Recently, New Boyfriend and I (New Boyfriend will hereafter be referred to as LF, which is short for Longfellow – his last name) decided that a fun and couple-y event to do together would be to cook dinner. So last night was the designated night for said activity, and based on how it went, I’ve compiled a handy list of Dos and Don’ts for other budding couples embarking on their inaugural cooking-together adventures. So listen up.
#1a) Do make sure you will be alone in the house.
When LF and I made these plans initially, I failed to check with my housemate to see if the house would be free Saturday night for such an event. It briefly crossed my mind to mention it to him, but then I still never checked. As it turned out, my housemate had two guests this weekend, so my house was the fullest it’s ever been in terms of prolonged occupancy. So, when LF first came over, the housemate and said house guests were in the dining room (read: just off the kitchen) playing a rousing game of Magic: The Gathering. While I have absolutely no problem with my housemate using whatever common areas of the house he prefers to use, and while I further have no problem with the fact that they were playing a game in such close proximity to where we were cooking, it did prevent some of the flirtatious banter we have grown accustomed to having when we are alone and out of earshot of others; and, for our first cooking experience together, I probably would’ve ordered that particular detail a smidge differently.
#1b) Don’t assume your tastes are the same.
Once we had chosen a meal (half the battle, really), I immediately began to make modifications to it in my head. We decided on chicken jambalaya, which called for 1/3 cup onion, 1/3 cup celery, and 1/3 cup green pepper. I automatically assumed we would throw out the onion and celery because I hate onion, and I could take it or leave it with celery. I soon realized, however, that LF has different tastes from me, and he might not appreciate my presumptuous omissions. (I know for sure he likes onions; I had no previous intel about the celery.) So, cringing and hoping he wouldn’t put up a fuss, I did my best to go against my nature, be considerate, and ask if I could propose omissions and substitutions for those two ingredients. Luckily, he sacrificed the onions without complaint and said about the celery, “If I ever have celery, it’s because I have a jar of peanut butter that needs using up.” Which I of course translated as, If I ever have celery, it’s because I’m eight years old again. Which is exactly how I feel about it. Score 1 for compatibility!
#2a) Do choose a recipe with ingredients you will be able to find at the store.
We actually didn’t have trouble finding any ingredients at the store. I just thought, while I’m throwing out tips, this would be a good one to include. I have definitely run into this problem before, when cooking by myself. I am not ashamed to admit that I have, in fact, called my mom from the middle of an aisle of a grocery store she has never visited and asked her to theorize on where X ingredient might be located. (And yes, I’ve done this instead of finding a store employee.)
#2b) Don’t start after 7:30 p.m.
This was a rather sizable mistake that we did make. LF actually came over around 6:30, but by the time we chose a recipe, went to the store for ingredients, and came back to prepare it, it was well past 7:30. Also, given the many other variables in place (it being our first time to cook together; it being a recipe neither of us had cooked before; there being an unusual number of items to chop and defrost and rinse; and the added component of choosing to make homemade cornbread before starting on the jambalaya), it ended up being 10:00 before we were ready to eat. It would’ve been wise for us to factor in all of these variables beforehand and perhaps get started around 4:00. Or even noon.
#3a) Do make a grocery list.
This would be a good tip for anyone wanting to avoid the next point, which is going to the grocery store more than once. We, however, did make a grocery list and still ended up at the store twice, so it’s obviously not a fail-safe tip. Still seems like a good one to mention, though.
#3b) Don’t make more than one trip to the grocery store.
This one you can avoid by making your grocery list after checking your cabinets to see what you do and do not actually have. Simple as that. So lookie there – maybe #3a is fail proof!
#4a) Do stop often to kiss each other.
This one we adhered to pretty well. I suppose it’s not a requirement, but it sure does make things a heck of a lot more fun.
#4b) Don’t assume your expectations and personalities are a match.
Something LF and I learned about each other last night was the difference in our approach to execution of recipes, a difference that was surprising for both of us because we each deviate from our regular personalities when it comes to being in the kitchen. In other parts of my life, I’m fairly rigid, organized, orderly, careful to follow rules and instructions. And in other parts of his life, LF employs a relaxed, blasé, passive, devil-may-care attitude in most things he does. But, as it turns out, we are both entirely the opposite in the kitchen. Where I was willing to ignore the measurement amounts and put in “whatever felt right” when it came to the ingredients, my attitude caused LF a fair amount of anxiety about not doing it correctly. He checked and double-checked everything he measured, whereas I pinched and drizzled and shook and poured to my heart’s content without much thought for accuracy. There was, however, one instance where this could’ve turned out disastrously. LF measured out one full cup of baking soda, and I was ready to throw it in the pan when we double-checked the recipe and found that he had read the line below that one and that we were actually supposed to be adding only half a teaspoon of baking soda. I am grateful we double checked that one.
#5a) Do tag-team the dirty work.
Let’s be honest. There are some aspects of kitchen work that are just plain gross. Everybody finds them gross, and nobody wants to be stuck doing them all the time. The best way to handle these situations is to share the responsibility for the grossness. For instance, I asked LF to cut the raw chicken, which he was perfectly willing to do. But I pulled my weight by grabbing it off the cutting board with my bare hands as he finished cutting each piece and adding the piles of cut chicken to the pan. In another instance, we shared the cleanup duties and each washed a number of dishes by hand as we went along, although I do think that, in the long run, he washed by hand more dishes than I did, since my main go-to action was just to stick them in the dishwasher.
#5b) Don’t give up on one of the dinner components just because there are bugs in the cornmeal.
This was part of the problem we encountered in #3b. We needed some cornmeal, and I knew I had some. I also knew I’d had it for about four years and that it was unopened. What I did not know before we made grocery store trip #1 was that it had accumulated an unnerving number of little bugs over the course of the four years it had sat in the back of my cabinet. When we opened the sack to measure out a cup, about six little bugs (all dead) dropped out and right into the pan that already contained the melted butter, sugar, and eggs. Luckily, LF and I are neither one queasy about such matters, and we merely picked them out, threw away the cornmeal, and went to the store for a second time.
#6a) Do blast music that you both like.
everything most many some things better. Cooking dinner is one of those things. Last night we used Spotify to blast Wilco for three hours, and we both enjoyed it, though definitely to varying degrees, considering my relative unfamiliarity with the band and LF’s passionate love of them. That’s okay. Next time I’ll get to choose, and I’ll probably choose my newest obsession, Over the Rhine – a band LF also happens to like. (Side note: If you can’t agree on music choices, compromise and switch back and forth so you’ll both be satisfied knock your partner unconscious and play whatever you want.)
#6b) Don’t split up, for any reason, ever.
When we were facing a second trip to the grocery store, we discussed the possibility of being more efficient if only one of us went while the other stayed at home to continue the progress on the meal. In the end, we decided that was way less fun than going to the store together, despite the fact that it would set us back several minutes in our time frame. I don’t regret the choice we made, though. When it comes to romance, screw efficiency.
Cooking dinner with your partner can be tons of fun. It can also take a whole lot of time. And I must confess, even though I put forth these twelve items as things you should or should not do, I wouldn’t have done anything differently if I had last night to do over again. We had a great time, and eating at 10:00 was no real downer after all the laughing that got us there.