Alchemical Gastronomy

65th of Vhalar 716

The capital city of the of Rynmere, here is seated the only King in Idalos.
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65th Vhalar, 716
"So I was thinking" she said, most seriously, as he let her in to his house for her lesson. What might make it a touch odd was that, this trial, she came positively laden down with two large bags. He could be forgiven for thinking she was moving in, in truth. But a glance at the contents of said bags was revealing; ingredients and some kitchen equipment. "That we might try some practical chemistry. Maybe even alchemy?" she looked at him and gave him a wicked and slightly apologetic smile "Or if you would like me to translate, I need some help and you are the person that can help me. I have two problems, in fact, and I believe that your unique skill set might help me with either or possibly both." Putting the bags down she looked at him with an almost winsome expression "You said that this week it was my choice, so I would like to choose these, if I may? I think you will enjoy them, too. They are interesting little conundrums" Yes, he had said that it was her choice what they studied this week and it apeared that this was what he got for it.

She figured she'd better get all her curiosity sated now, because he blatently wasn't ever going to say that again.

"The first problem is a chocolate fondant. It is almost like a chocolate souffle, really, which you take to exactly the right point of rising so that the outside is light and delicious and, when you break it open it oozes chocolate. I can't do it." she said, her expression deadly earnest "I can't get the measurements right and I need to get it spot on. I am currently either managing a sponge with the consistency of a brick or an oozing mess. I believe that I need to make better baking powder, and I thought you might be able to help me work it out?" Her expression was solemn as she reached into the bag and pulled out strange and unusual equipment and bits and pieces. Reaching into the top of the second bag, she handed him a small package, wrapped in paper. Thank you for putting up with me" she said with a smile and, whenever he got around to opening it there was an individual pie which, should he heat and eat was a deicious beef and deep red wine pie encrusted in shortcrust pastry. She carried on unpacking and continued to speak.

"The second problem is honeycomb. Which I want to get to the point of it popping in your mouth. I have a recipie for them both, but I think that the problem lies in not having exactly the correct mixture and the measurements spot on. Will you help me?" she asked and then, as she put the last bag on the table, she turned to look at him and smiled, dropping a well executed curtsy she changed her tone to much more demure and almost meet "Take pity on a poor slave?" she teased, blatently doing just that but it was another small step which she had simply not done before.
word count: 536
"Every evil has its good, and every ill an antidote."

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She came to her lesson without her usual stack of books. Padriag, however, had been prepared for her lessons as usual. Plenty of paper, pens, inkwells, all neatly arranged on the table.

But instead the sacks she carried caused him to frown and his brow to furrow curiously as Fatih swept in past me. "I hope you haven't run away from home," he uttered dryly. "I don't have a cupboard big enough to hide you." He had a handful of regular students, of all ages. Some were brighter than others. But in truth Padraig enjoyed the sessons with Faith. She had a quick mind, and what she learned seemed never enough to satisfy her. Still, he hadn't been expecting this.

"Alchemy and chemistry, I know a little. Cooking, I don't," he reminded her as she unpacked the unfamiliar tools and then handed him a small package. He didn't need to unwrap it to know it was food. The aroma assured him that whatever was inside would be delicious. "You don't need to thank me, but I'll take the pie," he said and smiled, unwrapping it while she continued to explain what she was about.

Come to think of it, cooking skillfully wasn't so far afield from the study of chemistry, maybe even alchemy, in spite of what she was describing seeming foreign to him. So Padraig's interest was piqued, and he smiled, pushing the papers and inkwells aside to give her more room. "I'll help if I can," he agreed. "But I've never had a souffle, much less a fondant. Wouldn't the trick be not only in the measurements...the ratios, but in the temperature and timing as well?" he wondered aloud.

But if she wanted to cook, he'd at least need to fire up the stove for her. "I hope you brought the things you need to cook in. I've got an iron skillet, but not much else," he said as he went about clearing some cabinet space and lighting the stove.
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"I do not take up much room. I have a cupboard room in Master's home, just me and my mattress" she explained, pulling things out of the bags, one thing and then another, each more obscure and arcane looking than the last "I can squeeze into hidden spaces, too. But no, I have not run away from home. I have brought equipment is all. Although it is good to know that, should I ever do so, you will try to squeeze me in a cupboard." She seemed quite serious but then, he knew her well enough now to know that she often did. "But I promise you, most sincerely. I will never bring the cat" she added as she put down the last of the pieces. "Before you put it to cook, wash the top gently with a little egg yolk, it will add to the flavour and help make the crust crispy on the outside. But make sure that you do it just before you put it in the oven, otherwise it will soak into the pastry and then you will make a big soggy mess" she instructed, on the pie.

