Tales of food, sex and friendship




Archive for March, 2011

Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

March 31, 2011

 


Everyone loves a cupcake! Stick to the original recipe below or experiment by adding your own flavours – orange, lemon, chocolate….pretty much anything goes! The cream cheese icing gives a decadent twist to the humble cake.

Makes 12

Cakes

2 cups self-raising flour

3/4 cup caster sugar

3/4 cup milk

125g butter, melted, cooled

2  eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla essence

Icing

125g unsalted butter, softened

250g cream cheese, softened

1 tsp vanilla essence

4 cups icing sugar

1 tblspn lemon or orange zest (optional)

Make the icing fist by beating butter, cream cheese and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually add icing sugar, beating until incorporated. Add some lemon or orange zest if you want extra flavour. Refrigerate for 1 hour

Preheat oven to 200°C. Grease a muffin tin or place paper cases in the holes. Combine flour and caster sugar in a bowl and add milk, butter, eggs and vanilla to flour mixture. Stir gently to combine.

Spoon mixture into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Spoon icing over cupcakes. Decorate with dried fruit, sprinkles, sweets or anything else you like!

Season 2: Episode 5

March 29, 2011

The front door slammed and Mia heard footsteps running through the hall, before Willow burst into the kitchen, carrying a large box of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“You…are…never…going…to…believe…what…happened!” She was so breathless she could barely get the words out.

Mia laughed. “Whoa, slow down!” She filled a glass of water for Willow and handed it to her. Willow downed it in three gulps.

“What am I never going to believe?” Mia was still in her pyjamas standing at the kitchen bench, the Saturday papers spread in front of her, a bowl of muesli balanced in one hand. She had been woken early by the smells of biscotti wafting through the house and although Willow hadn’t really spoken about it, she suspected that it had something to do with the mystery man from a few weeks ago.

“He asked me out!” Willow’s eyes were shining, her cheeks flushed.

Mia grinned, happy for her friend. She couldn’t help the small, gnawing feeling in her stomach, though. Jealousy? She glanced at her phone on the bench. She had kept it within reach for the entire week, but he hadn’t called. Not even a text.

Mia smiled brightly at Willow. The last thing she wanted was to rain on her friend’s parade.

Willow clasped her hands together and announced, “I have to bake!”

For Willow, baking was just about the most cathartic experience in the world. She baked to relieve stress, when she was excited, when she was feeling down – as far as Willow was concerned, there was a baked good for every occasion.

After many years of observation, Mia and Ana were able to tell what was going on in Willow’s life just by what she spontaneously baked. Labour-intensive pastries – cannoli or croissant – meant that she was stressed out by something; bread indicated a morose mood; savoury pies signified annoyance; sweet pies, satisfaction; biscuits for anticipation… the list went on.

“What’s it going to be today?” Mia asked, although she suspected she knew the answer already.

Willow looked pensive for a moment. “Cupcakes!”

Cupcakes represented the pinnacle of happiness in Willow’s hierarchy of baking.

That moment, Mia’s phone rang. She looked at the screen and frowned. Withheld number.

It couldn’t be… could it?

Her heart pounded as she pressed answer. “Hello?”

A male responded. “Mia?”

The voice was familiar but she couldn’t place it. “Yes?”

“This is Nick. You used to teach me Pilates….?” His voice trailed off, unsure if she would remember him.

Nick! Mia’s mouth dropped open. She hadn’t seen him for… months! He had been a client of hers for a long time and then one day he changed time-slots and she hadn’t seen him since. Mia had been devastated. Secretly, she had been in love with Nick from the moment she first set eyes on him, but had always been too shy to ask him out. Her inaction had spent a long time at number one on her extensive list of regrets.

Well, maybe not quite so high now, after the events of last weekend, she thought angrily. Mia shook her head, bringing herself back to the present.

“Of course. How are you?” She wondered why he was calling her – and more to the point, how he got her number…?

“You’re probably wondering how I got your number…”

What was he, a mind reader?

“I know it’s late notice, but I was wondering if you wanted to go out tonight?” His voice sounded vulnerable, expectant.

“Go out tonight?” Mia wasn’t sure she heard correctly.

“I’ve been meaning to call for weeks, but I’ve been away for work… it’s a long story. Can I fill you in over dinner?”

“Dinner tonight?” Mia the parrot.

His laughter tinkled down the phone. “Yes. With me.” He added quickly, “Unless you’ve got other plans…?”

Mia slowly shook her head. “No… no, I don’t.”

Her mind was reeling as Nick suggested when and where to meet. She hung up the phone, a bewildered expression on her face. She had dreamt about this happening for so long, so why wasn’t she more excited?

When she finally looked up, Willow was surveying her friend quizzically.

