Cooking Dinner Date

—Saturday, December 10, 2011—

I met Emma inside of the 23rd Street entrance to New York City’s own amusement park of Italian food and drink, Eataly. I hadn’t seen her since January, at the same party I had met Soul Mate, almost a year earlier. She caught me by by surprise, arriving from the interior of Eataly and exclaiming, “Evan!” I gave her a big hug and asked how she was doing.

Cooking Dinner Date 1

Emma was from my home town of Winchester, MA. We had known each other in high school and then we both lived back home for a little while after graduation. I had ended up at her house a couple times over the years, and we saw each other at mutual friends’ gatherings, but we were not exactly close friends ourselves.

When I first put the OHD site online, Emma emailed me to tell me what a great idea she thought it was and since I knew she was cool and cute, I asked her out right then. It took a long time for me to plan something with her, but I needed a date this weekend and it all seemed to worked out just right.

SO…what did we want to make?  Something Italian, I assumed, since we had decided to meet at Eataly. I suppose we didn’t have to make something Italian, but it was what I was most comfortable cooking. Emma said that it was up to me. I was in charge of the date, so I had to make the tough decisions about what we’d be eating.

Given a decision to make, I did what I would normally do and delayed it further. I suggested walking around and checking out the scenery since I had never been there.

Emma, on the other hand, had been there just two days prior, enjoying a “final breakup” with her newly, totally official ex-boyfriend. Well, shit. I told her I was sorry to hear it and asked if she would prefer to go someplace else, but she said that it was fine. I hope that was the case; I would feel bad otherwise.

As we passed through the circular wine bar at the center of the market, Emma told me that her friends had been there and they liked the place. It was certainly bopping that night, with jovial crowds gathered around each of the tables and various counters. We fought our way through the masses, like tourists in a swarmed piazza, and made it to the fresh pasta counter. We passed it by, but I knew full well that we would be returning. I wanted to see what else the place had to offer.

We made chit chat as we passed by the butcher’s counter, towards the preserved goods, and it was clear that I was not making much of a decision. I asked her again if there was anything that piqued her interest and she maintained that it as up to me. All right then, I made the executive decision: pasta, veggies and meat. Not particularly specific or groundbreaking, but it was a start.

At the time, I hardly cooked, so I was a bit nervous about the whole venture. I had cooked quite a bit when I was in high school but less and less so over the years. There were even a number of years where I had wanted to be a chef. However, commuting from Queens or Hoboken to Manhattan each day for the past year and a half, and keeping such a busy schedule with improv, kept me out of the kitchen for the most part. I was rusty, out of practice and not as creative as I once was.

Back at the pasta counter, I spied the spinach linguini and ordered two bundles of it. The delicious looking ravioli and tortellini would have been too filling if we were also preparing a meat, but it was hard to leave them behind. As soon as I made the first choice, I felt good about it. It was almost as if I’d forgotten how much fun buying a thing was. It was even more fun when you got to eat that thing.

From there, we went to see what we could find for sauce — pesto, specifically. Across the room, there were several different brands to choose from, and I selected a small-ish jar. So far, so good.

The next serious decision to make was which kind of meat we wanted. After surveying the options, I selected a buffalo sausage. It sounded a bit unique and would be easy to cook up with a vegetable in a single pan. Plus, Emma had never had buffalo, so maybe I would score some bonus points for that.

Passing back through the wine-centric cuoro of Eataly, we found ourselves in the vegetable section and I already had an idea of what I wanted. It was a toss up between broccolini and broccoli rabe. Since Emma wasn’t familiar with the more bitter rabe, and it could be an acquired taste, I stuck with broccolini as the safer bet. I also grabbed some fresh garlic, thyme and rosemary before moving on.

Over to the sweets section next for some dessert. Gelato would probably melt by the time we got back to Queens and cakey delicacies could be a little hit or miss for sharing. Luckily, we both agreed on being chocoholics, so that decision was made easily. We got a couple truffles and several slices of chocolate covered orange peels. Those chocolate and fruit combinations were Emma’s favorite but I don’t think I’d ever had them, thus making the little treats a necessity.

Last, but not least, was the wine selection. We checked out of the main Eataly area and headed over to the Entoteca. Emma once again left the choice to me, which I was okay with since I liked selecting Italian wines, and I chose a decently priced bottle of Montepulciano. It tended to go well with most anything and was frequently my default red wine.

Okay! Great. We were done with the shopping. It was all delicious from there!

We headed to the train, and after sending Emma through the turnstile for the downtown N/Q, I figured out what I’d done wrong and she came back through. We walked to the other side of the street and luckily, or rather, understandably, the agent let her through on the northbound side for free.

Already, it was turning out to be a great chance to catch up with Emma, whom I suppose I had always known from a distance. We had always been more like friends of friends, than friends with each other. In that first hour alone, I’d heard a great deal about her past relationship (one that lasted more or less five years), her family (whom I’d grown up around but never really knew) and her life in NYC — working for a financial advertising agency and living with another classmate from our high school.

It had also been interesting to see who she did and did not know from my grade, as she was a year older. I had always assumed that she knew my close group of friends at least as well as she knew me, but it turned out that was not really the case. I realize now that I take those kinds of relationships for granted — not only the people I’d grown up around, but even my close personal friends.

