We've all heard of oysters and chocolate as aphrodisiacs, but who knew that a coconut cake could make two people fall in love? The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is Amy E. Reichert's delicious debut about the unlikely pairing of salty British ex-pat, Al, and a proud Milwaukee resident and chef, Lou, who discover a shared interest in food and — eventually — each other. Keep reading for an excerpt from The Coincidence of Coconut Cake! And don't miss Reichert's second novel, Luck, Love & Lemon Pie, available July 2016 from Gallery Books.
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While two weeks had passed since he last saw her, but his encounter with Lou had stuck and grown, like his memories of summer camp. As a child, he would forget the awkward moments and bad food once back at home, the memories growing more golden with each passing day. After two weeks, he knew
he had inflated the memory of Lou beyond reasonable expectations.Would she still smell like vanilla? Would the freckles on her nose still dance when she smiled? Would his memory implode when faced with the reality?
He saw the custard stand's red awnings up ahead, nestled among several large, old trees. Lou had instructed him to meet her at Daisy. As he crossed the last street and approached the custard stand, her meaning became obvious. Every table and bench was painted to look like a Holstein cow—white with
black spots—each with an appropriately bovine name like Bessie or Maisy painted on its surface. Sure enough, Lou waited, fingers tapping and feet dancing, at the table named Daisy.
His feet moved faster as he took in the sight of her. She fit right in with her basic blue jeans, simple V-neck brown T-shirt, and tan Converse sneakers. She dressed casually, but Al couldn't help admiring how the brown T-shirt offset her pale, creamy skin and the sun found bits of red in her long hair. He hadn't seen her with her hair combed before and he liked it. It looked soft, smooth, and free, like she didn't use hair spray or gel—touchable. He stopped in front of her.
"You're late," Lou said. "I'm glad I didn't order when I got here fifteen minutes ago. Our food would be cold." She tried to scowl, but Al could see the corner of her mouth twitch. She looked him up and down and said, "You're a bit dressed up for a custard stand on the lake. You look like Tim Gunn on vacation."
Al looked down at his front-creased khaki dress pants, his tucked-in navy blue polo over a white T-shirt with a matching belt and shoes. True, no one would mistake him for a native Milwaukeean on his way to have a burger and shake at the beach. He even moved with a stiffness from too many hours spent hunched in front of a computer.
He shrugged. "That's why I'm here. So you can show me the fantastic Milwaukee and make me a convert."
Lou's freckles danced and his chest lightened. He had had it all wrong. His memories were dim compared to the reality.
Lou stood and said, "I'll order a little of everything to share so you can get a good cross section. Save our spot. Is there anything you really don't like?"
"Not at all; I'll eat anything," Al said. He was tempted to say cheese but didn't think he could pull it off with a straight face. Al and cheese had a love affair predating puberty. In his opinion, Wisconsin's cheese fanaticism was one positive among the many negatives.
"Good. Before I order, one rule: no work talk. Deal?"
"Are you afraid to discuss your ardent cider evangelism?" Lou laughed, sending a jolt through his heart. He nodded. "And deal."
This arrangement kept getting better.
While Lou ordered half the menu, Al read it. Burgers, fries, some sandwiches, a lot of unique toppings, and a lot of cheese. He had researched the restaurant this morning and knew it was owned by the Bartolotta group, which owned several of the best restaurants in Milwaukee. He had yet to eat at one of their establishments; there didn't seem much point in reviewing the juggernaut. Northpoint Custard had a unique relationship with the city; they rented this prime location from the city as a means of bringing life to the lakefront. And it looked as if it worked brilliantly. For a Monday afternoon in June, the line was
long and the lakefront bustled.
Lou returned with a huge tray of food and an explanation to match. "I ordered us one burger to split, but I had them put the toppings on the side. I recommend the cheese spread with fried onions and bacon. I also ordered a lake perch sandwich, onion rings, fries, a strawberry shake, and cheese curds. The curds are
the best in Milwaukee, maybe the state, but I'd have to put more time into definitive research. Lastly, here's their homemade cheese sauce. Use it while it's warm 'cause it congeals as it cools—that's how you know it's real."
