"Toast with avocado or salad with avocado tonight?"
For years, these were the only options I gave dates I was entertaining at my home. Sad, but true: I only knew how to make two things, and they required next-to-nothing in terms of preparation. I hated cooking and I didn't particularly love my dating life, either.
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Instead of cooking for my significant others, I would always insist (er, "suggest") that we go out to eat, whether it was to the local gastropub I was obsessed with or to somewhere brand-new that neither of us had tried. It was an excuse to get semi-dressed up, experience new tastes and enjoy the atmosphere of an intriguing place with one another. Plus, I didn't have to learn to cook or do any cleaning later on — perhaps the most appealing part of this habit. Contest: We Are Looking For The Next Engagement Chicken!
This was all proverbial gravy (albeit likely made in somebody else's proverbial kitchen, too) while I was in my teens, but then I hit my early 20s and was still a terrible — and I do mean terrible — cook. Have you ever watched Desperate Housewives and wondered how anyone could actually be as bad at making things as Susan? Hi, I'm Sam, and I have both undercooked and overcooked many a dish. I've burned so many pizzas that my oven has reeked of seared cheese for months. The only thing I have ever been good at making was cocktails, toast and salad, which led to my pretending I was a decent enough hostess because I could slice cheese and put it on mini-baguettes served with a Manhattan, then once again insist we go out to eat. But as more and more of my friends started holding delicious dinners and talking about the great meals they made with their boyfriends, I realized this was not acceptable.
When you're 21, have lived on your own for three years and have a pretty fantastic kitchen, you should be able to make stuff. Not just products with the tagline "ready in 3 minutes!" but actual food. Dining out on dates is not only expensive (I almost always insist on going Dutch, unless it's a special occasion), but it's usually not very intimate. You have little control over exactly how your meal is prepared, you rely on a server to take your orders and settle your concerns — which can take a considerable amount of time on a busy Thursday night — and you have to share the room with a dozen or more other people.
So that year, with the encouragement of some of my chef friends, I began to learn how to cook. First, I went with easy (and I do mean easy) recipes: simple sandwiches, baked chicken, stir-fry. Recipes that didn't involve a whole lot of preparation, but still came out looking lovely. My then-boyfriend was thrilled; up until that point, he had always made our fun brunches and evening snacks — or we'd just jet out of the house for our meals. We cooked together on a regular basis, which felt more intimate and involved more communication than simply deciding on a restaurant or ordering in.
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