I think I tend to distance myself from them in conversation because there’s this assumption that we know each other. As if it would be rude to ask about something we should already know, when in fact, I barely knew anything. Going to high school with someone for four years wasn’t necessarily the best way to learn about them. Their childhood, collegiate and adult experiences often said much more a person than their confusing teenage years, where everyone was doing their best just trying to figure it out.

Of course, now we are stuck trying to figure it out in our 20’s as well, but hopefully we are much more honest with each other.

The train ride back to Queens was filled with more good conversation. In terms of not really knowing Emma too well, I guess I never understood how friendly and conversational she was. I don’t think we dropped the conversation once the entire time. It was really easy to get on with her and it made the night fly by.

Now, it was not often that I had a woman in my apartment for an entire night, or the chance to entertain a woman, is what I suppose I mean. Most women who entered my apartment only hung out on my couch and in my bed — friends stopping by or women of the night (but not hookers or anything). What I’m trying to say was that it was nice to have Emma sitting at my kitchen table as I unpacked the groceries and got started on dinner.

Now, when I had originally planned this date, I envisioned the two of us slicing and dicing together, feeding each other bits of bell pepper and eventually getting into a flour fight while we giggled and waved knives around recklessly. The reality was that the meal was a one person job and there was very little prep work that needed to be done. Emma offered to help, but it looked like Chef Barden was the only cook necessary. Fingers were crossed.

Cooking Dinner Date 2

I started by slicing up our bread and putting olive oil and balsamic vinegar into small dishes. To the olive oil, I added some rosemary and thyme. I put on some music and poured the first glassed of wine. Cooking is barely any fun without music and wine.

Then, I got cooking. First thing was first: cut up the sausage and get it browned in a skillet with some garlic, rosemary, thyme and olive oil. A little sea salt and lemon pepper rounded it out. Once I had that going, I put on a big pot of water to boil. I hadn’t done this in a long time and I was hoping that my timing would be correct. I wanted the water to be rolling with only a couple minutes left of cooking on the rest of the dish.

Once the broccolini were cleaned and chopped, into the pan they went with the buffalo sausage. To my pleasure and surprise, everything was finished at just about the same time. The meat and veggies might have been on for an extra minute or two, but nothing too detrimental.

I plated the finished product and served Emma and I in my living room at our small, two person table (a table I inherited from LMH when she booked it out of Queens).

The wine followed us and I lit a candle to really set the ambiance of the apartment. Lights low, music on — the whole deal. I was capable of romance when I wanted to be.

The food wasn’t fantastic, but it was a solid effort for cooking my first complete meal in months and Emma was at least kind enough to say she enjoyed it, which was all I could ask for. We talked more and more and much of it revolved around family and relationships. The important stuff. The themes of figuring out city life and our 20’s were woven throughout our discussion.

Emma had a wonderfully sort of fucked up family with dynamically different siblings and divorced parents who still seemed to get along and give their kids what they needed. For her, Winchester was very much home, and she tried to go back often.

It was strange how I’d lost my affinity for our home town. When my mom died, home became less like home. Then when we got a new house, and my brother moved out, there was nothing that resembled the place I grew up beyond the presence of my father. There were times, after we got our new house, that going back to my girlfriend’s parent’s house felt more like home than the house I was living in. Her family life was more constant than mine, so it was a bit easier to grasp onto. I remember being very scared of losing that when we broke up years ago.

One funny similarity between that first girlfriend and Emma was their height. Emma was on the short side, standing maybe five feet tall. It just so happens that my first two girlfriends had been just as short, so it was not something that stood out to me as odd. My family thought I had a type for a little while (seven years), and while I didn’t think “short” was my type, it could definitely help make a woman seem “cute”.

What did stand out about Emma’s physique, and what she brought to light during a conversation on dating, were her large boobs. For her size, she had a seriously endowed chest. While I was sure she got some male attention for them, we talked largely about how short women were always being hit on by short men. Emma decried the habit, since being a short woman hardly meant she wanted a short man! Despite this, she was constantly stuck with the short guy at the bar. Frustrating, to say the least.

We continued chatting for some time after we were finished with our food and until we polished off our bottle of wine. In the spirit of the wonderful evening, we headed to Mosaic, the bar next door. It was still relatively early, so it made sense to get another drink or two.

On our way down, we realized we hadn’t eaten our chocolate. “Ah! Something for later,” I thought to myself. It would give us something to do after drinks, and I loved extending dates, if you couldn’t tell.

We grabbed a table at Mosaic and hung out for a drink or two, while Emma told me more about her family. She was fully Armenian and talking to her about the Armenian diaspora and their history, particularly as a corollary to Jews in America, was really fascinating. Despite the similarities, the plights of the Armenian people were far lesser known. It was great to learn from the source.

It got to be a bit later and we headed back to my place to finish our chocolate and formally conclude Cooking Dinner Date. In talking about the late hour and what it would take for her to get back to the Upper West Side, we mutually agreed that it would be easy if Emma just spent the night in Queens. Since we were already friends, it was not awkward to suggest she stay nor for her to accept.

We sat on my couch, eating chocolate and talking. When the chocolate was gone, it seemed like an appropriate time for bed. It also, for the first time, seemed like we should kiss, and so we did. We made out for a bit and then, with no raunchy details to divulge, went to sleep.

So domestic, right?