Tales of food, sex and friendship




Season 1: Episode 5

December 28, 2010

 

Mia jammed the last bottle of sparkling white in the fridge and hurriedly closed the door just before her haphazard stacking came undone. She just had to remember not to open it again in a hurry. Although her salary didn’t afford ‘real’ Champagne, she had splashed out and bought several bottles of a beautiful vintage brut from Tasmania that she knew Willow liked.

It was hard to believe New Year’s Eve had arrived already. She and Willow had both decided to give the big New Year’s celebrations a miss this year. Mia had never been one to go in for a big party, preferring to stay home on her own. She’d never felt it before, but for the first time she had a pang of missing out on something. She was, once again, alone on the last night of the year.

Well, not totally alone. She had Willow. And food. So much food.

Willow was going through a pie phase, and Mia had noticed at least four different types of pie in the fridge that she had tried her best not to squash with the bottles. She had watched Willow with intrigue as she had baked these amazing creations. Not content with the standard meat or apple pies, Mia had seen Willow placing ingredients such as salmon, porcini mushrooms, goat’s cheese and passionfruit into different dishes, with toppings like polenta and sticky date crumble replacing the traditional pastry. Willow had even made Mia a special pumpkin pie, which she had assured her was (mostly) guilt-free and delicious.
“There is no better way to start the New Year than with a pie,” Willow had said when Mia questioned her on the pie frenzy. “From the outside it looks the same as all the other pies, but it’s not until you’re into the middle of it that you realise just how different it is!”

The unique philosophy of Willow. It made sense. Sort of.

***

Mia was surprised when Ana ambled into the kitchen at 4.30pm.

“You’re home already!” she exclaimed.

“Finished early,” Ana replied. She surveyed the cupboard to see what was available before she went for the fridge.

“Don’t open….!” shouted Mia, just as several bottles of sparkling came rolling out and across the tiled floor.

“We’ll just have to open one, now” Ana said, as she tried unsuccessfully to fit them all back in. She popped a bottle unceremoniously and emptied her glass before Mia had even taken a sip.

Ana was in a foul mood.  She’d just found out Marc was not going to be at the same New Year’s Eve ‘do’ she was going to. She had deliberately knocked back all other invitations under the assumption that Marc would be going to the exclusive party that one of their best clients held every year. She was positive he’d said he was going.
“My wife will come with me to the other party,” he’d said running a hand down Ana’s arm after one of their lusty afternoon lovemaking sessions, “but she always leaves early so we’ll still be able to see the New Year in together.”

She should have been turned off by him at that point, but she was smitten.

Ana had stopped on the way home to collect a gorgeous navy blue silk dress that she had bought during the week. It didn’t leave much to the imagination, clinging to every perfect curve and hanging dangerously low down her back. Marc knew her body better than anyone and Ana knew he would love the dress. Even more so crumpled on the floor – but she had planned to drive him wild before they reached that point.

So much for that plan.

Well, if he wasn’t going then she sure as hell didn’t want to go! Her forehead creased with pain as she tried to imagine what he might be doing instead.

“So, what are your plans tonight?” asked Mia, taking a sip from her glass. She could tell that Ana was in a mood.

“Big fat nothing. I’m going to be one of those losers who stays home on New Year’s.” She took another gulp of the sparkling. “You?”

Mia was a bit hurt. “Just staying in,” she said lightly. Ana wasn’t exactly the most tactful person at the best of times, but lately she had just been downright thoughtless and rude.
To her credit, Ana did look genuinely sheepish as she took another gulp of her drink.

Luckily, Willow arrived home before their silence became too awkward. “ Hello!” she sang, as she closed the front door. She waltzed into the kitchen humming a song and carrying a large bunch of red roses and a bottle of Moët.

“For you!” she said presenting them to Ana. “They were by the front door.”

Ana immediately knew whom they were from. There was no card and no delivery address, which meant that he had dropped them off himself.

It doesn’t make it OK that he’s deserting me, she thought to herself, but at least it shows he cares.

The Moët was already chilled and she wasted no time downing the rest of her glass and opening the new bottle. “Time to move onto the grown-up stuff, ladies.”

Willow caught the hurt expression on Mia’s face. “Don’t be such a snob, Ana!” Willow chided as she went to the fridge. “Yum! My favourite!” she said as she caught sight of the bottles that Mia had bought. “Thank you, Mia!”

