The Effect of Dimensional Transcendence on Mozzarella Cheese
Something that happens to most working writers over time is that they get asked to contribute writing to charitable ventures (as opposed to being asked to write things for free, a pernicious and annoying habit which the sane jobbing writer gives short shrift).
This happened to me a little more than ten years ago, when the people gathering together material for the charity anthology that would become Perfect Timing 2 contacted me and asked if I would consider donating a little something Whovian to the cause.
As it happened, I already had something. Years and years before -- when dinosaurs walked the Earth and CompuServe was about all there was in the way of online life -- I had been in the grip of a longstanding love affair that predates the one with my husband and was, in its own way, nearly as strong. Come to think of it, I'm still in the grip. I love the Doctor dearly.
Back then my fave was Five. It wasn't that I didn't like Tom Baker, the first Doctor I became acquainted with in the 70's via the good offices of PBS (and our local affiliate, the splendid WNET). But for me there was something peculiarly attractive about Peter Davison's portrayal of the Time Lord: something about the way he handled his personal ethos. These days it's hard to be clear about the reasons in any more detail. In any case, eventually I did what I had done for a long time when I liked a character: I sat down and committed fanfic. The first short story, "The Effect of Dimensional Transcendence on Mozzarella Cheese" -- which I wrote mostly as a joke -- and later its sequel, wound up in the files area at HOM-29, the venerable SF and Fantasy Forums at CompuServe; and there they sat for ever so long, fading gently into obscurity.
So when the Perfect Timing people came to me, I thought, "Hmm: no need to write anything new: how about giving this an airing?" I submitted the story, they liked it, and it got published. So much for that.
A bit later, another anthology came along, and I fished out the second story, "A Dinner in Belgravia," which scratched not only the Whovian itch, but another one of even longer standing -- my deep love for the original Sherlock Holmes. (Not that I don't have the writer-hots for the new incarnation, you understand. It's impossible not to admire such a masterly reboot. But old loyalties die very very hard.)
And finally, to my great joy, the chance came to work in the Who universe under official auspices, and I jumped at it... but not without my own very muted back-reference. Readers of "Goths and Robbers" in Short Trips: the Quality of Leadership will note a certain concern with food: and indeed with pasta, which was a core issue in "Belgravia". I think we have to assume that at that point, Five had run through the not inconsiderable amount of fettucine-or-whatever that five pounds Sterling would have bought in Holmes's London, and needed to restock. Though personally I have to assume that the characteristic selfwilled swerve into the outfield of Time (if not Space) that the TARDIS takes during "Goths and Robbers" is about more than just concern over a Time Lord's carb intake.
In any case, there's no telling if or when I might ever again have anything to do with the Who universe in a professional capacity. Obviously I'd love to write for them. Who knows what future years will bring? ...But if it ever happens -- they're going to have to work pretty hard to keep me from putting my nose into the TARDIS's galley. -- DD
The Effect of Dimensional Transcendence on Mozzarella Cheese
You usually find the TARDIS's galley by accident, if at all. That was the way Nyssa found it that morning. She had actually been on her way to the Orrery Room -- she always found a good long session of staring out into the time vortex to be a pleasant way to put her thoughts in order after a trying day with Cybermen or other annoying fauna -- but the sound of the crash down at the end of the long corridor distracted her. She headed for it at a run.
It was a bright, pleasant room in which she found herself: sunlit (impossible) through big French windows (equally impossible) with a small, formal herb garden visible through them, and sweet spring air coming in and moving the curtains. (Nyssa sighed and resigned herself for the thousandth time to the possibility of nearly anything happening aboard this craft.) The room was done in brick and quarry tile; it had an open hearth at one side, with chairs and a sofa drawn up to it, and several books laid open face down on the cushions. There was a large free-standing "island" with a cutting-board top of blond wood, and all around the walls stood tall handsome-looking cabinets and appliances. Hanging from the ceiling was a wrought-iron rack festooned with pots, utensils, hanging plants, and several blasters, all very dusty.
Off to one side was the source of the noise -- a welter of pans, bowls, and other junk that one of the cupboards had dumped when opened; and standing in the middle of them, a slender fairhaired shape in the usual striped pants and white shirt and suspenders, but without the fawn-colored frock coat. It had been replaced by a white linen barman's apron with a question mark tastefully embroidered on one deep pocket. The Doctor's sleeves were rolled up, and he was holding a large disc of metal in his hands, and examining it, first one side, then the other.
"Roundel problem, Doctor?" Nyssa said, curious, for the disc looked rather like a roundel's inner back plate.
He looked up at her in total shock.
"Wrong?" he said. "With what?"
"With that," she said, and pointed.
"Yes," he said, sounding mildly annoyed, "it's been scratched. I expect Tegan's been using it as a teatray again. I keep telling her, the nonstick coating -- "
"Doctor," Nyssa said, "you've lost me. Roundels don't need a nonstick coating, their atomic structure -- "
"My dear Nyssa, who said anything about roundels!! I'm making pizza."
"Pizza," the Doctor said, with an air of intense satisfaction. He stepped out from among the fallen pots and pans and headed for the chopping block. "An ancient Gallifreyan dish, invented by Rassilon himself. Making pizza is a source of uplift to the soul."
