Several years ago, on a day very much like today, I cooked my first meal for my Special Friend Tom. It was a simple dish, really, or should have been: scrambled eggs with feta cheese. But half an hour later, the eggs were still not done. So I asked Tom, who is a great cook, if he could fathom why. After a few insightful queries, Tom theorized that I should perhaps have used a quarter of the package of feta cheese at most, instead of the whole thing, particularly since I only used three eggs. It appeared that what I now had was in fact boiling cheese, not scrambled eggs. So I quick made some toast, to distract and decorate, and we sat down to eat the eggs, which tasted a lot like boiling cheese with a slightly spicy, slightly vomit-y air. Anyway, after a few bites, I asked Tom if he liked them, and he said, “No.”
Yowza. Well, that’s certainly not good. In fact, that’s pretty far from my aim—impressing him with my versatility, acquiring his affections via simple chemical change, and/or fulfilling a base need. And I won’t say my heart didn’t cry as I smiled bravely through the entire serving to show him how very wrong he was. And I won’t say I didn’t throw it up later, because it really was gross. But the experience did light in me a burning desire to prove my womanliness, nay, my very humanity to him. I developed a redemptive quest to cook in order to mask the shame I had incurred at exposing my inability to perform one of life’s supposedly simpler tasks.
Yet what course would lead me from this desolate, scrambled-eggless valley? Suddenly, after some agony and indignation, I had the answer. We would consume a traditional First Day of Fall Dinner, prepared entirely by me, and fully edible. Could I do this? I didn’t see that I had much of a choice. I took a deep breath, thought of John Wayne, and carefully hand-typed the invitation via email:
I can cook some things.
To this end, I would like to invite you to my traditional First Day of Fall Dinner, which is Monday the 23rd, or Monday for short. I have done this before, not like scrambled eggs, which I haven’t made in probably 15-20 years, because I am very good at making omelets.
The traditional First Day of Fall Dinner menu traditionally includes acorn squash, which I can make, and fresh mashed sweet potatoes, which I can also make, and Brussels sprouts, which shouldn’t be too much trouble, and a wild turkey, which is a problem, so I’m not going to include it, but I will substitute apple butter and taffy apples.
Should you be inclined to weasel out of Monday—which is naturally not recommended, but we will have just seen each other Sunday, and I know how you love to eat chicken in your underwear on Mondays—we can reschedule the meal to Sunday or Tuesday, but you have to go sometime. This, my friend, is a gauntlet.
Yours in faith,
Tom accepted the invitation. But he also cautioned that while he wasn’t sure, he strongly suspected he didn’t like Brussels sprouts. However, they were an integral part of the First Day of Fall Dinner, so he figured he’d try them, and we’d get some lesser vegetable, like asparagus, just in case. As my head swelled at the dizzying success with which I had executed this first step in finding the Grail of Redemption of Failed Eggs, I invited my best friend and her husband to see if they would like to bear further witness to the endeavor. Like MacArthur leaving the Philippines, I would be back, and they would be on hand to hail my rising star. It turns out they weren’t sure, but my headiness was so strong—I must succeed—that I went ahead and invited a few other folks.
Suddenly, everyone had a hankering for autumnal food, and now there were eight, most of whom were fairly certain that they maybe liked Brussels sprouts. This was quite a bit more than I’d anticipated. I only needed a couple of people. What if I screwed it up? A double humiliation! I felt very much like Dukakis in that tank. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Why must I try to be what I am not? Couldn’t I simply be the kind of girlfriend who can’t make scrambled eggs? Couldn’t I just as easily impress him with the way I ordered carry out? Memorize his favorite dish from each restaurant? Couldn’t I?
I didn’t have any time, between cleaning, setting the table, and wallowing in existentialism, to change from my work clothes, so I hauled out my Rosie the Riveter apron. There is an irony there; I’m not sure what it is. I do know that as I cooked, I was greatly heartened by this cultural hero heralding me, fist raised, proclaiming, “WE CAN DO IT.” “Yes,” I thought, “I can do it. I shall be the kind of girlfriend who can make scrambled eggs, but usually doesn’t, on account of it’s too early! Carpe diem!” And with that mighty roar, I sprang forward, confident and equal to the task.
Tom arrived as I was beginning the squash, and I laid out the plan. He was thus put in charge of the asparagus, but I did everything else. Time approached and the food was mustered as though I were Napoleon, ignorant of Waterloo. The last of the food was ready within five minutes of the first of the food, as well as within two minutes of the last guests to arrive. Masterful! Napoleon could scarcely have done better.
We were seated. With tremulous voice I explained how to eat the squash, and some people wondered if they liked Brussels sprouts and asparagus and asked could they have both? Yes, of course. I was shaking as I finally served myself, glancing suspiciously at the guests on either side of me. Would they be traitors? Nay … in fact, I myself was getting the last acorn squash, the last of the Brussels sprouts, the last of the asparagus, and the last of the bread. I swear there was tons of food when I brought it from the kitchen. I did have leftover sweet potatoes, but that’s because I got carried away. But people were eating it! And smiling! No one was vomiting! Success! And peace. I basked in my hard-won accolades.
Meanwhile, Tom ate and drank and made conversation as though he were completely unaware of what an auspicious occasion this was. But I knew my hard work and triumphant return had, indeed, redeemed me. I had, I could now be sure, replaced the horrid, shameful vision of an incompetent quasi-simian who cowered before eggs with that of a strong, intelligent, dexterous female who could handle herself, and her food, in any situation. Gracefully.
Oh, and Tom was able to confirm that, indeed, his early suspicions were correct. He does not like Brussels sprouts.
Copyright 2006, Denise Pace
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