1. Step 1, Gather Ingredients by warrior4
2. Step 2, Mise en Place by warrior4
3. Step 3, Heat the Pan by warrior4
4. Step 4, Bring To a Boil by warrior4
Jim whistled to himself as he walked up the steps of the Scranton Business Park heading to Dunder Mifflin. The chill of late November doing nothing to quell his good spirits. His morning of sales calls had gone remarkably well. He’d landed new contracts or expanded old ones at each of the clients he’d visited. Knowing that the contracts in his messenger bag would be more than adequate to show he was hitting his monthly sales goals, he was keen to turn them in and have the lunch hour and afternoon to plot new pranks. With each step up the stairs he envisioned the scene in his mind. He’d walk through the door. Pam would look up and smile at him. He’d grab a few jellybeans on his way past her desk to accounting to drop off the contracts. Their eyes would meet once more as he returned to his desk. The IM program on his computer would light up with her asking what he was so happy about. He’d reply with something simple that would cause her to invite him back to her desk for further explanation. Without hesitation he would saunter over for a few more jellybeans and tell her of his morning until he realized it was time for lunch and suggest she join him in the breakroom for the full story. They’d chat easily while grabbing their food from the fridge and sit at their normal spots in the breakroom against the wall. Over lunch he’d tell her that morning he’d made a sale with the company that restocked their vending machine and their delivery guy seemed cool. It was a vision that came crashing down as soon as he opened the Dunder Mifflin door and saw another man standing in his spot at Pam’s desk.
“Really Pammy? A cooking class? Why would I want to do that?”
Schooling his expression, Jim walked past where Roy was standing at the reception desk looking at a pamphlet. He couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the conversation.
“Because Roy when was the last time we went out and did something together that wasn’t just going to the bar with Kenny?” Pam replied. “They’ve got a whole bunch of classes where you learn how to put lots of different stuff. Classic comfort foods, one pot meals, even a couple of international nights. Just in time for the holidays too!”
Jim tried to catch Pam’s eye as he walked back to his desk, but her attention was solely focused on Roy. However, to his trained eye that had long cataloged the numerous expressions of one Pam Beesly, he easily saw the hints of frustration starting to cloud her eyes. The way she was starting to hunch in on herself. How her voice didn’t have the same light confidence he reveled in when they planned a prank together. No, she was in full on Roy-mode now. Smaller, guarded, and looking unsure of herself.
“Yeah, sorry babe, but it’s going to be a no for me,” Roy went on. “Looks like all these classes are on poker nights.”
“Roy, please,” Pam pleaded. “I’ve already paid for them.”
“Sorry Pammy, make sure you get the money back.” Roy told her without any hint of contriteness. “Besides why go through all the work of learning to cook? You can just get one of those freezer things that come pre-made and pop it in the microwave. I gotta get back downstairs. See ya later.”
“Bye,” Pam said softly as Roy clomped his way back down to the warehouse.
Jim kept his eyes glued to his vacant computer monitor until he heard the door close behind Roy. It was only then that he risked a glance to his right. He could only see the top of her head since it appeared she was looking down at something on her desk. It was only the phone ringing that caused her to look up.
“Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam,” she answered forlornly. “Please hold I’ll transfer you.”
Ignoring the phone now ringing at Stanley’s desk, Jim pulled up their ongoing IM conversation on his computer. He hesitated a moment while he tried to think of something to write.
JIM9334: Here a prize for you!
He quickly hit the enter button and turned to pretend to look at his discount code binder. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her head move to her computer screen as his message popped up.
Receptionitis15: What prize? There’s just a blank spot.
JIM9334: Ah shoot! The emoji thing must not be working again. It was supposed to be a little trophy.
Receptionitis15: A trophy? For what?
JIM9334: For the quietest replacement of a phone handset onto its cradle. It’ll be the newest event for next year’s Office Olympics.
Glancing at the yogurt medal still hanging from his desk lamp, Jim took another glance towards Pam. The tension was starting to ease off her shoulders and a smile was beginning to curl up her cheeks.
Receptionitis15: Next year’s games? Guess I had better get to work on getting more medals ready. Interested in helping?
JIM9334: I wouldn’t be a very effective Olympic Co-Chair if I said no. Shall we say we start in ten minutes in the break room?
Receptionitis15: Sounds like a plan. Thanks Jim.
JIM9334: Anytime Beesly.
After exactly nine minutes of playing minesweeper, Jim closed the game and walked over to Pam’s desk. Reaching for a jellybean he mentally reclaimed his spot and smiled at her.
“Hey! Ready to get the pre-planning underway?”
The sparkle of mischief flared to life in Pam’s eyes when she looked up at him. “You bet! Let me just set the phone to voicemail quick.”
Pushing the one button on her phone that would mute the ring tone, she stood up. As she walked around her desk, Jim reached down and picked up a pamphlet with the words “Cooking for Two” emblazoned on it.
“What’s this?” he asked, though he knew exactly what it was from his previous eavesdropping.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she tried to reach for it.
Jim though held it out of her reach and started walking towards the kitchen while reading snippets aloud. “Hmmm let’s see. ‘Learn to make delicious meals designed for the busy couple. No experience required. Aprons and utensils provided.’ Hey! That looks really good!”
“Can you give it back please?” Pam asked as she followed him through the doors into the kitchen. “It’s for a cooking class that I’ve already paid for, and I need their info to try and get my money back.”
“I don’t know why you’d want your money back,” Jim said as he opened the fridge and handed Pam her lunch. He reached for his and continued. “This picture of Dutch oven mac and cheese looks great! I call dibs when you bring in leftovers for lunch!”
“There’s not going to be any leftovers, because I’m not taking the class.” Pam told him while they walked through the Annex to their normal chairs in the breakroom. “It’s all set up for two people, but Roy doesn’t want to go. I’d be too embarrassed to go by myself, so I'll just cancel it.”
If Jim had been a cartoon character a lightbulb would have winked on above his head at that particular moment. As it was his eyebrows just shot up.
“I’ll go with you.”
Pam gave him a comforting smile. “Thanks, that’s sweet of you, but Roy will be expecting the money back in the bank.”
Jim looked at the pamphlet again. “How about I give you the cash you paid for it? That way you can still get the money back?”
She still seemed hesitant. “I don’t know.”
“C’mon Beesly,” Jim slightly pushed. “I’ll bet when you saw these classes you got all sorts of excited. You probably started thinking of kitchen gadgets you’d want to get and cookbooks to try out.”
A small grin peaked up the corner of Pam’s mouth. “Maybe.”
“So? What do you have to lose? The way I see it this works two ways. Call it an early Christmas gift and also a way for me to pay you back for those stick shift driving lessons.”
“You mean the lessons from like two years ago?” She looked at him in shock though he could tell she was thrilled he’d remembered.
“I told you then I’d pay you back for your help,” he grinned. “About time I make good on that promise.”
“Okay! Deal!” Pam grinned back at Jim. “Get ready for cooking lessons!”
Jim walked over to the soda machine and bought a grape soda for him and a Coke for Pam. Handing her the red and white can, he held up his own can for a toast.
“To new adventures in the culinary arts!”
“Cheers!” Pam smiled as she replied with the tip of her tongue peeking out between her teeth.
Privately, Jim basked in the glow of his favorite of her many expressions, and one he was confident she had only directed at him in all the time he’d known her.
“Pammy, I’m taking off.”
“Yup, have fun. Try not to lose too much money.”
Roy scoffed and threw his coat on by the doorway. “When was the last time I lost money at poker night with the guys?”
“Last week,” Pam replied without looking up from where she was looking through a magazine on their couch.
“That’s only because Lonny cheated,” Roy insisted.
“If you say so. When will you be back?”
“Ah, you know how poker night goes. Might be late. Don’t feel like you have to wait up. Bye.”
Pam looked up hoping for some other form of goodbye from her fiancé, but only heard the door to their apartment close as Roy departed. She glanced at her watch and noted the time. Pulling out her phone she scrolled to Jim’s number and sent off a quick text.
Still on for tonight?
Getting off the couch, she went to the bedroom to change out of her work clothes. She’d finished pulling a light sweater on over her jeans when her phone chirped at her.
Absolutely I am. I’ll be at your place in about five minutes.
A bubble of excitement started to build in her stomach while she typed out a reply.
Great! See you soon.
A quick trip to the bathroom to freshen up filled the time nicely. Knocking on the door made her look down at her watch. Jim was right on time. Crossing to the door she let him in.
“Hey you!” She beamed. “Come on in. I just need to grab my purse, shoes, and coat.”
“No problem,” Jim said as he walked through the doorway. “Nice place,” he commented.
Pam looked over at him while she slipped on a pair of shoes. It was the first time he’d ever set foot in her apartment despite having driven her home from work more than a few times.
“Thanks. I know it’s not a house like what you and Mark have, but it’s home.” She got up and walked to the front closet to grab her coat. Instantly she noticed Jim looking at a framed watercolor depicting a vase of roses on the wall.
“Is this one of yours?”
“Uh, yeah,” Even though she hadn’t put her coat on, Pam felt herself getting slightly warm under her collar. “I made that back during my brief time as an art student at Marywood.”
“I like it,” Jim started pointing at portions of the painting. “Everything being kind of light and pastel makes the bright red of the rose petals really stand out. Is that what you were going for?”
