Tales of food, sex and friendship




Archive for May, 2011

Season 2: Episode 14

May 31, 2011

Ana turned slowly towards the voice, heart beating a mile a minute and her mouth suddenly dry.

“You look great,” the voice said, She felt eyes running over the length of her body and shivered involuntarily.

She should have guessed whom this event was for; everything about it had his stamp on it.

“Hello Marc,” she said, finally meeting his eyes.

He looked well, but Ana felt only pure revulsion seeing him now. She couldn’t believe this man had consumed her thoughts and her heart for so long. He walked over and gave her a kiss on the cheek, running his hand down her back, lingering a few seconds too long. Ana wanted to brush him off, but she was frozen, numb.

“You’ve done a great job,” he said. “It’s a wonderful party. Fortuitous you could do it at such short notice.”

She nodded, her thoughts only on how to extract herself from the situation before it got out of hand. She didn’t trust Marc. Hell, he’d probably orchestrated the whole thing to get back at her! Things had been going so wonderfully with Tom and she didn’t want this – whatever this was – to ruin it. She wondered if Tom had noticed who the client was and, if not, how she could prevent him from finding out.

She didn’t have to think about it too long.

“Ana, can we grab some more of the…” Tom stopped mid sentence as he noticed Marc upon entering the room. “What is he doing here?”

Marc strode over and held out his hand. “Good to see you. Tim, wasn’t it?”

He shook Marc’s hand, not bothering to correct the mistake, but Ana could see the muscles in Tom’s jaw tighten.

The door opened again and Marc’s wife, Cynthia, walked in. “Darling, the guests are waiting.” She looked at Ana quizzically, trying to place her. “We’ve met, haven’t we?”

That was the last straw for Tom. He ripped off his waiter’s apron and threw it on the floor. “She worked for your husband. Ask him about their affair sometime.”

He stormed through the door and left the three of them standing there, speechless. Cynthia visibly paled and walked over to Marc. She slapped him across the face, hard. Ana could see her hands shaking ever so slightly. She took a deep breath and smoothed an imaginary stray hair back into place.

“Like I said. The guests are waiting.”

She turned to Ana and looked at her coolly. “I think we’ll be able to manage from here. My husband’s assistant will arrange payment.”

And with that she took Marc’s hand, plastered a smile on her face and walked back into the party. Ana sank to the floor, tears welling in her eyes. The door opened again, this time Mia, wondering where Tom and the extra Champagne had got to.

She gasped when she saw Ana and rushed over to her. “What happened?”

Ana looked up, her eyes wide. “I have to find Tom.”

***

Tom strode out into the road, flagging down a cab.

“Where to?” the driver asked, wearily. It was another slow night.

Tom thought. He didn’t want to go home, Ana would likely go straight there and he didn’t want to see her at the moment. He needed some time to think. He pulled out his phone and dialled a number. The person on the other end was surprised to hear from him.

“Are you at home,” he said. “Can I come over?”

He directed the taxi driver and sank back in his seat, mind reeling. He thought he was over the fact that Ana had an affair with her boss. He’d dealt with it and he’d forgiven her. At least, he thought he had. The rage that overtook him when he saw them together tonight indicated otherwise.

His mobile phone rang shrill.

Ana.

He declined the call and punched out a short message.

Need some time. Will call tomorrow.

Was he doing the right thing, marrying Ana when, obviously, he hadn’t forgiven her? Could he ever truly forgive her?

The taxi arrived at his destination and he paid the driver, mumbling thanks as he got out of the car. It was cold and he pulled his jacket closer around him, pushing open the front gate and knocking on the door. It swung open and the familiar face broke into a wide grin.

“Hello, stranger,” she said, pulling him into a hug.

Tom gave in to her warm embrace and was gratified that it was as comforting as he’d remembered. She still smelled the same, he thought, feeling her soft hair against his cheek. She held him at arm’s length and looked at him with a bemused expression.

“Come on. I suspect you need a drink.”

***

A bottle of red wine later and he’d filled her in on the whole story. She hadn’t yet said a word as she stood up to get a new bottle from the wine rack. In the haze of the alcohol he couldn’t help noticing the contour of her jeans and the way her casual jumper clung to the curves of her body. Lilly. His high school sweetheart. They’d thought they were going to be together forever, but they’d been so young then. And times change. The break-up had been painful but amicable. She moved to London for university and he resolved he’d never find anyone like her again. They’d seen each other a few times since she’d moved back two years ago, and she’d hinted they could be something more than just friends. But then he’d met Ana, who was just about as different from Lilly as could be, but had the same effect on his heart. Tom never told Ana the full details about Lilly. He didn’t think it was really necessary – what was in the past was, well, in the past.