"And your soul needs uplifting?" Nyssa said, a little mischievously.
"No," the Doctor said, "I'm just hungry. And for the moment you can leave my soul out of this." He put the pizza pan down on the chopping block and went to a cupboard, from which he took down a canister of flour.
"I've heard Tegan mention pizza," said Nyssa. "She says it's fattening."
"Just like her to ignore the philosophical aspects," the Doctor muttered, stopping by the sink and turning the water on to let it run hot.
"She also said it was a Terran invention."
"Well," said the Doctor, looking a touch bemused as he opened the refrigerator and scouted about inside, "they would say that, wouldn't they? Though before he laid down the Laws of Time, who's to say that old Rassilon didn't pop ahead a few tens of thousands of years and have a look at the recipe, and then nip back home and invent it first? Prior claim is everything." He shut the refrigerator, grabbed a small bowl from the dish-drainer by the sink, filled it about half full, and put it down on the chopping board along with a small foil-wrapped cube. "But even if they did invent it," said the Doctor, looking smug, "Gallifreyan pizza has something that no Earth pizza ever will."
"Oh? What's that?"
The Doctor unwrapped the foil cube and crumbled its contents into the warm water. "Sentient yeast," he said. He peered down into the bowl. "Wake up, lads! Work time! ...And no anchovies," he added. "Rassilon hated anchovies. And capers too. All those fiddly bits, sausage and prosciutto, ridiculous."
Nyssa put a tentative hand to her head. "What's that buzzing?" she said.
"Just the yeast, they're on a pretty low wavelength," said the Doctor, opening the flour canister. "Just above celery. No fiddly bits in this pizza! Just a good crisp crust, and tomato sauce, and plenty of cheese. The elemental building blocks of life." He paused and looked around a touch guiltily, as if Rassilon might overhear him, then added, "Maybe some garlic. He was a good chap, but he liked it so bland!"
The buzzing in Nyssa's head was getting more intricate: it began to sound like a chorus. "They're singing," she said in wonder. "What are they singing about?"
The Doctor cocked his head up for a second, listening, as he measured out flour into another bowl. "Oh, the usual. How nice it is to turn sugar and flour protein into carbon dioxide and alcohol, and fulfill their purpose in life, all that sort of thing." He looked back down at his work, smiling.
"Nice to listen to, isn't it? I told you it was uplifting to the soul."
"Yes, but -- Doctor, when you bake the crust, won't they die?!"
"Of course they will." He reached over to one side for a long-necked oilcan and splashed a little olive oil into the flour. "And a lot more mercifully than they would if you just let them drown in their own alcohol. Hand me the saltcellar, will you please? Thank you. Death by fire," he said, salting the flour. "They find it -- well, you'll hear how they find it, I suspect. Are they bubbling yet?" He peered into the yeast bowl. "So they are. Here you go, gentlemen." He poured the yeast and water into the flour bowl, and began to knead.
Nyssa leaned on her elbows at the edge of the chopping-block, watching the kneading and listening to the soft incessant litany of the yeast. "Looks sticky," she said.
"That it is," the Doctor said cheerfully. "Too many Time Lords are afraid to get their hands full of dough... that's probably why they only make pizza on state holidays. As a memorial to Rassilon, you understand." He snorted softly. "So busy looking to see who's dropping sauce on themselves at the state dinner that they don't even notice what they're eating. Shameful. Here, while you're not doing anything, there's some garlic already peeled in the 'fridge. Would you get it out? Thanks. The garlic press is in that crock. Just do me three or four cloves, if you'd be so kind.
"And anyway, is it so awful," he added, more reflectively, "to die when you've got the job done that you came here for? Whatever it is."
"Not if you know what you're here for," Nyssa said, putting a clove through the press and into a handy cup.
"Ah, yes," the Doctor said, and smiled to himself. "I suppose it's wise to find out, then. Here we go." He turned out the dough on the floured board and kneaded it a few minutes more.
"Won't it need a while to rise?" said Nyssa, finishing with the garlic.
"Well, yes," said the Doctor, reaching for another bowl, one lightly greased with olive oil. He turned the ball of dough into it and covered it with a teacloth. "But I'm hungry now...so I shall cheat a bit."
He picked up the bowl and carried it over to a small appliance that Nyssa took for a microwave oven. "Surely you're not going to..." she said, as he slipped the bowl in and turned the appliance on. The buzzing in Nyssa's head abruptly scaled upward in pitch.
"Doctor, what is that?"
"A rising box," he said, going to wash his hands. "Actually a selective tachyon-packet field accelerator. It speeds up time in a tightly localized area." The Doctor shook his hands off, dried them on another teatowel, and went back to the appliance. "It's been about two hours in there for them." Ping! said the accelerator, and the Doctor opened its door and took out the bowl. The dough had more than doubled in size.
"Here we go, then," said the Doctor, and turned the dough out on the board, where he began to stretch it out flat.
"Wouldn't a rolling pin be better?" Nyssa said.
