In today's story, Goulash, Ronny's dad serves up a magical dinner
Today's prompt was inspired by a random online article about goulash. This traditional Hungarian dish inspired a loosely related American version that was a favorite when I was growing up, though I haven't thought about it in years.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 62 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Goulash.
Before we get to the story, here’s how this podcast works: I write a short piece of fiction from a simple prompt, with no planning and very little editing, and then I share that story with you.
I recently stumbled on today’s prompt somewhere online, I forget where. One of my feeds had an article about goulash, maybe comparing goulash in different regions? I don’t know. I barely skimmed it. But it did remind me that goulash was one of my favorite foods when I was a kid.
Of course, the Midwest version of goulash I grew up with was basically elbow macaroni in a tomato sauce with ground beef. Though it may have had paprika and other traditional goulash spices because I do remember a different flavor than on spaghetti nights.
As a kid, I also thought it had a really fun name.
Let’s get on to the story:
Ronny walked into the kitchen with a toy truck grasped in one hand and the neck of his t-shirt stretched over his chin. His dad was stirring something on the stove.
“Can Jake stay for dinner?”
Jake was playing with Ronny’s trucks in the next room, and Ronny was pretty sure his dad would say yes, as long as Ronny didn’t ask him in front of Jake. That was a house rule.
His dad sprinkled something from a metal shaker into the pan and tilted his head to one side, considering.
“Your mom and sister are out tonight,” he reminded Ronny. “I thought we’d have goulash for dinner.”
Ronny’s eyes lit up and his smile widened. Now, Jake had to stay for dinner!
“You think Jake would like that?” Ronny’s dad asked, barely concealing his own wide smile.
“He’ll love it!” Ronny affirmed, his face flushed and his eyes like dinner plates.
“All right,” his dad grinned brightly. “I’ll call his mom. You go play while I finish up in here.”
Racing to the next room, Ronny nearly shouted his friend’s name.
“Jake! Jake! Jake!” He skidded to a stop, catching his breath. “We’re having goulash!”
The air was electric, suffused with Ronny’s enthusiasm, but Jake only blinked in confusion.
“Goulash!” Ronny repeated, dropping his truck and holding his open hands to the skies as if in praise to the culinary gods.
“Uh, okay,” Jake shrugged. “Sounds kinda gross.”
“Gross?!” Dropping his arms, Ronny could only stare in abject horror. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Nope,” Jake agreed calmly. “Never heard of the stuff.”
He pushed a green truck up the ramp they’d built out of wooden blocks, ignoring Ronny’s slack jaw and drooping shoulders.
After a few seconds of silence, Ronny pulled himself together. He squatted on the other side of the ramp and peered intently at his friend’s unconcerned face.
“Goulash is magic,” he whispered reverently.
Jake glanced at him, disbelief lifting an eyebrow and scrunching his nose.
“Isn’t goulash like rain boots?” he asked half-heartedly, running another truck up the ramp and onto the couch. “My grandad calls ‘em that.”
“What? No!” Ronny was appalled. Goulash was nothing like rain boots.
“I told you,” he repeated, “it’s ma-gic!”
Ronny drew the word out for emphasis, but Jake was unimpressed. When his friend picked up a third truck, Ronny knocked it out of his hand.
“Hey!” Jake shouted. His face flushed, matching Ronny’s high color. Without another thought, he knocked the ramp over, sending blocks crashing to the floor. But Ronny didn’t get mad.
“Just wait,” he said grimly. “You’ll see.”
Ten minutes later, they were sitting at the kitchen table. Gray bowls sat empty at each place and a covered skillet perched on a wooden block at the center of the table.
Ronny’s dad handed around cloth napkins, then tucked his own into his shirtfront with a flourish. Ronny did the same and Jake followed their lead, a little uncertainly.
“We must prepare ourselves before the feast,” Ronny’s dad began somberly, despite the brightly striped napkin billowing over his chest. He turned to Jake. “Has Ronny told you the tale of the goulash?”
“N-no,” Jake stammered, “but my grandad calls his rain boots goulash. I think.”
Ronny slapped his own forehead and groaned. His dad shot him a look of warning before responding to Jake kindly.
“I think you mean galoshes. Galoshes are kind of like rain boots that fit over shoes.”
“Yeah, that’s them!” Jake beamed, jutting his chin at Ronny defiantly.
