Once Upon a Kolooschen
A time honored story offered up with some fresh new flavors
Lights up, theme music fades, the cheering audience responds obediently to the “QUIET, please” cue. Tight shot on the Tall, Dark, Handsome ( and very rich) gentleman in the center of the stage. “As you all know I’ve spent many months getting to know each of these lovely ladies. And I’ve deeply pondered the question of who would be the best first lady not just for me but also for the people of Capital City. And my choice for First Lady IS…” Mayor Ross Veres breaks for a dramatic beat, which is just enough time for the three finalists to suck in their breath and arrange their smooth faces into benign smiles.
“…Estella! Estella, will you be my first lady?!” This is the moment the audience has been waiting for. They cheer raucously as Ross gets down on one knee, reaches into his tuxedo jacket and produces a small red velvet box. The other two women, the rejects, turn to Estella baring their white teeth as they pull their mouths into big fake smiles, their eyes shining with anger and envy. Six months! Six months of their lives and all they had to show for it was a new wardrobe, a couple of facials, some dental work, high-lights and low-lights, and a very cute button nose for the blond standing on Estella’s right. But they weren’t able to capture the garbanzo bean sized diamond ring. Or the grandest prize of all- the most eligible bachelor- Ross Veres Mayor of Capital City.
All eyes zoom in on Estella. Lovely, poised, down-to-earth Estella. Her backstory made her the audience favorite: Orphaned at a young age, and raised by her Uncle Morty. Pinched from the small steamy-hot, storefront bakery she helped her Uncle run on 4th Street. She was stirred into a whirl of chauffeur driven limo’s, expensive dinners at the City’s finest eateries, weekends at the Mayor’s country estate, and a masquerade ball with just the teensiest hint of campy gothic goofiness . It was on a group date where Estella’s preference for a sexy-yet-tasteful bathing suit in the hot tub proved to the Mayor that she might be worth serious consideration as the City’s first lady. She sat up straight in sober contrast to the garrulous gaggle of tattooed topless young ladies drunkenly draping themselves over him and each other.
Estella settled into her life as First Lady of Capital City without a hitch. Her cause was empowering girls with a positive message You-Tube campaign. She also became the spokeswoman for Capital City Humane Society kindly urging people to spay and neuter their cats. And then there was the social flurry that she was instantly flung into without tripping up even a bit! It was clear that Mayor Veres had made the right choice.
Uncle Morty came by a couple of days a week, and she was always glad to see him. During his visits he filled her in on what was happening in the neighborhood and at the bakery. One day Morty arrived looking harried and stressed-out. Estella prepared a pot of hot black coffee to go with Morty’s Famous Kolooschen. She sipped the potent black coffee, and savored a sweetly scented cookie as she listened to her uncle recount a run in with one of the Mayor’s deputies. He was checking out all the bakeries in Capital City ”and not in a friendly-dunk-your-donut-in-coffee-visit-kind-of way, if you know what I mean. He was asking questions, sniffing around like a hungry dog, looking to see what kind of sugar I use and what kind of flour I use….”
Estella asked who the deputy was, maybe she knew him?
“H. Ansell Mann” It wasn’t the last time Estella would hear his name.
Estella was getting ready for the Feed The Hungry Ball at the Capital City Museum. Her assistant Clovie was helping her dress when Uncle Morty texted that he was on his way and to please alert the front gate guards. By the time he arrived Estella was elegantly shod in a snug emerald green gown. She was accessorized in a diamond and emerald choker and matching bracelet. Her dark brown hair was lightly coiffed. And her face was made up semi-naturalistically to highlight her high cheekbones and fresh cream complexion. She had only a few minutes, she apologized to Morty, as he entered the room.
“You need to talk to the Mayor, your husband. That deputy of his -Mann -is spreading the word that by Spring-time the cafes, bakeries, and restaurants who serve food with white flour and white sugar are done, finished, kaput. That means me and all our friends and neighbors.”
Estella’s heart jumped into her glittering en-sparkled throat. What would she say? She was only really starting to get to know her husband, the Mayor. She wasn’t sure which approach would work best with him. The pandemonium of their very public courtship and the media crush of their wedding was just beginning to recede. There were a few spectator- free minutes where she was able to relate to him; over the occasional cup of coffee before his day officially began; in the limo on their way to an engagement. But she still couldn’t help but view him as a friendly acquaintance that she shared and performed a range of intimate moments and scenarios with.
