Tales of food, sex and friendship




Archive for May, 2012

Season 6, Episode 7

May 29, 2012

Spaghetti Dreams

Willow saw Mia through the crowd at the airport. She looked tired and – for the first time in her life – older than her thirty two years.

Willow gave her and quick hug. “Have you heard anything else?”

Mia shook her head, her mouth set in a firm line. “I’ve called the hospital, but I thought I’d wait until you got here to head over there.”

“But…she’s…she’s….” Willow gulped. “She’s alive?”

Mia squeezed Willow’s hand gently, offering a small smile. “Yeah, she’s alive.”

***

They followed the nurse down the corridor of the hospital, their shoes squeaking loudly on the floor. Neither of them could believe that they were on her way to an intensive care ward where someone they loved was lying unconscious, barely alive. For Willow especially, it was just a bit too deja vu.

Please don’t let this be Robert all over again, Willow thought to herself. It had been her silent prayer since Mia’s phone call only half a day ago. Half a day. It felt like forever.

The nurse ushered them into Ana’s room quietly. It smelled like disinfectant and stale air; not a happy combination. Mia and Willow clutched at each other as they saw Ana lying, motionless, in the bed. Her head rested on a narrow pillow, her face expressionless. She looked peaceful, calm, almost happy. Crisp white sheets were tucked up to her chest and her arms sat lightly outside the covers, a drip from her hand attached to a machine distributing a clear liquid into her arm. She looked thinner, the hint of a tan the only colour on her otherwise pallid skin.
The room was stark and impersonal. No get well soon cards or other such paraphernalia around the room. Nothing, in fact, that indicated the person there had anyone who loved and missed them.

I’ll have to get some flowers, Willow thought desperately. The thought of Ana waking up and seeing such a cheerless space upset her.

If Ana woke up.

A young doctor arrived, shaking their hands and muttering greetings. His pen had leaked in the pocket of his white jacket and a blue stain was just starting to spread.

“Can you tell us what happened?” Mia said, fighting back tears. She was resolved to remain stoic, given how hard she knew this would be for Willow.

The doctor sighed; a heavy sigh reserved for the most serious medical conditions. “She was fished out of the water the other night by some locals. She was unconscious and not breathing, but she can’t have been under that long as they managed to resuscitate her.”

“She was in the ocean?” Willow said, confused. “In the middle of the night? Alone?”

The doctor nodded.

“Why on earth was she swimming in the middle of the night?”

“She had a large amount of ecstasy and alcohol in her system,” the doctor said. “She might have wandered away from her friends at one of the nightclubs and wound up at the beach. Her clothes and bag were found further down the sand. She could have swum out and got caught in a current, or…”

He didn’t finish the sentence, but they had all been thinking it.

What if she had done this on purpose?

“Suffice to say she’s very lucky to be alive,” the doctor said after a few moments of silence.

“Will she wake up soon?” asked Mia.

“It’s hard to tell,” he said. “She’s experienced significant trauma to her entire body. It was touch and go for a while there, but it seems as though she’s going to pull through.”

“She’s going to be OK?” Willow said in a small voice.

The doctor smiled for the first time. “It would seem so.”

That was the last straw for both the girls who both broke down and started sobbing, hanging on to each other as tears of relief streamed down their cheeks.

“What the fuck are all the hysterics for?” The voice was croaky and faint.

“Ana?” Willow’s mouth dropped open. “Ana!” She rushed to the bed, throwing herself onto her friend. Mia followed suit, taking up the other side of the bed, folding herself on top of Ana and engulfing her in a huge hug.

“You’re squashing me,” Ana said, her voice muffled.

They peeled themselves off their friend, and dragged chairs to either side of Ana’s bed.

“Where on earth am I?” Ana said, looking around. “Why is this room so… depressing? And why am I so hungry?”

***

The girls recounted the events that had led up to this point. They skimmed over some of the details, but they needn’t have bothered. Ana’s memories came flooding back.

“Oh my god, I’m such and idiot,” Ana groaned, holding her face in her hands. “I can’t believe that I did that. What was I thinking?”

Willow shrugged. “I don’t know that you were.”

Ana shook her head, embarrassed. “And Mia. Gorgeous, wonderful Mia. Can you forgive me for the horrible things that I said to you?”

Mia shrugged, grinning. “Forgotten.”

Ana squeezed her hand and smiled at her, mouthing I’m sorry once more.

“Now what about some food?” Willow said. “If you could have anything in the whole world, what would it be?”

Ana pondered the question, a look of intense concentration on her face. “I would have… a huge bowl of fresh pasta, with your homemade tomato sauce, that delicious garlic bread you make with way too much butter, and a mountain of Parmesan cheese!”

The doctor – who was still standing in the room – looked up, a horrified expression on his face.

“But maybe I’ll settle for something a little less… solid for now?” Ana said, grinning at him.

He looked relieved. “I’ll see what I can arrange.” He let himself out of the room, leaving the girls on their own.

“Oh god,” Ana said suddenly. “I have to phone Johnny and tell him what an idiot I am.”

“I’m sure he already knows,” said Willow cheekily.

The door to Ana’s room opened quietly.

“What on earth are you lot going to get up to next?” a voice said.

The girls swung around. Mia froze. Willow jumped up and ran to the door, wrapping her arms around the visitor. “I’m so glad you came.”

“Of course I was going to come. How is the patient?”

Ana smiled and waved from the bed, sheepishly. “On the mend.”

Mia managed to pull herself together enough to stand up, her shaking legs somehow managing to hold her body up.

“Hello Johnny.” Her voice sounded shaky, unsure.

“Hello Mia.”

They stared at each other across the room for what felt like forever before Johnny rushed towards her and pulled her into a tight embrace. He held her trembling body close, stroking her hair as tears streamed down her face.

“Oh Johnny, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Mia said.

