by Susu & Rosie
Winter was selected as Princess Leia's companion at a very young age, and the two girls grew up practically as sisters. Winter resembled Leia physically, and the two girls would even wear wigs and trade clothes to get through classes or to give Leia relief from her aunts' scrutiny. They played and got into mischief together and were the best of friends, inseparable and comfortable in each other's company. But when Leia decided to run for Alderaan's seat in the Imperial Senate, the subject of her companion became a serious one.
The palace insisted that Leia needed more than a friend and playmate. She needed a guard, an aide, a social secretary, someone who could go undercover for her, or could act as her decoy and double. The royal staff discussed assigning several women to Leia, similar to the plan devised for Leia's mother when she was Queen, then Senator, of Naboo.
Of course, Leia knew nothing of the provenance of the palace's suggestions; even so, she thoroughly resisted efforts to remove Winter. She argued with her father that Winter could do everything the palace required, she just needed to be given a chance! She knew more than Leia about lots of stuff -- she was a natural learner. Just because she hadn't been specially selected to be a bodyguard and etiquette policewoman, it didn't mean Winter wasn't suited to the job!
Bail Organa promised that Winter could always be part of Leia's personal staff, but Leia retorted that Winter was good enough to simply BE her ENTIRE staff. Hadn't she attended self defense classes and practices with the princess? Winter had been part of every tutorial and experience required of Leia. Organa and Leia's aunts argued back that Winter had simply been an observer -- she hadn't been groomed and trained with this important job in mind.
Leia and Winter struck a deal with the palace staff -- Winter would undergo rigorous testing in the span of one day. If her skills were as native and intuitive as Leia claimed, she should not need time for preparation; besides, being Leia's sole aide would be a high-pressure, stress-filled situation, requiring improvisation and confidence. Though Leia complained it was unfair, Winter agreed to the terms; she would perform the tasks assigned to her, sit through interviews, and do what was required to convince the palace. She didn't want to leave Leia either!
Winter was grilled about geography, politics and etiquette; she performed native dances from a dozen different systems; her elocution and diction were tested, as was her ability to draft laws and bills, and to create editorial pieces for distribution to Leia's future constituency. It was during this quizzing that it was confirmed that Winter posessed a photographic memory, one that did not lose any information. Her mind was highly organized and her responses appropriate to the scenarios and situations thrown at her by the testing committee.
She had done well in marksmanship, and in procedures to protect or recover the princess in difficult and compromising situations, such as kidnapping, arrest and politically delicate meetings. She could speak in Leia's voice and manner, and measurements concluded that she was a bit thinner and taller than Leia, but was otherwise capable of being Leia's double.
At last, the final test had come ... Winter would cook and serve a formal meal for the palace officials who were judging and critiquing her. Within a restricted budget, she was told nothing could be too spicy or greasy; none of the food should offend in any way. In fact, none of it should call too much attention to itself, yet should provide an outlet for conversation if necessary.
How did she do? Read on ... the rest of the story lies within the menu!
Politicians tend to be conservative eaters, no matter their politics. Winter surmised that the food needed to be dressed up versions of food that children like to eat. The flavors are popular and "safe," and are not aggressive so that they don't become the showcase of the meal. After all, everyone knows that any meal organized around social obligations or fundraisers is not about the food! And yet, it had to be appealing and tasty. Not that simple to do! In addition, there was the limited time and money budget to consider. Winter didn't have a lot of resources to play with, so she decided to keep it simple.
For the first course, Winter chose a recipe that basically has only two ingredients. It's so simple to make, and is deceptively delicious, yet if the conversation got heated, it wouldn't distract the speakers from making their points.
Good for a Date Thick, White Soup
Feeding politicians and etiquette-bitches is a bit like dating, menu-wise. There are so many things you should not order in a restaurant on a first date. Anything that required slurping, has the potential to stain, or anything that squirts or has the potential to be superheated. Nothing that requires extreme dexterity or unfamiliar hand or mouth motions, either! Potato and leek soup can be served cold, thickened with cream. Even without these amendments, the soup is thick and white, so no drips and no stains!