When she contemplated approaching the Mayor, Estella recalled the mean jokes and dark remarks that were attached to his first wife. Estella was a bookish and artsy-craftsy teenager who ignored most of the internet and all of the twitterverse, but she remembered the neighborhood busy- beaks, poking around for any kind of flavorful gossip to devour with their morning coffee and pastry. Varelle, the ex-first lady was always making news for doing just as she pleased, even if it was at the expense of her husband, the Mayor. When asked why she was a no-show at the Mayor’s Esteemed Supporters ball, she flicked off any possibility of socializing with that assortment of “boring corporate stiffs”. She was banished from Capital City soon after, and has since opened a vintage clothing store in a flat-yet-quirky midland city.
The news that Mann was pushing to eradicate white sugar and flour started to rise pretty quickly through the bakeries and cafes of Capital City, and completely infuriated the Foodies ; those in the food service sector, and the people who loved them (and their products) . Well, everyone except the Health Food-niks who were either validated by the news, or didn’t care much because it didn’t affect them.
“How could Mann?! I make my living off of cupcakes that are made of nothing but white flour and sugar…OK fat and food coloring too- which you know will be the next thing on this bitter villain’s hit list. Don’t kid yourself that it will end with sugar and flour. He’s just getting started!”
“Who does he think he is? Some kind of Healthy Living dictator- tellin’ everybody what’s good for them. If I want to kill myself by eating a whole coconut layer cake, or a ginormous bowl of pasta every goddam day- what’s it to him?! The best part of being an adult is that you can eat whatever you want, goddammit! Believe me, I did my time with all that good-for-you-holier-than-thou-hippie food growing up with my Mom!”
Diatribes knocked about over cups of coffee and in between bites of sweetly spiced cookies; moist dense slices of pound cakes, bread rolls with glossy golden brown crusts that gave way to warm, soft, and fluffy white interiors, the ideal place for a layer of soft butter to yield meltingly.
“There’s only one answer here, Morty, and you know what it is.” warned Zimmy of the I-Scream Parlor next door.
“Morty, ya gotta! We’re gonna be run out of town, or worse: I’ll have to change the name of my place to the Spelt Café or something fruity like that!” sputtered Petzin of Petz’s Pretz’s
“OK, OK, I’ll talk to her” said Morty to his cohorts “..again” he muttered to himself.
Estella inhaled deeply as she entered the dark wood antechamber. Unspoken Rule #1 at Cap Mansion on Empire Street: The Mayor must not be disturbed when in his office. She twigged onto this bit of protocol pretty quickly. Nevertheless, she tapped lightly on the door to the “inner-sanctum”. He had been out of the City on official business for a week prior, and was due to depart for another trip imminently, she needed an audience with him asap, if only to get Morty out of her hair.
“Yes?” he responded.
In her steadiest voice and with a smile she wrestled onto her face she said: “Good morning Ross, it’s Estella, may I come in? I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Ahh Estella! Come in, come in” he grandly called out
He was sitting at his desk and smiled warmly when she entered the room “What’s up? Anything you want—it’s yours”
“Ross, I know from the itinerary that you’ll be leaving tonight for a few more days. I was hoping I could prepare a meal for you when you get back and that maybe you can invite H. Ansell Mann to join us?” was Estella’s innocent request.
A smile poured over the Mayor’s face. “That’s right! You’re a wonderful cook. I remember from our first one-on-one date. Yes, great. You’re right Ansell deserves an invitation. A reward for his loyalty and good work.”
“Do you have any requests or restrictions for the menu?” Estella asked betraying more timidity than she intended.
“No, No, whatever you make will be delicious .” And that’s when she knew that her husband, the Mayor, was clueless.
The soup plates were being cleared, but Mann’s praise was still flowing: “And the texture! Velvety smooth, thick without being chunky or coarse. Estella, you are an artist!”
Estella smiled and uttered her thousandth “thank you, so nice of you to say”
Mann’s eyes followed Estella as she coordinated with Lazlo, the Mayor’s butler and overseer of the domestic staff. Catching his gaze, she shuddered at the beady blackness of his eyes.
“And the fresh, light flavor! Perfectly balanced with the sweetness of the corn and the warmth of the saffron. And those delicious crunchy pops of spice from the za’atar popcorn- you’re a genius Estella!” Mann’s smile revealed a gap between his large square front teeth.
The Mayor beamed. “Yes, Estella this chowder is incredible. The color is so rich.“
Estella smiled and nodded “It’s from the saffron and the corn. Yellow is my favorite color so I love making this dish. It always makes me happy”
“ Being with you makes me happy” The Mayor winked intimately at Estella as Lazlo refilled his wineglass.