“I have a date tonight.” She spoke slowly. “With Nick.”

Willow’s eyes widened in surprise and she bounded over and gave Mia a quick hug, leaving a trail of self-raising flour in her wake. “What are the chances? Both going out with our dream men tonight!”

Nick. Her dream man. He had been for such a long time. So what had changed?

Her phone rang again. Same thing, number withheld. He probably needs to change the time, she thought. She answered more quickly this time, the butterflies gone. “Hello again.”

“Mia?” A different voice, still male, still familiar.

“Yeah?”

“Johnny.”

Mia knocked her empty bowl, the spoon falling to the floor with a loud clatter.

“You OK?” He sounded amused, like he was aware of the effect he had on her.

She cursed herself and took a breath, steadying her nerves. Be cool. “What’s up?”

“Just wondering if you wanted to grab a drink later. Say 7pm. In town somewhere?”

Her heart pounded. Maybe she could call Nick back, cancel? She groaned inwardly – she didn’t even have his number, it had been withheld and she hadn’t thought to ask for it. “I can’t.”

More than anything she wanted to see Johnny. She couldn’t stop thinking about him, dreaming about him. She wracked her brain, trying to think of another time to suggest. Tomorrow? Or during the week?

But before she could say anything, he spoke.

“Fair enough. Catch you later then.”

He hung up.

Willow was sifting flour into a large mixing bowl. “Nick again?”

Mia shook her head. “Umm… work. Needed a shift covered.”

She couldn’t look up at Willow for fear that she’d see the tears in her eyes.

***

In his kitchen, Johnny swore out loud. He had been trying to pick up the phone and call her all week, but nerves had got the better of him each time. Finally he’d mustered up the courage… to no avail. He thought there had been something between them, something unbelievable. But she obviously didn’t. Probably put it down to the Champagne, the celebratory mood. She clearly wanted to have nothing to do with him. He ran his hands through his hair, frustrated.

He just couldn’t stop thinking about her.

 

Honey and Pistachio Biscotti

March 24, 2011


These are delicious Italian biscuits, that go very well with coffee after a meal (or, as Willow found, for breakfast!)

Serve with tea or coffee. Makes 36

1 cup unsalted pistachio kernels

1 cup plain flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/3 cup caster sugar

2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 170 degrees C (If your oven is fan forced, a bit cooler, 150). Line 2 trays with baking paper.

In a bowl, place ½ cup of finely chopped pistachios. Sift flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda over chopped pistachios. Add sugar and remaining pistachios (unchopped). Stir to combine. Add honey and 2 tablespoons cold water. Stir until mixture just starts to come together and then knead with your hands until combined.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into an 18cm log. Press down slightly to flatten. Place on 1 baking tray. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden and firm.

Remove from oven and cool. Reduce oven temperature by 20 degrees C (to 150/130).

Using a serrated knife, cut logs into 1cm slices. Place slices, in a single layer, on 2 trays. Cook for 15 minutes or until lightly browned and firm. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container.

Season 2: Episode 4

March 22, 2011

Willow bit into the crisp shell of the honey and pistachio biscotti. She hadn’t had breakfast, thinking she would grab something from the market, but the smell of her own homemade, freshly baked goods wafting through the car was too tempting.

She pulled down the driver’s side visor, checking her face in the mirror. Her make-up was strategically applied so that it didn’t look like she had any on, and her hair was tousled in a just-out-of-bed fashion. Willow had read somewhere that this reminded men of sex and, therefore, they found it very, very attractive. She brushed the remaining biscotti crumbs from her lips and rummaged around in her bottomless handbag to find lipstick – her favourite Chanel red, a gift brought back from New York – applying carefully, then blotting.

Surveying the small mirror again, she decided she was ready.

Picking up the small container of biscotti, she gathered her shopping bags from the boot in preparation for entering the market, deciding that the ‘grandma’ trolley she normally wheeled along to carry her purchases didn’t give off the right vibe.

Nothing screams wanton sex goddess more than a personal shopping cart, she mused, a small smile forming on her crimson lips.

But not even a wire shopping trolley could have distracted from the vision that was Willow today. A vintage floral dress hugged her tantalising curves, the neck cut just low enough to give a hint of cleavage; but nothing indecent. Although it was going to be a sunny weekend, the morning was cool so she’d accompanied the dress with a short, modern jacket. Even though a nice pair of heels would have set off shapely calves marvellously, she had sensibly decided on a pair of ballet flats. No man, no matter how gorgeous, was worth walking around the Victoria Market in high heels!

The biscotti, the dress, the lipstick… they were, of course, all for the divine man who had saved her from being trampled by tourists at the market two weeks ago. The man whose name she didn’t even know.

