73 – Half-Baked, or (Not Exactly) a Piece of Cake

One would think that between Grissom and Sara something as simple as baking a cake should be, well, a piece of cake. Instead, mischief, mayhem and a little naughtiness ensue when Sara volunteers to bake for Greg’s Birthday.

Takes place post season eleven, circa May/June 2011.

*******

Mma Ramotswe sighed. “We are all tempted, Mma.

We are all tempted when it comes to cake.”

“That is true,” said Mma Potokwane sadly. “There are many temptations

in this life, but cake is probably one of the biggest of them.”

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, Alexander McCall Smith

“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first,” Ernestine Ulmer

*******

“Okay, I’ve got two questions,” began Gil Grissom, having stumbled still sleepy into the kitchen not much past seven, only to find Sara in jeans and a t-shirt, her hair pulled back and if the neat apron tied around her waist à la mode française    and the motley collection of bowls and ingredients sprawled over the island’s countertop were any indication, in the midst of cooking of all things.

As this certainly wasn’t a sight he normally woke up to, his blinking bewilderment was well warranted. Toast and fruit tended to be the extent of the menu when Sara was in charge of breakfast, something which suited him just fine.

She laughed, “Only two?”

He counted them off. “First, what are you doing up at this hour? And what on earth are you doing?”

“Cooking.”

“I assumed that.”

“Well, baking,” she corrected. “Greg’s birthday is coming up. And I said we’d bring cake.”

“Bring cake or bake cake?”

However unsure as to why he seemed so intent on the distinction, Sara replied, “Bake.”

While his next “You volunteered to bake a cake –” came out accordingly incredulous, his voice was rife more with amusement than bemusement when he teased, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

His cheek was rewarded with a flick of flour to the face.

Which didn’t deter him in the slightest. “The guys con you into it again?” he asked.

Sara chose to ignore this. “I thought you said you had two questions. That makes what? Six?”

But her husband only waited in that almost irritatingly patient way of his for her to reply.

“No conning necessary. I volunteered. Seemed like a good idea at the time,” she shrugged.

Though certainly not above ribbing Sara, Grissom did think it perhaps the better part of valor not to mention how often the phrase It seemed like a good idea at the time tended to be followed by catastrophes of the epic variety.

Truth was, the lab could really use something to celebrate. After all the Haskell mess, morale was at an all time low. That and somehow every year Greg’s birthday always seemed to inevitably be overshadowed by some crisis or other. Cake, she thought, was the least they could do.

But not really wanting to discuss how things were or weren’t going at work at the moment, Sara returned her attention to double-checking she had all her ingredients at hand. Noting she’d forgotten the vanilla, she went to retrieve it from the pantry, calling back over her shoulder, “Besides, I distinctly recall someone assuring me that cooking was just chemistry you eat.”

He had indeed said that and more than once. “It is but –”

“It’s only a cake, Gilbert,” she rejoined as she returned, mentally congratulating herself upon the fact that at least she’d opted to relegate her eye roll to the cupboard where he couldn’t see it. “I have made cake before.”

“When was this exactly?”

“How conveniently you forget,” scoffed Sara before supplying, “Christmas. Three years ago. Okay,” she reluctantly conceded, “Ana did most of the actual baking, but I was paying attention.”

Grissom gave her a still dubious, “Uh huh,” before asking, “So you’re making –”

Un pastel tres leche. Three milk cake. Same as Ana’s.”

The Central American specialty struck her as particularly apt. Not only did she actually have some basic idea as to what she was doing, but Greg had (along with Nick, though Nick not quite so obnoxiously) bemoaned the lack of dessert when they had invited themselves over for Tico food the year before. Of course with the cake being served during working hours, she did have to opt out of the traditional inclusion of rum or brandy to the rich, heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk glaze which lent the decadent confection its name.

“Except if I recall correctly, Greg’s birthday isn’t until the day after tomorrow.”

“It isn’t. But you know what they say: Procrastination is the thief of time. Sage advice.”

“Old advice,” Grissom countered. “Edward Young died in 1765.”

