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JD 2456578.148403 [Saturday, October 12, 2013, 11:33:42am EDT] 

It turns out, Roshaun thinks, that Terran food preparation is not easy. If he is perfectly honest, food preparation is not easy, but at least on Wellakh he knows the standards of measurement and what things are called. The family of the Sunlord may not cook much themselves, but he can make do for himself when necessary. Filif, may the Aethyrs bless her, is even less useful. What would a person who photosynthesizes know about food preparation?

Roshaun grabs a shopping cart and moves toward the big counters of colorful-looking food, Filif behind him in a mochteroof that could pass as one of Kit’s biological cousins. The sign above the colorful foods reads PRODUCE. He considers the word, looking discreetly into the light in his hand for the Aethyrs to supply a good Speech translation. He has picked up a good number of English words in his time with Dairine and her family, but listening through the Speech is so much easier and more accurate. Reading the unfamiliar words is harder, especially without context. He settles on the noun meaning—whole plant-based foods.

“Filif, is any ‘produce’ necessary for this endeavor?" Roshaun inquires in the Speech. He rolls the English word around, though, trying to get the emphasis in the right spot.

Filif checks the list that she's carrying. "'Carrots.' And 'lemons.'" She doesn't trip over the foreign words much, and fortunately, Carmela had thought to add a description in the Speech to each item on their list.

The lemons are easy to find, and they need only two. ("These are such a nice bright color!" Filif comments.) The carrots are discovered not long after, but there are different kinds.

"Eight carrots?" asks Roshaun. "But each of these bags must have at least six times that number!"

"Those are 'baby' carrots, though. Like small. Look at these big ones that are sold individually." Filif grabs a bunch of eight and adds them to the cart.

Roshaun nods. "How unclear! Well, what next?"

Filif examines the list again. "'Eggs' and 'cream cheese' are next. Carmela says to make sure it's normal 'plain' cream cheese."

Roshaun gives a rather undignified snort. "Does she not realize we have no frame of reference for 'normal' Terran food? No matter. Let us begin with the 'eggs'. Dairine has prepared them for me before, and I remember them fairly well. They are packed in special containers, for they are fragile and uniquely shaped."

The mouth on Filif's mochteroof curls into a grin. "Where would I be without your dependable knowledge, O Wise One?"

Roshaun employs his favorite Terran facial expression--a gentle roll of his eyes to demonstrate his patient acceptance of being teased--and turns the corner, pushing the cart along the open refrigerated shelves. In addition to being fragile and uniquely shaped, he also know they were stored in the cold. Maybe he has some frame of reference for Terran food after all.

That thought is stripped from his mind when he catches sight of the shelves and shelves of eggs in the refrigerated case. There must be fifteen different types of boxes here, and he cannot recall at all which one he had seen Dairine use last time he was at her house. Six eggs or twelve eggs? White or brown? "Organic" or...not...organic? What does that word mean? He consults the Aethyrs for a moment. "Organic" means..."of, relating to, or derived from living matter."

"Cousin?" Roshaun asks slowly. "Why would any of these chicken eggs not be derived from living matter?"

The eyebrows on Filif's mochteroof float upward slightly. "I do not know, cousin. Is there another meaning?" They are both silent for a moment, considering the word. 

“Ohhh, I see!” Filif exclaims. Roshaun moves their cart out of the way of a harried-looking woman rushing past, and motions to Filif to enlighten him, since Roshaun himself is still fairly confused and disturbed by his misunderstanding.

“Evidently,” Filif goes on, “when ‘organic’ describes food, which on this planet is nearly always derived from living matter, it means that any and all additives are also derived from naturally-grown living matter. As opposed to created somehow by scientists.”

Roshaun nods. “Well, which of these should we purchase, do you think?”

“I thought you knew all about eggs!” Filif teases.

Roshaun lets out a puff of breath. “Quite clearly, I was mistaken.” He casts his eyes over the various boxes again. He may not know what the real difference between “organic” eggs and other eggs, but he’s not taking any chances with this project. He grabs a dozen “large organic grade A eggs,” whatever all those words actually mean. “Let’s get twelve,” he says, “on the grounds that they’re fragile, and if some break, it’s best to have extras.”

“Very reasonable,” Filif agrees. “Now, what about the ‘normal plain cream cheese’? Carmela said that was for spreading over the top, so I guess it’s not very solid?”