He held her face in her hands, looking deep into her eyes. “What are you sorry for?” he said. “I’m the one who should apologise. I fucked up, Mia.”

“You were just trying to do the right thing.”

“I was lying to everyone,” he said. “Especially to myself.” He wiped tears from her cheek. “It’s you I love Mia. Always has been. Always will be.”

He leaned forward and pressed his soft lips onto hers. Mia melted into his strong, warm body, marveling once again at how right they felt. Willow and Ana let out a little cheer.

Johnny broke the embrace for only a second. “I’m never going to let you go,” he whispered into Mia’s ear. “Never again.”

Then he kissed her again.

Breakfast Parfait

May 24, 2012

A delicious breakfast treat to serve to guests. Layers of creamy Greek yoghurt with sweet, crunchy oats, nuts and tart berries. Feel free to add your own variations – stewed plums or rhubarb, fruit salad… anything you want!

To make oats:

1.5 cups rolled oats

1 tblspn butter

scant 1/4 cup honey or slightly less of agave

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (355 F). Put honey and oil in saucepan and stir over low heat for about 2 mins, or until they combine. In a large bowl, pour warm honey over oats and stir until coated. Arrange in a single layer on a non-stick tray (you might need 2 trays) and bake for 20-25 minutes, ‘stirring’ every 5 or so minutes, until the oats are golden.  Allow to cool.

To make pecans and hazelnuts:

1/2 tblspn butter

1 tblspn brown sugar

1/4 cup pecans

1/4 cup hazelnuts

1 tspn ground nutmeg

1 tspn ground cinnamon

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat. Add sugar, spices and nuts and stir constantly until sugar completely dissolves. Pour nuts onto a sheet of aluminum foil and allow to cool.

Now, the parfait:

Thick Greek yoghurt (don’t use low fat unless you ABSOLUTELY have to)

fresh berries – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, mulberries etc.

Honey toasted oats

flaked coconut

Caramelised pecans and hazelnuts

Mix fresh berries together gently in a bowl so they are combined. In your favourite elegant glass (wine glass, tall glass, sundae glass) start with a spoon of the berry mixture. Add a dollop of yoghurt followed by honey toasted oats and a smattering of caramelised nuts. Repeat until the glass in full. Top off with flaked coconut and a fresh strawberry. Enjoy immediately.

Season 6, Episode 6

May 22, 2012

Breakfast Breakdown


ONE WEEK EARLIER…

“Where are we going?” Mia said, as the black, shiny limousine – complete with chilled champagne and strawberries – whisked them silently towards the centre of London.

Ana smiled secretively. She’d won an astronomical amount of money playing poker on the plane and obviously had plans on how it was going to be spent. “Have some more champagne,” she said, popping another bottle open.

Mia and Willow shook their heads. They were tired and light headed from the plane trip. Ana was still on her winning high and shrugged, filling up her own glass, and kept the bottle next to her.

***

“I know you were going to shout us breakfast,” Willow said, turning slowly in a circle and taking in the enormous suite that Ana had booked for them at the Langham in Regent Place “but this is…ridiculous! We don’t need to spend this much on a hotel room, surely?”

A flicker of annoyance crossed Ana’s face. “I won the money and this is how I want to spend it.”

The concierge, who had personally showed them straight to their room, cleared his throat.

“If I could just have your credit card,” he said. “I will complete the check-in process for you.”

Ana leant across and whispered to Willow. “Can we use yours? Mine is maxed out and all my money is in cash.”

Willow hesitated, a frown flickering across her face. “How much is it going to cost?”

“I’ll pay in cash when we check out,” Ana said, ignoring her question. “But they need a card to keep on file.”

Willow reluctantly handed her card to the concierge.

“Oh, could you book a table for us in the restaurant for breakfast,” Ana said. “We’ll be down in about thirty minutes.”

“Very good Madam,” he said, slipping silently out of the room.

***

The restaurant was half full when the girls traipsed down, freshly showered and hungry. Ana immediately ordered a bottle of chilled champagne and coffee.

“I feel like eating something fresh. With berries,” she told the waiter, as he opened a bottle of bubbles and filled up three glasses.

“Excellent,” he said. “Shall I leave the chef to recommend a few dishes for you?”

“Fine,” Ana said. “Just bring out whatever is good. We’re starving!”

A younger couple took a table across from them. They looked around at the luxurious surroundings, awestruck. Bright gold bands flashed on their ring fingers. They grinned at each other, and held hands shyly over the table.

Willow leaned in to Mia and Ana. “I bet they got married yesterday,” she said, nodding towards them.

“They’re so cute,” said Mia giggling. “They look so out of their depth.”

Ana took a swig of her champagne and grinned.

“Excuse me,” she called across to them.

The couple looked up, horrified expressions of people who had done something wrong but didn’t know what.

“Did you just get married?” Ana asked them.

“Y…y…yes,” the boy stuttered. “How did you know?”

Ana shrugged. “Wild guess.” She took another sip of her champagne. “Are you having a champagne breakfast to celebrate?”

“Oh no,” the boy said turning bright red. “I don’t think we could aff…”

He received a kick from his new wife under the table.

“Err, I think we’ll just have tea.” he finished uncertainly.

“Nonsense!” Ana called the waiter over. “A bottle of your most expensive champagne for this couple,” she said. “On us.”

***

A breakfast parfait – served in a delicate crystal glass –  of thick, greek yoghurt layered with fresh berries, coconut flakes, honey toasted oats and caramelised nuts was served first.

“And another bottle of champagne,” Ana said as she took a mouthful of the parfait.

“Ana do we really need to drink more?” Mia said, groaning. “I’m tired and already tipsy.”

“Humour me,” Ana said. “We can go straight to bed afterwards. And just think how well we’ll sleep.”

Mia nodded reluctantly and drained her glass as the fresh bottle was bought out.