Lilly turned and caught him staring, giving him the same bemused look she had at the door. She opened the bottle of red and topped up his glass, disappearing into the kitchen briefly before returning with homemade salsa and corn chips. Tom gratefully tucked in, not realising how hungry he was. The salsa was delectable – spicy, tangy – bursting with flavour. Way better than any shop-bought stuff he’d tried.

“What are you going to do?” asked Lilly, pulling her feet up on the couch and sipping her wine thoughtfully.

Tom shrugged, licking his fingers, enjoying the way the chilli made his lips sing. Suddenly he didn’t want to think about Ana. He just wanted to be in the company of someone with whom he could be himself. Where it was just… easy.

“Can I stay tonight?”

Lilly looked at him for a long time before slowly shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” his voice trailed off as her hand rested lightly on his arm.

“It’s not that I don’t miss you, Tom. I’ve wanted you to call for such a long time and tell me it was a mistake.  But…” she removed her hand and ran it through her hair. “You’re upset. And you love Ana. You would regret this.”

Tom felt like a fool. When he’d said he wanted to stay, he hadn’t meant it in that way. Or had he? He just didn’t know any more.

He wearily lifted himself off the couch. “I should go.”

Lilly walked him to the door and kissed him softly on the cheek.

“’Bye Tom.”

He smiled at her ruefully and hunched his shoulders against the cold, turning up his collar as he walked back out into the night to find a cab to take him home.

 

Smoked Salmon Pinwheels

May 26, 2011


Willow got this recipe from a 1970’s cookbook: It’s an oldie but a goodie. Sure to be a crowd pleaser whenever you’ve got guests – or if you need to host an impromptu surprise anniversary party!

375g cream cheese, softened

1 packet lavosh bread

500g smoked salmon, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons diced gherkin

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Black pepper and sea salt

Mix together cream cheese, lemon, dill, salt and pepper. Spread this mixture thinly on lavosh bread and then top with smoked salmon and gherkin. Roll tightly and wrap in cling film – they should look like very thick cigars. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Just before serving,  cut into 1 inch pieces with a sharp knife and arrange on a plate. Garnish with dill and serve.

Season 2: Episode 13

May 24, 2011

Ana opened her eyes, excitement coursing through her veins. This is how she used to feel on Christmas morning, filled with anticipation for the day ahead. She could hear Tom’s even breathing next to her and nudged him with her knee to wake him up. He rolled over and sleepily wrapped his arms around her, snuggling them both further under the covers.

“You have to wake up,” Ana whispered in his ear, extracting herself from his muscular arms.

“Whatimeisit?” Tom mumbled, sleepily.

Ana checked the clock next to the bed. “Six thirty.”

Tom groaned and rolled over again, trying to pull his fiancé with him. “You don’t even get the keys until nine. Let’s snooze for a bit longer.”

But Ana couldn’t sleep any more. In precisely two and a half hours her very own events and public relations company would begin its first day of business. In reality, she was just moving into the office space, and wasn’t expecting to actually do any work so soon. But, it was very exciting nonetheless. She had enlisted the help of Tom, Mia and Willow (or rather, they had all insisted on helping) to move some furniture into the space and set up.

Ana had become aware of the office about a year ago when working with some clients who had rented it for a photo shoot. The beautiful loft room – with its wooden floorboards and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city – had resonated with her immediately and she had imagined that, one day, she would be able to run her own business from there. It had been a pipe dream at the time, of course, because Ana had been very happy in her job.

But that was then. Ana shuddered, remembering how horribly things had ended with Marc and how much she’d hurt Tom in the process.

She’d contacted the building’s agents soon after quitting her job and – by some small miracle – they’d told her the space would be up for rent in a couple of months. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. It gave Ana some time off to focus on her relationship with Tom and to fully plan how she wanted her business to run. When it came to PR and events management, Ana knew she was the best and she wanted this reflected in every aspect of her new company.

Ana looked at Tom, who had resumed snoring very gently, and smiled. More than just being a gorgeous office, the new space meant she could finally shut the door on a period of her life she wanted to forget. Today was both a physical and emotional new start and one that she intended to make the most of. Ana gave Tom a light kiss on the cheek, inhaling his scent before springing out of bed and padding downstairs.

***

“Wow.”

Willow looked around the office in amazement. Large beams of solid timber cut through the high ceiling space creating geometric shapes in the air, which changed depending on where you were standing. The walls were white and the floor was a beautiful, glossy dark wood that had obviously been well cared for. The large window offered a panoramic view of the Melbourne city skyline; the yellows and reds of autumn accentuated by a clear blue sky. It was up just high enough to see above the closest roofs, but not so high as to feel disconnected from the neighbourhood. Overall, the effect was breathtaking.

