by Karin Kallmaker
When three love-starved lesbians decide to make up for lost time, the recipe is romance. And with Karin Kallmaker cooking, you know the result will be hot, spicy and mouth-wateringly delicious!!!
Master Chef Jamie Onassis has used every penny she has to buy a beautiful country inn she plans to turn into a five-star restaurant. Unfortunately, the inn turns out to be a " handyman’s special" and, without the skills or capital to make the necessary repairs, Jamie risks losing everything.
Home and garden expert Valkyrie Valentine is a rising star among the do-it-yourself set. A seemingly perfect homemaker, Valkyrie seems destined to become the next Martha Stewart – as long as no one discovers her embarrassing little secret: she can’t cook.
Reporter Sheila Thintowski is a woman on a mission. Ever since meeting the dazzling, dynamic Valkyrie Valentine, she’s been determined to interview her— up-close and extremely personally. Sheila suspects that Valkyrie’s hands-on skills extend well beyond home improvement – and she’s looking for some private lessons.
Delicious recipes and chocolate-as-sublimation await the reader in Karin Kallmaker’s uproarious farce of cooking that doesn’t stay in the kitchen.
I was thirteen and waiting at the doctor’s when I realized that my daddy owned one of the companies that printed several of the magazines on the table. Sunrise, Tomorrow’s Gourmet Living Digest, for example. It was the same story at the hairdresser, the dentist and the therapist. Wherever you wait my daddy has a good chance of grabbing some of your time.
When I was thirteen my father divorced his third wife, my second stepmother. I told my therapist that it was okay that wives came and went in his life. He still loved my mother the most and if she were alive he’d still be married to her. I believed it then because my daddy told me so. He believed it then. He still believes it. It’s convenient.
Maybe that’s why I love him as much as I do for a man with an ego the size of a midwestern state and business scruples that would make the Mafia blush. He’s strictly legal: he doesn’t dump toxic waste or sell anything that causes cancer. He just makes money off the advertising by people who do.
They say that I’m a lot like him. The Paine Webber analysis on the parent company has a paragraph about me which includes the phrase “heir apparent.” Nice of them not to say heiress. Heirs are presumed to work while heiresses spend. I do spend, that is true, but I work darned hard. Hard enough to be able to ask Daddy for business favors.
That was how it all began. I asked Daddy for a favor because a woman with blue-violet eyes had given me the perfect idea for mixing profitable business with extremely satisfying pleasure. I’d only met Valkyrie Valentine once. I’d never heard of Jamie Onassis—she’s not related to the Onassis family. I have since come to the firm conclusion that women with big names are big trouble.
Jamie ducked under a tray laden with large entree plates and snatched her pastry bag from the counter next to the rinse sink. “Damn it, Chuck, I wasn’t done with it.”
“Keep track of it then. Marcus told me to clean up.”
Fuck Marcus. Jamie thought it as loudly as possible, aware that she could have said it and no one would have heard her over the din of the kitchen with all stations working at fever pace.
A waiter breezed by her, saying in passing, “I’ve got two chocolate soufflés, no raspberry on one.”
“Two chocolate soufflés, no raspberry on one,” Jamie echoed. She quickly whipped egg whites back to a stiff peak, then broke the frothy whites by slowly blending in a small amount of creamed dark chocolate. Then she poured the now cocoa-tinted whites back into the dark chocolate mixture, folding the two mixtures together with gentle strokes until dark and light were blended. She deftly filled two soufflé cups, neatly encircled with parchment chimneys, and set them in a baking pan a quarter-full of hot water. She repeated to herself, “Steve’s soufflés, timer number four,” after she put the pan in the pastry oven.
She handled more than a dozen dessert orders before the soufflés were done. She enjoyed the artistic end a little bit, but filling in for the flu-stricken pastry chef for the night was intense. She flocked deep blue plates with powdered sugar, then ladled on nearly black chocolate sauce. Teaspoon dollops of white chocolate sauce followed around the perimeter of the dark sauce, then she used toothpicks as paintbrushes to create decorative whorls in the white sauce. She carefully set truffles with mint-chocolate leaves and other decorations on the beds of sauces just as she had seen Antoine do every night for the last four months. Marcus had not been happy when Antoine had insisted Jamie fill in for him.
She took a short mental break after what seemed like the umpteenth Chocolate Curl Fantasy—a scoop of lemon ice surrounded by long, sensuous curls of four different chocolates—and wondered what Aunt Emily would think of the desserts. They looked nothing like anything Aunt Em had ever served at her boardinghouse, but the boardinghouse guests had left the table just as pleased and a whole lot less poor. Jamie yummed to herself—a slab of bread and cinnamon-roll pudding with buttered rum sauce would be delicious right about now.
