As I write these words, I’m recovering from a delightful Thanksgiving dinner. Rather than just succumb to a tryptophan-induced coma while watching “The Wiz,” I pulled myself up out of my club chair, poured myself another mug of apple cider, and sat down to do some typing. As I did so, I mused on the old saying ,”The shortest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Food has certainly played a part in many memorable times for me, and it seemed only fitting that it be the subject of an article.
Food and Romance
The nice thing about food and eating is that everyone does it. Your prospective first date may not be interested in bowling, movies, or your stamp collection, but it’s a pretty safe bet that they eat. You may not know what they eat, what they like to eat, or if they have any particular food allergies or hang-ups, but you should feel confident suggesting a meal as a prospective dating venue.
Once you’ve advanced past the first date situation, a home-cooked meal is an awesome way to put a personal touch on a romantic get-together. If you’re a control freak like me, you’ll want to do everything yourself, and this is a sure way to earn major bragging rights. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for hands-on, interactive meal preparation. Even I can let go enough to let someone stir something, toss a salad, or provide something to drink. Even if everything goes wrong, it’s likely to be memorable. Remember the “chasing lobsters” scene from Annie Hall? (Or for a festive holiday disaster, think of the Chinese restaurant scene from A Christmas Story.)
Food and Community
One of the coolest things about being part of an urban tribe (see my previous article) is that it gives you lots of extra hands for food prep. You can organize a potluck meal and get a taste of what your friends like to cook. You can combine this with a romantic angle for further possibilities. If you’re dating, a potluck meal can be a great way to introduce your friends to your romantic interest without anyone having to do too much cooking.
A group of people opens up a lot of other options, as well. The other night, some members of our urban tribe organized a shabu-shabu party. We brought over a few bottles of plum sake, and they provided the food. Along with the sirloin, vegetables, noodles, and potstickers, we had heaping side dishes of camaraderie and conversation.
Some restaurants are actually better if you go with a crowd. Here in Boston, we have the long-running Medieval Manor dinner theater. If the group you go with is too small, you may have to share tables with strangers. Luckily, our urban tribe is quite large, so we usually have tables or even whole sections of the restaurant to ourselves. Likewise, eating family-style at Maggiano’s isn’t the same without a family sized group.
Food and Holidays
I mentioned in my previous article how Thanksgiving and Christmas have become dual holidays for us; we celebrate with friends on the day of the actual holiday and with family on the weekend. It comes as no surprise that these events center around a meal. Thanksgiving is a natural of course, with the requisite turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc. We do exchange presents on Christmas, but it’s also an awesome excuse to trot out my awesome ham recipe (thanks again, Alton). And Christmas would not be Christmas without my sister Janet’s holiday cookies, which she gives as gifts to everyone; or the walnut stuffed dates rolled in granulated sugar; or my stepdad trying to take credit for the meal’s excellence due to his carving skills; or my sister-in-law’s chocolate roll…
In other words, it wouldn’t be the same without the food.
Do You Fear the Kitchen?
When I first moved out of the house, my mom gave me a book that stood me in good stead. It was called “Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her?” I had already been cooking a little bit before I moved away, but this book was an invaluable resource, teaching the very basic cooking skills that I needed to know. When a girl in college asked me, “When are you going to cook dinner for me?” this was the book I reached for. (Remember I was still in denial about my sexuality at this point in my life. As a humorous addendum, I prepared the whole meal from scratch – pot roast, potatoes, vegetables, chocolate cake – and she never showed up. My roommate and I ate extremely well that evening and toasted the fickleness of women. No offense, ladies.)
The point is that, as the movie Ratatouille tried to teach us, anyone can cook. If I was able to take an incredibly basic cookbook, very little experience cooking, and a handful of kitchen implements, and make an excellent meal by early college age, then anyone else can do the same. With access to the web… you do have access, don’t you? Otherwise how are you reading this article?… you have access to a massive database of culinary expertise and tasty recipes. FoodTV.com alone can give you enough advice, instructions, and viewer feedback to keep you cooking for months, if not years, and never repeat the same meal.
As a starting chef, the most important thing to know is to follow the recipe and not to try to improvise. If a recipe calls for cake flour and you only have all-purpose flour, go to the store and buy cake flour. Until you understand the difference, it’s best to play it safe. My good buddy Alton Brown… okay, he’s not really my buddy; it just seems that way because of his conversational TV show style… is still widely available for viewing, and he can teach you plenty about the culinary craft, assuming you actually want to know the difference between all-purpose flour and cake flour.
What Are You Waiting For?
Whether you want to reach for a cookbook, a take-out menu, or the phone to make a reservation at a local restaurant, you should be reaching out romantically and using food as a point of leverage. Try something new. If you always cook at home, take a date to a restaurant neither of you have ever been to. If you always go out to eat, find a recipe, gather your ingredients and cookware, and dazzle your date with a culinary creation. And this counts even if you’re already married to your date; fresh new dining experience is a wonderful bit of time together. Trust me; food and romance go together like bread and butter.
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