Al reviewed the golden bounty set before him. The food smelled like home, reminding him of the fish-and-chips shop his family frequented in Windsor; the scent of hot oil, salt, and crispy breading—bliss. He started with the much-hailed cheese curds, hot and oozing a little of the white cheddar; the outside was crispy and salty when he bit. A string of cheese dangled from his mouth to his hand as he pulled the cheese from his lips. He expected something more like a mozzarella stick, but not this. It wasn't just about the gooey and the crispy; he could taste the cheddar and it was good. No, not just good, transcendent.
"Why are they called cheese curds?" asked Al, struggling to stuff the string of cheese into his mouth; it was caught on some whiskers.
"They're the fresh cheese curds from making cheese—you know, curds and whey. They're the curds part. They usually take the curds, press them together to form the block of cheese, but in Wisconsin, we sell them, too. We'll stop for some on the way to the next portion of today's lesson. Then you can experience cheese curds in all their delectable forms."
Al couldn't help smiling, dangling cheese and all. He forced himself to stop shoving cheese curds in his mouth and moved on to the burger. He slathered what Lou had identified as the cheese spread all over his half of the burger, sprinkled it liberally with fried onions, and added a slice of bacon. He wasn't much for burgers, but this one seemed promising. The juices flowed onto the soft, lightly toasted bun; the cheese immediately melted down the sides. This was not a tidy meal. He took a bite. It was almost as good as the cheese curds. The bun was just the right combination of tender and toasted, and the onions and bacon melded with the melting cheese, which dripped down and mingled with the burger's juices, then continued down to his hand. Next up, the chips, which he dipped deeply into the homemade cheese sauce. Lou was right again— definitely homemade and so much better than the canned glop most restaurants served. This was easily the best food he had eaten since arriving in Milwaukee, so he closed his eyes to savor it.
Lou had closed the door slowly, then leaned against it, eyes shut, and nibbled the inside of her cheek. Damn. She sighed deeply and opened her eyes to look at her newly empty apartment. She could hear cars on the street, doors closing, and the TV on in a neighboring apartment. Her apartment was still, but her heart pounded. She had been so close to telling him how she felt, showing him. She pushed herself off the door and headed to the kitchen to finish cleaning.
Before she reached the kitchen, a soft knock broke the silence. Lou peeked out the hole to see it was Al, cheeks flushed from running back up the steps. Lou opened the door, brow furrowed, wondering what he forgot.
A saucy grin spread across his face. Lou beamed, eyes wide. Al stepped toward her and Lou took a surprised step back. Without taking his hungry eyes off Lou, Al closed the door and dropped his coat to the floor. He grabbed Lou and pulled her tight with one arm, the other hand buried deep into her hair. His blue eyes reminded her of when fire burned too hot.
"I'm best for you, Lou."
Al touched his lips to hers, pulling her even closer. Lou responded with her entire body, kissing back. She wrapped one leg around his legs, tightening to pull him even closer.
Al turned her back to the door and pressed her into it. She groaned as he rubbed himself firmly against her. He kissed her neck, then pulled back so she could yank off his T-shirt. She looked him up and down, bit her lip, then grabbed him by the belt buckle to lead him into her bedroom, kissing him again and bumping into walls along the way. She clumsily unbuckled his belt and began unbuttoning his jeans.
"This is getting uneven rather quickly." Al yanked open Lou's shirt, buttons popping off, to reveal a lacy red bra. Al raised an eyebrow and grinned.
Lou blushed. "I was hopeful."
"Thank God for hope." Al bent his head to kiss along her collarbone, and Lou tilted back her head to give him all the room he needed.
"Mmm, you taste like vanilla ice cream." He pushed her shirt off her shoulder, going to his knees to get it over her hands. His mouth traced tender kisses over her cleavage and onto her shivering stomach.
His agile hands set the shirt on the floor. He touched her ankles, then slid his hands up her legs to her knee. Lou watched him with breathless wonder. His deft hands traced the path up her legs, circling slowly, as if polishing a precious stone. Al nudged her to sit on the bed and kissed her again, slowly and deeply, one hand on her face, the other on her thigh. Lou forgot everything but her racing pulse, the brush of his skin, and the heat of Al's lips on hers.
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