The wait staff entered the dining room bearing the Second Course. “Savory Herb French Toast with Scallion Shallot Yogurt Sauce” She announced as Mann’s plate was placed before him. Estella perceived the slight twitch of displeasure that briefly furrowed Mann’s high forehead. “Made with Challah Bread from the best bakery in the City!” she continued blithely.
Mann stole a quick look at the Mayor, and then explained to Estella in his silkiest tone: “Madame Mayor, it looks delicious, and it smells divine!” He inhaled theatrically, but the hungry look in his eyes was real. “Unfortunately I’m going to have to forgo this delight. My Doctors have put me on a strict diet, I used to be obscenely overweight you see, and white flour, sugar, dairy are a no-no for me, Doctor’s orders”
Estella pushed ahead “Oh come now, Mr. Mann a bite or two won’t kill you. The fresh herbs as well as the scallions in this dish are all locally sourced from a rooftop hydroponic farm right here in Capital City. I’m sure you agree with the Mayor and myself about the importance of supporting local business.”
“Oh yes, of course I do. The Mayor knows there’s hardly a more ardent supporter of local commerce than myself. Please forgive me Madame Mayor, but I am like a recovering addict when it comes to white flour and sugar. I enjoy it so much that just a nibble will result in a disastrous tumble off the wagon.”
Her even tone didn’t betray the anger surging through her: “I understand, Mr. Mann. If you can’t have it no one can.”
Mann stole a look at the Mayor “I’m not sure what you mean, Madame Mayor?”
“You know exactly what I mean” Her icy words broke through the polite conversation.
The Mayor looked at her quizzically.
“Ross, you’ve been so busy trying to bring the Olympics to Capital City , and working so hard on Memorial Village downtown . But while you’ve been working for the City, your loyal deputy here has been putting together his scheme to rid the City of white flour and white sugar by Spring-time . Do you know how many businesses and people will be affected by his categorical ban?”
“It’s for the good of the City! White flour and sugar are terrible for you, please believe me. You and the First Lady are both fortunate to be blessed with naturally slim proportions, so you don’t have to worry about this.” H. Ansell Mann declared unctuously.
“My Uncle Morty makes delicious bread and pastry in his bakery on 4th Street. His bakery is an important part of neighborhood life. It’s an important part of my life. The food that he makes, and the food that the people I grew up with make, really makes people happy. Banning ingredients and the food shaming that he’s doing is nothing but bad for my Uncle Morty and our community and the City in general. ” Estella held the Mayor in her view, and never even gave Mann a sideways look.
“Did you think you’d just squeeze this little piece of legislation by while I wasn’t looking? Maybe I’d be too busy to notice?” The Mayor addressed his deputy with scorn. While Mann sputtered his protest Ross dipped a forkful of French Toast into the green onion-shallot yogurt sauce, and then placed it into his mouth. The Mayor’s eyes closed as he savored the flavors of the dish. The Mmmmmm that followed came from the pit of his soul.
“ It is for the good of the City! A Healthy Living campaign would surely reflect well on you with the electorate!” Squeaked Mann desperately.
Mann was a sweat-stained mess by the time a platter of Kolooschen cookies was placed on the table. Lazlo poured coffee into the Mayor’s cup, as Mann wiped his brow for the umpteenth time.
“Cookie, Ansell?” asked the Mayor wryly.
Mann smiled weakly .
“Delicious meal, Darling. These cookies are great. I love the cardamom, and the sour cherry filling is a real treat. I understand what you mean about them making people happy” Ross turned to H. Ansell Mann, his features tightening into a frown. “You’re out. Done. I want your resignation on my desk by tomorrow morning. You wasted valuable time and resources on this personal vendetta of yours. We have much bigger problems around here than cookies…Lazlo, please escort Mr. Mann out”
Tight shot of a steaming pot. Camera slowly pans out to reveal Estella stirring the pot . She looks up and smiles at the camera. “Welcome back to What’s Cooking at Cap Mansion. I’m Estella Veres. Ok, so, while the stew is stewing, we can go ahead and cook our cookies…”
With casual grace she shifts over to the butcher block island in the center of the kitchen. The camera lingers on her smiling face as she discusses the ingredients arrayed before her, gradually zooming in on the small heap of dried cherries; a tiny bowl of “warm and citrusy” cardamom, an exotic looking bottle of rosewater that smells like a “an English country garden”.
She tidily cracks eggs with a sharp tap into the bowl of creamed coconut oil and sugar. Next, in a separate bowl, she whisks flour with an expert flick of the wrist. While she executes these steps she chats amiably with the camera. “I grew up making these cookies, Kolooschen, at my Uncle’s bakery on 4th Street. And it was a game changer once I made them for the Mayor. I won’t bore you with the whole megillah, but trust me these cookies are good!”