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A Matter of Taste Chapter Two: Aberdeen Buttery Rowies Robin Andrew Mackenzie Balfour-Henstridge (senior), Earl of Baillieston, drew

a deep breath and beamed at his family as they arrived home that evening. Now 35, the handsome lead vocalist for Reckless Imprudence still gave the impression of being much younger than he actually was (stubble notwithstanding at times) but now had the definite air of a dedicated family man and a responsible one at that. When his grandfather, the Duke of Holydean retired from heading the family shipping business a couple years before, the old gentleman pinpointed Pucks dad as head of the firm. Alastair Henstridge had not minded, but insisted that Henstridge and Sons Ltd.s headquarters be moved to Manila just so he wouldnt be parted from his only son, his lovely daughter-inlaw, and his darling children. Duke Alexander could only agree and Puck took over the AsiaPacific side of the business while his dad ruled the roost. Hug pease, Da! a tiny voice called from the floor. Puck looked down and saw eighteen-month-old Alec hugging his leg, looking up with a hopeful expression on his little face. Up ye go, Puck replied as he lifted up the squealing little boy. Alec beamed at his father and planted a sloppy kiss on the tip of his nose. Me too, Da! Puck looked down and saw Alecs twin Alf tugging at his knees. Puck laughed and crouched down to pick him up. Both twins nestled against their fathers shoulders and, simultaneously, popped little thumbs into their mouths. Looks like the wee ones are all tuckered out, Ginger Algarme-Henstridge remarked as she returned from the kitchen, wiping her hands with a clean tea-towel. What were they up to all day? The usual, Puck told his wife as he kissed her. Doodlin wi their crayons, playing hide and seek amongst the bookshelves. He grinned impishly. whenever he told em to settle down. Hug pease, Mammy? Alf asked in a sleepy, piping voice. Ginger reached for him and took him out of his fathers embrace, tenderly nuzzling the little ones soft, rosy cheeks. And not mindin their kuya

You didnt mind Kuya Mack again? she murmured. No wonder the poor lads always in a dither with you and Alec! Kuya grumpy, Alec snuffled in protest. He would nae be so grumpy if ye minded him, Alec, Puck gently chided his son. He turned to his wife, an eyebrow raised. Speakin o Mack, where are the wee viscount and our wee princess? As if on cue, their older son and only daughter came trotting out of the kitchen. I had a lovely day helping Mam at the shop, Da! four-year-old Grizel Georgia Henstridge (Pepper to everyone who knew her) told her father, blue eyes sparkling. Did ye, Princess? Aye! Mam let me help her cut out sugar cookies! Sugar cookies! Och, an ye did nae think o bringin home some for me? Laughing, the little girl fished out a small bag of cookies from the pocket of the oldfashioned pinafore she wore and handed it to him with a kiss. She handed a couple of macarons to her twin brother who grinned hugely. Can Pep an I swap tomorrow, Da? Robin Andrew Mackenzie Henstridge (junior, nicknamed Mack) asked. Pep can go wi ye an visit Granpa an I can go help Mam! Only if your Mam does nae mind. Puck turned to his wife. Ginge? Not at all, Ginger assured them. Im making a fresh batch of pains au chocolat tomorrow and I need an extra pair of hands to help roll them out. Can we help you make dinner tonight, Mam? Pepper asked, tugging at their mothers free hand. Of course, sweetheart! You and Mack can help set the table. Let me just put these wee nippers to bed, Puck said, taking Alf from Ginger. I gave em their supper before we left the office. Gerber Turkey? Ginger asked as she ushered the older kids to the kitchen. Alf had turkey but Alec opted for the veggie-beef, Puck sighed. Getting to be a regular carnivore like his namesake, I think. As Puck entered the nursery, the family dog looked up from his basket and wagged his tail. Wotcher, Angus! he greeted the black Scots terrier.