Willow pondered her best course of action: find him straight away, or shop first and casually bump into him? She’d arrived early and the normal Saturday hordes hadn’t descended yet. She wanted to maximise every opportunity to see him; didn’t want him distracted by other customers, especially – heaven forbid – other women! She was disappointed that she hadn’t had a chance to see him last week, but decided it was probably fortuitous it had turned out that way. Her leggings and oversized T-shirt worn to the sports carnival wouldn’t even have looked good in the 90s, so she felt mildly relieved when she’d arrived and all the stallholders had packed up for the day.

There was a residual cool from the previous night still in the air, and Willow pulled her light jacket closer around her. Perhaps the summer dress had been a mistake, she thought, the breeze making her shiver. Meandering through the central aisle she surveyed the stallholders unpacking their wares – boxes brimming with fresh vegetables and colourful trays of fruit. Even though it was autumn there were still plenty of summer fruits around – nectarines, strawberries and watermelon – all providing a vivid spectacle for the shoppers.

She slowly and strategically made her way towards the area that her mystery man had pointed towards, casually observing the offerings along the way.

“Willow!”

She turned to see her favourite stallholder, Lorenzo, walking towards her, arm outstretched.

He kissed her on both cheeks. “You haven’t been to visit us for ages!”

She kissed him back and they exchanged pleasantries before he took both her hands and started pulling her, excitedly towards his stall. “Come! Come!”

Willow protested. “I’ll come later…” There was no way she was missing out on seeing her mystery Adonis two weeks in a row!

He shook his head. “You have to meet my son. He’s only here on Saturdays.”

His son? Willow didn’t remember him having a son….? She stopped suddenly, recalling the conversation they’d had months ago. “Carlo comes to visit in a few months. I think that you should meet…” Oh my God! The photo pinned to the fridge at the side of the stall. It was him!

The Adonis!

Willow felt like an idiot. She had been so flustered the other week that she hadn’t recognised him as the divine man from the photo.

As they approached the stall she could see his broad back, his strong, tanned forearms. He was wearing a tight black T-shirt and blue jeans that hugged his muscular legs and perfect bottom. Had she been religiously inclined she would have vowed to recite ‘Hail Marys’ for the next five years based on the impure thoughts that she was having about this man. About the way he moved, the way he smelled, the way he spoke…

“Carlo!”

He turned at the sound of his father’s voice.

His face registered surprise before breaking into a wide grin. “You!”

Willow grinned back, her heart fluttering.

Lorenzo was confused. “You know our Willow?”

“We met. Sort of.” He walked over and kissed her lightly on both cheeks. “Willow.” He savoured her name, rolling it around his tongue like a fine wine. “You look even more beautiful than last time I saw you.” His eyes sparkled as he said it.

Willow melted. The puddle formerly known as Willow.

“I don’t think you saw me at my best last time,” she managed to stammer.

Lorenzo proudly cuffed his son on the shoulder. “What do you think, Willow? Handsome?”

Willow certainly couldn’t deny that.

“He’s visiting from Italy. He’s a chef there.”

Willow nodded slowly. The conversation she’d had with Lorenzo months ago had come flooding back. That explained the exquisite recipe Carlo had pressed into her hands, weeks earlier. She could have saved herself so much trouble, had she only remembered his face.

Lorenzo clapped his hands. “Carlo will choose everything for you. The best for our Willow.”

Carlo brushed past, whispering in her ear. “Nothing but the best.”

“Willow, come.” Lorenzo beckoned her over to sit with him while Carlo set to work. She was reluctant to leave his side even for a moment, should she lose him again. Boxes looked weightless in his powerful arms, and he moved with the grace of a dancer. She sat watching Carlo, only half listening, as Lorenzo regaled her with stories of Italy.

***

After he had loaded her up with fresh fruit and vegetables, Lorenzo had insisted that Carlo walk Willow to her car. Willow was not going to protest.

“Thank you for the recipe, the mushrooms were beautiful.” She weaved her way through the crowds that were just starting to build.

“A beautiful recipe for a beautiful woman.” He gave her a sideways glance, the intensity of his look suggesting he wanted exactly the same thing as her.

They walked in silence for a while. Willow, normally so verbose, was tongue-tied. She shivered as their hands brushed accidentally. She’d never felt such longing for a man before.

When they reached her car, he loaded the boxes in, careful not to damage any of the produce.

“You are cooking tonight again for your housemate?” The playful twinkle in his eye was back.

Willow shook her head, hoping he couldn’t hear the ferocity with which her heart was beating.

“Maybe…” He paused, taking a tendril of her hair and wrapping it around his finger. He leaned in, close to her ear. “Maybe tonight I can cook for you?”

Willow willed her voice to come out evenly. “OK”. It was little more than a squeak.

In one swift movement, he took a notebook from his pocket and scribbled his address, tearing the page and handing it to her.

