Tales of food, sex and friendship




Archive for July, 2012

Season 7, Episode 2

July 31, 2012


It was still early when Willow caught the trolley across town to the Saturday morning Ferry Building farmer’s market. Much like her beloved Victoria Markets in Melbourne, it appeared to be the serious foodies who rose early to hit the stalls before the regular punters came through. She had a small pang of homesickness as she wandered past a woman laughing animatedly with one of the stall owners as he piled her basket high with fresh produce. Willow wondered how Lorenzo – her favourite purveyor of fruit and vegetables at the Vic Markets – was doing. He would be wondering why she hadn’t been to visit him in such a long time, and she felt slightly guilty not telling him that she was leaving. Perhaps she’d send him a postcard?

She did a lap of the stalls out the front, marveling at the fact that she was able to buy all the summer fruit she could ever want, in the middle of July. In Australia, this was the time of year for stewing and poaching apples and pears, serving them piping hot with homemade custard, as you huddled inside the stay out of the cold. Here, you still had to huddle to stay out of the cold (that wind was biting!) but at least you could enjoy peaches, nectarines and figs while you were doing so.

To the right of the main building, she noticed a huge queue of people. They snaked from towards the rear of the markets all the way back down the pier. Willow wondered what on earth would possess people to queue up this early on a weekend. Some rare Californian delicacy perhaps that you could only buy on a Saturday?

Curious, Willow joined the back of the line, tapping the woman in front of her on the shoulder. “What are you lining up for?”

“Coffee,” the woman said.

Willow’s mouth dropped open. This was the line for coffee? “Isn’t there anywhere else to get coffee here?” she said.

The woman laughed. “Sure there is. But this is the line for the best coffee.”

Given her previous coffee experiences Willow was sceptical, but she kept her place in the line, slowly making her way towards the small stand where about five people were frantically taking orders and making hot beverages.

“What can I get you?” the dread-locked man behind the cash register said in his easy Californian drawl.

What to order? She’d learned that a cafe latte was a no-no (seriously, no-one needed that much milk!) and a cappuccino was often a mug of froth with some coffee floating somewhere down the bottom.

“I don’t suppose you could make a flat white, could you?” she said, knowing that the answer would be the same as everywhere else she’d tried to find her favourite coffee: “A flat what?”

A freckled face peered around the side of the coffee machine and beamed at her. “‘Course we can make a flat white, mate! Coming right up!” He said in his unashamedly antipodean accent.

Willow grinned. It figured that the best coffee in the city was made by an Australian.

***

Sipping her absolutely perfect flat white, Willow wandered down the pier, gazing out over the bay. The sky was blue, and the sun had risen high in the sky, finally sharing some if its magnificent warmth. In the distance, the bay bridge sparkled in the sunlight. The wind had dropped and the water was perfectly still. A line of low fluffy clouds sat just above the hills of the east bay, giving the otherwise clear sky some texture. Willow smiled to herself. Now this view beat the scenery of the Vic Markets hands down.

“This coffee is amazing,” she overheard a middle-aged man say to his wife, as they too wandered away from the coffee cart. “Best I’ve had since we were in Italy.”

“Shame they don’t do pastries as well,” his wife sighed. “Now we just have to queue up all over again to get a croissant.”

Willow silently agreed with the woman. A flaky, buttery croissant would certainly complete this nearly perfect moment. If only there was someone that did amazing coffee and mouthwatering pastries…  Willow suddenly stopped mid-stride.

“I’m a genius,” she said out loud. A few people looked at her strangely, but she didn’t even notice. Great coffee and amazing pastries. Great pastries and amazing coffee. It wasn’t a new concept, but it was one that seemed to work the world over. And one that obviously hadn’t fully infiltrated San Francisco yet!

***

On the trolley ride home, Willow’s mind was buzzing. She hadn’t been so excited about anything since… well, since Robert. And she knew that this was something that Robert would support her doing, were he still alive. She knew she’d have to look for a business partner. Someone who had experience with setting up these sorts of things and some idea of US rules and regulations.
As she rounded the street to their rented apartment, she stopped in her tracks for the second time that day. On the lamp post, someone had taped up a sign.

Got a startup?  Want to invest in a startup?

Come for Demos, Drinks and maybe meet an Angel at ‘The Lab’ on Valencia St. 4-6pm

 

Willow wrote down the address. Seriously, if this wasn’t a sign, she didn’t know what was.

***

“What kind of startup have you got?” a man said. His name tag proclaimed ‘Brad’ in large red letters and his eyes didn’t stay in one spot for very long, constantly scanning the room to see who was there. “Software? Hardware? Games? Design?”

“Er, no,” said Willow. “Actually… coffee.”

Brad looked dumbfounded for a minute before shaking his head. Willow heard him say “time waster” under his breath as he walked away. Willow blushed and surveyed the rest of the crowd. Surely there must be someone there who would be as excited about her idea as she was? But the more she looked the less confident she became. Everyone just looked a bit… tech. Pulling off her name badge and sighing she made for the door. It had been worth a try.