***

Several bottles later, and all three of the girls were giggling and talking nonsensically. Jetlag and champagne – a wonderful combination.

“Thank god we’re not in Melbourne anymore,” Mia slurred, leaning back in her chair, contentedly drunk.

“Why were you so keen to get out?” Ana asked. “I mean, I’m getting divorced and Willow… well, that was just shit. But what’s your deal?”

Mia regarded her friends. Maybe now was the time to tell them the truth about why she absolutely had to leave Melbourne.

“I thought that I was…falling for Johnny,” Mia announced. “But I was wrong. I just needed to get away and clear my head.” Well, it’s almost the truth, Mia thought.

Ana and Willow looked at her, shocked, for about thirty seconds, before Ana burst out laughing.

“That’s hilarious! You nearly had me there!”

“It’s what happened,” Mia said, puzzled. This wasn’t the reaction she was expecting.

“Yeah right,” Ana said, in between giggles. “You and Johnny? As if!”

Willow regarded Mia closely. “Ana, I don’t think she’s joking.”

Ana wiped her eyes. “You mean… you actually thought… you and Johnny? Our Johnny?”

Mia nodded.

“You haven’t slept with him or anything, have you?”

Mia hesitated. “No,” she lied.

“Well that’s a relief.” Ana filled up her glass. “You’re so not his type. I mean, it would never work.” She looked at Willow. “Right?”

“It’s an unusual couple,” Willow said, carefully, “but, you know, stranger things have happened.”

Ana snorted. “Oh come on! You and I both know that he would eat her alive!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mia said, angrily.

“Well, you’re you and Johnny is… well, he’s Johnny. He’s not into girls like you.”

“Girls like me?”

“You know. Good girls. Girls who don’t like to take risks.”

“How would you know?”

Ana rolled her eyes. “Most of Melbourne knows. He’s not exactly a monk.”

“Wait…” Mia’s mouth fell open. “You mean… you’ve slept with Johnny?”

Ana shrugged again. “Sure.”

“What?” Now it was Willow’s turn to be shocked. “When?”

“Years ago,” Ana said. “When we all worked together.”

Silence. “When I was going out with him?” Willow said, icily.

“We were drunk,” Ana said. “It was no big deal. Besides, you always told me that you weren’t officially an item and that you didn’t even really like him in that way.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s OK to just sleep with him!”

“It was ages ago,” Ana said, exasperated. “But my point is that Mia wouldn’t last five minutes in a relationship with Johnny.”

“Well it doesn’t matter anyway,” Mia snapped. “Because he’s marrying someone else.”

Again, Ana and Willow stared at her, speechless.

“I’m calling him,” Ana said suddenly, pulling out her phone.

“No!” You can’t!” Mia tried to get the phone from her, but Ana pushed her hand away.

Johnny answered almost immediately.

“Johnny, are you getting married?”

“What? Who told you that?”

“So you’re not getting married?”

“Ana, who told you I was getting married?” Johnny sounded exasperated.

“Mia did.”

“Mia’s with you? Can I talk to her? I need to… explain something.”

Ana held the phone towards Mia. Mia shook her head. She had tears in her eyes. “Hang up the phone! Please! I can’t speak to him.”

“Why on earth not?” Ana said. Then realisation dawned. “Oh my god, you did sleep with him! And now you’re in love with him!”

“Please hang up the phone.” Mia’s voice was desperate.

Ana ignored her and blasted Johnny down the phone. “Of all the people you could have slept with… Do you love her? Do you even like her?”

Johnny sighed. “Ana, just put Mia on.”

“Well?” Ana demanded. “Do you?”

“What’s it to you?” Johnny snapped.

“I knew it,” Ana said, drunken triumph ringing in her voice. “You’re incapable of loving someone as nice  and normal as Mia.”

“Just let me talk to Mia,” Johnny said, exasperated. “I can expl…”

Mia finally managed to wrestle the phone from Ana and hang up the call.

“I guess it’s better to know now, that he’s not in love with you, right?” Ana said. “Better to know than keep wondering?”

Mia looked shocked and stood up. She fled from the table, tears streaming down her face.

Willow groaned. “Ana, why did you have to say that?”

“It’s the truth,” Ana said, angrily taking another sip of her champagne. “And if she can’t handle it then that’s not my problem.” She turned and pointed a finger at Willow. “And why didn’t you back me up? You know that Johnny wouldn’t be into her. Isn’t that what friends are supposed to do? Tell each other the truth?”

“How’s this for truth then,” Willow said. “You’re being a total bitch and I think you should go and apologise to Mia. Now.”

Ana regarded Willow coolly. She pushed her chair back from the table and stood up, her napkin falling to the floor. She turned and stalked out of the restaurant without a backwards glance.

The waiter – having watched the others leave – walked up the Willow. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Just the bill,” Willow said wearily.

The waiter handed her a shiny leather folder.

Willow’s mouth feel open. “Three and a half thousand pounds!”

She pulled her credit card out. She’d have to get Ana to pay her back later. The waiter disappeared again and Willow stared out of the window, lost in thought. They all needed a good sleep. Things wouldn’t seem so bad then.

A movement outside caught her eye. She saw Ana walk out the front door of the hotel, dragging her suitcase erratically, and hail a cab.

“What the hell…?” Willow stood up, but the cab sped away, with Ana in it.

I guess I’m stuck with the room bill too, Willow thought furiously.

***

Rice Crispy Treats

May 17, 2012

Whether it’s for a kid’s party or you just feel like re-living your childhood, this breakfast cereal based slice is easy and fun. Add smarties or gummy bears to the top if you don’t feel like you’re getting enough refined sugar in your diet (and if you like the colours).

For that added sugar rush, serve with red cordial. Makes 12 squares.

