Authors: Lorna Seilstad
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #Romance, #General, #FIC042040, #FIC042030, #FIC027050, #Sisters—Fiction
“Do you realize it takes at least an hour a day to care for your wood- or coal-burning stove—checking the flues, adding wood or coal, removing ashes, and blacking it? With the gas range, you can avoid all of that and save even more time during meal preparation.”
She looked at Molly, who nodded her support.
Kathleen shoved her way to the front row and raised her hand. “But gas is so expensive.”
“It can be if you don’t use it economically.” Charlotte stepped
toward the table where her supplies lay arranged. “If used wisely, it’s the cleanest, cheapest, and most efficient fuel known—and best of all, it’s fast. It’s ready without delay at the touch of a match. No more waiting for the fire to get started.”
Charlotte paused until the murmuring between the ladies subsided. She explained a few aspects of scientific cookery and the need to use standard measures, then presented the menu for the day—cream of lima bean soup, graham muffins, broiled bass with sauce allemande, asparagus spears, and chocolate bread pudding with meringue. “And you’ll all be taking home a small recipe booklet compiled by the gas company as a token of our thanks for your attendance, so don’t fret if you miss something.”
This seemed to please her guests. Since the lima bean soup was made in a Dutch oven on the stove top and would take the most time, she started with that. After draining the beans, she had an audience member help her chop the celery and ham while she added salt, pepper, and water to the pot. Once it came to a boil, she covered it and explained she was letting it simmer.
“Simmering is a cooking technique that uses very little gas. The very low flame will cook the food slowly and is perfect to keep your food warm.”
She moved on to the chocolate bread pudding because it would take the most baking time. The ladies seemed delighted to know she used a day-old loaf from the local bakery, and she soon had it ready to go in the oven. She opened the oven door and struck a match. It didn’t light. She struck another, but it too wouldn’t light. She glanced at the wood. Why did it feel damp?
She swallowed hard. Kathleen! A wide grin split the woman’s round face. Somehow she’d found a way to sabotage Charlotte’s matches. Had she touched anything else?
“Here you go.” The hardware store owner handed Charlotte a fresh box of matches. The sun glinted off his bald head as he turned to the audience. “Our store always has plenty of matches on hand.”
The ladies twittered as if the advertisement had been done
purposefully. Charlotte struck another match and released the breath she was holding when the flame caught. “When lighting the oven, always open the oven door. Have the match ready and apply it at once to the pilot light.” She touched the match flame to the pilot light and a tiny blue flame appeared. “Then turn on the oven burner.”
She turned the lever beneath the oven door. “The perfect gas flame will be a blue flame with a purple tip. Too little air makes a yellow tip. This kind of flame will not be hot and will smudge your utensils. Too much air will make the burners pop and blow.” She pointed to a cap on the end of the burner. “This cap allows you a perfect adjustment of air in the burner. Once you get it set, you’ll seldom have to adjust it again.”
She demonstrated how to determine the oven’s temperature using a teaspoon of flour in a pie tin, then inserted her chocolate bread pudding. “Since we can make the fish in the broiler at the same time we are baking the muffins, we’ll do that last. Now we’re going to make our sauce and asparagus on the top of the stove.”
“And exactly how do you think we can get that all done at once?” Kathleen didn’t bother to raise her hand this time.
“That’s a good question. As you know, timing a meal is one of the most difficult parts.” Charlotte lit the pilot light on the stove top and turned on the burner. “It takes practice, but with a gas stove you have the option of using the warmer.” She pointed to the small bread-warming oven on top. “And you can keep other items simmering on the burners until everything is ready.”
When the chocolate bread pudding was done, she pulled it from the oven. The ladies moaned at the delicious scent that began to fill the room. “Would any of you lovely ladies like to join me in preparing the rest of the meal?”
Kathleen’s hand shot up first. A couple of others also raised their hands but then lowered them when Kathleen shot each of them a glare.
Should Charlotte pick one of the other ladies? If she did, would
Mr. Johnson believe she still couldn’t get along with Kathleen? Reluctantly, she motioned Kathleen forward.
To her surprise, Kathleen followed her directions to the letter in preparing the bass. Maybe this would turn out all right after all. She lifted a piece of paper on which she’d carefully written a recipe and handed it to Kathleen like an olive branch. “Clearly Miss O’Grady is an accomplished cook. I believe she can handle the recipe for the sauce allemande while I prepare the graham muffins.”
Kathleen beamed and set to work. Even when Charlotte called over her shoulder to remember to measure each ingredient, Kathleen simply smiled and nodded.
After Charlotte had the graham muffins in the oven, Kathleen announced she was done. Charlotte tasted the sauce. “Excellent, Miss O’Grady. Thank you for your help.”