When the soufflés were done she arranged thick milk chocolate curls on more powdered-sugar-flocked plates, then set the cups with their towers of soufflé in place in the center of each. The waiter arrived just as she finished and whisked them and a single bowl of chilled raspberries away while Jamie followed with a boat of warm milk chocolate sauce. She liked Steve—he had a sense of panache. At tableside he punched down the soufflés like an artist, then stepped back with a flourish to let the chef-hatted, apron-wrapped Jamie add the final touch.
This part she loved. The guests were watching their soufflés deflate with equally deflated expressions, but when Jamie poured in the sauce and the soufflés swelled again their eyes lit up. Steve added the chilled raspberries to one plate while Jamie faded back to the kitchen.
At the end of the night, more then seventy-five desserts behind her, plus two dozen chocolate soufflés, Jamie heaved a sigh of relief when the bus crew came in to finish cleaning in the kitchen.
Juan and Taikem gave her heartfelt looks of gratitude upon discovering that she had already dumped her many bowls and saucepans into one of the sinks to soak. Antoine was not as tidy. But Jamie had learned to appreciate tidiness after years of scrubbing up after her aunt. Aunt Emily cooked fast and economically in terms of pans used, but she could never be described as neat.
Marcus suddenly loomed over her. “You were behind. Some of the waiters complained.”
Jamie knew she had not been behind. She clenched her teeth and counted to ten.
Steve’s voice floated over from the other side of the kitchen where the waiters were putting on their raincoats. “If you’re talking about what I said earlier, it was somebody complaining that the soufflé took twenty-five minutes—typical tourist. The menu even says to allow thirty minutes and they complain when Jamie does it in twenty-five.”
Jamie was grateful to Steve for putting in a good word, but she knew it was pointless. Marcus disliked her as intensely as he disliked all women. He barely tolerated them as waiters but certainly did not want one in his kitchen. He probably believed that Jamie’s ovaries would somehow spoil the soup.
The waiters were disappearing into the rainy night. With the aroma of food dissipating, Jamie could smell wet sidewalk and damp asphalt. Between the rows of workstations and hanging pots and pans, Jamie saw Steve glance in her direction. She shook her head slightly—she was not in need of any white-charger routine on his part. It was only delaying the inevitable.
“I don’t know why Antoine puts up with your standards,” Marcus said sharply. “The desserts were sloppy. I’m sure everyone noticed. Word will get out and that’s it—we’re out of business. Do you have any idea the perfection it takes to keep a five-star restaurant in business? Do you think people pay eleven dollars plus tax and tip for a messy soufflé?”
He paused as if waiting for an answer. She knew he just wanted her to open her mouth as if to answer so he could cut her off. She didn’t give him the satisfaction, which just made him more angry. His face was so red she wondered if he’d have an apoplectic fit on the spot. No such luck, she thought, then mentally smacked herself for an impulse Aunt Emily would have considered uncharitable.
He began his favorite rant. “I’ve sunk everything I own into this place, and people like you are going to run me into the ground…”
Not strictly true, Jamie thought. Antoine owned half of the Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant and had confided that last year he’d made more than ever before because of San Francisco tourism going up and the economy remaining strong. Enough people could afford eleven-dollar desserts.
She liked Antoine a lot—he was not easygoing by any means, but he wasn’t a shrieker like Marcus, who ranted three or four times a night that they would close down. She stayed because she was still learning from both Marcus and Antoine. Antoine made breads and pastries with style and flavor—no guest ever left Le Monde feeling as if they’d eaten beautiful but flavorless air for dessert. And every week Marcus surprised her with a new entree—this week it had been roasted pork seared in mustard and brown sugar with a sweet champagne, prune and apricot sauce. It was delicious. Jamie had sent the recipe to Aunt Em, noting that the addition of sweet potatoes and carrots would make the dish a hearty stew. The champagne was optional.
Marcus was winding down and Jamie hadn’t heard even half of it. If Antoine had been here he’d have shut Marcus off in midstream with one of his quiet observations.
“I really think we have to reevaluate your program here. You think you can just do the fun stuff. Antoine’s spoiled you, letting a first-year intern handle pastries. You don’t know a ganache from a giblet. When I left the C.I.A I was happy to be a pantry chef for two years. Two years I chopped vegetables and made salads—not even dressings! Two years. And you’re not even from a proper cooking academy. I don’t know what he sees in you. I’d think you were sleeping together if he wasn’t queer—”
“—just like you.” Jamie hated it when Marcus called other people queer as if he wasn’t himself. “Antoine will be back tomorrow and the pastries will be fine and I’ll go back to salads and breads and you won’t go out of business, okay?”
