Tales of food, sex and friendship




Season 7, episode 9

September 18, 2012

“Wake up! Wake up!”

Johnny stirred, opening his eyes. Someone was knocking on the door to their bedroom. “Yeah?”

Willow poked her head in. “It’s almost ten,” she said. “We’re going to have a picnic in Dolores Park, so you guys have to get up!” She stopped and looked around. “Where’s Mia?”

Johnny rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Bathroom?”

Sure enough, the running tap down the hall stopped and Mia stepped out of the bathroom.

“You OK?” Willow asked. “You look a bit pale.”

“Didn’t sleep well,” Mia said. “Still tired I guess.”

“Well perk up! We’re going to have a picnic!”

“Oh, cool,” Mia said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “Let me just have a shower and throw some clothes on.”

“Hurry,” Willow said. “It’s such a gorgeous day at the moment, but who knows how long it’ll stay like this.”

***

Thirty minutes later, the four friends were loaded up with blankets, suncream, an esky (although, over here it was called a cooler) and a picnic basket, which Willow had heaped full with delicious goodies. They walked to Dolores Park, enjoying the sights and sounds of San Francisco on a sunny weekend.

They found a perfect spot towards the top of the park, the slope of the lush green grass giving them a spectacular view across the city and out towards the bay. Mia and Johnny set up blankets as Ana and Willow started unloading everything.

“Crap!” Willow exclaimed, having searched through all their bags. “I made a chocolate cake, but I’ve left it at home.”

“Oh well, we can have it for afternoon tea,” Ana said, pulling the lid of one of the containers and looking inside. Kale salad. Yum!

“But now we have no dessert!” For Willow, a meal was not a meal without at least one type of dessert.

“It’s OK,” Ana consoled her. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“No, no. You guys unload this stuff and I’ll run over the Bi-Rite and grab something.” Willow leaped up and, throwing her handbag over her shoulder, headed down the hill towards the compact gourmet store on 18th. The others shrugged, knowing that you could not reason with Willow when she had a strategically planned meal in her head.

***

Willow was so focused on the task at hand that she didn’t see the young man walking slowly in front of her until it was too late. She collided with him and they both fell to the ground, the man dropping the basket he was carrying.

“I’m so sorry,” Willow said, scrambling up.

“Hey, not to worry,” he said, smiling affably at her. He picked up the basket, examining the contents, smiling when they were obviously undamaged. “You don’t want to buy some brownies, do you?”

“Brownies?”

“Yeah, chocolate brownies. I make them myself. They’re special brownies.”

Willow raised an eyebrow. She doubted this young – albeit very cute – man could make brownies that were anywhere near as special as her own, with their gooey centre, crispy shell and surprise explosions of dark chocolate and hazelnut. But she had just run into him, and she did need dessert.

“What kind of brownies?”

He looked at her puzzled. “Like I said, they’re special brownies.”

“I meant what flavour are they,” Willow explained. Seriously, American vernacular was sometimes really weird.

“Oh right, I dig it. Chocolate.”

She looked into the basket at the individually wrapped brownies. They did look pretty good, she had to admit. Moist and rich.

“Ok then,” she said. “I’ll take… eight.” They weren’t huge, but two each should be enough, she reasoned.

“All right!” The guy smiled goofily again as he piled eight of the brownies into her handbag. “That’ll be twenty-four dollars.”

Willow was a little shocked at the price, but she justified it by telling herself she was supporting a local sole trader and, to be fair, ingredients were dearer here than in Australia.

She smiled again at the young man before heading back up the hill to her friends.

***

After a feast of salads, bread, cheese and homemade dips, Willow unwrapped the brownies and laid them on a plate, handing them around to the group.

“They’re good,” Ana said. “But… they taste a bit weird, don’t they?”

“They’re probably just American,” Willow said, munching happily on hers. “Different ingredients and stuff.” She popped the last bite into her mouth.

Johnny – who had polished his off in one mouthful – picked up a spare one from the plate and sniffed it. He burst out laughing. “Willow, where did you get these from?”

“A guy was selling them,” she said. “He said they were special…” Her voice trailed off. “Oh my god!”

“What? What is it?” Mia said, looking from Johnny who was in hysterics to Willow who was shaking her head in disbelief.

“Special brownies. They’re hash brownies.”

Ana looked at the partially eaten brownie in her hand and then back at her friends, grinning. “Oh well,” she said, popping the rest of it in her mouth and chewing. “When in Rome…”

***

Not long after, the friends had been joined – or maybe they had joined? – a much larger and extremely eclectic group of people. Johnny had borrowed a guitar from someone and was playing anything by Pink Floyd that he could remember, a couple of others raucously singing along, banging tambourines and clapping sort-of in time to the music. Ana discovered that she could remember how to braid hair and so had taken it upon herself to make sure every member of the group – male, female or other – had a carefully orchestrated plait running the length of their heads. Some people – those whom she deemed worthy – even had small flowers woven through, which she had gone and picked from neighbouring front gardens. Mia was spouting the virtues of Pilates training to anyone who would listen, and had started her own little floorwork class just to the left.

“Imagine that you are peeling you’re spine off the ground like each vertebrae is stuck down with toffee and you have to get it off before the next one will move!”

This had incited peels of laughter and then a sudden need for toffee, so half the ‘class’ had gone on a mission to see if anyone in the park had homemade toffee they were selling.

Willow had cornered the young man who had sold her the brownies and they were exchanging recipes. He was, it turned out, quite the avid chef, and not all his recipes required the addition of marijuana, although all of them could be adapted to suit this purpose if needs be. Willow was fascinated by his ‘special’ roast lamb recipe.

“Great if the in-laws or your boss are coming over for dinner,” he said with a wink.

***

They stayed in the park until well after dark, managing a few more brownies each – “on the house” – and sure enough, when they got home, a huge, delicious chocolate cake was waiting for them, which they devoured in minutes, before piling themselves into their respective beds and falling into deep sleeps, filled with multi-coloured dreams.

***

Mia woke with a start. A faint, watery light was just peeking through the curtains. The rest of the house was still quiet. She felt slightly disoriented for a second, forgetting where she was and what she was doing there. Next to her, Johnny was breathing heavily.

She climbed out of bed as quietly as she could and walked quickly to the bathroom, throwing herself onto the floor and only just managing to lift the toilet seat before the contents of her stomach ungraciously upended themselves. With a shaking hand, she flushed the toilet, sitting on the ground with her back against the wall, her head in her hands. She brushed away the hot tears that were running down her cheeks.

Must have been from yesterday. From the brownies, she reasoned with herself. Standing up, she looked at herself in the mirror. The colour was starting to come back to her cheeks, but the sinking feeling that she’d had for almost a week now was stronger than ever. So what was the explanation for throwing up the five mornings before that?

***