FREE READ: Cherries After Dinner
by Madeline Iva
The evening starts, as many good ones do, with one glass of wine to many.
My golden harvest soup comes out perfectly. Not so much the other stuff. Oh you would like it. But you, my darling reader, aren’t a certain Australian television chef. The one with whom I’ve been feuding for two years. The one insisting a home chef can never be as good as a trained professional.
I’m holding back tears trying not to think about the other dishes. The golden harvest soup is a fucking poem–a perfect combination of pears stewed with white wine and sweet potatoes cooked with cider and cinnamon sticks. Blended together with white pepper and a dash of cream, it tastes like squash–but the kind of squash you only find in heaven. It’s my signature style—stunning food taste with only a few simple ingredients and not at all complicated to prepare.
The rest is not as spectacular. Okay, maybe spectacular, but not spectacular enough. The clock is ticking, he’ll be here any minute and I find myself gulping down the fatal glass of cava champagne.
I need to go change into my dark purple dress and do my make-up, but tears are dripping down my face.
The duck is good. I don’t need to taste it. It’s sitting with it’s feet propped up, driving the juices down into the breast. I have my own secret methods for making a superior duck. Boil duck to open pores in the skin. Then use a hair drier (you heard me) to dry pores open. Immediately pop into the oven where you’ll see the fat start to render. The melting fat bastes the entire duck while it cooks, so it’s juicy and succulent, with a crispy skin like you can only get in France. The grease splatters everywhere of course, and just wrecks your oven, but it’s worth it. Lingonberry compote goes with the duck. Very simple, perfectly prepared. Yet not…mind blowing enough.
I turn to the mache salad with golden beets and toasted walnuts. Meh.
The panko and crushed almond yam cakes with mushroom ragout is a hair too salty. Erg! Holding back more tears of defeat, I stomp into the bedroom, zip up my hides-all-flaws stretchy dress, apply killer burgundy lipstick, tame my hair and await the firing squad.
This certain Australian chef—tall, gorgeous, charismatic–has resented insinuations I’d made on my foodie blog. Just a little innocent comment about some chefs are form over content.
His ranting in the comments section was very good for the blog. Then during a TV show, he really went for the jugular. He said he wanted to choke the life out of me. Intense. Then he said he’d settle for having me eating every one of my words.
The hostess ate it all up and my agent wanted to send him flowers. In the end I was issued a challenge–Thanksgiving day at his home. It was a good meal, I’ll give him that. About fifty ingredients went into every component of every dish. Things like Himalayan pink salt—the trend sucking wuss.
He liked my tepid praise. He changed his tone after that. He insisted that I could write about good food, I could appreciate food, but I could never ever in a million years make really good food without professional training.
I issued my challenge for the next Thanksgiving. We spent the year happily carping back and forth and the free publicity was just orgasmic. Now I had a meal that anyone reasonable would love–anyone but a three star Michelin chef with an ego the size of Tasmania.
The doorbell is ringing — must go.
Oh my head. My aching brain.
He didn’t show.
I opened the door and standing there was a man who was not our be-loathed Australian chef. Tall, but not as tall. Same sort of ripped, lean body, but not as freakishly good looking and no frosted highlights in his hair. Instead a normal, pleasant face with ordinary brown hair was looking at me. The only stand out feature is a pair of big brown bedroom eyes. You know the kind I mean. Shiny, dark, with heavy lashes. The kind of eyes that always look sad and soft and sensuous. I felt a hard shiver shake my spine.
“You are not XXX!” I said, (sorry, but Mr. Australia’s lawyer now says he’ll sue me if I use his real name).
“No, I’m his brother. XXX is in the hospital having his gall bladder removed. He wanted you to know he is sorry, but he has to cancel.”
“That’s awful!” I said, relieved to the bottom of my heart. I think I even clutched myself and staggered a wee bit, trying not to be overwhelmed by giggles.
“Yeah, well, he’s been having trouble with it for years but thought it could wait. Apparently not. So he sent me with his regrets and this bottle of champagne. Also this bottle of red, so–”
“Come in–” I interrupted. “I need someone to taste the soup.”
“Smells good in here,” he said, taking off his coat.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” And maybe for breakfast?
That was the wine talking. Or not. This guy was infinitely more to my taste than his ken-doll brother, the spray tanned wonder of television. “What’s your name?”
“Tony. No, but thanks. I’ve got friends expecting me.”
Like his brother, he was tall enough so you’d need a running start to jump up on his body if you wanted to kiss him. Not that I am picky, since I look like a plump Italian peasant girl. The last boyfriend said I should be barefoot in a vat of grapes, stomping away. Shiny black eyes like olives, shiny black hair, a lotta curves. Sad to say we’re a dime a dozen in NYC. I straightened the v-neck of my stretchy purple dress.
“Come into the kitchen big boy, and tell me all about it,” I said. Yes, the champagne was in control. Soon he was pouring more, and combining it with framboise. The raspberry smell made my nose tickle. I thought it would be harmless to have a little more.
Tony was polite enough. “So he keeled over China town and had to be rushed to the hospital.”
I tskked for a second. “What do you do Tony? In the food biz ?” I asked, standing close to him. Too close. I held out my spoon and he tasted my soup while I made sure to keep my eyes on his chin. I needed to retain my coordination. He smelled like Lagerfeld. Spicy, woody. I wanted to lick the tip of his chin where there was a very nice dent.
“I’m not in the biz, no. Look, you made all this food, maybe I’ll call my friends and cancel,” he said. Those bedroom eyes flicked to mine once, then went back to the soup I was stirring.