She glanced at him after she had described what she was trying to find out and Faith smiled. He was intrigued, she could tell, just a little bit intrigued. "The more that I have learnt from you, the more I have seen links between what you do and what I do. Measurements, shapes, careful calculations. Ratios, balance, rules of what goes where. Those are the remit of the baker. Not the cook, but pastry and patisserie, they are alchemy in action, I believe." What was it she had read, she considered, and she closed her eyes for a trill "To take mundane ingredients, each one simple and ordinary, even commonplace in their nature and to use techniques not born of magic to turn them into something else" she left the definition as she recalled it hang in the air and shrugged her shoulders slightly. Was it what he did or what she did that she was talking about there? Did it matter? Not to her.

Maybe, therefore, she'd make a cook out of him yet, she considered and she watched and smiled her gratitude when he lit the stove "I have everything we need right here, yes" She said and she pulled, from the bottom of the bag, a book. This one, a book of recipies. "The heat and timing are important yes, but they are yet to make a difference. I need to get the ratios right in the sponge and to do that I need baking powder" she said, pulling a second book and opening it to a bookmarked page.

"Baking powder is used instead of yeast, to help things rise. I need to use it here. It is .. well I do not understand what it is and so that is where you come in." she explained, passing the book over to him "It is an alkaline, so I must later combine it with an acid like cream of tartar or buttermilk, but could you have a look?" she asked. Because, she explained, if she could get exactly the right baking powder mixture, then she could make the damn things rise. But too much of one thing, or the other and it either wouldn't rise or would rise too far and either way would taste vile. So, to him the book which explained the chemistry of what she was trying to do, and to her the recipie.

"On a scale of picking herbs to bathing a cat" she wondered, with a glint in her eyes "How likely are we to get soaked, scratched or sleepless?"

It seemed like a fair question, all things told.
word count: 631
"Every evil has its good, and every ill an antidote."

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A mattress in a cupboard? And that's where she slept? Surely she was making light of his comments and it wasn't at all the case. If it was remotely true, it was no better treatment than a prized hound would receive. Then again, the more he knew Faith, the more difficult it was to remember that she was a slave. In spite of her reminding him, now and again.

He smiled awkwardly, a sure sign of his uncertainty, and then moved on. "You bring the cat, I'll bar the door," he said dryly after he'd lit the stove and begun looking over what she'd brought with her. Some of the items seemed as mysterious as an alchemist's lab might to someone who'd never seen one before. And then he glanced up at her, somewhat surprised. "It's not cooked yet?" The pie, he meant. "I'm glad you said so before I bit into the thing." And then he picked up an odd looking device that consisted of a handle and a number of curved wires that formed a sort of bulbous wand. "What is this?"

"It seems awfully complicated. Baking," Padraig muttered after he'd put a kettle on to boil and put some leaves in two cups. "Yes, like alchemy, or chemistry." It certainly sounded more complex than he'd ever assumed it to be. "The sponge?" he asked, but assumed it by process of elimination to the be cake which she referred to. He'd worked in a bakery once in fact. But had rarely participated in the actual measuring, baking or so on. Mostly, he ran the counter, stocked the shelves and took the money. And had provided much of the heavy lifting. He'd never heard the term sponge however, though he recognized words like yeast for bread and baking powder.

"None of those, I hope," Padraig said, considering all the possible outcomes of this experiment, and smiled a little. "Short of starting an oven fire, I guess the worst we could expect is a bellyache resulting from a test gone wrong." Better than an explosion caused in an alchemist's lab, at least. "So, if baking powder is your alkaline," he considered, finally looking up from her book. "and you're substituting buttermilk for sweet milk, in order that they don't cancel each other out, you might want to start small and work your way up. he suggested. Buttermilk, after all, ought have a higher acidity than ordinary milk, and she'd need to adjust the ratios accordingly. "Or," he said then with a curious frown. "Is it rather that you're not sure of the best ratio to create the baking powder itself?"

