind it when the boys wrestled each other and got into harmless fistfights much, as long as they didn’t take it too far and did it outside.
“Take it outside boys,” she repeated the familiar refrain.
Jimmy and Cody had the best of intentions of doing just that, but Jimmy couldn’t restrain himself from one last playful jab at Cody as they passed Emma in the kitchen. Unfortunately, it knocked Cody just so he’d bump into the mixing bowl. Before Emma knew what was happening, brownie batter was all over the kitchen, the two riders, and herself.
“That’s it!” she declared, throwing her apron to the ground. “I’ve had it! I don’t know why I even bother trying!” She marched outside, trying to cool down her flaming temper.
“What’s she so cross about?” wondered Cody.
Lou appeared at the door, “I think she was trying to make some brownies for Sam.”
Jimmy surveyed the room, “Guess we messed it up pretty bad.”
“Well, let’s make it up to her,” declared Cody. “We’ll make ‘em.”
“Do you know how to make brownies, Cody?” asked Lou.
“We can figure it out between the three of us, I think,” he insisted.
Emma returned to the bunkhouse in better spirits after her walk. As she approached the door she could swear the smelled something baking inside. She opened the door a little apprehensively.
Emma’s eyes widened in horror before her. Eggshells were everywhere, the flour sack had been overturned, and there was a large tear in one of her best apron’s, which Jimmy was wearing.
“What’s all this?” she nearly choked.
“We felt bad about the brownies, Emma,” explained Cody. “So we followed your recipe and made them ourselves.”
Her riders looked so proud and eager that Emma couldn’t help but smile at them, in spite of the mess.
“Thank you so much. I’m sorry I lost my temper. With all my interruptions I was getting so distracted that yours probably turned out better than mine would have anyway.”
“Well Emma, it was us who made ‘em,” grinned Jimmy. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”
Stirrin' Up Trouble
Cody stumbled into the bunkhouse, his feet moving to the driving rhythm of his growling stomach. So intent on the grumble in his middle, he almost bowled Lou over where she stood at the stove.
"Sorry, Lou. I didn't mean to-"
"Cody! I'm so glad you're here."
"You are?" Cody's bewildered look went unnoticed as Lou gave the pot one last stir and dropped the long-handled wooden spoon into his hand while she removed her apron from around her waist. "I need you to keep an eye on the pot for a few minutes." She bent over and opened the belly of the cast iron stove and threw in a few more sticks of wood. "I promised Rachel I'd help with the rest of supper."
Supper? That got Cody's attention.
"Sure, Lou. You go right on ahead." Cody watched her scamper off toward the house with a smile on his face. This was surely going to get him a third helping tonight.. maybe even a fourth!
Cody stood sentinel beside the pot and hummed a little tune as he stirred the contents with vigor. So intent was he on his task that when the door opened, he called out a greeting without looking to see who it was. "Come on in!"
Noah's chuckle was unmistakeable. "What's got you so happy, Cody?"
"I'm helping Lou with supper."
"Lou?" Noah sounded quite perplexed.
"Helping?" Hickok's snide tone was telltale.
Noah moved around to stand over Cody's shoulder. "What are we having?"
Cody stopped stirring and stared off into space with a serious thoughtful look on his face. "Dunno, she didn't say."
Alarmed by his own neglect of the delicious details, Cody leaned over the boiling pot and sniffed once... twice... three times and then settled back on his heels. "Funny, but it doesn't smell like... anything at all."
Noah raised a quizzical brow. "That's.... strange."
"That not good, at all," Jimmy interjected.
"Well- I know she's a girl and all, but it doesn't ever look like she's learned one thing about cooking."
"You gonna tell her that?" Noah nearly choked on his own words.
For Cody's part, he managed to look cross. "I ain't stupid, Noah."
Buck stepped in through the open door.
"Last I heard, the jury was still out on that one."
Cody waved it off as he turned toward the rack nailed to the wall above the stove. "I'll show you." His fingers sorted through the little jars and pots. "Marjoram, thyme, papr... papa... payper-eeeka. Hmmm." He set the three jars on the table at his left. "Sounds good to me," he muttered.
"What's that?" Buck's curiosity was begining to get the better of him.
Cody took the lid off of the container of thyme and started to sprinkle it in the pot. "*I* am helping Lou."
Buck's half grin was the next best thing to his laugh. "Did she *ask* you to help, Cody?"
