Out To Impress

Will Becca be channelling Nigella or Bridget Jones as she sets out to wow a food critic with her home cooking?

My mum was standing by my side when the sales girl told me the price.

“How much?” we said simultaneously.

The assistant smiled and repeated the amount. I felt sick.

“I hope he’s worth it, Becca?” was Mum’s offhand comment.
As if I didn’t feel bad enough already.

This single bottle of wine would set me back big time. I realised she was simply looking out for me.

Still, I was a grown woman now, capable of making my own choices.

This time, I had a good feeling about Adrian.

We’d met at an art exhibition two weeks before and hit it off straight away. He’d made a sarcastic comment about one of the paintings when I was standing nearby.

I’d laughed, as he’d said exactly what I was thinking but was too polite to say out loud.

Following that meeting, Adrian had taken me out to three posh restaurants.

I could never had afforded the prices these places charged, yet Adrian was right at home. Two of the head waiters knew him by name.

I was impressed. My usual date’s idea of splashing out was to go maxi with the fries and burgers.

It was on the third evening that he confessed he was more than a journalist for one of the nationals. He was their food critic.

My heart sank. I’d already invited him to mine for a special meal and a relaxing night in.

He was witty, charming and had a certain sophistication about him that appealed to me.

The fact that he was quite handsome had nothing to do with his appeal. Well. Not much, I kidded myself.

Still… I never realised that this one bottle of Chateau Valandraud Saint Emilion 2008 would put such a huge dent in my holiday slush fund.

I sighed. The website insisted it was the perfect accompaniment to the extravagant meal I was preparing.

Not that I knew anything about wine, apart from that it came in red, white and pink. All wine tasted like vinegar to me but I was good at pretending when I was pressed to drink some of the horrid stuff.

With this wine and the ingredients I’d purchased already, this was one expensive meal.

Worse still, I wasn’t even certain I had the most suitable variety of disgusting-looking truffles.

“No problem,” I told the sales girl, as I reluctantly removed the credit card from my purse.

Taking the bottle from her, I cradled it like a new-born babe all the way back to my car where I wrapped it securely in my jumper on the passenger seat.

Mum suggested putting the seat belt around it like a precious child.

I wasn’t sure if she was being sarcastic. I did know she disapproved of my planned over-the-top meal.

“The first meal I made for your father was a lovely lasagne. If it was good enough for him, it should be good enough for this Alfred fellow.”

I sighed. “His name is Adrian, Mum. And he’s a food critic. I have to make sure that he appreciates me too.”

“Does he know you failed cooking classes at school? Let’s face it, Becca. You’re normally flat out making toast. All this… isn’t it a bit ambitious?”

“I can read. And I borrowed Aunt Sally’s cookbooks. How hard can it be?”

Once home, Mum and I set about the task of preparation.

“This is going to be so sumptuous, Mum,” I said, trying to boost my self-confidence. “This is going to be my ‘pièce de résistance’.”

At the moment it looked more like pieces of garbage but I had four hours left to get it ready. No problem.

Trouble was, my first attempt at the sauce resulted in a gungy mess that smelled worse than the inside of my wheelie bin.

I asked Mum to help with the veggies. Unfortunately, that was also a mistake.

“Mum. What are you doing?” I asked, as I returned from setting the table.

She had half of my mangetout shelled and was examining the miniscule peas that she had painstakingly removed.

The shells were bundled into the rest of the peelings so no chance of using them. Besides I couldn’t see myself pushing the peas back inside and sticking it all together again.

“I can’t understand why you didn’t buy frozen peas, sweetheart. There’s hardly a mouthful here.”

I tried to explain. “Mum. These are called mangetout. You eat it all, shells as well as the peas.”

“You eat the shells? I’m sure that’s not healthy. Also, I meant to ask you about those smelly things.”

“They’re called truffles,” I announced. “They’re a type of fungus, very expensive. They grow near trees and farmers use pigs to find them.”

“That is too weird. Those pigs must be laughing their snouts off, judging by the price ticket.

“Are you sure about this, love? I can always rustle up a cottage pie.”

I hugged her. “Thanks, Mum, but no. If it’s going to be a disaster, then it’ll be my disaster. Besides, it’s time for you to go. Do you want a lift home?”

“No. Bus will do fine. Besides,” she explained, pointing to the disaster area that was my kitchen. “You need all the time you have to sort this out.”

She was right. I was so worked up, I knew I’d lose my temper and I preferred that Mum wasn’t nearby to hear any colourful language.

To make matters worse, Adrian turned up on time. I mean, how inconsiderate is that?

The moment I answered the door, I realised the state of my undress; the rollers, the Wonder Woman slippers.

All I could do was smile and graciously accept the huge bouquet and assorted Swiss chockies.

He wore slacks and an open neck striped shirt. He looked amazing.

Fluff rubbed herself against his leg, hoping for another sachet of cat food.

“So, this must be the famous Fluff. I must admit I’m a cat person myself but I’m away from home so much, it’s not fair to keep one myself. Perhaps I could be friends with your Fluff instead.”

Things were looking up already.

“There’s some nibbles there. Fancy a drink before the meal?”

“Some fruit juice would be fine,” he replied as he wandered around my living room, stopping to examine each photo and knick-knack.

Meanwhile, I was struggling to don my shoes, almost over-balancing as I leaned against the door frame.

“Excuse me, Adrian. Are you always this punctual?” I joked.

“It’s polite to be on time, Becca.”

“Tell that to all the other dates I’ve had.” Instantly I mentally kicked myself. What must he be thinking of me?

I presented him a printed menu, thinking that would add a touch of elegance to our meal. Immediately I could sense a change in his body-language and demeanour.

He looked at it before saying the single word – “ambitious” – in a disparaging manner.

It might have been the same word Mum used but his tone was an indication that this was not going to be the wonderful night that I’d planned.

I offered to open my mega-costly wine that sat proudly on the dining table. However he declined.

“I’m driving. Busy week this week.”

The following hour or so lurched from one disaster to another. I left the Vichyssoise too close to the stove so rather than being cold, it was lukewarm.

Only after we had the yukky stuff did I realise I could have stuck it in the fridge. But no. This was my Waterloo and I was definitely on the losing side.

“These truffles have an interesting taste, Becca. However, I must ask why you chose to cook these ones. Winter white truffles are usually served raw.”

“They are? I’m sorry.” I bit my lip. Well, that explained it. The whole dish had been ruined, as truffles have a strong taste and smell.

We were finishing off dessert when Adrian’s phone buzzed. At that point any conversation between us had dried up, exactly like the apple caviar I’d stupidly tried to make.

Adrian answered the call a little too eagerly.

“Kerry. How’s it going?”

I couldn’t help but overhear the woman on the other end of the conversation.

“A barbecue?” Adrian continued. “This coming Saturday? Four o’clock. Brilliant. I’ll be there. It’ll be great to catch up properly…”

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