“Come at eight. I will make something special for you.”

Willow took the note and put it in her handbag, at the same time catching sight of the forgotten container of biscotti.

“Oh! I almost forgot. I made these…”, she said, carefully digging the container out of her handbag, not wanting to spill its contents onto the pavement.

But when she looked up, his figure was already retreating into the distance.

 

 

Homemade Pizza

March 17, 2011


This pizza is so simple, totally delicious and pretty much guilt free (well, depending on your toppings of course!). It’s perfect if you have a group of friends over and not much time to spend cooking. Get your guests involved by having them design their own toppings!

Serve with fresh green salad. Serves 2-4 (depending on how hungry you are!)

Dough
2 cups wholemeal flour
1.5 tablespoons yeast
1.5 tablespoons raw sugar
1/2 liter warm water

Sauce
1 tin crushed tomato
4 cloves of garlic
1 finely chopped red onion
Fresh basil
Zest of 1/2 small lemon

Method
Mix yeast & sugar well in warm water.  Put flour in a large bowl and stir in liquid with a fork until a doughy consistency forms (this may not use all the liquid). Leave covered with a cloth to rise (you can leave for as little as 10 mins or as long as 30, depending how much time you have). Preheat oven to 220 degrees C.

Make the sauce while you are waiting for the dough to rise.

Put a generous slug of grapeseed oil in a pan and heat on low. Add onions and garlic and cook until transparent. Add tomatoes, torn basil leaves and lemon zest and turn heat up to reduce the mixture until it is a thick consistency (approx 5-7 mins). Stir frequently to avoid burning.

Knead dough well on a floured surface.  Cut into small balls and roll out until 2-4mm thick. Using a fork, dot the base with rough dimples to allow heat to penetrate the dough. Place on a floured baking tray and brush the edges with a little olive oil so they don’t dry out in the oven.  Apply a thin layer of the tomato sauce to the base, top with desired ingredients (brushing oil on any large vegetable slices) and place in a hot (220c) oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and the toppings are cooked through. Just before serving, add a few torn leaves of basil, rocket or some thin slices of avocado. Enjoy!

Some suggested toppings:

Smoked trout, capers, lemon zest, rocket, avocado.

Pumpkin, zucchini, olives, goats cheese.

Pear, blue cheese, rocket

Fresh tomato, buffalo mozzarella, black pepper, basil.

Mushrooms, olives, prosciutto, basil.

Season 2: Episode 3

March 15, 2011

“I’m here! I’m here!” Willow rushed into the kitchen and dumped the armfuls of bags she was carrying. “I’m so sorry – the traffic was awful and the carnival ran overtime…” She trailed off, catching her breath.

Tonight, Willow and Mia were cooking dinner for their friends. Given the time constraints they had decided to keep it simple and make pizzas. Willow had insisted she would be able to get to the market and pick up ingredients for the toppings despite having to attend her school’s annual sports day.

“I’m the bloody music teacher,” she had complained to Mia earlier. “What do I know about sport?”

Mia looked pointedly at her watch. “They’re going to be here in 40 minutes.”

Mia truly had no idea why Willow was so adamant about going to the market herself. Sure, she was friendly with the stallholders who often gave her discounts, but they had both known that for Willow to get from the sports day to the Victoria Market and then home again by 6pm was a little unrealistic. Still, she had insisted.

“Did you manage to get everything?” Mia had already made the wholemeal dough for the pizzas and it was rising beautifully in the warm kitchen. She started unloading the bags: smoked trout, buffalo mozzarella, jalapenos, heirloom tomatoes… Not quite up to her normal market standards, but they would have to do.

“Most of the stalls were closing so I grabbed what I could.” Willow didn’t have the heart to admit that the market had been completely closed by the time she got there so she’d had to get everything from the supermarket. She was particularly annoyed because she’d missed her chance to see the gorgeous mystery man who had saved her from being trampled by the hordes.

Why didn’t I just ask for his phone number?, she chided herself for the 50th time. She didn’t know if she could wait another week to see him!

“Let me just jump through the shower and then I’ll get to work. Everything will be done by the time they get here.” Willow flashed her brightest smile. “Promise!”

***

When she came back downstairs, Ana had arrived home and was helping Mia set the table. They had arranged candles and little glass jars filled with jasmine from the garden along the length of the table. Willow looked quizzically at Mia – this was more trouble than they usually went to!

Mia indicated her head towards Ana, shrugging. “Her idea.”

“Special occasion?” Willow winked at Mia behind Ana’s back. They both suspected Ana’s good mood was due to a rekindling of her relationship with Tom, but she hadn’t said anything about it.

Ana just shrugged. “Felt like it.” She whistled as she wandered back into the kitchen.

