A Cooking Lesson

1627, Earth Season, Stasis Week


Context

During some downtime in Blue Tree tula, Yehna teaches Varanis how to make pancakes. After session 54 (Climactic Explosion).

Events

It took over an hour for Haran to exhaust Berra.  The little Humakti lies in a sleepy heap now, having not moved since she lay down for a nap and started snoring.  Someone has put a folded cloak under her head, but she is out for the count, with Haran sitting on her.  Outside Yelm is somewhere close to dying, maybe newly dead.  The hall has filled up.

Yehna drifts up towards Varanis, polite but with the obvious intent of conversing. The Esrolian waves her over. “Join me?” she offers.

Yehna does that.  “Did you manage to sit down and eat?” She is of course an Ernaldan.  Ernaldans check these things.

“I did,” Varanis replies. “And you? Berra must have given you some time with your hands free, for a change.”

“I don’t look after him all the time.  He’s in here most of the day, and I stay in the loom house in the afternoon.  I’d have been there today but for my sister arriving.”  Yehna looks at the sister with fondness.  “They know there how long she’s been away.”

“She has been missing you,” Varanis tells the younger woman.

Yehna sighs.  “Does she want me to come to Boldhome, do you know?  She wrote, but that was for if she didn’t come.  I will, if she wants me to.”

Varanis considers. “I think she would enjoy your company, but she will also be busy in Boldhome with her temple duties.” The Vingan chews her lip. “I am hoping to buy a house in Boldhome for us. If I did, you’d have a place to live. And the Earth Temple in Boldhome is a thing to see. It’s not Nochet or even Clearwine, but it is a beautiful temple.”

“I’ve seen it once,” Yehna replies.  “Well, twice, but once I was very young.  But if I ask her, she might think I am asking for the invitation.”  Yehna watches Haran fall over sideways on his aunt, and take hold of her ear.  “I don’t know if I could do it without some friends, if we get snowed in.”

“Do you want to go?” The question is asked without any attempt at dancing around the subject. “You don’t have to.”

“I want to do what she wants,” Yehna answers instantly.  “She needs me.  I hope.”

“She misses you both. But, she wouldn’t want to make things harder for you, either.” Varanis looks at Yehna. “Are there any among your friends who would benefit from the journey?”

Yehna brightens, considering that.  “I could take a few people with me.  If I went.  We’re used to him, and to living together.  Have you met my cousins properly?”

“I haven’t,” Varanis says. “And I’m sure we could make space for you. I wonder if you and your cousins would be able to help me with the house? I don’t know what I’ll find or what it will have by way of furnishings and art. It would be useful to have some extra hands and eyes for those tasks.”

Yehna smiles.  “It would be a good thing to do, yes.”  She nearly steps forwards as Haran tries to eat Berra’s ear, then stops as he decides he cannot, folds himself over her, and apparently falls asleep instantly.  Then the Ernaldan can finally give Varanis her full attention.  “Do you have a house yet?  Is there a particular one you are looking at buying?”

“Not yet. I was planning to start looking on our return.”

“Then you might need to buy or make all of your furniture, but you don’t know how many people will live there.  If Berra wants, I could come for long enough to tell you a few things she probably doesn’t know, but you have an Ernaldan who might know fashion better.  Lady Lenta will know what people in Boldhome like.”  Yehna stretches a little, almost entirely unlike her sister in how she moves to do that.  She makes it soft and languorous, with a curvy silhouette as she clasps her hands behind her and pulls her shoulders back.

“But Lenta is Esrolian. I want a Sartarite home.”

Yehna nods.  “I could bring someone and help, yes.  Warriors do not always know what is needed by those who stay at home.”  She smiles.  “Berra sent me all sorts of bronze things, some of which I already had in stone.  And a flat pan for frying.  Does she want more pancakes, do you think?  It’s copper.  I can see my face in it.”

“Are you sure that last is for cooking? It sounds like a mirror. Polished metal and a handle to hold onto?” Varanis speaks as someone very familiar with such objects.

“I know a pan when I see one.  It is big enough to go over the fire, and the handle is long.  I don’t know she would think to get me a mirror, but she sent money, so I could get myself one.  It’s just a highly polished pan, beaten thin.  You can do hot cooking on them and they cool quickly.”  Yehna looks down at Berra, then back at Varanis.  “Look at the pans over the fires here.  We have a couple over by the cooking fires.  I can show you how to cook pancakes if you like?”

Varanis rises eagerly. “I’d like that. I enjoy eating them. I ought to learn how to make them!”

“Right.  We’ll need eggs.  Lots of eggs, because if we start cooking, people will notice what I’m doing.  Or we could sneak to my house, but it’s dark and that’s a way to walk.  And flour and milk.  I’d use chives, normally, too.”  Yehna takes Varanis over towards a doorway that leads to a store room.  “You guard the outside.  Men are not allowed in here unless we say so.  Which is never.”

The Vingan takes her duty seriously, scowling at all the men as if daring them to try her, even though none look interested. Ferocious and terrifying is Varanis. So, perhaps she isn’t taking it seriously at all.

Yehna comes out with a tray piled high.  “Here’s the makings.”  There are a few pots, a big bowl, and some slim twigs bound up together.  She carries them over to the closest of the cooking fires, where she ignites the cooling coals with a word or two.  “One egg, one of these scoops of flour, and one of them of milk, and we make it into a paste,” she tells Varanis.  “Then we’ll add more milk and some of those ground oats.”  No leavening, so they will be thin cakes, probably folded.

Picking up an egg, Varanis studies it, turning it around in her fingers. “You know, I’ve never cracked one of these. I’ve seen it done, but not tried it myself.”