“Don’t patronize me.” Marcus bit off whatever he had been going to call her. Probably “you little bitch,” which was his favorite phrase for everybody, male and female alike. He yanked his chef’s hat off his head. “You think this is easy, you wear it.” He twisted it and threw it on the floor, then stormed into the main restaurant to swear at the clean-up crew still wiping down chairs and vacuuming under tables.
Jamie’s fingers only shook slightly as she folded her own chef’s hat and then unwound her aprons. It had been a neat night—nothing had seeped through all three layers. She could head home without looking as if she’d bathed in her dinner. She’d seen Antoine finish the night looking as if he’d committed an ax murder.
Juan looked up from the sink. “I don’t know how you take it.”
“I don’t listen,” Jamie said. “It’s how I deal with most men, except for you, darling Juan.”
“And they say dykes don’t flirt.”
“Juan, I learned it all from you.” It wasn’t idle flattery. Juan had told Jamie she was too serious, so she had tried to pick up some of his glib ways with marginal results. As for being a dyke—well, she hoped there was no minimum requirement for number of lovers to qualify for dykehood. Judging from the personals and articles in the local gay weeklies, her body count of one might not be enough to qualify.
When she stepped out into the dank night she lifted her face to the mist and inhaled the heavy scent of salty rain and drifting fog from the nearby bay. For a brief moment she was home in Mendocino again. She’d forgotten her coat and umbrella that morning, but the temperature couldn’t have been below sixty. After two winters in Philadelphia this weather seemed tropical by comparison. Philadelphia was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, but the Culinary Science Academy had a good reputation without costing more than a graduate degree from Harvard. Marcus was always pointing out his own Culinary Institute of America credentials, but Jamie knew it had taken him twelve years to pay off the student loan.
Her extension classes were the “improper” academy credentials he scorned. When she’d learned all she could—to the point of feeling she would forget what she’d learned from Aunt Em—she’d decided enough was enough. No more classes and no more snow. She had nursed her ailing Hyundai back across the country, pausing briefly at the Continental Divide to heave her snowboots into a rest area trash can. San Francisco had been near enough to home and offered a wide range of opportunities. She’d settled in, found the job at Le Monde and worked her brains out, six days a week. Aunt Em’s hours had been longer, seven days a week during the summer, but she’d been working for herself. Slaving for Marcus and Antoine was wearing thin.
The rain was washing away the stress of the day. She made her way from the crowded sidewalks of Fisherman’s Wharf to the Columbus Street bus and from there to the Ocean Beach trolley to within a block of the three-bedroom apartment she shared with two other women. It was close quarters, but they all worked long, non-overlapping hours and saw each other very little. Chris was a flight attendant and was rarely home. Suzy would just be getting up for her shift at UC Med Center and would not be bothered by Jamie’s shower to get the stench of the restaurant out of her hair. Who would have thought that so much good food could smell so foul put all together?
By the time Jamie got home she was soaked through and she decided hot chocolate and toast was recommended. KatzinJam yowled an urgent request when she opened the door. She said a weary hello to Suzy, quickly sprinkled some dry food in KatzinJam’s empty bowl, then wriggled out of her wet, smelly clothes. Her shower was brief and very hot. When she emerged KatzinJam was disappearing into the closet where his favorite middle-of-the-night sleeping place could be found. Jamie knew that as soon as KatzinJam smelled the toast he’d be back.
Suzy was just rinsing out her late night breakfast dishes when Jamie padded into the kitchen to make hot chocolate.
“I’d love it, but I’m running a bit late.” Typical Suzy. “This came for you, by the way. It was under the door when I got home.”
“Thanks.” Jamie glanced at the FedEx envelope. Probably from Aunt Em, who was fond of sending notes and recipes via overnight mail so that Jamie could still smell whatever she’d been making that day in Mendocino, four hours or so up the coast. She got out the milk and cocoa powder and was happy to find her whisk and saucepan where she’d left them. She and Suzy were very orderly, but Chris was a whirlwind.
“See ya,” Suzy called from the front door.
“Later,” Jamie answered, and then it was just her and KatzinJam in the apartment.
She slathered her favorite cranberry marmalade on the toast and settled into the apartment’s one comfortable chair with the steaming mug, plate with toast and the FedEx envelope within reach. With a sigh of pure pleasure, she put her feet up on the ottoman. Like most restaurant workers, relaxing to Jamie meant getting off her feet.
