Tales of food, sex and friendship




Posts Tagged ‘haloumi’

Season 1: Episode 1

November 30, 2010

Ana pushed at the ornate wooden door of Medina and crossed the threshold. The smells wafting from the kitchen were alive with foreign spices, triggering memories of the summer she spent travelling through Spain and Morocco too many years ago. Her eyes took a moment to become accustomed to the dim light as she peered around the unfamiliar space. Low tables were surrounded by tasteful chairs, which were almost all occupied by small groups of people talking and laughing over cocktails. It was more like someone’s living room than a bar. Intimate and inviting.

She searched the well-dressed crowd for her housemates. They’d strategically arranged to meet here – a bar where their friend Johnny was part-owner and sommelier. But it wasn’t the prospect of free drinks that had lured them. It was more that, being Johnny’s workplace, he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) be late.

Tonight, however, it was Ana who was running hours behind time.

Six months ago she’d snagged a coveted job as a consultant at one of Melbourne’s most exclusive public relations firms. She knew, when she signed on for that hefty pay cheque, that her social life would be all but obliterated. The work days were long and often ended with client functions, which meant that sometimes she barely even saw the inside of her own bedroom. Her life, essentially, had been whittled down to rapid costume changes between work-related activities.

Initially, Ana had insisted to herself that she would rigorously maintain some sort of work-life balance – time to go to the gym, have coffee with her friends, establish a healthy and loving relationship with a boyfriend – but now, when she wasn’t at work, she was making up excuses to go back just so she could spend more time with him. Marc. Her gorgeous, charismatic, sexy and – utterly, tragically – married boss.

The attraction had been mutual right from the start. On that first day, when she had walked into the office, Marc had strolled over to her desk.

“Welcome,” he’d said. And that was all it took.

Bam! It was as though someone had sucked the air right out of her body. Thank goodness he’d been on vacation during the interview process; Ana didn’t think she would have been able to string a sentence together with those cool grey-blue eyes boring into her soul. Still, they’d managed to keep their hands off each other… for about three weeks.

Ana hated the fact that their being together could potentially ruin so many other lives. But then Marc would kiss her deeply on the lips and all the doubts she had about whether they should be together evaporated. How could something that felt so unbelievably perfect be so wrong?

Tonight she would blame her lateness on their ‘management meeting’ running over schedule. In reality, Marc had started undressing her as soon as she had walked into his office three hours ago. Slowly peeling off her silk blouse, he’d handled her as if he was unwrapping some kind of exquisite chocolate – then devoured her with the urgency of someone who feared she might melt if left exposed for too long.  Somewhere in the midst of their lovemaking – on the desk, his chair and the floor – she’d somehow managed to construct a strategy for dealing with a troublesome client and explained it to him between groans of pleasure.

Yes. Multitasking was definitely one of her fortes.

***

“Ana!”

Ana looked over to a corner table and spotted her housemates, Willow and Mia, sitting with Johnny, who tapped his watch and arched an eyebrow.

“Oh, please!” Ana snorted. “Like you’ve ever been on time for anything.”

Johnny shrugged in a good-natured way. He had many exceptional qualities, did Johnny. Punctuality was not one of them.

Ana blew kisses to her housemates, not wanting to get too close in case the perfume she’d applied liberally in the cab hadn’t managed to cover Marc’s scent. “This is a great place,” she said, sitting down and taking in the surroundings.

Johnny smiled broadly and blushed a little. “Yeah? You like it?”

“Careful,” teased Willow. “You almost look like you’re proud that you’ve achieved something.”

Johnny took a sip of his beer, trying to hide the smile. That was the price you had to pay for being a handsome – in a five o’clock shadow, black denim kind of way – 36-year-old former rock god. You could never be punctual or look too interested in anything.

“I think you should be proud,” Mia said, softly. “It’s wonderful.”

They weren’t the only ones who thought so. Although it had only been open for a few weeks, it was obvious that the Melbourne hipsters had already staked claim to Medina as their favourite after-work drinks establishment. The casual restaurant/bar had received glowing reviews from all the major press, with Johnny’s carefully selected wine list being touted as “unparalleled” and “a triumph” by the city’s leading critic. His friends never knew how Johnny had developed his talent for sourcing unusual and distinctive wines. All they ever saw him drink was beer – aside from the odd glass of red. In fact, despite having known him for close to 13 years, not one of them could claim they had him figured out. But Mia, Willow, Ana and Johnny had been friends for so long that the girls accepted his enigmatic ways as normal. Johnny was Johnny.

“So, really, what is your excuse for such appalling tardiness?” Johnny said in a mock stern voice, turning to Ana.

“Work,” chorused Willow and Mia, without giving Ana an opportunity to answer.

“Management meeting,” Ana said, ducking her head to hide her slightly crimson cheeks. It was getting harder and harder to lie to them, and she didn’t need her oldest friends reading her face tonight. “What are you drinking?” she said quickly, changing the subject.

“Champagne cocktail,” Mia said, handing her glass to Ana so she could try it. Ana took a slow sip. The Champagne bubbles tap-danced across her tongue and left behind an alluring hint of lychee and mint. She inhaled and caught a whiff of elderflower right at the end. The overall effect was smooth, sweet and brilliantly summery. Just what she needed to clear her head.

“Another four of these?” she said as she stood up for the bar.

“Beer for me,” called out Johnny. “And tell Franco to bring us some food.”

***

When the food arrived, the four friends jumped on it as if they hadn’t eaten in days. First, fresh bread – still steaming from the oven – and parmesan-infused olive oil for dipping. The peppery flavour of the locally produced oil almost masked the cheese infusion, but Johnny encouraged them all to savour its taste, to roll the oil over their tongues a few seconds longer to appreciate the subtle harmony of flavours.