They walk down the refrigerator case further, looking at all the types of cheese. Toward the end of the row, Roshaun notices some plastic cartons labeled “cream cheese,” but there are a great number of them. He and Filif start to carefully read the labels, sounding out the English words and checking their meanings in the Speech. 

At last, Filif points to a white-and-blue container. “This one says ‘plain,’ but why is there a vehicle illustrated on it?”

“I cannot tell you, cousin. We shall have to ask Carmela when we get back to her house. Is it a large enough container?”

Filif consults the list again. “We need eight ahhz of this stuff, which Carmela says should be clearly marked on the packaging. I wonder how big an ‘oz’ is...”

“Well, this is an eight-oz container, so that’s sufficient.” Roshaun says, carefully eyeing the label. He drops the container into the cart with a clatter.

“Now we need ‘powdered sugar’ and ‘walnuts’ and then we will have everything!” says Filif. “Carmela suggests looking for the ‘baking needs’ aisle.”

They wander up and down the rows for a short time, looking for such a sign. A small child who looks like a miniature Darryl barrels past them, knocking Roshaun into the cart, and a man follows after him, arms outstretched. He apologizes to them, not in English, but they understand it through the Speech, anyway, so it is of no concern. Even after all these years visiting Dairine in New York, he is always amazed by the number and variety of people coexisting in one place.

They find the “baking needs” aisle, which contains quite an assortment of things, but then, Roshaun supposes, Terrans are awfully fond of a great number of “baked goods” and desserts. His own people have a sizeable dessert repertoire themselves, but mostly they are served cold.

He and Filif split up, each starting at one end of the aisle to look for the requisite items. Roshaun finds “sugar” almost immediately, but as with everything else there are many varieties. He confirms that they need “powdered sugar” (“also known as ‘con-fish-er--no, con-fect-or--no, con-fec-tion-er’s sugar’, Carmela says,”) and puts a box of it in the cart before moving over to join Filif, in front of the nuts.

“Carmela says some ‘walnuts’ come already cut up,” says Filif. “Those are the ‘chopped’ ones, right?”

“Yes, I believe that is correct,” says Roshaun, grabbing a bag of chopped walnuts off the shelf and plopping it into the cart.

They head for the exit. Roshaun thinks a brief Thank You to whichever Terran invented self-check-out machines, because it means they can purchase their supplies without having to speak to anyone. They scan their items and set them in the “bagging area” in a large purple bag Carmela sent with them for toting back their acquisitions. She also sent her “debit card” so that they would not have to deal with Terran currency. Very thoughtful of her, though Roshaun knows they could have handled it.

Filif reaches out with her mochteroof’s hand to punch in the security numbers for the debit card, and Roshaun gathers up the purple bag of food. Then they head out to a secluded alley behind the shopping center, make sure no one is looking, and vanish.

~*~

JD 2456578.207083 [Saturday, October 12, 2013, 12:58:12pm EDT]

They appear in the Rodriguezes’ back yard and traipse into the house. Carmela is sitting at the kitchen table, braiding her hair and staring intently at a notebook and some sort of datapad device glowing with a script unfamiliar to him. She looks up, clicks it off, and smiles at them as they come in.

"¡Hola, amigos! Find everything you needed?" Carmela gets up and kisses the cheek of Filif's mochteroof. Roshaun can hear the rustle of branches as Filif's true body swishes in happy motion.

Roshaun moves quickly toward the counter to set down the bag and avoid similar treatment. He doubts that she really would kiss him, but Carmela is freer with physical affection than he likes, and she is unpredictable at times.

"Yes, though it was not a simple task. At a certain point everything began to look the same." Roshaun may be able to feel his way around a Wellakhit kitchen, but their markets were another matter. Food is mostly delivered to the palace, or servants go out to shop for it. Maybe he should visit the Wellakhit markets when he returns home...

Carmela pokes him in the side. "Scootch! Let me make sure Your Kingliness didn't screw anything up." He rolls his eyes again but moves aside. He will never have the effortless grasp of foreign languages that Carmela does (Wellakhit and the Speech do just fine for him, thank you for inquiring), but he does love picking up little English-isms, like "scootch." They entertain Dairine.