 

3 tblspns butter

1 packet marshmallows (10 oz)

6 cups rice bubbles

Melt butter in a large saucepan, over a low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add rice bubbles and stir until coated. Coat a baking tray (13x9x2 inches) with cooking spray and press in the rice bubble mixture using a spatula. Cool and then cut into 2 inch squares. Serve same day.

Season 6, Episode 5

May 15, 2012

Rice Crispy Forgiveness

Willow wandered through The Lanes, slowly meandering past the quirky stores, buskers and street merchants, selling everything from crazy hats to candy. She liked Brighton a lot. In many ways, it reminded her of Melbourne. The way people dressed, the food they ate, the weather. You could even order a better-than-decent flat white from any number of Australian or New Zealand baristas that had seemingly taken over the coffee making trade here. In and around The Lanes, vintage clothing shops were outdone only by an abundance of cafes, stocked with delectable fresh cakes, salads, soups and breads. It was Willow heaven.

And today, the sun was shining and people were smiling. She’d slept well and only shed a small number of tears for Robert. All in all, it was pretty close to a perfect day.

Almost.

If she could only shake the feeling in the pit of her stomach that she had lost her two best friends. She assumed they were both still in London. She’d heard nothing from Mia, but Ana had tried calling a few times. Willow hadn’t picked up the phone. She needed a few more days to get her head around what had gone wrong before she could face them again; start making (or receiving?) apologies. The whole situation was discombobulating, to say the least.

She felt her phone buzz in her handbag.

Number withheld. She toyed with the idea of not answering it, but decided to be brave. What if it was her parents trying to reach her? Besides, if she didn’t want to speak to the person, she could always pretend the line was bad and hang up.

“Willow, thank christ! I’ve been trying to reach one of you for days!”

The voice was familiar… oh shit. Johnny.

“Hello? Hello? I can’t hear anything. I’m going to have to hang up. It’s a really bad line,” she lied.

“Don’t you dare,” he said, his voice stern. “Remember, I know all your tricks for getting off the phone.”

Busted. “Er…Hi Johnny.”

“Where the hell have you been? I’ve tried calling Mia and Ana about a thousand times, but Mia’s phone is disconnected and Ana isn’t answering.”

Mia had insisted on changing her number as soon as they got to the UK. “Too much emotional baggage with this one,” she’d said lightly. Willow and Ana hadn’t understood at the time.

“Is Mia with you? Can I speak to her?” Johnny said urgently.

“No.”

“Oh come on Willow, I need to talk to her. I need to explain…”

“I’m not sure where Mia is,” Willow said as gently as she could. “But I suspect she’s somewhere in London.”

“London? What the fuck…?”

“Yeah, we all came over as part of our trip.”

“What trip?” Johnny sounded genuinely perplexed.

Willow sighed, realisation dawning. “Mia didn’t tell you we were going, did she.”

“No. She did not.” Johnny’s voice was stony, hurt.

After they’d booked all the tickets, Mia had offered to tell Johnny and a bunch of their other friends while Ana and Willow sorted the logistics. Everyone had popped past to say goodbye and wish them well. Everyone, except Johnny.

“You know what he’s like,” Mia had said, laughing. “Probably shacked up with some girl and forgotten already that we’re going.”
Willow hadn’t thought much about it after that. Too much else to do.

“What the hell is going on Willow?” Johnny said. “I’ve been going crazy since that weird phone call last week.”

The phone call to Johnny. The source of all their problems. Willow explained as best she could what had happened; how what was meant to be a celebratory breakfast had turned into a cat fight, with some pretty wild admissions and accusations.“Is it true?” Willow said. “That you’re getting married?”

Johnny hesitated. “It’s a long story. One that I need to explain to Mia first, OK?”

“OK.” Willow understood. “You really love her don’t you?”

“Yeah, I really do.”

She could hear the goofy grin in his voice.

***

After she hung up the phone, Willow had the desperate urge to be by herself. The Lanes were packed with the lunchtime crowd and she wandered slowly towards the Brighton seafront, wanting nothing more than to look out over the ocean and get lost in her own thoughts. Although the sun was out, there was a cold wind, licking at her hair and giving her goosebumps. She watched as it caught the choppy ocean, sending white spray through the air. Her head was reeling and, before she could stop them, fat tears started rolling down her cheeks. Why had everything come to this? It was meant to be a fun trip, a way for her to forget and move on. Not a way to screw up everything else in her life. She rubbed her nose on her sleeve, sniffing loudly.

“Excuse me.”

She turned to see and elderly gentleman, dressed in an old fashioned suit and tie, complete with hat, holding out a handkerchief to her. In his other hand he clutched a square Tupperware container.

She sniffed again. “I’m OK, thanks.”

“I’ve got another one,” he said. “Take it. Please.”

She hesitated but then took the crisp white linen square, pressing it to her eyes.

“Do you mind…?” he gestured to the seat next to her, sitting down when Willow shook her head.

“I don’t mean to intrude, but I couldn’t help noticing how sad you looked.” His voice was very proper, with a hint of northern England.“I thought perhaps you needed someone to talk to.”

“It’s nothing,” Willow said. “Just a…a silly fight.”

“Ah.” He nodded wisely. “Boyfriend?”

“Two best friends, actually,” Willow said.

He nodded, staring out to the horizon, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.

“Are you from around here?” Willow prompted after a while. It was weird enough taking the old guy’s hanky. She didn’t need him vaguing out on her too.

“I’m from Northampton,” he said. “But I’m meeting my son, David, here today.”

“He lives around here?”

The man hesitated. “I’m not sure, actually. I haven’t seen or spoken to him in twenty years.” He shook his head sadly. “We had a fight and he left. I was too proud to follow him, to apologise for my part in it. An now…now I don’t even know if I’ll recognise him.”

Willow looked awkwardly at her feet, scuffing her shoe on the ground. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

The man looked wistfully at the horizon again, before pulling himself together. “Oh, now look. I’m being very rude.” He peeled the lid off the Tupperware container resting on his lap and offered it to Willow. “Rice Crispy Treats.”