“Excuse me.”

Willow turned towards the voice. It belonged to a man who looked as far from ‘techy’ as Willow did. His whole composure had a world-weary, defeated look about it, but in his eye he had a little twinkle that said ‘I’m not ready to give up just yet’.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” he said. “But I couldn’t help overhearing. Coffee?”

“Yeah,” said Willow. “It was just an idea. But I don’t think anyone here is that interested in it.”

“Would you believe that my business idea is for a mobile coffee cart? Well, coffee and cakes to be exact.”

Willow’s heart sank a bit. That was her idea. “I’m more interested in starting my own business, not really  investing in someone else’s,” she said. “Sorry.”

“Oh, you misunderstand,” the man said. “I’m not looking for an investor. I’m looking for a business partner.”

Willow blinked. “You are?”

He nodded enthusiastically. “It’s an idea that I had a while ago and was all set to launch, but then my… partner left for another… business.” He sighed, his shoulders sagging. “Actually my partner was my wife and the other business was my best friend.”

“I’m so sorry,” Willow said.

He shrugged. “Anyway, it’s left an opening. We’d split everything fifty-fifty, including the initial costs, but we should be able to do it fairly cheaply if we start small. Any experience with coffee?”

“I drink a lot of it,” Willow said. “And I did a dash as a Barista in my university days. Plus,” she added, her eyes twinkling, “I make some of the best pastries and cakes in the whole world.”

The man grinned. “Well, I can’t bake to save myself, but I’ve got years of experience managing world class restaurants – New York, Rome, Paris, Madrid – you name it, I’ve done it.”

“What made you leave the restaurant industry?”

“Too many late nights. And I was always working too hard for someone else.” He smiled wistfully. “All I want is a small coffee and cake business, where I know the regulars by name, the quality is exceptional and everyone is happy.”

“That sounds exactly like what I had in mind,” Willow said.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Wait – are you on a visa at the moment?” he said suddenly.

“Oh,” said Willow. “Just the tourist one. But I’m hoping to get a more permanent one.”

He shook his head, sadly. “That would involve sponsorship and I’m not sure how willing they are to offer it for this kind of industry.” He looked thoughtful for a minute. “Well, there is one other option, but… no, on second thoughts that probably wouldn’t work.”

“What is it?” Willow insisted.

“There is something called an Entrepreneurs Green Card. But it involves a fairly hefty investment in a business.”

“How hefty.”

“A million dollars.”

Willow whistled. “That is hefty.”

He chuckled. “Like I said. Wouldn’t work.”

“I didn’t say it wouldn’t work,” Willow said slowly. She wasn’t that keen on advertising her new-found wealth to anyone, but if it was the only way… “It might work,” she said. “I’d have to see.”

He looked nonplussed, as though he didn’t believe this unassuming girl would have anything close to a million dollars.

“Well, I guess we can cross that bridge when we get to it, hey?” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Fred, by the way.”

“Willow.”

They shook hands.

“Willow, shall we get out of this place and go and figure out if we want to make the best coffee and cakes in the whole of San Francisco?”

Willow grinned. “Fred, I think that sounds like a splendid idea.”

***

Season 7, Episode 1

July 24, 2012

Ana had been awake for a good few hours before she’d finally allowed herself out of bed, the dark circles under her eyes evidence of the fact that she’d slept terribly, if at all. She checked her watch. It was only seven in the morning, but felt like mid afternoon. Jet lag. It did wonders to the body clock. Feeling disoriented and foggy, she pulled some clean clothes out of her suitcase and dressed quickly, knowing the only thing that would fix her was a double strength flat white.

She found Willow sitting in the kitchen, perched precariously on a kitchen stall, her body curled into a tight ball, biting her nails as she read the last few chapters of the trashy crime book she’d started on the plane.

“Did you sleep?” Ana asked her.

The grunted monosyllabic response could have been in either the affirmative or negative. Ana could tell that Willow would be pretty much out of action until she knew whodunnit.

“I’m going out to get coffee. You want some?”

Although Willow didn’t take her eyes of the page, she nodded her head and let out an excited squeak.

The apartment where they were staying was in an area called Hayes Valley. They’d found it online yesterday (or was it the day before? It certainly felt like they’d lost a day somewhere) and, even though it wasn’t cheap, they had promptly booked it for two months. They’d heard that the rental market here was much like Melbourne – competitive and expensive – but were counting on beginners luck to find somewhere a bit more reasonable as soon as they could. The morning was sunny but brisk, a light breeze gently rustling the tops of the trees. Even though it was the middle of summer, it was too cold for the light shirt she’d thrown on, so Ana picked up the pace, hoping that there was a Di Bella equivalent somewhere within walking distance.

***

Ana kicked the door to the apartment closed behind her. In one hand she had three enormous cardboard cups of coffee, stacked on each other like Lego, her chin resting on the top one to stop them toppling over. In her other hand, she held a bag containing three Danish pastries.

“I thought we’d lost you,” Willow said, emerging from the living room, her hair freshly washed and pulled back from her face in a tight bun.

