Maybe an early sign that he was right for me was back in our high school days. I was staring out the band room window at the blanket of gray clouds pouring rain on broken pavement, and decided I'd like to walk home in the rain with somebody. He obliged, and walked a mile in the opposite direction of his own house, in the rain with me. And though even then, I was enamored with his sparkly brown eyes, silky dark hair and thick pensive eyebrows, I remember it as a gesture of true friendship, and that friendship was one we kept up, even after leaving school and going separate directions for a while.
Our story is one of shared nerdery. Many years later, on an early date, we intentionally mispronounced words together and laughed about extinct units of measure. I brought him The IT Crowd and he brought me an entire universe of Star Trek. But this is about food.
I entered the world of home cooking much the way a cartoon rat did. Rachael Ray, she of the high-beam smile and cutesy words for ingredients, declared that anyone can cook. So I did. I made pastas and pizzas and whatever the hell a "stoup" is, and realized it was fun. I started making sauces from scratch and found it relaxing and engaging all at once. I cooked for him, hoping to impress.
I didn't know where cooking would take us. I didn't know how to long-term relationship. In the early months of our relationship, he intimidated me. He was definitely the smartest man I'd been with, the most open. He has a certain air of "cool" around him that an awkward turtle like myself only aspires to.
Our first Valentine's Day together was at his parents' house. He was and is their full time caretaker, and I wanted to help. So to fight the bitter cold, we made pot roast. With fresh herbs (I insisted) and mashed potatoes spiked with cream cheese on the side. Comfort food, perhaps the only place comfort could be found then.
He began to be interested in food, too. In a short period of absence from each other he studied fiercely, smoking meats, making candy and learning all manner of dishes. We started cooking together. And maybe it doesn't seem surprising now, but I was taken aback when he mentioned a "52 Weeks of Cooking" challenge he'd seen on Reddit and asked me if we could do it together. Spend a lifetime trying to get boys not to ignore you and have one suggest a 52 week long activity, and your jaw, too, would be on the floor. The challenge itself was simple. Each week, the moderators of this online community would present a theme. We would cook according to whatever technique, cuisine or ingredient was presented, and post pictures of our results. Armed with the new DSLR he'd gotten me for Christmas, we plunged forward.
Diet Food, Ice Cream, Alcohol- we made bananas foster for that one, and not only did we NOT burn down the house, we got amazing pictures of the flames leaping forth from our saute pan. We also got lots and lots of upvotes. (explain here?) We started photographing each dish from start to finish, and so began our obsession with making things as "from scratch" as possible. (went so far as making butter)
One of our earliest successes was French Silk Pie. After a little research, we hit upon a beautiful, flaky butter based crust recipe, and he turns out to be an incredibly good pie maker. I double boiled and folded and the combination was heaven. I learned his kitchen, how he learned, how he worked. We learned together, watching Good Eats as a primer to everything kitchen-related.
But it's not all fun and games, not 52 weeks. We once waited 12 days to receive Australian wattleseeds for a self-saucing pudding that....self sauced itself into a microwave flash flood. There were camera fails, oven fails, and visits to 5 grocery stores without being able to find a damn blade of lemongrass. Even though we had 3 weeks to post from when each theme was announced, with work, caretaking and life, it could get down to the wire.
Sometimes, one of us was sick, and the other was left to stir and photograph alone. Sometimes, we were in an argument, but we still had to make a bunch of egg salad for the Easter theme, and it wasn't getting any earlier. Once, the theme was colors, and we decided to go against the grain and choose Purple. I cannot tell you how long it took us to come up with something, but Martha Stewart to the rescue, we had a radicchio and eggplant pasta that was pretty purple. No thanks to Martha, it was pretty but also quite bitter, and the dinner crowd at our house was not amused.
We even travelled with the challenge. We were fortunate that our trip up north to Door County had us staying in a suite with a little attached kitchen and our hotel was right in front of an amazing bodega, and even more fortunate when the theme for that week was "Hangover Cures" and we made some killer late night breakfast sandwiches. I learned to make his dad's recipe for Hungarian goulash with him. He learned how to roll the golabki my grandmother and I made together, and did it better than I did. We later presented my 90 year old grandmother with that dish and won her full approval. We went whole hog during Concession Foods week and made handmade corndogs, funnel cakes, and big, shiny soft pretzels. A little trivia for you: getting that mahogany brown right requires food grade lye. You know, the kind that can dissolve your entire arm? Gear was acquired and worn, and a mad scientist was born.
We tackled making bacon, smoking salmon, and handling a PSMO tenderloin (that's 'peeled, silver skin, side muscle on, which I didn't know). Sometimes, our exploits kept us up well after sane people had turned in. On one such occasion, I attempted to make tiny little apple rose tarts with the sunrise as a backdrop. During surf and turf week, when beef tenderloin and snow crab were on the menu, we were in a real groove. Potatoes were baked, beef was being sous vided, and crab was steaming. Unfortunately, the sky was turning a sickly green, and while some of us were still enjoying the fruits of our labor, the tornado sirens sounded and we had to ferry five cats and a few people to the basement and leave it all behind. Week 52, I'd picked out snickerdoodles for our cookie theme, thinking the comforting pillowy cinnamon cookies would delight my sweetie and we'd finish in a beautiful sugar coma. What instead came out of our oven, I dubbed Snickerdon'tles. Flat as pancakes and entirely too salty, I sadly snapped shots of my most personal fail. Up it went. But as I went to throw them away, there he was, popping a few in his mouth while reaching towards me for a hug. "I think they're pretty good, anyway" he said.
It wasn't perfect. We didn't gold star that finish. Some weeks we hated the challenge. Some weeks, pans and doors were slammed. Sometimes we had no idea what we were doing. But we kept going. We kept learning, we kept creating together, and when I think of all that time spent chasing internet points, trying to figure out what a good video-game inspired dish might be, and taking 100 shots of one freaking lemon, I can't help but see how much I learned about this whole damn long-term relationship thing. It's a marathon, but one you get to run with your best friend. Over and over again. On this week's menu? Video game inspired burritos, and a whole lot of love.