Yehna stares only briefly.  “Really?”  She leans over, nearly takes the one that Varanis has, and then thinks better of it.  “You want to do it on a sharp edge.  Tap it.”  Expertly, Yehna puts yolk and white into a bowl.1She just criticalled Craft (Cooking).  She’s going to make amazing pancakes AND teach you!

Varanis tries to copy, but her first tap is too gentle and the egg doesn’t break. Gamely, she tries again, with more force.2Let’s just check DEX… Well, if it’s a DEX*5, then that’s a special, I think. Or just an easy pass. She doesn’t make a mess. Deftly, she cracks the egg on her second attempt and manages to get the contents into the bowl.

“Sometimes we whip just the whites,” Yehna says, “And that makes frothy food, but not now.  We just want everything together.”  She pours in the milk.  “I’ll add the flour, because that’s best done slowly, and you just keep mixing it.  Together is better than apart, pancakes and people.”

There’s a wistful look in Varanis’ eyes at Berra’s sister’s words, but she turns her attention to stirring what is in front of her. “He’s growing quickly,” she comments.

“He is.  He started talking only this season, but he likes to use his words to listen to them.”  Yehna has a big spoon with holes in it, and high sides, and uses that to drift flour down, coating the eggs and the milk and the whisk, and sometimes whitening Varanis’ fingertips a little.  “He has no idea who Berra is, although I think he knows what aunt means.  Someone who spoils him.”

Varanis laughs softly at this. “She always seems to have her eyes open for things he might like. “I wish…” She shakes her head. “It is what it is. So, how smooth should this be?”

“Keep going.  The eggs won’t get too stiff, because the yolks are in there.  It’ll get dry from the flour but then we milk it a bit and add the oatmeal.  That doesn’t clump too badly.”  Yehna, true to her word, does just that, and finds time to heat up a copper pan – big and flat, but nothing close to a mirror – over the fire.  “We’ll use butter,” she says.  “It’s got a bit of salt in, so we haven’t put salt into the cakes.  If we used skullbush oil then we’d want the salt of course.”  And then there is a bowl of goo, and a pile of ingredients not yet used.

Glancing at the unused ingredients, then at Yehna, Varanis keeps stirring, apparently deciding to trust the process.

Yehna says, “We’re ready.”  The pan is hot, she brushes butter over it, and then she holds out a ladle to Varanis.  “Fill this and put it all into the middle of the pan, all at once.  Then we keep it from creeping until it’s cooked.”  She has a spatula in her hand already.

Holding her breath, Varanis does as instructed. Something about her nervous expression suggests that she is concerned she’s about to make a mistake. Only once the ladle is empty, none of the pancake has ended in the fire, and Yehna has not yelled at her, does she release the breath.

Yehna deploys the spatula like someone who was born knowing how to do this.  “Now, put the bowl down.  We don’t need it except to ladle from it and make more.  Everything else is going to be things we sprinkle in or on.  This way people can choose what they like.  Start by crumbling some of that cheese?  We’ll make a couple of those and then people will start remembering that they are hungry and we didn’t really feast you, and they’ll just walk over here casually and see how we are, and we’ll feed them.”

Varanis works, meticulously following Yehna’s instructions. Gradually, she relaxes into it and her little smile suggests that she has begun to enjoy the work. As she does, she watches Yehna and periodically asks questions about Haran or life in the Tula. Anything to keep Yehna talking.

Yehna talks about Haran, and her tiny herd of horses, and her land and the harvest from it.  The barley was good, and the emmer was acceptable, although there is a subject there she avoids.  She talks about how to cut ground-onions and spear-onions, and we’re not putting garlic in this, because that would overpower the taste, but you cut those by crushing the segments first so you can peel them easily, and don’t eat the chive flowers, because those are for Berra, because she can’t eat vegetables, and now it’s time to mix up some more, I’ll do that, you try with the spatula.  Scoop it and lift it, don’t smear it, when it first goes on…

Varanis tears the first of the pancakes she tries to flip. She is instantly apologetic and her calm begins to fray. She doesn’t give up though, and her next attempts are more successful.

Yehna says only, “It wasn’t quite ready yet.  When you can’t see a shine on the top, then the bottom will be holding together.”  After that, she does not comment, because she is working, but obviously still keeping an eye on things.  “You can flip them, or you can put fillings on and then flip half over.  That’s good with the yellow cheese, because it softens, or you can brush it with egg yolk…”  So many ways you can cook a simple thing.

Berra is still asleep by the time everyone who came over has had at least one of the thick, oaty cakes or the thinner, folded ones.  Pancakes with shredded vegetables, pancakes with cheese and a sprinkling of dried mushrooms finely cut, pancakes with blueberries for one of the children who has not yet been put down to sleep, and then finally, Yehna smiles brightly, and looks at what they have done, which is feed almost everyone a little bit, and some people a lot.

“Thank you, for this, Yehna. I think I might like one now too,” Varanis says. She chooses blueberries for herself, with an unashamed grin. “I like sweet things.”

There is honey as well, and Yehna shows off a little, making a cake in two layers, one plain and one honeyed, so that it can be eaten without getting sticky drips everywhere. Then she looks at her sister, who is still sleeping, and the exhausted toddler now snuggled against her back, and at the remains of the pancakes.  She looks a question at Varanis.  Wake, or let sleep?

Varanis shrugs. “Sleep, I think. She needs it.”

Yehna nods, and shows one last thing.  You can draw with the ladle to make a shape out of pancake batter that fries for a few moments and then pour the inner part.  She has Berra’s look of glee as she makes herself the only square pancake of the evening.