***

Thirty minutes later everyone was gathered in the kitchen. Johnny had arrived, as always, with an amazing selection of wine to complement the meal. To Willow and Mia’s delight, Tom had also turned up, bearing a case of Champagne, which he assured them had been on sale. He shot a look at Ana, who was filling glasses for everyone. She cleared her throat.

“There’s something we have to tell you.” She held up her left hand and, for the first time, the girls and Johnny noticed a giant diamond, sparkling outrageously on her ring finger.

“You’re engaged!” screamed Willow and Mia, in unison.

***

After dinner everyone was very tipsy. The volume of Champagne consumed was vast and didn’t look like it would slow down any time soon. Ana, Willow and Tom had moved into the sitting room where Willow had put on Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’, shouting over the top of the lyrics, “Tom liked it and so he put a ring on it!”

In the dining room, Mia and Johnny cleared the table, laughing at Willow’s attempted lyricism. Collecting the empty glasses, Mia looked up and caught Johnny staring at her. He grinned, walked over and pulled her into a friendly bear hug. Mia was surprised at how comfortable she felt in his arms. His body felt so warm and safe. She could smell his aftershave mixed with laundry powder. Honey, vanilla and spices.

Neither one of them tried to pull away.

I’ve had too much Champagne, thought Mia.

Her legs had turned to jelly and her heartbeat had quickened. She was pretty sure this wasn’t how you were meant to feel while hugging your friend. Then, without warning, Johnny gently took her face in his hands and kissed her softly on the lips. She hesitated – more from surprise than anything else – before closing her eyes and kissing him back. His tongue gently probed her lips open and tenderly explored her mouth. She uttered a small moan, opening herself up to him and pushing her body closer into his.

From the other room, Willow yelled, “Where’s my other single lady?”

Mia and Johnny sprang apart. They were both flushed, their breathing rapid.

Mia felt as though an electric charge had just been run through her. She had goose bumps over her entire body and her lips tingled with desire.

Willow poked her head into the kitchen, too excited to notice the tension between the two of them. “You have to come and dance with me!” She grabbed Mia’s hand and dragged her into the sitting room.

Mia’s head was spinning. She went through the motions of a few dance steps before feigning tiredness and sitting down. She snuck a glance over at Johnny who was still staring intently at her. She couldn’t read his look.

Suddenly, his mobile rang. Looking at the number, he hesitated before disappearing into the other room and answering it. When he walked back in it was with his jacket. “I’ve got to run.”

Willow raised an eyebrow. “Got a hot date?” she teased.

Johnny suddenly looked very uncomfortable. Fidgeting, he averted his gaze to the floor.

Willow squealed. “You do have a hot date!” Looking over at Ana and Tom, who were slow dancing and staring deep into each other’s eyes, she sighed, theatrically sinking into the couch. “Look’s like it’s just you and me, Mia.”

Mia felt as though she’d been slapped across the face. “Think I might go to bed”, she mumbled. “Early start.” She moved toward the hall.

Johnny tried to stop her. “Mia, I…”

She looked up at him, her eyes flashing. “Have fun on your date.”

***

Mia couldn’t sleep that night. She cursed herself over and over again for falling for Johnny’s boyish charm and dishevelled good looks. She thought that she had felt something between them – something that she had never felt with anyone else – but she was obviously wrong.

She was just another conquest to him.

Bastard!

Putting the pillow over her face she tried to block out the painful images of Johnny with his anonymous date that played over and over in her head.

 

Field Mushrooms with Quinoa and Cannellini beans

March 10, 2011


This is an utterly delicious and simple recipe given to Willow by the gorgeous mystery man at the market. The mushrooms serve as a hearty accompaniment to the delicate, creamy filling.

Serve as a main with a fresh green salad and crusty bread (delicious to mop up the juices from the mushrooms!) or as an accompaniment to your favourite meat, fish or poultry. Serves 4 as a main (2 mushrooms per person)

8 large field mushrooms

½ cup cooked brown rice

1 cup cooked quinoa

1.5 cups cooked cannellini beans (either tinned or cooked fresh)

Handful of parsley, finely chopped

Handful of basil, finely chopped

Handful of thyme, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 onion, finely chopped

Zest and juice of one lemon

Goat’s cheese

White wine

Extra virgin olive oil

1 hot chilli (optional)

½-1 cup chicken stock

Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C. Wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth and remove stems. In the bottom of a baking dish place mushrooms in a single layer, cup side up. Put a generous splash of white wine, lemon juice and the stock in the bottom of the baking dish (you want the liquid to be just covering the bottom of the dish). Drizzle oil over the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for approx 10 minutes.