"Looks great, guys!" Carmela says, setting the last of the items out on the counter. "Let me get out the rest of the stuff you'll need, and then it's all you! I'll sit here for moral support, but I've got this translation due in less than two days, and I need to put some serious time in."

As she moves around the kitchen, pulling out various containers and tools, Filif asks what she is translating.

"Oh, I could tell you, arbustita, but then I'd have to kill you." The eyebrows on the mochteroof float up again, and Carmela laughs.

"I'm joking. Mostly," she amends with a wink. "If I were working on anything that secret I wouldn't be doing it in my kitchen. But that phrase is something of a running joke among English-speaking Terrans."

"You all do have a tendency to treat death and murder with some great amount of jest," Roshaun comments. It is a very peculiar cultural thing.

"Mmm, yeah, we do." Carmela shrugs. She kisses Filif's cheek again. "I'm working on a tourism campaign for the Mustafi central government. Do you know where Mustafir is? Well, anyway, they just entered into an alliance with the planet Vaykk and are expecting an influx Vaykku tourists. But to cover enough languages from each homeworld to make the signs readable to the majority of visitors and hosts... It's getting complex. Anyway, you two are on a schedule, here. Nita and Dair will be here in about four hours, and you need, like, an hour for baking and cooling, plus prep, cleaning, and frosting time. Chop chop!"

Roshaun nods quickly. This will be a poor surprise if it is not finished when Dairine gets here. He looks down at the recipe Carmela laid out for them--an English printout with more Speech annotations. Really, Roshaun will have to find a way to repay her for all the help she's provided. Sker'ret has already agreed to repay her for the monetary cost of the ingredients, but this could not happen without her actual guidance.

"Sift together the flour, soda, baking powder, salt, and spices; set aside," he reads.

"Oh," Carmela interrupts."I forgot to write this on there: preheat the oven first. I don't know why recipes don't list that step at the beginning."

"Ah, alright," Roshaun agrees. "So that it will already be the correct temperature when we have finished creating the raw mixture." He scans through the instructions some more. "350˚" is a temperature measurement. He spins the dial on the oven so that the arrow points to the 350-mark.

He hands a large round bowl to Filif, who is standing at the far end of the counter and says, "Why don't you start mixing all those ingredients?" She has elected to remain in her mochteroof, probably for ease of manipulating Terran cooking instruments. The bipedal form is superior for that.

"It would help if I had the ingredients," she says.

"Oh, of course." Roshaun finds the small containers labeled "baking soda," "baking powder," and "salt" and hands them over. "Carmela, which containers have 'flour' and 'spices' in them?"

Carmela looks up and points at some small round glass containers. "The spices are cinnamon and nutmeg, there. 'Spices' is the hypernym for all sorts of ground-up plant matter that is added for flavoring."

Roshaun sounds out the English labels in his head to be sure he's chosen the right ones, then passes them to Filif. "And flour?"

"That's in the big glass jar on the right. The one with more in it. The other one is sugar. They look very similar, but you can tell the difference by flavor if you taste a bit. Sugar's what those lollipops you love so much are primarily made of. Flour on its own doesn't taste like much. Sugar's also grainier and more sparkly if you look at it up close."

Roshaun inspects the two glass jars to verify Carmela's claim, then picks up the big glass jar on the right and hands it over to Filif as well. Now...Filif will need measuring instruments. Fortunately, those are all labeled just as they are on the recipe, so he just hands her all of them and the recipe.

"Carmela, how do I 'sift' these things?" Filif asks.

She looks back up from her work. "Ah, don't worry about that. It's an unnecessarily fancy way of mixing things. Just get the right amounts all into that bowl and they'll be fine. Make sure you level off the measurements." She pulls a knife from the drawer and hands it to Filif. "You can drag the flat edge over the container and let the extra fall back in. What are you doing, Kingling?"

"These carrots and lemons need to be 'shredded' and 'grated'. Those are very similar, right?"

"Yep!" says Carmela. "The grated lemon peel--the bright yellow outside part--should be smaller than the shredded carrots. You see that tall silver thing?"

Roshaun looks at the "thing" in question. It looked like a truncated pyramid, with a handle where the point would have been. Each side has variously shaped holes in it.

"Set it on a cutting board," she instructs, pointing at a flat piece of wood. "Rub the lemon along the side with the smallest holes. Those rough teeth along the edges of the holes will 'grate' it, and the shavings will fall inside. Then you can measure them. Here."

