"How about angel food cake?"
Megan looked up from the recipe book she was perusing across the table from Larry. "Have you ever made an angel food cake? Anyway, I don't have a pan."
"No, but it displays such a perfect symmetry between protein, sugar and gluten in the absence of fat."
Megan simply continued to look at him with raised eyebrows, un-phased.
"Not angel food cake then."
They both went back to their respective cookbooks. The morning sun streamed through the windows of Megan's kitchen, sparkling off dust motes in the air and sending shafts of reflected light dancing around the kitchen from the pots and pans hanging above the center island. Megan was content and comfortable, glad to be spending time with Larry after a long week.
Megan didn't even look up from the recipe she was reading, continuing to scan through the myriad cake recipes as she responded. "Chromatic variation, remember."
"We could add artificial coloring, or chocolate."
"We'd have to go to the grocery store."
Larry returned to his recipe book with a frustrated huff. Megan put her elbow on the table and propped her chin in her hand, gazing across the table at her boyfriend. The sun lightened his face, smoothing away the wrinkles and giving his thinning hair a reddish tinge. He had unexpectedly shown up on her doorstep at the crack of dawn that morning, declaring that he was going to make Charlie a non-white cake for his birthday and could he use her kitchen, though she hadn't been awake enough to understand what he was saying at the time. She had turned around and gone back to bed without a word, leaving Larry to close the door and follow or not as he pleased.
She had woken up several hours later to find Larry curled around her in the bed, fast asleep. She lay there for a minute, content to doze in the grey light of her curtained bedroom, before easing herself out of Larry's arms, grabbing some clean clothes and heading for the shower. They had wrapped up their latest case late the previous evening and she had barely taken the time to change into a nightshirt before falling into bed. Now she was ready to wash off the grime from eighteen hours of stakeouts and paperwork before tackling whatever had brought Larry to her door at six in the morning.
When Megan emerged from the bathroom thirty minutes later, hair still dripping on her shoulders and clad in her favorite old jeans and a CalSci sweatshirt that she had snitched from Larry, her boyfriend was up and leaning against the headboard. He looked up at her with a smile while his fingers played with the tavern puzzle that she kept on her bedside table for that express purpose.
"So," Megan said, sitting down on the bed and curling up against Larry's side, "what brings you to my doorstep so early on a Saturday? Not that I mind, mind you, just the night before would be preferable."
She flashed a grin at Larry, who couldn't seem to be able to decide whether to be embarrassed or pleased, even after all the time they'd been dating. He glanced down at the puzzle in his hands and mumbled something that Megan couldn't quite make out, but which seemed to be describing their relationship using x-rays, light and black holes. Snuggling up closer to him, Megan leaned her head on his shoulder, forgetting about her wet hair until Larry abruptly pulled away from her.
"The increased thermal conductivity of water negates the benefits of your additional body heat."
Megan laughed and followed Larry out of her bedroom and down the stairs, where he began to intently study her wall of dark wood bookshelves.
"You didn't come over here at six in the morning for a book, did you. I don't imagine I have anything special unless you're looking for psychology textbooks."
"No, no." Larry continued to move along the bookshelves, not looking at Megan. "Today is Charlie's birthday and each year I make him a cake, however this year some chromatic variation has been requested and I require a new recipe and the use of your kitchen if you are amenable."
Megan chuckled. "Let me guess, you always make a white cake and Charlie thinks you should expand your horizons."
Larry turned toward her and grinned slightly, tilting his head to one side in acknowledgement. "Don was the one to make the request, however you are in essence correct."
And so here they were, half an hour later, still trying to find a recipe that both appealed to Larry's sense of cosmic balance and satisfied the requirement of being naturally non-white while not requiring ingredients such as food coloring or cocoa powder that Megan didn't have.
"How about carrot cake?" Megan suggested. "It is orange and I've got a big bag of carrots in my refrigerator that I need to use up."
Larry looked up, a contemplative expression on his face. "The idea does have merit. Beta carotene is good for aging eyes." He now had an almost gleeful smile on his face. "That is an acceptable option. You have the recipe?"
Megan held up her cookbook. "You want to grate carrots or assemble ingredients?"
Larry considered. "I will measure ingredients if you will point me in the direction of measuring cups and flour."
