I think both my mom and dad would be proud of me tonight.
Mom taught me the basics of what little I know about cooking. The rest I gleaned from cookbooks. Upon graduating college in 1999, though, I had to forge my own way without her home cooking to guide me. Without practice, my culinary skills declined. I needed something, anything, to make me cook, and to brave the oven and stove.
So, I bought an enticing cookbook. I missed my recent ex-girlfriend and wanted another lover fast, so I bought a book that I thought would enhance my cooking in the kitchen and in the bedroom—InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook. How to describe it? Let’s allow the book’s jacket copy to paint the picture:
Ever since Marc Antony first fed Cleopatra grapes, sensual foods have been intertwined with romance. InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook follows suit, bringing more than 85 heart-melting dishes to the table, the bed, or wherever one might be entertaining. Filled with recipes home-tested by couples across the country, this unique cookbook covers 17 sensual foods ranging from traditional aphrodisiacs like oysters and strawberries to lesser-known—but just as potent—black beans and pine nuts.
Chock-full of arty photos overusing soft focus, hippy-dippy testimonials, an alarming array of fonts and colored types, and recipes calling for ingredients so exotic that you have to mail-order them, InterCourses is the hip bourgeoisie’s guide to tasteful, well-moneyed food porn. Oh, I shouldn’t be so hard. After all, I’ve made probably half the recipes in the book over the years. Grape-and-wine sorbet, strawberry pasta, mango/black bean salsa, cucumber sandwiches, honey-glazed salmon, and black Russian cake are among the recipes I’ve tried out over the years. My concoctions don’t look as the photos, and I’ve never charmed my way into a woman’s panties with any of it, but much of it is solid gourmet food. More importantly, much of it is difficult—though the instructions are delightfully clear—but not impossible. I like a challenge. I rose to (most of) these challenges. I made good food.
Tonight, I decided that La Bella and I would make the book’s artichoke pizza with feta and thyme, on whole wheat crusts that she brought over. Instead of tomato paste, pureed artichoke hearts—with mayonnaise, garlic, and crushed red pepper in the mix—is the base, slathered over the crusts. We chopped up two small bell peppers—red and orange—and sautéed them, but I veered from the recipe to add chopped shiitake mushrooms and Vidalia onions to the saucepan. This mixture was draped onto the artichoke paste. Deviating again from InterCourses, we added sliced black olives and thick slivers of shiitake on top. We sprinkled on lots of feta cheese and parmesan cheese, and then drizzled pinches of thyme on the pizza. Baked at 450 degrees for fifteen minutes, this was heavenly. I made a dish that looked and smelled as delicious as it tasted, and which I improvised new ingredients. La Bella was impressed. Mom would be proud.
An hour later, we loaded the dishwasher and set it to run. Almost immediately, our toes were submerged in water. Fuck. I stopped the dishwater and checked under the sink. Now, as my dad and stepdad—handymen, both of them—well know, there’s no good reason for me to do this. I’m useless with a wrench. I’m half-inclined to call an electrician to change up a light bulb.
Yet here I was, water spurting onto my face from a foam-like/sorta-PVC pipe (see, I don’t even know the real name!), and saying aloud, “I think I know what’s wrong.” And seconds later adding: “I think I can fix this.”
The metal tightener that held the end of the pipe to the connecting spout had been put on so tightly that it had torn through the foam. If I could cut out the torn section with scissors, pull up some slack on the pipe, insert it at an angle that wouldn’t force it against the tightener, and then tighten the brace with a flathead screwdriver, I could fix this. I had the tools—they had dust on them, sure, but I had them. I got to work. Within ten minutes, I’d fixed the plumbing problem, and everything ran smoothly. “I’m a man!” I shouted to myself. La Bella rolled her eyes and smirked. “Your dick just grew two inches, didn’t it, baby?” But she couldn’t wipe away my silly grin.
*With apologies to Nintendo.