“Yeah actually,” Pam found herself impressed that Jim had so quickly zeroed in on the impact she’d wanted to achieve in the painting. “I think I was trying to show how when something is so bright it can cause you to miss all the background details. Look behind the vase.”
Jim leaned in closer and took note of what Pam was pointing at. A grin formed on his face when he saw the full impact. “They’re plastic flowers! The bag they came in is hiding behind the vase.”
“Exactly!” Pam grinned. “But because the petals are so bright and flashy it’s hard to realize there’s nothing of substance to them unless you really look close.”
“Well, you succeeded with me for sure. That’s exactly what happened when I looked at it.”
When Jim turned back to her, Pam saw pride for her glowing in his eyes. It made her feel like they’d just pulled off a complex prank. “Thank you.”
“Shall we get going?” Jim nodded to the door.
Pam led the way out the door. She locked the door behind them and walked with Jim towards his car. He took a few quick steps to get in front of her and held the passenger door open for her. She smiled at the chivalrous gesture.
“Thank you again.”
“You’re welcome,” he said before closing the door once she was situated.
I can’t remember the last time Roy got the truck door for me like that, she thought to herself while Jim walked around to get in the driver’s seat. She gave him directions to what ended up being a storefront shop near Lackawana college. Jim found a parking spot nearby and they started the short walk to their destination. They kept up the conversation about cooking they’d started on the drive over.
“How do you burn pasta?” Jim laughed. “You cook it in water! You know the thing that puts out fires!”
“Well, it would help if one would put the water in the pan, not just the noodles,” Pam replied.
“Ah,” Jim nodded sagely. “That would do it.”
“Yeah, so that was pretty much the end of National Men Make Dinner night around our place,” Pam said to conclude the story. “Roy also kinda griped that I basically bullied him into it in the first place. What about you? I know you make a killer grilled cheese. Any other culinary specialties?”
Jim once more held the door as they reached their destination. A sign proclaiming “Llyod’s Kitchen,” blazed over the door to a two-story brick faced store front that was connected to the stores on either side. Large picture windows showed two columns of cooking stations with five stations in each line. Each station had a large gas stove in the middle above an oven. Cutting boards built into the counters flanked the stoves. Two small sinks bracketed the workspace on either end. Space on either side of the stoves allowed for two groups at each station. Exhaust hoods hovered over each stove leading to ductwork that ran along the ceiling. Pots, pans, and other cooking utensils lined one wall. Industrial size refrigerators and shelves of ingredients lined the other. In front of the room was the instructor's station. A camera overhead of the front cooking station displayed onto a large TV screen so the entire class could see how the instructor was preparing their dish.
“I’ve been known to dress up Hamberger Helper with some extra seasoning and a side dish of Stove Top stuffing,” Jim said with pride. He held out his hand for Pam’s coat to hang up on hooks by the door before adding his own coat on top of hers.
Pam felt herself grow intrigued. “What kind of extra seasonings?”
“Mrs. Dash goes with just about everything,” said Jim. “At least that’s what my mom always told me.”
Looking to her right and the shelves filled with ingredients, Pam soon found what she was looking for. She pointed out the bottle of Mrs. Dash seasoning resting on a shelf lined with other various spices. “Looks like you’ve got nothing to worry about here then.”
Jim answered with his usual glowing smile. “Come on let’s go find a spot.”
They picked a station in the second row that was on the inside aisle of the class layout. Two green aprons were laid over the cutting board at their chosen station. A small white area was located near the top and a marker rested between the aprons. To the left on the other side of the stove, Pam and Jim saw the other prep area of their cooking station was set out identically. Other students were walking through the doors and claiming spots like they were. Some of their fellow classmates were clearly there as part of larger groups of two or three couples. Other pairs were looking around trying to find a free spot. Jim and Pam saw another young couple head to the open prep area on the other side of their stove. To Pam’s eyes they looked slightly older than herself and Jim. Rings on their left hands showed they were married.
“Mind some neighbors?” the husband asked.
“Not at all,” Pam answered and pointed to the other pair of stools
“Thanks,” said the wife as she slid her stool away from the counter in front of her. She didn’t sit down though. Instead, she stepped closer and offered a hand in greeting. “Beth Carlson. This is my husband Sam.”
Sam stepped to the side of his wife to also shake hands. “Nice to meet you.”
“Pam Beesly,” Pam said in reply.
“Jim Halpert,” Jim said and shook hands with the other couple.
“So, what brings you two here?” Jill asked. “Learning how to cook together before the big day?”
Pam’s eyes grew huge when she saw Jill’s eyes flick to her ring. “Oh! Ummm....”
“Good evening, everyone!” Their instructor for the night was a man just past middle age with a friendly look to his face. He called out with an easy voice over the room to get the class started. “My name is Llyod Glenn. I’ll be your host for the next four weeks of “Dinner for Two.” Please find a seat and write your names on the aprons at your stations.”
Mentally Pam blew a sigh of relief. She picked up the marker and wrote her name on her apron before passing it to Jim so he could do the same.
“I’ll tie yours if you tie mine,” Jim pointed to Pam’s apron strings.
Llyod continued once everyone had found a place to sit. He was standing behind the instructor’s station and held a remote control in his hand. “Welcome to Llyod’s Kitchen and the “Dinner for Two” series. Over the next four weeks we’ll have a lot of fun learning how to make some great meals that are perfect for two people. On the menu for tonight, Glorious One Pot Mac and Cheese!”
Pointing the remote at a projector, the white board behind him lit up with the picture of steaming mac and cheese with veggies on top being scooped out of a Dutch oven. An ingredients list and recipe were next to the image.
“Behind me you’ll see everything you’ll need. Before we start cooking though, we need our mise in place set up to make things easy.”
The French words sounded strange to Pam’s ears. Looking around she saw many of her fellow students with similar confused expressions. Llyod caught their unease quickly.
“Forgive me,” he chuckled. “Some of my old culinary school verbiage still tends to leak through from time to time. What I said was we’ll set up our meez en plahs,” Llyod over enunciated the words to help with his students' comprehension.
“In laymen’s terms, we’ll gather and set up everything we’ll need for this dish. I’ll do my best not to bore you with technical terms anymore if I can help it from here on out.
“Most of you have two couples at each station. I’d like two of you from each station to gather pots and utensils and the other two please gather the ingredients listed on the board behind me. Some things such as olive oil will be shared between the two couples at each station so, please read the list carefully.”
“I’ll get the food,” Pam said to Jim.
Sam crossed over to walk with Pam as the couples in the room spread apart. “We’ve been looking forward to this class for a while. How about you and Jim?”
Pam had a sudden flashback to Jim’s party the previous week and the comment Phyillis had made to her about office romances. Shoot, someone else thinking Jim and I are a couple! Just forget about it for now and focus on getting what we need.
“Since last week when I saw the flyer,” she answered when they arrived at the shelves.
She and Sam grabbed baskets and double checked the list at the front of the room. Between them they loaded up their baskets with a small bottle of olive oil, a package of dried macaroni noodles, blocks of Chedder, mozzarella, and Monterey Jack cheese, a head of garlic, a bunch of oregano tied with a rubber band around the stems, sea salt and pepper grinders, a yellow bell pepper, a head of broccoli, a package of spinach leaves, and six Roma tomatoes. On their return to their cooking stations, they saw Jim and Beth had a set of measuring cups and spoons, four kitchen knives, and two enamel coated Dutch ovens. Between the four of them, they were able to separate what they could and laid the rest down on thick piece of plastic covering the stove burners.
Llyod pointed his remote again and the video feed from his camera pointing at his own prep station showed up on the monitor above his head. “Clearly there’s going to be some sharing of ovens and later the stoves. For now, though, go ahead and get your ovens preheated to four fifty. Next, we need to start prepping all our veggies. All of you should have kitchen knives. Take off the edge protectors and watch the screen.”
Suiting actions to words, Pam pulled the plastic cover off the edge of her knife and set it aside. Her station mates did the same. She watched closely as Llyod demonstrated how to properly hold the knife. He then led the class through the proper techniques for slicing the pepper, chopping the garlic and oregano, cutting the broccoli florets, and dicing the tomatoes. Each student was given the task of one veggie before they spread out the piles between the two couples. After the veggies were chopped, Jim and Sam made short work of shredding the three kinds of cheese into a large bowl. Llyod would frequently leave his station to wander the classroom and give pointers and praise.
“Time to put all this hard work to use,” Llyod said when he returned to his station. “Spread some olive oil on a paper towel and coat the inside and lid of your Dutch ovens with it. We want a thin but even coat. Next divide your macaroni in half between you and your cooking partners and pour them into the bottom of your pot. Pour a cup of water and a smidge more oil over top of the noodles. When I first started making this, I only used two thirds of a cup of water. Don’t do that. Half of your noodles won’t cook and will wind up dried up and stuck to the bottom of your Dutch oven.
“After that you’ll want to spread half of your cheese, half of your garlic, and half of your oregano on top of the noodles. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on there too. Next, we add the peppers and broccoli in a nice even layer and repeat the cheese and seasoning layer again. Go ahead and use everything you’ve got left. Toss the spinach leaves and tomatoes on top, pop on the lid and let’s get these bad boys in our ovens for thirty minutes.”
The combination of earlier prep work and Llyod’s easy to follow direction ensured the class had no trouble. The sounds of ovens closing filled the kitchen.