She gets up and comes to demonstrate. "It takes a bit of muscle, so take breaks if you need to. Once you get down into the white part, turn the lemon so you can get more of the yellow stuff. Then you can do the carrots on the opposite side." She hands him the lemon, and he gets to work, doing as she had done.

"These are all measured!" Filif says. "What should I do next?"

"You should wash and peel the carrots," Carmela says. Somehow she's become taskmaster. Well, she did agree to help them, Roshaun reasons. He watches out of the corner of his eye as Carmela stands at the sink, shows Filif what to do, and leaves her to finish the rest.

After Roshaun has finished grating the second lemon, Filif offers to shred the carrots, wanting a turn with the shiny metal thing. Roshaun hands her a different cutting board to collect the carrot shavings on and a large measuring cup to measure them in ("We need three 'cups' of them!"), and goes to find the recipe to find out what to do next.

"Beat together the sugar and oil, then add eggs," he reads in English, and then "put the sugar and oil into a large bowl and use the electric mixer on medium, then add one egg at a time" in Carmela's neat curlicues of the Speech. He locates the bottle of oil and scoots (scoots! What a great English word!) behind Filif to get that jar of sugar. He is tempted to get a spoon and taste the sugar, since Carmela made that comment about lollipops, but decides against it while she sits just there, ready to ridicule him. He scoops the measured ingredients into the bowl, and then looks around. There is something with an electricity cord.

He holds it up. "Carmela, is this the mixer?"

"Uh-huh!" she says, glancing up for just a moment. "There's a dial there on the top that adjusts the speed of the beaters. Start slow and move up gradually." She returns to writing in her notebook.

Roshaun sticks the beaters into the bowl and turns the mixer on the lowest setting. He moves it up to the middle and watches as the little granules of sugar fall into suspension in the oil. When the mixture looks fairly homogeneous, he pulls the mixer out so that he can get the eggs, only to send drops of sugary oil flying all over the kitchen. He quickly puts it back in the bowl before turning it off.

"AGH!" Carmela yells.

"Apologies!!" Roshaun replies. He sees oil spatters on her work. "Here, let me--" and he seizes a towel, lays it over her work, and urges all the oil and sugar there to move into the towel instead. When he finishes speaking, he lifts the towel.

"Not bad, Messlord," Carmela says drily.

Roshaun flushes, embarrassed at his error and upset that he might have ruined her work. "I am sorry," he mumbles.

"It's alright," she reassures him. "It all has to be recopied anyway, and the person I bought this datapad from at the Crossings assured me I could drop it down a canyon and it would survive, so no harm done."

"I am glad to hear that." Roshaun turns to check on Filif and carrots. Filif had stopped shredding them to observe the oil disaster, and Roshaun offers to switch out again and give her a break.

"Thank you, cousin," she says. "Even with the mochteroof arms, that is a very different kind of motion than I am accustomed to. I'll look at the recipe and see what we need to do next."

"The four eggs need to go in the oil mixture, one at a time," he tells her. "Let me crack one and then you can do the rest while I finish the carrots." Dairine had shown him a few times how eggs were cracked open, and he hopes to do her proud by teaching Filif the same way.

He takes one egg out of the carton and goes over to the sink. "You have to hit it gently but firmly onto the edge," he says, doing just that. "Then you take it to the bowl and stick your thumbs into the crack and pull it apart. If any small pieces of the shell get in, you must pull them out with your fingers or a tool. Here, I'll mix this one in and then you try adding the next!"

Filif goes to get the next egg, and taps it very softly on the edge of the sink, then a little harder at Roshaun's encouragement. "That's good," he says, and she brings it to the bowl, but her fingers go too far in and she drops the whole egg in, shell and all.

"Rrrrrrrrrccckk!"

As far as Roshaun can tell that was not a word but just a noise of frustration. "Here, I'll pick it out. Most of the shell pieces are big and easy to catch!" he says.

Filif sighs. "Thank you, cousin. I do not think today is the day for me to learn to crack eggs. I'll mix, you crack, and then you can finish the carrots."

Roshaun thinks this is a fine idea, and drops the bits of shell into the sink before going to fetch the next egg. Once that one and the final one are in the bowl, being beaten into the oil, he returns to the carrots.