"Yup." Cody sprinkled in another spice. "She said to stir the pot - and I am, but I'm gonna save her from loads of embarassment when everyone tastes my creation-"
"Your creation?" Jimmy couldn't quite swallow his laughter.
Cody turned his back on the chuckling rider and went back to hunting through the shelf. "I think there's an echo in here." He brought down a few more jars and then reached over to grasp a couple of onions from the pantry shelf.
Taking his knife from its scabbard, Cody wiped it on a cloth towel before proceeding to chop the onions into quarters.
Kid dropped his saddlebag just inside the door. "I'm hoping that's supper on the stove."
Cody smiled and waved Kid in. "It will be when I'm through with it."
"What are you cookin', Cody?" There was more than a hint of worry in the young rider's voice.
"Lou left me in charge of the pot, so I've been addin' stuff to help it along."
"Lou, huh?" Kid looked more than a little uncomfortable. "You know... when Lou fixed dinner for me last time, pepper really helped."
"Pepper?" Cody rubbed his chin with thoughtful strokes. "That sounds good to me."
Kid caught a contagious grin from Cody and reached around the pot, grabbing the pepper shaker off the shelf. He turned it upside down and shook it again and again until a cloud of black 'soot' floated around Cody's head.
"Um.. Cody?" Buck's voice intruded on the blond rider's concentration.
"Do you even know what's cooking in the pot?"
Cody waved off the comment. "I know that before I started it smelled like... smelled like... boiling water!"
"And now," prompted Noah.
Taking in a deep gulping breath Cody let out a satisfied sigh. "It smells..." he licked his lips as he sought the best word to describe the heavenly taste,"It smells... spicy."
*SPICY* Jimmy mouthed the word to Noah behind Cody's back.
"I heard that." Jimmy's shock was evident as he and Noah burst into laughter.
"Something smells *spicy* in here."
Cody gave a triumphant grin as Teaspoon walked into the room. "Glad to hear it, Teaspoon."
Meandering over for a look, Teaspoon attempted to peek into the boiling pot. "What do you got there, Cody?"
"I'm helping Lou, Teaspoon."
"That's awful nice of you, Cody."
"Thanks, I thought so myself.. but SOME PEOPLE around here, just don't know how to appreciate a good deed."
Teaspoon took in a deep breath of the rising steam. "Smells like onions."
Cody smiled. "I put those in myself."
Nodding, Teaspoon clapped his hand on the young man's back. "Good idea, my boy." He gave Cody a wink. "Now, how's about you give me a little taste?"
Cody dipped the spoon into the water and brought it full to the rim of the pot.
Teaspoon's nose wrinkled in delight as he blew across the liquid, trying to cool it down enough to slip it past his tongue. Curiosity reigned in the little room as Noah, Jimmy and Buck leaned closer to watch the situation developing before them.
With a sublime expression, Teaspoon's lips parted to wrap around the spoon. Closer.. closer he moved, his face the very picture of anticipation.
"What's everyone doin'?"
Teaspoon straightened up, knocking the spoon out of Cody's hand and causing it to fall back into the pot. "Didn't I tell you not to sneak up on a body like that?!"
Jesse shrugged his shoulders and nodded at the pot. "I didn't sneak up on you. I walked in the door. That's all.. what's cookin'?"
Cody gave the younger boy a smirk. "It's a Cody specialty."
Bobbing his head up and down, Jesse couldn't help but take a playful dig at Cody's inflated ego. "So, you threw everything on the shelf into a pot and started burning it?"
Raising his wooden spoon like a club, Cody lunged at Jesse. The boy had the good sense to step out of the way and behind Jimmy. "I don't know why you're gettin' mad at me.. it's the truth. Ain't it? Jimmy? Buck?"
Cody looked shocked at the three identical nods that followed Jesse's words. "What is it with Cody jokes and food, huh?" No one jumped in with an answer. "Look, it's not like I'm the ONLY one that eats around here-"
Noah gave Jimmy a side glance as he interupted Cody. "You are if you're the first one at the table. There's nothing left for the rest of us when we sit down."
Waving off the boyish banter, Teaspoon turned back to the pot and removed the spoon from Cody's hand. "Step back, Cody... you'd better let a professional handle this."
The younger man stepped back with nary a word and watched with rapt attention as the station master scooped up a spoonful with his pinky raised elegantly in the air. Again, he blew across the surface to cool the liquid and sniffed it like fine brandy.