“Well, that wasn’t too hard,” Beth said easily after she closed their shared oven.
“Yeah,” Pam agreed. “But at the same time, I feel like I’ve gotten a new appreciation already for what it takes to really make a meal. Not just throw a Tombstone pizza in the oven or nuke something in the microwave.”
“Same here.” Beth then nodded in the direction of Jim who was waiting in line to deposit their food scraps in a large countertop composting machine. “How did you two meet?”
Pam spared a quick glance at Jim, who was chatting easily with Sam and some of their other classmates. “We work together. It’s been over three years now. I’m the receptionist for the local branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company. Jim is one of our salesmen. His desk is right near mine, so we get to see each other all day long. I still remember when he first started. He looked so lost, I just had to warn him about his crazy desk mate. Jim didn’t believe me at first, but he came around when Dwight, the crazy guy, kept just going on and on and on about his family beet farm and how it gave him superior dexterity to spin a pen around his fingers. The next day Jim replaced all of Dwight’s pens with crayons. It was really funny.”
“Oh, that’s sweet!” Beth gushed. She then pointed at Pam’s ring. “How did he propose?”
Instantly Pam felt a heat in her face that had nothing to do with the ovens in the room. “Oh, um, actually Jim isn’t my fiancé. We’re just really good work friends.”
“Oh,” Beth seemed slightly taken aback. “I’m sorry, I just assumed that you two were together.”
“No,” Pam ducked her head for a moment. “Don’t get me wrong, Jim’s great. We’re always figuring out ways to have fun at the office, but we’re not like together together.”
“May I ask why you’re here with Jim instead of your fiancé?” Beth pushed.
“Roy,” Pam answered. “That’s my fiancé, has a weekly poker night he’s been going to for forever that’s on the same day as these classes. Jim offered to go with me when he heard Roy bailed.”
Pam couldn’t help her voice from trailing off as she finished her sentence. A spike of guilt stabbed her heart at the thought that she was taking the cooking class after Roy had told her not only that he didn’t want to attend with her, but that she shouldn’t take the course either.
“Well, regardless,” Beth reached over and put a friendly hand on Pam’s forearm, “I’m glad you guys are here. It’s just so hard meeting new adult friends sometimes.”
“Yeah,” Pam brightened as Jim and Sam came back. “Same here.”
While the mac and cheese cooked, the students washed and dried the dishes they were done using. Jim and Pam offered to bring things back to the racks and pick up flatware for when their dinner would be ready to serve. Beth and Sam cleaned off their prep areas. By the time they were done the countdown time now displayed on Llyod’s screen reached its end.
“Now comes the best part,” Llyod said enthusiastically. “Go ahead and pull your Dutch ovens out and dig in!”
Jim used a pair of hot pads to bring the Dutch oven he and Pam had used out of the oven and onto the stove. A cloud of steam erupted when he took off the lid.
“Serving spoon and plate please Beesly.” Jim held out a hand.
Pam handed him a bamboo serving spoon and her plate. He loaded a generous portion onto her plate before serving himself. The garlic, cheese, and seasonings had combined to throw off wonderful smells. Next to them Beth and Sam were also dishing out their meal.
Sam held up his water glass. “To new friends and new foods!”
“Cheers!” Jim, Pam, and Beth said nearly together. They all clinked glasses and took a sip before settling on their stools and picking up the forks.
Pam blew over her plate before taking her first bit. Her eyes grew huge as the flavors combined in her mouth. “Oh my god Jim!” she said around her mouthful. “This is amazing!”
“Mmmmhmmm,” Jim agreed while savoring his own bite. He swallowed before talking though. “I didn’t know what to expect out of this class, but if this is the result, I can’t wait for next week! I am glad he gave us recipe cards for this. I’ll have to try and make it again sometime.”
Pam looked over at Sam. “I told Beth earlier that Jim and I work for Dunder-Mifflin paper. What do you two do for a living?”
“I’m a free-lance photographer,” he replied. “Beth is a dental hygienist. When we were engaged and getting ready to be married, we said at least one of us needed a steady job.”
“I don’t mind,” Beth put in. “Sam gets to do what he loves and the dentists and other people in my clinic are easy to work with. During peak wedding, bar and bat mitzvah, or prom seasons Sam can be super busy. He'll get another rush now around the holidays with families wanting to get the perfect Christmas card picture. Other times it’s kind of slow but we make it work.”
“That was smart to get that figured out before you got married,” said Pam as she took another bite.
“That’s what the engagement period is for,” said Sam. “Figuring out how one goes from wanting to be married, to actually being married. At least that’s what we told each other.”
Another pang hit Pam’s heart as she mentally reviewed the years her engagement ring had been on her finger with little progress made in a wedding ring joining it. Fortunately for her, Jim took up the thread of the conversation.
“Got any crazy stories from a bar mitzvah or prom shoot?”
Delight registered in Sam’s eyes. “So, last spring I got a gig for a pre-prom photo shoot. It was at a girl’s house, and they said to show up around six because they were going to have dinner there. There were four couples all together. I show up and only one of the couples is in tux and dress. I had to wait for another half hour for the rest of them to change out of regular street clothes and into their fancy duds. The one couple that was already dressed just seemed ticked off about the whole thing. I swear I heard the guy mutter something about, ‘thousands of years of tradition ruined because you can’t eat spaghetti without a bib.’”
“What happened?” Pam asked.
“He stayed outside stewing until they were all ready. But then a crow or magpie or something started diving at them. The kid who was upset was so shocked he stumbled backwards into the small koi pond the family had in their backyard!”
Pam’s eyes grew wide again, and she heard Jim chuckling behind her. “Oh no!”
“Yeah. So, after all the stink he raised about dinner, it was him that had to wear street clothes to the actual dance.” Sam had a grin on his face as he finished the story.
“What goes around comes around,” Beth chimed in.
Jim and Pam took turns telling Sam and Beth about Office Olympics while they finished their meal. They scooped the leftovers into travel boxes before washing the remaining dishes and putting them away.
“See you guys' next week,” Beth waved as they stepped out onto the sidewalk.
“Looking forward to it,” Jim called back. He then looked back at Pam. “That was a lot of fun.”
Pushing aside some of her lingering feelings, Pam looked up at Jim. His easy smile had one form on her face too. “Yeah, it was.”
“Come on, let’s get you home.” Jim nodded towards his car.
Soon he was pulling into a parking spot outside of Pam and Roy’s apartment. Roy’s truck was still nowhere to be seen. Jim offered to walk Pam back to her door which she politely declined. The fact he didn’t start to back out of the spot until she had the apartment door open kept the smile on her face as she waved goodbye. She put her share of the leftovers in the fridge before getting ready for bed. A feeling of contentment filled her as she drifted to sleep.
Fun fact, "mise en place," is one of the only culinary terms I know off hand, and you can thank an old season of "Worst Cooks in America," for that one. Want to make your own Glorious One Pot Mac and Cheese? Here's the real recipe.
You'll need medium size cast iron Dutch oven. It can be enamel coated or not.
Olive oil spray
2 cups macaroni
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
8-12 ounces grated cheese such as Chedder, mozzarella, or Monterey Jack
3-5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
1/2 head broccoli, cut into florets (about 2 cups)
2 handfuls fresh spinach
2 or 3 plum tomatoes chopped
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 C for the non-American's in the crowd)
Coat the inside and lid of the Dutch oven with olive oil taking care to fully coat all interior surfaces
Pour pasta into the pot and add one cup of water and the 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil, mix gently to coat evenly and spread across the bottom of the pot
Layer half the cheese onto the pasta. Sprinkle with half the garlic and half the oregano, lightly season with salt and pepper
Add the pepper and broccoli in an even layer. Add the rest of the cheese, garlic, and oregano. Season with more salt and pepper.
Top with spinach and tomatoes
Cover and bake for 30 minutes, serve immediately.
This recipe comes from the cookbook "Glorious One Pot Meals," which has become a favorite around our house.
Hope you liked it all.
“Alright everyone now that you have your potatoes cut up, go ahead and drop them in the water. They’ll need to boil for about twenty-five minutes, so set a timer. We’ll use that time to get everything else prepped. You can all start by setting your ovens to 450 degrees.” Lloyd was suiting actions to words at his own cooking station at the head of the class. The gathered students watched along as he instructed them to slice a shallot and prepare a portion of whole green beans.
Jim was already looking ahead at the recipe projected on the white board behind their instructor. He looked up at Pam while completing the chopping to ask her to prepare the skillet they’d need for the pork chops that were on tonight’s menu. However, Pam seemed deep in conversation with Beth. Long practice helped him pick up on their conversation.
“So yeah, it was the sweetest thing. The best part is now I don’t have to leave my desk for a new cup of tea,” Pam gushed.
Beth leaned over and gave Jim a smile. “Sounds like you nailed the whole Secret Santa thing.”
There was no way Jim could hide a smile forming on his face. “Thanks. I’m just glad she liked it so much. It’s been over a year now that she’s wanted her own teapot for her desk.”
“Pass the salt and pepper please hon,” Sam broke into the conversation and pointed to where the condiments were resting in a space between the two couples. “Got that pan ready?”
“Oh, sorry,” Beth apologized and handed the seasonings over. “Pam and I got a bit distracted.”
“It’s ok,” Sam easily grinned at his wife and worked on his own prep task. “Jim, here you go.”