"Measuring cups and spoons are hanging from the underside of the cabinet, flour and such are in the containers against the far wall."
Larry took the cookbook Megan held out to him and made his way around the central island and to the far wall and stared at it in utter bafflement. "You keep your flour in ceramic houses?"
Megan laughed as she pulled a large bag of carrots out of the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, her favorite wooden cutting board from the gap between refrigerator and microwave and found a peeler in the drawer.
"They were my grandmother's. As a girl I would beg her to let me measure ingredients out of the houses when she cooked. I think sometimes she made double recipes just to let me measure more ingredients for her. When she died my mother kept them for me until I got my first apartment."
Larry continued to stare at the set of five brightly colored ceramic houses of varying sizes, imagining Megan as little girl of five or six carefully measuring ingredients for her grandmother. Each house had a different colored tiled roof, shutters and flowers in the window boxes. Three even had animals of various sorts painted next to the front doors. He selected a stainless steel one-cup measure from the hooks above the houses and pulled the largest house, one with blue roof, blue bonnets in the flower boxes and a dog curled up on the front stoop, away from the wall. Opening it to find it half full of flour, he measured two cups into the large mixing bowl Megan had placed on the counter beside him after consulting with the recipe.
"You know, baking is a highly scientific activity. There is a great deal of chemistry and materials science involved." Larry began to search the remaining four bins for the sugar and found first cornmeal in the yellow roofed house with sunflowers and chickens and then brown sugar in the small red roofed house with no animals and a rose bush next to the door.
"It is. I have a book on the science of food that a friend gave me in college. It even has electron micrographs of bread. You'd probably enjoy it." Megan grabbed her sixth carrot from the bag and kept peeling.
Larry finally located the sugar in a house with a pink roof and a camellia climbing one corner and measured two cups into the mixing bowl. He then found the salt in the last house with a green roof and a cat curled in the window and measured that out.
Megan had finished peeling the carrots and retrieved a large box grater from one of the lower cabinets, with which she grated the carrots onto a plate. Larry searched the cabinets in front of him and found baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Megan appeared at his elbow, setting her plate of grated carrots next to the mixing bowl on the counter. Reaching out, she ran her finger down Larry's nose.
"You have flour on your nose."
Larry reached up to rub his nose where Megan's finger had been. "Do I?"
"Yes, and on your cheek, and," she glanced down at his shirt, "all over your clothes. I should have given you an apron." She reached out and began to brush ineffectively at Larry's shirt. Grabbing her hands, Larry pulled her in for a hug.
"That is the unscientific part of baking. No matter what I do, flour ends up everywhere. Entropy at work."
Megan wrapped her arms around Larry and leaned in to kiss the remaining flour off the tip of his nose.
"I think it's cute."
She then kissed away the smudges of flour on Larry's jaw and the side of his neck before meeting his lips with her own.
Larry was the first to pull away, a small smile on his lips.
"As pleasant as that was, we must finish this. Perhaps while it is baking…"
Megan grinned at him as she dropped her arms from around his waist.
"I like how you think Professor Fleinhardt." Walking across the kitchen, Megan retrieved a black apron covered in red chili peppers from a hook by the door and brought it over, placing it over Larry's head and tying it behind him. "A bit late, but better late than never."
Retrieving eggs and oil, they quickly finished mixing the cake batter, with only a brief mishap when Megan put the carrots in early, sending a puff of flour into their faces and making both of them cough. Finally, with the pan in the oven, the timer set, and cream cheese icing chilling in the fridge, they retreated to the living room.
"That looks like a white cake to me." Don said skeptically as the cake was brought out after dinner at the Eppes residence later that evening.
Megan grinned as Larry replied, "You judge too hastily. It is not what is outside but what is inside that counts."
Don put his hands up in surrender. "I stand corrected, I'll wait to see what color the inside is."
"Well let's find out." Charlie reached out with the knife began cutting. "I'd say that isn't white, don't you agree Don?"
"Carrot cake, nice, well done Larry."
"Gah!" Everyone looked at Charlie, who spit out the large bite of cake he had just taken. "Next time, Larry, just make the white cake."
Concerned, Megan sampled her slice of cake and promptly spit it out as well.
"Larry, which color house did you get the sugar out of?"