Filif had gotten about halfway through the carrots, so Roshaun gets to work, taking out some of his lingering frustration and embarrassment on the vegetables. He hears the mixer stop and Filif ask, "Are the things I measured before the 'dry ingredients'?" Carmela says yes, and that Filif should add them in only a little bit at a time to prevent further messes

Roshaun stops to watch for a moment as she pours in a small amount of the light brown powder mixture, beats it in, then holds the mixer with one hand and pours a bit from the bowl with the other. It's quite impressive. But she'll be waiting on him for the carrots, which are rather a central component of carrot cake, after all, so he returns to shredding. Fortunately his added height and natural bipedal state do give him a bit of an advantage over Filif, and he gets done quickly enough.

When he turns around from the completed pile of carrot shreddings, Carmela has gotten up to take a peek at the mixture. "Very nice!" she says, and leans around Filif to grab a tool with a white handle and red blade. "Here, use this to scrape the sides of the bowl and make sure there are no pockets of dry powder anymore." She hands it to Filif and goes back to her seat.

Roshaun scoops the carrot shavings into the measuring cup (he has done a bit too much, but that is better than not enough), and then goes to look at the recipe. "Stir in the carrots, lemon peel, nuts, and raisins (if you like)." They have it on good authority that Dairine does not like raisins, so he just needs to measure out the lemon peel and nuts for Filif to mix in. He hands her the measuring cup of carrots and tells her to start with that when she is ready, and goes to open and measure the walnuts. He leaves the measuring cup of them and the spoon of lemon peel in her reach, and goes to read the next instruction.

"Carmela, are we using 'cake pans' or a 'tube pan'?" he inquires.

"Cake pans," she says, pointing at the circular metal containers on the stove.

"Thank you. How much oil is necessary to oil them?"

"Oh, pour a circle this big"--she makes a small circle with her fingers--"into each and spread it around with a paper towel. Make sure to get the whole bottom and up the sides."

Roshaun nods. He uncaps the oil and drizzles a small circle into each pan. He sets the bottle back on the counter and the cap on top of it, then takes a paper towel from the roll of them and spreads the oil around inside the pans. He sets down the towel and takes the pans over to Filif, who pours the mixture into them, scraping the sides of the bowl with the white and red tool to get it all out. Roshaun carries the pans over to the oven, sets them on the stove so he can open the door, and then slides them in.

"Remember to set the timer!" Filif calls, and Roshaun presses the "timer" button as he has seen Dairine do and then the up arrow until the display reads "30."

Roshaun breathes out. "Alright. Now what?"

Carmela looks up again and surveys the room. "Well, you're gonna need to make frosting and the chocolate writing if you still want to do that, and maybe clear some of these dishes out of the way while you wait for the cakes to finish. I'd say clear up and take a short break, get off your feet for a little bit, and then come back to do the frosting."

Filif agrees, and Roshaun thinks a break sounds splendid, so Roshaun scrapes the carrot peelings and eggshells down the drain, runs the disposal (with cold water, as Dairine had taught him), and then fills the sink with hot water to wash the dishes they've used. Filif stands beside him to dry them, and when they are all clean, the two wizards are feeling quite tired.

The timer indicates that there are still seventeen minutes until the cakes come out, so Filif goes out to root, shedding her mochteroof and leaving it in the dining room, and Roshaun heads for the bathroom and then returns to sit at the table with Carmela and ennoble a few lollipops.

~*~

JD 2456578.282245 [Saturday, October 12, 2013, 2:46:26pm EDT]

Roshaun has gotten lost in thought about Wellakhit affairs, and he is brought back to the Rodriguezes' kitchen by the one-minute warning beep on the oven. He goes through his mental catalog of spells, then speaks the eighteen words of one that will protect his hands from the heat of the oven as he goes to pull the cakes out when the timer reaches zero.

Carmela snorts. "You know we have non-wizardly things you could use and save yourself the effort."

"Too late," he says, setting them on the left-side burners of the stove. "I shall go retrieve Filif."

"You may as well take those cakes out to the back table to cool faster. Maybe put an animal-repellent spell around them?"

"Oh, a good idea, thank you." He picks them up and takes them outdoors. He sets them on the table, casts a very lightweight but sturdy shield spell over them, and calls Filif over. She uproots herself and they go back into the house.

