"Recipe For Disaster"
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: They're not mine, they're George Lucas's. The story is mine, though, and I'm not making any money from it – my pledge drive was a dismal failure. Open Pit Barbeque sauce belongs to Vlassic Foods.
[Er, Mr. Lucas, if you're reading this, the pledge drive thing was a joke.]
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story takes place before my Naboo Chronicles stories, before Anakin and Padmé are married. Those of you who have read my fanfic Saucy Conversation will recognize the dish that Padmé and Palpatine prepare in this story.
"Relax, Chancellor," Padmé said, giving him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "How bad could it be?"
"How bad could it be?" he asked incredulously. "We're about to go on live holonet - broadcast to the whole of the Republic - to demonstrate cooking a dish that neither of us has ever made before." Padmé shrugged.
"Sabé told us what to do," she reminded him.
"Yes but Sabé knows how to cook. I do not." She shrugged.
"Well, neither do I. So this should be fun," she told him. He rolled his eyes. "Remember," she continued, "it's for a good cause – we're helping to raise money for public broadcasting."
"Hey you two," Anakin said, walking over. "They're about ready for you in there." He gestured towards the holonet studio where the live pledge drive/Celebrity Cook-a-Thon was taking place. Obi-Wan joined them, grinning.
"Bail Organa just made a soufflé that came out looking like a Frisbee," he told them happily. Palpatine groaned. Padmé laughed and tugged on his arm, pulling him towards the studio.
"Come on, Chancellor. This is your big chance to show Organa how it's done," she said jokingly.
"I wish Sabé were here," he said. "She knows how to do this sort of thing. What a fine time for her to catch a cold." Padmé shrugged.
"There's no help for it. No doubt she'll be watching back at the hotel, cheering us on."
"Or laughing like hell," Anakin murmured. A man wearing headphones and carrying a datapad hurried up to them.
"Chancellor… Your Majesty, you're next. If you'd just follow me…" He led them into the cavernous holonet studio, where two full kitchens were set up for the cook-a-thon. They spotted Bail Organa gazing morosely at his failed soufflé as several stage hands bustled around him, cleaning up the mess he'd made of the kitchen he'd used. Slightly behind the kitchen sets, they could see a bank of ringing voicephones staffed by cheerful volunteers from all over Coruscant. An on-air hostess was standing before a holocamera, extolling the virtues of public broadcasting and assuring the audience that fine programming like "Coruscant Week in Review" and "Mr. Sebulba's Neighborhood" would not be possible without the annual financial support of Viewers Like Them. Next, she reminded her viewers that a book featuring all of the recipes demonstrated during the Celebrity Cook-a-Thon was available with a pledge of fifty credits or more. As they approached the studio floor, the on-air hostess spotted them and smiled brightly.
"And now," the perky blonde hostess chirped, "We are pleased and proud to welcome the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, Palpatine…" her voice trailed off uncertainly. "Um, Palpatine…?" She threw a desperate glance at Palpatine, who shrugged, unable to figure out what the problem was.
"Last name?" the man with the headphones and the datapad hissed directly into the Chancellor's ear.
"Pardon?" Palpatine asked him politely.
"First name?" the man with the headphones asked. Palpatine shook his head, puzzled. "Look, don't you have another name besides Palpatine?" Padmé stepped forward into camera range. When she spoke, it was in the clipped, strangulated accent of the well-born Nubian.
"I am Padmé Amidala, Queen of the Naboo. Today Chancellor Palpatine and I will be preparing a dish featuring the Nubian Grak-Nak, a creature native to our homeworld of Naboo. Grak-Nak is tricky to prepare, because if it isn't done just right, it can have a very strong, unpleasant taste." She glanced over to see Palpatine and the man with the headphones arguing in furious whispers just out of camera range. "Chancellor Palpatine?" she called.
"Yes, Your Majesty," he replied, walking over to join Padmé and the hostess in front of the camera. The hostess smiled brilliantly at him.
"It's such an honor to have you here in our studio today, Chancellor," she gushed, laying a hand on his arm. She looked into the camera. "Let me just tell all you ladies watching at home that holovids simply don't do him justice. The Chancellor is MUCH better looking in person."
"That's not saying much," Palpatine murmured. Padmé giggled. Loitering out of camera range, Anakin and Obi-Wan exchanged glances.