Angus barked in reply and trotted alongside his master as he got the little ones ready for bed. Hi, doggie! Alec greeted the dog sleepily. Doggie, Alf echoed, trying to reach down to pat the dogs head. Ye can play wi the doggie tomorrow, Puck told the boys. They hardly fussed as he got them bathed in the adjoining bathroom and dressed them in matching pajamas. Puck thought it was a blessing that none of his children woke in the night. Why would they? he thought to himself. They have a good home, a roof over their heads, food to eat, and parents who love them and, of course, each other. He smiled rather sadly as he sent off a mental prayer for those children who werent so lucky. I wish no child ever had to go to bed hungry or lonely. Bedtime, he cooed to the little ones, placing each in his respective cradle. He helped them make the sign of the Cross and kissed each drowsy-eyed head goodnight. Mam will look in on ye, he whispered to them. Good night, ma wee cherubs. He heard the door creak open and turned to see Ginger coming in. Are my babies sleeping now? she asked, linking an arm with his. Almost, he replied. Night, Mammy, Alf mumbled as he turned up his face for his mother to kiss. Night-night, Alec chirped in his turn. Puck turned the nursery light down low and quietly left the room with Ginger. We did good, Ginger ma girl, he murmured into her ear as they made their way to the dining room. Aye, Ginger murmured in agreement, gently smoothing a curl off his forehead. And to think we nearly lost each other, he sighed. Dont brood about it, Sugar-cookie, Ginger chided him. She smiled. Were together now will always be, as a matter of fact. And we have four lovely kids, too. And we only got pregnant twice! Puck laughed. Ditas still thinks its bloody unfair, Ginger snickered. She would. So, whats for dinner? He caught a whiff of shrimp paste in the air and grinned. You didnt! I did, got a problem with that?

Nae, but I will if ye did nae make enough rice! He hugged her close and planted a kiss on her forehead. Howd your day go, Custard-cake? Went well, Ginger assured him. Peppers getting to be quite a help, considering shes only four! She was asking Argie and Ce all the right questions and was smart enough to make suggestions. She takes after her mam, Puck teased, playfully yanking his wifes nose. I remember ye askin my mam an yours whenever they were bakin hence ye bakin your first batch o scones when we were seven or thereabouts. Ginger beamed warmly at him. And how did your day go, Sugar-cookie? Puck frowned a bit. It went well, he admitted. But I got a call from Uncle Graeme. Ginger looked up sharply at her husbands suddenly quiet tone. Is something wrong? she asked worriedly. Granddad? Gran? Him and Aunt Lydie? None o them, Puck replied, shaking his head. Its Max. Uncle says his doctor wants him to stop workin for a bit. Ginger stared at him in disbelief. Stop working?! she exclaimed. But But Max is a worse workaholic than you are! Aye, an thats what makes it worse. Uncles worried the lad might fret himself to death if he cannae find anythin to do. Puck sighed as he pulled his wifes chair out for her. I told him to ask Max to call me. Is Uncle Max sick, Da? Pepper asked when she caught mention of her uncles name. Mack says he heard you say something at the office about Uncle Max being sick. Well Puck frowned as he and Ginger took their places at the dinner table, not quite sure as to how to explain the situation to his four-year-olds. Not sick as in bed-sick, he admitted. I take it your Uncle Max is just very tired. Worked too hard, I think. Is he going on vacation? Pepper asked. And, if he goes on vacation, Mack chimed in, will he come to visit us? Puck and Ginger looked at each other at that and it was as if something clicked into place in both of their minds. You should suggest it if he calls, Ginger murmured. I think I will, Puck agreed. Lord knows weve space enough. And the kids love him. Hell be plenty busy even if he does nae go to work.

And besides Ginger narrowed her eyes rather speculatively. Youd be paying something forward if you get him far enough away from that hag hes dating. Gemma the Dilemma? Puck remarked with a wicked smirk. Ginger threw her head back and laughed delightedly. Whats funny, Mam? Mack asked her. Nothing, dear, Ginger chuckled. Just your Das nickname for Uncle Maxs girlfriend. The twins looked at each other, then made faces at that. We dont like her, Mack declared sternly. Shes awful, Pepper added in agreement. She talks to me and Mack like we were babies! Memee Lydie doesnt like her either, Mack continued. She called her a frog. Puck laughed uproariously at that. You misheard Memee Lydie, son, he said. Memee said she was a fraud. Whats a fraud, Da? Pepper asked. Someone whos fake, Puck explained. Someone who pretends to be better or nicer than they actually are. I dont think shes nice at all! Mack declared, blue eyes widening. She pinched the babies so hard, they squealed! Is Uncle Max going to marry her? Pepper asked, worry written all over her little face, so much like her mothers. She said that shed get me for a flower girl when she and Uncle Max get married and I dont want to. Hed better not, Puck replied darkly. If his cousin Ian Henstridge served as his older brother, Max Balfour was his younger brother. As such, he was concerned for the young mans well-being as well as any older brother would. That said, the idea alone of Max marrying that scrawny harridan hed been dating since college sent unpleasant chills down Pucks spine and Puck Henstridge was, in truth, never a man to scare or worry easily! He smiled and smoothed back his daughters hair. Dinna worry, ma wee lass, he assured her. Yell nae be flower girl at some sham o a weddin not if Mam and I can help it. Affectionately, Pepper leaned towards her father and hugged his arm. I wish Uncle Max would marry someone nice, Mack remarked pensively. Then he would nae be so sad all the time. Ginger raised an eyebrow somewhat speculatively at that and threw her husband a look.