Mia backed into the room carrying half of a large desk. Tom had the other end.

“Wow,” she said, nearly dropping her end.

Ana laughed. This was the effect she had hoped for. She could just imagine how impressed clients would be when they came to her office for meetings.

***

A few hours later, they were all exhausted, but delighted with the outcome. The office looked incredible. As a thank you, Ana offered to take them all out for a well-deserved lunch.

“No need,” said Willow, slyly, producing a picnic basket. She opened it and presented Champagne, smoked salmon pinwheels, bread, cheese and dips. She popped the bottle ceremoniously – the cork travelling in an alarming arc towards the window but thankfully changing trajectory at the last minute – and poured it into plastic tea cups.

“To Ana,” she said, raising her glass.

***

They sat quietly, sleepy and full from the Champagne and delicious lunch, admiring their interior decoration skills. The unexpected ringing of the phone on Ana’s desk shattered the silence. Ana leapt up, nearly tripping over her cup.

She cleared her throat and answered. “Good afternoon…”

A young woman’s voice interrupted her. “Oh thank goodness you’re there. I have an emergency. My boss is throwing his anniversary party, but the event person we’ve been using has been admitted to hospital with pneumonia and now I don’t know what to do because…”

Ana cut her off. “That’s fine. I can help you.”

The woman on the other end of the phone took a deep breath. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have just saved my job.”

Ana grabbed a pen and a notebook from her desk. “When is the event? How many people? Do you need food, wine, entertainment?”

“It’s tomorrow, only twenty people, we need food and drink. The entertainment is arranged separately.”

“Tomorrow?” Ana nearly dropped the phone.

“Yes,” the woman said, sheepishly. “I told you it was an emergency.”

Ana composed herself. She could do this. “Absolutely no problem at all.”

She gave her email address and told the caller to send through a list of exactly what she needed while Ana prepared the contract. She could almost hear tears of gratitude in her first client’s voice.

“How did you hear about me… I mean, us?” asked Ana, curious. She’d put out a couple of press releases last week, but hadn’t expected anything so soon.

The woman paused. “I think my boss mentioned your company. Maybe you’ve worked with him before?”

“Perhaps.” Although unlikely, thought Ana, seeing as this was her first client! It must have been the press releases.

She hung up the phone and looked at her friends.

“I’m going to need your help. Again,” she said to them, a grin spreading across her face.

***

The function was going incredibly well. People had complimented Ana on the food (Willow saved the day by doing all the catering), the choice of wine (a call to Johnny had solved that problem), and the professional nature of the bar tenders (thank goodness Tom and Mia had both worked bar to put themselves through university). It was a surprise anniversary party for the client’s wife, and a call from his PA let Ana know that they were en route, ETA ten minutes. Ana made sure that each guest had a full glass of Champagne and made herself scarce. The last thing the client wanted was to see the event manager instead of all their friends. In the whirlwind preparations, and because she’d been dealing exclusively with his PA, Ana realised she hadn’t even discovered the name of the client.

Not to matter, she thought, retreating to the kitchen. I’ll meet him soon enough.

She smiled to herself as she heard the front door open and the guests yell “Surprise!”, imagining her and Tom in 20 years’ time doing the very same thing.

A sudden pang of hunger made her realise she’d barely eaten anything all day, so she wandered over to the spare platters of food. Willow had made some smoked salmon pinwheels that looked even more delightful than the ones she had made yesterday for the carpet picnic. Ana popped one in her mouth and was amazed that they tasted even better than they looked.

Savouring the salmon, lemon and dill, she was surprised to feel a rush of wind as the door behind her opened.

“Hello Ana.” A male voice softly caressed her name.

The familiar intonation sent shivers down her spine. Ana turned around slowly, willing it to be anyone other than who she knew it was.

Okonomiyaki

May 19, 2011


The name of this delicious Japanese style savoury pancake is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “what you want”, and yaki meaning “grilled”, so feel free to add or subtract any ingredients that you desire! Just make sure the consistency is correct – they are very easy to make too gluggy. These are particularly scrumptious on a chilly autumn day.

Makes 2 (large pancakes) or 4 (small pancakes).

1 cup okonomiyaki flour (or plain flour if you can’t find this)

2/3 cup chicken stock

2 eggs

4 cups cabbage, finely chopped or grated

1/4 cup finely sliced spring onion

1/4 cup grated carrot

2 rashers bacon, finely chopped (optional)

Kewpie mayonaise and sweet miso (or hoisin sauce) for topping

Whisk flour and stock together in a large bowl until smooth. Add cabbage, eggs, spring onion and carrot and mix gently, but not too much – you don’t want to overwork the mixture. Oil a griddle or large, heavy fry pan that has been heated to 200 degrees C. Add mixture so that if forms two pancakes (or cook them one at a time if using a fry pan). Flatten the top with a spatula so that each pancake is about 1.5cm thick and 30cm across. Sprinkle bacon over each and cook for 3 minutes. Flip and cook for 4 minutes, then flip bacon side back up and cook for a further 3 minutes until firm and browned. Drizzle immediately with Kewpie mayonaise and sweet miso and serve.