Sara didn’t even bother with the eye roll, knowing all too well how precocious – and occasionally a pain in the ass — her husband could be. Besides, it would only encourage him and he certainly didn’t need any of that tonight, him having apparently woken up in a bantering mood. Not that she really minded a little good-natured repartee. Or didn’t dish it out just as frequently.

Which lent a bit of a taunt to her saying, “That and the cake needs to set up overnight. You going to make yourself useful or just stand there and supervise?”

Unsurprisingly, he readily donned an apron of his own. How could he not after all the times he’d roped her into cooking with him?

“Should be a piece of cake, no pun intended.” Gesturing to her phone propped up against the egg carton, she indicated, “Recipe’s on the screen.”

Grissom stared at it for a moment. Then a moment longer, hoping it might make more sense the second time through. Or the third. Nope.

“Your translation software on the fritz, dear?”

“Didn’t need a translation. I recreated it from memory. Don’t worry,” she assured him, “I triple-checked it online.”

Her thoroughness was admirable, but then Sara was always thorough. That left only one answer to the inexplicability.

“More of your shorthand then,” he said more statement than question.

While he had indeed had a fair share of exposure to the phenomenon over the years, it being a code completely of her own devising and one Sara seemed not all that keen on sharing, Grissom had yet to quite crack it. This usually wasn’t a problem as she principally used it for making notes for herself. But the practice was so second nature to her that every once in a while she forgot she did it. At least tonight he hadn’t had to attempt to decipher her frequently illegible chicken scratch first.

Unlike that one time in Costa Rica when they’d been even more hurried than usual at the local la feria and decided it best to split the camp’s weekly supply list. By the time he’d worked out enough of her writing to realize it was written in shorthand, Sara had managed to disappear into the crowd of shoppers. He’d literally had to chase her down to get a translation. Ever since, they’d had a strict no shorthand for grocery lists policy.

Too bad it apparently didn’t transfer to recipes.

“Sorry. Old habit,” Sara sighed and walked him through the instructions.

While she set about greasing and flouring the springform pan, she left him to weigh out all the dry ingredients, mass being as Grissom had previously informed her, a far more precise system of measurement than the use of conventional measuring cups.

Approaching the task with all his usual single-minded care and vigor, it wasn’t until she was just about finished dusting the pan that he observed, “Non-stick spray works just as well.”

“It says grease and flour in the instructions. Besides you can’t do this with spray,” she said tossing the leftover flour at him.

Considering he had the rest of the open bag directly in front of him, perhaps this hadn’t been the smartest of moves. But evidently her husband didn’t seem much in the mood for retaliation let alone escalation — at least not at the moment.

Besides, she soon had enough aggravation of her own. Having to yet again fish the shells from the egg she’d just cracked, she let out an “Argh,” of exasperation.

Noting her frustration Grissom set down the salt, saying, “May I?”

As she wasn’t all that fond of wrestling with raw egg, she replied, “Be my guest.”

And with all the ease of more than a decade’s long habit, the two of them effortlessly settled into the familiar roles of teacher and student. Although these days, Sara proved to be just as frequently — and gifted — an instructor as pupil.

Watching him empty the egg she’d already cracked into a separate bowl, she asked, “So one rotten egg doesn’t end up spoiling the batter?”

“Exactly.”

Then with that deft one-handed crack of his which never ceased to impress her, particularly as there was no hope in hell she’d ever be able to replicate the feat, he neatly cleaved the egg in two. It plopped whites and yolk and all — sans eggshells — into the bowl.

When she continued to gawp at him he simply said, “It just takes practice, Sara. And no fear. There’s no room for cowards in the kitchen.”

Sensing a quotation, she intoned, “Julia Child?”

“Grissom. You’re thinking of ‘When you flip anything you have to have the courage of your convictions.’”

“No, I’m thinking you have way too much free time on your hands, Gil.”

Not deigning to dignify this dig with a reply, he simply handed her an egg.

“Once you crack it on the side, you want to use your middle, ring finger and thumb to pull the halves apart. Try it.”

Sara took a deep breath, murmured, “No fear,” and tried to do as he’d instructed. Tried. At least there were fewer bits of shell this time. By her third attempt, there weren’t any at all. And she beamed up at him, inexplicably proud of the accomplishment.