Both of Pucks eyebrows shot up at that. He knew that look it was a look that meant his wife was scheming. Whatever it is youre plannin, lass, better let me in on it, he said. What makes you think I wont let you in on it? she asked. Just makin sure. He crossed himself and led his family in the grace. As he put rice on the childrens plates, he went on. What time is it, Ginge? Ginger checked her watch. Seven-thirty, she replied as she spooned binagoongang baboy onto the childrens plates. I daresay its about noon-ish over there. Before Puck could say anything, the phone rang and Ginger picked up the living room extension. Hello, good evening, she said in her warm somewhat Western-sounding twang. She grinned hugely. Why, Max! Hi, how are you? She tilted her head to one side, narrowing her eyes at Puck. Oh, thats too bad. Do rest, kiddo! You deserve it, come on! A worried look came over her face as she nodded. Then, Hang on, heres Puck. She handed the cordless phone to her husband, mouthing, Its pretty bad. How bad? Puck asked, frowning as he took the phone from his wife. Ginger leaned close so the children would not hear her. Collapsed at work, she whispered intently into her husbands ear. Theres anemia involved and burnout. Puck blanched at that. It was, in his opinion and based on his personal experience, a recipe for disaster. Talk to me, he said as soon as he got on the phone.

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Max, in Matts opinion, seemed to be working on auto-pilot when he arrived early at LEtoile to clean out his office. Rather than the usual boisterous greetings he gave his colleagues, the brown-haired youth simply wiggled his fingers in greeting, went into the charcuterie, and began packing up his things. There was, truth be told, nothing much. A couple of well-used, beautifully maintained knife kits, some battered cookbooks, a few photos tacked onto a corkboard along with various notes.

One picture, in particular, made both Max and Matt pause the former as he stood before the corkboard, the latter as he leaned in the doorway. It was taken a couple years before and was buried under several other pictures. In this candid shot, Chef Valeriano was showing one of the junior chefs how to stuff a duck (or was it a goose?). Just over her shoulder, one could see Max looking her way with a rather subdued, almost considering expression on his stubbled face. What were you thinking on that day, Max? Matt asked him quietly. You know what? Max replied. I dont know. Well He removed the picture and added it to the others hed placed in a brown envelope. Actually, I was thinking how pretty Valeriano was when she smiled. He smiled somewhat ruefully at the memory. When she wasnt yelling or screaming or throwing stuff at any of us At you, Matt reminded his friend. I dont remember her throwing anything at me. Well, okay, at me, Max conceded. She was actually nice. She is nice, Matt snorted. If she werent she wouldnt agree to be your sounding board even now shes so far away. Max nodded. I guess so, he sighed. Have you told her? Matt asked, stepping into the charcuterie. Told her what? Max asked in reply as he bundled everything into a denim messenger bag. About how you are? Max seemed to freeze at that and clutched impulsively at the bag strap. Then, he shook his head. All she knows is that Vincent pissed me off so I quit, he admitted without turning to face his friend. For that matter, have you told Gemma? Max groaned and spun around, looking utterly pissed. She wont listen to me! he exclaimed, obviously frustrated. Every time I try to tell her why I quit, she goes into this this monologue of hers about me joining her dads firm! Have you tried telling her to her face, then? Max ran a hand through his hair in annoyance. God, yes! he declared angrily. I took her out to dinner last night same spiel, different day! Sarcastically, he mimicked his girlfriends nasal voice and giddy demeanor. Oh, Max! How lovely! Dad will be so stoked to

have you! Isnt it fab? We can go to the Caribbean now you wont be so busy! Oh, and how perfectly darling you can join me and my mum for tea! Matt laughed loudly at that performance. Youve missed your calling, mate, he teased Max. That routine wouldve gone a treat onstage! Nah, I dont think Im cut out for stand-up comedy let alone female impersonation! Max exclaimed, grinning. So, where to now? Matt asked as he and Max walked to the back entrance of the restaurant. Max shrugged. I still dont know, he admitted. But Ill take Valerianos advice and take things easy for a bit. Matt whistled at that. Youre actually going to listen to her! he exclaimed. Max raised an eyebrow at his friend. Just this once, he replied bluntly. So dont let me hear that youve told her I took her advice. No fear of that, Matt assured him, patting his shoulder as he held the door open. Just outside, Maxs silver Vespa GTS SuperSport 300ie was parked in the alley behind LEtoile. And, curled up in the scooters front basket was the tiniest kitten either youth had ever seen.