Mia smiled tightly, hoping that Ana would get bored and go out with some other friends. She was in an aggressive mood that Mia didn’t fancy dealing with all night.

***

Willow was getting the pies out of the fridge when Ana’s phone rang. Ana looked at the screen and then quickly left the room.

When she returned ten minutes later, she looked as if she’d been crying. Her housemates were worried. Nothing ever rattled Ana.

“What’s happened?” Willow asked gently, putting a hand on her friend’s shoulder. Ana shook it off and turned to face them, her eyes fiery.

“He’s going to the fucking Maldives.”

Willow and Mia looked at each other. What was she talking about?

“He’s taking his family to the Maldives for two weeks instead of going to the party. Couldn’t even tell me to my face. What a coward.” Tears were streaming down her face again.

“Who?” asked Willow. “Tom?”

“Not Tom! Marc. It’s Marc!”

She turned and fled the room, so distraught she forgot her glass of Champagne.

“Who the hell is Marc?” asked Mia, bewildered.

Then she remembered the flowers in the hall – Ana. Thanks for this morning. M. – the late nights, having to work on Christmas Day… The penny dropped. “Oh my God. She’s having an affair with her boss!” exclaimed Mia.

Willow slowly nodded her head. “I think I need some pie.”

 


(Almost) Guilt Free Pumpkin Pie

December 30, 2010


This pie is delicious and actually pretty healthy – hence, Mia loves it! The combination of pumpkin and spices give it a beautiful sweet and nutty flavour and make it taste far more decadent that it actually is. A great dessert for this time of year when you’ve had way too many indulgences already.

Serve on its own or with vanilla ice-cream, custard or mascarpone.

Pie Filling:
400g pumpkin, uncooked
3 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tblsn flour
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp all spice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
3/4 cup cream
3/4 cup milk
Short Crust Pastry:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tblspn white sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 2.5cm pieces
1/8 – 1/4 cup ice water
Make pastry: Place salt, flour and sugar into food processor and mix. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles a coarse meal (approx 15 seconds). With mixer on low speed, pour in 1/8 cup water very slowly until the dough just holds together when pinched. Don’t process for more than 30 seconds.
Flatten dough into a disk, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins before using.
Roll out pastry and line a 9 inch pie tin. Cover again with plastic and refrigerate for another 30 mins before pouring in filling.
Make pumpkin puree: Remove all seeds and stringy pulp from pumpkin. Cut into small pieces and peel. Place in a saucepan, cover with lightly salted water and boil for 25 mins or until tender. Mash or puree so that it is a smooth consistency. Allow to cool. This should make approx. 1.5 cups of mashed pumpkin.
Preheat oven to 230 degrees Celsius.
In a bowl, lightly beat eggs and add flour, spices, sugar and vanilla essence. Add 1.5 cups of mashed pumpkin and stir. Gradually add cream and milk and stir, ensuring a smooth consistency. Pour into prepared pie tin.
Cook for 10 mins at 230 degrees and then turn oven temperature down to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 40-50 mins.

Season 1: Episode 6

January 4, 2011

 

It had been more than a week since Marc had called to tell Ana he was taking his wife on a surprise trip to the Maldives.

“You don’t mind supervising the overseas account while I’m away, do you?” he’d asked.

Ana had taken the news calmly but, truthfully, she was furious. The problem was, she didn’t know who she was angrier at: Marc – for asking her to do his job so he could romance his wife in paradise, or herself – for falling in love with a married man?

“Shit!” she yelled out to her empty house.

She was sitting in her living room, alone, shoes kicked off and legs tucked up under her on the sofa. Her toes were absently tracing the stitching of the cushions. It was a Thursday afternoon and neither Willow nor Mia was home from work yet. It was rare for Ana to be back so early but today she’d just had enough.

Marc had swanned in to the office mid-morning looking tanned and relaxed. He had called her in straight away, immediately grabbing her around the waist and pulling her close as soon as the door clicked shut behind her.

“I’ve missed you,” he breathed into her hair. She closed her eyes and leaned against him for a moment, inhaling his distinctive aftershave. I’ve missed you, too, she thought. She could still smell the ocean in his hair.