Carmela points out two woven wire trays and says, "In about five minutes, we're going outside and I'm showing you how to put a cake on a cooling rack. In the meantime, queriditos, it's time to make frosting."

Filif moves into the other room to put her mochteroof back on, and then returns. Roshaun and Carmela are looking at the recipe for the frosting.

"It's the same theory as with the cake," Carmela says. "Start with the heavier 'wet' ingredients--the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla here--and then add the powdered 'dry' ingredients slowly so that you don't make a giant puff cloud."

Roshaun nods in understanding and says to Filif, "Cousin, I will put the mixer back together if you will measure the butter and cream cheese into the bowl." Filif agrees, and Roshaun takes the beaters out of the drying rack and takes only three attempts to correctly insert them into the body of the mixer.

Carmela advises Filif to read the measurements on the side of the stick of butter she had set out, then cut at the appropriate line with a knife. "You can go straight through the paper. It's very convenient!"

Filif drops the butter into the bowl and picks up the container of 'plain' cream cheese. "'Mela," she asks, "why is this container decorated with a vehicle?"

Carmela looks up and laughs. "It's a pun in English. 'Plain,' spelled like that, means, in this case, 'no special flavor,' but 'plane,' spelled a little differently, is short for 'airplane,' which is the name of that vehicle."

"Oh, I see!" Filif laughs, too, a gentle and pleasant swishing sound. "Now, where is that red-and-white thing? Ah." She takes it out of the drying rack, opens the container of cream cheese, and scoops it out with the red-and-white tool, scraping the sides just as she had done while mixing the cake batter.

Roshaun hands her the mixer and plugs it in. As it whirs to life, he searches the counter for the 'vanilla,' finds it in a small brown bottle, and then measures it out and pours it into Filif's bowl. Then he goes to the powdered sugar. "I will measure this into another bowl, like you did for the other 'dry ingredients'," he says. "Then you can add as much as you like at your own pace while Carmela teaches me about cooling racks."

Filif thanks him as he measures the the powdered sugar. Suns, but it gets everywhere! Roshaun surreptitiously licks his fingers as he cleans up the spill, but Carmela sees him and points at the sink. "Wash. Then we'll go outside."

Roshaun sticks his tongue out, another favorite Terran expression of his, but does as he is bid. Carmela comes to wash her hands as well, then grabs the cooling racks and leads the way to the back yard.

When they reach the table, Roshaun removes the shield spell, and Carmela reaches out to touch the pans, hesitantly. She seems able to touch them without pain, so she takes one, places her right hand on the top of the cake and her left on the bottom of the pan, then flips it upside down. With a little bit of jostling, the whole cake slides out onto her hand. She quickly takes one of the racks and places it on the exposed side of the cake, then re-rights the cake onto the rack and sets the whole thing down on the table.

"This way," she explains, "it can finish cooling faster and not stick to the pan. But we had to leave it in the pan for a little bit so that it wouldn't crumble when I flipped it. Your turn!" She points to the remaining cake.

Roshaun imitates her, no less dexterously (though slightly more slowly), and satisfied, they return to the kitchen after Roshaun raises the shield spell again.

Filif is still mixing the frosting, skillfully alternating between the mixer and the red scraper tool, her bowl of powered sugar nearly empty. On her way back to the table, Carmela swipes her littlest finger in the bowl and pulls it out to taste.

"Hey!" says Filif, defensively.

"Yum!" says Carmela. "As soon as you're done with the sugar, you can take those little bottles and put some coloring in. Start with one drop of red and then add maybe ten yellow ones and mix. Keep adding yellow and mixing until it's the color you want. It will never get quite to your DayGlo preferences, but you can get a nice color." Filif agrees happily and continues working.

Carmela rounds on Roshaun. "Okay, Kingling, you're unoccupied. Clean up time! Put the eggs and leftover butter back in the refrigerator, push the flour and sugar back along that wall, and the rest of those containers go in the cupboard above the stove. Leave out the oil and chocolate chips, though, so that you can make the writing chocolate."

After everything is put away, Roshaun inspects the second recipe card, which simply says,
          ¼ cup chips or chopped chocolate, melted
          ½-1 teaspoons of vegetable oil
          Whisk in vegetable oil until mixture is pourable but not runny.

He measures out a quarter-cup of chocolate, but it doesn't seem like much, especially since some will stick in the pan, so he dumps that into the pan Carmela has left on the stove and measures out a second one to add. And he may or may not pop a handful into his mouth.