She was about to add the eggs to her bowl of creamed and sugared butter when Grissom handed her the electric mixer to use, explaining that aerating the eggs first tended to lead to lighter cakes. She took his word for it.

The wet ingredients blended, Grissom slowly added the dry while she ran the mixer. He’d leaned in to make sure he didn’t spill, which meant that between the poof the pouring produced and the flour she’d twice thrown at him, his already grizzled hair appeared even more frosted than usual and Sara had to fight to hold back a grin, recalling as she did all the snickers she probably wasn’t supposed to have heard — but had — from certain people at the lab about how less than three years of marriage had managed to turn much of her husband’s hair grey. The talk didn’t bother her all that much. Grey hair was still sexy as hell, and Grissom with grey hair doubly so.

But perhaps she shouldn’t have let her mind wander. Then maybe she might have been paying a bit closer attention to what she was doing and not inadvertently flicked the beaters’ switch up and on instead of down to eject. Spinning wildly in midair, they spewed castoff over them both.

Wiping batter from his eyes Grissom groaned, “You did that on purpose.”

Sara shook her head.

“Still, maybe I better,” he said nudging her aside so he could pour the batter into the pan. He gave it a few gentle shakes to ensure an even distribution before easing it into the oven. Out of the corner of his eye he caught her replacing the freshly washed beaters into the mixer.

“For the whipped cream,” she supplied at the wary look he was shooting her.

He withdrew a large wooden spoon. “Trade you.”

“You’re revoking my mixer privileges?”

“I thought you were into applied physics,” he rejoined. “Besides, it’s safer — and cleaner that way.”

And that smirk was back. That teasing, taunting, smug, not so little smirk of his. The sort you couldn’t help but be tempted to do whatever it took to wipe away. So she gave in to said temptation, saying, “I wouldn’t bet on that,” before catapulting a spoonful of whipping cream at him.

She — and it — missed.

Straightening from a hasty dodge, Grissom asked, “How old are you?”

“Not too old to do this.” And Sara proceeded to crack an egg on his head.

Whites and yolks dribbled down both sides of his shocked face.

Everything got very, very quiet.

Okay, the flour flicking was one thing, but maybe she’d gone a bit too far with the egg.

After all, his only real offense had been being right one too many times and knowing it. She couldn’t exactly hold that against him.

And it wasn’t as if she’d been mad at Grissom. Not like she could ever stay that way with him for long in the first place. Anyway, his however seemingly unending litany of concerns about her cooking skills — or absence thereof – were, she knew, little more than the usual playful bantering they’d fallen into the habit of engaging in over the years. There was certainly never any malice to it, just the opposite. The private jokes and personal allusions resulted from the ease and the natural lowering of inhibitions they felt in each other’s presence. And she typically gave as good as she got.

Rather rapidly repenting her rash action, Sara reaching for a towel, murmured in an attempt at levity a conciliatory though not all together penitent, “Well, you did tell me to practice.”

When Grissom made no reply to this, she sincerely feared she’d royally pissed him off. Considering her husband’s habitual placidity, not an easy accomplishment.

That he’d silently insisted and persisted in cleaning himself up did nothing to alleviate her unease.

She was about to issue an apology, but just as the words reached her lips, she let out a loud shriek instead.

Not that it actually hurt, him swatting her on the behind with the towel; Grissom had just never done so before.

Bolting stiff straight in shock, she was even more surprised to find when she spun to face him he wasn’t wearing an irritated expression at all. No, that impish glint had returned to his narrowed eyes. And Sara definitely didn’t trust that look.

But then it was always the quiet ones you had to worry about.

Not all that keen on waging an ever-escalating war of attrition, Sara alternately set out to attack the bowl of cream with what her husband regarded as not entirely necessary ferocity.

Only once she was satisfied its stiff peaks were indeed stiff enough, did she set down her spoon. Grissom, having already finished the far simpler tasks of blending the half-and-half with the cans of evaporated and sweetened condensed milk, took advantage of her pause to reach across the island to snag a swift soupçon. Sara swatted his hand out of the way. Then thinking a peace offering couldn’t hurt, she reached in and held up a thickly coated finger for him to taste. He regarded it curiously for a moment before taking it into his mouth. And kept it there perhaps a shade longer than was technically seemly.