“I haven’t had those since I was a kid,” Willow said smiling, and taking one of the pieces.

“They were David’s favourite,” he said. “I found the recipe in Mary’s cookbook – God rest her soul – and thought that I’d make them for him.”

“I’m sure he’ll love them.” She took a bite. They were overly chewy and a bit too sweet. “Very good,” she said, smiling encouragingly.

He blushed proudly. “I’m not much of a cook, but these didn’t seem to hard.” He pushed the container towards her again. “Have another, there are plenty.”

Willow took another out of politeness, resting it on her knee. “Do you mind it I ask you a question,” she said.

“Fire away.”

“What made you get in touch with your son again?”

“His wife sent me a letter,” he said. “I didn’t even know he’d got married! Imagine that! She gave me their phone number. ‘Just in case’, she said.”

“And you called him?”

“And I called him.” He leant towards Willow. “My advice,” he whispered, putting the lid back on the Tupperware container. “Pick up the phone. Whatever you fought about, it can’t be bad enough to ruin a friendship, can it?”

Willow took another bite of the rice crispy square. “No, I guess it can’t.”

“Dad?”

Willow and the gentleman looked up. Standing a few feet away was a younger man – a couple of years older than Willow – dressed in jeans and a shirt. The old man pushed himself off the chair staring at the younger version of himself.

“David.” It came out as a whisper. He put his arms towards his son, tears in his eyes. “David!”

The man walked forward and fell into his father’s arms. “Dad!”

They embraced for ages until the old man pulled away, reaching inside his pocket for more handkerchiefs, handing one to his son and dabbing his eyes with another. Apparently he’d come prepared.

“Dad, there’s some people I want you to meet.”

David turned and beckoned to a woman and a small girl who were standing a couple of meters away. The little girl approached slowly, hiding behind her mother’s legs.

“Come on,” said her mother. “Don’t you want to say hello to your grandfather?”

The little girl shook her head and hid further behind her mum.

“Well now,” the old man said, bending down and peeling the lid off the Tupperware. “Why don’t you have a look in here? There might be something for you.”

The child peered cautiously into the box, staying as close to her mum as she could. Her face lit up. “Rice Crispy treats!” she squealed.
She detangled herself from her mother’s legs and gave the old man a hug before filling her fists with as many of the sweet squares as she could manage. The old man turned and winked at Willow, before putting his arm around his daughter in law. The family started walking slowly towards the pier, all talking and laughing at one.

Willow looked down at the handkerchief still in her lap, picking it up and wiping her eyes again.

It was time.

She puled her phone out of her bag. As soon as she did it started ringing. It was Mia.

Weird.

“It’s like you read my mind,” Willow said. “I was just about to call you.”

“Oh Willow!” Mia sounded like she was crying. “Something terrible has happened. It’s Ana.”

***

Crème Brûlée

May 10, 2012

Julia Child’s Crème Brûlée recipe is still my go-to whenever I feel like making this divine, decadent and all together delicious dessert. You can pick up a cook’s blow torch from any good cooking store, so although you may think it impossible to make at home, it’s actually dead easy!

makes 4-6 (depending on size of ramekin). Serve with fresh cream or ice cream and/or berries and/or shaved coconut and lime or berry coulis and your favourite dessert wine!

  3 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup superfine sugar (for topping)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees F).

Put cream into a saucepan with vanilla bean and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover the pot and allow to stand for 30 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar until the yolks are thick and pale yellow.

Remove the vanilla bean from the cream and slowly stir the warm cream into the yolk mixture, a little at a time, until it it all well mixed together. Skim any bubbles off the surface of the mixture using a large spoon.

In a large, deep baking tray arrange the ramekins and ladle custard into each, leaving about a 1/4 inch at the top. Fill the baking tray with hot water until it reaches about halfway up the ramekins. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is set, but custard in the centre is still soft and a bit wobbly. Remove ramekins from hot water and allow them to cool briefly before putting them in the fridge. Leave overnight to set (I cover with a tea towel). Just before serving, sprinkle a tablespoon or so of superfine sugar on each one and smooth it gently with the back of a spoon, so it’s evenly spread. Melt the sugar until it starts to caramelise, using a cooking blow torch. Enjoy!!

 

Season 6, Episode 4

May 8, 2012

Eurail Crème Brûlée
Mia uncomfortably tugged at the too-tight waistband of her jeans as she scanned the selection of food available at the Gard Du Nord cafe. She’d been in Europe for less than a week and voila! Love handle central. She had hoped that her rapid departure from England – on the wonderful National Express bus service, overnight London-Paris (wouldn’t be doing that again in a hurry) – would reverse the kilos that had magically appeared as soon as she stepped off the plane in London. She had been sorely disappointed. Now in Paris, the home of croissant, baguette, fromage and a whole heap of people who dressed well and didn’t seem to ever put on weight, she was rapidly increasing the size of her arse, decreasing the size of her bank account and not managing to forget the things she longed to.

On a whim, she’d booked an overnight train to Berlin. She knew, realistically, that her money wasn’t going to stretch too much further and she’d have to go back to London soon. She just couldn’t face it yet; not at the moment. She assumed Ana and Willow were both still there, the brief phone call with Ana the only contact she’d had with them since the breakfast disaster. She shook her head, trying to get rid of the memories. Even thinking about that morning made her furious. Some friends they were.

She gazed wistfully at the pastry selection in front of her, forcing herself to settle on a sad looking fruit cup containing pale melon and slightly browning apple, for the grand total of…

“Eight Euro!”

Excusez-moi?” The lady behind the counter ambled over.

“Er…nothing…I mean, nada, I mean…” How the hell did you say ‘nothing’ in French?

Mia ran her eyes over the prices of everything else. Why was the sweet, buttery stuff always the cheapest?