“Yeah, uh, I need to get on that too,” Pam said slightly sheepishly. She reached for her own skillet and poured in a large drizzle of olive oil and set it on the gas stove. With a few clicks the stove flared to life under the pan.
Jim reached behind the ladies to accept the salt and pepper. He liberally sprinkled both sides of the pork chops in front of him while Pam added more oil to a baking sheet.
“Pork chops comin’ through!” Jim called out. Holding the plate of his and Pam’s boneless chops over her head he switched spots with her, so he’d be closer to the stove. Waving a hand over the pan he could feel heat radiating through the pan. The meat sizzled as it met the warm oil. Reaching over to the bin of utensils, he pulled out two pairs of tongs. He handed one over to Sam who was also placing his own pork chops to cook on a separate skillet. Both men gave their tongs the two obligatory safety clicks before using them to ensure the pork was in the perfect spots in the pans.
“Why do guys always do that?” Pam asked.
“Do what?” Jim replied.
“Click the tongs before they do anything with them?” Pam nodded in Jim’s direction while spreading oil, salt, and pepper on the beans now resting on her baking sheet.
“Man law,” Jim grinned back at her and adopted a tone of faux piety. “Thou shalst always click thy tongs twice lest thy meat shall burn. Once clicked shall render thy meat cold. Thrice clicked shall render thy meat unto thee as unto a hockey puck. Twice clicked and thy tongs shall render unto thee thy meat cooked to flame kissed perfection.”
Pam pulled a face at her partner. “Really?”
“Sam back me up here,” Jim turned to the other man who was checking the timer he’d set on the manual chronograph style watch on his wrist.
“Always click your tongs,” Sam confirmed. “No guy would want to incur the wrath of the meat gods.”
Beth leaned forward and caught Pam’s eye. “I’m not going to say all guys are the same, cause they’re not, but in this instance, Jim and Sam are right. Look up at Lloyd.”
At the front of the class, Lloyd was preparing his own pork chop. Just as Jim and Sam had done, their teacher had also clicked his tongs twice before using them.
Shaking her head with a rueful smile, Pam stepped forward with her sheet of green beans for the oven. “Excuse me please,” she requested as she and Beth slid the two trays into the now warm oven. She stepped back after closing the door and looked up at the clock. “Okay those will be done in about 12 minutes. How are the potatoes coming?”
“We’re getting there,” Beth replied. She took a fork and stabbed a potato rolling around in the boiling water. The two couples were sharing the same large pot to boil their potatoes. “Not quite soft yet, but we still have a few minutes.”
“Okay,” Pam looked up at the recipe. “I’m going to pre-measure what I can for when the potatoes are done. Are you still doing alright keeping an eye on the pork chops Jim?”
“All set here,” Jim replied.
Pam measured out milk, heavy cream, cream cheese, and double checked that a stick of butter was at room temperature. By now, Jim and Sam had flipped the pork chops to cook on the other side in a hiss of oil. The exposed side of the meat was golden brown. Jim took the time while the meat cooked to prepare the ingredients for a glaze they’d prepare once the meat was done. Apple cider vinegar, apple butter, more water, some sugar, and more salt and pepper were placed in easy reach along with the shallot he’d sliced earlier.
Once the potato timer beeped, Pam put a metal colander in her sink. Beth helped her pour the potatoes and water into the colander with a cloud of steam rising from the sink. Beth put the pot back on the stove and brought the heat down while Pam poured her pre-measured ingredients into the pan. The milk, heavy cream, and cream cheese quickly started to melt and combine in the bottom of the pot. Sam passed Jim the food thermometer he had just used to ensure their pork was up to the proper temperature before they took the chops out of the skillets to rest on clean plates. Pam took her pot off the stove once everything was fully melted and dumped the potatoes back into the pot to start mashing them. Beth grabbed the beans out of the oven while Jim and Sam browned the shallots in the pans they’d just used to cook the pork chops. After a few minutes the pans sizzled to life again as the vinegar was poured in followed shortly by the apple butter, water, and sugar. Using their tongs Jim and Sam stirred the sauce as it started to thicken. They added some butter as well. Once it was all stirred together, they placed the pork chops back in the pans and drenched them in the aromatic glaze.
Beth and Pam fetched plates, flatware, and water glasses while the pork chops finished cooking. They loaded the veggies on the plates before the guys served the pork chops. Spooning some more sauce onto the mashed potatoes, dinner was served.
“Wow!” Pam’s eyes lit up after she took her first bite of the pork chop. “Jim this is really good!”
“Same can be said about your potatoes,” Jim replied eagerly. “I don’t think I’ll ever use the instant kind again if this is how real ones can turn out.” He turned to Sam and Beth. “How’s yours?”
Both Sam and Beth just nodded in response since their mouths were full of good food. Sam pointed with his fork at the beans with a delighted expression.
Beth cleared her mouth first. “Delicious! I never knew it was so easy to make such flavorful mashed potatoes! They always seemed like a lot of work when my mom or aunts made them for Thanksgiving or Christmas.”
“Seems like it would be really easy to add in some herbs or something to bring in more flavor,” Pam commented.
Lloyd was making his rounds and overheard Pam’s suggestion. He stepped towards them with a smile. “That’s a great idea! What kind of herbs are you thinking of?”
“Oh um, I don’t know. It was just an idea.”
“Well, I for one like it,” Llyod went on. “That’s part of what cooking is all about. Trying out something and then adding new variations the next time around. Mashed potatoes are a great way to do that too. They’re basically a blank canvas you can paint all sorts of flavors on.”
Jim noticed Pam’s eye sparkle at the painting metaphor. He grinned at the lovely sight and dipped his bite of pork chop into his potatoes to enjoy the combination of flavors. He added it to his mental files of beautiful Pam moments and tucked into the rest of his dinner. After they finished and helped clean the dishes Sam turned to Jim and Pam while pulling on his coat.
“We were thinking of heading out for a drink. Care to join us?”
Looking over at Pam, Jim got a nod of agreement from her. He turned back to Sam. “We’d love to. Where are you thinking?”
“Backyard Ale House is really good. Let’s meet over there.”
“Sounds great,” Jim grinned.
Sam held the door as they walked outside to head to their cars. Twenty minutes later Jim was holding the door for Pam as they walked into a cozy modern brewery. Dark tables and high-top metal chairs were offset by warm lighting. Sam and Beth soon joined them, and they found an open table. Sam and Jim took their time to go over the craft beer selection while Beth and Pam deliberated between various cocktails. Pam chose a drink called a Raspberry Lemon Drop while Beth went for the Flirtini. Sam chose a coffee stout called Nitro Imperial Breakfast Stout that the menu said was served in a chalice style glass. Jim ordered a Belgian style golden ale called Merry Monkey. After their drinks arrived Sam noticed the pool table was unoccupied. He challenged Jim to a game and the two men departed.
“So, I was telling you about the teapot, right?” Pam continued to gush and took a sip of her drink once the men had departed.
“Right,” Beth replied.
“Well, Jim really outdid himself. There were all these little bonus gifts inside when I took the lid off the teapot. A mixtape of some of our favorite songs, this really dorky but cute picture of Jim from his high school yearbook, a bunch of other fun things too from things we’ve done together.”
Beth’s eyes grew wide. “Wow, he must have put a lot of time into it to get all that pulled together.”
“I know!” Pam beamed. “We were going through everything and all I could think to myself was, ‘girl he just scored some serious Brownie points’!”
“Lady,” Beth said and took a drink.
“What?” Pam leaned back a touch with a puzzled expression on her face.
“You’re an adult,” Beth’s tone was pleasant but firm and she pointed at Pam with her glass. “A lady, not a girl.”
“Huh.” Pam cocked her head to the side and let the simple correction brew for a moment. She found the distinction a welcome one. Beth noticed her expression at once.
“You okay over there?”
“Yeah,” Pam said as her thoughts cleared. “Just felt like a moment of clarity there. Where you thought you knew something but then with a new perspective, things change.”
“Glad I could help then,” Beth smiled and took another sip of her drink then dipped her head towards Pam’s left hand. “So, when’s the wedding?”
Instantly Pam felt the by-now familiar weight of disappointment land heavily on her shoulders. She looked down at her drink and slowly stirred it with the small straw it had come with. “I wish I knew. Every time I try to talk to Roy about setting a date, he either flakes out on me or something comes up.”
“How long have you two been engaged?” Beth pressed gently.
“Three years,” Pam said quietly. She looked up and saw a shocked expression fading from Beth’s face.
“Sorry,” Beth apologized. “I sometimes forget that not everyone has had the same experience Sam and I did.”
“What was your engagement like?” Pam quickly jumped on the opportunity to deflect attention away from her own relationship.
A smile formed on Beth’s face. “I thought it went well. He proposed where we had our first date and has since become our favorite restaurant. A charming place a little way outside of the city called Christopher’s. I was on the phone during the drive home asking my best friend to be my maid of honor. He did the same with his best man. We looked around together for venues. He came with me to a wedding expo in Philly. If I remember right, he said his favorite part of our engagement was when we did taste testing for the reception dinner and cake. We did a four-part pre-marriage counseling course through our church that helped us figure out a lot of our strengths and weaknesses. He came over to my old apartment a lot to help with the decorations. Stuff like that.”