Ana shook herself away from him. Their short time apart had given her some perspective. She was just the mistress and always would be; an easy, erotic escape from the demands of his real life. She had to get out soon or it would be too late. Already (probably) in love with him, she didn’t want to fall further under his spell.

Muttering something about an important appointment, Ana had escaped his office, picked up her handbag and told her PA to cancel the rest of her day.

She needed time to think.

***

The sound of the front door opening startled Ana out of her contemplative state. Mia entered the hallway and almost walked straight past her housemate as she flipped through the mail. Glancing into the living room, she did a double-take when she saw Ana huddled on the sofa in the corner.

“Ana?” she asked, immediately concerned. “Why aren’t you at work? Is everything all right?”

Ana looked up, then burst into tears.

***

Mia and Willow had tried to be supportive. On hearing of Ana’s affair with her boss – and the subsequent holiday debacle – they had tried reasoning and sympathising with her, but Ana was incredibly stubborn and believed showing emotion was a sign of weakness. Instead, she had done what every heartbroken woman would do. She’d thrown herself into an unhealthy pattern of eating and sleeping too little, drinking too much and working as though her life depended on it – even though most other offices were still shut down for the Christmas break.

Mia and Willow felt helpless as they watched their friend suffer, and nothing they said seemed to help. All they could do was wait until Ana fell apart completely and be there to help put her back together again.

***

“Better?” Mia asked.

Ana had entered the kitchen. Freshly showered, her red-rimmed eyes were the only sign of her earlier hysterics. She nodded shyly.

Mia gave her a smile. She was in the process of tossing fresh rocket, watercress and radicchio in a salad bowl and had dressed it simply with olive oil, salt and pepper. She hesitated over the chopping board for a moment. Apples? Yes, she thought, and sliced some thin batons from the Pink Lady she’d been nibbling. Maybe some crushed walnuts, too.

The kitchen was filled with sun streaming in through the skylight. It danced across Mia’s olive skin and bounced off the stainless steel appliances; a riot of colours and shapes on every surface.

“The first thing we need to do is feed you a decent meal,” she said to Ana. “You’re wasting away.” Mia gestured to a cling film-covered china bowl, resting on the bench-top. “Fresh prawns with some butter, chilli, garlic, lime and palm sugar,” she said. “I thought it’s such a nice night we could barbecue them and sit outside.”

Their house had a small but very pretty outdoor courtyard. Ana didn’t spend a lot of time out there, but Willow and Mia had created a garden that was brimming with fresh parsley, thyme, chives, oregano and an array of other fragrant herbs. Climbing up the back fence was a spectacular jasmine plant that filled the warm summer evenings with its sweet scent.

Ana went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of ice-cold Tasmanian Pinot Gris. After pouring it into two wine glasses, she sipped thoughtfully at the cool liquid. Ana realised this was the first time she had actually managed to taste the beautiful wine rather than treating it as her own, personal anaesthetic. She looked at Mia who was working quickly and delicately behind the barbecue. Her friend was radiant in the afternoon sunlight, Ana thought. As Mia looked up at her, Ana raised her glass and simply said: “I’m sorry”.

***

Mia had set the outside table and its crisp white tablecloth struck a contrast with the dusty pink of the prawns and the verdant green of the salad; the colours intensified in the late sun.

Ana nibbled at a prawn and, suddenly, uncontrollably, felt her appetite come raging back. She reached for another, biting into the firm, creamy flesh. The juice ran down her fingers and stained her T-shirt, but she didn’t care. She was gripped by hunger.

She devoured one prawn after another, sucking the meat from the tails, using her tongue to find any last morsels hiding in the extremities. The palm sugar had caramelised the outer layer, while the lime and chilli had permeated deep into the flesh. Tiny slivers of garlic had encrusted themselves along the body and become so crisp from the barbecue it was as if the prawns had been dipped in a kind of fine, pungent tempura batter. Mia laughed with delight at the sight of Ana poring over her plate.

With each succulent mouthful Ana could feel her problems fading away.

When they had finished, Ana and Mia’s mouths glistened with butter and tingled with chilli. Ana ran her tongue slowly over her lips, savouring the high intensity of the spice. She placed her fingers into her mouth one at a time, lazily sucking off any remnants of the feast. She looked across at Mia, who had her eyes closed and was leaning back in her chair, face turned up to the sun.

“A golden goddess,” Ana murmured under her breath, looking at her housemate, as if for the first time.