"Carmela, how hot should the burner be for me to melt this chocolate?"

"It should be low, but first you need to fill the bottom part of the pan with water. It's a special pan to keep delicate things like chocolate from burning. Well, don't fill it. Put in about an inch of water. And before you do that, let's go get the cakes from outside so that Fil can start frosting."

The two of them retrieve the cakes, and Carmela shows Filif how to use the red tool to spread the frosting over the surfaces of the cakes. "Here, let's put this one on a plate and start with it. Just cover the top, maybe a quarter inch of frosting all the way across. Then we'll put the second one on top of the frosting and cover everything we can see with more frosting!"

Meanwhile, Roshaun runs a bit of water into the bottom half of the melting pan and puts it all back together on the stove. He sets the pan on the front right burner, and turns the associated dial until he hears the click-click-click of the lighter. Dairine has taught him about this. Once the flame catches, he pushes the dial to the number 2 and lets go.

"Do I need to do anything or just wait?" he inquires of Carmela.

"Look in the drawer to your right for another spatula like Fil has and stir the chocolate gently with it. Scraping the sides like with the batter and stuff, right? Make sure it gets really homogeneously smooth."

Roshaun opens the drawer and spots another scraping tool--'spatula'--which is narrower than Filif's. That is probably just as well, since this pan is narrower than the mixing bowl. He waits for the chocolate to begin melting so that he can mix it.

They work in silence for several minutes, only the hiss of the stove flame, the scrape of spatulas, and the tapping of Carmela's pencil against her notebook as she reads from her datapad. Soon the chocolate has started to soften, and Roshaun drags his spatula around the edge of the pan to make sure none of it sticks. He discovers that he has to let it sit for at least a short time between stirrings, or it does not stay in contact with the heated surface long enough to melt.

"There!" Filif interrupts his contemplations about heat transfer. "How does that look?"

Roshaun turns around to look at the cake, now two layers tall and completely orange, almost the exact shade of the carrots they bought. Carmela sets down her datapad and pencil and looks up, too. "It's terrific!" she says. "How is the chocolate coming, Kingling?"

He sticks his tongue out at her again, turns around to find out, then turns back and informs her, "It is nearing completion. Can you make one of those paper cones you mentioned for me to squeeze it out of?"

Carmela gets up and starts going through a cabinet, presumably to find the special paper. Filif has picked up the cake and is inspecting it thoroughly to see if she missed any spots. Roshaun notices there is still a bit of frosting left in the bowl. Maybe he can get a sample like Carmela did...

In the meantime, he gives the chocolate one last bit of stirring and then goes to find the measuring spoon and add the oil to the melted chocolate. Measuring spoon in hand, he seizes the bottle of oil by the cap, only to discover that he had failed to adequately secure the cap after he oiled the cake pans. In an instant, the bottle has tipped over and the oil is flowing onto the stove.

Roshaun shouts, first out of surprise, then a warning to Filif and Carmela to get back. Then, as fast as he can, he throws up a much sturdier shield than the one with which he had protected the cakes outdoors, separating the stove and everything burning from the rest of the kitchen. The words for an oxygen displacement spell leap to his tongue without a thought, long since committed to memory to set nightmares at ease. All the oxygen behind the shield switches places with an equivalent amount of nitrogen from the Rodriguezes' back yard, and the flames die out quickly.

It is all over in less than a minute, but it leaves Roshaun breathing heavily, from fear as well as the expenditure of energy from his spells. He turns around as he catches his breath to make sure his friends are alright. Several boxes have fallen out of the cupboard where Carmela was searching, and she herself is a few paces back from the cupboard, holding a long skinny one in front of her, a little bit like a sword. A few feet in front of her is Filif, looking stricken and holding a now-smashed cake. They both, too, are catching their breath.

"Are you alright, cousin?" Filif asks, in a subdued but steady voice. "That was very quick thinking, and good spelling."

Roshaun coughs and nods. "Yes, I am quite alright, thank you, cousin. How are you? Did any of the heat damage you?" If he tries he can see past her mochteroof, but he does not know what to look for.

Filif shakes her mochteroof's head. "No, you were very quick with that shield. I'm unharmed. Carmela, are you alright?"