Only one more thing to do and the meal would be complete. Charlotte added cream to the lima bean soup and tasted it. Good grief, how did it get so salty? Wait a minute. How had she been so stupid? She’d left Kathleen at the stove alone. Perspiration beaded on her forehead. She couldn’t possibly serve soup like this.
“Is something wrong?” Kathleen’s sugary voice rang out.
How could she quickly fix this? Charlotte spotted a bowl of potatoes Molly had picked up for tomorrow’s demonstration on the work surface. She grabbed one and started peeling it.
“No, there’s no problem.” She returned the sugary smile to Kathleen. “The soup is a little saltier than I like. Does anyone know the trick to fix that?”
An older woman in a lavender hat raised her hand. “You add potatoes.”
“Yes, ma’am. You are absolutely correct.” Charlotte cut the potato into chunks and dropped it into the soup. By the time she’d removed the muffins and drizzled the sauce allemande over the fish, the potatoes had cooked and removed the saltiness.
She swept her arms toward the prepared food. “I believe our feast is ready for sampling.”
Thank goodness the women had been instructed to bring their own forks! As they took turns coming up to the worktable to sample the goods, she answered their questions. Slowly the women trickled out of the hardware store with promises to return tomorrow.
Mr. Johnson joined her by the stove. “Well done, Miss Gregory, but be sure to sell the stoves and not just the food.” He glanced at the table. “They didn’t leave us much to eat.”
“Never seen anything like it. Like pigs at the trough.” Molly began to gather the empty plates. “I sure learned a thing or two, but smelling all that good food means now I’m starving.”
“To be honest, I’m glad the first day is done.” She glanced at Kathleen, who seemed to be prolonging her exit. “I’m sure it will be easier the next time.”
Wiggling her fingers, Kathleen waved goodbye with a smug chuckle. “See you tomorrow, Charlotte.”
Then again, maybe tomorrow would be even worse.
Like turtles basking in the sun, upturned rowboats lay on wooden racks along the edge of Raspberry Island. Joel jogged toward the Minnesota Boat Club’s storage area and spotted his rowing partner, Dr. Knute Ostberg. Thinking about something other than the hospital or the way his discussion with Charlotte ended the other day was exactly what he needed. Nothing but hard work, a good friend, and lots of Minnesota sunshine.
“You beat me here.” He joined Knute in lifting the boat off the rack. They carried it down to the end of the dock and set it in the water.
“Let’s face it. I’m better at leaving when my shift is over.” Knute climbed in the narrow boat and slid his oar into the oarlock. “And I was smart enough not to take a job as an assistant superintendent.”
“Smart enough, huh?” Joel chuckled. Knute just didn’t understand why the administrative position meant so much to him. How could he? Knute’s father was one of the most respected men in the city, whereas Joel had spent half his life defending his father.
After easing into the spot behind Knute, Joel clipped his oar in place, slid his shoes into the foot plate, and strapped them in. “Ready?”
Without another word, the two of them worked in tandem to ease away from the dock and rowed toward the buoy that marked the beginning of their practice run. Spring had brought a high
water level to the Mississippi River, and the current carried the boat away from their goal, but years of rowing together had taught them how to manage the motion.
“Let’s take it easy on this first trip. Warm up slow.” Bending his knees, Joel slid forward and lifted his oar from the water. “On your mark, Knute.”
Knute gave the signal and set the pace as the two rowers took off. The familiar sequence of rowing—bunching muscles in his legs, back, and arms—released all of the cares Joel faced from the day. No more budgets or patients. Not even any irritating women who wanted him to serve food on pretty dishes. Just the steady dip and pull of the oars.
Joel matched Knute’s pace stroke for stroke, remembering their first year on the college eight-man rowing team. The coach had rebuked Joel for showing off. “You’ll only make your crew go slower. A crew is made up of individuals willing to sacrifice their personal goals for the team.” The lesson had served him well both on the water and in life.
Seated with his back to their goal, Joel glanced at the shoreline to make sure they were keeping their course straight, then at Knute’s back. Both of them reached the end of their pull, their backs at the thirty-degree point.
“Did you get to talk to Arthur about that microscope?” Knute asked, leaning forward into the next pull.
“I did. He said he didn’t understand it either. He’d earmarked those funds for my wards, but they aren’t there now. You know they were the ones from that charity fund-raiser your mother chaired.” Joel slid his seat back at the end of his stroke and lifted his oar from the water. “He said he’d speak to Terrence Ruckman about it and try to get it ironed out.”
“It sounds fishy. Do you think you should push a little harder? Maybe you’re making it too easy for them to dismiss your concerns.”
