Tales of food, sex and friendship




Archive for September, 2011

Dirty Martini

September 29, 2011


So simple, yet so delicious. Just make sure you use the best quality gin you can find (can also be made with vodka if that’s more your thing).  If you can get your hands on some proper olive juice (i.e. Dirty Sue’s) then that works better than the brine. So, sit back, relax and channel Frank or James.

 

2 oz premium quality gin

1/2 oz extra-dry vermouth

1/2 oz olive juice/brine

2 green olives as garnish

Pour the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with cracked ice. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with olives.

 

Season 4: Episode 4

September 27, 2011

 

Willow stood in the centre of her room looking around at the piles of clothes strewn around her. Absolutely nothing was working. Everything she owned was too dressy, too casual, too slutty, too vintage or too conservative.

She glanced at the bedside clock. Shit. It was already seven. She was supposed to meet Robert Fortescue in less than an hour.

At least my underwear is OK, she thought, annoyed now that she hadn’t got anything new to actually go over the top of it. Still, she probably wouldn’t have been able to afford it: Willow had spent a whole week’s pay on a new lingerie set. She turned this way and that, looking at her curves nestled firmly in the delicate lace packaging, pleased with what she saw. Elegant and refined, with the slightest hint of burlesque, the cream and black set looked incredible – like it had been expertly crafted just with her in mind.

Exactly why she bought it she still didn’t know. The jury was still out on Robert Fortescue.

She had eventually called him back last week and agreed to go on a date with him – a proper date, not just dinner at his house. He’d pushed for a meal, but Willow had erred on the side of caution. She’d suggested a drink. If all went well, they could take it from there.

***

Willow sat on a leather sofa at the back of the vast bar, a half finished dirty martini in one hand, drumming her fingers absently on the furniture. Being a Sunday night, the place was relatively quiet with only a handful of glamorous types adorning the luxurious surroundings. Equally well-known for its exceptional cocktails and constant stream of Melbourne personalities, the newly opened bar was not exactly the type of place Willow frequented. But Robert had insisted and here she was.

Willow tugged at her top. She had decided on a beautiful black silk singlet and heavy, woolen wide leg trousers. She thought the outfit looked understated and stylish, but the Amazonian female behind the bar – cheekbones that could cut glass – kept looking at her as though she had got lost in the back alleys of Melbourne and ended up at the wrong place.

Willow pulled out her phone to check the time, again. She had been a fashionable ten minutes late, but Robert was really pushing the trend. In no way was it OK to keep a girl waiting for forty minutes without so much as a message.

Especially in a place like this.

Just as she drained the final drop from her drink – which, she had to admit, was one of the best martinis she’d ever had – the door to the bar swung open and Robert burst in. He waved at Willow apologetically, but instead of coming straight over and begging forgiveness for being inexcusably late, he walked up to the Amazonian goddess, leant over the bar and kissed her tenderly on both cheeks. They chatted for a few minutes, the jungle woman tossing her hair (or rather, throwing her head around in a hair-tossing manner. Her short, asymmetrical haircut made the actual tossing of hair impossible).

“I’m so sorry,” he said, when he finally walked over. “I was caught up with meetings…”

“…And you couldn’t get to a phone,” finished Willow sharply. The martini had hit her empty stomach and made her feisty.

He grinned ruefully.

“I really couldn’t get to a phone,” he said, running a hand through his thick, chestnut hair. Willow could just see the start of some grey peeking through at the temples. He looked distinguished.

Willow caught herself staring and remembered she was annoyed. She was not going to be treated like she was a secondary character in a weekly blog, no matter how good-looking he was.

“So how do you know her?” Willow asked nodding towards the woman behind the bar.

“Misty? I’ve known her forever,” he said casually.

Probably been fucking her for years, thought Willow, channeling her inner petulant teenager.

The glamazon herself broke the tense silence by delivering more drinks to the table; another martini for Willow and a scotch for Robert.

“This is my friend Willow,” said Robert, doing the introductions. “And this is Misty, who makes the meanest cocktail in the world.”

“You should have told me you were waiting for Robert,” she accused Willow.

“Um, right,” said Willow. “Of course I should.” Instead, she was thinking, errrr….as if!

Robert handed over his black Amex, but Misty waved it away, as if the titanium card were repulsive.

“Don’t be silly,” she said, stalking away again.