After a sustaining swallow of creamy hot chocolate, she opened Aunt Em’s FedEx letter.
It smelled of vanilla. Sure enough, a seed fell out of the envelope along with several sheets of paper covered in her aunt’s neatly penciled handwriting, a manila envelope and a picture. The picture was a studio portrait of Aunt Emily—snazzy. She’d written “A few months ago” on the back.
“Dearest Jamie,” the letter began, “if you are reading this I am dead.”
Jamie blinked several times, then shook her head. She had misread it, that was all.
“Dearest Jamie,” she read again, “if you are reading this I am dead.” She clutched the arm of the chair, suddenly feeling like she was falling. Her heart pounded as she struggled to comprehend the rest. “I learned not long ago that I was dying, and decided not to tell anyone, not even Kathy, until I absolutely had to. As I write, I have only a few days left and forgive me if I ramble. My thoughts now are of you, and all you have meant to me. Kathy has been away on a trip and returns tomorrow and she will know when she sees me that I am going.”
The next sentence was hard to follow; it had been erased several times.
“I figured that at this last point in my life I was allowed some privacy and the right to take care of my affairs my own way. So I went to a lawyer a month or more ago and have taken care of all the details. By now Jacob O’Rhuan will have disposed of my ashes off the coast, everything taken care of as I wanted. Liesel will see to that. I couldn’t bear the idea of you or Liesel weeping next to my grave. Whenever you see the ocean you’ll know I’m near. My legacy is the people I’ve loved and fed in my life, and that’s quite a lot as you know.”
Jamie put the letter down and closed her eyes. For several minutes she could only breathe raggedly.
She would have told anyone who asked that Aunt Emily was the glue of her life—more than a mother, more than a teacher, more than a friend. But she couldn’t have conveyed, not fully understanding it herself, the way Emily Smitt had been a part of her.
Her mind spun with unanswered questions. What had she died of? Had she suffered? When did it happen? Why had she kept Jamie away? Liesel—poor Liesel. Having to do this by herself. They had so many friends, and Liesel was a strong woman, but she must have felt so alone. It was the middle of the night—no sense calling her when she might be getting some badly needed sleep.
Other, murkier conflicts surfaced. How was Kathy—Aunt Emily’s only child—handling this? Thinking of Kathy brought the usual twist of pain, tempered with compassion. Surely Kathy had seen past her problems with her mother during the final days. Perhaps she had even realized that her mother and Liesel hadn’t deserved being called perverts—but that didn’t bear thinking about. Hoping Kathy would change had cost Jamie too many years already. And yet she still ached for Kathy to realize that what Jamie could offer was as lasting and as true as the love between Aunt Emily and Liesel, between any two people, for that matter.
She hadn’t had to confront death like this before. She hardly knew what she thought of an afterlife or if Aunt Em could watch over her. Maybe Aunt Em now knew, from some distant, happy place, that Jamie had become who she was—chef, hiker, sailor, lesbian—because Aunt Em had been those things, and Jamie had always longed to be just like her. And she’d succeeded reasonably well, except for when Kathy had refused to be Jamie’s Liesel.
Jamie pressed her hands to her eyes. Stop thinking about that, she told herself sternly. You’ve got to cope with today, and that’s enough.
When she was able, she finished her aunt’s final letter. “I know you will forgive me for being so businesslike about my end. I’m sure it won’t really surprise you. Of course, I wish I’d known five years ago this was all the time I had for retirement. I’d have never sold the Waterview and could have left it to you. I know how you loved it. But getting some warning let me put my affairs in order. Liesel gets the house, of course, as the survivor on the deed. She has a very good pension from the army so I know she’s taken care of. I’ve saved a bit over the years and got a nice sum for the inn, and when you put everything together they make a tidy amount. I was rather surprised. I’m sure Kathy knew it down to the penny, but since she didn’t approve of her mother’s life I’ve decided not to give her the chance to disapprove of my money.”
So Kathy hadn’t reconciled with her. Kathy was still—Kathy.
“I want you to have it. I’ve always loved you as if you were my daughter, and you gave me such joy and love when you came into my life. Liesel loves you too. Kathy’s marrying a rich lawyer, and she just doesn’t need this. You do. I want you to buy a place where you can cook the way you want to. Make yourself happy. Above all, beloved Jamie, make yourself happy.—Aunt Emily.”
Aunt Emily was dead.
Kathy was getting married. To a man.
An hour passed before Jamie could make herself open the manila envelope.
She gasped, then went back to crying.
* * *