Gather 'round, gentle readers, for I have an interesting story to tell.
For those too young to remember the board game Clue, the premise was that at the beginning of the game, someone was found murdered. It then became the goal of the rest of the game to figure out who the murderer was, what room it happened in, and what lethal method of dispatching was used on the victim. In fact, it became such a popular game that Hollywood made a movie out of it ... with several endings. It turned out that the movie wasn't as popular at the time as the board game, but I rather enjoyed the comedic aspects of it. But I digress.
I write this entry today as a combination of suspense, just a touch of horror, and of course a teachable moment where we can all learn one of those life lessons about which we've heard so many positive things. Names were originally withheld to protect the guilty, but the guilty felt that the story had more impact with the names intact. Of course, the point of my sordid little tale is not to shame, but to entertain and to warn.
I'd like to say it was a dark and stormy night. But, it wasn't. It was a pleasant and mild sunny day, with a light breeze gently shaking the tops of the trees as small downdrafts of air caressed the slightly sun-bleached red tufts of hair still remaining on my head. I had decided to dress very casually for the afternoon party, a barbecue to which I had been invited some three or four weeks earlier. Having stepped out of the shower, I looked over my clothing selection and opted for a pair of Dockers that had seen better days and a green t-shirt that while months old, had never been worn and was still crisp and new.
Having baked off a batch of focaccia earlier in the day, I grabbed the pan of cooling bread, the smell of thyme and caramelized onions still tickling my nose as I passed my head close to the surface and inhaling deeply. "This," I surmised, "will be a perfect course for the Bread Guy to bring."
Lest you think me nuts so early in the story for referring to myself in the third person, I have developed a sort of following for bringing really tasty breads to my friends' parties. And while not specifically requested to bring something today, I knew that my continued reputation depended on me arriving with something carb-laden and fabulous; I had a sneaking suspicion that this might just fit the bill. Lowering the pan away from my face, I grabbed my keys, wallet and cellphone and headed out the door.
The drive over to the party was short, but lovely. The lowered driver's and passenger's side windows allowed a cross breeze to cool both me and the bread. I arrived at my destination ten minutes before the scheduled beginning of the event and found an appropriate spot to park on the grass next to the stone driveway, protected from the sun under the auspices of a large leafy tree. I grabbed my panned bread and my knife roll* which contained my favorite bread knife, a razor sharp serrated number from my post-college days when I let a friend of mine convince me that her brother was selling these really great knife sets and I would be the best friend ever if I bought a set myself. Of course, the easy payment plan helped convince me, too. While I've replaced every other knife from that original set, the bread knife remains to this day one of my most useful utensils for slicing hard, crusty breads; it is without equal.
I walked around to the rear of the entrance to find the host of the party, Tony, attending to the barbecue portion of today's festivities. I walked up to the patio and slid open the rear door to the house and proceeded to walk through the dining room to the kitchen where I found our hostess, Jane, and a mutual friend, Nancy, who happened to be still celebrating her birthday from the previous week. Jane, being known for her elaborate celebrations, was putting on the finishing touches to Nancy's multi-layer cake, replete with chocolate frosting, coconut shavings, hand placed almonds and six perfectly inserted candles along with a lone sparkler towering high above the other waxy rods.
"It's my favorite," Nancy gleefully exclaimed. "It's like a Mounds candy bar, but in cake form."
I have to admit, it certainly looked good. It also looked big, too. Then again, Jane was feeding a crowd today, so a cake for twenty-five guests wasn't something that stood out as unusual. Within moments, she looked up from her frosting and assembling duties and noticed my stainless steel pan of goodness.
"What have you brought us today, Tom?"
Beaming with accomplishment, I replied. "This," my chest puffing out just a little bit further than normal, "is a caramelized onion and thyme focaccia bread that I baked off this morning."
"I can't wait to try it! Why don't you cut it up and place it out on the table on the patio with the rest of the appetizers?"
I left Jane to her task at hand and grabbed the pan and my knife roll and headed out the door to the patio, dutifully following her admonition to not let the dog escape. Retrieving my favorite bread knife, I proceeded to cut the half sheet into rectangles, narrow on one end for easy grabbing and long on the other to allow each guest several bites of this hopefully tasty treat. After carefully sawing my way through the entire loaf, I returned to the kitchen and washed off my knife before sheathing it in its protective cover, returning it to the knife roll and finally returning the entire set back to my car, its mission now accomplished.
As guests began arriving, introductions were made, additional dishes were placed on the appetizer table on the patio and everyone began the pre-dinner noshing. While I certainly didn't try and fish for any compliments on the bread, I received quite a few and I cheered just a little bit using my inside voice for every one I garnered. Within just a short period of time, the entire tray was empty and I happily took it inside to clean it up before returning it, too, to my car, and started looking forward to having dinner.