They both watched her go.

“Isn’t she great?” said Robert.

Willow took a large slug of her martini and rolled her eyes. Men.

***

The night did actually manage to get better.

For a while.

They chatted for hours about anything and everything, until at 1am Misty had to come over and, apologetically, tell them she was closing up. She hadn’t let them pay for a drink all night.

“Isn’t that such a great bar,” he said enthusiastically as they walked outside into the chilly night air. “Misty has really done an amazing job.”

“It’s a bit pretentious” Willow said. She’d meant it to be a light hearted comment – an indication that she didn’t want to go to places like that all the time – but Robert seemed to take it to heart.

“You didn’t seem to have a problem throwing back the martinis,” he countered, crossly. “They obviously weren’t too pretentious for you.”

“At least I wasn’t flirting with the bar staff all night,” retorted Willow.

“Who, Misty?” Robert threw back his head and laughed.

“What?” said Willow, sulkily.

“You were jealous of Misty?”

“No,” Willow mumbled, her face turning red.

Robert grabbed her arm and spun her around so she was facing him. He cupped her face in his hands and pushed his lips firmly onto hers. She tried to push him away, but resistance was futile so Willow closed her eyes and melted into his body, wrapping her arms around his torso. Fireworks were exploding in her head and her entire body felt as though it were alive for the very first time.

They kissed for what felt like forever, but no time at all. When he finally pulled away she felt her body yearning for more. Having all of him was going to be the only cure.

“Do you…do you want to come back to my house?” she said. She had spent a fortune on lace underwear, after all.

He kissed her again lightly on the forehead. “Go home Willow,” he said softly, still holding her face in her hands. “You’re drunk.”

He flagged a cab – of course one stopped immediately – and bundled her in.

“Oh and Willow,” he said, leaning in, a smile playing at the corners of his eyes. “Misty is my cousin.”

He slammed the door and tapped the top of the cab before it spun off into the night.

 

 

 

Brioche Bread Pudding with Berries

September 22, 2011


Even if you don’t love the fact that Sarah gave Tom this recipe, you can’t help but love the dish itself. Gooey, spongy and not too sweet, it’s a proper old fashioned pudding without that heavy I-couldn’t-eat-another-morsel feeling. Looks great served in individual tea-cups and saucers. (Inspired by Tartine bakery in San Francisco.)

Serve with Mascarpone or icecream. Serves 6.

6 brioche slices, cut 1-inch thick

8 large eggs

3/4 cup brown sugar

4 cups whole milk

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Raspberries, Blueberries, Mulberries for topping

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Grease a 9X5 inch glass loaf dish with butter. Place brioche slices on a baking sheet and put in oven for 4-10 mins until lightly toasted. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

To make the custard, crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and salt and whisk again. Pour the mixture through through a fine-mesh sieve.

Place the toasted bread slices in the prepared loaf pan, cutting the slices to fit as needed. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, filling the dish to the top. You may not be able to add all of the custard at this point. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, so that the bread can absorb the custard.

Just before baking, top off the dish with more of the custard if needed. Cover the dish with foil, place in the oven, and bake the pudding for about 1 hour. You can ascertain the pudding is done when you push a knife in and only a little liquid remains. The custard will continue to cook when the dish is removed.

Let the pudding cool for about 10 minutes. Poke holes in the top of the pudding to let steam out and then cover the top with a generous serving of fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries etc.). Add a sprinkling of caster sugar if desired. If berries are not in season, you can sauté any other fruit in some butter and sugar and load it onto the top. Peaches, plums or any other stone fruit work well.

Serve warm immediately or refrigerate, removing 30 mins before serving. Serve with mascarpone and/or vanilla ice cream.

 

Season 4: Episode 3

September 20, 2011

Tom gave the dessert one last glance before covering it up again and hiding it in the back of the fridge. It looked incredible. He would have to remember to buy Sarah an extra large coffee and piece of cake for giving the recipe to him. Days ago, he’d mentioned to her that he was stuck on finding the perfect special occasion dessert.

“Something that Ana will be amazed by, Willow will be jealous of and Mia won’t want to eat, but will anyway” he’d said with a wink. “But they have to think that I’ve thought of it all myself!”

“Leave it with me,” Sarah said.

Sure enough, a day later, she’d slipped him a piece of paper.

