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Comfort Food

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"Tell me, Ashtar, do we have any potassium bitartrate in the lab?"

Astrid looked up from her laptop warily, fingers stilling on the keys. "Walter, what do you need cream of tartar for? I thought you were making chocolate chip cookies?"

"Yes, but if I thought if I could prevent the sugar syrups from crystallizing they would be goopier."

Astrid left the storage closet she'd claimed as her office and slipped into Walter's basement lab, which was pleasantly redolent with brown sugar and warm chocolate and she thought maybe the smallest hint of cinnamon.

"Why on earth would you want goopy cookies?" she asked, coming over to stand near Walter's shoulder. They were between cases and she'd been working on clearing leftover paperwork off her desk. On the other hand, Walter was generally an excellent cook -- her mouth still watered at the memory of the light, buttery texture of the taffy he'd made -- and although it pained her to admit it, her days-late reports could wait.

He turned to look down at her, lips curled in the little half-smile that always made her just a bit nervous.

"To absorb the milk better, of course," he answered. "Here, try one of these."

She accepted the cookie he offered her and took a small bite, rolling the still-warm pastry over her tongue as though it were a sip of wine.

"It's not bad," she said, earning herself an almost comical frown, "really, Walter. It's just...a little cakier than I like my chocolate chip cookies. It wouldn't absorb milk very well at all, just fall apart when you got it wet."

Still, she popped the rest of the cookie into her mouth. Truthfully, the flavor was wonderful; the chocolate blended smoothly with the flour and sugar and whatever herbs Walter had added to the base; cinnamon, she was sure, but there was something sharper lurking underneath, and a lighter, mellower note above.

"This is exactly what I was thinking, and why I was wondering if we had any cream of tartar," he said, excitedly; Astrid dodged his waving hand and hid her smile.

"I don't think so," she said, "but as long as you promise me you won't go anywhere, I'll run down and see if the Science & Cooking classroom has any."

"I'll stay right here," he said, and she stepped toward the door. "Of course I'm not going to go anywhere," he muttered under his breath, "I've got another batch on the burner."

Astrid made it out of the lab before she lost the battle with her laughter.