Pam cast a quick glance towards the pool table where Sam was laughing at some joke Jim had just told. “He helped out with all that?”
“Why wouldn’t he?” Beth seemed somewhat surprised. “It was his wedding too. One thing that always impressed me about Sam was that’s what he would always say. He hated the idea that the wedding industry treats the groom basically as set decoration while the bride gets treated like royalty.
“I agree with him too. Hollywood tells a lie to women. ‘Get married and live happily ever after.’ The image is that the wedding is the end of the journey. It’s actually the start. Same goes for the wedding industry like I just said. Everything seems to be tailored to the bride and, ‘her special day.’ The groom is an afterthought at best. When you really think about it though, in the course of a lifelong marriage it’s only one day. Once the cake is eaten and the gifts are put away, you’re not getting married anymore, you are married. We wanted to take our time during our engagement to make sure our marriage was going to be strong while also planning a day where we could celebrate the start of that journey.
“He had some ideas about things like what music he wanted to play when he walked down the aisle before the wedding party, what kinds of decorations we would use, the playlist and menu for the reception, or what kind of cake we would have. My parents paid for a lot of it, so they had a say in things for sure. However, now that I think about it, the only real decision I made without at least his input was when I picked out my dress, what kind of dresses my bridesmaids wore, and hair and makeup for the day. Other than that, we talked about just about all of it together. Marriage is supposed to be a partnership and we wanted to start that out right from the start, including our wedding.”
Pam cast her eyes down and her drink and stirred it again. Her eye caught on the ring around her left finger and the man who had given it to her. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Roy bring up anything to do with the wedding on his own.
She tried to picture how asking Roy to be more involved in wedding planning would go and the first image that popped into her mind was of Roy sitting in front of their couch and telling her to get whatever made her happy. It was a far cry from the scenes Beth had laid out.
“Hey, you okay over there?”
Beth’s question snapped Pam out of her reverie. “Uh, yeah. I’m, good.”
“You sure? You looked kind of still there for a bit. Anything you want to talk about?”
“It’s just,” Pam hesitated for a second. “It seems so nice to hear you talk about your engagement like that. Kinda makes me wish mine was like that too.”
“Have you ever tried talking to your fiancé about being more involved in the wedding?”
Frost settled in around Pam’s heart. It was a familiar feeling. “I’ve tried, but it seems like he always has an excuse.”
“Can I ask how he proposed?”
Pam cast her eyes back in time to the event. “It was at a minor league hockey game. During the first intermission they were doing the whole kiss cam thing. They panned over to me, but Roy had gone to stand in line for beer with his brother. So, there I was left high and dry. During the second intermission they did it again. I didn’t think they’d put me up on the board again, but they did. After we kissed, Roy pulled the ring out of his pocket while we were still on camera. I remember being really shocked because I don’t even remember what he said or even if I said anything. Next thing I knew there was a ring on my finger and the whole place was cheering. Roy was getting high fives from everyone around us. The next day he told me he had planned all of it out with the people at the rink. Not being there with me during the first time and then asking the question for real the second time.”
“Is that the kind of proposal you would have wanted?”
“No,” Pam admitted. “I always kind of hoped he’d take me to some romantic spot that meant something in our relationship and do the whole get down on one knee thing. Seems silly I know.”
“It’s not silly,” Beth assured her. “Did Roy ever know that?”
“Yeah,” said Pam. “I’m sure I told him that a few times. We’d been together for about six years before then starting in our senior year of high school. By the time he proposed it was starting to become a running joke around his family. When was he finally going to pop the question?”
“Hmmm,” Beth looked contemplative.
“What?” Pam asked.
Beth took a deep breath before she went on. “If I’m overstepping my bounds here let me know, but it seems like there’s some issues going on. Seems like Roy has a hard time remembering what is actually important to you. He doesn’t seem to be involved in anything to do with your wedding. He didn’t think to propose in a way you would have liked. I mean by your own admission his plan was to first embarrass you publicly and then just slipped on the ring regardless of if you said yes or not. Fast forward to now, and there’s no hard plans for the wedding and he’d rather play poker with his buddies than be with the woman he claims he wants to spend the rest of his life with.”
Hearing her own thoughts repeated back to her made Pam avert her eyes once more. “We don’t always have to do things together,” she said in an attempt to defend Roy.
“That’s fair,” Beth conceded. “So, what do you two like to do together just as a couple? Apart from anything in the bedroom that is.”
Pam tried to think of a recent time when she and Roy had been out just as a couple. Each instance that appeared in her mind was also met with the memory of Roy telling Kenny, Darrel, or one of his other buddies that he was being dragged out with her and he’d make it up to them next time. Their jeers about balls and chains also echoed in her mind. Her silence caused Beth to cock her head and speak up again.
“It’s, um, it’s been a while.” Pam’s voice was small.
“You mentioned that you and Roy got together in high school,” said Beth. Pam nodded so Beth went on. “Some people change or want to change from the kids they were in high school. Others don’t. It’s not a bad thing, it just is. Remember though, engaged isn’t married. If you’re having doubts or concerns, I think it’s better to work through them now, rather than drag out a potentially messy divorce.”
“I’ve been with Roy for so long though. Doesn’t he deserve a chance to remember things about our relationship?”
“So, give him one.” Beth told her. “Just remember though, actions speak louder than words. Do you really want to be with someone who says they’ll remember things but doesn’t or with someone who actually will remember things and act on them?”
Instantly the image of her new teapot blared to life in Pam’s mind. The seemingly simple bonus gifts that had marked a special time in her friendship with Jim took on a new significance. Other memories flashed in her mind as well. Pranks they’d pulled together, the year she’d spent giving him stick shift driving lessons, talking easily while he helped her decorate for various office holiday parties, the feeling of warmth that had bloomed in her chest when he’d prevented her from eating an expired yogurt cup. Seemingly small, but beautiful ordinary things that never failed to lift her spirits. Right behind them was a cascade of doubt and guilt for feeling that way about a man who was not her fiancé. The sense of obligation she felt to Roy because, for all his other faults, he had been loyal to her.
“No offense, but how does a dental hygienist know all this?” Pam asked.
“None taken,” Beth replied. “Sam and I volunteer with our church’s marriage mentoring group. We have meetings with engaged couples or newlyweds to help them build a solid foundation for their marriages. A way for those of us who have been married for a while to help others who are just getting started.”
“Oh,” Pam’s small voice came back.
Beth leaned forward and put an encouraging hand on Pam’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay to have doubts about it all. Marriage is supposed to be a lifelong commitment. It deserves to be a well thought out decision rather than a blind leap based on raging emotion.”
Pam nodded before she looked back up. “Could I have your number? In case I want to talk to you more about all this before next week’s cooking class?”
“Of course,” Beth smiled warmly at Pam.
Across the bar Sam was re-racking the pool balls while Jim chalked his cue stick. He waited until Jim was about to break before speaking up again.
“How long have you been in love with Pam for?”
The surprise question jolted Jim as if he was punched in the gut. His cue stick barely grazed the white cue ball which slowly rolled over to the triangle of pool balls.
Sam calmly walked around the table to take his shot. The crack of the cue ball slamming into the triangle formation of pool balls seemed to send a jolt straight into Jim’s chest. Sam’s break sent two solid-colored balls into corner pockets. “Come on man, you can't take your eyes off her. Also, you’re here with her instead of her fiancé. And don’t even get me started on that whole teapot thing. You don’t do that for a lady you know who’s just, ‘a friend from work.’”
Jim sighed and hung his head for a moment. “Honestly, since pretty much the first day I met her.”
“You know she’s engaged right?” Sam said while he shot another ball into a side pocket.
“To an asshole who doesn’t deserve her,” Jim shot back.
“I wouldn’t know,” Sam said evenly while sinking another shot. “And you have to admit that you probably don’t know everything about the relationship Pam has with him.”
“I see the way he treats her, ignores her, how small she becomes around him and how she lights up around me,” Jim said.
“Maybe so, but you have to admit you’re probably more than a bit biased. Ahhh!” Sam frowned as he missed his next shot.
Jim took a deep breath before he leaned over to line up his shot. He gritted his teeth when his shot also missed. “Yeah, I probably am. But even Pam herself says I’m her best friend. Not Roy.”
“Best friends enough to let her know how you really feel?” Sam prodded while sinking his next shot. “Best friends enough to tell her the guy she’s planning on marrying may not be right for her?”
“And risk messing up everything with her?” Jim leaned forward and sent his next shot into a pocket. “I don’t know if I could handle that.”
He was about to shoot again when Sam’s calm tone reached his ears. “If you’re really as close as you say you are, doesn’t she deserve you to be completely honest with her? In both how you feel about her and how you feel about Roy? If you really love her doesn’t she deserve that kind of respect from you? Do you love her enough to let her know she has a choice? Do you love her enough to respect whatever choice she makes?”
The image of the card he’d pulled out of her teapot box filled his mind. The card where he had written how he truly felt for her. He wanted to defend himself, but he knew it would be pointless. Focusing on his shot he shot his cue forward. The white cue ball missed its mark and shot diagonally off the wrong way to land in a side pocket.
“Scratch,” said Sam.
Jim just gritted his teeth and felt his hands clench into a white-knuckle grip around his pool stick.
The working title for this chapter was, "click thy tongs," by the way. Now onto what I know you're really here for, the recipes for the dinner they made.