“It’s our little secret,” Sarah whispered into his ear.

Tom had been unsure initially – the dessert sounded a bit old fashioned and boring – but looking at it again this evening, he knew that Sarah had come through with the goods. She really was a good friend.

Tonight, Tom and Ana were hosting their first dinner party as a married couple and he was both excited and nervous. He knew it was daggy – they’d had people over for dinner plenty of times before they got married – but he was old fashioned like that. Even though marriage didn’t change what he and Ana were, he felt as though their connection were stronger than ever; that they could face anything the world wanted to throw at them.

He smiled as heard a key in the front door and Ana walked in, dressed in leggings and a singlet.

“How was the gym,” he said, walking over and kissing her lightly.

“Good,” she said smiling up and him. “I’m all sweaty though. I’m going to have a quick shower.”

Ana peeled off her sweat drenched singlet, dropping it in the laundry basket on the way to the bathroom. As always, Tom marvelled at the way her body was the perfect amount of muscle and softness. He loved nothing more than spending hours running his hands over her smooth curves, kissing every inch of her perfectness. He stood in the doorway of the bathroom and watched her strip down to her underwear.

“What?” she said when she saw him standing there, arms crossed over his chest, a small smile playing on his lips.

He walked into the bathroom and pulled her towards him. “I was just thinking about the fact I have the hottest wife in the world,” he whispered into her ear, gently nibbling the lobe.

“Tom, I smell horrible,” she protested. “And they’re going to be here soon.”

“You smell incredible,” he said pulling her close again and nuzzling her hair. “And they won’t be here for 45 minutes.”

He ran his hand down the length of her spine and placed soft, strategic kisses across her shoulder and collarbones. She tasted sweet and salty. She tried to push him away, playfully, but he wrapped his arms around her tightly, pressing his body against hers.

She kissed along the side of his neck and heard him utter a small moan. She gently prised herself loose of his arms and pulled his t-shirt over his head. Running her hands over his broad chest she moved down towards his belt, unbuckling it and and taking down his trousers. He wasn’t wearing underwear.

“Come on,” she said, stepping into the shower and looking coyly over her shoulder. “I need some help getting clean.”

Luckily Melbourne’s water supplies had been recently replenished with a fair amount of rain, because the forty minute shower they had wasn’t exactly environmentally responsible.

***

Ana was pulling on her favourite pair of blue jeans when the buzzer for the apartment sounded. They were by a Mexican label she had found at a small boutique on Sydney road – the only place in Australia that stocked them. Ana loved finding unique clothes that no one else she knew had.

She gave Tom a conspiratorial grin as he grabbed a t-shirt, putting it on as he walked towards the intercom. Ana took a moment before the first person arrived to close her eyes and take a few breaths. The week was over, she was relaxed (Tom had made sure of that – several times!); she had the most wonderful husband in the world and tonight she and Tom were going to hang out with Mia and Willow and eat and drink themselves silly.

Life was good.

She heard Willow’s voice in the kitchen, and the rustle of paper bags as wine bottles were removed and opened. Ana ran a brush quickly through her hair and dabbed on some lip gloss. That would have to do. They’d all seen her looking a lot worse in the past.

In the kitchen, Tom was pouring a nice looking red into glasses.

“It’s the wife!” called Willow and Mia simultaneously as Ana walked out of the bedroom.

She laughed. They were never going to get sick of that joke.

“Hi Willow, Hi Mia,” she said in a sing-song voice, kissing them both on the cheeks.

“Hi Ana,” a voice behind her said.

“Oh… Sarah. I didn’t know you were coming.” She gave Sarah a stilted kiss too, her good spirits dissipating somewhat.

Sarah’s face visibly dropped. “Oh.” She looked from Tom to Mia to Willow. “Tom invited me. I thought it was OK…”

“Of course it is,” said Willow pointedly, putting her arm around Sarah and glaring at Ana. “Right?”

“Of course,” Ana said lightly. “It must have slipped my mind.”

Tom handed a glass of wine to Sarah and glanced at Ana warily. Better not let slip where he’d got the recipe for dessert, he decided. It didn’t take a genius to see that Ana wasn’t hugely fond of Sarah. He had no idea why. Sarah was great; funny, smart and warm. In fact, she reminded Tom of Ana in a lot of ways.

He knew enough to keep that one to himself though.