"Never roll," said the Doctor. "Ruins the texture. Now then." He lifted the dough into the pan, rolling its far edges slightly around the pan's to hold it in place. "Olive oil, please, and a brush."
Nyssa handed him the necessary equipment; he brushed the dough lightly with the oil. "In the 'fridge there's about a pound of sliced mozzarella; would you get it for me please?"
Nyssa fetched it. The Doctor took out about ten thin slices and began to lay them over the crust. "I thought the sauce was supposed to go on first," she said.
"And that," the Doctor said, looking sharply at her, "is why almost every pizza crust you ever taste is soggy. Cheese first, always....it seals it. Then sauce. Then more cheese on top." He finished the first layer.
"Garlic, please. Just scatter it around. Thank you."
He reached over to the stove, where a large pot sat simmering quietly. When he took the lid off, such a sublime aroma filled the galley that Nyssa broke out in a smile. "It's marvelous!"
The Doctor flashed her a delighted grin. "The tomatoes in the greenhouse have been quite good lately," he said. "It's giving them the kitchen scraps that does it, I suspect." He poured sauce over the cheese-covered crust, then began the second layer of cheese until the whole pound of mozzarella was used up. "Hand me that oregano, will you? Our own," he said, looking affectionately at the spice jar. "K9 used to sit in the garden and talk to it all the time. He did that with the basil, too... improved it tremendously. Remind me to make some pesto some time. Is the oven ready?"
"It says so."
"Good. In we go, then. -- I shouldn't mind," he said, "just the slightest nip before it's ready."
The Doctor went over to another cabinet, opened it, and stared in thoughtfully. "There's hardly a thing in here worth drinking," he muttered. "I really must run down to the wine cellar. Always assuming we still have one after that last reconfiguration. Oh well." He came out with a bottle. "California," he said, holding out the bottle for Nyssa to read the label. "Infinitely superior to the continental varietals. And besides, I have friends at Krug...they keep sending it to me free..."
He reached down wine glasses from the rack, uncorked the bottle with the sonic screwdriver, and poured for both of them. Nyssa sat down on the couch by the brick hearth; she was feeling a little strange.
The Doctor sat down across from her, his eyes all of a sudden gone oddly expectant and intense. "Don't be afraid," he said, cupping his wineglass in his hands.
That was when the singing began in good earnest; and Nyssa was glad not to be holding her own glass, for she would have dropped it. Her head began to fill with crashing choruses, gaining moment by moment in intensity and number: multitudinous song, delighted at doing, at being, at having been: piercing joy, growing by the second, as passage from here-and-now to otherness came closer and closer: acceptance of having been: acceptance of some indescribable about-to-be-ing: and then, then, the passage, the shift, out of life, out of time, into something else, something ineluctably more --
-- and then gone, all gone: silence.
She looked up at the Doctor, the tears of the yeast's unbearable joy blurring her vision. He looked back at her, gentle-eyed.
"For what we are about to receive," he said with a somber smile, "may we be truly thankful." And he drained his wineglass, and smashed it in the fireplace, and got up to take the pizza out of the oven.
It was the best pizza Nyssa ever had. She took several slices to Tegan, who was in the console room, browsing through the TARDIS databanks. Tegan ate two and a half of them while she worked. (The slices, not the databanks.)
In the galley, the Doctor did the washing-up, smiling still. But it was a quieter sort of smile, one his companions rarely ever saw; a musing look, as he stood wondering to whom his lives might be meat and drink. It was in the middle of these reflections that several of the TARDIS's remote alarms went off. The Doctor dried his hands hurriedly, flung down the tea-towel, and raced out to see what the matter was.
Tegan had put her last slice down on the console while reading a particularly juicy bit of gossip about Catherine the Great.
The Doctor discovered that it can be extraordinarily difficult to get melted mozzarella out of the time rotor.
(aka Pizza alla Dottore)
CRUST: 4 cups sifted flour
1 cake Fleishmann's or other fresh yeast (unless you can get the Gallifreyan sort)
1&1/3 C water at about 85 degrees (for the yeast)
2 tbs. salad or olive oil 1 tsp. salt
Crumble the yeast: add the water to it and stir, and let it be for about ten minutes, or until it starts to bubble a bit. (To hurry it, or just in a good-natured attempt to help it along, you might add about half a teaspoon of sugar. This is also wise if the yeast is old.) Add the yeast/water mixture to the flour, salt and oil, and knead. Put in a greased bowl, covered with a towel, and let rise in a warm place for two hours.
Have ready two 12-inch pans, or one large one (oiled, if not already nonstick). Flatten and stretch the dough to fit. Brush with olive oil.
CHEESE: For maximum effect, no pizza should ever contain less than half a pound of a good skim or part-skim mozzarella. (Fontina is also good for a change.) The Doctor, having growing companions to feed, uses rather more. Remember to lay down a layer first to seal the crust. The crumbly kind is all right, but mozzarella (because of its long chain molecules) works best sliced.
SAUCE: Everyone has their favorite (the Doctor's recipe will follow at a later date). Pour on enough to suit your taste. Bake the whole thing in a preheated 400-degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until the crust is light brown.
And whether it sings or not, appreciate the yeast. It gave you the best hours of its life.