Food of Love, Love of Food

When Logan and I first met, he was 26 years old and still living like he’d just gotten out of college. He lived in a crappy apartment with a semi-idiot for a roommate, dressed like a surfer dude, and had hair down past his shoulders (which actually has nothing to do with living like he he’d just gotten out of college, but much to do with why I was determined to meet him). He did have a real, live, actual job, and a car, so in that way he was one up on a few of my previous boyfriends who had lacked one or the other, sometimes both.

I was 34, had recently gone through a difficult break-up, and was very tired. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved with anyone when we met, but he was so cute I couldn’t help myself.

I’ve never been a woman whose goal was to change a man. If I liked someone enough to date him, why would I want to change him? If I thought he needed to change, why go out with him in the first place? So he wasn’t suddenly dressing in oxford shirt, khakis and loafers, because 1) I would never have made him dress like that. Those khakis could have led to playing golf; and 2) he’s a grown man. He knows how to dress himself. I also didn’t invade his apartment and start cleaning, redecorating and moving stuff around. My own place was a mess and a mishmash of stuff, so I no room to criticize.

He ate like a normal 26-year-old guy when we went out, which is to say the same way I ate – burgers, pizza, pasta, salad, seafood. I didn’t see any need to harangue him about his eating habits, until I found out how he ate at home. He was living on .69 frozen pizza and fast food. A special meal was a can of cream of mushroom soup, heated and poured over spaghetti. It’s an understatement to say I was horrified. “No, no, no. We cannot have this.”

It’s not like his mother was a lousy cook. She has some recipes that will make you want to get down on your knees and kiss her feet. And Logan’s family has traveled all over, starting when he was a little boy, so he didn’t grow up eating only the kind of food you find in Central PA. He recognized good food when he ate it, he just didn’t give cooking a thought one way or the other.

My mother wasn’t what you would call a typical mother, but she was old-fashioned in some ways. She believed it was her responsibility to see to it that my father had a decent meal every night, even if all he wanted was cheese and crackers. She passed that feeling of responsibility on to me, although I’ve never been averse to having cheese and crackers for dinner. Anyway, I started cooking dinner for Logan. I think the first thing I made for him was pasta e fagioli, which wasn’t very well known in 1990. I seem to remember he thought he’d died and gone to heaven. Apparently beans and ditalini are the way to a man’s heart.

We had our first fight while I was making marinara sauce in his kitchen. I was complaining about the owners of the salon where I worked, because they had completely messed up my nail appointments that afternoon. Logan said, “what’s the big deal? It’s just a hair salon.” He was leaning against the window sill, and I was chopping onions at the counter, so he couldn’t get out of the kitchen without walking past me. His comment infuriated me, and I went on a tirade about how he didn’t have any respect for the work I did, and how I realized that his job was of course more important than mine, because he worked for a newspaper and I was just a lowly manicurist, and who cared about that because it was obviously shallow and unimportant and I was just part of the lie that is the beauty industry, and on and on and on, all the while chopping those onions so hard and so fast I’m surprised I didn’t destroy the cutting board. His eyes got bigger and bigger, and fear spread over his face as he realized he was stuck in that tiny kitchen with a crazy woman who was holding a very large knife in her hand. As my face split in two, it occurred to Logan that he was witnessing a conniption*.

Apologies were made and accepted, and no permanent damage was done to my feelings or his arm. To this day, he’s careful what he says while I prep for dinner.

When we moved to North Carolina in 2000, I was thrilled to find out that our cable company carried the Food Network. I started watching Emeril Live, but the audience the getting hysterical over garlic as though they’d never heard of it was just too ridiculous. I moved on to Bobby Flay for a while, but his sidekick Jackie bugged the hell out of me. I finally settled on Mario Batali Rachael Ray, and later, Ina Garten. This was during the old days of the Network before Sandra Lee, Robin Miller and a whole lot of other people who don’t have a clue what real food is about. I learned a lot during the first year I watched FN, and Logan commented that my cooking was even better than before. I finally knew how to make a great pan sauce for chicken, pork and beef. I was cooking food I’d never tried before. Mario confirmed that many of my ideas about Italian food were right, and it was a huge kick to discover that I cook a lot like Ina.

I also started buying cookbooks and using the ones I had. Logan and I talked about food more and more, and every time I tried a new recipe, we would dissect it to within an inch of its life during dinner. I learned that pretty much every Rachael Ray recipe was better if I spent more than 30 minutes on it and that Ina is always wrong about baking times. Mark Bittman had become a favorite of mine, but I was starting to see the weaknesses in some of his recipes. And after having to dramatically change each and every recipe I found in The New Basics, I came to the conclusion that Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins usually have their heads up their asses.

Logan’s been an active participant in this culinary ride of mine. He has a great, adventurous palate. I’ve been teaching him to cook, and it’s been a learning experience for both of us. He makes mistakes, but, after more than 40 years of cooking, so do I. Cooking isn’t an entirely foreign concept to him. He watched Graham Kerr when he was in grade school, and he was apparently the official family egg cooker when he was a kid. His omelettes have always been much better and much prettier than mine. With a little practice, he’ll probably be doing that flippy thing in the pan that Alton Brown swears creates the perfect 1/3 fold.

I doubt I’ll ever let him take control of the kitchen, but I don’t think he wants that anyway. He has yet to learn how to make red sauce, although I’ve offered to teach him. It seems to be a big mystery to him, and he would prefer that it remain unsolved. Although he’s a natural at cooking, he often asks for advice and always defers to my suggestions. When we cook together, I know that he’s not going to screw anything up, because he loves great food as much as I do. It has nothing to do with that very large knife in my hand.
*Credit to Bill Cosby