“Sorry,” Ana said. “I had to go to about seven different coffee shops. Most places only do that awful filter stuff.”

Willow took the bag of pastries from Ana and went into the kitchen. Ana followed her, carefully placing the coffees on the bench.

“Is that coffee I can smell?” Mia said, emerging from her bedroom, rubbing her eyes.

“It’s the closest thing I could find,” Ana said, handing a cup to Mia. “One soy latte.”

“Do they only sell it by the litre here?” Mia said, eyeing the cup suspiciously.

“And that’s just the medium,” Ana said, pulling the lid off her own cup. “Well, cheers. Here’s to our first morning in the US of A.”

The three of them solemnly clinked their gigantic cardboard goblets and took a cautious sip of the hot liquid. Ana promptly spat her mouthful of coffee across the kitchen bench, Willow swallowed, making a face, and Mia subtly dribbled hers back into the cup.

“It tastes… weird,” Mia said, wiping her mouth.

“It’s fucking awful!” Ana said, dumping hers straight into the sink. “The milk’s too hot, the coffee is burned, and they’ve got the quantities all wrong!”

“It’s not that bad,” said Willow, taking another tentative sip. “On second thoughts…” She emptied her cup next to Ana’s in the sink. They settled instead for the pastries which, although sweeter than they should have been, were actually rather good.

“I guess the first thing we need to do today is hunt down good coffee,” Ana said. “And then what? Golden Gate Bridge? Alcatraz? Fisherman’s Wharf? Something a little less touristy?”

“We could just have a wander,” Willow said. “Orient ourselves a little.”

“We should also start thinking about jobs soon,” Mia said. “If we’re going to stay.”

Willow and Ana looked at her blankly. “Jobs?”

“Yes,” said Mia. “You remember those don’t you? Where you go to a place and do stuff for them and they give you money?”

“Oh those,” said Willow, sighing dramatically. “I might pass. I’m going to be a lady of leisure for a while I think.”

“And I’ve got the rent money from my house in Melbourne,” said Ana. “That should see me through for a bit, at least.”

“We’ll look after you too,” Willow added quickly. “So you don’t have to worry about anything.”

“Yeah, as if we’d let you get a job,” Ana said. “Mi Casa es su Casa.”

“That means ‘my house is your house’,” Mia said.

Ana shrugged. “Whatever. The sentiment is still the same. Our money is your money.”

“That’s very generous,” Mia said patiently, “but you still have to get a job in order to stay here. Assuming we do want to stay.”

“Why?”

“For the visas.”

“What visas?”

Mia groaned and rolled her eyes. “The visas to stay here because we’re not US citizens. Why do you think at customs they ask you how long your trip is? And why do you think we said only two months?”

Ana shrugged. “I don’t know. I just figured they’d sort of forget about us and we’d just… stay.”

Mia looked at her witheringly.

“What did you mean ‘assuming we want to stay here’?” Willow said, looking curiously at Mia.

“We might decide we don’t want to,” Mia said, a tad too defensively.

“We?” Willow arched her eyebrows.

“Fine,” Mia mumbled. “I might decide that I don’t want to stay.”

Ana and Willow looked at each other. “Johnny.”

Mia turned a charming shade of fuchsia. “No,” she protested. “Not entirely. It’s just… well… it might not work out here.”

“I thought we were all for one and one for all,” Ana said. “The five musketeers or whatever they were. Isn’t that what we agreed?”

“It’s the three musketeers,” Mia said. “And yes, we did say that, but I’m just saying that we shouldn’t force ourselves to stay if we don’t want to.”

Ana sighed loudly and took another bite of her pastry. It was too early and she was far too caffeine deprived to have this conversation now.

“How long have you been thinking about going home?” Willow said, her eyes sad.

Mia paused, looking at the ground as she answered. “Since Johnny left,” she said quietly.

“Have you spoken to Johnny about this?”

“Not exactly.”

“Why not?”

Now it was Mia’s turn to sigh loudly. “We sort of had a fight before he left, and we haven’t really spoken about it since, and I don’t want to tell him that I’m thinking of coming back because he’ll think it’s because of him…”

“It is because of him,” Ana said exasperated, pastry flecks flying out of her mouth.

“He doesn’t need to know that,” Mia shot back.

Ana rolled her eyes again. “Seriously, if you and Johnny ever get your shit together I think I’ll die of shock!”

“Ana, that’s not fair,” Mia protested.

“No Mia, what’s not fair is saying that you’re going to do something with your friends and then running after some guy.”

“He’s not just some guy. Besides, who are you to give relationship advice?”

“Mia,” Willow said in a low voice, shaking her head slightly.

“What? She started it,” Mia said, crossing her arms defiantly across her chest.

Ana held up her hand. “Whatever.” She jammed her handbag onto her shoulder. “I’m going out to find decent coffee.”

“Fine,” Mia shouted after her, before promptly turning on her heel and stalking back towards her bedroom.

The two doors slammed simultaneously, making the apartment shudder. Willow threw her hands up in despair.

Not again.

***