But then, for the second time that day, she was wrenched out of her contemplation. Her phone was ringing. She looked at the number and frowned. It was local. It looked familiar…

“Shit.”

Mia’s eyes fluttered open and she looked at Ana inquisitively.

Ana held her gaze. “It’s Tom,” she said. “He’s back.”

The serenity of the afternoon evaporated as suddenly as it had arrived.

 


Prawns Marinated in Garlic, Chilli and Palm Sugar

January 6, 2011


This is an amazingly simple dish yet a complete taste sensation – perfect to eat on a warm summer evening after a busy day at work. Or a great dish to make for a friend to cheer them up!

Serves 2 as a main dish. Serve with fresh green salad.

1kg fresh prawns, shelled but with tails on

juice of 2 limes

rind of 1 lime

2 fresh chillies, finely chopped with seeds

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

handful of chopped parsley

1 tblspn palm sugar

1 tblspn butter

large glug of extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients except prawns in a large bowl and stir. Add prawns and marinate for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally.

On a very hot BBQ plate or frying pan, spoon the prawns onto the surface, being careful not to put too much liquid on with them.  Keep the prawns fairly separate so they can seal properly and turn occasionally. Cover sporadically to help cook the prawns all the way through.  When they look nicely charred, remove prawns from the BBQ, sprinkle with fresh parsley and some more lime juice and serve immediately.


Season 1: Episode 7

January 11, 2011

Running his hands through his dark, tousled hair, Johnny’s velvety brown eyes surveyed the interior of Medina. The tapas bar where he was sommelier and part-owner was empty.

In fact, the whole of Melbourne still seemed to be in that peaceful, post-holiday daze. Not that his business was suffering, mind you. Another brilliant write-up last week in one of the city’s best food guides had seen hordes of tourists and locals flocking in to sample Medina’s innovative Middle Eastern menu and spectacular wine list. Tonight, though, the rush had come early so, even though it had only just hit 11pm, the place didn’t have a soul in it.

Opening a beer, Johnny wandered through to the small kitchen to check in with his business partner and head chef, Franco. He’d already sent the staff home and when it was quiet like this Franco would usually cook a late dinner for the two of them – something that wasn’t on the menu – and they would sit for hours eating and drinking and reminiscing about their days sweating it out as kitchen hands and busboys all across Melbourne.

“I had a feeling about tonight!” exclaimed Franco as Johnny sauntered through the kitchen’s swinging doors. “I’ve been marinating this incredible piece of aged porterhouse for 12 hours. I got it on my last trip to Gippsland. I was going to put it on the menu, but I just had this feeling that we could enjoy it instead.”

Johnny laughed. It wasn’t the first time that Franco had saved the choicest morsels for them to enjoy. This was a man passionate about his food.

He wandered back into the bar area, taking another sip of beer. Crouching in front of one of the bar’s many wine racks, he started perusing the selection for a bottle of red to match the steak.

“Hello?” a voice called into the empty space. “Are you open? I didn’t see a sign on the door…”

Johnny looked up to see a woman standing in front of the bar. If a customer came in at the end of the night he would usually have turned them away, but there was something about this one. She was a little older than him – pushing 40, perhaps – and stylish, not a single dark blonde hair out of place. His eyes travelled slowly over her body as he stood up, taking in the straight, dark pencil skirt that hugged her round hips and the pink silk shirt that clung to her torso. Johnny liked older women.  Well, no. To be fair he liked all women – but he’d found that, like a good wine, more complex inner flavours were often brought to the surface with age.

She cocked her head to one side, a smile playing at the edges of her lips. “So, do I pass?”

Busted! Johnny grinned sheepishly. “What can I get you?”

She looked at the bottle in his hand. “A glass of that would be nice.” Crossing her legs elegantly as she sat on a bar stool she said, “I don’t suppose the kitchen is open? I’m ravenous!”

Johnny shrugged. Why not? This woman intrigued him.

***

Franco winked at Johnny when he came back into the kitchen. “Luckily I’ve got three pieces,” he said, gesturing to the porterhouse. “And I think I’ll have mine to go.” In truth, Franco – who was married, with his second daughter on the way – wanted nothing more than for Johnny to settle down and be as sublimely happy in domestic bliss as he was. And the woman at the bar was seriously beautiful. Not to mention mature. Unlike the usual young girls who stayed way past closing time hoping for the handsome, brown-eyed bar tender to notice them.