Sarah peeled off her jacket and handed it to Tom with a warm smile, which he returned. The outfit was innocuous enough, but Ana choked on the sip of wine she had just taken. Sarah had on exactly the same blue jeans as Ana.

“They’re my jeans,” spat Ana, incredulously.

“What?” Sarah began, looking around the room, her eyes wide. “I had no idea…”

“It’s a coincidence,” said Willow cutting her off. She took Ana’s hand and dragged her towards the living room. “You have to show me that thing, remember?”

Ana couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t a coincidence at all.

In the living room, Willow turned to Ana. “What is wrong with you? Why won’t you give her a break?”

Ana’s eyes were bright and her cheeks were flushed. “First the brooch and now she’s dressing like me…”

She stopped mid sentence. Even as the words came out Ana wished she could retract them. She sounded like a raving lunatic.

“Ana, even if she was trying to be like you, it’s because she admires you. She’s not a single white female type, OK?” Willow said gently.

Ana nodded and hung her head. The last thing she wanted was to get Willow off-side. Besides, she probably was being a paranoid freak.

***

Tom had outdone himself with the meal. Fresh fish, lightly fried and served on a bed of lemon infused silverbeet complimented by a warm lentil salad. But it was the dessert that made them all go gaga – brioche pudding, with fresh berries and mascarpone, served in individual tea cups.

Willow almost cried with happiness when he bought them out. “Tom, I had no idea that anything could look that good.” She closed her eyes and tasted it, letting the gooey, sweet bread and tart berries burst over her taste buds. “Where did you get this idea?”

Tom grinned, blushing slightly. “Ah-ha, that is my little secret” he said slyly. “Can’t have you outdoing me, can I Willow?”

Only Ana noticed that he winked at Sarah and she shared a secret smile with him.

When the final scrap of food had been consumed and the last drop of wine drunk, the three girls left to go home and sleep off the delicious feast. Ana and Tom started to clean up, stacking the dishwasher and rinsing wine glasses. Ana congratulated herself on being on her best behaviour all night, biting her tongue when Sarah’s arm rested for a second too long on Tom’s or when she shared an in-joke with Willow and Mia.

But there was one thing that she just couldn’t leave alone.

“Tom,” she said, in the most carefree tone she could muster. “That dessert was delicious. Where did you say you got the recipe from again?”

“It was just in an old cookbook,” he said breezily, not making eye contact.

Ana nodded.

She didn’t have the proof, but she was sure that Tom had just lied to her.

 

 

 

 

 

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Thyme, Garlic and Rosemary

September 15, 2011


This bird is a feast in itself and wonderful for a leisurely weekend lunch with friends. The fresh herbs and lemon infuse the chicken with their delicate flavors, leaving the meat mouth-wateringly moist and tasty. If you’re lucky enough to have any leftover, it makes wonderful chicken sandwiches the next day.

Serve with crisp green beans, smashed new potatoes and your favourite white wine. Serves 4-6.

2 tblspn minced fresh thyme

1 tblspn finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 tblspn extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tspns grated lemon peel

1 free-range organic roasting chicken (2-3kg)

1 unwaxed lemon

1 handful of fresh thyme and rosemary, unchopped

4-6 cloves of garlic in skin

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

3 tspns plain flour

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

On the morning of the day you are going to cook the chicken, rub the inside and out with a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Cover and leave in the fridge until you are about to start cooking.

Preheat oven to 190°C. Pat chicken with kitchen paper and put in a roasting dish.

In a bowl, mix thyme, oil, garlic and lemon peel. Rub almost all the infused oil over the chicken (leave about 1 tblspn). In a small saucepan, bring salted water to the boil and place in the whole lemon, cooking at a rolling boil for 5 minutes. Make a bunch of holes in the lemon with a knife and stuff inside the chicken, along with the handful of thyme, rosemary and garlic cloves. Tie legs up with string.

Roast the chicken for 45 mins, and then remove from oven to spoon juices and fat that have cooked out over the chicken. Return to the oven for a further 45 mins, or until chicken is cooked. Lift chicken and tilt slightly, emptying juices from cavity into pan. Transfer chicken to serving platter. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Pour pan juices into a glass measuring jug and spoon fat off top. Add wine to the roasting pan and place over high heat. Bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Pour wine mixture into measuring cup with pan juices (do not clean roasting pan). Add enough chicken stock to jug to measure 2 cups. Return this mixture to same roasting pan. Mix flour into reserved infused oil. Whisk into broth mixture. Boil broth mixture in roasting pan set over 2 burners until slightly thickened (approx 2 minutes). Add salt and pepper. Serve chicken and juices separately. Enjoy!