“Gil,” Sara sighed.

Their eyes met, that earlier hint of mischief replaced by something else entirely. Apparently, her flirtatious overture had whetted her husband’s appetite for something other than cake.

“Oh no. I know that look. You stay right where you are,” she maintained, hurriedly gathering up the mixing bowl and clutching it to her chest as a shield before giving it a hasty shove into the refrigerator.

But she promptly found any and all hopes of a safe retreat blocked by his standing just in front of her. Sara gave an involuntary step back, thudding against the fridge with such force she jostled several of the magnets free.

Solicitous as always, Grissom said, “You okay?”

She was about to answer Yeah, but he was close, so close, so nearly thoroughly invading her personal space, and unsure as she was to what exactly he had in mind, her heart started thundering out of anticipation.

And it had been a while. Too long really. Him having only recently returned and her schedule being even more demanding than usual, she’d barely been home long enough for much more than sleep. And she hadn’t exactly gotten a great deal of that either. That and —

The and didn’t really matter. Ultimately, none of it did.

Gil Grissom she knew all too well could and would take his dear sweet time when it suited him, so Sara decided to take matters — and his face — into her hands and kissed him full on the mouth.

It was a good thing he’d slid a hand around her waist as she went more than a little weak at the knees when his mouth opened hungrily on hers in reply.

They broke away breathless. He ran a finger along her cheek, his eyes softening and darkening all at once. He leaned in, Sara thought to return her kiss, but his lips brushed along her neck. Then there was the trace of his tongue.

It took a great deal of effort for her to murmur, curious rather than reproachful, “What are you doing?”

The buzz of his “Clean up” against that sensitive spot just beneath her ear effectively cut short her “I’m pretty sure I didn’t get anything th–”

When she tugged him down the hall, with “Clean up,” as her only explanation, Grissom knew a shower was not what his wife had in mind.

*******

For a while they lay there snuggled up, spent, breathless and beaming and wholly oblivious to anything but each other.

Sara, when she went to run her fingers through his hair and her hands came back predictably still eggy, sighed, “You’re a mess.”

“I wonder why?” laughed Grissom. Their aprons had done little to keep them both from looking like Pollack paintings.

At the feel of his hands trailing their way along her bare skin, she said, “And you’re so not making it any easier to get out of bed.”

“Want me to stop?”

She was quick to reply, “I didn’t say that. Besides, we’ve still got time.”

“Criticism, my dear?”

Sara chuckled. “Hardly. I just haven’t heard the timer go off yet.”

“Timer?” he echoed suddenly uneasy.

“You did set the timer when you put the cake in, right, Gil?”

In his defense, he’d been a bit distracted at the time. More than a bit distracted.

At his even more awkward “No,” Sara rolled over to check the bedside clock. Their quick romp hadn’t been quick at all.

“The cake!” she cried, swore and stumbled from the bed post haste.

Smoke billowed from the open oven door and the air was at once redolent of the overly sweet stench of burnt sugar. The smoke detector wailed; Hank howled at this rude interruption to his evening nap. Grissom, Sara’s robe in one hand (he’d already donned his own, but she’d bolted out of bed so quickly all she’d had was the blanket from the end of the bed as a covering) and potholders in the other, pressed the former on her before gently nudging her to the side.

Hurriedly slipping her arms through the sleeves, she set about dealing with the alarm. It disengaged, the windows opened and the offending cake deposited in the sink, the two of them just stood there gaping in shock at the charred, charcoaled black mass. Resembling as it did at the moment a large lump of pumice, it was wholly beyond rescue or edibility.

They’d had disasters in the kitchen before. But this, this took the cake.

Grissom deadpanned, “I guess you really can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

Sara shot him a dirty look before they both burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Once they’d caught their breath, he proposed, “Second time’s the charm?”

She shrugged. “We’re out of eggs. And homemade’s overrated.”

“So then it’s let them eat store-bought cake?”

“Sounds like the best idea I’ve heard all day.”