"In that case...You might want to start with a base ratio of two to one. Alkaline to acid, and adjust as necessary from there," Padraig reasoned. He'd never actually made the stuff, but it seemed a sensible starting point to avoid one canceling the other out completely.
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He looked horrified, albeit briefly, and Faith watched his expression carefully. Or, more precisely, she noted his expression carefully and then did her very best to put a grin on her face which would make him think she was teasing. She wasn't, of course, that was exactly true, but her description of her room had made him uncomfortable, awkward even and she would not voluntarily do that, so she thought about the last time she had teased him and she smiled in as teasing a manner as she could manage. It was not her place to be making him concerned, she knew that. It had to be said that the attempt was both obvious and obviously what it was, since moments later her fake attempt at making him feel better about how things were was replaced with a very genuine grin of good humour as he spoke of barring the door should she bring the cat. "And knowing that cat, it would find a way in when I would not. So, you bar the door and leave yourself and the cat in here and me outside. That is masochism in action" she chastised and looked at him with a brief, but intensely earnest gaze "I am fine. Most genuinely" That she rarely slept in the small room, except for when she had been unwell following their trip herb-hunting was something that she considered would probably only irritate him more, so she kept quiet on those small points. Somehow, the thought of her being instructed that she was sleeping back in there because she was ill was likely to be more irksome to him, so she concentrated on what he said about the pie, grateful for the change in subject.

"It is cooked, yes, but if you wish it, you can reheat it so that you are eating hot pie" she explained "If you do, then wash the top with egg. That is all I mean. My apologies for not being clear before" It would be quite safe for him to take a bite out of, she assured him and then he held up a kitchen implement and Faith took it from his hands, demonstrating the movement as she spoke "A whisk. Used to mix things together quickly, and with the aim of putting air into them, like so"

"A sponge is a kind of cake" she explained "Light and with air bubbles in it. I am always pleased when you smile. It always seems that you smile a little because you mean it a lot. Thank you" She waggled the whisk in front of his nose as she said that, far enough away from his face that it wasn't a concern, but there so that he could use it as a distraction, should he wish to. Her expression was clear though, she meant what she said. "The latter" she answered, immediately "I wish to create baking powder which is better than I have managed thusfar. It relies on the acid and alkaline reaction that we see when we use soda and vinegar, but I need to create just the right amount. I thnk so, anyhow. What do you think?" She was going to make the perfect chocolate fondant in this lesson, she considered, if it killed her. Which she very much hoped it did not. "I wonder. Could you make that and I'll whip up the rest of the fondant mixture?" she asked with a cheeky expression.
word count: 581
"Every evil has its good, and every ill an antidote."

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The moment was awkward, and Faith attempted to disguise that sense with a smile, just as he had. Padraig knew her fairly well by now, or at least he knew the part of her she allowed him to see. He recognized it for what it was then, and agreed, probably better not spoken aloud or dwelt on. There were times that she was reduced to sleeping in a space no larger than a broom closet, in a home he knew to be fairly well turned out. But he'd already formed somewhat of an opinion regarding her master. The night they'd spent in the woods, bedraggled and soaked to the skin mightn't have been so miserable for her, was she not compelled to traipse around, even through the wilderness, dressed like a caged ornamental bird.

"That damned cat would pick the lock in a blink, I don't doubt it," Padraig said, and it was the rarest of chuckles before she assured him that she was alright. And he simply nodded when she assured him, she was alright, then turned deliberately to the task at hand. Better he keep his opinions to himself. It might be difficult to remember she was a slave, and that those who favored and owned slaves viewed the practice differently from him. Could be, he was well among the minority and would never deliberately sew any seeds of discontent in his friend when it was, simply what it was.

"I'll store it in a cool place then, and have it for my evening meal," he said, referring to the pie, then gave the whisk a second look. Holding it up like a wand, he eyed its curved wires and waved it around. "This could be useful for all sorts of things." Alchemy experiments, maybe. As for his smile, funny, he was rarely aware of it. "My grandfather who raised me was a stern old man. I don't think I remember him ever smiling, once. But the old alchemist that taught me a little, I don't recall there was ever a time he didn't have a smile on his face. Even when it didn't seem quite appropriate at the time," the young man recalled and then grinned a little and tapped a finger to his temple. "I do believe he might have been a little touched." One too many experiments gone wrong, too many vapors breathed in, maybe.