This dinner comes from two places. A Hello Fresh recipe card for the pork chops and beans and "The Pioneer Woman Cooks; Dinnertime," by Ree Drummond for the mashed potatoes.
Glazed Porkchops and Green Beans. Portions are for two people by the way.
12oz boneless Pork Chops
6oz Whole Green Beans
5tsp Apple Cider vinegar
2tbsp Apple Butter (full disclosure the original recipe calls for balsamic vinegar and cherry jam, but last time I made this I used the apple cider vinegar and my wife's homemade apple butter and the results were AMAZING!!)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
Wash and dry all the veggies and halve, peel, and thinly slice the shallot
Pat the pork dry and season all over with salt and pepper. Heat a large drizzle of oil in a large pan on medium-high heat. Add pork and cook 4-6 minutes on each side until browned and cooked through to 145 degrees internally. Turn off heat, remove from pan, and set aside.
While the meat cooks, toss the beans in oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast them on the top rack for 10-12 minutes.
Heat a drizzle of oil in the same pan used to cook the pork on medium heat. Add the shallot slices and cook 4-5 minutes till browned. Stir in the vinegar and simmer 30-60 seconds till reduced. Add the apple butter and 1/3cup water. Cook 3-5 minutes till thickened. Season with salt, pepper, and up to 1/2tsp sugar to taste. Turn off heat and stir in 1tbsp butter till melted. Return the pork to the pan and coat in sauce before serving.
Stovetop Mashed Potatoes
(Fair warning the recipes in this cookbook seem to be geared towards feeding a family of 4 or more so feel free to adjust portions accordingly)
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled or unpeeled (your preference) and scrubbed clean.
1 cup milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup heavy cream (more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
4oz cream cheese
Cut the potatoes into wedges and boil in a large pot on medium-high heat about 25 minutes until fork tender. Drain with a colander and set aside.
Return the same pot to the stove over medium heat and add milk, butter, cream, and salt and pepper to taste.
Stir to heat the mixture and melt the butter, then add the cream cheese and stir as it melts.
When melted and creamy add the potatoes and turn off the heat. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes until you reach desired smoothness. Splash in additional cream and mix if you need to reheat them.
Hope you liked it.
“Hey Jimbo! I need a favor-ski from you.”
Jim turned to see Micheal standing in his office door holding a stack of papers. “What’s up?”
“I need you to go down to the warehouse and have Darryl sign off on these. I just got off the phone with Jan and she was super pissed off that I didn’t have them to her like yesterday. But with all the other lame-o work she’s got me doing I just don’t have time. Be a bro and help a fellow bro out?”
Mentally, Jim growled in frustration. Keeping his face neutral though, he stood up from his desk. “Yeah, no problem.”
“Thanks a ton!” Micheal beamed before heading back into his office and reaching for some of the toys on his desk.
Making sure the papers were in order, Jim started heading for the door. He stopped at his favorite spot at Pam’s desk first to grab a few jellybeans. Pam’s face lit up when she looked up from her computer at the slight rustling sound.
“Hey you. Whatcha got there?” she nodded at the stack of papers.
“Just some papers Micheal needs Darryl to sign off on. So, I’m off on a quest to the nether world of the warehouse for a bit.”
“Don’t get lost,” Pam joked.
“I never get lost,” Jim defended himself. “I always know exactly right where I am. I’m always ‘right here.’ Can’t get lost if you always know where you are.”
Pam laughed at the silly joke. “Go on with you!”
Jim started walking backwards towards the door. “Besides if I ever really did get lost, you’d come find me.”
“Uh huh,” Pam deadpanned though still with a sparkle in her eye. “Keep telling yourself that.”
Grinning to himself at the brief conversation, Jim let himself out of the doors and made the trip to the warehouse. As he walked down the stairs he started scanning for Darryl. A small crowd of the warehouse guys were gathered around the door to Darryl’s office so Jim walked in that direction. As he got closer, he saw it was Lonny and Roy who were standing near their boss. Knocking on the door Jim broke into the conversation the other men were having.
“Hey Jim!” Darryl greeted him when he looked up. “What’s up?”
“Just some papers Michael needs you to sign. He said they were due to corporate yesterday.”
Darryl riffled through the stack after Jim handed them over. “Yeah, it’s just the monthly delivery numbers. They’re not actually due till next week. Ten to one says Jan was making a fuss early so Michael would get his ass in gear and get them in on time.”
“No bet here,” Jim grinned easily. “But yeah, that seems about right.”
“If you don’t mind hanging out a sec, I’ll get these taken care of and you can bring them back upstairs.” Darryl opened a drawer in his desk, pulled out a stamp that had his signature on it, and started working filling out the forms.
Roy looked over at Jim while they were waiting for Darryl to finish. “Hey Halpert, since you’re here, mind doing me a favor too?”
The familiar sense of irritation of being near Roy bubbled up in Jim’s chest. He tamped it down before looking over. “What’s that?”
“Mind bringing my truck keys up to Pammy when you head back upstairs? It’s poker night but Lonny said he could give me a ride right from here.”
Roy let a small grin flash on his face. “Thanks man. C’mon I’ve got them over at my locker.”
Leading the way to a row of lockers tucked into a corner of the warehouse Roy opened the one marked with his name. Jim schooled his face as he saw the naked centerfold woman stare out at him from the inside of the locker door. What irritated Jim even more was there was no sign of Pam in Roy’s locker. No photos of her or drawings she may have given her fiancé. Before he could further dwell on things, Roy turned back to him.
“Here you go man,” Roy said while holding out his truck key.
“Got it,” Jim said as quickly as possible. The two men started walking back to Darryl’s office.
“Between you and me though,” Roy started, “It’s not actually poker night. I’ve got a buddy from my high school football team who’s having his bachelor party tonight. We’re going to meet up with my brother Kenny before heading out to Temptation. You know that place right by the skating rink? Don’t tell Pammy though, she’d kill me.”
Jim did his best to ignore the leer in Roy’s face. Unbidden the image of neon lights and stripper poles flashed in his mind. He quickly tried to dismiss the thought. “Yeah.”
“Hey! You should come out with us! After all it’s the only good thing about the whole wedding thing, getting to head out one more time for a guy's night before getting locked down with a ball and chain. Pammy’s been after me all week to look into crap like venues, and flowers, and shit. Seriously I need a night away from it all. Sure, you don’t want to come out? I’ll buy you a lap dance or two!”
Inwardly seething, Jim made a quick frown and shook his head. “Nah, thanks though, but I’ve got some other stuff going on tonight.”
Roy shrugged. “Suit yourself. Hey, another quick question for you. Do you know why Pammy traded an iPod for some stupid teapot last week at the Christmas party?”
White hot anger flared in Jim’s chest at hearing Roy talk about Pam’s teapot in that manner. He barely managed to keep his voice level. “No, not really. Maybe ask her?”
“I tried,” Roy sighed. “She just told me she liked that teapot better. Which I don’t really get. Why the hell would you trade an iPod for something chintzy like that? Sometimes I just don’t get her, ya know?”
“Sorry man, I don’t know what to tell you,” Jim all but croaked out.
“Hey, don’t worry about it. Just figured you might know something I don’t. I mean she wouldn’t even tell me who gave it to her. Just that Secret Santa meant just that.”
“Sorry to but in,” Darryl said. “These are all done. Here you go Jim.”
Grateful to have an excuse to leave, Jim took the stack of papers. “Thanks man. Take care guys.”
A chorus of good-byes met his ears as Jim turned to the stairs. As soon as the door was closed behind him, Jim let out the breath he’d been holding since turning away from Darryl’s office. His feelings were as mixed as his thoughts. He turned in one spot to back up against the wall as his mind went a mile a minute.
Blowing Pam off for poker night is one thing but lying about going to a strip club instead! Where does he get off? Asshole doesn’t deserve Pam! Doesn’t even have her picture in his locker! I should tell Pam that! Make her see what kind of a jerk he really is! And calling my teapot to her stupid! Something Pam actually wants instead of a damn sweater! How does he not know that about her!? Seriously! Do they even talk? And she wants to get married to that cretin! She didn’t tell him the teapot was from me! What the hell do I do with that? Is she ashamed of me? Did I make her mad? Is she scared of what he might say? Oh god I hope it’s nothing like that!
Just one chance Pam! That’s all I need. Just one chance to show you what you really deserve! To be with a guy who appreciates you. Who will be loyal to you, not some naked porn star. Why the goddamn flying fuck to the good girls keep going for and staying with assholes like Roy? Seriously? What the hell does she see in him? He’s always blowing her off, doesn’t care about her interests, would rather be with his brother than her, and won’t even commit to a wedding date! Just keeps stringing her along! Fucking asshole!
Jim ran his hands through his hair and started to take some deep breaths in an attempt to calm down. His thoughts kept racing through his mind though.
Not that I’m really any better. I chickened out with the card in her teapot after all. The one time I thought I had the balls to really say something, and I let it pass. Damn. What was it that Sam was saying last week? If I’m really her friend, shouldn’t she know the truth? Screw it! Enough fear. Tonight, when I give her a ride back from cooking class, I’ll do it. No turning back this time. Just tell her.
With his will resolved, Jim took another deep breath before heading down the corridor in the direction of the office. When he walked in, he saw Pam with her ear to her phone while also typing something on her computer. She looked up as he walked up and motioned that she’d be willing to talk as soon as she was off the phone. Jim nodded and changed direction to Michael’s office. After consenting to watching a video with animated squirrels dancing a Scottish reel, he escaped Michael’s office to make his way back to the reception desk.