She sighed. “Crème brûlée.”

Screw the weight loss. Soon she wouldn’t be able to afford any food at all and then the kilos would just fall off her, no problem. Her stomach grumbled in protest as she shoved the pudding in her backpack. Should save it for later when she was really starving.

***

Mia shifted uncomfortably in her seat, thinking poisonous thoughts about all those people who could afford a bed in the sleeping car. The air was stifling in the carriage, thick with stale sweat and perfume. She felt nauseous, wishing the windows opened. She rested her head against the cool glass and peered into the dark countryside, the landscape rushing past in a blur, illuminated by a bright moon. The man next to her was snoring loudly and had somehow managed to take the entirety of his own seat and about two thirds of hers. She gently nudged his leg but he was out cold.

The train shuddered. The landscape gradually came into focus as the train slowed, eventually coming to a complete standstill. She looked around the carriage, wondering why they had stopped. Everyone else seemed too busy sleeping to notice. Very carefully, she stepped over the man next to her. Shoving her phone in her pocket and picking up the package containing her not-so-healthy dinner, she walked quietly through the carriage full of sleeping people.

At the end of the carriage, one of the doors was ajar. The train had stopped next to a tiny station – it wasn’t even as long as the train. She peered outside and saw a man standing on the edge of the platform, his back to her. The orange glow from a lighter illuminated the air around him as he lit a cigarette. A wooden bench and a dilapidated ticket booth were the only other things on the platform.

Mia glanced around. There didn’t seem to be anyone to stop her, so she squeezed through the door and onto the platform, grateful for the fresh air. The man turned at the noise. She’d seen him earlier – in Paris – as they were boarding. He was about her age, dressed in a scruffy denim jacket and dark jeans. He had a scarf knotted casually around his throat and his hair was cut in the latest fashion. Over his shoulder was slung a canvas bag.

Bonjour.”

Mia nodded in greeting. “Hello. Bonjour.”

He took a long drag on his cigarette, blowing the smoke out slowly. “English? American?”

“Australian.”

His eyes flicked up and down Mia’s body and he nodded in what seemed like approval. He took his cigarettes out of his pocket and offered one to her, shrugging when she declined.

“Jean-Pierre,” he said.

“Mia.”

He took another drag of his cigarette.

“Do you know why we’ve stopped?” Mia said.

“Cows.”

“Cows?”

“Escaped from a pasture. They’re blocking the track up ahead. We’ll be here for a few hours at least.” He spoke almost perfect English, with a lovely, lilting French accent.

“Are we supposed to get off the train?” Mia said, looking around anxiously.

He shrugged. “Why not.”

“Well…maybe we’re not allowed to…?” Mia’s voice trailed off.

“Do you always do what you are told?” Jean-Pierre said.

Yes, thought Mia. Usually. “No.”

Jean-Pierre glanced around. “Come with me,” he said.

He went to the back edge of the platform and jumped down, stretching out his hand towards Mia. She hesitated then lowered herself down. There was an overgrown road leading away from the station but she couldn’t see anything else except flat countryside for miles.

“We’ve got ages,” he said, smiling at her concerned expression and opening his canvas bag. Out of it he pulled a full bottle of whiskey, a plastic cup and a small tin.

“Shouldn’t we wait on the platform” Mia said. “What if the train leaves without us?”

He gave her a withering look. “Relax. We will hear when the train gets ready to move.” He shoved the bottle of whiskey towards Mia, saying “pour,” as he opened the tin and started to roll a joint.

Mia sighed and poured a cup of whiskey. When in France…

***

Half the bottle later, Mia stood up. “I need to pee,” she said, wavering on her feet.

“I won’t look,” Jean-Pierre said, pretending to cover his face.

“Very funny,” Mia laughed. “Come on, we should get back on the train now.”

Jean-Pierre rolled his eyes, but reluctantly stood up. They clambered back onto the station, the whiskey making them giggle like school girls.

Mia looked at the train tracks in front of them. Sobriety rushed through her. “Jean-Pierre, wasn’t there a train here not long ago?”

Jean-Pierre’s mouth dropped open as he looked up and down the empty tracks.

Merde!”

***

“There’s no phone reception,” she said, groaning and putting her head in her hands. She was dangerously close to tears. Everything she owned was on that train, including the rest of her money which she’d stupidly left in a bag next to her seat.

Jean-Pierre didn’t seem to be listening. He pointed to the paper bag that Mia was still holding. “What’s in there?”

Mia had forgotten all about the Crème brûlée. “I guess it’s our dinner,” she said, immensely grateful that she had at least bought that off the train. They wouldn’t starve. She split the dessert and put half in the lid, handing it to Jean-Pierre. He took a bite and promptly spat it out.

“What is this…offense to French cuisine!”

Mia bristled. “Crème brûlée. I got it from the station.”

“No, no, no,” Jean-Pierre said, taking the container from her and throwing it as far away as he could.

“Wait! That’s all I’ve had to eat since breakfast!”

“You would rather starve that eat that,” he said with certainty.

“For your information,” Mia said through clenched teeth, “I would NOT rather starve than…”

He cut her off, handing her the whiskey bottle again. “Drink.”

Mia was about to object, but decided against it. “Oh, Fuck it.” She lifted the bottle to her lips and downed a huge gulp, her eyes burning and her throat scorched by the alcohol. She coughed.

Jean-Pierre nodded satisfactorily and sat down, patting the ground next to him. “When my grandmother makes it she uses fresh eggs and real vanilla,” he said. “And she serves it immediately, not from some paper bag. The caramel is crispy and hot. Not like that rubbish.”

“Please don’t talk about food,” Mia said, her stomach grumbling loudly.

“Suit yourself,” he said. He took the bottle from Mia and had a sip. “What about sex?”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, we should be close together,” Jean-Pierre said. “For warmth.” He took off his jacket and wrapped his arms around Mia, pulling her close. She could smell whiskey and pot on his breath.