***

Johnny and the woman ate in silence, side-by-side, slowly slicing into the tender pieces of meat, the steak juices flowing onto their plates and mingling with the pepper brandy sauce. Johnny reached across the bar and refilled her glass. She leaned in to him as he did so.
They chatted – idle banter – he had seen enough of interest in the small tapas bar to never run out of anecdotal material. A few glasses later, he locked the front door and switched off the house lights. The woman made no move to leave. His heartbeat quickened a little as he picked up their half-finished bottle of red, took her hand and silently led her to the staircase.

They were halfway up the stairs when she suddenly grabbed him, pulling him towards her in a smooth embrace. They moved together as one mess of arms, hands and lips. As she fumbled with his belt, he stopped her by grasping her wrists firmly in his free hand.

“Not yet,” he whispered.

He pointed her up the stairs again, and gently pushed her towards the second floor.  She would soon understand why – one of the rooms was dimly lit, with an inviting set of couches. On the table was a very decent bottle of Pinot and a couple of glasses. Johnny almost laughed – Franco had obviously seen where this was heading.

Johnny pulled her towards him and kissed her deeply.  She moaned and leaned her head back as Johnny lifted her shirt, exposing a delicate lace bra.  Pushing him back onto the couch, she straddled him and unbuttoned her skirt, revealing matching underwear.
Then she got back to his belt.

For what seemed like hours – certainly for several bottles’ worth of time – the two alternated between tastes of the flesh and the grape.

***

Johnny slowly opened his eyes. Judging from the light coming through the windows, and the morning chorus of rubbish trucks and street sweepers, he guessed it was about 6:30am. He heard a tap running in the restaurant. Throwing on his jeans, he went downstairs.

Putting down her glass of water, the woman smiled. “Good morning,” she said. She looked a lot fresher than Johnny felt. “I didn’t want to wake you. I can show myself out.”

He wasn’t hurt, exactly, but he had to admit it was a weird feeling. He usually had to beat them off with a stick! Still, he wasn’t in any hurry for a relationship, intriguing as this woman was. Reaching into his pocket he produced his keys. “Ah, but you need these to open the door,” he said. “You can’t escape so easily!”

Sunlight hit him in the face as he pulled open the door. He held up his hands to shield his eyes and stepped outside.

A bemused voice cut through the glare. “Johnny?”

It took his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the light and see who had spoken.

Mia?

Johnny was suddenly very aware that all he was wearing was jeans.

“Mia, what are you doing here?”

His friend shrugged, “I’m on my way to work. I didn’t realise you slept at the restaurant sometimes. Must have been a busy night!”

Before he could answer, the woman from the bar stepped through the door and, blowing a kiss over her shoulder, walked away down the small cobbled laneway.

Mia’s eyebrows shot up. “A very busy night!” She’d heard stories about Johnny’s antics from the others, but had never actually caught him in the act, herself.

For the second time in 12 hours Johnny felt like he’d been busted doing something he shouldn’t have. “I can explain…”

Mia looked at the ground, flustered, before laughing awkwardly. “What you do is your business. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.” She turned and walked quickly away from the restaurant.

No I don’t, thought Johnny. So why do I feel like I want to?

 


Aged Porterhouse with Pepper Brandy Sauce

January 13, 2011


This hearty and flavoursome meal is for the carnivores out there. Franco – the chef from Medina – likes to marinate the steak for at least four hours (preferably overnight) before cooking, but if you’re in a hurry you can simply cook the steak and then serve with the pepper brandy sauce.

Serve with a fresh green salad or homemade chips and tomato relish. Serves 2.

Marinade

2 tablespoons of whole green peppercorns

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and black pepper

1/2 tspn cumin

2 pieces of excellent quality aged porterhouse

Pepper Brandy Sauce

20g unsalted butter

1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns

1 tablespoon crushed green peppercorns

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

40ml brandy

20ml cream

1 tablespoon green peppercorns left whole

Extra virgin olive oil

Mix the dry marinade ingredients in a bowl with a slug of olive oil. Place in the steak and marinate for at least 4 hours (or overnight).

Discard the peppercorns, but keep the juices from the marinade to cook in.