“Finally got out of there huh?” Pam commiserated as he approached her desk. “Was it the video with Scottish squirrels or the squirrels in pants?”
“The Scottish one, though Heaven help us if he finds one that combines them,” Jim chuckled.
“I can see it now,” Pam grinned. “The Adventure of Squirrel McPants.”
“Anyway,” Jim said as he pulled out Roy’s key. “Roy asked me to give you this. He’s going to get a ride from Lonny tonight.”
“Oh thanks,” she said as she accepted the key. “This will actually work out great. I was planning on meeting up with Beth before the class. Now I won’t have to beg a ride off her or you.”
Once more Jim had to tamp down the boiling frustration seething in his chest. “Sounds good. Hope you two have fun. I’ll just see you at class then.”
“Sounds good. Can’t wait to see you there!” Pam beamed.
“Yeah. I need to get back to work.” Jim nodded back at his desk. “Don’t want Dwight to get all bent out of shape.”
“It is kind of the reason you’re here,” Pam retorted.
“True, true, that paper won’t sell itself,” he commented as he walked away.
Sinking down into his chair he grabbed a pen and pretended to start writing things down. Internally only one thought went through his mind.
Pam looked up as the door to the coffee shop she was in opened. She waved as she saw Beth walk in and start to pull off her scarf.
“Beth! Over here!”
“Hey Pam! Good to see you,” Beth said as she walked over and draped her coat over her chair before sitting down.
“You too!” Pam beamed. “Thanks for shooting me your drink order. It was a mad house when I got here.”
“No problem.” Beth grinned as she took her first sip of coffee. “So, how are things going with Roy?”
“Honestly?” Pam sighed. “More of the same, so not great. We get home and he just plops down on the couch in front of ESPN with a beer and basically expects that I’ll have dinner ready for him soon. Like I’m not tired too at the end of the day. I tried to set up a nice romantic evening for the two of us, but he just fell asleep while I was getting ready in the bathroom. I brought up going out and doing something this weekend and he said he already has plans with his brother. I asked his opinion on some wedding things, and he just blew me off. He’s done stuff like that for a while, but he really pissed me off last Friday. He called my new teapot stupid because I traded a video iPod for it. That teapot really means a lot to me, and it hurt that he said it was stupid.”
Beth took another sip of her coffee before replying. “I’m sure none of that was fun. You’re trying and he’s not reciprocating. Let’s try a different tack. What DO you love about Roy?”
“Ummm, well,” Pam looked down at her Chai tea while she pondered the question. “He has a steady job that pays most of the bills. When he does hold me, it feels good to be held by a big strong guy. We get on pretty good in the bedroom. He’s just this big comfortable thing that’s always been there. I mean what girl hasn’t had the dream to marry her high school sweetheart after all?”
“So, here’s the hard part,” Beth warned. “Time to set aside the emotions and look at actions. In the past week, you’ve been trying to put effort into your relationship. By your admission, Roy hasn’t. When I ask what you love about him, you can only give me four reasons.”
“There’s more than four!” Pam tried to exclaim, but her heart wasn’t in it. When Beth gestured to her to go on, she looked down at her tea again and started to rack her brain. “I like how he gets excited when he gets competitive.”
Beth cut in. “I said ‘love,’ not ‘like.’”
Pam hung her head a bit. “Right sorry.”
She was about to say she loved Roy’s competitive streak until she remembered the last time it had appeared, and Jim ended up with a bloody lip. The protective streak she’d admired when they were in high school had manifested several times in Roy threatening any guy who he thought was looking at her wrong, often with her feeling embarrassed rather than secure. The athletic trophies that had once glittered and captured her eye were now covered in dust. He never asked her for her help anymore like he once did in their senior study hall, which was when he’d first started talking to her. The parties he’d brought her to after football games that had once been exciting with the thrill of possibly getting caught had long since transformed into bar nights where more often than not, she’d be sitting at the table alone while he and his buddies played pool or darts. Once she’d worn his football jersey with pride. Now she could hardly stand the smell of his dirty laundry.
“Is it bad that I can’t really think of much more right now?” Pam said softly.
“No,” Beth said kindly. “But it is good that you’re thinking about it. Like I said last week, marriage is a big decision and not to be taken lightly. Have you ever asked him why he wants to get married?”
“Umm, no,” Pam’s eyes focused on the table again.
“Have you ever asked any of your friends or family what they really think of Roy?”
Pam shook her head.
“Hey,” Beth’s voice held no condemnation. “I’m not trying to make you feel bad, really. But I do feel it’s important to be honest and have honest conversations, even if they’re hard. Here, we’ll change it up a bit. Realistically, what have you always envisioned married life to be like?”
After taking a deep breath, Pam cast in her mind to an image that had long had time to percolate. “A husband that I love and who loves me for me. We can talk and laugh and just be with each other. We love doing things together and encourage each other in separate interests. Maybe start out in an apartment but move into a house big enough to start a family. At least two, but maybe three kids and a dog running around the yard. We’d take road trips in the summer, run through corn mazes in the fall, hunt for Christmas trees in the winter, ride bikes in the spring. Little league, ballet, art classes, school plays and band concerts. If we have a daughter, I’d braid her hair before her first day of pre-school. If a son, I’d take a picture of him roaring at me in a dinosaur costume for Halloween. You know, typical family stuff. It may seem simple and ordinary, but there’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things.”
“That all sounds lovely,” Beth beamed at Pam. “Do you think Roy would want the same thing?”
A bubble of anxiety formed in Pam’s chest. “I, um, I’m not sure. I hope so. Honestly, we don’t really talk a whole lot about the future. You’re going to tell me it doesn’t sound good for me and Roy does it?”
“I think you need to have some very serious discussions. With Roy, but also with other people you trust. Your family and any friends that have known you and Roy would be good places to start.”
“Yeah, that sounds good,” Pam said in a small voice.
“I know it’s a lot to take in.” Beth reached over and put a comforting hand on Pam’s shoulder. “But getting married should be one of the more pivotal decisions of your life. It deserves to be well thought out.”
Pam took a sip of her tea to give herself a brief pause. “It’s just hard to think about. Roy is the only guy I’ve ever been with. He’s all I’ve ever known. If it doesn’t work out, that’s years of my life that were building up towards nothing.”
“Yeah, I get why that might be scary. Though, things may not be as bleak as you might think.”
“What?” Pam snapped her head up.
Beth shrugged and leaned back. “All I’m saying Pam, is that you’re a kind, caring, lovely young woman. If you do end things with Roy, and that’s a big if by the way, I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for any decent and caring guy to realize that as well.”
For a moment Pam let her thoughts turn to a life without Roy at her side. It shocked her but the vision of the house with the kids and the dog seemed a bit warmer. In her mental snapshot she saw the silhouette of a different man waiting with open arm to embrace the two children running across a living room. A tall lanky man with a mop of shaggy hair scooped the kids in the air while near them a teal teapot rested in a place of honor on a shelf.
Jim leaned over to his cooking partner who was edging closer to the oven. He didn’t even try to keep the smirk off his face.
“We were told very clearly not to open the oven for a full twenty minutes or the batter might not bake right.”
Pam jumped a little at Jim’s voice. “Right, sorry. I just want to see how it’s coming is all.”
“Probably the same as those peas on the stove.” Jim gestured to the pot containing the peas that had boiled and were now simmering. “I think it’s time we started in on the gravy.”
Standing up from the oven, Pam turned to their workstation. “Sure, hand me one of those onions please.”
It was the work of a moment to do so. Together Jim and Pam started to peel and slice the onions and garlic that would go into the gravy they were making. Across the stove Sam and Beth were also starting to work on their own gravy. Pam glanced up at the big board at the front of the class that had two Union Flags draped over the corners to celebrate the international night of cooking for that week. A brief hint of trepidation hit Jim when he saw the recipe for Toad in the Hole and mushy peas, but it was quicky alleviated at the sight of Pam lighting up when she the pictures of the dish they were making.
They put the cut veggies in their frying pan along with some butter and gently stirred them until the onion and garlic were translucent and aromatic. They added some balsamic vinegar along sprigs of rosemary and thyme and set the heat to reduce the liquid. After a few minutes they added the packets of authentic UK gravy powder and stirred the gravy over the soft heat. The timer they’d set dinged, and Pam donned oven mitts to remove the Toad in the Hole from the oven. The English sausages had cooked to perfection resting in a Yorkshire pudding batter. Setting the baking tin on the stovetop, or hob as it had been referred to all evening, to rest for a few minutes. Jim turned the burner off under their saucepan of peas and removed the lid. He added some butter, mint, and squeezed the juice out of lemon before lightly mashing the additional ingredients into the softened peas.
Sam had brought plates and flatware for the four of them. They helped each other to portions of their dishes before tucking in.
“Wow!” Pam’s eyes lit up. “This is really good!”
“Yeah,” Jim agreed. “I’ll admit I was hesitant about the peas, but they’re pretty tasty.”
“Never been to England before, have you?” Sam asked.
“Nah, only a trip to Niagara Falls my senior year in high school,” Jim answered as he poured some of the gravy over his sausages.
