[by Dan Stout]
fettuccine et crevettes en sauce à la crème bayou
Begin by placing the Seasoning Mix in a small bowl. Refer to page 842 for Seasoning Mix ingredients. Glance at the clock and roll your eyes as you wonder how many more detours you’ll find in this recipe.
Place the ingredients for the Cream Mixture (a single 12oz can of evaporated milk and ½ cup cream cheese) into a blender and puree until smooth and creamy. Announce that you’ll have dinner ready soon. Listen for a reply. When you hear only the sound of the television, peek into the living room to make sure she’s still there. She is.
Stare at that last instruction, then this one, wondering if this is a joke. Shake your head. Tell yourself that if the next line is normal, you’ll read on.
Preheat 1 Tbsp of oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet, preferably non-stick, over high heat until it smolders and begins to smoke, about 4 minutes.
Add ¾ cup chopped onions, and coarsely chopped red, yellow, and green bell peppers, ¼ cup of each. Follow with 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp of the seasoning mix. The thought may flit across your mind that that’s an odd pair of measures, which could be a metaphor for different levels of love or commitment. If so, disregard it. Stir and cook 3 minutes.
As you stir, wonder what kind of cookbook this is. Consider closing the book, but find that you can’t bring yourself to do it when you’re halfway through the recipe. You always follow directions and see things to the end.
Add ½ cup seafood stock, ½ cup of apple juice, and ½ tsp minced garlic. Cook until most of the liquid evaporates, about 12 minutes. During this time she will walk into the kitchen.
When she does, smile at her and give the liquid a dramatic swish. She once said that you could make her laugh at anything. She only smiles, and opens the fridge without speaking. She grabs two beers, one for you perhaps? No. Both bottles go with her back to the couch. This way, she won’t have to squeeze past you again when she finishes the next bottle. Tell yourself that she’s being considerate and not bothering you while you cook. Try to skip over these weird lines in this recipe.
Notice that the liquid is almost gone. Add another ½ cup apple juice, and squint your eyes against the bloom of apple-scented steam as the juice hits the pan. Scrape the bottom of the pan to clear it, cook 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture from the skillet to a blender, add ½ cup milk, and puree until smooth.
Speaking of smooth, why don’t you talk to her? She’s on the couch; you can see her from the kitchen. Wait until a commercial so you won’t get on her nerves.
It’s a commercial—now go for it. No, wait! This is her favorite commercial—it always makes her laugh. Ok, this next one is fine to talk over; she doesn’t care about new cars.
Engage in conversation. Use the following phrases at least once, but no more than twice apiece:
“Dinner’ll be ready soon.”
“Did someone give us this cookbook as a gag gift? I don’t remember seeing it before.”
“I love you.”
“I said, ‘I love you.’” (this last may be said in a louder tone of voice, possibly with a forced laugh to cover your discomfort)
Stir the mixture. As you do, speculate what it means when someone replies “Thanks” to the words, “I love you.”
Return the pureed mixture to the skillet over high heat, and stir in an additional ¼ cup each of coarsely chopped red, yellow, and green bell peppers, and the remaining ½ cup apple juice. Cook, scraping the bottom occasionally to keep the mixture from sticking, for 7 minutes. Add the remaining seasoning mix and 1 lb medium peeled shrimp, cooking for 3 minutes. Breathe deep. Ignore the knot in your stomach. Stir in the creamy mixture.
Tell yourself she’s busy, and not to read too much into it. She’s often busy. She has a busy job, and when she’s home she’s busy relaxing from work, busy catching a few shows, busy drinking a few beers before heading to bed where, in all likelihood, no one will get busy.
Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, and stir immediately. Caution: Dishes using these creamy mixtures can “break” or curdle easily if they are brought to a full boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring continuously, until the shrimp are plump and firm, about 2 minutes.
Turn off the heat. Remove 1 cup of the liquid, strain it, and puree it with ¼ cup mayonnaise. As you stand with one hand on the blender lid, the other pressing the ‘puree’ button, think, Jesus this recipe has a lot of puree-ing. Stir this pureed mixture back into the mixture in the skillet.
As you walk from the blender to the skillet, try not to notice the pile of empty bottles in the recycling bin. Try not to read these lines. Try not to wonder if she’ll eat at the table or take her plate to the couch.
Serve over freshly cooked fettuccine.
Take an egg timer from out of the pantry. Set it for three months, more or less. Try not to think about what it’s counting down to. Try not to hear it ticking whenever you and she are alone together.
Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes about fever dreams and half-glimpsed shapes in the shadows. His prize-winning fiction draws on his travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. Dan’s stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Mad Scientist Journal.