Monday, June 1, 2015



     [Chapter 13 will be available on July 1, 2015] 

The next morning Vanessa woke up exceptionally happy. Charlie was licking her face, back where he belonged after his scary dog napping. Yesterday afternoon, the very kind policeman had stopped by again to see if she remembered any more details about the man in the car. He assured her the police would not stop looking for this “miserable thief who would steal a person's most valuable possession, after one's children, of course.” They did not want any more pets to go missing.
      Vanessa wracked her brain for bits of memory about Mr. Lay who she thought had to have been the man who snatched Charlie. She mentioned that she'd thought it odd for someone to book a last minute flight, at probably enormous cost, to fly to France to see a dog he'd never seen before. The policeman agreed, gave Charlie a good-bye pat, saluted Edmond, and got back on his bicycle.
      After breakfast Vanessa and Charlie took a walk around the Chateau's property. She wasn't about to risk another country walk in case Mr. Lay came back. Now that her companion was back she could concentrate on her other worry. The lavender cooking contest.
      Jack said she was doing well, and she did feel that her cooking skills had improved. But how could they not when she'd started with zero cooking skills. Sometimes she thought the whole idea was a joke. Why did they have a cooking contest after the lavender had been harvested and all that was left was dried product? Why did someone, not a relative, have to be the actual cook? She asked Charlie but he just barked joyfully, happy to have her attention and certainly not worried about any cooking contest.
      As she raised her head from talking to Charlie, she saw Lucy strolling towards her. This morning Jack's flamboyant sister was wearing a flowing red, orange, and pink shift partnered with bright pink sneakers. “Allo, so glad to see you happy again, but why were you talking to the little guy?”
      Vanessa felt Lucy was one person who wouldn't be offended if she asked her possibly rude questions. She repeated her concerns.
      Lucy laughed, “But we are French. And we love tradition. These rules may seem arbitrary and contrary to common sense today but when they were first set I'm sure they were reasonable.” She nodded her head, her copper curls shimmering in the sun. “We French pride ourselves on our rational thought. But don't ask me how they made sense. All I know is that the contest dates back at least sixty years, to after World War II when the lavender fields were replanted.”
      Vanessa reined in Charlie who was pulling out his leash as far as it would go. “Well, I'll do my best. I know my mother's very fond of Michelle and I'm happy to do what I can to help. But I hope you all won't be too disappointed when I don't win.”
      “Non, non, remember “la fortune sourit aux audacieux.”
      “I'm sorry my French isn't up to that.”
      “Oh, I forgot. It's a motto that my father pounded into each of us. It means 'Fortune favors the bold'. So when you go in to compete, do not even think of losing. Remember you have been taught by the best, Jacques Sevigny. And if he were here now, he would demand we all bow at his name.”
      Vanessa laughed. “Yes, he probably would.”
      Later, at that day's cooking lesson, Jack had her put together the various procedures he'd been teaching her, and cook the dish from beginning to finish. Although nervous, Vanessa had practiced each of the steps so many times she was comfortable moving from one to the next. And she glowed with pride as the finished dish was ready in time for the entire family to enjoy it for dinner that night.
      Lucy translated for Vanessa so she didn't miss any of the comments. Michelle's grey eyes sparkled with amusement as she read the special menu card that Jacques had printed up for the family. Lavender Pork Loin with Gingered Figs and Raisins. So this is the secret recipe that Jacques has been developing for so long, and then spent so much time teaching to Vanessa. It has a most delicious aroma!” 
      Her husband, Wilhelm, wrinkled his nose. “Yah, yah, better than last year's disaster.”
      Jacques glowered at him. “That was not my fault. You gave me inferior lavender to use.”
      Wilhelm sneered. “If you are such a good chef, why did you not recognize it as inferior and refuse to use it. It was excellent and you knew it. You gave it to your cook to use but your miserable recipe failed.
      Vanessa was appalled that Lucy was translating the disagreement. Maybe Lucy wanted her to know why there was bad feeling between Wilhelm and Jack. So now she knew that part of it was tied up in last year's contest. No wonder Jack was so adamant about her cooking skills being perfect. 
      Wilhelm's mother, Madame Heidi Werner, with her white hair pulled back into its ever present bun and wearing another beautiful black dress, coughed softly for attention. “Wilhelm, I'm sure Jacques has done his best. If Vanessa fails, you must be kind and remember she is only American.
      The others gasped, but Lucy guffawed as she translated the words adding, “I don't know why she doesn't tell us what she really thinks of you.”
      Michelle speaking in partial English which it seemed Madame did not understand, apologized. “Mon cher, dear Vanessa, per favore, please remember Madame est une vieille femme, an old woman and doit ĂȘtre pardonnĂ© must be forgiven. You know we all adore you.”
      Of course, Vanessa thought Michelle was right, and she would ignore the old woman's comments. But she noticed with satisfaction that Heidi'd flinched when she heard the words est une vieille femme.
      The rest of the dinner was pleasant with the others plying Vanessa with compliments about the dish and pretty much ignoring Wilhem and his mother.  Vanessa actually had to admit to herself that the pork and its garnishes was good, especially being prepared by someone who'd never cooked before coming to France. She knew though that cooking in a home kitchen with a supportive chef was much different than cooking in a timed competition without any support. But she'd try not to worry about that, until she needed to.
      After dinner, Edmond intercepted her with a phone message from the local police. They believed they had arrested the dog napper and tomorrow they would appreciate it if she would come to the station and hopefully identify him. The investigation had turned up some interesting information about him, if he was indeed, the culprit.

To Be Continued on July 1, 2015