Riders on both sides of the issue leaned closer, eager to hear the 'expert's' declaration. His lips flapping like a fish, Teaspoon was a fraction of an inch away from tasting Cody's creation when an ear splitting scream blasted through the air. "Teaspoon! What do you think you're doin'?"
This time the spoon clattered to the floor, splashing Cody's soup across the boards. "Louise! You coulda scared the life out of me... we was just testin' out Cody's recipe."
Lou stared at him with concern. "Recipe?"
Cody stepped forward with a smile. "I was helpin' you, Lou. I knew you were busy doin' somethin' so I added a few things into the pot to help things along."
Rachel's glare flew over Lou's shoulder and seemd to pierce right through Cody's excuse. "Did she ask you to?"
Nodding, Cody replied, "She asked me to stir the pot for her to help with supper!"
No one could tell if Lou was about to scream or cry. Instead she barreled through the crowd and drew herself up on tip-toe to peer into the pot. Her anguished cry even seemed to shame Cody. "What did you do?"
He shuffled back and forth on his feet. "I just added some spices...and a couple of onions. That's all-"
"Cody!" Her wail nearly set the dogs in town to barking. She grabbed another spoon of the wall rack and dipped into the pot, withdrawing a splattered dripping mess. "This wasn't supper."
Cody scoffed and winked at the riders. "Well, I should hope not, that looks like a pair of womens... of womens... oh no! What are your 'underthings' doin' in the pot, Lou?"
Lou dropped the mess back into the pot with a large SPLASH. "They're in the pot because I put them there, Cody. I was bleaching them out!"
Her lips were pressed so tightly together, all they saw was the thin white line stretched horizontally under her nose. She gave one then two nods of her head.
Cody turned bright red with a blush. "Aw, shucks, Lou. How was I supposed to know. I was just tryin' to help-"
She sputtered and bit back a cuss. "When I WANT your advice, I'll ASK for it!"
Teaspoon, Cody and Kid jumped in to offer their apologies.
"We're real sorry, Lou-"
"Yeah, Lou, we feel really bad-"
"What can we do to help-"
"Help!" She was bright red in the face. "There's ... I ... you... ARGH!" Lou stalked out of the room and straight for Rachel's place.
"Well," Rachel was fuming, "Since you've all put so much effort into your 'stew', I feel that it's only fitting for you to eat it."
"Eat this?" Cody was clearly distressed by Rachel's pronouncement.
"Exactly," she snapped. "Lou and I wil just have to settle for eating the roast I made."
"Roast?" Teaspoon gulped, "but Rachel!"
"No, sir. Y'all act before you think, just like a bunch of over grown puppies wrestling for scraps. Now, you'll have to suffer the consequences for your idiotic actions." Rachel left utter silence in her wake.
Noah and Jimmy looked at each other before they turned to Buck. As one, the three men stood and headed out the door.
Kid started after them. "Where are you going?"
Noah looked him right in the eye. "To eat. WE didn't touch it."
Buck nodded in agreement and led the group out the door.
Cody's shoulders sagged in the lengthening shadows of the room. "Roast... Rachel made a roast."
"What are we going to do?"
"Dunno, Kid... I don't think Rachel or Lou are going to forgive us anytime soon... especially tonight."
Kid nodded his agreement and waited for Cody to add in his two cents worth. It didn't take more than a second. "I don't know about you boys..." Cody began as he sqared his shoulders and lifted the spoon up to his lips to taste his doomed creation. "Can't let it go to waste-"
Teaspoon and Kid lunged for him at the same time, "Cody, NO!!!" Kid clamped a hand over Cody's mouth and Teaspoon grabbed his shoulders, together they dragged him away from the pot.
Cody collapsed in a chair and started sobbing. "I can't not eat, Teaspoon! I'll waste away."
Considering their dire situation as the racous sounds of laughter floated in from Rachel's, Teaspoon seemed to gird his courage and give the boys a smile. "Don't worry, boys... I'm gonna do what any sensible man would do-"
Kid looked toward the door with a wistful smile. "Apologize and hope they let us eat?"
Teaspoon gave a grave shake of his head. "Nope, something just as good." He made sure both boys were lookin' at him. "I'm gonna make us biscuits."
Cody gave an audible gulp at the thought of Teaspoon's biscuits. They were still using the one's he made last month... as door stops. Grabbing the Kid's collar the two ran out the door. "RACHEL? LOU? We're SORRY!"
Teaspoon gave a huff and turned back to the stove, looking for the flour. "Ingrates!"