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Max Balfour grew up in a family that loved cats and dogs in equal measure and every household in that family kept either of those loveable creatures at one time or another. In his parents home in Glasgow, hed left behind an oatmeal-colored Scots terrier named Fergus and his mother had a fat, lovely, lemon-colored cat named Tartiflette. However, since he went to university, he never actually took care of his own cat or dog. He was just too busy for a pet. But he kept his love for animals, actually going out of his way to feed the stray cats that lurked in the alley behind the restaurant with any scraps left over from his work in the charcuterie. Valeriano once caught him feeding the strays and he feared that she would throw him out for doing so. To his relief, she actually helped him take care of the cats and, in return, the cats fought off any vermin that lurked close by. He also remembered that his former boss adopted one of the kittens when she left: a little tomkitten whom she named Odin because the

spot on the left side of his face made it look as if he wore an eyepatch. Somewhat absently, he wondered if the kitten took well to its new home in the tropics. And now Probably the runt of her litter, the veterinarian remarked as he looked the wee foundling over. Lucky to be alive, I would think. Poor thing, Max remarked as he stroked the tiny kittens head with his forefinger. The little creature purred most appreciatively. It was kind of you to bring her here, the veterinarian continued. Shell be taken care of properly. The white-and-orange kitten padded tentatively on the diagnostic table towards Max and affectionately nuzzled his fingers with her tiny pink nose. She reminds me of a kitten I had when I was a kid, he admitted quietly. His name was Brindle he was white and orange, too. He watched worriedly as the vet administered a shot that made the poor kitten squall in pain. Mewing miserably, the kitten looked up at Max with beseeching eyes, prompting him to pick her up and cuddle her. She likes you, the vet noted. You think so? Max managed a rare smile. I think Ill keep her. Thats good. You do realize you have to train her, of course? Max nodded. I know how, he assured the doctor. I always had a cat or dog around whilst I was growing up. Ill manage. Besides, he thought as he settled the vets fee, I know what its like to be lonely. Cmon, kitty, he murmured to his new pet as they left the vets office. Lets head home. He put the kitten back in the basket of his Vespa, securing her there with his things so she wouldnt fall out during the ride home. When he arrived home, the kitten cheerfully riding in his coat pocket, he found several messages on the answering machine. A couple were from Gemma both of which were almost unending screeds about how she told her dad he no longer worked as a chef and, as such, would be most amenable to working at the Lazarby firm. Max promptly deleted those. The third message was from his father.

Hi, Max, his father greeted him. I just got off the phone wi your cousin Robin. Hes more than a touch worried about ye, lad, and said for you to call him when you had the time. He gave Pucks number in Manila which Max promptly jotted down on a nearby notepad. I hope youre all right, son. Neer forget that your Mam an I love ye an ye can come home anytime. Och, and we hope you can fly oer to Glasgow for the weekend. Take care o yourself. Max managed a small smile at that. I miss you and Maman, too, Dad, he murmured as he switched off the answering machine. He put down the kitten on the couch and she promptly commandeered one of the throw pillows and curled up to sleep on it. Hanging up his scarf and jacket, Max went into the kitchen and set about fixing lunch. There were still a couple of rowies in the Smeg, remnants of a batch hed bought at a nearby Scots-run bakery the day before. Splitting these open, he smeared butter rather generously on the insides and added generous dollops of rose-petal jelly from the jar his mother left on his birthday. As he popped the filled rolls into the microwave, Max got the phone and stared at it for a bit. Looking at the number on the notepad, he immediately dialed it and hoped his cousin and his family were home. Just pushing eleven-thirty, he noted when he looked at the clock on the wall. Should be around seven-thirty or thereabouts in Manila. Pressing the receiver to his ear, he heard the other line ring. Finally, a womans voice with a pronounced North American accent replied. Hello, good evening, it said. Max grinned. Pucks wife Ginger had always been like a big sister to him even before she married his cousin. She was Pucks closest friend and lived in Scotland for a year when she went to graduate school at Strathclyde. Both the Henstridges and Balfours virtually adopted her into their respective clans; the marriage was, in everyones opinion, just a formality as they already considered her family. Hi, Ginger! Max replied. Its Max. Why, Max! Ginger exclaimed. Hi! How are you? Max pursed his lips at that, not quite sure what to say. But, then again, his father had spoken to Puck. Ginger was probably aware of the situation.