Season 2: Episode 12

May 17, 2011

Willow cupped her gloved hands and blew on them to keep warm as she waited for her breakfast. It wasn’t even winter yet but Melbourne was already experiencing what felt like arctic temperatures. It had been the wettest summer on record and now it was the coldest start to autumn the city had ever seen. Of course, Willow was no climate change specialist, but surely that meant something? She peered in through the small window of her favourite hole-in-the-wall café, looking expectantly for her coffee.

It was the end of another long week and Willow was excited about the prospect of a relaxing weekend of doing not much at all: cooking, eating and curling up on the sofa with a good book. Bliss! Her job as a music teacher at an exclusive private school in Melbourne’s inner south was rewarding, but did take a lot out of her. The last couple of weeks had been particularly difficult as she started to prepare the final year students for their exams. It was only May, but before they knew it the end of the school year would be upon them. She had learned the hard way that the more she pushed them now the fewer irritated teenagers and nagging parents she’d have to deal with later. This was, of course, on top of the ‘Carlo Incident’, as it was now referred to, and the weird fight that Mia and Johnny seemed to be having that neither of them would admit to, but was affecting everyone.

Yep, she definitely needed a low-key weekend.

Willow rubbed her hands together again and stamped her feet, dreaming of the steaming hot caffè latte that would soon be coming her way. The café owner waved to her as he hauled a crate of milk to the side entrance, his breath forming thick clouds in the bitter morning air.

“Cold enough for you?” He called out, grinning.

Willow laughed and nodded. She came here every morning before work to grab a quick breakfast that she ate on her walk to school. The tiny café produced sensational coffee and it was not unusual to see a queue, sometimes fifteen people deep, waiting anxiously for their caffeine fix. They also served wonderful food, which was a lovely blend of Japanese and Australian culinary traditions, the owner having lived in Japan for many years when he was younger. This morning, Willow had succumbed to the delicious-looking okonomiyaki to accompany her usual, strong caffè latte. Her mouth watered as she watched the sweet miso and mayonnaise being drizzled over the savoury pancake.

***

She walked briskly towards the school, nibbling on the corner of her breakfast, conscious that she had a meeting in a few minutes with the principal. She was about to cross the small side street behind the secondary school when a dark green Aston Martin screamed around the corner, nearly hitting her. She fell backwards onto the nature strip as the car’s horn blared and tyres screeched. Shaking from the near-miss, she staggered to her feet and noticed the car reversing. It drew level with her and the window silently opened a couple of inches.

“You’re OK?” a voice enquired. Whoever it was, they didn’t sound particularly concerned.

“You should watch where you’re going,” Willow said irritably. She could feel a bruise forming on her elbow as she tenderly rubbed her arm.

“Well, you should learn to look both ways before you cross the road,” the driver responded, his voice retaining the same casual nonchalance.

Fuming, Willow peered inside, but couldn’t see the driver’s face. “You shouldn’t be driving like a maniac. There is a school around here. What if you hit one of the kids?”

This silenced him momentarily. “Point taken.  I’ll drive more carefully and you can head over to that school and perhaps get some lessons in how to cross the road. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late.”

Before she could reply, he had screeched off again. Willow shook her head in frustration.

It really just confirms what I already know, she thought to herself. All men are complete and utter idiots!

She surveyed the carnage around her. Coffee was dripping down the front of her coat and the okonomiyaki – that she had been so looking forward to finishing – had sailed gracefully though the air, landing face-down on the footpath. Her bag had upended and sheet music was fluttering gently along the street. Brushing the grass off her tailored trousers, Willow glanced at her watch.

“Shit!”

She was already late. She scooped up her bag and started chasing runaway papers down the road.

* * *

Willow burst into the principal’s office, still trying to rub the coffee stain off the front of her winter coat. “Gail, I’m so sorry that I’m late but…” She stopped mid-sentence when she saw they had company.

“Willow. This is Mr Fortescue.”

Willow took in the gentleman before her. He was tall, well-dressed and certainly not unattractive. Not her type, of course. He had a sharp, arrogant look about him. Even though she’d never met him before, the name was well known to her. Around the school, some spoke of him with hallowed reverence because he’d donated a lot of money for various buildings over the years. Most recently his philanthropy extended to the new music conservatory. Other teachers had told Willow to be wary of him. Apparently he was over-protective of his son, Samuel, and liked to contribute more than his two cents’ worth when it came to his offspring’s education.