So, baking powder. That he could do, or try anyway. "So you have soda and vinegar. Have you tried other acids besides vinegar?" he asked. "Something that might compliment the flavor in your recipe? One of them might work better, and your ratios ought be similar no matter which you choose." Considering some of his alchemy lessons, and thinking back to his time in the bakery, he added, "You could try cornstarch, buttermilk, lemon juice, molasses or treacle might compliment a sweeter dish and a little experimenting could reveal that one works better than another." Had she brought any of those things with her? If she had, while she concentrated on the other part of her dish, he'd play with different acids in order to produce a sample of each. "You might try baking several small cakes, each with a different baking powder composition, to see which if any work best?" And if some better than other, or one or two not enough or too much, then they could always adjust the ratios, he thought.
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"Yes, it can be", she responded, to the usefulness of a whisk "That one is sized appropriately for making cakes, but the basic idea is the same. I've seen, where I work, very large whisks used in large mixing bowls and very small ones for detail work." She imagined that the small ones would be useful for alchemy and she considered "I have thought that one of the things I should learn is metalwork, to make tools like this. And pottery to make bowls and so on. I could... ", she stopped and her lips lifted into a smile as she realised that she was where she was and with who she was "I could learn lots of things about new topics and that would be wonderful." she admitted. There was no point saying anything different to him, he understood her hunger to learn.

But on the topic of baking powder, she shook her head "Oh, forgive me. I did not mean that I use vinegar. That would be far too acidic with the soda and would taste awful! That is where the buttermilk or cream of tartar has come from. Yes, that would be exactly what I'd like to do, please?" she said, of trying a number of small cakes and looking at each one. "If I can get the baking powder ratio of acid and alkaline just right, causing the correct reaction whilst not impacting the taste, then it will be useful in a lot more than chocolate fondants", she explained. Of the ingredients, she had cornstarch, lemon juice, buttermilk and some molasses, no treacle though. Briefly, she looked irritated with herself about that, it was an obvious thing to bring, but there it was she had not brought it.

So, she worked on bringing together the rest of the fondant mixture, bringing together the dry ingredients, then adding in the wet ones and working with a very clear focus. She kept that focus, measuring the ingredients very carefully (she always measured twice) and then being very meticulous about mixing. Just like in her lessons when she was concentrating on a mathematical formula or a chemical compound, she had the same focus in her expression. But here was where her talent came into it too, and she moved with the kind of instinctual know how that could not be taught, but which she was unaware of. When she was at the point of being ready, she said so and made notes on which small metal pot held which chocolate fondant with how much of which baking soda. "Twelve bits", she said, turning over an hourglass. "Not a trill more. I'll wash up." And indeed, since she'd made the mess, she was very happy to put on the kettle and at least start the washing up process.

But when they came out there was the tasting process. Before that happened, Faith turned them out, cut each one open and nodded at some, not others (apparently, more oozing was good). Then, the task was tasting and she handed a fork with a solemn expression. The lemon juice was too tart, the buttermilk was alright, but the molasses was what caught her attention. "I like that. But it's a little dense. Can we. I'm not sure what", she frowned and then explained "I think the consistency of the molasses means that it's become more dense. Can we either put more air in the molasses or somehow increase the reaction a little so that it does not add density to the mixture?" she wondered and looked at him with hope and, it had to be said, more than a small amount of certainty that of course he could.
word count: 622
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So, the whisk. A universally useful tool, he thought. Useful enough anyway that he thought he might pick one up himself to help with his alchemical experiments. Padraig quirked a brow however when she went on about wanting to learn metalwork and pottery making. This on top of all the things she'd wanted to learn during their lessons. "A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oft times better than a master of one?" he uttered dryly. Teasing her, but one would need to know him awfully well to see past the stern delivery.

It was a curious thing, watching her work, when he wasn't concentrating on his own part of the experiment. So meticulous about ratios and measurements. And so unlike Adhamh, who'd taught him what he knew of alchemy. Maybe though, the old man's reckless abandon had been the cause of so many mishaps.