And Grissom disappeared off to call the bakery over on Eastern Avenue. Sara began on the cleanup. Burnt cake aside, they’d made quite a mess out of their usually immaculate kitchen. First things first, she opted to toss out the offending cake, pan and all, as there was no amount of scouring which would ever render it usable again.

She was dropping the last of the dirty mixing bowls into the soapy sink when her husband returned. “You do realize,” she said, “this is all your fault.”

From the pantry where he was replacing the dry ingredients, Grissom called, “Yeah, and you had absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever.”

“Nope, completely innocent.”

As he took up a clean dishrag to help dry, he maintained, “There was nothing innocent about you and the whip cream.”

Then as if the prospect just happened to him he said, “What are we going to do with all that whip cream?”

Sara gave him a flippant, “I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

When he continued to look clueless – it was cute, particularly as he so seldom ever looked it – she had to choke back a chuckle and work to restrain a puckish smirk of her own.

Needless to say, there was absolutely nothing innocent in her subsequent, “Do I have to spell it out for you, Gilbert?”

*******

The next night a little over an hour before shift was supposed to start Grissom and Sara showed up in the break room cake box in hand.

Catherine peered up from her coffee making and noting the Freed’s Bakery of Las Vegas scrawled across the top, said, “Nice. But I thought you said something about baking a cake.”

“Yeah, about that,” Sara began, but didn’t continue. Husband and wife exchanged uncharacteristically guilty looks, as if they were desperately trying hard not to grin.

It was difficult not to, recalling as they both were their time in the kitchen, the bedroom and then that surprisingly steamy shower afterwards which had soon morphed into something else entirely. But then only seeing your spouse a few days a month tended to lead to those sorts of things.

And although the tale might just prove an antidote to all the gossip going around about their sex life – or lack thereof – they mutually, though thoroughly silently agreed in that way married couples were wont to do, this was definitely one of those things best kept private.

But some of what they were thinking must have shown on their faces as Catherine only shook her head saying, “You know what, I really don’t think I want to know.”

*******

Want to read more about the time Nick and Greg invited themselves over for dinner? See “Look Who’s Coming to Dinner (Well, Lunch).”

 *******

A/N: For those of you like me who can’t cook to save their lives but want to give tres leche cake a try, Duncan Hines makes an almost foolproof (as long as you remember to turn the timer on of course) box mix. Just add eggs and milk. Frank seemed to love it at least… lol…

P.S. The day after I finished the draft of this story, Frank (at the age of 42) had what the doctors believe to be a localized stroke. While localized is indeed far better than a massive or general stroke, it has at least for now, left him with Broca’s aphasia – broken, difficult speech (something doubly frustrating for a man who did radio for a living for 15 years). No one knows or can say if it will be a temprorary or permanent condition. While we are beyond grateful that it wasn’t much, much worse, needless to say, we are having to learn how to adapt to the changes. On the upside, we now have a really good reason to finally learn ASL (which we’ve been talking about doing for years). On the downside, while we both want nothing more than for life to get back to normal (whatever that is), am not sure how much time there will be for story writing – at least for the forseeable future. So it may be even longer than it has been before the next one – But at least I won’t have left you hanging in the middle of a story.

I suppose if there is a moral to any of this, Ernestine Ulmer is indeed correct: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

But in all seriousness, never forget that life can literally change overnight — in a moment — so make sure to always love and live as if it were your last day. And make doubly sure the ones you love know it.

As always, thanks for taking the time to let me share these stories with you. Fanfic has been such a gift for me. So thank you.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. vsky57
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 20:04:27

    I always love your story. And have been away for too long. So I have some catching up to do. My thoughts will be with you. Caring for a love one or lovingly supporting him/her can be a major task, but it is certainly lightened due to love.
    Each day I am thankful for another day with my mother.

    Please periodically post to let us know how you are doing.

  2. grissomsgirl72
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 09:24:18

    ““““““““““““““““““`I know all too well caring for a person with an ‘instant’ disability. Frustration at learning new things and a new way of life are certainly a challenge which you seem to have taken on with some humor…I will miss your writing as you adjust to this new life but know that when you need a break, you’ll be around…if you need to chat, vent or just talk over a cyber cup of coffee feel free to contact me…best wishes and thanks for a delectable story…as always.

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