Cook the steak to the desired point (rare, medium, well-done etc.), then allow to rest, wrapped in aluminum foil for at least half the cooking time. Save the juices from cooking in a separate dish.

Heat a splash of olive oil and the butter in a pan. Add all the ground peppercorns and soon after that the spring onion and garlic, cooking for only a minute or so, making sure the butter doesn’t burn. Strain this mixture through a fine mesh or sieve into a separate bowl.

In the same pan, pour in the brandy and reduce. Add the juices from the cooked meat and reduce until the mixture is quite thick. Add strained butter back in. Take the pan off the heat (or turn down very low) and stir in the cream (adding slowly so the sauce isn’t too thin). For an extra kick, try adding some of the whole green peppercorns!

Pour onto the steak and serve immediately.


Season 1: Episode 8

January 18, 2011

Tom looked at the shopping list in his hand and shook his head. He had no idea what half of this stuff was, let alone what it looked like. But, Ana needed it for dinner tonight and he wanted to make sure everything was perfect.

She had mentioned a stall that her friend Willow said he should go to…Lorenzo’s? Tom dived into the market, hurrying past deafening salesmen all trying to entice him with cut-price fruit and vegetables. He looked around him for a stall with wicker baskets hanging above it and spotted something up ahead. There, he thought, that looks like it.

Tom walked over to an old man wearing a leather apron. “Lorenzo?” he asked. “Willow sent me.”

The man’s eyes lit up and he ushered Tom to his stall. Even Tom could see this guy’s stuff was exceptional, way above the standard of the others at the market. As Lorenzo busied himself getting everything on the list, Tom couldn’t help but think of Ana. Tonight was a big night for him and he wanted it to go well. Ana was introducing him to her best friends for the first time and Tom was feeling like the new kid at school all over again. It had been a long time since he’d fallen hard for someone but he knew it was happening with her. He had never met anyone like her in his life. He couldn’t believe it had only been four months since they met. And now that he was going to be in Melbourne for a while – no more work trips or holidays (unless they were with Ana!) – he was excited about spending more time with her. Just thinking of her brought a smile to his face. Determined, passionate, beautiful… and the sex! The thought of her naked body writhing in those crisp, white Egyptian cotton bed sheets made him hard with desire. Maybe if they had time before dinner he could take her upstairs and…

“Mister? Here you go.” Lorenzo’s voice cut through his thoughts as he handed Tom two bulging plastic bags. Tom awkwardly held them over his rapidly bulging groin. Lorenzo then passed over a box of fruit: nectarines, plums, peaches and apricots. “For Willow,” Lorenzo explained with a smile, “you tell her we say hello. And tell her not to forget she has to come and meet Carlo.”

***

By the time Tom got to Ana’s house, he knew she’d be stressed. It had taken him way too long to find Lorenzo and then traffic had been a nightmare going through the city. But he didn’t know just how angry she could get.

“Where have you been?” Ana demanded as she snatched the shopping bags out of his hands. “They’re going to be here in an hour!”

Tom stammered through an apology, inwardly kicking himself for running so behind schedule. The box of fruit wobbled in his arms. “I’m sorry. I’ll chop, I’ll stir, whatever. Just let me help,” he pleaded.

Ana turned her back on him and walked into her large, immaculate kitchen. A red pasta machine was midway through a chunk of dough. “Don’t worry about it, it’s faster if I just do it myself,” she snapped. She set to work slicing the mushrooms; the razor sharp stainless steel of her chef’s knife glinting in the late afternoon sun that streamed through the window.

Even when she’s angry, she’s gorgeous, Tom thought.

But even after Tom had poured her a glass of wine, put on some music and laid the dining table, Ana still wasn’t talking to him. He didn’t get it. He knew he’d stuffed up but surely this was going overboard? Then he noticed a large bunch of roses sitting in a vase in the corner of the living room. A postcard showing tropical blue waters lay crumpled next to it. He turned it over:

You should try to get here sometime. You deserve a holiday!

Thanks for all your hard work,

M.

“Your boss sent you these flowers?” Tom called through to the kitchen.

Ana quickly looked up from the bench. “Oh, yeah,” she said, hurrying over to Tom. She picked up the postcard and crushed it in her hand. “We break our backs for weeks getting the campaign done and he gets to just jet off with his wife to the Maldives! Like it doesn’t matter!” Ana’s voice had become a little shrill. Tom looked at her quizzically.

