I like the idea that after 2 years and 2 months together, Wine Guy and I still have a few milestones left to achieve - beyond marriage, children and divorce, of course. Well, I knocked one of those off last night in honor of Wine Guy's birthday.
Although this was a rather significant milestone (in my opinion), it is also one that normally comes in the first 2 months of dating, not years. Nevertheless it was a big moment -- for us as a couple and for me as a kitchen-phobic individual.
I cooked my first meal for Wine Guy.
Notice I did not write that I prepared this first meal, planned it, ordered it, picked it up, or reheated it. I've done that hundreds of times.
But cooking - as in pick a recipe, buy the ingredients (none of which is pre-made and pre-packaged), prep, cook and serve it - terrifies me.
Wait. Let me clarify. I hate cooking, but I'll do it when necessary. But I'm terrified of cooking for Wine Guy.
See, in our relationship, Wine Guy is kind of "in charge" of food. Wine too (obviously). I relinquish that responsibility happily.
I like to eat but I dislike all of the pesky details that come along with making my own food. And Wine Guy loves every second of it. So who am I to rob him of that joy?
So I let him make the calls when it comes to all things culinary. With one major exception that was so obvious, we didn't even discuss it. I am in charge of all Asian dining. (What do you think I've been living on all of these years I've been avoiding the kitchen?) Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese.....I'm very at home with these menus and dining cultures. And Wine Guy isn't.
Not only is Wine Guy knowledgeable about food and enjoys cooking, he is also a complete tyrant in the kitchen.
OK, I'm exaggerating (sort of). But it is clearly his domain. I feel like an unwelcome visitor when I'm in there with him. So when I am forced to be his sous-chef (usually when we're entertaining), I freeze up, certain I'll commit some horrible kitchen sin.
When I'm not in the kitchen with him, he becomes so engrossed in everything he's doing that I feel basically invisible until the meal is served, tasted and analyzed. This took me a while to get used to, as evidenced by this post back in June 2007. At first it really hurt my feelings, but then I started to see that this was his happy place - and I want him to be there as much as life allows. Plus I got a meal out of it.
So I became enthusiastic about doing the dishes and enjoyed his talent and passion for something so tasty. I mean, he could have been into Go Kart racing for god's sake, so I am very thankful.
But I wanted to do this for him and, since we were going out to celebrate big the night before, I knew he wanted it to be low key.
Wine Guy is well aware of my lack of training in the kitchen, so I knew that he knew that my plan to cook dinner was a big deal for me. Perhaps he was also a tad afraid (but not more than I) and kept telling me that I "didn't have to do this." When I insisted that I wanted to, he kept saying that I should "keep it really simple."
So I took Wine Guy's favorite cookbook with me one afternoon to the dog park and perused it while Luna romped with a chocolate lab. As I flipped through the pages, I decided that a nice simple pasta dish would be the perfect way to start my kitchen endeavors. But what kind? Well, we both like spicy. I know he likes to cook with penne pasta.
And voila! I had a dish - Penne Arrabbiata.
But that is just too simple on its own. So I thought some more. He uses shrimp quite a bit and I knew exactly where to get the kind he finds acceptable (he's very particular about quality ingredients).
And voila again! I now have Penne Arrabbiata with Shrimp. Wow. It sounds like real food.
I wasn't happy with the choices in the book so a quick Google search led me to my recipe of choice. Simple, easy, tasty.
But I have to make two things. Why? Who the hell knows. Apparently this is what I decided a girlfriend-who-cooks-for-her-boyfriend would do.
But there is no way I can handle another dish that involves, you know, a stove. That leaves me with one choice.....salad. A Caesar Salad sounds Italian, right?
Another search and I land on the recipe that seems the simplest and most true to the original (Wine Guy is also a bit of a food purist).
Penne Arrabbiata with Shrimp and Cesar Salad
Shopping was a breeze since I picked almost embarrassingly simple recipes. Plus I knew enough to go to Wine Guy's favorite market, which is small, easy to navigate and has limited (but quality) brands - keeping my choices to a minimum.
Wine Guy called while I was home unpacking the groceries. After he told me about his day I asked if he could do me one small favor on his birthday.
"Depends on what it is," he responded.
"Please don't ask me anything about dinner. Don't ask where I got the recipes, what I bought, nothing. Don't even come into the kitchen when you come home. Just sit down, relax and eat when I tell you it's ready."
I could tell he wasn't liking this plan. The best birthday gift I could have given him would probably have been to let him trail me the whole time, telling me what to do next. "You should cut it like this instead." "You know what would work better?" "Here, just let me do it."
But I wanted to celebrate, not kill him.
He reluctantly agreed to my request. But just in case, I wanted to do as much prepping as possible before he got home. I prepared and measured out all of the ingredients so I could just start throwing them in the pan once he walked in the door (timing is the hardest thing about cooking I am learning).
As I started washing, chopping, and shredding, I realized something. I've actually learned a lot about cooking just from watching Wine Guy these last two years. He has so many little tricks and shortcuts that he's figured out by trial and error over the years. And here I am, a total novice,with skills I didn't even know I had learned!
When Wine Guy came home I gave him a kiss and pointed him to the couch. He peered over my shoulder, trying to see what I had going on in there. I tried to block his view but it was too late.
"Can I just say one thing???" he asked as I shoved him out of the doorway.
He looked like he had something important to say and, well, I didn't want to screw the whole dinner up. "Fine, go."
As he stepped inside he pointed at the pots hanging on the pot rack. There's one in particular he wanted me to see - and it wasn't the one I had simmering on the stove.
"See this?" He points to a deep pan hanging on the rack. "This is a saucepan. What you are using is a saute pan, and its shallowness and curve is making the liquid evaporate more than you want."
I looked at the stove and, horrorified, realized he was right. The sauce was reducing too quickly. I was seconds away from having a few glumps of tomatoes that would barely cover one serving of pasta.
"What do I do?" I panicked, finally letting him inside the kitchen.
He headed straight to the back cabinet. The one I've opened maybe twice since we've lived here. "Hold on, I think we have some more tomatoes here."
Wine Guy shuffled around and finally pulled out a big can of whole tomatoes. "Just open this and drain the juice into your pan. That should do it."
He handed it to me and then he did the kindest thing he's done in some time. He smiled, walked out of the kitchen and went downstairs, leaving me to finish cooking dinner.
By the time we sat down to eat, I was so nervous my appetite was nowhere to be found. But, once I saw that he was enjoying both the salad and the pasta, I relaxed and took a deep breath -- and smelled the wonderful scent of garlic, onions and tomatoes that had filled the upstairs. All of a sudden I was hungry. And it was good.
Thanks for the gifts you've given me, Wine Guy. Just by being who you are.