“It’s a tough line to walk.” As the youngest assistant superintendent, he wanted to prove he could handle the responsibilities
he’d been given. He didn’t want to make too much fuss about anything for fear his peers would think he was in over his head. At the same time, he didn’t want his patients to suffer simply because he was trying to impress his superiors and not rock the boat. His time with the rowing crew may have taught him how to sacrifice for the team, but medical school had taught him that sometimes one had to be forceful to get ahead. How was he to know which skill to use now?
They reached the buoy that marked the three-mile point and took a moment to catch their breath.
“So, you still stewing about that microscope?” Knute stretched one arm across the front of his body, then the other.
“No, not really.” Joel wiped his brow with the back of his hand.
Knute took hold of his oar, signaling it was time to turn the boat around. “Hey, I heard the nurses talking about some lady who came to the hospital and knows all about cooking for sick people. They said you talked to her.”
“Yes, I did.” Joel sighed. Charlotte seemed to haunt him everywhere he turned. “She has some lofty ideas. They’re not very practical.”
Knute shrugged. “That’s not what your sister said. She thinks the nurses could use some education in the area of nutrition.”
Joel readied his oar to begin the trek back. “Miss Gregory may know what she’s talking about, but she doesn’t know more than the doctors.”
“But maybe she does know more than the nurses.” Knute took a deep breath. “Now it’s time to do some real work. On my mark.”
Even though he couldn’t see his face, Joel could hear the smile in his friend’s voice. Knute set a grueling pace and Joel had no option but to match it. Good teams did that. Their strengths harmonized, and their rhythms, desires, talents, and blade work did as well.
Straining against the fast current, neither man had the ability to carry on a discussion. Joel’s muscles burned. Even though they’d been out on the water since April when the ice had melted, they hadn’t had enough training sessions yet this year to ease the strenuous workout.
Joel pushed past the pain and shoved the situation at the hospital out of his thoughts. Even when the rest of his life felt out of control, here on the water all went according to plan. No surprises. Only predictable, well-rehearsed strokes. Teammates working in tandem toward the same goal. Something he doubted Charlotte Gregory had ever done before in her life.
Good grief. He had to stop thinking about her.
The train rattled into the Stillwater station right on time. Charlotte followed Molly off the train and Lewis trailed behind. Without a word, each set to their tasks as if they’d been on the lecture circuit for years. While Molly arranged for the demonstration goods to be delivered to the city auditorium, Charlotte helped Lewis load their personal baggage into a waiting automobile his parents had sent.
“Are you certain your mother doesn’t mind us staying at your home, Lewis?” Charlotte tried to shake the creases from her burnt-orange skirt.
“My parents are excited to meet the other gas company employees I’m traveling with. When they heard our second stop was Stillwater, they insisted you stay at our home.”
Molly returned to join them. “Are you sure there’s enough room? We won’t be putting anyone out, will we?”
He grinned. “I think we can squeeze you both in.”
How differently she’d come to see Lewis in the last few days. Yes, he was tall and lanky and his center-parted hair did nothing for his long face, but Charlotte found she didn’t notice those things nearly as much now. Sweet and thoughtful, Lewis possessed an easy laugh that put them at ease even in difficult circumstances.
On the train, she’d laughed at the way he described the whole Kathleen O’Grady experience. “Molly put herself between you and Kathleen like a cow protecting her calf,” he’d teased. “I thought Molly was going to charge if that girl made one more snide comment.”
Molly had chuckled. “You got that right. I was ready to take that girl by the ear and show her a right proper way to exit a ladies’ gathering.”
Charlotte turned to watch the man loading their lecture supplies a few yards away. She counted the trunks—four in all—filled with utensils, spices, and dry goods. The man dropped one of the trunks, and she gasped.
“Do be careful with those!” Lewis called out. He turned to Molly. “Do you want me to go see to the trunks myself?”
“No, I packed them well. There are only a few breakables.”
“In that case, ladies, may I?” He offered his hand to Molly to assist her into the waiting automobile.
After all three of them were situated, the driver started down the paved brick street. Charlotte fought a fog of sleepiness under the steady rumble of the engine as they drove.
Molly laid a hand on her arm. “You need a nap, sugar.”
“I guess this morning’s lecture took more out of me than I thought.” She glanced out the window and watched a few colorful homes pass by—very large colorful homes. “Lewis, where do you live?”
“On Second. Off of Churchill. Are you familiar with Stillwater?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not.”
The automobile drew up in front of a huge three-story Queen Anne–style home with a steeply pitched roof, a wraparound porch, and scroll-saw detailing over the pediment.
“What did you say your father did?”
“I don’t know that I told you.”
“Well?” Molly laid her hands across her broad midsection. “Don’t keep a body in suspense.”
“He’s in lumber.”
Charlotte eyed the pretty white-iron fence surrounding the home and the carriage house out back. “As in he owns a lumber company?”
Lewis hopped out of the car. “Among other things.”