"See what power does?" Obi-Wan mused.
"Yeah," Anakin agreed. " It makes women hot." They watched as the hostess continued to flirt openly with Palpatine.
"Do you think she has a chance?" Obi-Wan asked, indicating the hostess.
"Nah," Anakin said, shaking his head. "Sabé would eat her for breakfast."
"So," the hostess was saying. "Are you both ready to begin?"
"As ready as we'll ever be, I'd imagine," Padmé said.
"Your kitchen is right over there," the hostess told them, pointing. "It's been stocked with everything you requested."
"Thank the gods for that," Palpatine murmured as he followed Padmé over to "their" kitchen. The camera operator rolled the camera over to keep them in frame. For a moment, the two Naboo simply stood behind the counter staring at each other as though unable to figure out what to do next. Finally, Palpatine took charge. "Right," he said. "The first step is to wash the Grak-Nak – "
"The first step is to preheat the cooker," Padmé corrected him. He stopped rummaging in the refrigeration unit to glance over at her.
"Oh yes, absolutely right," he agreed. "I forgot about that part, and it is rather important." As she adjusted the cooker, he finally located the packaged Grak-Nak and removed it from the refrigeration unit. They were so absorbed in the task before them that they had quite forgotten about the holocamera that was broadcasting everything they did and said live to all of the viewers in the Republic. "Now," Palpatine said, unwrapping the package of meat. Both Naboo suddenly froze, looking down at the meat in disgust.
"Oh gross," Padmé said, sounding less regal by the moment.
"Indeed," Palpatine agreed, making a face. "I could have sworn we asked for skinless Grak-Nak." He pulled a piece of meat out of the wrapper and began washing it in the sink.
"Ewwww," Padmé said. "You didn't wash your hands first."
"Well, neither did you!" he reminded her.
"I didn't touch any food yet," she shot back. He shrugged.
"It's going in the cooker, you know," he said mildly.
"That skin looks disgusting," she said conversationally.
"I quite agree." He put the washed meat on a plate. The two Naboo regarded it for a moment.
"Let's take it off," Padmé suggested. She opened a drawer and rummaged around until she found a large pair of tongs. "Here," she said, brandishing the tongs. "You hold the meat, I'll pull the skin off."
"I don't want to touch it again," he complained.
"I am your Queen," she reminded him. "And I am not touching it." He sighed. Suddenly, inspiration struck. He opened the drawer and pulled out a large double-pronged fork with a long handle. "Good idea," she agreed. "You hold it down, I'll skin it." Palpatine stabbed a piece of meat with his fork.
"Go ahead," he said. Using the tongs, she grabbed the meat's skin and tugged on it. With a horrid wet ripping sound, the skin pulled away from the meat. Unfortunately, Padmé had misjudged the amount of force necessary to skin the meat, and as a result her arm snapped back, flinging the skin across the studio and into the bank of volunteers taking pledges.
"Hey!" someone yelled. "That's disgusting!"
"Sorry!" Padmé yelled in reply, trying very hard not to giggle as they went to work skinning the next piece of meat. Meanwhile, the skin's unhappy recipient had decided to take action. The skin suddenly came flying back to the kitchen area to hit Palpatine smack on the side of the head.
"Aaargh!" he yelled in disgust, pawing frantically at the side of his head. Padmé could no longer stifle her giggles, which had become full-fledged laughter. Finally managing to remove the slimy Grak-Nak skin from the side of his head, Palpatine turned to Padmé, an unreadable expression on his face.
"You think that's funny?" he asked her. Unable to reply, she simply nodded silently, laughing so hard that tears ran down her cheeks. Holding the skin between his thumb and forefinger, he brandished it at her. "You think that's FUNNY?" he repeated. He walked over to her and neatly draped the skin on top of her head. Padmé shrieked. "Now THAT is funny," he said as she tried to remove the slimy piece of skin from her head without actually touching it. Finally, she shook her head, flinging the skin against the studio wall, where it stuck, hanging there like a bizarre piece of artwork. Obi-Wan and Anakin were leaning against the studio wall, bent double from laughter. Suddenly, the skin peeled itself off the wall and sailed through the air, hitting the perky on-air hostess in the back of the head. She screamed and ran out of the studio.
"Anakin!" Padmé scolded, still laughing.
"It wasn't me!" Anakin protested.
