Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oktober the Sixteenth: Sifting

It's odd how time changes texture depending on who you spend it with. That's all I'll give for now about Sifting.

 I've had a good experience so far writing these flash pieces. At under 1000 words, this still qualifies, and yet as the month of Oktober progresses, I'm not needing to count to keep the stories short. 500 words feels positively expansive at this point, and 1000 words is a feast. This one comes in at just over 800.

Peace, Mari


By Mari Kozlowski

“Now, four cups flour, Jean, sifted. It’s got to be sifted.” Annalee said.

 Jean measured it out, sifting as she added, then hit a snag: not enough flour. She didn’t bake much, so she bought the smallest bags she could find, and used them forever.

“Don’t have four. Just three and a half! This is going to be ruined. Can you run to the store, Ann? Aw, we don’t have time. Maybe I could order something…” Jean rattled on, feeling frantic. They didn’t have time before the family showed up, did they? She looked at the kitty clock on the wall. Barely time to get it done now.

 Annalee let off a big sigh.

“Got any cake flour? Or pastry flour? Or even Whole Wheat?” she asked, pursing her lips. Her mouth looked like a cartoon fish frown when she did that, and Jean stifled a little giggle. She thought about the question.

“I guess I have some brown rice flour and some cake flour,” she said. “We could use one of them?”

 She got onto her knees to get into the cupboard and reached around the bag of pancake mix and a couple of taco kits for the box of Softasilk she remembered buying a few months back. It was unopened, of course. Annalee smiled when she saw.

“Cake, here, definitely. Only you need an extra tablespoon— two tablespoons more cake flour per cup. Or is it three? No, it’s two, I’m sure it’s two. Let’s hurry & get this mixed so it has time to cool before you frost it.”

“Oh shit!” Jean said. “I forgot it has to cool first. I’ll never make it in time.”

“Yes, you will. If you get it mixed in the next five minutes.”

 Annalee cut open the bag and started measuring the Softasilk herself. She added the baking powder and soda, then beat the eggs in a separate bowl with a fork, and blended the vegetable oil and vanilla into the eggs. Jean let her.

 She would have asked her to bake the damned thing, too, if she dared. Instead, she had asked for help. Which wasn’t quite free, she’d forgotten. There was a lab fee, like in her old art classes.

“Brown rice flour? What could you possibly want that for?”

“Breading scallops for a recipe I saw—''  Jean started to say, but Annalee moved back to her overseer’s position and held out a whisk.

“C’mon, you’ve got to get a feel for the batter— mix it with this.”

“Can’t I use the mixer? I cleaned it and everything…”

 Annalee raised her eyebrows and did the fish lips again.

“You can use it for your frosting.”

“Okay.” Jean wasn’t about to admit she’d bought two cans of prepared frosting and confetti sprinkles to top off her homemade cake. Annalee wouldn’t know, she wasn’t staying for the party.

 Jean poured half the wet stuff into the flour mix and started whisking, till she caught Annalee shaking her head at her.


“Let me show you— hold it like this,” she said, and began beating in a smooth motion. “Then you have to add the milk.” She picked up the forgotten milk and put some of it in the batter.

 Jean watched her mix the cake the rest of the way, alternating the additions. Why had she attempted a cake from scratch? It was just a barbecue. Duncan Hines would have worked fine.

“Here’s the pans,” she said, and handed them over. They were already greased, and Annalee filled them evenly and eased them into the oven. They already looked better than any cake Jean had ever made on her own.

“That’s done!” she said, smiling. She washed her hands and looked to Jean. “Any coffee left?”

“I’ll make you some fresh.” Jean said. “You can stay till it’s done, right?”

“Um, I don’t think so. Let’s set the timer.” The other woman bent over the oven controls and found what she wanted— Jean had never used the timer once in the six years they’d lived here.

“Don’t worry about the coffee,” Annalee said. “I really don’t have time for it anyway. I didn’t know this project would take us so long.” She picked up her purse and started for the side door. “Just use that tester I gave you— it should come out clean. And let the layers sit for a half hour or more before you frost. It’ll be fine.”

 Jean smiled as honestly as she could. “Thanks Ann. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I appreciate your help.”

 Her friend nodded and left, calling down the driveway.

"See you at Knitting club Monday! Don’t forget to bring that pattern for me to look at.”

“Okay!” Jean called back, and shut the door.

 She had just enough time to clean the mess before she touched up her makeup and set out the plates. She hadn’t known it would take so long, either.  

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