Next, the kitchen sent out a parade of small plates. Freshly podded broad beans dressed with slivers of prosciutto; mushrooms slow-cooked in butter, sherry vinegar and a splash of cream; Kurobuta pork meatballs with a rich tomato ragu; and grilled haloumi between slices of fresh pear, topped with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.

Ana bit slowly into a piece of the charred, salty cheese. She loved the way it squeaked against her teeth. The tart green pear and liquid molasses was a terrific match; the sharpness cutting through the fat of the haloumi and leaving her mouth alive with flavour. She watched as the molasses moved lazily down her fork and ran down her hand. Closing her eyes, Ana used her tongue to remove the thick treacle-like substance, imagining Marc slowly licking her and bringing her to the brink of pleasure – and then over the top – again and again.

 

***

No one spoke until all the plates had been wiped clean with bread and sticky fingers.

“So,” Mia said, after a suitable pause to pay reverence to the delicious meal. “Christmas. We’re still on, right? I’ve already broken the news to my parents that I’m not coming home, so there’s no backing out now.”

Mia’s family all lived in Singapore and although she often went back for the holidays, this year she’d decided to stay in Melbourne and cover shifts at the Pilates studio where she was an instructor. Mia had come to Melbourne at 18 and had gained her permanent residency after finishing university. Her parents were upset that she hadn’t wanted to move back home. But ‘upset’ seemed to be their thing, as her biannual visits never seemed to quell their disappointment that she was unmarried (still!) and living with strangers (who were these so-called friends?) in a foreign city.

“I’m in,” said Johnny enthusiastically.  Christmas had never been a major thing for him, so he was secretly delighted to spend it with his best friends, rather than doing what he did every other Christmas day – sitting in his warehouse apartment, smoking joints and listening to vinyl.

On the flip side, Willow loved Christmas with her family. This year, however, she was exhausted and quite pleased that she could stay in Melbourne rather than make the Christmas Eve drive to her parents’ rural Victorian property where she and about 30 other relatives always descended. Willow had started a new job halfway through the year, teaching music at an elite private school in Melbourne’s inner-east, and already felt burnt out. Come the end of term, all she wanted to do was sleep for a month to catch up from the school concerts, intrusive parents and precocious high school students she had to deal with. She loved her job but sometimes she wished someone had warned her what an uphill battle trying to instil teenagers with a passion for anything other than modern music was going to be. If it hadn’t been discovered on YouTube in the last five minutes, they weren’t interested.

“Oh, I’m always in,” Ana said. Ana had a tumultuous relationship with her parents. Despite the fact that, of the three housemates, Ana’s parents were the only ones who lived in Melbourne, Willow and Mia had only met them once or twice. They were rich, snobby and had never played a huge role in Ana’s life. Ana doubted whether they would even notice if she just didn’t turn up on Christmas day. Besides, Marc had promised her a special Christmas surprise…

“Are you going to invite your mystery man to Christmas dinner so we can finally meet him?” Willow said.

“Mystery Man?” Ana said too quickly, looking startled. “I don’t have a mystery man.”

“Um, Tom? Your boyfriend? You know, amazing architect, all-round great guy? The one we are still yet to meet?!” Willow chided.

“Oh. Him.” Ana shifted nervously in her seat. “He’s going overseas. Saving a village with some cantilevered structure. Or something. He invited me to go, but…”

“Work?” Willow and Mia said together.

Ana laughed nervously. “Yeah. Work.” Not work, she thought to herself. Marc.

“I guess the only question left,” said Mia, “is: Willow, what are you going to cook?”

Along with her many other talents – singing, dancing, even knitting – Willow could cook. Boy, could she cook. She made dishes that enlivened your senses in such a way that it didn’t seem possible anything could smell, taste or feel as good. Some people had said her cooking was better than sex.

Well, almost.

“I’ve got some ideas for the main course – nothing too outrageous, but not too traditional, either,” Willow said. “We should all contribute something though. It’s Christmas, after all.”

Ana’s hand shot in the air. “Dessert!”

Mia shrugged. “Vegetables?” She knew that Willow would probably have that covered – Willow only ever envisaged meals in their entirety – but she also knew that ‘Willow vegetables’ were generally swimming in butter or cream. Or both. Aside from the occasional Champagne cocktail, Mia was generally regarded as a health nut and could mentally deal with only so many calories on any given day. Even Christmas.

“What should I bring?” Johnny asked.

“Wine!” the three women said in unison.

***

Several drinks later, the group poured themselves out of the bar. The temperature had dropped significantly and the wind lashed away at the trees.  It certainly didn’t feel as though tomorrow was going to be the first day of summer. Willow was belting out the theme song from Flashdance with great gusto even though she didn’t know the lyrics. Mia had taken her arm in an attempt to stop Willow falling over as she tipsily negotiated the cobbled laneway in her high heels.

As they passed a nondescript apartment building, Johnny stopped. “This is me.”

Willow let out a wolf-whistle and Ana made kissing noises in Johnny’s direction. Mia tried to keep the disapproving frown off her face. Johnny had spent the latter part of the evening texting someone and they all knew what that meant: booty call. The girls had given up questioning him on who his current lover was. He never gave them an answer, anyway. He gave them the finger and laughed as he pushed the glass doors open.

“See you on the 25th,” Willow called out to him. “Don’t forget to bring lots of wine!”

Johnny, his back to them, raised his fist in acknowledgement.

Linking arms with her friends, Ana smiled. “Come on, ladies. Let’s go home.”