Season 4: Episode 2

September 13, 2011

The sharp smell of coffee filled the air at Di Bella’s roasting house in North Melbourne, exploding through the doors and windows so that passers by – only early morning joggers or dog walkers at this hour – would stop for a second, mid stride, to close their eyes and inhale the distinctive scent, each silently vowing that they would come back and treat themselves after the next kilometre or two. Because it was still early, the Saturday morning breakfast set hadn’t descended on the popular establishment, leaving Mia and Willow to enjoy their pre-market caffeine fix in a leisurely fashion. The first week of spring had failed them spectacularly, the weather still reminiscent of mid-winter and the girls were huddled inside, warming themselves after their short walk to the cafe.

“Where the fuck are the flowers and spring leaves,” growled Mia, uncharacteristically grumpy, pulling her coat tighter around her chest and warming her hands on the latte glass. “And why they fuck is it still so fucking cold?”

Willow raised as eyebrow as she sipped on a perfectly crafted flat white. She was the only one who had picked up on Mia’s irritability, which had come on right after Ana’s wedding and didn’t seem to be abating any time soon. Today, despite her unique aptitude towards morning chirpiness, Mia had been particularly snarly and cranky since they had left the house thirty minutes earlier.

“Something the matter, dear?” asked Willow, a healthy dollop of sarcasm in her otherwise serious tone.

Mia sighed. “Sorry. I’m just cold and tired and…I don’t know. Just a bit…over it all.”

“Over what all?”

Mia opened her mouth as if she were about to say something, but then thought better of it. She absently stirred her coffee, making swirls in the crema, then licking the spoon.

“Over what all?” repeated Willow.

Mia wasn’t exactly an open book. She rarely spoke about her feelings or what was going on in her personal life, which was frustrating for her friends when they could see that something was the matter. They knew better than to push her though, having learnt that under pressure she became a vault for emotional tension. Over the years they had expected some kind of explosion of pent up energy, but it never came. It wasn’t normal; it was just Mia.

This time, however, Willow had an inkling about what was bothering her. She had seen the exchange between Mia and Johnny at the wedding; an exchange similar to one she had witnessed many years prior. Ages ago, when they had all first met Mia, Willow had sensed a tension – no, not tension…a curiosity – blossom between Mia and Johnny. They had circled each other for a very short while, kind of like shy teenagers, before getting on with their lives. It was lucky; Johnny – with his extensive experience of the opposite sex – would have eaten poor, naive Mia alive.

But Mia wasn’t the young, innocent girl that she had been back then and Willow wondered if anything had happened between the two of them.

“Is this to do with a boy?” she asked gently.

Mia looked up from her coffee, her face going red. “Why do you say that?”

“I just wondered…well, I thought I saw something at the wedding…that’s all.”

“Something like what?” asked Mia, suspiciously.

“Something like…Johnny making googley eyes at you.” She tried to keep it as light and playful as possible, but she saw immediately that she had stepped over the line.

Mia’s face closed over and she refused the meet Willow’s eye. “That’s ridiculous!”

Willow shrugged. “Ok.”

“I mean, me and Johnny…that’s crazy.” She paused. “Right?”

“If you say so.”

“We’re just friends. Just like you and Johnny.”

Mia went even redder. She’d momentarily forgotten about Willow and Johnny’s past. It wasn’t something that any of them ever talked about – just one of those things that happened and was forgotten as a folly of youth, stored in the annals of time.

“Not exactly like you and Johnny,” she stammered. “I mean…we’ve never…we’re just mates.”

The lady doth protest too much, thought Willow wryly, momentarily distracted by trying to remember which Shakespeare play she was internally quoting. Hamlet? Macbeth? She shook her head, bemused. All those years of English literature had obviously done wonders. She wouldn’t push Mia anymore, she decided. Mia got flustered whenever she was questioned about anything to do with men, whether she was involved with them or not. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, thought Willow changing the subject.

“Have you managed to hang out with Sarah at all?”