“Touch me again and I’ll fucking kill you,” Mia growled, shoving him away.

Jean-Pierre grinned and shrugged. “What is it you say? Can’t hurt for trying?”

He rolled up his jacket to use as a headrest and promptly fell asleep.

***

At some point in the very long, cold night, Mia must have fallen asleep, because when she opened her eyes it was daylight and there was an old man standing over her. He removed his cap and scratched his head, looking very confused.

She shoved Jean-Pierre who woke with a start. He rubbed his eyes.

“He will give us a lift to the town,” Jean-Pierre said, after they’d exchanged a few, fast words in French. “But we have to ride with the chickens.” He pointed towards an old truck, the back stacked with chicken coops.

Mia groaned. Seriously, could this day get any more ridiculous?

As they bumped along the uneven road, Mia could feel her hangover growing worse by the second. Somehow, Jean-Pierre had managed to fall asleep – again – propped up on one of the cages à poules. Opposite, a chicken turned its head quizzically to the side, and stared at her.

“What are you looking at?” she muttered.

The chicken let out a squawk but didn’t look away.

She could feel something vibrating in her pocket. Her phone! She had reception! We must be nearing civilisation, she thought happily, pulling it out of her pocket.

It was Ana again.

She hesitated, but decided to answer. Being stuck in the countryside with a narcoleptic French man, a bottle of whiskey and a some chickens had a tendency of putting things in perspective. Maybe it was time to forgive her friend.

“Hi Ana.”

There was a pause at the other end of the phone and then a man’s voice spoke. “We are trying to find a family member of Ana.”

Mia’s heart skipped a beat. “I’m her sister,” she said, not exactly sure why felt the compulsion to lie.

“This is Detective Gomez.” A sigh. “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

***

Sirloin Burgers with Stilton and Onion Jam

May 3, 2012

A perfect snack or a meal unto itself, mini burgers give you the delicious burger taste without so much of the guilt (well, unless you eat the whole plate!). Great for barbeques, cocktail parties or when you’re at a bar on your own in Ibiza.

Serve with your favorite cocktail or ice cold beer. Makes 8 mini burgers.

 

Burgers

1 kg ground sirloin

Salt and pepper, to taste

120 grams Stilton cheese, cut into 8 slices (if you can’t get Stilton, another good quality blue cheese will do)

8 mini brioche rolls, split

Fancy lettuce of your choice for serving

Onion Jam

2 tbspns extra virgin olive oil

1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup dry red wine

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

1 thyme sprig

Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tbspns olive oil over a low heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt. Cook until softened (about 10 mins), stirring occasionally. Make sure you don’t have to heat too high or the onion will burn. Add the red wine, vinegar, honey and thyme, simmering until the liquid has evaporated (10-15 mins). Season with salt and pepper and remove the thyme stalk.

Season the sirloin with salt and pepper. Mix gently and shape into eight patties (approx 1 inch thick). It’s best to cook the burgers on a grill, but if that it all just too hard then use a thick bottom frying pan. Grill the burgers for about 2-3 mins each side, turning once (this should give you a nice, blackened outer and a pink middle). Just before removing the burgers from the heat, top each with a piece of Stilton. Transfer to a platter while you lightly grill the buns. Top bun with burger, onion jam, lettuce and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Season 6, Episode 3

May 1, 2012

Burgers and the Beach

The whiskery snoring next to her right ear stirred Ana from the clutches of the confused sleep she had fallen into at some point only a few hours ago. Her head was pounding mercilessly and she groaned, keeping her eyes squeezed shut, as though opening them was an acceptance of how horrible she was really feeling. Perhaps that final drink last night (whatever it might have been) hadn’t been such a great idea? She tried to swallow, but her mouth felt like an overzealous dental assistant had been let loose in it with one of those saliva draining machines.

After a little while of willing herself – unsuccessfully – to fall back asleep, she eventually dragged one eye open, closely followed by the other, and blinked a few times to get her bearings. A movement on the other side of the bed startled her, and she saw a broad, tanned back wrapped in the white sheets.

Who the fuck is that? She thought to herself. She glanced around the room. Unfriendly sunlight was seeping through cracks in the curtains that had been carelessly drawn. And where the fuck am I?

Patchy memories came wafting back. A huge club. Thousands of people. Too much booze. Lots of girls in white bikinis.
She groaned, the same sinking sensation she’d had every morning for the last week filling her stomach.

Ibiza.

She wondered again which part of her had thought it was a good idea to come here in the first place. The part that needed to get the fuck out of London, she reminded herself, and away from Mia and Willow.

But, there was no time to dwell on that now. Right now, she had to focus on getting out of here without waking up whoever that was, and back to her own hotel to take some aspirin and go back to sleep.

She pushed herself slowly up on to her elbows, making as little movement as she could. On the bedside table, an empty bottle of cheap whiskey was keeping three shot glasses company.

“What the hell did I do last night?” she mumbled to herself, wiping the dried saliva off the side of her face. She really hoped it was hers.

Her stomach, which up until that point had been surprisingly placid, gave an alarming lurch and the contents – which she assumed to be whiskey and not much else – threatened to make a hasty exit through her oesophagus. She took a few deep breaths to steady herself before swinging her feet underneath her, grateful for the solid floor. She was relieved to see an empty condom wrapper discarded on the ground…wait, make that….four condom wrappers…?

“What the hell didn’t I do last night?” she mumbled again, quite glad at this point she couldn’t remember.

A noise in the en-suite startled her. She flung herself back into bed and did her best I’m-fast-asleep impression. She heard footsteps approach the bed and then a rush of cold air as the covers were pulled back and the person gently climbed in. She could smell toothpaste and his body – for she could ascertain it was a he – felt damp.

She groaned inwardly. Three shot glasses. Of course.