So they waited, and then they tasted. Admittedly Padraig's preference wasn't sweets. But he knew what tasted good and what didn't. The one with the lemon, not so much. Faith asked an interesting question though, where it concerned the molasses. Padraig frowned. "At what point in the process are you finding it too dense?" he asked, then explained what he meant. "Molasses has a very high viscosity. It's very thick," he added in layman's terms. "Gasses, subjected to heat, gain viscosity because particles bind more closely together. But most liquids, like molasses, lose it for the opposite reason. It breaks down and becomes less dense. So are you finding it too thick to mix properly at the beginning? Is it that it's too thick even while baking? Or is it that once cooled, it's returned to its normal state?"

The solution after all might depend on where she found the problem to be. "Whisking it in an attempt to add air bubbles will do very little good. It will only return to it's normal viscous state upon cooling. If you find it difficult to mix with your dry ingredients, we can heat it a little before you add it in. If the problem is arising after the cake has cooled, you might want to choose a different acid instead. If it's the sweet you want, you might choose corn syrup or honey, both of which are less viscous than molasses."
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He spoke with a stern expression and Faith considered his words with a most serious look on her face. "Well, I do not know, to be honest. I think that it depends how you are defining a jack of trades and also how you define a master, to be frank. But which is better or worse surely depends on the circumstance?" Her brow furrowed as she considered the problem, much like she did with the problems in mathematics or other sciences which he gave her "If I needed medical treatment, I would want a master medic, not someone who was alright at medicine and also a talented knitter". Unaware of his teasing, she approached it with earnest seriousness on her face as she gave it deep consideration, then gave the slight nod which usually accompanied her answering one of his questions. It appeared that, for all that they were cooking, she was very much in student mode.

But the cooking, the tasting and the questions prompted another frown on her face as she considered "I'm not sure", she admitted. "I mean, it's very thick from the get-go, so maybe we should try some honey?" she wondered. Looking at the molasses, she listened to him and then practiced the new word "Viscosity. VIS-cosity. VisCOSity. Viscos-ITY. I like that word" she tested the emphasis on each of the three syllables, then the smile which she wore so often lit her face and then turned to a grin. "It's a good word" But the bottom line, she explained, was that it was too viscous in every stage ~ so a new acid made sense. Honey, yes, that was fine, she had some and cornsyrup too.

So, another batch. This time, the same recipie with the molasses, heated before she added the ingredients together; just in case, she explained. But then, two little pots, these with honey and two more with corn syrup. She did more washing up in the meantime and then turned them out onto the table, placing them on to a cloth. The cornsyrup had an immediate and noticeable difference which delighted her. The cakes were more risen and when she cut one open, chocolate mixture oozed out like molten lava. She waited, although her excitement was obvious by the slight bouncing on the balls of her feet as she went through the steps with all of them. But when she tasted that one, the cornstarch made with a particular ratio, Faith looked at him and grinned "It's better, isn't it? It really is. What do you think?" she wondered, looking at him with concern in her expression. Was it better? She was sure that it was, but it was always good to get feedback.
word count: 461
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He should have anticipated that she'd take him seriously. Though in fairness, Padraig's admittedly dry delivery often left the recipient unsure. Nonetheless he grinned a little as he brushed a dusting of flour and soda from his collar. "I don't know, I would think that someone who's a fair hand with a knitting needle, might do alright at sewing up wounds."

Never mind though, they'd turned back to ratios, to viscosity and what to do about it. So if the molasses was too thick all around, at every stage, then a similar, but less viscous ingredient might be better. It was a simple matter to mix up another batch of baking soda for her, using honey instead. He'd make one from corn syrup too, if she wanted to try it. So there were several samples to taste when they were done. And while Padraig was no expert, he had to agree that the corn syrup experiment had been a successful one.

"It's the consistency you've been hoping for?" he asked before taking a bite. And then taking a second or three to savor it, he declared, "Much better, yes. The consistency, even the feel on the tongue is much improved." If it was everything she was hoping for, then he'd provide her a piece of paper and pen so she could write the new recipe down for future reference. "What next? The honeycomb you mentioned before?" he asked while looking over the recipe for their next experiment.

He frowned a little, running his finger along the list of ingredients, comparing them with what she'd brought. He looked again, counted and then said, "I think there's something missing. You brought this, or no?" Padraig asked, pointing out the last in a long line of ingredients.
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