Mr Fortescue held out his hand, a bemused expression on his face. “Call me Robert.”

Willow started. She’d recognise that voice anywhere.

Green Aston Martin!

“Mr Fortescue would like to speak to you about his son’s performance last term,” said Gail warily, fully aware that keeping the peace between these two might not be the easiest task.

Robert Fortescue cleared his throat. “Samuel didn’t do particularly well in your subject.”

Willow regarded him cautiously. Samuel was a good kid but, unfortunately, tone deaf and far more interested in science and maths than music.

“Sam doesn’t seem to be particularly keen…”

He interrupted her. “He’ll be taking music as an elective next year and I’m expecting him to do a lot better.”

Here we go, thought Willow, puffing her chest out angrily. The bullying begins.

Gail, who had got far in life with her ability to nip tension in the bud before it erupted, stepped between the pair. “Perhaps, Robert, if that is the case then you might consider a tutor for Samuel. I have some excellent recommendations.”

Robert held up his hand, a twinkle in his eye. “That won’t be necessary, Gail. I’m sure that Willow would be happy to tutor him a few afternoons a week. For an additional fee, of course.”

First, he’d ruined her breakfast and now he was demanding she give up her spare time for his son? Willow exploded. “I absolutely would not be happy to do that, you arrogant bastard!”

There was a tense silence in the room. Willow cursed herself inwardly, not so much for the yelling but for potentially causing Gail any trouble. She suspected that no one ever spoke that way to Robert Fortescue.

You couldn’t just have said ‘no thank-you’? she chided herself silently.

Suddenly, he laughed. “I certainly didn’t expect to elicit that response! Gail, you’ve got a fiery one here.” He glanced at his limited edition Breitling wristwatch. “I have to go. I won’t forget this though, Willow.”

He shook hands with Gail and let his gaze fall on Willow momentarily, savouring her like one would a fine work of art, before letting himself out of the room.

Willow turned to face Gail, apologetic.  “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that. But you can’t expect me to…”

Gail shook her head. “I know, Willow, I know. But his wife was a musician before she died. I suspect he wants to keep that alive through Sam.” She sighed. “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to him and sort it out.”

* * *

Willow carefully checked the road for oncoming Aston Martins before crossing. She noticed a miso-coloured stain on the pavement where her breakfast had come to its unfortunate end. She had been annoyed – and hungry – all day thinking about her interaction with Robert Fortescue. Just the mention of his name made her blood boil!

“Willow.”

She turned and was horrified to see the green Aston Martin again. It stopped and Robert got out. She was once again astonished by his commanding presence. She stood up straight and put her hands in her pockets so he wouldn’t see them shaking.

“Mr Fortescue…”

“Call me Robert.” He smiled, engagingly.

She glared at him. “Mr Fortescue. If you would like to make an appointment to discuss this further, then please do so through the school. Although, I can tell you now there is no way that…”

He interrupted her. “Have dinner with me.”

Willow was startled – certainly not what she had expected him to say. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, trying to get words of protest out, but none came. She looked like a goldfish gasping for air.

“I’m heading out of town for a while. When I get back, I’ll call you.”

Before she could even respond he was back in his car and had driven off. Willow clenched her fists inside her jacket. What unbelievable… arrogance! Muttering aloud in the direction of the retreating vehicle she said, “I can promise you this, Robert Fortescue. I will never, ever go on a date with you.”

Deep Dish Apple Pie

May 12, 2011


This is such a perfect autumnal desert. The tart apple is perfectly complimented by the sweet sugar, and the maple syrup gives it an extra depth of flavour.  Hopefully you’ll appreciate it a bit more than Mia or Johnny did……!

Serve with ice cream, clotted cream or custard. Serves 6.

Pastry

2 cups of plain flour

1/4 tsp of salt

200 grams of butter cut into small cubes

1/2 cup of caster sugar

1 egg

1 tbsp of cold water

Filling

1 kilo of Sturmer or very tart Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored and finely sliced)

1/3 cup of caster sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp pure maple syrup

1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl and toss gently.

Put flour, salt, sugar and butter into a food processor and mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (alternately you can do this by hand, but don’t overwork the ingredients). Add egg and water, and mix again to form a dough. Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Form into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Roll 2/3 of mixture between sheets of baking paper for the base, and line the tin. Fill with apple mixture and then roll remaining pastry for the top. Cut a small vent into the pasty, brush with egg and bake for 50 mins – 1 hour, or until crust is golden brown. Stand for 10 mins before serving.