Mia looked relieved. “A bit. She’s really keen to start Pilates, so I’ve been showing her some basic stuff. I like her.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Willow. “She’s really down to earth.”

“Wasn’t it amazing that she found Ana’s brooch!”

“I know! So lucky.” Willow paused and grinned at Mia. “I don’t know that Ana is super keen on her though.”

Mia rolled her eyes and laughed. “Ana takes a while to warm up to everyone.”

“That she does,” said Willow joining in her laughter. “Come on,” she said, slinging her huge bag over her shoulder. “Shall we hit the markets before the hoards arrive?”

***

They wandered slowly through the fruit and vegetable stalls, carefully selecting the freshest produce as they went, Willow chatting to the stall owners as though she were a long-lost relative.

“I have a brilliant idea,” said Willow, stopping suddenly and grabbing Mia’s arm. “Lets make a huge feast for lunch, and spend the rest of the day eating and drinking too much.”

“If you’re offering to cook, I’m not going to say no,” replied Mia with a chuckle. “What were you thinking?”

“What about roast chicken stuffed with lemon, thyme, garlic and….Rosemary? I’ll do some smashed potatoes and beans and then… let’s just get some cheese and dried fruit for desert?”

Mia’s tummy gave a loud rumble at the thought. “Sounds perfect!”

***

They left the markets, shopping trolley and bags heaving with fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, cheese and bread. Mia wondered momentarily how she would ever be able to live anywhere that wasn’t near the markets; they were so spoiled for incredible food choices. As they were crossing Victoria street, Willow’s phone rang from somewhere in the depths of her handbag.

“Ah crap,” she said, digging through the gigantic bag – affectionately nicknamed ‘the tardis’ by her friends – to try and answer it before it rang out. “Here, hold this,” she said, thrusting a bag full of gourmet cheese at Mia.

“Hello…hello…” she said breathlessly, managing the catch it just before it stopped ringing.

There was a pause on the other end. “Willow?”

She know that voice and immediately stopped in her tracks, her voice becoming cold.

“Oh. Hello.”

“It’s Robert Fortescue.”

“I know. What do you want.” She was trying to be cool, but her voice was sharper than she had intended.

Willow was still furious with Robert: She was angry that he had spent weeks wooing her, pestering her for a date when she wasn’t interested. When she finally relented and agreed to dinner, he had dispelled her initial opinion of him and had been charming and courteous and interesting and handsome and… oh, so many other wonderful things. But then, just as the night looked as though it were about to get a lot more interesting, he had  got up and left, without so much as an explanation or a follow up phone call.

Nothing.

Nada.

She hadn’t heard a peep from him in weeks, and even though she’d had a wonderful time with him, was damned if she was going to do the chasing this time. He was just like all the rest of them: Never considering how his actions might affect other people –  and Willow was done dealing with guys like that.

“How are you?” he asked, his voice stilted.

“Fine.”

“Oh. Ok. Good.”

He paused. She could hear him expel a deep breath.

“I think I owe you an explanation,” he began slowly. When Willow didn’t respond, he continued. “Willow, what I did that night, leaving like that, it wasn’t because of you.”

Here we go, thought Willow. The it’s-not-you-it’s-me speech.

“You are the first woman that has made me feel anything since Vanessa – my wife – died. I panicked. I didn’t know how to deal with it.”

“But…”

Robert cut her off. “No wait, let me finish. I like you Willow – really like you – and I want to try this again. I can’t promise that I’m not going to… freak out occasionally, but I think that you an amazing woman and I hope that you’ll give me a second chance.”

Willow’s mouth opened and closed a few time, but no sound came out: A North Melbourne sidewalk goldfish.

“Think about it,” said Robert after a while. “And Willow. I’m sorry.”

He hung up before she had a chance to respond.

“Who was that?” asked Mia.

“It was Robert,” said Willow. “He wants to see me again.”

Mia nodded slowly. She’d seen how hurt Willow had been by this guy only a few weeks earlier – even though Willow would never admit it. And so soon after Carlo had trampled mercilessly on her heart. No one deserved that twice in a row, especially not Willow.

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” said Willow. “I really don’t know.”

French Toast

September 8, 2011


This is a decadent special occasion treat. If you can’t find challah or brioche bread, then normal white bread or Turkish bread works well too. If you are feeling in particularly good cardiac health then some bacon instead of berries is an extra delicious addition.

