Tag Archives: Ruby

2.43.b Carnivals & Cakes

Rewind eight hours. 

Before, KARB aired Berlioz’s, Béatrice et Bénédict. Before, I baked several breakfast treats. Before, I ingested several gallons of coffee. 

I sat alone in the kitchen of the Lavender Lady, listening to Wood tootle off in the direction of the living-room couch, finishing off the last swig of my beer…….When my eyes slowly slid towards the corner of Ira’s envelope peeking out of my pack. 

Firming up my upper lip, I told myself the contents would be exactly the same tomorrow morning. 

Emphatically nodding my head, my mind made up, I happened to notice a ring of condensation the bottom of my beer bottle left on the table. Getting up, I grab a rag from the sink and wipe down the table, then the counters. Because if you’re going to do one, you may as well do the other. However, whilst taking care of the counters, I knocked over the stack of empty containers I’d packed the Moon Bathing nibbles in. Deciding I couldn’t leave dirty dishes for Beatrice to find in the morning, I unloaded, reloaded, and ran the dishwasher. Because that’s what good roommates do. Similarly, I couldn’t leave the stack of soiled blankets sitting on the kitchen chair, so I washed them as well.

Scanning the kitchen, cleanup complete, my eyes once again strayed towards the manila covered temptation……and caved. One quick peek, to give my subconscious something other than Toby to chew on, what could it hurt?

Famous. Last. Words. 

Fast forward eight hours and twenty-seven minutes.  

Past the anatomizing of Ira’s information down to the subatomic level. Past the flabbergasting discovery of double-dealings. Past my forty-five-minute catnap hunched over the table, on top of my spiral-bound notebook. (I’m lucky to only have a wire imprint on my face. I’d missed dozing on my uncapped hot pink highlighter by mere inches.) Past Wood and Beatrice looks of incredulity when I’d begged off from their afternoon plan to partake of barbecue and sniff old books in favor of completing a chore.

Stepping out of the Princess and onto the drive, I leaned my seat forward and pulled my hulking pack from the backseat. Trudging around the side of the house, I slowly climbed the back stairs and pushed open the door. 

Stunned by the spectacle hitting my retinas, it took me a moment to recall the last time I beheld such a sight. (I do believe it occurred the year Robbie’s school hosted the regional Spelling Bee finals and the PTA pounced on the opportunity to fund their after school programs.) Every surface, plus a few extras brought in especially, were covered in unfrosted cakes, cupcakes, cookies, the odd pie, a half dozen loaves of bread, and one sad-looking pan of sausage rolls. 

My early morning efforts paled in comparison.

Amid this unadulterated homage to flour, eggs, and butter stood Aunt Pearl operating my great-grandmother’s stand mixer. Next to her stood my niece Ruby. Who, for reasons outside my ken, was responding to my Aunt’s instructions with expressive meows.

Aunt Pearl (over her shoulder): “Jesse, if you forgot the whole vanilla beans again, you can turn right back around.”

Me: “It’s not Jesse Aunt Pearl.”

Ruby (at the sound of my voice, she started scrabbling off her stool): “Ppuurrrrr? Meow!!!”

Aunt Pearl: “Hello Dear! Give us a minute. We’re almost done.”

Drifting towards the two-foot square of open space at the kitchen table, where Uncle sat sipping his coffee and reading his stack of newspapers, I looked around for another seat. Deciding the chances of finding a chair free of thumbprint cookie trays slim to none, I dropped both my pack and backside onto the floor. 

Uncle (setting aside his paper): “So what brings you by? Besides the floorshow.”

Me (leaning against the cabinet, my legs stretched out in front of me): “Did Aunt Pearl lose a bet?”

Uncle (chuckling): “No, one of the vendors for the district’s Carnival pulled out at the last minute. So your Aunt’s helping bridge the gap. She roped the whole neighborhood, plus Jesse, Tad, Dylan, and Dwight, into helping.”

Heart sinking, I reconsidered asking Beatrice and Wood for help, then rejected the idea immediately. There’s no way I could ask without being an awful friend. Ira and Leo were similarly off-limits. Maybe Mrs. Schmit? I trust her….but do I trust her that far?

Uncle (forehead crinkling in concern): “Phoebe?”

Me (pulling my heavy pack towards me): “Sorry, I didn’t realize you guys were so busy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered you with this…”

Uncle (tilting his head): “With?”

Me (sighing): “I was hoping you could double-check my work.”

Uncle’s gaze sharpened. However, before either of us could say anything else, Ruby scampered onto my lap purring madly, and Aunt Pearl thunked a bowl of frosting at my Uncle’s elbow. 

Ruby (four inches from the end of my nose): “Auntie Morticia! Come see! Come See! Grandma’s saving the Carnival’s cakewalk! And she’s going to let me decorate the cookies! I get to use ALL the frosting I want!… What’s wrong with your face?”

Aunt Pearl (bustling over): “Ruby’s right, what’s wrong with your face? You look tired. Did you not sleep well? Do you want some coffee? Can you stay and frost some cupcakes?”

