(Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash)
In which my main character, Dahlia, of my fantasy novella, The Healer of Istagun, finds herself on the TV show Chopped, on Food Network.
Dahlia paced into the room, heart beating quickly as the judges greeted her. She made her way to her kitchen set up, where she’d be fixing up a dessert to win the judges’ approval. She didn’t really know this man and this lady, but she had to do this, for her sister’s sake. She imagined Hollis at home, eyes glued to the TV, waiting for her beloved older sister to become the next greatest chef on Food Network.
Dahlia grumbled inside as a bubbly middle-aged lady named Freida with frizzy blonde hair came in, much more stylishly dressed than herself. What outlandish things people wore in the land of Autumn! (In Dahlia’s world, middle-aged people live in the land called Autumn.) The judges were middle-aged too, so surely they were helplessly taken captive by this lady’s charms. Dahlia hadn’t known what to wear or how to act—this wasn’t fair!
A young man named Jonas in a bright orange t-shirt followed, smiling to show his perfectly white teeth contrasted with his dark-chocolatey skin. He reminded her of Tarquin, but Dahlia had to shake the feeling off. She had to beat this man. She had to beat them all.
After that an older man named Carl with a gray beard and bright blue eyes entered, his shoulders stooped, but his genuine hand shake and kind words earning the judges’ quick admiration. His gentle, quiet manner reminded her immediately of Gesu.
At last, it was time.
The judge opened the picnic basket to reveal the three ingredients they must use in this dessert… Refried beans, pickle juice, and butternut squash.
Dahlia was sure her stupid expression was being portrayed to thousands of people all over the world this very moment. She laughed to herself. Including Hollis.
Quickly, she grabbed the sugar—always a good start for dessert.
She rolled in some flour, baking powder, and salt, then added the squash. A good thickener, maybe?
“Dahlia is making the base of her dessert, whatever it is. How are you doing, Dahlia?”
Never looking up at the man, Dahlia cut in some butter and added some milk, vanilla, and eggs to the flour mixture, whisking it frantically. “Um, yeah…”
The man laughed. “Dahlia is too busy to talk, and look over here, Frieda is making a luscious chocolate pie with the refried beans.”
The man’s voice droned on as Dahlia poured the flour mixture into a pan. But what would she do with the beans and pickle juice?
“30 more minutes!” called out someone.
This was insane. Hollis was probably laughing her head off right now.
Groaning, Dahlia quickly shoved the pan in the oven. She grabbed another bowl and threw in the refried beans and pickle juice, soon stirring it quickly. Sweat dripped down her face as she dumped in sugar and chocolate into the bowl.
Should she open the oven and put this bean mixture on the cake now? No, later. It could be the frosting or something.
“10 more minutes!”
Dahlia took out the cake and let it sit for a few minutes, as she eyed the others making ice-cream or pie—or something yummier than her ridiculous cake.
“1 more minute!”
Time had flown. Dahlia spread the bean mixture onto the cake that was hopefully cool, sliced two pieces for the judges and took a breath—just as the timer rang.
One by one the judges tasted the contestants’ desserts: Frieda’s chocolate pie, Jonas’ scones, and Carl’s ice cream with a thick chocolate-bean spread.
“This has no flavor!” the lady judge cried as she licked the brown spread.
Carl smiled quietly, but Frieda broke into laughter. “That’s what you get for giving us refried beans!” she declared.
Finally, the judges sliced their forks into Dahlia’s cake. They chewed slowly, leaving Dahlia’s heart pounding. Hollis would be so sad. Hollis would—
“Mmm…” The man murmured thoughtfully.
“This is… wonderful!” the lady exclaimed.
They couldn’t seem to say anything else for five minutes straight. Dahlia grinned. So, she had left them speechless.
Hollis would be so proud.