“Goulash isn’t like galoshes,” Ronny’s dad rushed on, before the boys could say anything else. “But I was wearing galoshes when I got the recipe for this goulash.”
“You were?” Ronny asked, seeing Jake beginning to take an interest.
“You need galoshes when climbing the North Hungarian Mountains.”
“You climbed a mountain?” Jake asked, while Ronny smirked with pride.
“I did,” Ronny’s dad nodded resolutely. “My adventure began in Budapest, where I stayed in a royal palace, dining with kings and queens.”
“On goulash?” Jake interrupted.
“Shhh!” Ronny scolded. “Let him tell it!”
“Not on goulash,” Ronny’s dad corrected gently. “We dined on roast pheasant and chocolate cake.” He gestured grandly, conjuring images of fancy dining in an opulent castle.
“But late one night, I heard a whispering in the hall outside my bed chamber. It was a rustling whisper, like the wings of a fairy. So, I climbed out of bed and crept out to investigate. Soon, I found a young girl huddled in the shadow of a suit of armor. I thought she was a member of the royal family, but when I got closer, I saw she had silver eyes and the pointed ears of an elf.”
“An elf?” Jake started to laugh but was stopped by Ronny’s solemn nod. “An elf?” he asked again, weakly.
“An elf,” Ronny’s dad confirmed. “She was lost from her mountain home and had wandered into the palace looking for help, though she was afraid to ask because humans frightened her.”
“But not as much as trolls,” Ronny supplied quickly.
“Right,” his dad agreed. “Not as much as trolls. And she would have to pass through troll territory if she wanted to get back to her home all the way at the top of a mountain.”
He continued the story, describing the caution they used in sneaking out of the palace under the cover of dark, with only the supplies he could carry in his pack.
“And your galoshes?” Jake asked.
“And my galoshes,” Ronny’s dad agreed. He told them about their long walk through the woods and the beautiful voice of the young elf as she sang to keep their spirits up.
“When we finally reached the base of the mountain, we came across a small stone cottage where the windows were lit, and smoke drifted out the chimney. With the smoke, came the most enchanting scent.”
He explained that the young elf was weak with hunger by that point, so they took a chance and knocked on the cottage door. The old woman who let them in graciously brought them to her table where she ladled out a fragrant stew.
“Goulash?” Jake asked, now hanging on every word.
“Goulash,” Ronny’s dad agreed, lifting the cover from the skillet on their table.
Steam billowed from under the cover. Ronny and Jake swatted it away, already tantalized by the scents filling the kitchen. When the air cleared, Jake peered with caution and saw a dish that looked reassuringly like macaroni with chunks of tomatoes and clumps of ground beef. Ronny’s dad pulled out a ladle and began to serve.
“The goulash was too hot to eat right away,” he told them. “So, the old woman asked about our journey. When she heard where we were going, she said we would need help getting past the trolls. Then, she went to her pantry and came back with a metal shaker.”
He pulled out his own metal shaker and sprinkled an orange-red powder onto each of their bowls.
“She told us she was a good witch, and she had a magic powder that would keep us safe.”
Jake glanced at Ronny, still doubtful but wanting to believe. Ronny nodded proudly and stirred the powder into his goulash, blowing on it to help it cool faster. Jake did the same, and Ronny’s dad continued the story.
“Well, the magic powder would be a help, but it wouldn’t protect us completely. So, the woman brought out an amulet for each of us to wear.”
He pulled out two necklaces that looked like polished rocks hanging from leather bands and passed one to each of the boys. Jake watched Ronny don his amulet, then did the same. The scent of the goulash was tickling his nose and his mouth began to water.
“And did you…?” Jake asked nervously. “Meet any trolls?”
Ronny’s dad smiled knowingly and lifted his spoon.
“I’ll tell you while we eat,” he offered, closing his eyes to better savor his first bite of the fragrant dish.
Jake hesitated over his full spoon, letting the steamy aroma drift over his face. He closed his eyes like Ronny and his dad, then took a bite. The savory meat and pasta had a spicy flavor that must be the taste of magic. He opened his eyes in surprise.
“This is good,” he admitted with a toothy grin. “Now, about those trolls…?”
Ronny’s dad laughed, then settled in to tell the rest of his story over their steamy bowls of goulash.
Thanks for joining me. Does today’s prompt give you a story idea? I’d love to hear what you come up with. You can connect with me on social media, visit my website, SusanQuilty.com, or support my writing through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty. (Links are in the show notes.)
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]