I touched on it in “ Throwing Out The 300-Pound Pitch ,” but until last week, I never gave any deep thought as to how two people co-exist in Foodland. Dating again, I was more concerned with how to explain the past seven years. And thankfully when I met Steve a few weeks ago and I recited the whole weight loss thing, he didn’t run screaming in the other direction. What he said – with a great big grin on his face – was, “I love to cook.”
Turns out, Steve’s a foodie. And I mean hard-core. He reads Wine Spectator, and studies the cookbooks of Paul Prudhomme (“Chef Paul” from K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen), Anthony Bourdain (oft smart-ass chef and author of “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly”), Thomas Keller (award-winning owner of the Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry), Eric Ripert (world renowned French cook and owner of Le Bernardin in New York), and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, whose restaurant in Pittsburgh – Lidia’s – is on Steve’s date list.
What I first knew about Steve was that he’s a union carpenter and owns a beautiful red Harley. He can match me song for song, artist for artist in music trivia. He wears cowboy boots; drives a pickup; looks smashing in a pair of Levi’s; holds every door open for me; loves his cat, Boo; and can drink a Starbucks latte as readily as diner coffee, and Budweiser as easily as 20-year-old Glenlivet. All of this I can deal with. It’s the butter, the cream, the Italian food that has my maintenance brain spinning. And not just any Italian food. “Good ‘country Italian,’” he said. “You know, that sort of rustic Italian.” Um…no, I don’t know. But I have a feeling I’m going to find out.
I talked to him about how I choose to eat and he assured me that wasn’t a problem….just before he said, with a devilish grin, “But you know I’m your food anti-Christ.”
I’ve loosened the chains a bit over the past two years, but other than using a bit more oil in my cooking and eating whole grain pancakes and consuming a few more sweets lately than I care to admit, I don’t stray too far from the plan that got me and keeps me where I am. When I go out, I order the safest thing on the menu: salad, or occasionally a garden burger, sans the bun. I haven’t ventured into many restaurants that employ several bona fide chefs, and I’ve certainly not dated a capital F Foodie who cooks with butter and cream and makes his own lemon sauce to pour over lemon cake: Last weekend, Steve and I wanted to go out for brunch. We went online and looked at menus and chose The Cornerstone because it offered eggs Benedict with duck confit. OK, back up. HE chose Cornerstone because it offered duck confit. But I found something that looked interesting, too. A risotto made with wild mushrooms, butternut squash, and kale. After we were seated, I asked our server if the risotto could be made vegetarian. She said, “I’ll as our chef.” A few minutes later, she came back and said, “Why yes, we can make it vegetarian, but not vegan because the chef uses butter.” Not a problem, I said, and yes, I would like a fried egg on top. Toast? No, thank you.
The risotto was the first non-vegetable/non-egg-white focused breakfast I’ve eaten in more than 7 years. It was fabulous, but I felt a bit guilty, and I panicked about my plan for the rest of the day. Subsist on water, an apple, and some edamame for dinner? Walk five miles?
“Shut up!” I told my brain. “You can do this!”
And I did. I enjoyed the risotto, eating slowly and stopping before I was full. Steve didn’t care if I cleaned my plate. He only noticed because I pointed it out.
Remember how I said I was looking for someone who didn’t eat Doritos in front of me? Well let me tell you, Doritos have nothing on mussels sautéed in garlic and wine, bruschetta on French baguette, and bleu cheese dipped in honey. Steve eats these things, yet never pushes them on me. It is I who must be disciplined to eat one or two mussels, a bit of bruschetta, and a piece of bleu cheese. It is my challenge to taste all the flavor these foods have to offer without going crazy and consuming them all.
A few weekends ago, we went to Oakmont Bakery for coffee because What’s Cookin’ at Casey’s wasn’t open yet. I told Steve the story about how, when I was a little girl, my dad took care of my brother and I on Saturday mornings so Mom could sleep. He’d let us dress in anything we wanted (I was a stripes-on-plaid kind of girl) and he took us to the bakery for a donut before we went to the car wash. I always got a glazed donut with chocolate frosting. As Steve was paying for our coffee, he asked the cashier for a glazed donut with chocolate frosting.
My first thought? ‘OMG, I can’t eat that!’
My second thought? ‘Wow…that was really sweet of him.’
We took our coffee and donut to a table and I savored two small yet amazingly awesome memory-filled bites of glazed chocolate donut. I got teary thinking about those days and how much I love my dad. Not once did Steve say, “Come on. Have another bite.” He was just happy that he’d made me happy.
Food can be that conduit to memories, as long as we understand it is like Brylcreem: “A little dab will do ya.” Take the meaning and savor a bite. Leave the rest of the calories behind.
How do you navigate the really good, memory-invoking food waters?