October, 1962. Johnny Carson became the new host of “The Tonight Show”. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. And I was an eleven-year-old Hebrew School student at Temple Beth Shalom on the south shore of Long Island.
Three afternoons a week I was car pooled to this house of worship ostensibly to learn about the history of my people. My teacher was an elderly Old World gentleman named Rabbi Nathan Levitats who spoke English pretty much the same way that I spoke Chinese…not well. Still, he taught us bible stories and because the Hebrew name for Alan is Avraham, which is also the Hebrew name for Abraham, I immediately felt a special kinship with that Old Testament figure known as the “First Jew” because of his belief that there was only one God.
Valentine’s Day marks the anniversary of the day I turned left at a crossroads. I’d like to say I never looked back, but I look back all the time. On February 14th, 1995, I left New York for good, although of course I didn’t know at the time that I wouldn’t be back.
I was a mere 21 years old and had recently graduated from college. I had graduated, too, from my college boyfriend, who was, in short, a complex individual. Someday, I thought, maybe I will go out with someone who enjoys the company of other people and will go to parties with me.
In New York, I found a terrible job with a joke of a salary and a refreshingly normal boyfriend who liked to go to parties. One night we went to a charity ball and there was a silent auction. Up for sale was dinner for two at Provence in the West Village.
Lee's biggest complaint regarding my cooking is that I "never repeat", meaning I never make the same thing twice. Which isn't true of course, but I know what he means. I'm always looking to improve upon recipes and try something new. So for Valentine's Day I let him choose the menu, something new or a repeat of an old favorite.
For celebratory meals it seems eating in is at least as romantic as eating out, maybe more. And with a few possible exceptions, no matter what ingredients you buy, you'll be hard pressed to spend more than you would dining out. One year I even made platters of seafood--oysters on the half shell, poached shrimp, mussels, smoked salmon, etc. But the biggest hit was the time I made cheese fondue followed by chocolate fondue. So after deciding we'd rather do Valentine's Day dinner at home this year, Lee expressed his desire for "Fondue x 2", which is our menu du jour.
I never had a vision for my wedding.
When my fiancée and I started talking about getting married, the first question was “What kind of wedding should we have?” As most women do, I bought a few wedding magazines to help conceptualize just what the options were for a New York wedding. I am a fairly recent transplant to the city so for me the wedding magazines were research material for venues where such an event could be held. First and foremost, these wedding guides were my tools to uncovering the answer to my most pressing question all. How much does a New York wedding cost?
Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate nice things. I love designer shoes but I won’t pay full price for them. They must be on sale. In fact, I rarely pay full price for anything that is not a necessity. My fiancée says it is the Scot in me. Whatever the reason is, I was on a mission to disprove the notion that a wedding had to be expensive and equivalent to a down payment on a house.
Around fifteen years ago, my wife and I decided that eventually we wanted to leave Los Angeles and move to the country. Although neither of us had ever lived on a farm, we both had grandparents who did and had fond memories of visits where we “helped” with chores such as milking and gathering eggs. However, I soon learned to avert my eyes whenever I saw my grandmother pick up a chicken, as I knew this was Step 1 of the recipe for the pot pie which would appear on the supper table.
Once we had decided to move, we spent our vacations looking for the perfect place. We checked out Northern California, Oregon, Washington and the Canadian Maritimes before eventually deciding on Vermont because it actually looked like “the country” of our imaginations.
Sharing things is always dicey, and dicing while cooking together is definitely no exception. The kitchen can morph into a metallic boxing ring. One of you is the wild, inventive cook and the other is the chop-a-holic, compulsive one. But one thing I’ve realized after decades of co-cooking is that both co-chef-partners are actually doing the same things, just at different moments.
Take me, for example. I am not a compulsive dicer and slicer, but I do like my implements put back in their proper places. My co-cooker partner likes to splatter garlic when throwing it with wild abandon into a pan, but follows recipes as if his children’s lives depended on it.
The trick is to find a way to have our mutating cooking styles come together rather than clash. In formal holiday moments, I have learned to stand back and let him plan away.
I have started internet dating the last few months so occasionally I ask someone over for dinner. Should I query them about their food likes and dislikes? What I really want to ask is how do they feel about eating herring, do they like Champagne and is eating lamb in your comfort zone?
Usually asking this at first is a real dealbreaker, never mind mentioning that Classical music will probable be playing in the background. Should I keep it “safe” and make a simple braised chicken dish or should I go out on a culinary limb and make braised lamb shanks that perfume the house with the ethic smell of a casbar in some far away place. Should I ask or just take a gamble?
“Ouch,” my husband groaned miserably as something metal jabbed him in the side. “It’s like sleeping on a motorcycle.” It is 1:30 in the morning and we are still wide awake.
The intention was admirable: Joan, my father’s girlfriend, had insisted they buy this pull-out couch specifically for visits like this one.
The week before, my father had been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. When I got the call, a chill snaked through my bones, so powerful that for a moment I couldn’t breathe. “It could go slow,” I was told, “ It could go fast, or it could stay the same for the rest of his life. No one knows.”
To me, a great date is one where you can do nothing with someone and be perfectly content. It's an easy formula: Good Company + Snacks in a Safe Environment = A+. Call me boring or slothful but it works for me. Lately though, my boyfriend really likes getting outside of the box and trying new things.
We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and went to the flea market. We saw two Broadway shows in two consecutive weeks. We even took the train and went to his parents' house for a Japanese New Years party. All very out of the ordinary, all slightly uncomfortable. Good Company + Stress and Mobility = C-.
Two weeks ago, however, we had a bonafide A+ date. I got off of a long day at work, took a cab, and met Alex at his apartment. He opened the door, and we both had that pale, slightly purple tint that comes with working and winter. Four words came out of his mouth that reaffirmed why he is the greatest boyfriend and my greatest date: "Grand Sichuan and Lost."
Our editor, Amy asked that I think of something about candy for this Valentine’s Day issue, so I racked my brain trying to come up with something to say about candy that I haven’t already said. It would be one thing if I found a new candy, but I haven’t. Also, since my last story about the sweet, romantic thing my husband did when he presented me with a gorgeous piece of jewelry for my birthday, his romantic gestures have taken the form of making sure I didn’t come home to a messy house when I’ve been out of town. I gotta tell ya, that stuff goes a long way with me.
It did occur to me though, that my recent trip to San Francisco for Sketchfest would qualify for the spirit of Valentine’s Day. I fell in love with the city….again. Eugene Pack, the creator of Celebrity Biography: In Their Own Words and Dayle Rayfel invited me to join them in the show and they were my food adventure buddies. Dayle is a vegan and Eugene slowly revealed himself to be the kind of exercise fanatic that tells you a location is a” nice walk” when its 27 blocks away.