This salad is actually something between a vegetable dish and a sauce. Winter served it as a side dish with strong-tasting fish; it mediated intense flavors and complemented them, even cooling the dish down. The portions can be small, so that diners don't get too full before the main course. Filling people to moaning stage is an etiquette no-no, by the way!
Elegant Salt-Encrusted Whole Fish
This is a tricky dish, but only in concept. A whole fish is stuffed with herbs and the covered complete with coarse salt, and the whole thing is baked. It comes out intense and succulent, and doesn't taste of salt! It's brought tableside so the guests can be suitably impressed, then the salt shell cracked apart, the fish skinned and filleted, portions plated tableside. It takes a lot of style and patience to carry it off, and it impressed the palace judges when Winter served a dozen boneless portions without looking rushed or frazzled. She didn't even break a sweat, so confident was she in this dish.
A particular tiny bird dish was all the rage on Alderaan, simply because the preparation was so fussy and the birds were not successful breeders, either in the wild or in captivity. Despite their semi-endangered state, the wealthy clamored for them. To everyone's surprise, young Winter served this course of moist, stuffed birds, and they wondered how she could have afforded and procured them. Little did they know, it was a more common nerf-like creature, sliced thinly and rolled around stuffing. She simply shaped them to resemble boned, amputated avians. It's simple to make and impressed everyone!
Put the diced onion, carrot, celeery into the hot pan and sauté till the onions are translucent. Stir in the tomato paste, wine and stock and mix thoroughly. Put the rolls back into the pan and lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and allow to cook for about an hour. At the end of the hour, remove the rolls again and raise the heat to make the sauce. Boil to evaporate to a gravy, then season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Return the rolls to heat again. Serve with a starch, like potatoes, noodles, rice or bread rolls. Serves 4.
Caramel Mocha "Surprise" Torte
While this dessert was being served, Leia's aunts noted that her behavior was superlative, better than usual. On the other hand, Winter, who had served and performed impeccably up until now, had made several major social and serving errors. The cake slices were cracked and uneven, served sloppily, and the plates arranged haphazardly. She did not remain "in the background" as a server, her fingernails appeared to have suddenly become chewed, and for some reason she smelled funny.
The committee sadly reported to Winter that they thought she'd snapped under the pressure of the day, even though the meal was delicious (especially this cake!). If she could fail under test conditions, they didn't think she'd suit real, unpredictable situations. Winter smiled, and pulled off her hair -- it was Leia! The well-behaved princess was actually Winter in disguise! Leia's aunts realized then that Winter was more an ideal princess than the princess ... something that should not have been a surprise to anyone. Everyone enjoyed the cake and caf, and Winter became Leia's sole aide thereafter.
(By the way, making this cake is a lot of steps, but none of them is difficult. Give yourself plenty of time, and if you make a mistake, don't worry about it! Cover it with whipped cream, and serve it with a smile anyway.)
Butter and grease a round springform cake pan, or spray with a non-stick cooking spray. Spread batter in the pan so that it's level. Bake until lightly brown; watch it carefully. Let cool for a few minutes; loosen from pan edges and remove from pan. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the cake horizontally into two layers while it's still warm. Repeat these steps two more times to make six layers of cake.
Beat the butter until it's creamy, then add to the cooled coffee/chocolate base. Stir while adding the vanilla extract.
Put the top layer on a piece of foil or wax paper, to be worked on. In a small skillet, put sugar and water together and heat quickly till the sugar is completely dissolved (swirl, don't stir!) and the sugar starts to turn amber-colored. Using a palate knife or spreader, quickly pour the caramel over the cake. Draw a knife through some extra butter and score the hardening caramel into 12 or 16 even wedges. Scoring the caramel will help prevent it from cracking when cutting and serving. When the caramel cools and hardens, place that layer on top of the cake. Be careful not to touch the caramel with your fingers, or you'll leave marks.
Decorate with whipped cream. Do not use Redi-Whip or any of the aerosol can-style creams -- they have too much air pumped into them and the cream cannot support itself and tends to collapse.
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