In this week's story, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Jeff and Tiffany plan a menu for their daughter's upcoming visit
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Otherwise, prompts are chosen in random ways. This week's prompt may have come from a craving for spaghetti and meatballs!
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.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 23 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 Spaghetti and Meatballs
If you’re new to Freely Written, here’s how my process works: I use a word or phrase to prompt a quick story—with no planning and very little editing—and then I share that story with you.
I must be hungry today because I have food on my mind, specifically comfort food like spaghetti and meatballs. That being said, I have a limited diet due to allergies and other health issues, so I often have to update my childhood comfort foods to fit my current needs. That’s second nature to me but can be strange for my friends who are able to eat whatever they want. I guess that was on my mind, too, when I jumped into this food-based story.
And here we go:
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Jeff pushed a half-full cart down the brightly lit aisle while Tiffany skimmed her digital shopping list. The grocery store was quiet this time of day. Jeff liked having the store mostly to themselves, and he liked hearing songs from his teen years playing over the loudspeakers.
“Did we decide what to make for dinner tomorrow night? When Cindy and Rick come over?”
Tiffany checked an item off her list and shrugged.
“No, but let’s keep it simple.”
“Oh, of course,” Jeff agreed. “I was thinking spaghetti and meatballs would be good. The meatballs can simmer while we visit over drinks, then we just need to throw in the spaghetti when we’re ready to eat.”
“Hmm,” Tiffany hesitated. She knew Jeff was excited for this visit and didn’t want to squelch his enthusiasm.
“Is there something wrong with spaghetti and meatballs?”
Jeff pushed the cart around a fallen box of cereal, then bent to put it back in its proper place. Their daughter couldn’t come to town very often and on this trip, she was finally bringing her boyfriend to meet them. Jeff thought some hearty comfort food would make the right impression.
“Well, kind of…” Tiffany began gently.
“Oh, right,” Jeff jumped in. “I know you can’t have wheat anymore, but we can do a pot of rice noodles for you and regular pasta for the rest of us. You like rice noodles with meatballs and sauce, right?”
“I do,” Tiffany agreed. “But Cindy and Rick are vegan.”
“They’re what?” Jeff stopped the cart and looked at his wife in confusion. “Since when is Cindy vegan? She had a hamburger at our Fourth of July party.”
“She had a veggie burger,” Tiffany corrected. “Black bean and tofu. She made it inside while you were at the grill.”
“Oh.” Jeff didn’t know what to say. His daughter was an adult and could eat what she liked, but it felt strange to not know she’d given up meat.
“Okay, well, we can pick up some veggie meatballs, right? I mean, they must make them if they make veggie burgers.”
“Yes…” Tiffany agreed carefully. “But I can’t eat soy, so I’ll just have plain sauce on my noodles.”
“Oh, right,” Jeff frowned. “Well, I’m not exactly excited about trying the meatless ones myself, so we’ll make both. Meatless meatballs for the kids and meat meatballs for us. Huh… that sounds weird.”
They laughed over his choice of words and made their way down the aisle.
“So, two pots of sauce with different types of meatballs, and two pots of water for the different noodles?”
“Sure, why not!” Jeff laughed, happy to have solved her worries so easily. “We have four burners, might as well use them.”
“I guess we can make a salad to go with it,” Tiffany offered. “I’ll add spinach to the list.”
“Let’s have a caprese salad instead,” Jeff countered as they turned the corner at the end of the aisle. “Get some fresh mozzarella, and we’ll use tomatoes and basil from the garden.”
He could picture impressing Cindy and Rick with a beautiful platter of layered tomatoes, basil, and cheese dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper.
“Uh, Jeff,” Tiffany reminded, “They’re vegan. No mozzarella. No cheese.”
“But cheese isn’t meat!” Jeff blurted out, louder than intended, then hurried on as another couple turned their way.
“Vegan means they don’t eat any animal products. So not just meat, but also cheese, eggs, butter…”
“Butter?” Jeff stopped again, his face falling. “How do I make my signature garlic bread without butter?”
Tiffany shrugged. Having not eaten wheat in years, she couldn’t quite grasp Jeff’s love of bread at every meal.
“Olive oil?” She suggested, turning to examine the rows of jarred olives.
“Yeah, maybe…” Jeff’s grand plans for a traditional family dinner were beginning to feel complicated. “They do eat olives, right?”
“Yes, of course,” Tiffany smiled. “We can set some out to snack on before dinner.”
“Yeah, okay,” Jeff brightened. “Maybe with some artichokes and roasted red peppers?”
“Sure,” Tiffany agreed. “And some crackers for the rest of you.”
Tiffany tapped at her digital list while Jeff pictured the four of them nibbling at a colorful tray of pre-dinner snacks while the stove bubbled away with two pots of sauce and two pots of noodles…
“Maybe this is a bad idea,” Jeff worried, gripping the cart handle as Tiffany gently placed jars of olives in the cart.
“What is?” Tiffany was alarmed to see the color had drained from Jeff’s face.
“We’re making two dinners…” He stammered nervously. “One for us and one for them. What kind of message is that? That isn’t a welcome to the family dinner! That’s a dinner designed to point out their differences…”
Jeff’s voice rose as his tone became mocking, “Hi, Rick, nice to meet you. Your dinner is over there and ours is over here. You don’t really belong. And, sorry, honey, you don’t belong anymore either. You’re with Rick now. Go have your dinner from that side of the stove!”
“Jeff, breathe!” Tiffany stepped close, rubbing her hand over her husband’s back and making her own breaths slow and steady. “That’s it, in and out, just breathe.”
After a few shaky breaths, Jeff felt steadier. He peeled his fingers from the cart handle and noticed the dampness of his palms.
“She’s never brought a boy home to meet us before,” he told Tiffany timidly. “Not since high school.”
“I know,” Tiffany soothed, still rubbing her palm in circles on his back.
“I want to make a good impression,” Jeff admitted, beginning to feel a little foolish about his outburst. “Maybe we should just forget cooking and order pizza.”
“Without cheese?” Tiffany asked, a hint of a smile creeping over her face.
“What?” Jeff looked confused, then shook his head with a laugh.
“Because they’re vegan,” he and Tiffany said together.
Jeff glanced around the store, hoping no one had witnessed his minor meltdown and smiled at Tiffany sheepishly.
She smiled back, saying, “They will love the spaghetti and meatless meatballs.”
Thanks for joining me today. I never know where these stories will go, but I hope you enjoyed listening. If you’d like to learn more about me and my books, you can visit my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also find me on social media or support me through my Patreon page.
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]