Serve with fresh coffee, orange juice and/or champagne (if it’s a celebration!!). Serves 4.

6 extra-large eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla essence

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large loaf challah or brioche bread

Unsalted butter

Vegetable oil

Pure maple syrup

Fresh Raspberries, Blueberries or any other type of fruit you like (hint: if fresh fruit isn’t available then baked or poached fruit is also delicious! Try it with baked apples or poached pears).

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, orange zest, vanilla, and salt. Slice the challah in 3/4-inch thick slices. Soak as many slices in the egg mixture as possible for 5 minutes, turning once.

In a large non-stick fry pan, heat a generous nob of butter and a dash of oil (the oil stops the butter from burning). Add the soaked bread and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Put cooked French toast on a tray covered in baking paper and place in the oven to keep warm. Cook the remaining bread the same way until it’s all cooked. Serve immediately with pure maple syrup, fresh berries and a dusting of icing sugar.  Yum!

Season 4: Episode 1

September 6, 2011

Ana opened her eyes blearily and looked around the room, not really taking in where she was. She had the strangest feeling like she was doing something today… something important? Then it hit her.

“Holy shit! I’m getting married.”

“Wassamatter?” asked Willow from somewhere underneath the duvet on her side of the bed.

Ana sat bolt upright and pulled the covers off Willow’s head.

“Wake up, wake up,” she sang, poking Willow in the ribs and jumping up and down on the mattress. “You have to wake up now!”

Willow peered at Ana, momentarily perturbed that someone could be so chirpy without having their requisite morning espresso. Then she too threw off the covers and sat up.

“You’re getting married today,” exclaimed Willow, jumping out of bed and shaking off the last vestiges of sleep.

She stepped into her fluffy slippers and joined Ana in her wild dance around the room until Mia knocked on the door. Mia had always been a morning person and looked as though she’d been up for hours, despite the fact that she was still in her pyjamas.

“Hey Ana,” she called, grabbing her hands and twirling her around. “You’re getting married today!”

The three girls fell onto the bed, giggling like a bunch of teenagers discovering what it feels like to have a first crush.

“We need food!” cried Willow, as though no-one before her had ever had such a good idea in their whole lives. “I don’t care that you have to fit into a wedding dress this afternoon, Ana! I’m making french toast.”

Ana didn’t complain. When Willow offered to make you French toast, you just thanked your lucky stars that you had tastebuds.

***

A few hours and multitudes of piping hot French toast later – with proper maple syrup and fresh berries – it was time for Ana to get ready. Her dress had been created by a local designer who specialised in ‘special occasion’ frocks. It wasn’t a traditional wedding dress per se: There wasn’t a meringue in sight, nor was there a veil, but Ana had opted for a beautiful, heavy ivory-coloured brushed silk that had been fashioned into a gown just perfect for her. The neckline swept across her collarbones, emphasising her flawless décolletage, and the fabric hugged her slim body to just below the knee. Down her back were a line of 55 silk covered buttons.

“Tom’s going to have fun getting you out of this tonight,” said Willow with a giggle as she meticulously fastened each with a loop of silk ribbon.

Ana swept her hair up and held it in place with an art deco white-gold and sapphire hair clip that she had picked up from an antique store only a few days earlier. As she hadn’t found her grandmother’s brooch, this would have to do for the something old, and the coloured stones would also act as the something blue. She applied a small amount of make-up, preferring to let her clear complexion show through, and stepped into the Louboutins that she had splurged on for the day, justified by the need for something new. Willow fasted a delicate white-gold chain bracelet around her wrist, a gift she had received from her parents when she graduated from university.

“There. Something borrowed,” she said, choking to fight back the tears.

Ana stood back and beamed at her friends. “Well?”

Mia and Willow were momentarily speechless. They had never seen Ana – or anyone for that matter – look as beautiful as she did right now.

A knock on the bedroom door startled them. It was Sarah, whom none of them had seen yet today as she’d been out at the hairdresser all morning.

“Oh Ana, you look incredible,” she gushed. “And I have a surprise for you.”

She held out her hand, which was closed into a fist, palm up. Very slowly, she opened her hand, one finger at a time, to reveal the brooch.

“Where did you find it?” Mia gasped.

“It was under a loose edge of carpet in my bedroom,” said Sarah, handing the piece of jewellery to Ana. “I found it this morning.”