“I haven’t even gone that far,” Pam admitted. “Though I’d like to. I’d love to be there at night when they shine lights over the waterfall so I can sketch it. What about you guys? Ever take any fun trips?”
Sam looked over at Beth after finishing his bite. “Greece was nice.”
“Yeah, the Parthenon was gorgeous when it was lit up at night,” Beth agreed.
“You guys went to Greece?” Pam’s eyes were huge.
“It was our honeymoon,” Beth shrugged. “We flew into Athens and then took a cruise around the Greek islands. Stopped at places like Santorini and Crete. Gorgeous weather, lots of fun history, amazing food.”
“Great night life,” Sam smirked which earned him a loving smack on the arm from his wife.
“Hush you,” Beth teased.
Jim laughed alongside Sam and Beth. He looked over and saw a blush of red bloom on Pam’s cheeks.
Llyod was making his way around the class to inspect the final results. “How’d it all turn out?”
“Great!” Jim said. “Though changing up the units for measuring things threw me off for a second.”
“When in Rome,” Llyod chuckled.
“He’s just teasing,” Pam said. “It was really easy to follow along, and it’s all delicious.”
“Glad to hear it. As always, the recipe cards for the meal are near the door if you’d like to re-create the meal at home.”
Llyod departed to check on other students. The dish had taken a bit longer to prepare than some of the other meals so there wasn’t as much time to eat. Jim scooped the leftovers into a box and graciously let Pam have them to take home. He walked her back to the truck and waved good night. His car was in the same direction as Sam and Beth’s so he walked with them. It was only after Sam held the door for Beth and closed it behind her that Sam turned to Jim.
“Talk to Pam yet?”
Jim sighed. “No. I was going to in the car tonight, but she ended up driving herself.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “So, more excuses. Dude, something like this, you’ve got to step up and make the time.”
“Easier said than done,” Jim scoffed. “What happens when I tell her everything and she tells me to get lost?”
“Then you respect her choice and move on with your life,” Sam told him bluntly while he walked to the driver's side of his car. “Yeah, it would hurt. But also, think about this, what happens if she says she has feelings for you too? Though still, be careful. If she does break things off with Roy, she’ll need time to heal from that. The last thing you’d want to do would be to catch her on the rebound. It happened to a few of the couples we’ve mentored, and the results were not pretty.
“If you can’t tell her how you feel, she at least deserves to hear from her best friend what he thinks about the man she’s supposed to marry. Friends are supposed to be honest with each other. Especially with the important things.”
Another knot of tension wound itself inside Jim’s chest as Sam sat down in his car and drove away. Another layer of fear and doubt settled in. Though also something new stirred inside. A challenge to be brave. He swallowed hard before heading back to his car to mull things over for the night.
The door slamming startled Pam awake. She started to get up from the couch where she’d fallen asleep last night to the sounds of Roy and Kenny in the small kitchen of the apartment. She stood up and started walking towards them.
“Man, the tits on that chick last night were amazing. No wonder you paid for so many motorboats. Anything to eat around here Roy? I’m starving.”
“Just grab whatever out of the fridge.”
“What the hell’s this green shit? Smell like ass.”
“Got me. Pammy’s been making a bunch of new shit.”
Pam rounded the corner of the kitchen and was horrified to see Kenny dump the last of her mushy peas down the sink before using a grease-stained hand to shovel the remains of her Toad in the Hole into his mouth. Roy turned and saw her standing there he broke into a grin to see her awake.
“Pammy! Hey there. Just in time to make us all some breakfast before we head into work!”
Unbridled rage burst in her chest. “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING KENNY?!”
The two men were taken aback at Pam’s shout.
“Eating somefing,” Kenny said around a mouth of food.
“GET OUT! NOW! GET THE HELL OUT OF MY APARTMENT!” Pam slapped the box out of Kenny’s hands and began shoving him out of the door.
“Ah! Ow! Pam! Stop!” Kenny muttered until he was outside, and the door was slammed in his face.
“Pammy! What the hell?” Roy had a shocked expression on his face.
Pam flashed around him and leveled a laser focused glare at him. “Whose tits were you motorboating last night? I thought it was poker night.”
“Oh, um, yeah,” Roy started to stammer. “Well, you see instead of poker night it was actually a bachelors' party for Wes. You remember him, from high school, right? Well, we kinda ended up at a strip club to help him celebrate. You know how it goes.”
“So not only did you lie to me about what you were doing, but you had your face shoved in another woman’s breasts all night long!” Pam screamed.
“Well, what about you!” Roy fired back. “Just kicking Kenny out of here simply because he was getting something to eat. What was that about?”
Pam stormed back into the kitchen and picked up the box from the floor. Roy had followed her but took a step back when she shoved the box in his face. “What does it say right there one the box?”
Roy glanced down and saw Pam’s name clearly written on the box. He didn’t reply.
“What does it say Roy!?” Pam pressed.
“It says ‘Pam,’ ok? Happy now?”
“No, Roy! I’m not happy! I’m pissed!” Pam threw the box down again. “You come waltzing in here with your brother after a night at strip club doing who knows what, let your brother eat food clearly labeled as mine, and then just expect me to make breakfast so you can get ready for work! What am I your personal chef?”
Roy sighed and tried to reach out to her. He managed to put his hands on her hips and started tickling her sides to get her to relax. “Hey, let’s calm down okay.”
Pam wasn’t having it. She slapped his hands away. “No! You don’t get to do this Roy! Not this time! You don’t get to put on a hurt puppy dog face and try to tickle me into forgiving you! Do you have any idea how upset I am with you? How disgusted and disrespected I feel right now?”
“What? It was just a bachelors party. It’s not like I’m going to cheat on you with any of those strippers or anything. It was just a night out with the boys.”
“This is supposed to mean something Roy!” Pam held up her engagement ring, so it was right in front of his face. “It’s supposed to mean you’ve promised to be with me and only me for the rest of your life! To not look at any other women!”
“So, I can’t go have fun with my friends? Is that what you’re saying?” Roy’s voice had some fire in it.
“If it means doing something I’d be uncomfortable with, yes!” Pam yelled back. “Did you even think about how I might feel if you went to a place like that? Did it ever cross your mind that I wouldn’t want you lusting after some silicon filled bimbo?”
“Fine!” Roy rolled his eyes. “You want me to say I screwed up? I screwed up. It was one time. Jeez you’re really getting all bent out of shape about this.”
In a flash the thoughts she’d been having for the past week raced through her mind. The anger left her voice, only to be replaced by regret.
“It hasn’t been just one time Roy. It was the time you spent the money we saved for the wedding on wave runners for you and Kenny. It was all the times you’ve chosen your friends over me. It’s how you won’t lift a finger to look at a date for a wedding. It’s how you almost always just plop down in front of the TV and expect me to serve you dinner when we get home from work. It’s all the times you’ve said no to going to an art gallery with me but will never miss a chance to head to Philly for a ball game.”
“I’m just supposed to abandon my friends? My brother? All so we can walk around some artsy-fartsy museum and stare at the walls? You try doing anything after loading boxes or making deliveries all day long. I need a break because I don’t get to just sit on my ass and just answer the phone all day long!”
The breath caught in Pam’s lungs. She felt her eyes start to mist over. She stared into his eyes and only saw the boy she’d known in high school. Not a man who would fit in the vision she had for her future. She looked at him and felt something break within her. Her right hand reached to her left ring finger and pulled off the small band of gold. Her voice was quiet and thick with pain when she spoke.
“Get out and take this with you.”
She shoved the ring back at Roy who now had a dumbstruck look on his face. A mixture of anger and incredulity worked its way over his face. Wordlessly he shook his head and stomped out of the apartment. The slam of the door echoed off the walls followed by the crash of shattering glass. Looking towards the door, Pam saw what was broken. Glass littered the floor next to a crumpled watercolor painting of plastic flowers. Her knees finally gave out and she sank to the floor as tears poured down her cheeks.
Big thanks to MrsKHalpert for the recipes for Toad in the Hole and mushy peas. I'll admit, I haven't tried these ones yet, but they do look tasty.
Toad in the Hole
8 Higher-welfare sausages
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 large red onions
4 cloves of garlic
2 knobs of unsalted butter
6 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
1 level tablespoon vegetable stock powder
115g plain flour
3 large eggs
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees C or 475 F (depending on what side of the pond you're on)
Whisk the batter ingredients together and set to the side
Add 2 tablespoons of oil into a baking tin and put in the oven on the center rack. The recipe says to have a second baking sheet under the tin to catch any overflowing oil or batter.
When the oil is hot add the sausages and cook till lightly golden.
Remove the tin from the oven and pour over the batter, adding the sprigs of rosemary. Bake for 20 minutes being sure to not open the oven door as the batter can be temperamental.
Peel and finely slice the onion and garlic. Cook in butter in a frying pan till translucent. Add some thyme, rosemary, and the balsamic vinegar. Cook down by half.
Sprinkle in the vegetable stock powder and simmer till mixed well.
Pour gravy over the sausages and enjoy.
250g dried marrowfat peas
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
25g salted butter, cubed
mint, finely chopped
Put the peas and bicarbonate of soda in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to soak overnight or for 12 hours.
Drain the peas and rinse off the bicarbonate of soda. Put the peas in a sauce pan and cover with 650ml of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.
Mash briefly and stir in the mint, lemon juice, and butter. Season to taste.