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Cauldron Cook-off Cowtastrophe

It's the spookiest time of the year and our own in-house sci-fi writer/product development project manager, Amber Smith, is back with her annual Halloween Blog! You won't want to miss reading about this chili recipe gone rogue. This is Amber's fifth year writing the annual Halloween Blog. If you'd like to see her previous Halloween stories click here! Enjoy!

Warning: Don't try this recipe at home. You've been warned.

“Thanks for suckering me into this chili cook-off, Jared,” I grumbled to my dog-shaped Familiar, Moro, as I searched through my recipe books. I was looking for a specific book which I had used to make chili a few weeks earlier. I had taken the dish into work to share, and a co-worker suggested rather vehemently that I enter the local chili cook-off. It was a couple of days before Halloween and I really needed to be working on my costume, but instead I was spending the morning hunched over my huge Dutch oven.

“Where is that darn cookbook?” I practically screamed in frustration. Moro groaned very loudly from the couch, successfully communicating her displeasure at being interrupted from her nap.

As I parted the books, a different cookbook fell from the shelf and landed in front of me. It was a rather nondescript looking thing, save for the small sigil on the front cover. I vaguely recognized it from my childhood in the coven, but had never used it before. It had belonged to a great-something aunt who died well over a century before I was born.

“Huh, I wonder if this has a chili recipe I could use.” I turned to the index and was pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of several chili recipes. “Excellent!” I leafed through the recipes and after a few minutes of consideration, chose the recipe that sounded the most promising.

“Okay, let’s get started.” I quickly skimmed the ingredients again and began to prep them. Thankfully the recipe was fairly straightforward, but I was intrigued by the caption at the bottom. It was written in German, so I struggled with the translation, but it seemed to read: "To infuse the recipe with spirit, add… and say spiritus.”

The last ingredient had been smudged and I couldn’t quite make out the word. “I think it says bay leaf? This is interesting, I’ve never heard spirit used to describe flavor before, but it makes sense.” I looked at Moro, who had curled into a ball with her eyes closed. “You’re fantastic company,” I observed. In response, she opened one eye to glare at me, then closed it and covered her face with her tail. “I should have just gotten a cat, at least I would have known upfront it was a jerk.”

I bet my ancestors would be so ashamed to know I wasn’t cooking in a cauldron, I thought with a laugh. Up until a few decades ago, it had been customary for witches to cook meals and potions with the essential tool. I had a cauldron, but I used it specifically for making potions, and had never remotely considered cooking in it. That would be like using the autoclave at work to cook a Thanksgiving turkey.

I shook my head, trying to dislodge that gross train of thought, then threw in the bay leaf and leaned closely, whispering spiritus over the pot. Within moments of stirring, the chili began to bubble with gusto. I adjusted the heat so that the liquid would simmer instead, but it continued to bubble even more vigorously. Before I could turn the heat down even further, the chili began to change colors. That’s definitely not good, I thought, and reached out to take the pot off the burner. Before my hands reached the stove, however, the liquid began to swirl and then something began to emerge from the pot. “What the…”

Green tendrils cascaded over the edges of the pot and wormed their way to the floor. I jumped back and toppled over Moro, who had darted into the kitchen when she sensed the magic emanating from the pot. Red and yellow dots appeared on the stems, and subsequently grew into peppers the length of my forearm. More plant life erupted from the pot, including kidney beans that were uncomfortably close in size and shape to the human organ. At this point an entire garden had sprouted from my chili.

“This is actually a nice change of pace,” I remarked to Moro as I rose from the floor. “Usually poltergeists, zombies, or other monsters are trying to murder me, so being strangled to death by a tomato plant would a refreshing first.” Moro took a cautious step forward, but quickly backed away. “What is it?”

Of all the things I’ve seen in my lifetime (and considering I’m a witch that’s saying a lot), the creature that emerged from the pot was by far the most bizarre.

“Is that… a hoof?” I asked in disbelief. The hoof was quickly followed by a leg, then three more, and within a minute an entire Black Angus cow stood before me. I dropped back to the floor, unable to wrap my brain around the ungulate in my kitchen.

The cow licked her nose, then turned and began to eat the greenery surrounding herself. I crawled forward and gingerly touched her flank to reassure myself I wasn’t hallucinating. She grunted in response and flicked her tail in annoyance. “Okay, so you’re definitely not a hallucination.”

I gasped in horror as I realized what was happening. “Oh no, is this considered necromancy?” I looked at Moro, but she looked just as bewildered as I was. “That doesn’t matter right now, I need to find that book and figure out how to fix this.” As I finished speaking, the pot began to quiver, and then gobs of more greenery spewed forth. Moro, myself, and my new bovine companion were pushed against the walls of the kitchen, the weight of the stems and leaves making it hard to breathe.

I struggled to fill my lungs with air as the vines pinned me against the drywall, but I was freed shortly thanks to Moro’s sharp fangs. On the other side of the room, the cow cried piteously as she flailed against her botanical bonds. “Moro, help the cow, I’ll find the book!” Moro wasted no time wielding her toothy weapons, leaving me free to search for the book.

I spotted the book several feet away in the living room, where it had been pushed by the ever-expanding magical garden I had cultivated. It took several minutes to climb, jump, or otherwise avoid the stems, fruit, and seed pods blocking my way, but I was able to snatch the book at last. I muddled through reading with my incomplete German. “Practitioners beware; this spell will produce enough food to feed a coven, but do not deviate from the ingredients or their defined amounts, for the effects of the spell cannot be known.”

“Well, I think it’s safe to say the smudged ingredient wasn’t bay leaf. But how do I neutralize this spell?” A previous thought came back to the forefront of my mind. “A magical autoclave! This may be crazy, but I think there’s a reason we used to cook in cauldrons. Maybe the cauldrons are able to dampen the effects of spells…”

My house began to groan as the plants exerted pressure against the walls. A second later I could hear glass shatter as the kidney beans forced their way to the outside. “Moro, I need your help!” I ran upstairs and grabbed my cauldron, then fought my way to the stove. Wading through all the organic matter was like walking through chest-high sand, but we persevered. With the most exertion I’ve ever mustered at one time, Moro and I managed to slide the Dutch oven into my larger cauldron. I placed the cauldron lid on top of the plants, then lay on top of that, breathing like I’d just run a marathon. The contents under me shook violently, then fell quiet.

After a few minutes, I was convinced that nothing was growing any longer, so I called my friend, colleague, and oftentimes rescuer, Srujana. “Hey Srujana, I was wondering if you were free to come over. Remember that chili I said I was going to make for the cook-off…?” 

Srujana didn’t bat an eye as surveyed the garden growing in my kitchen, but she stared at the cow for several moments. “New pet?”

“Definitely not, although I may have to be a vegetarian after today’s debacle.” I couldn’t help but think about the pounds of ground beef I had placed into the Ducth oven as I stared at the ebony bovine. I really hope that doesn’t count as necromancy

“Know any livestock rescues?” I asked Srujana as she helped me clean up. It was late in the evening when most of the organic debris had been cleared away, so I asked Srujana to stay for dinner.

“I’d offer to make you a meal, but I’ve had my fill of that today, so we can just order takeout instead. Vegan takeout,” I added quickly as the cow mooed softly from my spare bedroom. I had a feeling it would be a long time before I’d be willing to eat chili again, although there was a silver lining. I was optimistic I had gotten my annual Halloween scare out of the way, so I would finally be able to enjoy my favorite holiday, cow notwithstanding.

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