Jim entered the loft, the smell of frying foods unmistakable, although what exactly was frying was less clear. Looking at the kitchen didn't clarify anything. Every counter held traces of food--even the floor sported a fine dusting of flour. Used frying pans sat on all four burners.
"Sandburg! What the hell's going on here?"
A disheveled Blair walked out of his room, wisps of hair escaping his hair tie. Wearing Jim's favorite apron hadn't prevented him from getting smears of food on his shirt. "Jim!" he greeted brightly. "How was your day? Did you catch the bad guys? Are you hungry?"
Jim pointedly glared at the kitchen. "Is there anything edible?"
"Of course! I need a taste tester and I can't think of anyone better."
Jim narrowed his eyes at Blair's enthusiastic smile. "I don't have to be blindfolded, do I? The last time I ended up with a mouthful of sour milk."
"No, no, nothing like that," Blair said assuredly. "I'm entering a cooking competition."
Jim scrutinized the kitchen, deducing an abundance of fried foods and the time of year could only mean one thing, and immediately perked up. "Does this have anything to do with Rainier's Hanukkah celebration?" He smiled, fondly recalling the mouth-watering latkes Blair made last year -- crispy on the outside, soft, pillowy and decadent on the inside; the potatoes and onions shredded together, flavored with just a touch of ginger.
Blair scowled. "We're not allowed to celebrate Hanukkah at Rainier this year. Chancellor Edwards put out a memo -- no religious celebrations on campus. So, no Ashura, no Bodhi Day, no Yule or Yalda or any other Solstice observance, no Kwanzaa and definitely no Hanukkah. The Christmas party's still on, though," Blair added caustically.
"Let me guess. Because it's Santa Claus and not baby Jesus, it's okay." Blair nodded. "So, what's the competition?"
Blair immediately brightened. "Get this. December 2 is National Fritters Day! So, we're competing for who can make the best fritter." He smirked. "The only ingredient we can't use is a potato."
"And if some of the fritters look more like rugelach or sufganiyot…"
"So much the better!"
"Okay, rebel with a cause, bring 'em on!"
Blair brought half a dozen covered plates to the table. "Okay, so there's two different apple fritters -- one where the apples are diced and the other where the apples are sliced into rings. The sufganiyot, which I'm calling stuffed fritters, have blueberry jam and cream cheese instead of the traditional jelly filling. Then I made three savory," he said, pointing at the others. "There's shredded carrot, cottage cheese, and spinach with green onion." Blair set a glass of water and a napkin in front of Jim. "Ready for your inspection, Judge Ellison!"
Jim proceeded to taste each dish, taking his time to examine the appearance as well as the smell before tearing off a bite-size piece. Blair grabbed a notebook and started writing as Jim described what he was sensing. Finally, Jim pushed two plates towards Blair.
"Okay, these are the best," Jim said. "Both apple fritters taste great, but the one with the apple ring has a better texture. The chopped apples ended up too mushy. The cinnamon sugar coating gives it a nice, apple-pie taste, but maybe you could use turbinado sugar to make the outside crunchier.
"The savory fritters were all good, but the cheese ones could have been a little lighter. You and I like spinach, but not everyone does, so I'd advise against submitting it for the competition. The carrot ones are tasty, but they look too much like latkes."
"And the… stuffed fritters?" Blair asked with a grin.
"The blueberry jam and cream cheese combo is more interesting than the jelly, and having a different twist often gives you an edge." Jim picked up the other half of the doughnut he'd sampled and popped it into his mouth. "It's like eating a blueberry cheese Danish. That's definitely a winner."
"And the blue and white echoes the holiday colors. Perfect!" Blair closed his notebook. "Now, if we could only figure out how to make a brisket fritter, we'd be all set."
Jim frowned. "This restriction thing seems pretty odd, Chief. I thought colleges were more inclusive."
"They are! Edwards' memo came out of the blue. Either someone upset her, which is possible, or some mega contributor complained, which is more likely. We're looking into whether it violates anything." Blair shrugged. "We might get it reversed by Solstice, but in the meantime…"
"We'll shout, 'Happy Fritters Day' and keep the rest low-key?" Blair nodded. "By the way, are you planning to set up the hanukkiah?"
"Yeah. In front of the balcony windows, like last year."
"That's good. Now, as much as I love fried food, what about a real dinner?"
"Oh, yeah. Let me get started."
"You've cooked enough for today," Jim said as he brought the plates into the kitchen. "How about we order delivery and I'll help you clean up?"
"That sounds like an early Hanukkah present to me." Blair smiled. "Thanks, Jim."
image courtesy of Almond and the Hazelnut