It didn’t take the intuition of Nancy Drew to figure out Aunt Pearl let Ruby sample some frosting, her blue-tinged teeth told the story. The dark tint to Aunt Pearl’s lips told a similar sugar-filled tale. As did the fact neither waited for or required a response to their series of rapid-fire questions.

Me (sliding Ruby off my lap): “No, Aunt Pearl. I’m fine. I should be going….”

Uncle (finishing my sentence): “…back to my office. Mind if I take the coffee pot back with us, Pearl?”

2.36.b Sunday Morning Pancakes

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Giggly voice number one: “Her eyes are open, and she’s sitting up.”

Muffled voice number two: “Is she wearing pants?”

Giggly Voice number one: “Nope.”

Catapulted from my revere, I rotated my head and discovered a dark eye below a mop of darker curls surveilling me through a crack in the door. Giggly voice number one, aka my niece Ruby, squealed in response to my regard and attempted to flee the scene – only to plow into and knock over her older brother Theo whom she’d forgotten was standing behind her.

Theo (yelling and kicking the door open wider): “GET OFF ME!”

Ruby (crawling up Theo’s prone form): “She saw me! She saw me!”

Technically the niblings aren’t supposed to open bedroom doors (even temporary ones), but they know I’m a soft touch. 

Me (grinning): “Pipe down guys, or you’ll wake the whole house. Let me find my pants, and I promise I’ll be right there.”

Ruby (streaking down the hall and into the kitchen): “She’s coming to help! She’s coming to help! Auntie Morticia will tell you huckleberries don’t go in……”

Me (getting up to check on her still flattened brother): “You okay down there?”

Theo (groaning): “No, she punched me in the stomach.”

Me (looking down at him): “You gonna be okay, or do you need some ice?”

Theo (clutching his middle theatrically): “No ice.”

Me: “You lay there for a minute while I change.”

Theo (wheezing): “Okay.”

Closing the door, but keeping an ear trained in Theo’s direction, I hastily swapped my pj’s for jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers. I grabbed my pack off the floor and Ira’s mysterious envelope off the desk and reopened the door in four minutes flat, finding Theo sitting cross-legged in the hall.

Me (standing in the doorway): “Feeling better?”

Theo: “Yup.”

Me (helping him up): “So what’s happening in the kitchen?”

Theo (falling in step with me): “Uncle Wood thought it might be fun to try making something other than banana pancakes for breakfast.”

Me (grinning): “Ruby’s not having it?”

Theo (returning my grin): “Nope.”

The pandemonium promised by Wood’s proposed shift to the Sunday Morning menu didn’t disappoint. 

Upon entering the kitchen, Ruby attempted to enlist my aid in explaining to Wood why banana pancakes were the only proper breakfast dish. My oldest nephew Avery stood at the stove carefully cooking bacon, loudly disagreed with his cousin, and extolling the virtues of his dad’s apple cinnamon pancakes. His younger twin sisters Iris and Violet, who didn’t seem to have a stake in pancake controversy, stood at the table enthusiastically mixing bowls of dry ingredients together. Inadvertently haloing their heads in flour and thoroughly coating the tabletop, floor, and aprons with a fine white dust. Wood, who was keeping a close eye on Avery, shot me a mischievous grin and started opening a can of pumpkin puree – sending Ruby into a near apoplectic fit.

Theo drifted towards his cousin, the stove, and the plate of cooked bacon. 

After reassuring Ruby, she’d get her beloved banana pancakes sans apples, pumpkin, chocolate chips, pears, huckleberries, and lingonberries. I crossed the kitchen, set my stuff down next to the door (well out of range of our enthusiastic cooks), donned an apron, and entered the fray.

Forty-seven minutes later, after brokering a pancake peace accord for the ages the niblings, Wood and I sat down at the table to eat. 

Theo, inspired by Scooby Doo’s infamous towering sandwiches, decided to create a new Sunday morning delicacy he named The Stack. Six alternating layers of banana, apple and pumpkin pancakes with pumpkin butter (think peanut butter only made of pumpkin seeds) and bacon between each layer, topped with maple syrup and more bacon. His culinary experiment intrigued everyone, so we all tried our hand at creating this concoction. (Save Ruby, who refuses to acknowledge the existence of alternative pancake flavors.) 

It was surprisingly tasty. 

Demolishing their Stacks in a nauseating spectacle, the niblings now hyped up on bacon, syrup, and carbs took off out the back door making enough noise to wake the dead, the neighbors, and their parents – in that order.

Deciding discretion the better part of valor Wood and I abandoned the kitchen, after making sure the food stayed warm, and there was enough coffee made, to keep an eye on the kids playing in the back garden. Leaning back in the deck chairs, our tummies full of warm autumn spices, we sipped our coffee contentedly.

Wood: “Any big plans today?”

Thinking of the paper-wrapped puzzle in my pack (the real metaphorical carrot helping me bypass my dread), I recalled the deal Wood, and I struck not so long ago.

Me: “Maybe. When’s Laney coming home from the conference again?”

Wood (arching an eyebrow): “Monday. Why?”

Me (warming both my hands on my mug, staring straight ahead): “What are you doing on tonight round about midnight?”

Wood: “I’d planned on sleeping. But I gather you’ve got a counteroffer?”