Not so good, he replied truthfully. I fainted at work a few days ago. Doctor said something about burnout, but the tests just showed anemia. That said, I was told to rest up for a year. Otherwise, Im okay. He could hear her clucking her tongue worriedly. Oh, thats too bad, she said. Do rest, kiddo! You deserve it, come on! I will, so please dont worry. Uh, is Puck around? Hang on; heres Puck. He heard them murmuring to each other. He also heard the distinctive clink of

silverware on china, whispering children in the background. Then he heard the sound of a chair moving away. Talk to me, Max heard his cousin Puck say in his rich baritone. Oh, hi, Puck, Max greeted him as the microwave beeped. Whats this about ye collapsin just before your birthday? Och, and a belated happy birthday from all o us here. Happy birthday, Uncle Max! he heard the kids say. Gee, thanks. And, uh, belated happy birthday to Ginger, too. Gingers birthday, he recalled, was three days before his. Thanks, Max! Ginger sang out. I just blacked out while I was making pre-lunch service rounds, Max informed his cousin as he took the now-warm rolls out of the microwave. I havent been sleeping well of late. And why ever not? Max sighed. Vincent was gunning for a third Michelin star, he told Puck. Only, hes never there at the restaurant and he had the balls to text me to think of a plan. Wait: hes never around and he just texted you to plan it all for him? Puck sounded incredulous, even angry. Why, that pompous bast er basket case! He goes around swanning about and ye hae to do all his work for him! Normally, Max found it funny how heavy Pucks accent got when he was excited or upset. Today, however, was an exception. Ye did well to leave that mans restaurant, lad. Thats what my parents tell me, Max sighed as he bit into a roll. Only now, I dont know where to go from here.

Listen to the doctor, then, Puck chided him. Get some rest, go on a vacation speakin o which, why dont ye spend a year wi us? Max blinked at that and stared at the receiver. Are you serious? he exclaimed, heart beating faster for some odd reason. Aye, Ginger an I are dead serious, Puck assured him. Ye need a change o scenery, lad. So, if ye want to, come on oer; our doors open. There was a slight pause. Say, are you eating? Aye, Max replied between bites. Lunch? Light one: just a couple leftover rowies with butter and rose jelly from home. Max, nae wonder youre anemic! Puck declared in dismay. Thats not a proper lunch thats barely een a snack, lad! I know, Max replied remorsefully. But its all I could rummage on short notice. I just got a cat. There was a surprised silence at the other end of the line. He heard Ginger laugh and say something that made Puck laugh. Then: Well, if youre comin oer, your cats welcome, too. Our dog does nae mind cats. He fights dogs bigger than he is, he heard Ginger chime in. So, aye: the kittys welcome so long as ye dinna bring that girlfriend o yours along. For some strange reason, that last crack seemed to pull a thorn out of Maxs side. He suddenly felt as if hed been released from a set of heavy shackles. No worries about that, he assured his cousin. Its just going to be me and the kittycat here. He sighed and it was a sigh of deep-seated relief. And, to tell you the truth, Ill be glad to go.

+++ Aberdeen Buttery Rowies


500g all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting 1 packet fast-acting yeast 1 tablespoon brown sugar 1/2 tablespoon sea salt or coarse rock salt

350mL hand-hot water 275g salted butter, softened 100g vegetable shortening or margarine

Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the water. Mix until a shaggy mess is achieved. Dust your hands with flour and knead for 8 10 minutes. Cover with a clean dishcloth and leave to rise in a warm, draft-free place for an hour. Punch out the risen dough and knead for an additional 2 minutes. Roll out into a 1cm-thick rectangle on a floured surface. Cream together the butter and vegetable shortening. Divide into four portions. Spread 1/4 of the butter mixture on the lower 2/3 of the rolled-out dough. Fold the upper third of the dough over the center. Fold the bottom third over it. Turn the rectangle so that the shorter end faces you. Roll out to 1cm-thickness and repeat the process. Repeat the folding and buttering until all the butter mixture has been used up. Roll out the buttered dough to 1cm-thickness. Divide into 20 portions. Roll these portions into balls and place on a buttered cookie sheet. Cover and allow to rise an additional 30 40 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees / Gas Mark 6. Bake the risen rolls for 20 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving. Makes 20 rolls.