Season 2: Episode 11

May 10, 2011

Mia leaned against the letterbox, out of breath, but feeling great for the first time in days. Going for a long run always had that effect on her. There was something so calming about the rhythmic pattern her body fell into that she would forget about all the things that were worrying her. Well, there was just one thing that concerned her at the moment, but it had been playing on her mind the entire week. Tonight, the gang was meeting up for dinner again, and she was going to have to spend the whole evening in the same room as Johnny. That, in itself, wasn’t such a bad thing. Mia quite liked being in close proximity to Johnny. In fact, she liked it a lot. However, the disastrous date that Nick had taken her on – to Johnny’s restaurant, no less – still lingered in her mind. It was the night that insidious girl had draped herself over Johnny like a cheap accessory, refusing to budge. Not that Johnny had seemed to mind and, based on the stories she’d heard, it was an all-too-common occurrence.

Mia untied the key from her shoelace and let herself into the house quietly so as not to wake the others. She needn’t have worried, though. The smell of coffee wafting through the house told her they were already up and about.

“I can’t believe you’ve already been for a run,” groaned Willow sleepily. “You put us all to shame.” She gestured to the coffee pot on the stove. “Want one?”

“Please,” said Mia gratefully.

“How far did you get?” Ana looked much more awake than Willow and was dressed in her yoga clothes, ready for her Saturday morning class.

“About 15 kilometres,” said Mia, helping herself to a glass of water.

Ana and Willow looked at each other. They had known that something was up for a while now, but they didn’t know that it was that bad. All the girls had a release – an activity that they defaulted to when things got a bit much. For Ana it was Champagne (not technically an activity, but somehow Ana managed to turn it into one), for Willow: baking, and for Mia: excessive exercise. At least with baking and Champagne everyone could benefit, but the exercising just made the others feel guilty about their own vices. For this reason, as much as to support their friend, her housemates tried extra hard to snap Mia out of it when she was down.

“So, what’s up?” Ana asked, her tone light.

“Nothing” said Mia, looking surprised. “Why?”

“You’re just… exercising. A lot.”

Mia laughed. “Oh that. Umm, I’ve got an assessment coming up at work and need to train for it.” The absolute last thing she wanted was for Ana and Willow to know the truth.

Ana was sceptical, but if Mia didn’t want to talk about it there wasn’t much they could do.

“What are we cooking for dinner tonight?” asked Mia, changing the subject.

Willow was suddenly awake. “I was thinking apple pie for dessert. I found this great recipe the other day.” She paused. “But there’s a catch.”

Ana and Mia looked at her. How could there be a downside to delicious, homemade apple pie?

“I can’t go to the market and I need lots of apples,” Willow said, sheepishly.

Although Willow had put on a very brave face, she still wasn’t quite ready to confront Carlo on his territory just yet. She was happy going to the market during the week, but on Saturday there was a high probability that she would run into him and she really, really wanted to avoid that.

“I’ll go,” said Mia.

Willow gave her friend a huge hug, letting go quickly. “Gross. You’re all sweaty,” she said playfully.

***

Mia was pulling wine glasses down from the kitchen cupboard when Johnny arrived. The positive feeling that she had managed to maintain for the majority of the day dissipated. He walked into the kitchen and deposited a couple of bottles of wine on the bench, opening a red straight away to let it breathe.

“Hi Mia.” His voice gave no hint of anything.

“Hi Johnny.”

They looked at each other for a moment before Johnny turned on his heel and left the room, mumbling something about helping to set the table.

Well, thought Mia, bitterly, that went well.

When they sat down to dinner, Johnny and Mia positioned themselves as from each other as they could. The others barely noticed them going drink for drink, hardly touching their food and scowling like a couple of teenage boys forbidden from playing Xbox.

When Johnny eventually spoke, his voice dripped with disdain. “So, how was the rest of your date?”

“Oh yeah,” exclaimed Tom, oblivious. “The mystery date. Where did he end up taking you?”

Before Mia could answer, Johnny jumped in. “You didn’t hear?” He picked up a bottle of red and emptied the contents into his glass, not even tasting it as he took a swig. “We had the pleasure of waiting on the two lovebirds at Medina.”

“Well maybe you can fill us in on the date,” teased Willow, “Because Mia won’t tell us anything.”

Mia grabbed another bottle of wine and opened it, filling her own glass to the brim. “Why don’t you tell them about your friend instead, Johnny?” Mia glared at him, fire in her eyes.

“Hey, save some of the wine for the rest of us.” Willow proffered her glass for a refill.

Mia obliged, speaking to the table as she poured. “Johnny wouldn’t have noticed how my date went,” she said. “He was too busy babysitting.”

“I was not,” Johnny snorted, incredulous.

“She was young enough to be your daughter,” Mia shot back.

“I would have thought you were too busy making googly eyes to notice anything else.”

“It was impossible not to notice. You were all over each other.”