“Does it matter?” he said. “I mean, wouldn’t we all like to go to the Maldives if we could?”

Ana glared at him and walked back to the pasta machine. “The flowers were late, anyway. He got back two weeks ago.”

Tom was worried. “Ana, what the hell is wrong? Why are you so mad at me? Is it because I was late?” He tried to take her hand but she pulled it away.

“No,” she said, “I’m just feeling a little…a little…suffocated at the moment. You’re just always in my space.”

Tom was shocked. He’d never even spent the night at her house! Not to mention the fact that he’d been away in South East Asia for the last few weeks, and had only seen her twice since he’d got back a fortnight ago.

Just then, Willow came bursting through the door.

“Where is he?” she demanded, a tight smile on her normally relaxed face. “Where is this man who’s stolen our Ana’s heart?”

 


Homemade pasta with wild mushrooms and goat’s cheese

January 20, 2011


A favorite of Ana’s, this is her go-to dish when she wants to impress but doesn’t have much time to cook. She likes to use Maggie Beer’s recipe for fresh pasta and sometimes adds cracked pepper to the dough for an extra kick. Dried mushrooms also work well for the sauce if fresh ones aren’t available – save a little of the liquid after they’ve been rehydrated in water and add to the sauce for a deeper, earthier flavour.

Serve with a crisp green salad and organic sourdough. Serves four.


Butter (organic), 250 grams

Cream, 300 ml

Chevre (goat’s cheese), 250 grams

Eschallots, 4

2 cloves of garlic

800 grams of a mix of King Brown, chantarelle and field mushrooms (fresh or dried)

Thyme, 1 bunch

Radicchio, 1 head

Splash of white wine

If using dried mushrooms, place them in a bowl and add boiling water to let them steep for about 10 minutes or until softened. Squeeze liquid from mushrooms and put them aside, reserving some of the mushroom liquid for use later.

Melt about 100 grams of butter in a saucepan with a little olive oil, to prevent butter from burning. Finely chop the eschallots and add to pan, sweating them over medium-low heat until translucent. Add crushed garlic and slices of mushrooms to pan, making sure the mushrooms are well-coated in butter. Cook for about five minutes or until mushrooms darken and start to release some liquid. Add a splash of good quality white wine and cook off the alcohol.

Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and reserve some of the cooking water.

Pour in cream to pan of mushrooms and reduce heat to a very low simmer. Pull off leaves from two sprigs of thyme and add to sauce; allow flavours to stew for 10 minutes. If sauce looks too thick, add some mushroom liquid or water from the pasta to thin it out. Roughly chop two to three leaves of radicchio and add to sauce until just softened (about one minute). Transfer sauce to pasta and crumble goat’s cheese over the top.

 


Season 1: Episode 9

January 25, 2011

Ana felt two arms reach around her waist, a strong body pressing up against her.

“Well, that went ok,” Tom said, holding her tentatively as he gave her a kiss on the neck. “Are we friends again?”

Ana turned away from the sink where she’d begun to wash the dishes. She looked up into Tom’s smiling face, his clear blue eyes shining down at her. He was gorgeous. He was in his usual uniform of faded denim, plain T-shirt and trainers. At 29, he could pass for a first-year university student but Ana knew better. The jeans were EVISU, the shirt Dsquared2 and the trainers were Yohji Yamamoto for Adidas. Try as he might, Tom couldn’t mask the fact that he was an architect earning a six-figure salary.

And somehow, despite its beginnings, tonight’s dinner had been unexpectedly wonderful. Willow seemed to sense the tension in the air when she arrived but, typically, pushed right through it. And her good mood had rubbed off on everyone. She’d brought home some hand-pressed olive oil from an estate in Italy that only released 200 bottles a year. Who knew where she found such things? And Mia had baked a loaf of spelt bread, which – although it broke Ana’s rule about no more than one carb per meal –  had complemented Ana’s wild mushroom and goat’s cheese pasta beautifully. Mia’s secret? A splash of maple syrup to help the yeast activate and provide a subtle sweetness throughout the loaf. As always, Johnny had come through with terrific wine.

