Flash Fiction Friday #2
All summer, I’ll be posting a flash story every Friday. Click to read last week’s (“Werewolf Friendly Hair Straighteners Are Hard To Find”).
Operation: Orange Chicken Casserole
Inspired by Jayson Potter, who suggested “plant, 1:30, orange.”
Let me tell you about Operation: Orange Chicken Casserole.
This was back when I was stationed in Iraq. We sweated through our uniforms as soon as we put ’em on over there, and the cook tents were a mile from the barracks. But since you overheated just standing still, that wasn’t a problem. Not really.
When you walked out there with your buddies to check what was available, they had fans blowing at full power with those black plastic ribbons flapping to prove the breeze. It was the coolest conditions our engineers could provide for the freshest food the Army could buy.
It all spoiled in 20 minutes or less. Everything smelled like garbage by the first hour of the morning. Rotten cabbage and sulfur and a high school locker room.
Half our squad was fresh out of high school, actually. Those kids… they always tried to watch German porn on the one TV. But we older NCOs would kick them out to watch the Food Network or the Cooking Channel. The dishes on the screen stayed shiny and plump, juicy and fresh.
You ever want to appreciate food porn, you go somewhere you can’t get it.
We’d been in Iraq a few weeks before we discovered the magic of casseroles you could make in the barracks themselves. You could get ’em shipped from home in unbreakable Pyrex dishes full of dried-out ingredients sent by family or strangers. You’d throw in some water, stick it in your toaster oven, and by the time you got back from a mission you’d have a home-cooked meal for eight.
Between the casseroles we got and all the Food Network we were watching, the boys and I wanted to try making our own casseroles. We knew you could buy fresh ingredients from local farms on the cheap. And our squad leader was in love with a chicken and orange thing he’d seen on Paula Deen. (It had been an early afternoon, maybe about 1330, and the private he’d displaced complained that Paula Deen was not as pretty as the nameless Russian porn star previously on the screen. Our squad leader just shook his head. “Oh, son…” and watched like his life depended on the fine spray as she quartered the perfectly round globes of ten succulent oranges before coating them in melted butter.)
So our merry band paused to chat with farmers and stand vendors all across the sun-seared sands. We needed the right ingredients for our casserole!
It wasn’t that easy. “No chicken,” said farmer after farmer. Though they’d politely offer us sheep.
“Out of season. Wrong time,” they’d explain when we wanted oranges, even if they had lemons or tomatoes. Or, “How about some raisins? Almonds?”
For days we scouted, but the results were the same. No chicken. No oranges. “The lemon plants are doing well this year. Do you need some olive oil?”
If the Army teaches you one thing, it’s to work with what you’ve got. And what we had was some damn fine produce and a need for casseroles. So we piled our Pyrex with lamb shanks we’d cut to the size of quartered chicken thighs. We added lemon circles, raisins, and almonds. We swamped it in olive oil, tossed some tomatoes on top, and set it in our toaster oven.
Then we led the little baby privates on the afternoon’s mission. We were there to work, not to eat.
We came home to the lemoniest, lambiest, spiciest orange chicken casserole it has ever been my pleasure to digest.