While the mushrooms are baking, heat some oil in a pan and cook onion and garlic until translucent. Mix in the cooked quinoa, brown rice, cannellini beans, herbs, lemon zest and chilli. Add in some stock (1/4 cup) and reduce down. Remove from heat. Add a generous splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Roughly mix with a wooden spoon, mashing some of the cannellini beans against the side of the pan so that the mixture takes on a slightly smoother consistency.

Spoon the filling into the mushrooms (approx 1/4 cup per mushroom), and bake uncovered for a further 10-15 minutes, until mushrooms are tender.

Crumble a generous amount of goat’s cheese on each mushroom and spoon some of the juices from the pan over the top. Serve immediately.

Season 2: Episode 2

March 8, 2011

Willow skipped along the footpath on her way to the market, humming a mix of songs that popped into her head. It was a game she played with her family as a child when they went on long car trips – each person took turns to sing about the first thing they saw. Sure, it was a bit Brady Bunch, but fun nevertheless. Today she was covering a variety of songs – some real, some invented – about cars, coffee and young girls with too few clothes on. She couldn’t quite put her finger on why she was in such a ridiculously chipper mood. Perhaps it was the sunshine? Melbourne had been subject to the wettest summer on record, but now that autumn had arrived it was an uncharacteristically beautiful week of weather.

Crossing Victoria Street, Willow decided to start at the top end of the market and work her way down, through the fruit and vegetables to the deli section. She and Mia had planned to spend that night at home watching girly DVDs, drinking wine and eating good food. Willow was on the hunt for Mia-friendly ingredients – fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes and pulses. Although Willow tended to favour the Nigella Lawson approach to cooking – the more cream and butter, the better – she had gained an appreciation for Mia’s simple, fresh dishes.

The market was positively bustling. The good weather had attracted thousands of tourists and locals alike, and Willow had to elbow her way through the throng of people to even get in the entrance. Halfway down one of the aisles she found a stall that sold nuts, dried fruit and legumes. She paused to look at the wide variety of pulses and grains, all beautifully displayed in large, clear sacks with the tops rolled down. Unable to resist the colourful temptations, she stocked up on cannellini beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and quinoa.

As she was receiving her change from the stall-owner, a surge of people jostled past, knocking her bag to the ground. Without stopping to help, they continued their way down the narrow aisle. Annoyed, Willow bent to collect her scattered purchases, hoping to save them before they became engulfed by the crowds. A group of tourists, busy looking at their guidebooks, knocked her off balance and she found herself being bumped and buffeted by what felt like thousands of feet. She shouted out in pain as someone stood on her hand, whilst another person kicked her in the calf.

“Watch out!” An angry man with a red face glared at her, before knocking her roughly in the side of the head with his shopping bag.

Like the end of an old movie, everything around her started to fade to black. She wondered if anyone would notice if she lay on the ground for a minute to get her bearings. Suddenly, she felt a strong pair of arms lift her clean off the ground and place her squarely on her feet.

“Are you OK?” His voice was deep and he had a strong Italian accent.

Willow turned towards the voice and found herself staring into the face of the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. His skin was tanned and he had a thick mop of jet-black hair that flopped over his forehead. Long, dark lashes framed his dark brown eyes and a chiselled nose led her gaze to his sumptuous lips.

Willow’s own lips parted in a silent “Oh!” and she proceeded to drop the bag of cannellini beans she had just salvaged from the floor.

“Are you hurt, Bella?” He bent to retrieve the beans from the floor, not taking his eyes off her face for a second.

Willow was not shy by nature, but this man – this beautiful man – had rendered her speechless. Taking her elbow, he propelled her through the crowd to a small café at the edge of the market.

“Sit,” he commanded before disappearing inside. He returned minutes later with a strong espresso – to which he added a generous spoon of sugar – and a plastic bag with ice in it.

He handed her the cup. “Drink.”

Willow obliged. The sugar and caffeine woke her out of her daze and she realised that she was shaking. Her leg ached where it had been kicked, her hand was already swollen and her head throbbed. She gingerly rubbed the side of her face, feeling a lump already starting to form where she had been hit.

I must look awful, she thought, groaning inwardly.

“Here.”

He gave her the bag of ice and she pressed it gently to her head, wincing as the cold touched her skin. After a few minutes the pain had subsided and she became very conscious that the Adonis who had rescued her was still there. She stood up with the intention of thanking him for his help and demonstrating that she was much better, however, as she did, the colour drained from her face and the dizziness returned.

He laughed, taking her arm and guiding her back to her seat. “I think you need to sit for a bit longer.”

She made a vague attempt at protesting. “I have to prepare dinner for tonight…”

“You are cooking for your boyfriend? Husband?” he enquired with mock innocence.

“Oh no!” Willow shook her head vehemently, not caring about the pain. “My housemate.”

He grinned at her. “Wait here. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.”