The girls seemed to love Tom and even Johnny was smitten – particularly when Tom discovered Johnny had played guitar in one of his favourite teenage rock bands. For the rest of the night Tom couldn’t stop raving about some set Johnny had “shredded” back in the 90s. Ana was thankful for Willow and Mia’s discretion. She knew they’d been watching her and Tom most of the night – how could they have forgotten the past two weeks of her behaving ridiculously because of Marc – but they’d been nothing but supportive. She felt lucky to have them in her life and couldn’t believe how irrational she’d been with Tom earlier.

Were she and Tom friends again? “Sure,” Ana said, smiling back at him.

At her response he touched her face, slowly rubbing the back of her neck. Leaning in to kiss her, he pulled her close and enveloped her in his arms. Ana was finding it difficult to resist him – and why should she? Marc had lied to her. He’d said he couldn’t spend New Year’s with her because he had to go to a dinner party, but then he’d phoned her from the airport. He needed more time for his family, he said, and was taking his wife on a two-week holiday to the Maldives. Marc was a fantasy, but Tom – he was real.

Tom reached under Ana’s blouse, all the while kissing her lips, her ears, her neck. She leaned back slightly as he cupped her breast. He unbuttoned her shirt; she could feel him hard through his jeans. She raised one leg around his hip and the other he grabbed, lifting her on to the wooden kitchen bench top.

“Are you sure?” he said, pulling away for a moment and resting his forehead on hers, breathing heavily. “What about Willow and Mia?” She responded by undoing his jeans and slipping her hand down his boxers. “They’re heavy sleepers,” she whispered, nibbling at his ear lobe. He didn’t need any more encouragement.

***

Ana woke to the smell of coffee. She opened her eyes and looked across the bed where she saw Tom laying a tray of croissants, jam and a plunger next to her. He saw she was awake and leaned in for a kiss.

“Good morning,” he said. “Hungry?”

She couldn’t believe how different it was waking up with him. Marc was like a motionless corpse most mornings (or afternoons) when she left,  but Tom brought her breakfast in bed. Ana sighed to herself. What had she been doing ’til now? And where did he get that amazing looking jam from?

She snuck a look at Tom, who was now poring over her modest collection of books. His strong, tanned forearms – hard with muscle through years of rock climbing – were visible under his rolled-up sleeves and dark blonde hair hung across his stubbled face. Here was this good, loving man who only wanted to make her happy, and all she could do was lie to him. Ana knew Tom wanted to get serious. He’d been brought up in a traditional home where all his family members still talked to each other. Hell, his parents probably still loved each other. It was normal for him to get domestic and play house, but it wasn’t for Ana. No, what was normal for her was sneaking around with a married man and feeling bad about herself the whole time. What was normal for her was treating a great guy like rubbish because she was holding out for some arsehole who would never, ever leave his wife. She made up her mind.

“Hey,” she said softly, “about our fight last night.”

Tom sat on her side of the bed and played with her hair. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’m sorry if I’ve been wanting to spend too much time with you. I’ll step back a bit, I promise. I just love being around you, no matter how often. Just let me know what you need.”

“No,” she said, “that’s not it.” She leaned across his lap and picked her handbag off the floor. Reaching inside she pulled out her spare set of house keys and handed them to him. “Here. Seeing you last night with the girls and Johnny… they’re the most important people in my life. I want you to feel like you’re a part of that, a part of my home. I don’t want to see less of you, I want to see you more.”

Tom looked at her, then at the keys in his hand and squeezed them tight. Ana waited for him to say something. Instead, he pulled the covers over both of them and, working up her body, he showed Ana just how grateful he was.

 


Tom’s Strawberry and Vanilla Bean Jam

January 27, 2011


Tom’s mum taught him this jam recipe. He loves serving dollops of the sweet, sticky jam with croissants and bringing them to Ana in bed. Equal parts fruit and sugar are needed to activate the pectin that holds the jam together – don’t be scared!

1kg strawberries, hulled, halved
1kg white sugar
juice of 1 lemon

1 vanilla bean, split

Wash and sterilise two jam jars and lids. Place strawberries in a saucepan and stir through the sugar. Leave for 1-2 hours while sugar softens the fruit.

With a small sharp knife, scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean and place them with the strawberries. Add the lemon juice then cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the fruit is soft. Remove a third of the fruit. Set aside.

Cook remaining mixture until fruit is mostly dissolved and jam coats the back of a spoon. Divide reserved fruit between the jars then fill with jam. Allow to cool, then seal with lids.