"No," Obi-Wan agreed. "It was me."
"All right," Padmé said, trying to get back to business. "Next, you fry the Grak-Nak."
"No," Palpatine said. "Next you coat it with flour. THEN you fry it."
"Oops," Padmé said mildly. Palpatine retrieved a bowl from the cupboard and dumped some flour into it. The flour went everywhere, rising up in a cloud to coat his hair and face.
"Pfffffffffft." Palpatine exhaled through pursed lips, trying to blow some of the flour off his face. Padmé pointed at him and laughed helplessly. He opened his eyes and gave her a dirty look. Grabbing the tongs, Padmé dipped a piece of meat into the flour, coating it evenly and putting it on a waiting plate. She repeated the operation with each piece of meat. Meanwhile, the combination of the hot cooker and the hot studio lights was becoming too much for Palpatine, who had worn stately Nubian robes for the occasion. He mopped his brow with a paper towel, leaving a pasty streak of sweaty flour across his forehead.
"Now," Padmé said, pouring oil into a skillet, "we fry this stuff."
"Allow me, Your Majesty," he offered.
"OK, I'll get the pans ready," she agreed. He took the tongs from her and ignited the gas burner under the skillet. The oil began to sizzle, and he used the tongs to drop several pieces of meat into the skillet. The pan Padmé was removing from the cupboard fell to the ground with a clatter, and she bent to retrieve it.
"Here, let me help," he said, bending over and grabbing the pan. He completely failed to notice how close his voluminous robes were to the gas burner's open flame. He stood and placed the pan on the counter.
"While he's frying the meat, I'll coat the pan with cooking spray," Padmé told the camera. Suddenly, she stopped what she was doing to sniff the air. "What's that burning smell?" she asked, glancing around. Anakin rushed onto the set.
"Roasted Nubian," he told her shortly, simultaneously removing his brown outer cloak and wrapping it around Palpatine.
"What do you think you're doing?" the Chancellor protested.
"Putting out the fire, Hot Pants," Anakin replied. Palpatine turned his head, futilely trying to look at the back of his robes.
"Oh my!" Padmé exclaimed, breaking into a fit of laughter.
"I don't see anything," Palpatine said.
"I can see quite a lot from where I'm standing, Chancellor," Padmé told him. He put a hand on his backside, feeling charred cloth and… his eyes widened. "Nice underwear," Padmé added. Palpatine turned crimson.
"Here," Anakin said, offering his brown outer cloak to the mortified Chancellor. Though it was far too big and far too long for him, Palpatine pulled it on over his Nubian robes. The brown cloak's huge sleeves flapped comically every time he moved his hands.
"Let me finish frying the meat, Chancellor," Padmé said. "You're liable to set those sleeves on fire." Anakin returned to the side of the studio to watch from off-camera with Obi-Wan. Padmé used the tongs to turn the meat over, while Palpatine continued to coat the pans with nonstick cooking spray. Padmé began removing the pieces of meat from the skillet and placing them in the pans. Palpatine took the skillet full of hot oil and placed it in the sink, where it sizzled and spat alarmingly. Padmé grabbed a bottle of Open Pit from the refrigeration unit, uncapped it and squirted a generous amount over each piece of meat. Suddenly recalling the camera and her audience, she looked up and spoke. "You coat the meat with sauce, then you add just enough water to coat the bottom of the pan. That's so the Grak-Nak doesn't burn up." Palpatine tore a piece of aluminum foil off the roll and handed it to her. "Now you cover the pans and you cook the Grak-Nak for fifteen minutes." Palpatine held the cooker door open for her as she slid the pans inside. "After it cooks for fifteen minutes," she continued, "you remove it from the oven." Beside her, Palpatine tried to tidy things up a bit. He grabbed the squeeze bottle of Open Pit and turned to put it back in the refrigeration unit. His foot slipped on the flour underfoot, and he slid smoothly across the studio floor, arms flailing for balance, unwittingly squirting Open Pit all over the kitchen set, the camera, and Padmé, who screamed. Regaining his balance, he glanced around.
"Oh dear," he murmured. The on-air hostess was suddenly on the set with them. She still had a small piece of slimy Grak-Nak skin stuck in her hair barrette.