***

When the man returned he was carrying a box overflowing with brightly coloured fruit and vegetables: leeks, rhubarb, crispy apples, aubergine, zucchini and large field mushrooms as big as dinner plates! He loaded everything into her shopping bags – refusing to accept reimbursement – making sure that they weren’t too heavy for her to carry home.

He handed her a folded piece of paper. “A recipe. For your dinner tonight.”

She hesitated before accepting the note.

He laughed at her uncertainty. “I can cook, you know.”

As she placed the recipe in her bag, his phone rang. He glanced at the screen before pressing the answer button and saying to the caller “Un momento.

Covering the mouthpiece he said to Willow, “I’m here every Saturday. Just over there.” He indicated towards the far left corner. “Come and tell me how the meal was, yes?”

Willow nodded.

Taking her hand in his, he bent and softly kissed it – his lips feather-light on her skin – before being swallowed up again by the masses. She thought she heard him call out “Ciao, Bella” over the noise but when her eyes scanned the crowd, he was gone.

***

Closing the front door behind her, Willow sank back against the wood, beaming.

Mia poked her head out from the kitchen. “I got Dirty Dancing and Centre Stage to watch tonight. I thought…” she trailed off.

Willow was somewhere else, a radiant glow emanating from her whole being.

Mia laughed and shook her head. She knew that look! “What’s his name?” she teased.

“I have no idea.” Willow said breathlessly. “Oh, Mia. I think I’m in love!”

 

Chloe Rose’s Spiced Chocolate Puddings

March 3, 2011


Oh my! These melt-in-your-mouth desserts are a Chloe Rose specialty. Fairly simple to make, they will soften the heart of any chocolate lover.

Serve with fresh raspberries and clotted cream. Makes approx. 10 serves.

Ingredients

2 ¼ cups Self Raising Flour

2 tbsp Cocoa

1 teaspoon ground Nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon

100gms chopped Butter

½ cup firmly packed Brown Sugar

¼ cup Treacle

2 Eggs

225ml Cream

150gms Dark Chocolate

To make the dough: Combine flour, cocoa, nutmeg and cinnamon in a bowl. Add chopped butter and using your fingers, rub into the dry ingredients until you have the texture of coarse sand. Add sugar, treacle and 1 egg. Knead together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To make the chocolate filling: Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl. Heat cream in a saucepan until boiling. Take off the heat and pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute then using a fork, slowly stir the cream and chocolate until combined. Add the yolk of 1 egg and stir into mixture until smooth. Refrigerate until set, usually a few hours (you can speed this up in the freezer provided you have an air tight lid on the container…… but don’t forget about it as it will freeze.)

Take about 2 tablespoons worth of dough and in your hands and gently tease out the edges so you have a hollowed out ball shape (think back to making pinch pots out of clay in primary school.) Fill with a heaped teaspoon of chocolate filling. This should be set enough that it is smooth and slightly firmer than peanut butter. With the chocolate filling in the centre of your hollow of dough, cup your hands around the dough and seal it in a ball shape around the filling. The chocolate should now be completely encased in dough. Place ball on a tray lined with baking paper. Repeat process.

Pre heat the oven to 180C. Bake balls for 12 minutes or until firm (the balls will flatten out slightly in the cooking process). Serve hot.

* Fresh raspberries are a delicious accompaniment to this dessert. Or whip some cream with a tablespoon of caster sugar and grate some fresh ginger into it and serve on the side.

Season 2: Episode 1

March 1, 2011

Ana carefully balanced the pastry box on the palm of one unsteady hand as she fumbled desperately in her bag for the front door keys, tears welling in her eyes when she couldn’t find them immediately.

Why did everything have to be so difficult?

For the past week, Ana had been an emotional wreck, the smallest things setting her off: a broken glass, a missing DVD, a bank advertisement – and now –  elusive door keys. Mia and Willow had borne witness to the myriad of negative emotions Ana was capable of and, although she felt terrible for dragging them down to her new depths of despair, she really didn’t know how to turn the hurt off; how to pretend everything was OK.

Finally managing to find her keys – which were in exactly the same compartment of her handbag they always were – Ana nudged the door with her shoulder to open it, the box wobbling even more precariously. She was a bundle of nerves; had been since Tom had walked out of the house leaving her alone and heartbroken. Finally, yesterday, she had gathered up the courage to call him. He answered after the fifth ring – just before it went to voicemail. Tom had agreed that they needed to talk and that he would come to her house for dinner that night.

Ana had decided she wasn’t up to cooking this evening, so she had wandered down to Chloe Rose, a beautiful gourmet delicatessen named after its proprietor who was an exceedingly talented and lovely chef. Chloe had loaded her up with fresh, vibrant salads, cured salmon and a pastry box full of delectable-looking, spiced chocolate puddings. Pushing the door shut with her foot Ana lost her balance and the box of puddings fell to the floor with a thump, echoing through the hallway.