“Oh my God, that is so lucky,” said Willow turning to Ana. “Isn’t that so incredibly lucky?”

Ana nodded, the sick feeling returning to the pit of her stomach. “Lucky.”

“Come on,” said Willow, “Lets put this on you, and then we have to go!”

“Don’t want to keep Tom waiting at the aisle now, do you,” added Sarah lightly, a frozen smile on her face.

***

Ana soon forgot about the brooch and Sarah. The ceremony was perfect – sweet and humble and by the end there wasn’t a dry eye in the place – and the afternoon champagne party they had opted for was in full swing.  Everyone was having a spectacular time, and for Tom and Ana it was so wonderful to see all the people they loved together in one place.
As expected, Willow had done an amazing job choosing an eclectic and delicious menu for the afternoon: Antipasto platters brimming with goodies; quinoa and pecorino risotto balls; single servings of warm borscht with creme fraiche; and champagne, lychee and vanilla miniature cupcakes were among the highlights of the day.

Johnny had organised an outstanding collection of wines including his friend Claude’s seductive pinot noir and a locally produced sparkling that was so good it made you want to laugh and cry at the same time.

After the speeches – which had everyone in peels of laughter – Ana announced she was going to throw her bouquet.

“We’re not sexist or relationship-ist here,” she laughed, giddy from the champagne and the love that was pulsating through the air, “I don’t care if you’re single, married, male or female. If you want a pretty bunch of flowers then feel free to fight for them.”

Everyone gathered behind her, each good-naturedly jostling the person next to them for what they assumed would be the prime spot. Ana tossed the flowers into the air and they sailed in a perfect arc over the top of the clawing hands and straight into the arms of Mia, one of the only people who hadn’t joined the throng. A cheer erupted from the crowd as Mia stood there blinking, not quite sure exactly what had happened, clutching the poesy.

“Guess we’re going to your wedding next,” shouted Tom as he wrapped his arm lovingly around his new wife and kissed her deeply.

Mia was grateful that the attention had been diverted from her, and she lifted the bouquet to her nose, closing her eyes and inhaling the sweet scent, a smile forming on her lips. Her eyes fluttered open as she felt someone staring at her.

Johnny.

She had managed – quite successfully – to avoid him for most of the day, not wanting a confrontation at Ana’s wedding. Instead of turning and scowling as she expected him to, he lifted his hand to his lips and – almost imperceptibly – blew her a kiss, before turning and disappearing back into the crowd.

From across the room, Willow was the only other person who had noticed this exchange.

Mia’s Nicoise Salad

September 1, 2011


This salad is filling but light. Perfect if you have to fit into a special outfit the next day! Mia changes the vegetable ingredients depending on what she gets from the market that week, so feel free to experiment with whatever you have.

Serve with champagne or a crisp, white wine. Serves 3-4

2 pan seared tuna steaks or 2 tins of tuna (use best quality chunk tuna in olive oil)

3 hardboiled eggs, peeled and quartered

10 small new potatoes, each potato scrubbed halved or quatered

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 handfuls of green lettuce, baby spinach or rocket

½ cup red cabbage, finely chopped

15 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 lebanese cucumber, sliced

1/2 small red onion, sliced very thin

2 handfuls green beans, stem ends trimmed and each bean halved crosswise

2 yellow squash, halved and thinly sliced

1/4 cup kalamata olives

2 tbsp capers, rinsed

 Dressing

1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp minced fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

If using fresh tuna: Marinate tuna steaks in a little olive oil for an hour. Heat a large pan on medium high heat, or place on a hot grill. Cook the steaks 2 to 3 minutes on each side until cooked through.

Whisk lemon juice, oil, shallot, thyme, basil, oregano, and mustard in medium bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Bring potatoes (covered with cold water) to boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and cook until potatoes are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon. Toss warm potatoes with 1/4 cup vinaigrette; set aside.

Steam the green beans and squash until crisp but tender (3-5 minutes). Cool in a bowl of ice.

Arrange bed of lettuce on a serving platter and place on tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, beans, squash and potatoes. Cut tuna into 1/2-inch thick slices, and place in centre. Arrange hard boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies (if using) in mounds on the lettuce bed. Drizzle with dressing, sprinkle entire salad with capers, and serve immediately.