“What do you care, anyway? You seemed pretty happy with Mr Boring.” Johnny put his wine glass to his lips and frowned when he realised there was nothing left in it; he could have sworn he had just filled it.

Mia walked around the table and snatched the bottle from him, slopping wine on the tablecloth as she topped herself up, she too having finished her glass in record time. “He’s not boring. At least he can have a conversation about something other than… Barbie dolls.”

As the verbal barbs continued, Willow, Ana and Tom looked on, bemused. From a spectator point of view, it was like watching a tennis match. Johnny and Mia didn’t even notice the table being cleared around them, or the arrival of Willow’s amazing dessert, which was cut and placed in front of them.

Mia stabbed her spoon into the flaky pastry, a spiral of steam escaping from the pie. She gave Johnny a withering look. “You wouldn’t even be capable of having a proper relationship, anyway.”

Johnny ignored the pie in front of him, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. “You wanna bet?”

“Yes.”

“You’re on.”

They glared at each other for another second before Willow interrupted their thoughts.

“How are you going to prove it?” she said, her mouth full of dessert.

“What?” Mia turned to her, as if only just aware that there were other people in the room.

“The bet. How are you going to prove that Johnny is or isn’t capable of having a proper relationship?”

Mia and Johnny looked at each other. They could both think of one way, but neither of them was going to suggest that.

Cucumber Sandwiches

May 4, 2011


These delicate, tasty morsels are a perfect snack for royal wedding watchers. Or if you can’t wait until the next one of those, then feel free to make them anytime. They look very pretty if you also make a round using tomato instead of cucumber and alternate the red and green on the platter.

Serve with ice cold champagne. Makes four rounds (16 triangles).

8 slices of square, soft, fresh white bread, crusts removed

2 Lebanese cucumber, skin removed, finely sliced

4 tablespoons whole egg mayonnaise

1 tablespoon fennel, finely chopped

1 tablespoon dill, finely chopped

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Mix together the mayonnaise, dill, fennel and lemon juice and add salt and pepper to taste. Using a rolling pin, roll the slices of bread individually so that they become thinner, but more dense. Spread each slice of bread with the mayonnaise sauce, ensuring that you cover to the edges. lay the fine slices of cucumber over four slices of bread, and cover with the other four bread slices. Using a sharp knife, cut into triangles. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

Season 2: Episode 10

May 3, 2011

Ana checked her watch. She was running so far behind time. She understood the concept of being fashionably late, but this was beyond a joke. The traffic was barely moving. She drummed her fingers impatiently on the seat next to her.

“Is there another route we can take?” she asked the driver, conscious that she was over an hour late. Her mobile phone battery had died while she was at the hairdresser’s and she didn’t want anyone to think she was leaving them stranded at the altar, so to speak. The driver shrugged apologetically and Ana was left staring out the window, cursing Stefan for taking forever to finish her hair. She had tried to hurry him along. He knew how important it was for her to be on time, tonight of all nights!

“But darling,” he had cooed. “You cannot celebrate such an occasion of love and commitment without perfect hair!”

Finally, the car arrived at its destination and she leapt out. Ana pushed open the heavy door and ran down the long corridor, noticing the beautiful fresh flowers that had been set out for the occasion. She took a sharp left into the room where she could hear the murmur of hushed voices.

“…we can see Catherine just emerging from the hotel as we speak…”

“Have I missed it?” Ana asked breathlessly, bursting through the door. “The hairdresser took forever!”

She was met by a chorus of “Ssshhhhhh!” from housemates Willow and Mia.

“She’s just getting into the car to go to the Abbey,” explained Mia, her eyes glued to the television.

Ana breathed a sigh of relief. Not that she normally got into these sorts of things, but all three of them seemed to have caught wedding fever – it had been going around, apparently – and Ana didn’t want to miss the moment when Wills and Kate tied the knot.

“I’m not sure about that lace,” said Willow, sceptically. “But maybe it’ll work when we get to see the whole outfit.”

There were murmurs of agreement from the other two. A break in the commentary enabled Mia to rush into the kitchen and grab some Champagne flutes.

“Ana, I thought you were never going to get here. We are dying for some bubbles. We thought you were going to leave us high and dry,” she said, adding, “hair looks great, by the way.”

Because she was going out to the hairdresser anyway, Ana had been charged with the very important job of buying the booze on her way home. Had she known that Stefan was such a fan of the British Royal Family she wouldn’t have mentioned her plans tonight to watch the wedding with her girlfriends, because as soon as she had, he had insisted on spending extra time making sure every strand sat perfectly. She handed over the bag of sparkling, laughing when she saw the girls had brought an Esky into the living room.

“It’s going to be a long night,” explained Willow.

