Like I’d promised, today Mao-chan was invited to my cooking lesson with Akimi-san.
Because I wanted to recreate the food that my mum made in my last life, most of the recipes that I was learning from her were for Japanese home-cooking.
And since most of it was brown and boring-looking, I suggested that we do something a bit more interesting for Mao-chan’s visit.
After some discussion, we decided that it would be gratin for today.
Gratin is a widespread culinary technique in which an ingredient is topped with a browned crust, often using breadcrumbs, grated cheese, egg and/or butter. In Japan it typically refers to meat or vegetables topped with a layer of bechamel, then cheese, then bread crumbs.
“Wah! I love gratin!” exclaimed Mao-chan in her cute little apron.
Kids do love their western dishes.
First we had to mix the flour and milk until there were no lumps.
I already knew the importance of removing the lumps, thanks to my lessons with Wakaba-chan.
Akimi-san taught us that it would be good to remember how to make the bechamel sauce, because it was used in a lot of other dishes too.
Come to think of it, Mum always used supermarket roux in her dishes, didn’t she.
Maybe I could just use that…
I mean, it was delicious, okay?
Besides the gratin we also made minestrone.
Minestrone is a thick soup of Italian origin made with vegetables, often with the addition of pasta or rice, sometimes both. In Japan, minestrone is typically a tomato soup with pasta.
This dish needed vegetables, so I was a little worried.
Somebody was going to have
to cut them, and I really didn’t want mess it up in front of Mao-chan.
The carrots I managed, because I had practised a lot at home.
I used a vegetable peeler on it, and then cut them into 1 cm cubes.
Always considerate, Akimi-san took care of the things she knew I was bad at, and somehow I managed to save face in front of Mao-chan.
“That’s a lovely necklace, Reika-san.”
When the two of them realised the pearl necklace was from Imari-sama they began to squeal and compliment him.
I told them a few stories about him and they seemed really taken with him.
Mao-chan had Yuuri-kun so that was one thing, but I really didn’t think it would be good for Akimi-san to be too adoring of him.
And Oniisama always grimaces and tells me “Anybody but Imari.”
Apparently beyond just the crazy stories I’d heard about, he had caused countless other incidents.
For lunch we had the gratin and minestrone, along with some baguettes that Akimi-san made.
It was delcious!
Bread was good stuff.
I’d been looking for a good bakery, but making it yourself was fun too.
Mao-chan said her mother baked bread too, sometimes.
Hm, maybe I would learn to bake bread next.
Akimi-san told us that making baguettes was difficult, so maybe we’d start with bagels first.
I loved bagels!
Bagels sandwiches were great too.
In just the course of the day, Mao-chan had become good friends with Akimi-san.
Akimi-san was gentle and kind, and she was a bit round too, so she was relaxing to be with.
Mao-chan asked if she could come next time when we were making bread, so Akimi-san told her that of course
course she could.
Oniisama wasn’t at home today, so I told Akimi-san that I’d get a driver to send her home.
Instead, Mao-chan suggested that she drop Akimi-san off as well.
They were really getting along~
The one picking her up turned out to be Ichinokura-san.
“Good afternoon. We’ve really troubled you with Mao-chan today. Thank you for everything, Reika-san.”
“Not at all. Thanks to Mao-chan we all had a great time.”
“Haruto-niisama, this is Narutomi Akimi-san. She was our cooking teacher today!”
“Please to meet you. I’m Ichinokura Haruto, Mao-chan’s uncle.”
“Ah, I’m Narutomi Akimi…”
She seemed a bit nervous about meeting a stranger.
“Haruto-niisama, can we drop off Akimi-san too? It’s fine, right?” Mao-chan asked.
“Um, Mao-chan, I can catch a taxi…” she demurred shyly, but Ichinokura-san was already answering Mao-chan.
“Of course we can. Akimi-san, please let us drive you home.”
She must have been nervous because instead of some old Sawarabi chaffeur, we ended up with a handsome young man instead.
Mao-chan’s invitation was hard to turn down though, so in the end she agreed and left with the three of them.
I wondered if Mao-chan was trying to matchmake them.
She was really acting like a meddlesome aunty just now.
Since it was spring break, I decided to visit Wakaba-chan.
It was a bit blunt to just say ‘Let’s hang out’ though, so instead I sent her a message that said,
‘I was thinking of buying some of your cakes. Would it be fine to come over?’
‘Yeah, let’s hang out!’
came the reply.
Man, it was convenient having an excuse like that.
And so today she was waiting for me at the train station again.
“The brats at my home are always
are always asking me, ‘When is Kisshouin-san coming over again?’ you know.”
“‘When is Cornet coming over?’ more like.”
“Ahaha~ Sorry. I keep scolding them about it but they just won’t listen.”
“Nothing to worry about. To be honest I have already resigned myself to it.”
Besides, it sounded closer than the distant-sounding ‘Kisshouin-san’ anyway.
“How were things afterwards?” I asked. “The bullying, I mean.”
“Mmn, nothing really happened since the locker incident. It really blew up, so everyone was being watched too carefully to try anything, I guess,” she said.
“I see. It would be nice if that continued until graduation,” I said.
“It would be,” she agreed.
Since she was the smartest girl in our grade, I think people would have respected her more if she seemed a bit more together.
I think people thought she was an easy target because she looked a bit dopey or undignified sometimes.
“It’s pretty hot, huh~”
Like just now. Her mouth was still hanging open.
She was the most relaxed-looking person I knew.
“Say, Takamichi-san? Your mouth is still open,” I couldn’t help but say.
In a panic she clamped it shut.
“You seem to have a habit of that…”
It was a little rude, but I tried asking about it anyway.
Maybe she hadn’t even noticed herself.
In that case, addressing it would be the first step to making her look capable.
“Ahhh, yeah… It’s because I have a bad habit of clencing my teeth.”
That was surprising.
“Clenching your teeth?”
“Yeah. When I sleep I tend to grind them, so I actually have a line on the inside of my mouth where my teeth meet. My dentist told me that it would wear both my teeth both my teeth in the long run, so it would be better to address the habit while I was young. Since then I loosen my jaw a bit whenever I remember.”
What the hell!?
So her stupid-looking expression actually had such a reasonable explanation behind it!
“It wouldn’t be a problem if I could just keep my lips shut, but my whole mouth opens when I’m not paying attention,” she laughed.
Still, it wouldn’t make sense to tell her to stop doing it then.
“So your gums have a clench mark?”
“It’s pretty obvious in the mirror. It looks like a horizontal white line. I can feel it with my tongue too.”
I curiously licked my own mouth and found that I had one too.
Was I clenching my teeth as well!?
Maybe it was the stress…
It wasn’t because I had fat cheeks or anything, right?
But when I ate, sometimes I ended up biting them…
Kanta-kun greeted us when we arrived.
I followed the recipe and the fondant au chocolat turned out well, I reported.
He pridefully huffed that of course it would.
I commented that I was thinking of learning to bake bread, and got a whole lot of points to be careful about when baking it.
Apparently it was quite similar to baking desserts.
And then again, I got an earful about the importance of following the recipe.
Okay, okay, I get it already.
The three of us had a chat, and ended up deciding to just make something since I was here already.
I was excitedly discussing what to make with them when Wakaba-chan’s mother came into the house from the storefront.
“Wabaka, Kaburagi-kun is out front in the store.”