Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Dining With the Smoke Detector

August 25, 2013

First Posted 11/08/11.

 

I should have listened to the little voice in my head telling me to keep my mouth shut. Before I knew it I was in deep water.

 

“Why don’t you take the evening off?” I said to my wife. “I’ll cook dinner tonight.”

    

“I don’t feel like spaghetti or tacos,” she said, ruling out my specialties.

    

“Very funny. I can cook other stuff.”

    

She leaned forward on her stool at the kitchen counter where she was balancing our checkbook. “Like what?” She looked amused.

   

“You like pot roast, don’t you?”

    

"It’s rather complicated. Tell you what; go ahead and make your spaghetti.”

    

Under no circumstances was I going to make spaghetti, which in my case meant opening a jar. “Pot roast it is!”

    

“Making pot roast isn’t as easy as you think.”

    

I shrugged. “I grew up on pot roast, and I’ve seen you make it often enough. How hard can it be?”    

    

As it turned out, pretty darn hard.

    

When Mrs. C. left for the beauty salon to get her hair trimmed I made the call. “Mom, I’m making pot roast tonight. What do I need?”

    

“It’s about time you helped out more in the kitchen. Do you have a pot roast?”

    

“No.”

    

“I suggest you get one.”

    

“I’m writing this down. One pot roast. Do they come in different sizes?”

    

“Yes. Three pounds is a good size. Get one with a bone in it for flavor. Ask the butcher for help if you can’t find one. And fat. The meat needs fat on it. Remember: fat is the magic carpet on which flavor takes its ride.”

    

“Thanks, Mom. See ya; I’m off to the store.”

    

“Hold your horses, young man.” She’s the only living person who calls me a young man, or thinks I have horses. “You’ll need a few other items.”

    

“Like what?”

    

“Like an onion and several stalks of celery, two cloves of garlic, red wine, bacon, cumin, bay leaves, potatoes and carrots…”

    

There were other items but my hand got tired from writing and I just said uh-huh and let her ramble on about how all of this went together.

    

At the grocery store I couldn’t believe how much everything cost. Mrs. C. had been complaining that everything was getting more expensive but I’d turned a deaf ear. To make matters worse, I encountered half a dozen guys from the nearby fire station. If Mrs. C. had been there she would have referred to them as “first string,” meaning they were good-looking enough to douse her with their hoses anytime. I’ll never understand the attraction women have for firemen. How hard is it to race into a burning building and pull out a kid or pregnant woman? Big deal!

    

The butcher was holding court over the meat counter, his hands the size of the roast I was searching for. He didn’t look like he wanted to be bothered so I grabbed a package of shrink-wrapped beef, along with the other ingredients. I nearly strained my back lugging grocery bags from the garage into the kitchen. It had taken forever to find all this stuff and Mrs. C. was home from the beauty salon by the time I returned. I poured her a glass of wine—not too much because cooking was thirsty business and I needed enough to keep me well lubricated. I suggested she enjoy it upstairs while soaking in the tub. I was determined to show my wife that, when it came to cooking, she’d married a guy with skills.

    

When she’d gone I emptied the grocery sack and lined up all the ingredients on the counter. These all needed to end up in a dish…or a pot…or a pan, or …or….

    

I grabbed the phone and dialed.

    

Mom picked up on the first ring. “I’ve been waiting for your call. Did you get everything?”

    

“I got enough! What kind of a pan do I throw this stuff into?”

    

“You have a cast iron Le Creuset. Use that.”

    

“A what?”

     

“It’s big and red with a matching lid, and heavy as the dickens. You want to put it directly on a burner and heat up three or four tablespoons of olive oil. Use the good stuff—extra virgin.”

    

I resisted making a saucy comment.

    

“Brown the roast on both sides to build up a crust. Then add a cup of red wine, a cup of water and drop in a peeled and sliced onion, along with the two cloves of garlic.”

    

“Is all of this really necessary?”

    

“It is if you want it to taste good.”

    

I hung up and followed her directions.

    

She called back fifteen minutes later. “Why did you let the phone ring so long?” she asked. “And what’s that blaring noise?”

    

“That would be the smoke detector. I can barely see in here.”

    

“Why didn’t you turn on the vent over the stove?”

    

“You didn’t tell me to turn on the vent.”

    

“For cryin’ out loud, son, use common sense.”

    

In addition to the smoke alarm, my ears were now being blasted by a brain-numbing siren. From our dining room window I could see a fire truck the length of a football field pulling up to the curb in front of our house.

    

“Mom, I gotta go!” I barked into the phone.

    

“Why? What’s happening?’

    

“The first string just showed up!”

     




Tomorrow the conclusion.

 



Comments

18 Comments
Just as I start to think you are one smart dude, you prove me wrong! I'll bet you could paint a perfect roast.
By: Cranky on August 25, 2013
How hard could it be? I know! I watch the Cooking Channel and they can whip up a 5 course meal in 30 minutes. Mine took 4 hours. Must have been trick photography.
By: Scott Park on August 25, 2013
I don't even know what a pot roast is!! So you are already doing better than me! I look forward to part 2.
By: LL Cool Joe on August 25, 2013
Hilarious!!! You and I went to the same cooking school... except I know to always turn the fan on first thing. However, picturing "first string," I might forego that step next time (yeah, as if there would ever be a next time).
By: Mitchell is Moving on August 25, 2013
ha ha. can't wait!
By: TexWisGirl on August 25, 2013
I really loved your story! (And I feel a bit more sorry for your wife and mother than before.) Don't worry, some people just don't have the cooking gene. If the fire department came every time I burned something, they'd never have time to shop...or cook...or put out other fires...
By: Lexa Cain on August 25, 2013
This is a first--I never thought I'd be anxiously awaiting the conclusion to a story about pot roast!!
By: fishducky on August 25, 2013
If you'd asked me, I would have told you to get a roast that's already cooked and serve it as if you'd cooked it yourself. Mom makes everything too hard. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on August 25, 2013
I can totally relate. my first attempt at Tacos ended with a fire in the broiler.
By: David Walston on August 25, 2013
The next time your mother does something to annoy you, I hope you remember how she "tried" to get you through cooking a pot roast. I love the " fat is the magic carpet on which flavor takes its ride.â That is such a great line. What??? Even as a man, can you not see how "hot" most fire fighters are???? I nearly would be tempted to burn my house down to get a bunch of them over for a visit. At my age though, they probably wouldn't notice me and I would be homeless for no reason.
By: Cheryl P. on August 25, 2013
Ohhh, I so hope this ends as well as your intentions imagined it would! And this line: fat is the magic carpet on which flavor takes its ride...is priceless!
By: Shelly on August 25, 2013
It's good to get a look at how the better half lives :)
By: jenny_o on August 25, 2013
My husband never cooks and doesn't make any attempts. He is vaguely aware that we have an oven in the kitchen and he can heat up a frozen dinner in the microwave (but he cannot do something else at the same time). I may have to show him your post just to show him how complicated the whole process of meal preparation really is!
By: Pixel Peeper on August 25, 2013
Garfield the Cat once commented on how hard it is to live with Jon, a bachelor who only knows dinner is done by the smoke detector going off. The end of this one should be good.
By: mimi on August 25, 2013
I love this! Can't wait for the next installment!
By: Eva Gallant on August 25, 2013
My stomach and brain are both growling in anticipation.
By: Val on August 25, 2013
You know what I make for dinner? Reservations. By the way, I think women are attracted to firemen because they lug around big hoses.
By: Al Penwasser on August 26, 2013
You certainly got me laughing!
By: john on August 27, 2013

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