Shortly after, the barbecued meats were declared "done" and the rest of the dinner spread was placed along a series of tables at the back of the yard. Famished from my lack of breakfast and my self-control during the appetizer portion of today's event, I got in line at the back of the queue and hungrily waited my turn to fill up my plate. Dinner, as was expected, was completely delicious and besides a pork sandwich that had been gussied up with a little coleslaw on top to give it a more North Carolinian feel to it, I had my fill of corn on the cob, a delicious pesto pasta salad and an unusually mild sausage and sauerkraut casserole. The dinner portion went off without a hitch and was curiously quiet, although I suspect that was more a compliment to the cooks this evening than the lack of camaraderie.
Where things begin to turn interesting was when dinner had more or less come to a close and Jane, who happened to be sitting next to me on the patio, turned to me and said, "Well, I guess it's time for the birthday cake." Remembering how large the cake looked when I saw it on my arrival, I asked her if she would like some help. She considered for only a moment before she replied, "Yes, I think that would be a good idea."
I followed her through the patio door once more, again making sure that the dog remained inside. Once in the kitchen, I picked up the cardboard cake round upon which the large two-tiered cake rested. I'm glad I had offered to help; this thing must've weighed five or six pounds. Jane, anticipating the cake cutting ceremony about to ensue, grabbed a large chefs knife and a pack of matches for the candles. As we walked to the patio door, Jane said to me, "Okay, when we get to the door, I'll slide it open and then keep the dog distracted. You walk through the door and I'll follow behind." Sounded reasonable enough to me.
As we got to the door, she slid the door open, but as I stepped from the inside to the out, I heard her shriek, "Oh my God! Are you okay?"
I turned around to see Jane standing on the inside of the door, chefs knife pointing away from her body and towards me, a look of terror on her face.
"I almost stabbed you!" she continued. Funny, I hadn't felt anything. I figured that she might just be playing toward the overly dramatic. Honestly, I hadn't felt anything before and I still didn't feel anything now.
I somewhat nervously laughed and said, "No, no, I'm fine." And then a moment later, I added, "Besides, if you had stabbed me, don't think I'd be making any more bread for you in the future." As she followed me through the patio door, I quickly mentioned, "Why don't you go ahead and walk in front of me to the table?"
Her fears now somewhat allayed, we continued with the birthday ritual for Nancy, first attempting to light the candles in the slight breeze, followed by the incantation of "Happy Birthday" and finally the cutting of the cake and opening of gifts. In all, other than the slight hysterics after my alleged stabbing, it was a really great party. As the evening wore on, I gathered myself, said my good-byes and made my way home.
When I got home, I decided to change clothes for bed. I pulled on a pair of shorts and considered using the green t-shirt I had worn during the day for my weekly sleeping shirt, the one I wear for the week and then wash on the weekends. As I pulled the shirt off the curtain rod on which I had placed it while getting undressed, I noticed several spots on the back of the shirt where light was now shining through. Even more strangely, the small holes lined up in a straight line.
"No! It couldn't be," I thought to myself.
I put the t-shirt back on only to come to the realization that the holes in the brand new shirt were exactly in the same spot where Jane had been standing earlier in the day with the chefs knife as I stepped through that patio door.
I quickly lifted my shirt to check my skin in the same area for any trace of redness or epidermal slicing or puncture wounds. There were none. I realized at that moment that had I been a centimeter closer to Jane, things might have been different. I also realized that had my t-shirt been worn down through numerous wearings and washings, the strained fabric might not have been strong enough to protect my back from the sharp knife. To say the least, the realization I came to at that very moment was quite sobering.
"Holy crap!" I uttered aloud in my bathroom. "Jane Snow almost stabbed me!"
As two people who have been in "the food industry," Jane and I both made a mistake today. She, of course, should have kept the knife at her side with the blade pointing down. If the dog was going to be an issue, we should have had a third person running interference. And I, knowing that she would not purposely have hurt me, should never have volunteered to walk in front of someone with a sharp knife, even if it was properly pointed downward. I realize that the evening could've gone an entirely different way had any of the conditions been slightly different.
I think I need to write the Hanes people and thank them profusely for the strength of their t-shirt fabric. And then buy stock in the company.
I suppose it goes without saying that its always best to avoid being stabbed. That being said, if it had to be anyone, at least it was longstanding Akron food icon, Jane Snow. I wonder if my epitaph would've said as much?
* Gentle reader, remind me someday to tell you what the phrase "knife roll" sounds like to a French Canadian border guard whose grasp of English was somewhat tentative at best and had just asked me if I had any weapons to declare.