"Well," she said, trying hard for a pleasant, perky tone. "I'm afraid that's all the time we have for Queen Padmé and Chancellor Palpatine. Up next is Bib Fortuna from Tatooine, demonstrating how to prepare broiled sandcrabs." As the camera in front of the other kitchen set took over the live feed, the red light on the camera in front of them winked off. The hostess surveyed the sauce-coated set and camera, the flour all over the floor, and the slimy stain left on the studio wall by the wayward Grak-Nak skin. She shook her head in disgust and walked off.
"I have a feeling we'll not be invited back next time," Palpatine murmured to Padmé as they walked off the set together.
"I have a feeling you may be right," she agreed, wiping sticky Open Pit off her face. Anakin and Obi-Wan walked over to join them.
"That was the best cooking show I've ever seen," Obi-Wan told the two Naboo.
"Yeah," Anakin agreed. "They're usually really boring." The on-air hostess approached them again, trailed by a young Rodian.
"Well," she said heavily, "it seems the viewers loved you."
"They did?" Palpatine asked incredulously. She nodded.
"But we messed everything up," Padmé protested.
"See these?" the hostess asked, holding up a stack of pledge slips. The two Naboo nodded. "They're pledges generated by your segment. Listen to this," she said, reading from the top pledge slip. "'That's the funniest thing I've seen on the holonet in a long time, and certainly the best thing I've seen on public broadcasting. Keep up the good work!'. And there's this one, 'If those two aren't a professional comedy team, they should be! Put me down for fifty credits and send me the recipe book. If there's a holovid, send me that too.'"
"Most of the people who called in were laughing the whole time they were giving their pledges," the Rodian said. "I almost didn't volunteer for this pledge drive, because they're usually so boring."
"Well, it wasn't boring today," the on-air hostess said. "And we would like you both to come back for our next pledge drive."
"I don't know if I want to continue to make a fool of myself on live holonet," Palpatine said. The hostess raised her eyebrows at him.
"Chancellor, the viewers loved seeing you just being yourself – listen to this." She began reading from the pledge slips again. "'Chancellor Palpatine always seems like a real cold fish when I see him on the holonews. It was nice to see he's human after all.' and 'It was great seeing the Chancellor loosen up a bit. He comes across like a stiff whenever he's on the news or giving a speech. It's nice to know that the guy who oversees the Senate has a sense of humor.'" Suddenly, Padmé sniffed the air.
"What's that burning smell?" she asked.
"Oh gods, it's not me, is it?" Palpatine asked, flinging off Anakin's brown cloak to inspect his robes.
"The Grak-Nak!" Padmé wailed, running to the kitchen set where their forgotten entrée was burning up in the oven. Palpatine hurried over, and together they pulled the cooker door open, discharging a huge cloud of black smoke that filled the studio. Anakin and Obi-Wan went over to inspect the damage. Soon, everyone was choking and coughing as the sickening smell of burnt Grak-Nak permeated the studio. The Rodian shook his head.
"I have figured out why the viewers like them so much," he told the on-air hostess as they both watched the two Naboo and the two Jedi frantically waving their arms to dispel the smoke.
"Why's that?" she asked.
"Those guys are weird," he told her.
BONUS SECTION: How to prepare Barbequed Grak-Nak at home! (and you don't even have to pledge 50 Republic Credits to get the recipe!)
You will need:
1 whole fresh Nubian Grak-Nak, cut into pieces (if your local supermarket doesn't carry fresh Grak-Nak, one whole fresh chicken cut into pieces will also work, as will boneless, skinless chicken pieces).
Open Pit Barbeque Sauce (Original Recipe)
Nonstick cooking spray
A metal baking pan
Preheat your cooker to 925 Nubian Degrees (if you're using a stove, set it for 350 degrees).
Wash the Grak-Nak (or chicken, if that's what you're using) and pat it dry. Even though Padmé and Palpatine were grossed out by the Grak-Nak skin, there's no need to remove the skin unless you want to. Roll the pieces in the flour. In the skillet, heat the canola oil. Lightly brown the meat in the canola oil. Spray the baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place the meat in the pan and pour a liberal amount of Open Pit over it. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the baking pan. Cover the baking pan with aluminum foil. Bake your Grak-Nak for fifteen minutes, then remove it from the oven, turn the meat and pour some more Open Pit on each piece. Make sure there is still enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, replace the foil, and bake it for 45 more minutes or until the meat is done and the sauce is thick and bubbly. Serve hot.