WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I thought being an adult meant being over 16, having a French manicure, and knowing how to make a pot pie. I assumed I’d stumble through adolescence and eventually end up in some highly evolved place where I’d frost seven-tiered cakes, make my own vinegars, and probably sleep naked.
None of that ever happened.
My mom was a single parent who, when she wasn’t working, was dating some douchebag who probably did sleep naked. After school, my sister and I would beat each other to a bloody pulp while waiting for her to come home and take us to the closest happy hour. Once there, we’d feast on fish tacos, buckets of steamed clams, and the head of her badly poured Coors light. My mom thought of herself as a feminist. To her, cooking was degrading and made her feel like a 1950s housewife. When she did decide to throw a meal together it was typically in the microwave. She’d scoff at women who spent their days slaving over a hot stove. She believed that a woman had to make a choice between the role of caretaker and the role of professional. It was impossible to be both.
Once I was older and living on my own, I dabbled at baking cookies, steaming broccoli, and scrambling eggs. Limited knowledge, coupled with being left-handed, resulted in most things getting trashed. I didn’t start to feel self-conscious about my lack of culinary prowess until I was in my twenties and dating my first serious boyfriend, Glen. After four weeks of dinner dates the inevitable occurred: We decided to stay in and I offered to cook. I went to the store and picked up pork chops, spinach, butter, lemon, and other things that seemed “chef-like.” Then for some reason, I got majorly waylaid by the spinach and forgot to cook the pork chops. I served them raw and Glen spent the rest of the night proving that a human body could vomit and shit at the same time. I was so traumatized by this occurrence that I vowed to never cook again.
However, “never cooking again” didn’t mean I wasn’t going to pretend to cook. Quite to the contrary, I still needed to appear well rounded, ingenious, and like I wasn’t raised by wolves. So I started cheating. Not like severe, “I’m Bernie Madoff cheating” but like, “ Maybe this unsuspecting nerd might help me write my biology paper cheating” The plan was simple: I’d prepare the basics (microwave rice) then place an order at a local restaurant for the rest. I never felt guilty because I figured if I got close to anyone, I’d eventually confess.
When you’re first dating, you are only interacting with a person’s representative anyway. The real me had plenty of time to unintentionally burn the fuck out of something at a later date. So as far as my casual romances were concerned, I was an accomplished chef, skilled in all sorts of cuisines. I could cook Chinese. But not just basic Chinese, I could get specific, Szechwan, Cantonese, and even Mongolian. No request was insurmountable… until I met my husband.
Jason is one of those caring super involved types. He’ s chivalrous and selfless and borderline OCD. So when I volunteered to prepare a good “homemade” meal, he volunteered to help me!
“No, seriously, I like to cook alone. I get in a groove,” I lied, hoping he didn’t remember my exact address.
“Well, I just–are you sure?” he asked, disappointed.
“Why don’t I just bring everything over to your place around seven?” I suggested.
He agreed and I got to work. I flipped through my bible of takeout restaurants trying to decide what cuisine seemed the most fitting. Italian lacked imagination, Indian felt abrasive, and Ethiopian just seemed preachy. Eventually I settled on Thai.
I placed an order at my favorite Thai place, The Green Lotus, around five, giving me plenty of time to microwave the rice and look at cute pictures of myself on Facebook. At six, I picked up the food and brought it back to my house. Just as I was entering my parking garage, I got a text from Jason.
“Hey, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop in to see how it’s going” he wrote.
“See how it’s going? I’m not delivering a baby,” I quipped.
“It’s cool. I’m covered in sauce right now so I’ll just be over to you soon,” I typed, growing slightly concerned that this guy DID remember where I lived.
I hurried to press send but nothing happened. I was in my garage and my cell service dropped out.
“Fuck!” I screamed as I ran up seven flights of stairs carrying two pounds of Pad Thai.
Out of breath, I flung open my apartment door and locked myself inside. I threw myself on my futon-sofa to regroup when I heard a knock on my front door.
“Oh my God, this guy is waaaay too into me,” I mumbled as I tiptoed towards the peephole to confirm my suspicions.
“Hey, It’s Jason! I brought you some wine,” he called out earnestly from the on the other side of the door.
Thinking fast, I tore open the bags of take-out and threw everything into its own pot on the stove. Tom Ka Kai splattered organically all over the burners. Spring rolls raced across the kitchen table and the chicken satays were banished to the oven. I couldn’t find the peanut sauce so I opened a bag of white flour I kept in the cupboard for looks and poured it down the front of my body like the fucking Swedish Chef.
Exhausted, I walked back to the door.
“Hey, you.” I said coyly, wiping the flour across my cheek accidentally-on-purpose.
“Wow, sorry, you look busy. You really didn’t have to do all this you know,” Jason said, genuinely concerned by my sweatshop-looking appearance.
“Not at all, I love it,” I lied trying to sound like the perfect woman. “Come on in.”
I escorted him into my kitchen and offered him a taste of “my” yellow curry.
“Jesus, this tastes better than the curry I had in Bangkok” he said, shocked both by the curry and the state of my kitchen.
“Really? You don’t think it’s too bland?” I asked innocently.
“Mm… The rice is maybe a little undercooked but the rest is beyond amazing.” He smiled and poured me some wine.
Biting my tongue, I excused myself to go shower. My reprieve was instantly interrupted by yet another knock on my apartment door.
“I’ll get it,” Jason called out with a mouth full of food.
I rinsed off as quickly as possible, catching only the tail end of a discussion between Jason and the unknown person at my door.
“Thanks so much. I’ll make sure she gets it,” he said, as the door closed.
Toweling off, I walked back into the kitchen to find Jason staring at me half amused and half weirded the fuck out.
“Green Lotus said they forgot to give you your peanut sauce…” he trailed off, dipping a finger in the Styrofoam container and tasting it.
I wracked my brain for a way to explain.
“Yes, I said weakly. I make their peanut sauce for them.”
“It’s delicious,” he smiled. “They’re really lucky to have you.”