"Yep!" Carmela answers from the floor, where she is picking up all the boxes she dropped. "Good work, Kingling!"

Roshaun shakes his head sadly. "If I had done good work, I would not have set anything on fire, and the cake would not be ruined." He gestures at the crumbly orange-and-brown mess in Filif's hands. Then he looks at the smear of crumbs and frosting on the countertop, cupboard door, and floor. "I imagine you stumbled trying to move back when I shouted?"

"Yes." Filif glances at the clock nervously. "Do you think we can fix it? We certainly don't have time to make a new one."

Carmela looks up at the clock, too, and makes a thinking sound. "Kingling, how quickly can you clean up the stove and have another go at writing chocolate?"

~*~

JD 2456577.887245 [Saturday, October 12, 2013 5:17:38pm EDT]

Everything is as perfect as it could be, given the circumstances, when a car pulls into the Rodriguezes' driveway and Dairine bangs open the door and jingles her keys.

"Guess who's legal to drive now, punks?" she asks with a grin on her face. Behind her, Nita pushes the door closed, rolling her eyes.

Roshaun smiles back at Dairine as he finishes wiping down the counter. "Congratulations, cousin! We should celebrate!"

"Wait, Roshaun, why are you here? Is everything alright--mmph!" Dairine is cut off as Nita puts one hand over her mouth and pushes at her back with the other.

Roshaun chuckles at the confused, smothered noises as the sisters make their way into the darkened dining room. Now he goes quietly into the living room, lights the sixteen candles with a whispered spell, and takes the white-frosted cake into the dining room after them.

As he approaches the doorway, he hears Carmela and Kit begin to sing "Happy Birthday to you!" and Nita, Sker'ret, and Filif join in. He elects not to sing, in favor of walking without tripping, starting another fire, and ruining another cake, but he reaches Dairine's seat right as they get to her name, and he sets the cake in front of her with a very happy smile.

She blows out the candles, Kit flicks on the lights, and they all clap (or rustle, or click, as befits their physiology) and cheer.

There is a chorus of "Happy Birthday, cousin!"s, and Filif says, "Congratulations on reaching your age of majority! Well, sort of. One of them? Your culture has strange customs about this matter."

"You're telling me," Dairine grumbles. But then she smiles again. "Thank you all so much! This is such a treat, to have you all here! I wasn't expecting this, after everyone from Earth came over to ours for dinner on Wednesday!"

"And we are glad to be here!" Sker'ret says. "Wednesday was an important day for you, and we haven't all been together for quite some time, especially when it's not in a crisis!"

Dairine looks at the chocolate writing on the cake, and then back and forth between Carmela, Roshaun, and Nita. "Okay, spill," she said a little sternly. "Who decided to write 'Happy Birthday, Jedi Knight'?"

Nita giggles and points at Roshaun. "That's all on him."

Dairine relaxes a little. Roshaun knows she enjoys when he makes Terran cultural references. "Well, thank you. This is awesome. Where is the knife?"

Kit hands it over, and Dairine starts cutting the cake onto the plates Carmela had stacked on the table. "Ohh, and it's carrot cake! Thank you, guys! Now we can totally justify eating it for dinner, right?"

They laugh some more as slices are handed out. Carmela slips back into the living room and returns with what is left of the orange cake, which she presents to Sker'ret.

"This is for you," she says, "on account of the fact that it had a run-in with the floor and will mess with the rest of our digestions."

Dairine looks at it quizzically, and Roshaun flushes as Carmela says, "Fil and Roshaun tried their very best to make you a bright orange cake from scratch, but there were...technical difficulties, so Fil and I went out and got a store-bought one at the last minute. Roshaun still did the chocolate writing, though!"

Dairine laughs a little, though not cruelly, as she might once have done. "You know," she says to Roshaun and Filif, "there is an English saying, 'it's the thought that counts.' It's still a lovely gift, and I'm glad Sker' can enjoy it."

Roshaun is slightly mollified, though still embarrassed, but Dairine has not finished speaking.

"Can I get some details on this story, though?"

And so, with much laughter all around, and cake for everyone but Filif, who was content to watch the eating, Carmela, Filif, and Roshaun take turns telling about the Great Cake Escapade. Dairine, along with everyone else, laughs in the right places, gasps in the right places, and expresses concern and gratitude in all the right places, and Roshaun is very happy.