It took, what seemed like, an eternity for his breathing to regulate. She poked him with her elbow to make sure he was asleep. He whimpered quietly, rolled over and farted.

It’s now or never, thought Ana.

She held her breath and very slowly made her way under the covers towards the end of the bed, breaking through the wall of tangled duvet and the stench of something ungodly. She found her clothes scattered around the room, her underwear hanging from a light shade, her shoes in the garbage bin. They all smelt like stale alcohol and BO. She gave one last glance towards the two beaus and silently exited the room.

***

Freshly showered, and back in her own hotel room, Ana stared at the screen of her mobile phone. Pride had stopped her from calling Mia or Willow up to this point, but she figured she didn’t really have any of that left anymore. Taking a deep breath she dialed Mia’s number.

“It’s Ana.”

Mia took a deep breath. “What do you want?”

“I…I…” What did Ana want? Forgiveness? “I just wanted to say hi,” she said eventually.

“I don’t really want to speak to you at the moment,” Mia said, her voice icy.

“Mia, I’m sorry,” Ana said. “I didn’t mean what I said…”

“Yes you did,” Mia snapped. “And as usual, you didn’t really think about how your opinion might hurt other people.”

That stung.  “That morning, I’d had a lot to drink,” Ana said feebly. “I didn’t know what I was saying.”

“Yes you did,” Mia said. “You always know what you’re saying.” She paused, sighing into the phone. “Ana. I really don’t want to speak to you for a while. Please leave me alone.” She hung up.

That went well, Ana thought to herself bitterly. She hadn’t thought what she did was that bad.

She dialed Willow’s number next, hoping for a less icy reception. No Answer. She tried again, in case Willow had just missed it. Nothing. She tried four more times, getting increasingly desperate, but Willow was not picking up the phone.

Ana felt tears well in her eyes. If only she hadn’t won all that money on the stupid poker game. If only they hadn’t gone for a champagne breakfast. If only she hadn’t had quite so much to drink. If only she’d kept her stupid mouth shut. If only…if only…

Ana curled up into a little ball on her bed and cried herself to sleep.

***

When she woke it was nearly 10pm. She could hear the distant thud of bass and the shouts and laughter as people wandered around the streets. This was the time when the town came to life.

Ana dragged herself out of bed and went straight to the mini-bar. She felt like drowning her sorrows. Again. She scowled at the empty fridge, remembering the ‘do not disturb’ sign she’d hung on the door earlier. Pulling on some clothes, she padded down to the bar, ordering a martini. She realised she hadn’t eaten anything since…she didn’t even know when, and picked the first thing on the bar menu.

She sat at the bar methodically sipping her drink. The food arrived: Mini sirloin burgers with Stilton cheese and onion jam. She nibbled tentatively on an edge. They were incredibly delicious – tender and juicy, with the perfect balance of rich, creamy cheese and sweet onion jam. Her stomach growled with hunger and she wolfed them down, feeling immeasurably better by the mouthful. The martini was doing it’s job too, relaxing her, making her not care so much.

“You here alone?”

Ana turned to see who had spoken. He was tall, tanned and gorgeous, his copper eyes flecked with gold and a sexy smile on his face.

Ana nodded, smiling back.

“We’re going clubbing,” he said, pointing to a group of friends. “You should come with us.”

Ana shrugged. Why not? She finished the last of her drink, delicately wiped her mouth with a serviette, and left the hotel lobby with her new friends.

***

“…so, I’m getting divorced, and now my best friends won’t talk to me,” Ana shouted over the music. “My life is officially shit!” She downed the last of her vodka and red bull and waved to the barman for another. The rational part of her knew she should slow down – the room was already spinning – but she dismissed it and finished half of her fresh drink in one gulp.

The guy – Jack? Jim? She couldn’t remember – smiled at her. “Sounds awful,” he said, stroking her hair. “But I’ve got something that might help.”

He reached into his pocket and produced a small plastic bag full of little pills.

“What are they?” Ana shouted.

“They’ll make you forget,” he said, taking one of the tablets and placing it on her tongue. It tasted sour, chemically. She swallowed. He smiled again and leant forward, kissing her deeply. Ana closed her eyes. Try to forget, try to forget, try to forget.

***

Ana looked around the dance floor, momentarily wondering where her new friends had gone. The lights above were bright and colourful and there were people everywhere; touching, laughing, dancing. Everything was blurry. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a fleeting glance of Mia, disappearing into the sea of people. Ana craned her neck, searching the crowd desperately for the familiar face, but it had gone. Then she thought she saw the back of Willow’s head, but it too was swallowed up by the mass of sweaty bodies,

Why does everyone keep leaving me? she thought desperately, searching around for someone – anyone – she knew.

A wave of nausea hit her and she felt suddenly claustrophobic and needed to get out. She pushed her way through the people and outside, gulping fresh air.

“You OK?” A bouncer came up and put his hand on her shoulder.

Ana nodded and brushed him off. She needed to be alone. She stumbled down the street, oblivious to the curious glances she was getting from passers by.

Water, she thought to herself, I need water. She turned up a side street and saw the ocean sparkling in front of her, the clear water glistening in the light of the moon. She stumbled forward onto the sand, kicking off her shoes. She stretched her arms out wide, bathing in the glow of the night. There was not another soul to be seen. She closed her eyes, listening to the gentle lull of the waves as they broke on the shore. The soothing sound was interrupted by the faint thud of music in the distance. Ana frowned. A moment of clarity.

I need to get away from here, she thought to herself suddenly. Now.

She scrunched her toes into the sand and looked out to the vast expanse of the ocean. She smiled.

Of course.

Peeling off her dress she started to wade out into the water, further and further, until her feet didn’t touch the ground and she was nothing but an insignificant white speck – a trick of the eye – from the shore. She shut her eyes and let the water close around her.

Peace, at last.

***