Inspired by the Valentine’s Day theme, as explored by the Celebrity Chocolate Scale, and also the first meeting of Les Femmes Affamées, I was recently reflecting on the first time I cooked a meal to impress a boy. And see how I said “first time”, and not “this one time?” I’ve been translating my feelings into microwaved hot pockets, and baked cookies, for as long as I can remember being interested in boys.
There’s the time that I “cooked” dinner for my now-husband, when we first started dating in college. At the time, Hamburger Helper had “Microwave Singles” of dehydrated meat powder and noodles. I made Stroganoff, preparing it one bowl at a time in my dorm microwave. I also bought frozen Cheesy Garlic Texas Toast, and put them in my policy-violating toaster. It only took about three times through before it was edible. And for desert, individually wrapped Edward’s brand refrigerated cheesecake slices, two slices per pack – what a deal! I turned over a plastic storage tub, covered it with a window curtain, and placed pillows on either side for seats. It was cute, and fun, and a little wacky.
But the very first time? It was pretty terrible.
I was in high school, and I can’t remember if it was for Valentine’s Day, or his birthday, but I had decided that I would cook an entire meal for my at-the-moment-boyfriend, and serve it to him, as if demonstrating that I was good enough to be an adult, or something. It sounded super romantic and I was excited to plan this cute little dinner date, without having to have my parents drive us to a restaurant or the mall food court. This is going to be so freaking awesome, I thought. I was incredibly excited, more so because this was my first time cooking solo, than from any kind of anticipation to get a kiss or connect emotionally with this kid. And yet only the Great Cookie Monster knows why I picked what I did to prepare: Crispy Hawaiian chicken with wild rice, and chocolate lava cake for dessert.
WHO DOES THAT? I WAS FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
I must’ve written down a recipe from the internet, clipped it out of the newspaper or copied it from some weird cookbook I found lying around. I haven’t attempted to remake that dish, or anything similar to it, since that day. I do, however, vividly remember standing alone in the kitchen, taking each ingredient out of a grocery bag, and lining them up in a row on the counter, like little precious trophies. This is going to be so freaking awesome.
I went through the effort of lugging a metal bistro table I had on my balcony, down three flights of stairs, to the triangle of a backyard we had. My mom let me pick out a tablecloth (but not too nice) out of her linen drawer, and use cloth napkins (the truest indicator of romance.) I set the little table, complete with a lit candle, had a boom-box connected to an extension cord for ambience music, and probably had Martinelli’s chilling in the fridge. Little did I know that this part was going to be the easiest and most enjoyable of the evening.
Commence the cooking montage.
I had absolutely and literally never prepared an entire meal by myself. No big deal, I thought. Follow the recipe and this should be easy. (Spoiler: IT WASN’T.) I thought “marinate” just meant sauce, and so I didn’t chill the chicken overnight. I just dredged half-frozen chicken breasts into this mud-color looking pineapple and spices goop, and then immediately flopped it around in panko bread crumbs. (But K, what about the egg wash step? LOL THAT’S FUNNY WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN “WASH”?? LOLOLOL)
I then put the sloppy, runny, boogery chicken in a pan on the stove. Not a preheated skillet, just a pan. No oil. No butter. No heat. THEN I turned the pan on, and just let them sit there, while I went to find a pot that was big enough to cook rice in, because, you see, I had this WHOLE BAG of wild rice and who doesn’t use the WHOLE of something when they cook? NOBODY, RIGHT?
After I started filling the pot I found with enough water to bathe a dog, I heard something like snakes eating tin foil. My chicken had started to caramelize, how delightful. And by caramelize, I mean achieve perfect alchemy and fuse together with the pan itself. I was terrified. I pried the chicken out of the pan, stabbing it repeatedly with a fork until I was able to fling chunks of it onto the counter; one side hella-burnt, the other side, bare chicken skin, as the marinade-sauce and breadcrumbs just slid off the continuing-to-thaw chicken.
This was supposed to be so freaking awesome. I will never get that image out of my mind; the monstrous half cooked, half raw, slimy and crumbly chunky meat concoction. What was I going to do? I didn’t have more chicken. I didn’t have enough time. The clock was ticking on my fantasy dinner date and I still hadn’t prepared the magical chocolate volcano cake.
So, guess what I did?
I MADE HIM EAT RICE. I put rice on a plate and served it. I even had the audacity to put the Hawaiian Sweet Rolls I purchased in a basket, lined with a dainty towel, and presented it like I MEANT TO COOK A GALLON OF RICE. And he ate it, too. He did say it was nasty and weird, but he freaking ATE IT. I was a fraud, serving an entire plate of rice like it was the freaking tastiest crap he had ever eaten. At least I had the sense not to serve him uncooked pineapple-jizz chicken, my friends. AT LEAST.
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.