“Great,” she said aloud.  This was the last thing she needed!

The tears were streaming down her cheeks when she finally made it to the kitchen. Setting the dessert on the bench she peeked inside the box to survey the damage. The warm, spicy smells of chocolate and nutmeg escaped and, closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, trying to calm down. The smell reminded her of sitting in cafés on cool autumn evenings and sipping hot chocolate while the world rushed past outside.

And Tom. Everything reminded her of Tom.

Opening the lid fully, she realised that most of the puddings were undamaged. Not a total disaster, then, she thought wryly. Maybe it’s a good omen?

Ana was more certain than ever that Tom was the most wonderful man she had ever met, and she hoped, more than anything, that he would – no, could – forgive her. But she held out little hope. She knew what she’d done was wrong: horribly, terribly wrong.

“What can I do to make it up to him?” She shook her head, frustrated. She hated not having the answers. Somehow, she had to prove to him that she was totally over Marc. That he – Tom – was the most important person in the world to her. That she loved him.

Suddenly it dawned on her! Her face broke into a wide smile for the first time in seven days. Picking up her keys, she raced back out the front door.

***

When Tom arrived, Ana wanted nothing more than to throw herself into his arms, however his icy disposition brutally quelled that impulse.

He hates me, she silently wailed to herself, all her bravado from that afternoon dissipating.

Taking a large swig of her white wine for false courage, she addressed Tom. “I guess we should talk.”

He nodded slowly. “Yes, we should.”

“I’ll start,” she said, laughing nervously. She licked her dry lips anxiously. All the explanations that she had mentally prepared earlier vanished.

“Go on, then.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

Even when he’s mad, he’s completely gorgeous, Ana thought, her heart breaking just a little bit more.

“When you left last time I was so upset,” she said slowly.

A frown momentarily crossed his face. “I’m sorry I left the way I did but, Ana, I just don’t know…”

Cutting him off gently, she implored, “Please, let me finish.”

Tom indicated with a slight dip of his head for her to continue.

She took a moment to compose her thoughts. “I want… no, I need your forgiveness. Please Tom. I know I don’t deserve you, but you mean everything to me and I want to be able to prove it to you.”

Ana took a sip of wine, her mouth suddenly dry. She could feel tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. “What I’m trying to say is that I love you and I made a horrible mistake. But I could never forgive myself for giving up without a fight.” She gazed at her fingers, awkwardly twisting the fabric of her dress. “I love you, Tom. So much. And I can’t imagine my life without you in it.”

She looked up at Tom anxiously. He didn’t look angry. In fact, his face had softened, and she could see that his eyes were damp. Her spirits lifted and she allowed herself a faint glimmer of hope. If he’d been furious with her, or seemed disinterested, she didn’t know if she could have gone through with the next bit.

She took a deep breath. Here goes nothing, she thought. Freeing her fingers from the fabric of her dress, she reached into the pocket of her jacket. Pulling out a small black box, she handed it to Tom.

Tom looked at her quizzically. “What’s this?”

“Open it.”

Tom lifted the lid. Inside was a simple, brushed platinum ring – about his size.

“Tom, will you marry me?”

For what seemed like an eternity, Tom sat staring at the ring. Ana could barely breathe. Her heart was racing and when she looked down at her hands again they were visibly shaking. She peeked back at Tom from underneath her lashes.

His face had transformed into an enormous grin. He threw his head back and roared with laughter. Jumping out of his seat he commanded, “Wait here.”

Ana could hear his footsteps moving quickly down the hall. The front door opened and closed.

Ana was stunned. “What…?”

She leapt out of her seat and rushed towards the door. Before she reached it, however, it had opened again and Tom stood framed in the doorway.

“I thought I told you to wait in the living room?” he teased.

Taking her hands, he got down on one knee. Ana closed her eyes, excitement bubbling through her.

When she opened them again, Tom had his hand held out, palm up. On it, was a diamond ring.

“I know you beat me to it,” he said softly, “but, Ana, will you marry me?”

***

Ana and Tom lay in bed, wrapped in each other’s arms. The remnants of the spiced chocolate pudding and fresh raspberries, which they had enjoyed feeding each other in between their lovemaking, were on a plate next to the bed. Ana held up her hand and gazed at the ring. The diamond winked at her, its spectrum bouncing off the ceiling and casting tiny rainbow shards across the walls.

She snuggled in further to Tom. “I love you”, she murmured into his ear. He pulled her close and kissed her more deeply, more tenderly than she’d ever been kissed in her whole life.

Much later, they fell asleep; their two bodies intertwined, dreaming only of each other.