My great relief combined with concern for his brother (I’m not totally heartless you know,) combined with the champagne in a rush. I smiled involuntarily and stumbled into him only once on my way to pop the cork on the red wine.
Words left me for the next ten minutes as I made gravy. Tony talked to his friends on his ‘mobile’ as his brother would call it. Tony’s eyes tracked me up, down, front and back the entire time.
I am not with men a lot. I like men, but I can’t stand modern dating conventions. Call me crazy, but I’ve never appreciated someone wanting to sleep with me, yet being downright touchy about getting to know me a little first.
It’s much worse in the city, of course, but I maintain my standards. I expect a guy to have my name firmly stuck in my brain before I go down on him. There’s nothing worse than hearing “Oh, that feels good….Cindy?” I just won’t go there. This is why, my gay friends say, I’m divine and delightful, but still single.
Dinner was going along fabulously. At first. Tony showed every sign of wanting to get to know me. I’ve seen interrogators use milder tactics. I had to give it up–tell him all about the blog, my education, how long had I lived in New York? Had I ever been to Europe? To a Jets game? I didn’t mind the questions. It’s refreshing. I wanted to get to know him too. It turns out that XXX moved to Australia with his dad in high school when his parents divorced, while Tony stayed behind in America with his mother on Staten Island.
Tony is an anesthesiologist, divorced. He has a particular love for rugby and my way of hair-drying a duck.
We took a break after dinner before dessert. We started joking about my feud with his brother. Tony likes to yank his brother’s chain, it turns out. He is delighted with my blog.
How we go from all this delightfulness into a spittingly furious disagreement is hard to analyze. Especially with my hangover this morning. My kingdom for an ice pack!
Let me sip some more hot tea and try to recall where it all suddenly got edgy. I probably made a joke about XXX’s extravagant love life. Yes, and Tony responded that if you stacked all XXX’s one night stands from end to end, they go from the Hudson River to Hobart and back.
Then I made some quip. How far would Tony’s one night stands stretch? I got a shrug. I knew what that meant. It’s New York, he’s easy on the eyes, he’s a doctor. What did I expect?
From here to Staten Island? I said with a laugh. Then I said something rather harsh and judgmental about one-night stands and Tony took offense.
That’s when our banter became bitchiness.
“You seriously think two people using each other for pleasure is so wrong?”
“Not necessarily,” I replied. “Unless what you call ‘two people using each other for pleasure’ is almost always person A using person B for pleasure, while person B silently fumes because she isn’t getting off and knows perfectly well she’ll be expected to lie about it afterwards.” That situation is in fact fucked up.”
“That has never happened where I’m concerned,” he said.
“Prove it,” I said. “Oh, but you can’t because these are total strangers–so how do you really know? It’s not like you ever contact them again. Do you?”
I think he might have conceded the point. I think the point might have stung. I’m not sure because being very drunk, I didn’t take the time to listen to his retort. I plunged my hand into my brandied cherry pie and flung the cherries at him. It was definitely a challenge. I’m also not sure what happened next, the details are fuzzy. I just remember he grasped my wrist and was licking off the juices from the pie. The nibbling of my fingertips tickled me deep down in my pelvis, and without thinking about it I plunged my other hand into the wrecked pie and got him right in the face with that, watching his eyes widen, as my own mouth opened and I arched my back.
Take that, I thought. Very provoked, he responded by…well he did something thoroughly childish. With yams. We wound up on the dining room table. Panko crusted yams were in my hair and as the food fight continued somehow my dress came off.
At one point I thought about my poor table. Old, and creaking, it held up, but for a second there I wasn’t sure it would. I definitely got off. I had to give him that one.
However, I stuck to my guns. When I could stop panting I thanked him. I let him know I’d never had a better Thanksgiving in my life. Which is true.
Yet the polite comment seemed to infuriate him. I confessed as well that I was going to be very sad now—much more sad than if I hadn’t gotten off. He left off with tongue rasping a particular part of me that rather enjoyed the feeling and gave me a look. I couldn’t make it out because there were two of him. I tried closing one eye, but that didn’t help.
“Why?” he finally asked. His voice full of hesitant caution.
“Because this was just a one time thing. You see? And now I’m going to be sad. You can’t win, either way.” I put his head back where it was. What I didn’t tell him was that, in general, the sadness was why I made a point of staying away from extremely attractive men.
He seemed to have a point in response to this some time later, when we were in the bedroom, but I didn’t hear him properly, because by that time he was on top of me again and I was preoccupied tasting the salty pliancy of the skin just above his nipple.
An hour later when he was getting out of my bed I said, “I’m sorry, I missed that last part.”
By this time his thumb was in my mouth, between my teeth, slowly moving in an out, and before my ears turned completely off I heard him say, “You think I don’t get it? You’re not a one night stand kind of woman—I know that.” Then when he was done, he put on his clothes and left.
It was like a koan. Alright, he knows I’m not that kind of woman….and???? One could project a thousand unspoken statements onto such a comment. The trick was not to.
But now I’m very happy, which is making me grin, which is really hurting my head. I just got flowers oh so early this morning. (Being woken to the sound of the buzzer was horrendous.) Gorgeous tawny mums. The card reads I agree. Best Thanksgiving ever.
I’ve also gotten since I started typing this a text, an email, a facebook friend request and yes, even a Western Union telegram. Just to make sure that I know I will be hearing from him again. And again. And again. Clearly the man likes to yank my chain.