In the spirit of the occasion, Willow produced a platter of cucumber sandwiches that she had prepared earlier. Mia bit into the delicate canapé and smiled, hardly surprised that Willow had gone to this much trouble. She’d rolled paper-thin bread and even cut the crusts off. They half-watched the wedding ceremony; more interested in the crowd and what everyone was wearing than the actual nuptials.

“Looks as though she’s planning on broadcasting to greater London,” said Ana, pointing to one of the Royals, who had a particularly ridiculous satellite dish of a hat on her head.

Willow took another swig of Champagne and picked up a sandwich. “Is your wedding going to be like this, Ana?”

Ana snorted, nearly spraying a mouthful of her drink across the room. “Yeah, I’ve got Sarah Burton on speed dial already. I’ve told her to spare no expense!”

“Maybe you could just borrow Kate’s dress. It’s not like she’s going to be needing it again.”

“We hope!” chorused Ana and Mia.

“Don’t do anything like this,” pleaded Mia. “I don’t think I can sit through another five-hour wedding extravaganza.” She shifted uncomfortably. “My bottom has gone numb.”

“Any plans for nuptials on the horizon for you then, Mia?” Willow teased.

Mia looked decidedly uncomfortable but tried to make light of the comment. “I’d need to find someone I wanted to marry first.”

“Not Nick, then?”

Willow and Ana made kissy-kissy faces and Mia laughed half-heartedly, barrelling them with cushions from the couch. She decided it was time to change to subject.

“How about you, Willow?”

Willow sighed. “Well Prince Harry did call the other day…” She broke off, grinning. “Nope. I’ve sworn off men altogether. They’re all lying, cheating, conniving bastards.” She said it with jest, but the others could tell she was still hurting after the Carlo debacle.

“Not all of them,” said Ana softly, patting her friend’s hand.

“I suppose Tom’s all right. And Nick too,” Willow added. “But the rest of them are bloody awful!”

Ana and Mia had been surprised at the relative calmness with which Willow had told them about Carlo. Given the strength of her feelings for him, they had been expecting weeks of ice cream, tissues and baked goods. But she had surprised them all by shedding only a few tears, rejecting ice cream all together and only baking one thing: a large sour cherry cake (they tried not to read too much into that). She had taken a sudden and severe disliking to Italian food, though. Willow was adamant that she had given up on men completely, and was perfectly satisfied in the knowledge that she would probably be alone for the rest of her life. Maybe with a cat. She reached into the Esky to grab another bottle of the delicious French bubbly, topping up everyone’s glasses.

“I am so glad that you are getting married, though, Ana,” she said. ‘I haven’t been to a wedding in ages. And certainly not of someone I love.”

“I don’t even really know what’s going on with it,” said Ana. “Tom’s been doing most of the planning. It’s like he doesn’t trust me to organise it or something.”

Mia and Willow suppressed smiles. Ana was fantastic at organising other people. She could manage an event at a day’s notice and it would be perfect, but when it came to planning anything for herself she was useless. Willow and Mia fondly remembered the time she tried to organise her own 30th birthday, realising four days beforehand that she’d ordered cases of Champagne, ample catering and decorations for the house, but forgotten to send out a single invite.

“I can’t think of anyone else who is even close to getting married at the moment,” mused Willow, thoughtful. They sat in silence for a while, each mentally ticking off the people they knew in their heads.

“Oh my God. Can you imagine Johnny getting married?” exclaimed Ana.

She and Willow broke into peals of laughter.

“He’ll get married when he’s 60,” chuckled Willow, “to a 21- year-old model named Bambi.”

“Who’ll fall in love with him because he is so mysterious and knows so much about wine,” continued Ana, between giggles.

They rolled around on the floor, the joke all the more hilarious because of the Champagne they had consumed. Mia tried to join in, but their conversation had made her heart sink. Although she knew that this was probably true, she still secretly hoped Johnny would miraculously turn up on the front door step and sweep her off her feet. Besides, what kind of stupid name was Bambi, anyway?

“I’ve got to go to bed,” she said, too brightly. “Early client tomorrow.”

The other two looked at each other. Why was Mia being weird all of a sudden?

“But you’ll miss the balcony kiss,” said Willow, indicating the television set. Kate and Wills had emerged from the Abbey and William was doing everything he could to avoid stepping on the hem of his new wife’s dress.

Mia shrugged. “It’ll be all over the papers tomorrow. ’Night.”

They heard her footsteps disappear upstairs.

“What was that all about?” asked Willow, baffled.

Ana shrugged, a mischievous grin spreading across her face. “Maybe she fancies Johnny.”

“As if!” snorted Willow.

Ana and Willow rolled around on the floor again, laughing uncontrollably at the ridiculousness of the prospect. Mia and Johnny. Now there was an unlikely couple!